The Year of The Animated Gif

by Paddy Johnson on October 7, 2010 · 31 comments Opinion

2010 is the year of the animated gif.  They are everywhere. Tumblr’s Three Frames, a site that posts only gifs drawn from movies on a daily basis is recommended to me by students virtually every time I give a lecture. Fuck Yeah Gifs, and Gif Party are also popular. Images on group artist-run blogs like Nasty Nets and Spirit Surfers have always had a keen interest in the file format and have custom software to better display them. No one does the job better than Dump.fm on the image platform front though, which likely explains the frantic production amongst their users.

Notably, only three or four years ago, gif production amongst artists tended to fall into two categories — found and carefully handmade. Typically the latter were lone painstaking efforts. Yesterday, even a brief visit to the sites listed above made clear that the spectrum of approaches has vastly expanded. The casual gif maker, the careful gif, the multiple gifs arranged to make one giant gif, the artist-made authorless gif –you get the picture. There are a lot.

So why are artists suddenly more interested in the file format? It’s hard to say, but one theory tabled in a recent conversation, suggested a reaction to a decrease in websites and search engines able to handle the file format as a possible explanation. Google image search recently eliminated the integration of GIF’s in their standard image searchs, Facebook never allowed gifs, and tumblr and WordPress can’t handle large gifs or display them well. It’s not difficult to make the argument that artists who use the web as source material need sites that are friendly to the file format.

Given dump.fm’s unique software, the question of how these images move off the site is particularly relevant. The most complicated and engaging gifs now displayed in the site’s “Hall of Fame” can’t be displayed on this blog. Who knows how a gallery would handle the images but I expect that question will be answered shortly. October 22nd, 319 Scholes will exhibit DUMP.FM, a show put together by curator Lindsay Howard. Consider me there.

[CORRECTION: This original version of this post erroneously stated that Google eliminated the ability to search by file format.  It also described Dump.fm's platform as specifically designed to handle gifs. Its founder Ryder Ripps notes in the comments that gif use is primarily driven by its user base, not its ability to display gifs.]

  • Max

    Don’t you know what ytmnd is?

    • typogra

      YTMND: strictly for the underground.

  • Anonymous

    I just don’t understand why you’ve taken such a condescending tone. Consider instead: I would have liked to have seen ytmnd mentioned because BLAH BLAH BLAH. Failing to explain your own interests is intellectually lazy.

    In any event, ytmnd, blingee, 4chan and other such sites were outside my direct interest — particularly as they tend to be sources for sites like dump. There’s an argument to be had that the work that appears there is just as artistically valid, but that’s not the subject at hand.

  • colin

    troll hard in those comment responses, paddy

  • Anonymous

    i just spent some time on dump.fm after reading this post… its a strange world. too bad it’s not friendly…. at least to me. I had been there before long ago closer to when it launched, and it felt different.
    they made me feel like such an outsider… but not that i;m trying to hate. I love the site and i think its nice and funny and good and by no means do pleaces need to be friendly … but just putting it down here in comment history.

  • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

    “sites like dump”, sorry but what other sites are like dump?

    • Anonymous

      By “sites like dump” I mean any site that has custom designed software to handle gifs and other images. It’s not my job to write PR for dump.

      • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

        dump has no custom designed software to handle gifs.. we just don’t convert/thumbnail images.

        • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ Lorna Mills

          I think that’s the problem with Paddy’s site. WordPress absolutely confounded me, I found a way to trick her front page into animating a gif, but it was probably small enough not to need a thumbnail conversion.

          • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

            try uploading with something like imgur.com and embedding image with a basic img src html tag.. that should work every time!

      • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

        gmail has custom designed software to handle gifs and other images.. is that a site like dump?

        • Anonymous

          Here’s what I’m talking about: On my blog I can’t display have the images that are on dump, because you can layer and flip gifs easily. From that I drew the conclusion that you must have done this on purpose. If this isn’t a software issue, please tell me what it is so the language accurately describes the issue.

          I don’t understand what the condescending tone is about.

          • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

            You mean the posts in the hall of fame.. predominately from user, and dump cofounder, Tim Baker (http://dump.fm/timb) these layered GIFs are made using CSS wizardry.. CSS and HTML are only enabled on dump for admins of the site. Dump has built no features which enable manipulation of GIFs.. if the site is GIF centric it is because of the user base. Dump is a platform for real-time communication with images… the dump community is something else.Unless we are speaking in person, don’t accuse me of having a condescending tone – I am just trying to get the facts strait!

          • Anonymous

            Sorry about that. My bad.

            I had assumed Tim’s gif was something anyone could do on the site, since it was in the hall of fame. It followed Tom’s which I also can’t display on the site.

            Whatever wordpress does with its css makes it very difficult to arrange gifs. My assumption was users had to deal with those issues a little less, and this was based on what I saw. As I understand it, you’re saying this is because the user base has an interest, not because dump as a platform is designed to encourage gif posting.

          • http://twitter.com/newmoticons ˚∆˚

            i think there are many factors to why dump.fm attracts a creative crowd who are into making and admiring gifs.. mainly, the fact that the core group of original users liked this stuff.. so I think this aesthetic naturally promulgated from the original core userbase.. to whom I am a proud member of :)

          • ben_dover
    • alliharvard
  • Rob Myers

    “There’s an argument to be had that the work that appears there is just as artistically valid”

    The work that appears on surf clubs and their cognates is not as artistically valid as that which appears on 4chan. Art is often an aesthetically successful failure to do X, but the problem for applying this schema to artworld-careers-in-animated-GIF-nominating is that in this case X is already a more intensely interesting aesthetic and social success than the resulting “art”.

