How did GIFs change the Internet humor?

How did GIFs change the Internet humor?

How often do you send a GIF to a friend or a colleague to express your feelings about something? Well, GIFs can indeed come in handy to convey a specific emotion and make your dialogue funnier, thanks to auto-playing animated clips taken from our favorite movies, series, and TV shows. In this article, we dig into the history of GIFs and try to lift the veil of mystery: how GIFs became the symbol of Internet humor.

What is the history of GIFs?

Even though it seems that GIFs are a novelty, it has been with us for more than 30 years. This format, Graphics Interchange Format, was launched in 1987 by the CompuServe team and the first picture, according to its creators was an airplane. They got inspired by the American programmer Terry Welch's article in Computer magazine about the LZW compression algorithm. This Lempel-Ziv-Welch technique could reduce color visuals in size without impairing their quality. This way, GIF was the most compact graphic format and became the most convenient way to transmit color digital graphics with a slow dial-up connection. At these times, GIFs were just practical, and no one would imagine that they would become the humorous way of digital communication in the XXI century. Some old prototypes of today's GIFs are still available: the dancing baby or the banana.

When CompuServe created GIF, its inventors had no idea that the patent for the compression algorithm already belonged to Unisys company. No one expected such a fast spread of the format, and a few years later, Unisys and CompuServe agreed to sell the license for the format together to those who used it for commercial purposes. In 1994, this caused outrage among Internet users: by that time, GIF had long since become the standard format. However, JPEG had already begun to replace it, and PNG had appeared mainly due to Unisys and CompuServe's new license regulations.

How were GIFs reinvented?

For the next decade, companies were trying to get the most out of the new format they invented but all for nothing, and the patent expired by the mid-2000s. At the same time, GIFs started to reappear in a form of comic animation on internet communities, such as Tumblr and Reddit. An image hosting service Imgur also played a considerable part in GIF popularization. In 2012 “gif” was named Oxford Dictionaries’ USA Word of The Year, and this is when the most well-known gif platform GIPHY was launched.

Dr. Sarah Thornton, a San Francisco-based sociologist, explains GIFs' success in an interview with BBC, saying, " They’re lingua franca. They’re not determined by linguistic boundaries, and they are so simple that a child can understand them”. And this seems to be so. Today, after 34 years since the gif format exists, it is still one of the best forms to express your feelings on the internet. And it copes with this task better than the video partly because nowadays, internet users prefer to see the looping image instantly instead of clicking the Play button.

i kinda feel sad for the people in the past GIF
© GIPHY