Why GIFs Became the Sweetheart of the Internet

 

Is it too early to crown the GIF the internet star of 2013? Though the format has been in use since the early days of websites, there has been a proliferation of GIF use among young consumers of late that has pushed the once lowly image file into the spotlight. What is it about the GIF format that has captured the hearts of hoards of Tumblr users, internet commenters, and viral bloggers?

For readers who aren’t familiar with the GIF, they are short, endlessly-looped video files that appear to play a few seconds of action on eternal replay. The New Republic wrote an extensive history of the medium and its rise from 90s junk animation to art form. Today, GIFs have become an integral part of the way internet users (often led by Gen Y) talk to one another. They appear as reactions to blog articles, are created and shared by fan communities on Tumblr and elsewhere to celebrate moments in TV and movies, are emailed as exclamations and emotional outbursts. In short, they have become the second language of the internet.

So why GIFs, and why now? Millennials, always a very image-reliant generation, have continued to gravitate towards visual communication. With the strengthening popularity of Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and Snapchat, we could almost see them reaching a tipping point where visuals actually usurp text communication in common use. When you are a group who communicates by majority in visuals, those visuals have to evolve in order to fully capture the emotion you are trying to convey. (We saw a similar evolution in the simple emoticon, which began as a finite combination of punctuations and have become a legion of animated faces and objects stored on your phone for easy access and hieroglyphic-esque messaging.) Layer on top of this the fact that Millennials have also…

 
 

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