Initially, it was just a new digital image format, with compression to send less heavy files. The GIF, as you hear it today, has recovered a key characteristic to its success: the animated image. Through these short videos of only a few seconds, the Internet has found its language of communication. So much so that one would have thought that GIFs were never going to disappear. The proof is: in May 2020, Facebook bought the GIF database Giphy for 400 million dollars.
It was without taking into account the power of the younger generation, which continues to make rain and shine on the web. Those who extinguished Facebook by calling the social network a space has-been, are moving away from GIFs. The transition is very fast. Even Giphy realized this, and called on the regulators who wanted to block its takeover to leave them alone as GIFs are no longer as popular as one might think. The end of their reign is near.
From the first photo on the web to date
GIFs are more than 30 years of reign. The first photo published on the Internet was related to this format. Today, they are shared in private messages – as a “conversational tool” some say – or on social networks. Twitter and Reddit are certainly the platforms where we find them most easily. They are a way to say more or more precisely – about an emotion, a situation, a desire, a comparison – than an emoji.
The animated GIF, which we are talking about here, dates from 1995. It was invented by Netscape engineers. Its glory was direct, at a time when video sharing was much less easy in view of connection speeds. For it to last over time, the format relied on two things: ease of use, compatibility with most devices, and a neo-retro look that gave it a fairly timeless character. Platforms like Giphy, too, have made it possible to simplify its directory by creating a real search engine. Vine, in its time, failed to do better.
Slapped by teens
At the time of professions in social media, community managers, the creation of GIFs has become a full-time activity for some. It was between 2012 and 2020. The head of creative strategy for Tumblr, which profited from 23 million GIF downloads per day on its platform, qualified then “the file format of the internet generation”. GIFs were available everywhere.
But now for teenagers, this democratization marked the beginning of the end. “There are clear indicators of an overall decline in GIF usage”acknowledged Giphy in a file sent to British regulators who wanted to cancel its takeover by Facebook.
The slap in the face that the motion picture format is currently taking comes from young people. “Young users in particular describe GIFs as a format for boomers”. The trend would not stop there. With the improvement of other formats, the video in MP4 format also takes the lead. It is possible to find files in MP4 lighter than some in GIF format. Tumblr has also been experimenting since this summer with a process to transform its users’ GIFs into MP4 format.
If it is still difficult to rely on precise figures of the slowdown in the use of GIFs, the letter from Giphy, the new strategy of Tumblr and the critical eye of young people already lay the foundations of a formidable threat in the law of the internet jungle. Memes won’t help. At present, these images in JPG or PNG format are certainly the closest to the spirit of the GIF. And their use does not slow down.
Memes take the lead
Memes are flooding all platforms and bear witness to the “virality” of an image. It is through them that the Internet sorts out photos of historical events that the web will remember. We think in particular of the AFP photo of Bernie Sanders, arms and legs crossed, with his scarf. It’s not surprising that when searching for “Bernie Sanders” on Google, the first search proposition is related to the query “bernie sanders meme”. On Capitol Hill, the Vermont senator was celebrating Joe Biden’s rise to power in a style all his own that had the world laughing and quickly turned into a meme.
The internet really can be magical pic.twitter.com/Jrwkj2twii
— Ashley Holub, PhD (@ashtroid22) January 21, 2021
TikTok will also have a negative effect for GIFs. The application does not offer to send a GIF as a commentary on a video. The principle of the application has its own format and even if the idea of short video in automatic loop resembles that of the GIF, its effect will be all the more destructive. It will only remain to see if the format can reinvent itself once again, as it did in 1995. And while waiting for the arrival of a GIF 3.0, let’s take a last moment to send each other an animated image .