Gifs: 30 years of reactions, dancing babies and popcorn
They may have only become part of the everyday internet experience in recent years, but gifs are old school. Here we chart its rise in its 30th year
The humble gif is turning 30. The multi-purpose bitmap image format has established itself as part of internet culture, so much so that people have almost stopped arguing over how it is pronounced (overwhelmingly it is with a hard g, although the inventor of the format says he meant for it to be a soft g).
The gif, or graphics interchange format, was created by programmer Steve Wilhite, who longed for an image format that could be used across different computer platforms. At the time, in 1987, this included the likes of Atari, Apple and IBM. Plus modem speeds were slow and images took a long … time … to … load.
In the beginning, gifs on the internet were mostly used as design accents for websites, before their current widespread use as the internet currency for expressions and feelings – so-called “reaction gifs”. Indeed, gifs are part of the online trend for expressing ourselves without proper words, alongside emoticons, emojis and abbreviations. The cry-laugh emoji was named Oxford Dictionaries’ US ‘word’ of the year in 2015, but “gif” took this honour in 2012.
Meanwhile, Facebook added gifs to Messenger in 2015, and to celebrate the big 3-o will add them to comments. Even Twitter, which is well known for introducing features absolutely nobody wants, surprised us all by adding the in-platform gif function in 2016. Gif keyboards are also now common, with Apple adding one to Messages in iOS 10 and Google’s Gboard launched with gif support in 2016. The expansion in web-based, app and downloadable gif editors means many more people are making their own gifs too, with pre-existing ones catalogued in online repositories such as Giphy.
So, where does the gif go from here? Well, there have been some pretty darn creative innovations in the format to the point it is becoming a legitimate art medium in its own right, with IRL exhibitions and everything. In honour of the gif’s exit from its heady 20s, here are some iconic examples (and some personal favourites):