This would be interesting enough in itself, when you take into account how desperately radio stations think about how to form their content into handy portions that are easy to share and hopefully go viral. But in the end, this is still a blog about GIFs that you are reading now. So, what’s this all about?
Actually, it is just a tiny observation, but it made me think. The announcement of the new feature includes one rather odd sentence (the first part of the quote is just for context):
[…]turn your favorite podcast moments into videos that you can post to social media. It’s kind of like making a gif, but for audio. [thisamericanlife.org]
Yes. Yes, videos are somehow like GIFs, but with audio. But of course this promising perception has another layer of meaning. The term GIF is not limited to .gif-files any more. For a longer time now we can observe a shift from this technical definition to a broader cultural understanding of what GIFs are. I have linked to several articles about that in the past and written about it myself. „GIF“ has become a generic term for any short piece of moving image that is shared on the web, that may or may not include audio. Since the rise of WebM, GIFV and the like, the file format itself is less and less relevant, as users rather care for the animated content.
Okay, let’s not get too excited here. It is only a metaphor and of course GIFs are „shareable“, duh! Well, have a look back to, lets say, 2012. GIFs just became quiet popular again and seemed to be all over the place. But the were not that shareable. It just happened during the last years that social media sites and apps included GIF support, leading to the current situation where GIFs are even more all over the place than a few years before.
What I want to illustrate with all this is: Our understanding of GIFs is developing constantly. And as an observer of GIF culture I want to point out remarkable instances and turning points of this development. The case we just inspected is a very demonstrative example of a progress that already is in effect for some time and will continue even further. Have a look at designated GIF-sections on Reddit or 4chan, where WebMs are shared because they include audio, albeit being a different file format. Or at GIF-Art, where a very broad definition of GIFs may apply, as stated in this article I recently mentioned in the last link list.
From the current point of view it seems that the usual definition of GIFs nowadays is merely linked to the file format, but to its appearance and appropriation. This might seem obvious now, but in the 90s the technical aspects have been far more important, especially in contrast to PNG.
Runde um Runde dreht sich die Turnerinnen am Reck. Endlos. Immer wieder auf die gleiche Weise. Eigentlich müsste die sportliche Ausdauer irgendwann nachlassen, aber im GIF ist die Bewegung in einer Schleife festgehalten, die so lange anhält, wie die Betrachter in ihrer Schaulust ausharren. Wiederkehrende Bewegungen gehören zu den klassischen GIF-Motiven, egal ob von Mensch, Tier oder Maschine, ob Tanz, Produktionsstraße oder eben Leibesertüchtigung.
Längst nicht immer ist das Motiv eine perfekte Kür oder überhaupt ein Loop, auch Fails oder andere Ausschnitte sind beliebt. Auf jeden Fall aber sind sportliche Ereignisse einer der häufigsten Motivgeber für GIFs.
Vier Jahre – eine Olympiade also – liegt der Hype um den 25. Geburtstag des GIF-Dateiformats nun zurück. Dieses Jubiläum markiert in der Geschichte der GIF-Kultur die Phase, in der sich GIFs einer sehr breiten Publikumsmasse als Kulturtechnik erschlossen. Wir erinnern uns: Das Oxford Dictionary hat „gif“ zum Wort des Jahres erkoren, zahlreiche Rückblicke auf die vergangenen GIF-Dekaden waren in den Medien zu lesen und vor allem wurden sie als journalistisches Medium entdeckt.
Diesen neuen Anwendungsbereich haben GIFs wohl unter anderem den Olympischen Spielen in London zu verdanken, die im gleichen Jahr stattfanden. Dank einer Animation von einer Turnübung in permanenter Wiederholung werden die Feinheiten des Sports besonders gut sichtbar. Das, worauf die geschulten Augen der Jury achten, wird hierbei auch für andere besser zu analysieren und das Jury-Urteil wird besser nachzuvollziehen.
Schon mehr als hundert Jahre zuvor bestand der Wunsch, die Bewegung von Mensch und Tier besser analysieren zu können und bereits damals wurden Serienbilder eingesetzt. Die Chronofotografie des galoppierenden Pferds, aufgenommen von Eadweard Muybridge, genießt noch immer große Bekanntheit. Nicht nur er, auch Zeitgenossen wie Etienne-Jules Marey, Ottomar Anschütz, Georges Demenÿ und einige weitere hatten menschliche Bewegungsabläufe als Motiv für ihre Bilderserien erkannt. Mit ihren Chronofotografien hielten sie häufig Menschen fest, dierannten, Treppen stiegen, Purzelbäume schlugen oder ähnliches – und das nicht selten fast nackt.
Während dieser Vor- und Frühgeschichte des Kinos fertigte Marey bei den Olympischen Spielen in Paris im Jahre 1900 Fotoserien von den Sportlern an. Hierfür benutzte er einen kuriosen Apparat, der mehr an ein Gewehr als an eine Kamera erinnert und meterweise Film in kurzer Zeit in Fotoserien verwandelte. So wie GIFs heute die sportlichen Bewegungsabläufe besonders gut für das Publikum sichtbar machen, konnte Marey auf ähnliche Weise die Technik der Sportler aus anderen Ländern auskundschaften.
