What Is the GIF’s History?

What Is the GIF’s History?

Oh, GIFs, how would we ever be able to express all of our feelings as humans without them? After all, a GIF of Beyoncé dancing best captures our joy on Friday night.

Of course, they’re also useful for humorously encapsulating more difficult emotions, such as our midday breakdowns, which are easily represented by GIFs of a cute kid or pet having a fit.

What Is a GIF?

The best thing about these GIFs is the fast feedback and reactions they offer without requiring any typing at all. The GIF, or graphics interchange format, is a common choice for communication in the twenty-first century and is used all around the world.

Although the popularity of animated GIFs peaked in 2013, GIFs have existed for more than 35 years. Here’s the real inspiration behind the creation of GIFs and how, more than three decades later, they evolved into the viral internet phenomenon that today wraps off our favourite group chats.

The Real Reason GIFs Were Invented

You must first explore the early days of the World Wide Web in order to see why the GIF was developed. There were online service providers that satisfied our needs before the general public had complete access to the Web, which has all the text, photographs, video clips, animations, and virtually anything we need.

According to WIRED, CompuServe became the market leader for online services in America in 1979 and provided customers with hourly memberships that allowed them to access email and transfer files.

However, issues with speed and storage continued to arise, particularly as users attempted to send enormous, colourful images that were beyond the capabilities of the time’s computer architecture. According to Smithsonian Magazine, computer scientist Stephen Wilhite and his team at CompuServe were entrusted with finding a solution by reducing photos while maintaining their colour and clarity. But they were unaware at the time that by doing so, they would invent the GIF, an image format that would endure for decades.

Wilhite used a compression method to develop the graphics trade format in 1987. Alexander Trevor, a CompuServe executive, gave him an order to do so.

The GIF quickly established itself as the quickest format for storing and sending a colour slideshow of several still images at the time. Although they weren’t animated as they are now, the photographs could still be combined to make a story, much like a digital flipbook.

But how did GIF actually arrive at the fun animation loop stage that has made it so popular now? As a result of the widespread acclaim for GIF’s abilities, web designers immediately began making extensive use of GIFs in the creation of their websites.

According to report, Unisys had already filed a patent for the Lempel-Ziv-Welch compression technology that Wilhite had used to produce GIFs in the 1990s. A full-fledged patent fight erupted over Unisys’ desire to charge for any usage of GIFs, which stopped the rapidly expanding GIF and forced developers to turn to other file formats like PNG. That is, up until the early 2000s, when GIFs made a triumphant comeback.

A History of GIFs

It was already 2004 when the GIF patents ran out and the patent war ended, and the Web had undergone a significant amount of development. GIFs started appearing online with the rise of early 2000s social media sites like Facebook, Myspace, and YouTube as well as the smartphone craze.

According to Vox, it was also simpler to convert the GIF from a collection of still images to a looped video thanks to new editing software like Photoshop. All of the different forms of GIFs we are acquainted with today, including video, animation, and sticker GIFs, were quickly developed as a result of this.

Reaction GIFs, which tended to be video-based, quickly took over social media and instant messaging platforms. The video GIFs were frequently brief, entertaining bits taken from a movie or television scene. These GIFs were even more well-liked due to their relatability and rapid delivery. For instance, on the GIPHY Channel, which houses a collection of GIFs, the popular tv show “Friends” produced numerous GIFs based on favourite moments and character quotes. Despite the fact that the series finale aired in 2004, the show’s GIFs are still popular and have had close to 1 billion views, according to Giflytics.

When GIFs were at their peak in 2013, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences honoured Stephen Wilhite with a Lifetime Achievement Webby Award for his contribution to the medium. Wilhite, according to The New York Times, also put an end to the ongoing discussion about how to say GIF at the time, confirming that it should sound like “JIF,” with a soft “G.”

Wilhite’s invention has survived more than three decades of changes today. Although GIFs’ future is still unknown, the looping picture format is still widely used in group conversations and on social media.


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