Animated GIF as a medium

As an Animated GIF model, a web user, net artist, mother and citizen I can't not to comment on the Off Books video Animated GIFs: The Birth of a Medium.

The historical part in the beginning is a disaster. The first few seconds of the video already mention "the Web 1.0 of the 70's, 80's and 90's". Come on ... I mean you don't need to know web history and GIF history to make GIFs and to admire them, but if you put yourself in front of the camera to talk about "the birth of the medium" check at least some basic facts. There was no web in the 70's and the 80's. The web started in 1993. If you like you can also count from 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee invented the HTTP protocol. I never do, but in this context it would be at least catchy. This way you could say that animated GIFs and the WWW are of the same age. After all animated GIFs as we know them now started with version number 89a.

The last minute is embarrassing. How to pronounce GIF correctly? With hard or with soft G? The people interviewed are quoiting The GIF pronunciation page. And a killer argument pops up again: it is "JIF, because the creator of the format pronounced it like this". I don't want to contribute to the discussion, but let me object this methodology for future web archaeologists. The WWW is the people's medium, don't ask developers, inventors and founding fathers how to pronounce or use something they created.

The rest of the video is very interesting and I really enjoyed listening to the artists talking about GIFs and why they work with them and what is so special about the format. What they do is beautiful and what they say makes a lot of sense.

But what makes animated GIFs to be animated GIFs? How they differ from other kinds of online animations?

Technically there are two features that are specific to GIFs: loop and transparency. The video only talks about the loop, the endless animation, a moment that exists forever. Transparency is about the possibility to exist everywhere (on any page and any background), which is historically much more important for the development of the file format into the medium. GIF89a is a format to be distributed. The ability for one image to appear in countless contexts made it the success that it is.

Olia Lialina