On June 15, 1987, the Graphics Interchange Format was released by CompuServe thanks to computer scientist Stephen Earl Wilhite, and it changed the way we communicate forever. While Wilhite says that the pronunciation is like Jif peanut butter, many agree that it should be pronounced with a hard ‘g’. No matter what you call it, though, there’s no doubt that gifs are incredibly popular around the internet.
We use gifs as a way of communicating with one another, especially in terms of reacting to something that we’ve read or seen. No matter your age, you have almost been guaranteed to use a gif at some point when reacting. The weekend is coming up and you’re going to happy hour with the workgroup? There’s a gif for that. Your team just won and made the playoffs in their league? There’s a gif for that.
What is it about gifs that make us love them so much specifically, though? Let’s take a look at the wonderful world of gifs and see what it is that has us all obsessed and using them as a form of communication in today’s digital world.
More Than Words
One of the biggest problems with sending someone a message through text is that there is absolutely no emotion behind it. You can say “okay” in a text, and most people will think that you’re annoyed and being sarcastic, even if your “okay” is filled with enthusiasm and positivity. When you send a gif of a character emphatically saying “okay” with a lot of joy, you’re really getting your point across that you’re happy to be agreeing.
Nobody likes to read a one-word message. Science has shown that people feel like those messages are passive-aggressive, and the same goes with certain emojis like the thumbs-up or checkmark emojis. When it comes to gifs, though, you can convey a one-word message in a way that shows that you’re thinking about that person’s feelings. It’s certainly a problem that wasn’t around a couple of decades ago, but it’s just part of life now.
No matter what you’re feeling in that very moment, there’s a gif for that emotion. From laughing until you’re rolling around and feeling intense stomach pain to being so sick that you can’t move, there’s a gif for just about everything. Even someone that doesn’t particularly like gifs that much will probably end up using them because there are some for how they’re feeling that they can’t quite put into words.
Gifs of people laughing in particular are the ones that get the most traction on the internet. Sometimes just saying “lol” isn’t enough to show just funny you found something to be. Thanks to gifs, we can truly show just how hard we’re laughing. Comedy, despair, apathy, you name it, there’s a gif that shows exactly how you’re feeling.
Easy to Consume
You could send a video to show your reaction to something, but then someone has to open a specific app to watch it, and it might end up being too long. Gifs are much easier for someone to consume at that moment and don’t take forever to load. There are even gifs of entire movies like “Shrek” all condensed into one moving picture that can be viewed on the internet, that’s how far we’ve gotten with gifs.
The best part is that gifs can be sent in lieu of text these days because they won’t take a couple of minutes to load over wireless networks. These days, gifs are almost instantaneous, which has led to an explosion in their popularity. Remember the days of dial-up when a gif took longer to load than a YouTube video does in the current day? Thankfully that’s long done for.
Companies Want Them To Be
We’ve explained all the scientific reasons why gifs are so popular, but there’s a business aspect to it, as well. Companies like Facebook and Google have acquired gif websites like Tenor and GIPHY, and they want you to use them. Some companies pay to have their gifs show up first when you’re searching for a specific one, which is probably something that you didn’t know.
Social media pushes these gifs, though not many people are fooled into using a McDonald’s or Walmart gif just out of the blue. Still, with these companies present at the top of the search results, they’re at least getting eyes on their products.