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…

 
 

Want to talk to us about the article
or dive into a custom study?


Millennial News Feed

Quote of the Day: “I can’t live without my desktop computer because it can replace most of the other devices (media streaming, music playing, getting directions, staying in contact with friends, gaming...).”—Female, 25, SC

The NBA has teamed up with Budweiser to give fans their first virtual reality experience. At their playoff game last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave out cardboard VR headsets that also doubled as beer carriers. Attendees could access experiences like player intros, an inside look at the locker room, and a courtside view of the national anthem. The NBA says they are “always looking for new ways to connect with…fans by leveraging emerging technologies that deliver unique experiences,” and plans to continue to launch more videos throughout the playoffs. The NBA is latest of many brands that have jumped into using VR. (Adweek

A six-year-old fan convention has gotten “too big to ignore.” Described as “the Millennial and postMillennial equivalent” of Comic-Con, VidCon connects fans with their favorite video creators and counts YouTube as a top sponsor. Attendance for the event is poised to grow to 30,000 this year from 21,000 last year, when attendees were mostly teens and females. Not missing the “chance for a direct conversation with a very important, hard-to-reach audience,” the movie industry plans to make an appearance “in a major way for the first time.” Lionsgate plans to bring the star of upcoming thriller Nerve, and Warner Bros. will be doing an “elaborate stunt” to promoteFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. (The New York Times

Second screen behavior is only becoming more prevalent. Internet users are increasingly turning to additional devices while watching TV programming and commercials, leading “simultaneous usage” to grow to 85% this year from 80% in 2015. According to eMarketer, that’s 182.9 million Americans who are browsing the internet while watching TV at least once a month. Device ownership is also on the rise: smartphone ownership is expected to increase by 11% over the next few years, and tablet ownership by 4%. If the trend continues, more than nine out of ten internet users will be multi-tasking with their devices by 2018. (MediaPost

Older generations may have thing or two to teach Millennials about technology. A new study on adults in the U.K. and U.S. found that 18-34-year-olds tend to be more relaxed when it comes to online security, leading to compromised accounts. When asked if they ever used “easily cracked” passwords like birthdays, the word “password,” and “1234,” the majority of 51-69-year-olds said no, while two-thirds of Millennials who said yes. Not surprisingly, 35% of Millennials report one of their accounts was hacked over the past 12 months. (Quartz

We’ve reached peak Boomerang Generation: There are more Millennials living with their parents than significant others, roommates, or on their own, according to Pew Research data. In 2014, for the “first time in modern history,” about one-third of Millennials reported that they were living at their parents’ home. Although the recession limited the generation financially, the Washington Post says the trend has been “decades in the making, a result of deep-rooted societal transformations in education, work and family building.” Instead of marrying, moving out, and starting families, young adults are instead focusing on career paths, gaining more education, and saving up to move out on their own without the support of a significant other. (Washington Post

Quote of the Day: “I want to travel to Washington, because I love the Twilight series and I'd love to see the place it's based on.”

—Female, 23, CA

Sign Up Now

Subscribe for premium access to our content, data, and tools.

Already a subscriber? Sign in.

Upgrade Now

Upgrade for full access to the best marketing tools for understanding the next generation.

View our Client Case Studies