I have a problem and I know the first step is admitting it: I am addicted to GIFs. I secretly run about three “My Reaction When” GIF blogs (except that I find myself so proud of them I slowly start sending links of them to friends). I religiously “read” four to five animated GIF-based blogs on a daily basis. And yeah … I wrote this last week.
I often think in animated GIF.
It’s the Internet’s fault, really. Even a year ago I hadn’t been sucked in this deeply, but within something happened and the animated GIF went from image format of the Internet elite to medium of the masses.
But there’s a big, big problem that we aren’t really talking about.
Why won’t most social sites let you used animated GIFs?
While Tumblr is littered with them and Google+ is giving it a shot, the format is anything but universally accepted by the Internet – and I want to know why.
Why can’t I respond in an animated GIF to a Facebook comment? Right now, it looks like this when I try and feel all the feelings in GIF form:
— Molly McHugh (@iammollymchugh) May 22, 2013
Horrible. And the same goes for Twitter – a messy link, and a barrier between the recipient and my imaged reaction. While it’s not exactly a social network, Gmail and Gchat (er, Hangouts … are we calling it Hangouts now? Did we unilaterally make a decision, Internet?) also can’t embed GIFs. It’s a problem because sometimes, that’s all there is to say.
It’s the social media communication tool of the most prolific social media users. Who is more active than a Tumblrer? I dare you to find them. So why, why oh why Facebook, Twitter, and you other holdouts, won’t you give us back the GIF?
In trying to find out, all I got were non-answers. But in the process, I found some loopholes. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The response received from Twitter came loud and clear:
“We don’t have anything to shares besides the information that is in our help center.”
Said information reads:
“Twitter supports JPEG, GIF, and PNG file formats. We do not support animated GIFs. All existing animated GIF images will be left as they are, but no new ones can be uploaded.”
In case you missed it, there was this brief, wonderful window where Twitter allowed you to use animated GIFs as avatars – and there are alleged workarounds that remain. This app was supposed to be one of them; I tried it however. No go. It said “failed” every time I tried to upload my new avatar. I also tried this one, and while it said the image was uploaded, it never showed up as my profile picture … which was because I was apparently logged into the Digital Trends Twitter account. So for a brief few minutes, my GIF did in fact work as a Twitter avatar. However, when I tried to repeat this with my own account, I just kept getting an internal service error. Still, I’d encourage giving it a shot.
There’s also this handy how-to – I followed each step, and when I finally uploaded this lovely GIF to my Twitter profile, the preview image was animated, but the final, uploaded version was not. It seems the loophole has been closed.
What’s perhaps more frustrating than anything is the fact that Twitter embeds Vines, which are a similar file structure to animated GIFs. I figured it safe to assume that Twitter, being the news powerhouse and real-time beast that it is, wants to do everything it can to kill down time, slow loading, and anything that could cause a glitch – and as much as I love them, animated GIFs can. But if Twitter can support Vines (which can also include audio), why not animated GIFs? And what’s more, why can’t I make a Vine my profile picture?
But Twitter isn’t the only one raining on the GIF parade.
For about five minutes in 2011, Facebook allowed you to include animated GIFs in your photo albums. And then it didn’t. “That was a bug that was on the site for just a short period of time,” Facebook Photo engineer Nathaniel Roman said in response to a Quora question. “It got fixed awhile back.”
In my quest to find animated GIF answers, I had to know why Facebook wouldn’t support the format; it allows you to share from social GIF-making apps like Cinemagram and Days, but you’re really just posting pretty links, not an actual image anyone can see (er, watch).
So here is Facebook’s non-answer:
“Facebook does not support GIFs. Please attribute to a Facebook spokesperson.”
(If I wanted to be a complete tool, I’d point out that Facebook does support GIF files – just not animated GIFs. But I don’t want to be that person.)
When asked for reasons – I assumed and continue to assume it has to do with load times and other structural issues – none were provided. “[We] don’t have anything to share beyond confirming that Facebook doesn’t support GIFs.” (Please reference previous statement about not being a tool.)
So keep on posting those links that bump you out of Facebook and pushing images from those apps that also take you outside the side. No one to blame but yourselves, Facebook. No one to blame but yourselves.
You’re making me call G+ an innovator
It absolutely much be mentioned that Google+ allows you to embed animated GIFs in the stream as well as have one for your profile picture. See?
One caveat: This picture is also your static Gchat and Gmail picture, and if you have one, the photo that shows up on your author page. Here, they are not animated – so if you’re unfortunate like me, you might have some major grumpy face going on outside of your G+ page.
Since it doesn’t seem like Twitter and Facebook are talking, the best place to turn for answers has to be animated GIF machine royale: Tumblr. Animated GIFs are a Tumblr art form – so why does the platform think it’s uniquely capitalizing on this content?
“I think these services are different enough in a way that I’m not sure it’s really apples to apples,” Tumblr editorial director Christopher Price, or “Topher Chris,” says. “Tumblr to me is really all about creativity. People are making things, creating things; what you can do with GIFs as an art form is just another tool in your palate.”
“I’m not sure those other services are designed or geared to the creative.”
Fair enough: You don’t use Facebook or Twitter to tell a story – you use them to tell people about the stories you’re creating elsewhere. But that might be part of why we keep hearing about the very active Tumblr community versus the more passive, consuming platforms out there.
Buzzfeed has been a significant mover and shaker in the art of animated GIF storytelling. In addition to beloved GIFed-out round ups (which generally center around a “relatable as hell” theme), the site has partnered with Starbacks to create a Reaction Cam feature where readers can create and submit their own animated GIFs as comments.
Embed-friendly sites would be the greatest GIF of all
It feels like a matter of when not if social platforms universally give in to the GIF. The proliferation of the medium plus the increasing capabilities of browser speed (as well as users general being Internet smarter) means that animated GIFs are only going to further take over the Internet.
Tumblr is only getting bigger, apps that let you create animated GIFs more popular. TV shows are bridging the gap between your screens via GIFs. These are no longer spillover fun from GeoCities – they are real and they are defining Internet language and communication.
And also, they are really, really fun. So tick-tock, holdouts. Tick-tock.