    I’m not calling for laughing-at-the-sparkly-backgrounds style semiotic ventriloquism of the digital plebs here. To call btards the new spraycan artists wouldn’t do them justice. They are shaping the culture and aesthetics of the net and that is leaking out into the wider world in a way that surf clubs and other CV-friendly hobbies cannot and do not.

    There’s a video here that explains the problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHg5SJYRHA0

  • .gif

    more like year of the eighties, when you own a red car, you start seeing all the other red cars.

    • Anonymous

      This post is a result of following surf blogs for four years. This isn’t a perception issue, it’s a matter of fact. Further anonymous comments like this won’t be approved a) because they are anonymous, and b) because they fail to do the work involved in contributing something meaningful to the conversation.

  • night-falls.net

    love all the new content being generated! lets note that most of these gifs are being made by teenagers / highschool students.. they have the most time on their hands ;D

    Im working on a project HDgif.com.. the site will feature gifs in 720p and 1080p resolution – developing the user-side interface right now, due to release this spring.. keep an eye out! hopefully it will broaden the Gif community to new possibilities enabled by Broadband connections..

    great post!
    -judydownloads

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    My GIFs are regular GIFs; the only special handling dump.fm has for them is a wider posting window so that three GIFs can be placed side by side without wrapping. Responding to other comments: I see Rob Myers is still unhappy about surf clubs. And to BenjaminLotan, yes, the downside of the dump.fm chatroom style is the main room can be commandeered for hours, days, or weeks at a time by a single strutting bully and his toadies and enablers. And no, I’m not talking about me.

  • Anonymous

    Paddy, regarding your update: Google lets you search for the.gif file extension but if you want an *animated* GIF you have to put the word “animated” in the search string. Very awkward and it won’t always pull up what you are looking for. The new Google Images search popups are not animated so you could end up clicking through to several URLs before you found a moving image. This may be apocryphal but a Google executive was quoted as saying “I don’t remember the last time I saw an animated GIF.”

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, the new google image search makes actually looking at and using images much more difficult. The only real improvement imo is that you don’t have to page through results.

  • Anonymous

    Just did a test. If you search “atom” in Google Images this doesn’t come up:

    http://sciencejunkies.com/media/2008/04/atom_animated.gif

    But if you search “atom animated” it is the second result and is in fact a moving gif. So you have to go to advanced search and choose “.gif” and add the word “animated” to the search string and even that provides no certainty you’ll get what you’re looking for. Clearly it’s a case of “Google to Animated GIFs: FU.”

    • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jessepatrickmartin

      Google Images might not make finding animated GIFs convenient, but I’ve found that being playful (and somewhat systematic) with searches can yield varied & interesting results. Yes, it’s generally necessary to use “animated,” “animate,” or “animation” with whatever other word you’re searching for (and each form of ‘animate’ will bring different results). And, as mentioned above, it really helps to ‘Advance Search’ for GIFs only. Using nonsense words, numbers, and alphanumerics have lead to finding some of my favorite GIFs (and/or lead to pages that have GIF goldmines that may not appear in the dizzying, cascading Google image grid).

      So even though dump.fm and animated GIFs privilege a visual experience/interface, I like to see them as resulting from a linguistic/archival negotiation, or as the trying of various codes into a resistant interface that transforms words into pictures. Or, like feeding word “coins” into a slot-machine and gambling for an image “jackpot.”

      • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ Lorna Mills

        It gets even more interesting if you feed those search strings to Babel Fish and try out different languages.

  • Anonymous

    Your system gets great results, Jesse, and I’m not knocking it. It’s pointless of me to criticize Google’s handling of animations at this point, since the big boys are thinking ahead to whatever image mechanism they’re going to force on us (probably some kind of video spec). As a consumer you are supposed to be buying animation apps that play on your phone and make someone money, not sifting through the rubble of “free,” failed dotcom era artifacts. Artists do that, but Google is only incidentally interested in artists.

  • SloaneSP

    I just read this article about the resurgence in popularity of Animated GIFs on Slate.com . It is interesting in itself that a relatively mainstream news source is jumping on the bandwagon here. The article focuses mainly on GIFs as they relate to nostalgia and fan culture. I think that Weiner’s connection of GIF’s to the work of Paul Pfeifer seems pretty apt.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2270819/

    Here are a couple other quick thoughts about why GIF’s may be having their moment right now:
    A growing frustration with Flash (Hello, Mac)
    The “fragment”, in the last 30 or so years has become a traditional medium in its own right.
    The limitations inherent in the GIF aren’t strictly what make them interesting, but these limitations do encourage a kind of self-reflexivity that makes GIFs great fodder for “artification”.

  • Pingback: Animated Gifs: The Politics Of File Formats In Social Media And SEO | trends trendory trend

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=531566573 Wesley Brown

    Hi Paddy – Sharing my new series, which comprises animated GIFS:

    http://inversion.jwesleybrown.com/

Previous post:

Next post: