The Metamorphosis Of The GIF
There is a perfect GIF for every moment in our life. If you are like most people, you have developed an addiction to watching GIFs online, and even use them in your daily conversations. I wonder however, how many of us really know the history of the GIF: the controversial past behind the cheery phenomenon.
This is claimed to be the first GIF ever created
Steve Wilhite and his team at CompuServe debuted the “GIF” or “graphics interchange format” in June of 1987. The GIF enabled image transfers with 256 colors, an improvement from the mere black and white image transfers of the day. It derived animation through timed delays via the Graphics Control Extension or the GCE and used the LZW or Lempel–Ziv–Welch compression algorithm. The GIF was just a mean to better the run-length encoding (RLE) format of the day. The animation tricks and the entertainment value of the GIF were not yet foretold.
The Controversy Behind The GIF
Steve Wilhite and his team overlooked the ticking bomb inside the GIF, a lossless compression algorithm, LZW, allowed bits and bytes of images to fit into small spaces without eliminating data. In 1984, more than three years before the inception of the GIF, Unisys patented this compression technique. Thus, a copyright disagreement erupted between these two companies and lasted until 1994, when Unisys agreed to license LZW to CompuServe – and to others – for a small fee.
The nasty ordeal sparked many developers to boycott the GIF or what came to be known as the “GIF Tax”, and when patent-free – and better in many ways – PNG or Portable Network Graphics format deputed in 1996, it was preferred over the GIF.
The GIF as a file type for still images was perhaps given a death sentence on that day, later to be realized with the coming of improved versions of JPEGs and PNGs, but the GIF as an animation – a short and silent loop – still had not yet illustrated its power.
The World Wide Web
In the midst of the controversy, as the World Wide Web took off, the GIF affirmed its central place in this revolutionary technology through flashy placeholders for websites under construction and eye-catching banners. In 1993, the first photo on the web was uploaded in a GIF format.
An Era Of Freedom
In 2004, Unisys’ patent on LZW expired. The GIF started gaining momentum until its full explosion in 2006, when the infamous Millennials began their love affair with the GIF, once again confirming the GIF’s essential place on the Web. The era of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, also fueled the “GIF Movement”. Similar to the 1990s, many today credit the GIF’s popularity to the desire for speed, this time, the consumption of greater amount of information in shorter quantity of time.
Designers And The GIF
The GIF has also transitioned from an interpersonal communication and amateur entertainment means to a professional instrument for designers. Animated logos and advertisement of products are some examples that are increasingly taking the form of GIFs. Concept Studio uses GIFs to display product packaging in a new and appealing manner. GIFs are widely used in the advertising industry today, and designers are increasingly encouraged to embrace GIFs in their professional portfolios.
The GIF As An Art Form
From entertainment and professional pieces, the GIF is also transitioning into what may become the artistic medium of the Internet, with various forms of art, including 3D/stereoscopic GIFs, Cinemagraph GIFs, and GIF works like those of Clay Rodery and Erdal Inci, leading the way.
Some Things Never Change
To this day, there is a debate that still haunts the GIF. The argument over its pronunciation, which began with the creator of the GIF himself, has not yet ended. Is “GIF” with a hard “g” as in “graphics”, or “j” as in “Jif” peanut butter? The debate has been placing best friends, couples, and family members against each other. Nonetheless, as we can see, from a dark past, an even brighter future awaits the GIF.