Did you know that silent films are now the most popular form of entertainment in America? No, not through some awful retro-hipster resurgent of Nickelodeans or Netflix’s repeated suggestion that we add Buster Keaton to our instant streaming queue. It’s the slow but steady growth of the animated GIF, an almost vestigal file type from the early internet era that has become the medium of choice for quick, viral communication of humor, sports and even art.
That’s according to Anil Dash, who did a little back of the envelope calculation based on Tumblr’s page views and the site’s GIF-happy users. If just one in 20 of the 180 million Tumblr posts a day contains an animated GIF, and you factor in all the other sources of GIF goodness like 4chan and B3ta, nearly 3.3 billion people will watch one of these short, silent animations each year.
“The facts about animated GIFs are stark. They only support a palette of 256 colors. No current browser lists support for animated GIF as a codec for the HTML5 <video> tag. That omission is understandable, as GIF compression of animation isn’t particularly efficient. They even lived under an unfashionable cloud of patent uncertainty during the web’s formative years. And those are just some of the traits I love about the format,” writes Mr. Dash on his blog.
And yet the form has been elevated to the level of art, through the work of the oft-cited duo Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg and sites like If We Don’t, Remember Me, Three Frames, as well as two Animated GIF Museums (second one here). Now a Kickstarter project from some folks at NY’s ITP are trying to bring the “internet’s native art form” into the physical world with an old school zeotrope. The New York Times even illustrated a story with animated GIFs.
As a huge portion of the world moves online, many through mobile phones, the GIF is likely to become a crucial tool for quickly and easily relying information. Now if only we could find a way to display then on our homepage…