Durch eine genaue Analyse der einzelnen Aufnahmen waren mehr Details zu erkennen als mit bloßem Auge während des Wettkampfes selbst. Nicht nur konnte er erkennen, dass die Olympioniken aus den USA wegen ihrer besseren Technik siegten, das gesammelte Bildmaterial konnte später eingesetzt werden, um seinen französischen Landsleute später eben jene sportlichen Techniken beizubringen.
Eine Animation der Serienbilder war nicht Mareys eigentliches Interesse. Da er die Fotografien für Analysezwecke erstellte, ging es ihm vor allem um die einzelnen Standbilder. Heutzutage ist es andersherum. Die Feinheiten der sportlichen Bewegung werden mithilfe von Loops besonders anschaulich, ohne dabei den Bewegungsfluss außen vor zu lassen.
In den letzten Jahren seit den Olympischen Spielen in London hat sich der Gebrauch von GIFs im Online-Journalismus natürlich weiterentwickelt. Sie werden vorrangig zu Unterhaltungszwecken eingesetzt, etwa um „die besten Momente“ eines Films oder einer Serie zu rekapitulieren. Sport-GIFs kommen dabei nicht zu kurz, wie in diesem Beitrag mit Tennis-GIFs, die angeblich zum lachen, weinen und schreien anregen (Clickbait ick hör dir trapsen), oder zahlreichen Football-GIFs auf Twitter, die bereits Konflikte mit der NFL (US-Football-Liga) nach sich zogen.
Trotz aller Nachteile und Limitationen des GIF-Formats kann es angemessen für Berichterstattung oder sogar Wissensvermittlung eingesetzt werden und zeigt vor allem beim Sport seine Stärken. Aber gerade angesichts dessen, dass GIFs selbst im journalistischen Kontext mit Vorliebe zur Unterhaltung eingesetzt werden, bleibt es abzuwarten, ob die Olympischen Spiele 2016 das Potenzial von Animationen ausschöpfen, so wie 2012, oder ob GIFs im Journalismus doch nur zum Clickbait-Instrument verkommen werden.
Literaturtipp zu den Arbeiten von Marey, u.a. bei den Olympischen Spielen: Braun, Marta (1994): Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
One year ago I conducted a study about GIF and WebM usage on 4chan and presented the first results at 32C3 (see here). Since then, I continued to collect data for 8 more months until August 2015*.
And now I finally publish the findings. As this is a leisure time project, I hope you understand that it took some time to finish it. Also, it is divided into three separate articles to make it more accessible:
Okay, before you scroll down for all the shiny graphs and tables, take a second for some basic information about the study:
What’s the idea?
The hypothesis was, that the 4chan /gif board, as it contains material that is considered to be “not suitable for work”, is more active in posting images than the “worksafe” /wsg board. Also, I assumed that /gif would use more WebM files instead of GIFs than /wsg, because WebMs provide a better image quality at a smaller file size, which – as I thought – might be highly appreciated for sharing (mostly) pornographic content.
*Why this time period?
I wanted to inspect the changes since April 2014, when WebM could be used on 4chan for the first time. A second paradigm shift was at the end of January 2015, when WebMs on 4chan were allowed to have sound. And for looking at a change it is good to look at older data, too. That’s why I included it back to 2012 (at least for the /wsg board). The end of the study in August 2015 is due to the circumstances explained in the next paragraph…
Why are there holes in the dataset?
I extracted the data from 4chan archives, because 4chan itself deletes them after a while. But until now, every single one of the archives I worked with eventually went offline. So I wasn’t able to find a data source for the time before fall 2014 for the /gif board. And there is also a lack of data in spring 2015. However, meanwhile I found a new archive for the ongoing time after August 2015, but I will care about that in a while.
How have the data been extracted?
Using a Python-Script that read it from the HTML of the threads in the /gif and /wsg boards (in the archives, not on 4chan itself). More details will follow in part 2.
Click to enlarge the images.
First, there are two tables for the monthly amount of image files on both /wsg and /gif board. Notice the gaps in the data, as I explained earlier. It becomes very obvious which board is more populated by Animations.
The next two graphs represent the same dataset. This time not the absolute numbers, but the average amount of files per day in each month.
EDIT: The next two images have been updated. Before, they have been older/incorrect versions. Sorry!
These next graphs show the data from December to August on a daily base. This way, the details of the development become visible. For example the huge peak at the end of January or some low points during 4chan’s server downtime. More details on that will follow in part 3.
You can see two versions of each graph. The first ones show an overview and the other (flat and greyscale) ones are thumbnails of very large graphs that show the exact data for each day in that time period. Click them to see all the details.
A first summary:
Users on /gif share more animations than those on /wsg.
On /gif WebM files quickly began to outnumber GIF files, while on /wsg this trend started later and the difference increases more slowly.
The total amount of animations slowly but steadily grows on both boards respectively.
Actually, I got really tired of the discussion about “the correct” pronunciation of GIF in the English language. Fans of both most common styles (/ˈdʒɪf/ and /ˈɡɪf/) seem to be very confident and defensive about their chosen way of pronunciation and it is not actually a debate, but rather a mantra of “do” and “don’t” without any new argument.
