GIFs, Occupying a Space Between Photos and Videos

Near the end of 2012, the American Oxford Dictionary named “gif” (pronounced either “jif”, as in Jiffy’s Peanut Butter, or “gif” with a hard G) the word of the year. The gif, short for graphics interchange format, is twenty-five years old.

The Economy of the GIF, a panel at this year’s SXWX, discusses the importance of the gif and its current status in Internet culture. I wasn’t there, but I was able to keep abreast of it on Twitter (#gifecon) and it was there, in fact, that I found out about it in the first place.

Described as occupying a space between photos and videos, the gif has been deemed appropriate for increasingly shorter attention spans and that it takes longer to process a video. Most interestingly, it has been mobile technology that has revived the gif. Tumblr is the leader of the pack for usage of gifs and it’s been suggested that it’s one of the top reasons why more and more teens are going to Tumblr and leaving Facebook, as Facebook does not currently support gifs. Gifs are used as a communication tool, such as in texting or email, and are possibly more dynamic than emoticons, such as with “reaction gifs”: gifs used to respond to messages, with or without words.

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