It is fair to say that one of the hottest mediums of the last decade has been Gifs. The name itself is quite the hot potato, with no clear consensus on how to pronounce the word. I prefer ‘Jifs’, but I’m not willing to die on that particular hill.
Gifs were invented in 1987 by Steve Wilhite, an engineer with Internet service provider Compuserve. The company needed a graphic format that would work on all computers and across weak connections. Using the Graphics Control Extension (GCE), Gifs achieved simple animations via timed delays. Wilhite configured his compression algorithm so that others could build on it to create more complex layouts.
The Rise, Fall and Rise of Gifs
I remember when I saw my first Gifs, around the early 2000’s. Back then they were still a luxury, a heady excess in the days of dial-up Internet. It is only in the last decade or so that they have become a staple online. It is interesting to note that Gifs primarily live on the Internet, and don’t usually have a place to exist or be consumed offline, either on our computers or smartphones. They have not only changed the way we communicate with each other, but also how ideas are presented.
Gifs have survived numerous near-death experiences. They lost ground to formats like JPG and PNG. An ugly Intellectual Property issue in 1995 nearly stopped their wide use and developers around the world actually held a ‘Burn Your Gifs’ day in August 1995, in protest.
Gifs are still going strong today, because they fill an important need in today’s ever-texting world – a need to add nuance and emotion to a message.
The Pure Gif
As a medium, Gifs are inefficient, heavy and restrictive. In fact, most Gifs we see online aren’t actually Gifs.
Classically, Gifs are a highly compressed set of images, and if they were to stay that way, they would be far too inconvenient to use online. Most Gifs today are short video files or complex proprietary formats, which are far more efficient, and allow for longer, and higher quality content. The so-called Gifs, which we use now, are usually short clips from popular media such as movies or TV shows, which contain many colours and require these new formats to enable them to load quickly on our devices.
The Gif, as we understand it today, has transcended the file format to become a name for a cultural meme.
There is something pure and interesting in sticking to the classic Gif format, along with all its quirks, which include compression artifacts, dithering, and a limited colour palette. I believe this restriction can lead to the creation of beautiful and unique imagery and animation.
It is for this reason that a few of us within Quicksand, decided to create a space for Gif creators to showcase their work. The platform is called FIG, and was launched a few months ago. FIG’s mission is to celebrate the creation of Gifs by designers, illustrators, artists, writers and creators of all kinds. We opened up calls for submissions on the theme of ‘The Loss of Creativity’ and we received around forty amazing entries. This is just the beginning for the platform, and we hope to do a lot more for Gif creators. The team behind FIG are creators who love making Gifs using diverse digital and analogue techniques, and we wish to reach out to other creators who feel equally passionate about them.
Gifs in India
The Gifs you typically insert into your social media posts come from GIPHY, one of the largest Gif platforms in the world Small wonder then, that across geographies, people use Simpson or Friends Gifs to express themselves.
There is definitely a need to generate and promote Indian content online, so we can use Gifs that are culturally relevant.
Gifskey is one such platform that aims to promote vernacular Gifs with contextually relevant content. Gifskey provides Gifs and stickers in eight Indian languages along with APIs for third party integrations. Clearly investors are seeing the potential in the platform, which raised Rs. 7 crore from Kstart in 2019.
Jason Eppink, author of an article on Gifs in the Journal of Visual Culture, says that “successful gifs are ones that are shared”. Given the vast numbers of Indians online, this shouldn’t be a problem if we can create interesting artefacts and find ways to distribute them.