But recently I read an article by Gretchen McCulloch (All Things Linguistic) on Mentalfloss, that inspected a possible reason for why people choose one or the other way. So, at least there is some constructive input for the discussion about this topic. Consequently, the article does not come to “the one” conclusion, but only tries to explain the origin of this issue, without judging what is right or wrong.
So, this is the way English speakers may think about it. As a German, I not only automatically tend to pronounce it /ˈɡɪf/ (in any language), but I also stumble upon other linguistic aspects of GIFs. For example: which German article is the most common for GIFs – der, die or das (read about it here). And I wonder how GIFs are dealt with in other Languages. Or in other words: Are there any other linguistic phenomena related to GIFs? Unfortunately, that is not my field of expertise, but I collected some ideas that I’d like to present. Maybe someone can explain some of it, or knows somebody who knows somebody who can do it.
Pronunciation in other languages – Is the pronunciation debate relevant for other speaking communities? Is the English word the archetype for “GIF” in other languages? How do speakers decide to say the word if their language bares one of the phonemes of the word GIF? Korean or Georgian, for example, don’t have an F.
How is GIF spelled in other writing systems? Is the Latin alphabet used for this word? Did Japanese and Chinese invent a new character for GIFs? Which letter is chosen to substitute the “g” when a writing system has separate characters for /ˈɡ/ and /ˈdʒ/, like Cyrillic (Г or Дж) or the Persian alphabet (گ orج)?
Which writing habit is most popular – GIF, Gif, gif, .GIF, .Gif, .gif ?
Is the word GIF used as a noun, a verb or possibly as other types of words (parts of speech)? The Oxford Dictionaries USA, for example, stated in their famous press release that their word of the year 2012 was “GIF, verb / to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event)”. And which other words are derived from GIF? For example “gif’d”, “gifable”, “giffy” and what not else
If a language makes use of grammatical gender, which one is used for GIF? German: “der”, “die”, “das”? French: “le”, “la”? Swedish: “ett” (neutral) or “en” (utrum, or common gender – which kind of is a gender for “living” things. And animated GIFs are living things, if we take the etymology of “animated” into account)
Which measure words / classifiers are used for GIFs in Chinese? Measure words have to be used to state the amount of things, for example one (piece of) apple is yi ge pinggou (一个苹果). For different types of things you have to use different measure words, an there are a lot of them. For GIFs, I could imagine that for example the measure words for “row” (行), “group” (群), “artwork” (幅), or the generic measure word 个 could be used. Or some other. Maybe all of these are used, depending on the context and the speaker.
Can GIFs be used as a “universal language”? Long story short: I really do believe that this is not the case. Adam Leibsohn talked about this idea (video here, my thougts about it here). Communicating based on images might or might not be easier to understand trans-culturally than spoken language. But GIFs are not universal, because the make heavy use of tropes and motifs that are specific for one or only a few cultures.
How are GIFs paired with written language and how does this change depending on the content and/or context of the communication? Are they framed or accompanied by texts, do they have a title and nothing else, or maybe not even this? Do GIFs contain bits of text and if so, which relation do these texts have to the image content? Are text and GIF supported by one another, are equivalent to each other or completely independent? Are they used similarly to emoji or emoticons?
Hey, psst! Are you a linguistics student, scholar and/or fanatic and look for a research question for your next paper? I offer them for free ;-)
Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.
Currently, I am abroad for three months and my internet situation is not the best. So this time I can only provide very few links. If you saw anything interesting about animated images on the web recently, then please post a link in the comments :-)
„FLIF“ just showed up and claimed to be the best graphic format right now. I didn’t test it yet, but you can read about it here. It is also possible to create FLIF-animations and this sounds very interesting: ”Just like with static images, animated FLIF files can be decoded progressively: the entire animation can be shown (at a lower quality) before the entire file is downloaded. By contrast, a partial APNG file contains only the first frames, and the entire file has to be downloaded before the animation loop is complete.“
4chan was sold to the founder of 2channel, as moot announced last month. What does this have to do with GIFs? I don’t know… yet. It only reminds me to finally finish the blog post about my GIF/WebM at 4chan survey. Well, it includes _a lot_ of data, so it takes some time.
And finally, I present to you a handmade desktop wallpaper. It’s very rudimentary, but maybe you’ll like it. It shows an important part of code that every animated GIF contains. Those are in fact the bits that define the loop of an animated GIF, but they are actually not included in the official file specifications from 1989. Heiner Wolf wrote down the backstory of that part of code (translation here), which was included by Scott Furman from Netscape.
I just added a ton of links to the “Library” section on this blog, mainly research papers. Some of them focus on technical aspects of the GIF format, others on certain phenomena of GIF culture. I tried to only include articles that focus on GIFs, but I have a lot of stuff on a wider range of topics with a more or less strong connection to GIFs (banner ads, meme culture, methods of internet research, animation in general and more technical stuff). If you are interested in one of these topics, feel free to contact me. Right now I don’t want to overload the publication list.