The GIF is a beloved file format with impressive longevity, even if no one can agree on how to pronounce it (hard “G” forever). But GIFs have a major flaw: they’re slower loading than an 86-year-old meatpacker on the verge of retirement trying to haul one last beef carcass up a steep flight of stairs.
This is what Media Crush wants to remedy. The open-source service can speed up the loading time of your basic GIF by using compression techniques to convert GIFs into video. The service is still in beta, but it’s free, and there’s no discernible difference between the original GIF files and the converted video files when they play — they just load faster, with smaller file sizes.
Drew Devault, one of Media Crush’s founders, is confident about the service’s ability to make looping media better. “There are quite a few benefits, but chief among them is speed. GIF is an old file format that has seen better decades. It’s a very poor medium for animation, despite its popularity,” he says. “Technology has made enormous advances in video compression since GIF was released, and when we convert them to actual videos, we get ridiculous results. Usually, we see improvements around 1,500 to 3,000 percent faster after converting to video.”
Here’s what a conventional GIF looks like uploaded onto WordPress:
And here it is converted on the Media Crush website. (I can’t embed it directly — and I’ll get to that momentarily.)
For my experiment, Media Crush says the GIF is 354 percent faster, which leads me to believe that the results may be a bit less dramatic every time than Media Crush says — but still, it’s an improvement.
The speed advantage could come in handy for blogs that rely on GIF; for instance, the various Tumblrblogs in the vein of WhatShouldWeCallMe.
Media Crush is still getting its bearings. There’s no mobile app yet, although it’s something the team wants to work on, but they’ve already created a mobile website to make it easier for smartphone users to access the service. It’s a more than worthy concept that undoubtedly could catch on … if it fixes one major problem.
The drawback is that embedding these converted files onto blogs can be harder than slapping a GIF into a story. “Converting GIFs to videos may make it a little more difficult to host on blogs and other websites, but trivially so. It becomes comparable in difficulty to placing a YouTube video in your blog,” Devault says.
Having a learning curve is fine, but when I tried to embed a GIF converted by Media Crush onto WordPress, which is our publishing tool at Digital Trends, I couldn’t get the video to display properly. Devault noted that Media Crush runs into trouble when it comes to sites using WordPress, and that I’d need to install a special plugin. That’s a big blow to the service, since many online publishers that love GIFs use WordPress. To be fair, that means Tumblr is in the clear.
Still, if Media Crush can smooth out its rough patches, it could become a widely used tool. As websites continue to bloat, compression is becoming an important step to keep things running smoothly. That’s one of the reasons Facebook just bought Onavo, a service that compresses data. Media Crush could eventually get picked up by a bigger company if it can make itself a universal GIF converter.