It’s like a GIF, but with audio – Some thoughts on a changing definition of GIFs

The podcast and radio program „This American Life“ introduced a feature to select and share short clips from their shows. This creates a combination of the selected audio and a text animation of the corresponding transcript excerpt in a video file.

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. []

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.

Back to the Podcast-GIF-thingy. This American Life uses the word „GIF“ in its broader understanding to describe a new product. But they mention it only by the way. Wired, however, decided to report about that with the headline „This American Life Is Making Podcasts as Shareable as GIFs

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.


fyi [links, oct 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

Only a few days are left to take part in the Digital Public Library of America’s „GIF it up“ competition! Everyone can take part and create animations based upon archive material that is under public domain oder Creative Commons license.

Explore some GIF culture history with the GeoCities GIF search engine, made by the Internet Archive.

Wired reflects about how the definition of GIFs changes/broadens, especially in the field of art.

Have you read one of the many articles stating that using GIFs on Tinder increases your chances there? I haven’t linked to them yet, because I tried to find the source of this news bit and I assumed that there might be an article or any other documentation of a study that has been conducted by Tinder itself. Sadly, that’s not the case. The whole thing seems to be based on an interview via email between and Tinder’s own sociologist Jess Carbino. Here you can find the corresponding article from where everyone else got the information.

This article inspects the source of a well-known dumpster fire, often used in GIF form. It is always nice to read/hear/watch the background story of a certain (famous) GIF. This points out the way GIFs can be used pars pro toto: A short moving image works nicely as a communication tool, symbol or metaphor in a broad variety of situations, despite its origins in a very specific context. Actually, any Reaction GIF is also a good example for that.

If you like this kind of small background info pieces on single GIF examples, I can recommend the „GIF of the day“ section on ArtFCity. The archive reaches back quiet far.

We have seen it many times, that leagues and other sport organisations tried to get rid of GIFs – the Olympic Games 2016 being the most recent and noteworthy instance. Fans of American Football will witness the impact of this issue, as the NFL forbids its teams to use live streaming and GIFs themselves during games, threatening with hefty fines.

If you have read other stuff on this blog, you might know that I am very critical of Giphy’s GIF-world domination ambitions. And they are not even reserved about it. So, just for documentation purposes, here is their summarisation of their accomplishments.

fyi [links, jul 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

PBS Idea Channel: ”Every argument for pronouncing GIF is wrong and that’s okay.

GIF art time! A directional microphone sends the recorded content to a Raspberry Pi, that transforms it into a key word search on Giphy and then shows the results as a 3×3-matrix on a screen.

ArtFCity about, a website full of GIFs from pages that are blocked by the „Great Chinese Firewall“.

Whatsapp seems to include GIF support in a new release. Well, it was only a matter of time, but it is actually rather late, isn’t it?

Minimaxir (I will come back to his Reddit analytics in an upcoming article) presents a method for ”Unlimited Data Storage Using Image Steganography and Cat GIFs“ – which is, of course, a joke.

fyi [links, jun 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

The author of this article takes the position that ”standard“ GIFs included in GIF-libraries should not be used. Staple GIFs that can be found via key word search are convenient on one hand, but on the other hand rather arbitrary and may lack the personal note.

Here we have a short article portrait about a spanish artist, including some of his thought of GIFs in the context of art, social commentary and different audience groups for modern art.

Last month I haven’t found that many links. As a small compensation, here are two links to older podcast episodes about some aspects of GIF culture:

About two years ago, Tyler Menzel from Giphy was a guest at the sideshow podcast. (MP3)

Last summer, the Teen Screen Feminism Podcast had an episode about ”shipping“ – fan fiction and GIFs in that context. (MP3)

fyi [links, mar 2015]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

Gizmodo: The Future of GIFs Is Killing What Makes Them So Great
“We live in the age of the embed, where everything is proprietary. Media on the internet is consumed according to which service it is tied to, and only a handful of elite purveyors with the resources to make their services essential control how media is displayed.”

Here Is the Captivating Ad Format Facebook Hopes Will Wow Its Users
Garett Sloane gives an overview on how GIFs might be used as an advertising instrument on social networks, and how they already are.

And related: 5 Brands Using GIFs the Right Way on Twitter

The world’s biggest gif? Art’s biggest hype more like
Jonathan Jones (The Guardian) explains, why – in his opinion – INSA’s famous “world’s biggest GIF” is not really “true” digital art.

Even the Deutsche Welle discovered animated GIFs and promtly produced a nice little feature about GIF Artist Erdal Inci. shows a kind of “battle” between GIF and WebM. Uhm… well, I just stumbled upon it.

Episode 12 of the Say Uncle Frank podcast contains an interview with “Zombie Prophet” (@zprophet_MMA) about producing sports GIFs. The audio quality is not the best, but okay if you’re really interested:). The interview itself starts shortly after the 18 minutes mark.

The current issue of Wired Germany published an article about selling digital art: “Ich kaufe ein GIF“. It’s not only about GIFs, but presents a nice overview on how artists make mony with digtal art projects. The article is in German and can be reached here. However, it’s only accessible for subscribers, but it seems to be open if you get to the page via a search engine (just search for “Ich kaufe ein GIF Wired”.

And another German article: “Wackel, wackel!” on takes a look on the GIF-oriented style of music videos. This, of course, reminds of the analysis of this very phenomenon by the PBS idea channel.

fyi [links, dec 2014]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

Tom Moody: gif interrogation of the day
“is this phone art or GIF art and does it matter?”

Redi, Miriam et. al.(2014): “6 Seconds of Sound and Vision: Creativity in Micro-Videos”
Research Paper about an algorithm to select “creative” vine videos by analysing statistical data. And here’s a less scholary article about it.
(via Nerdcore)

The second GIF-Tournament on Reddit is in the final round. Votes can be posted until tomorrow (12/10/2014).

And last but not least, I’m proud to announce that I will be speaking at the Chaos Communication Congress (31C3) in Hamburg, Germany, later this month. The topic of my talk is “GIFs. The death of a medium. And its afterlife.” The talk will be in German but I suppose there will be live translation or subtitles or whatever:)


Edit: Haha, at first I wrote “algorythm”!