A New Language Evolved: The Animated GIF

Nov 3rd 2014

The use of imagery and symbols as a form of communication has existed since prehistoric cave art. Explore how the old file format that allows for looping animation has evolved as a new form of communication.

What is an Animated GIF?

The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, has been around since 1987 and its age shows.

The format is limited to a 256 color pallete and animated images can grow rapidly in file size.

Back in the early days of the internet, the most you could expect from an animated GIF was a rotating globe, or a dancing baby.

Flash forward 20 plus years later and a lot has been done to squeeze the most out of the GIF format, including a new form of art known as cinemagraphs. This new medium isolates select portions of video and combines them with a single still frame. The end results can be simply stunning, even with the limitations of the GIF format.

You can check out more cinemagraphs on a subreddit dedicated to this art form.
 

Imgur to the Rescue

Popular image sharing site Imgur has not let the increased usage of animated GIF’s go unnoticed. Imgur recently announced a new file format GIFV (GIF Video) that creates more efficient, better quality moving images. Their process converts GIF files into the MP4 format using H.264, a more efficient codec for video. This allows users to upload standard GIF’s as large as 50MB with the result being MP4 files a fraction of the size. We end up with higher resolution and more colorful moving images, with the same ability to display inline looping animations as with standard GIF’s.

Small, efficient file size is crucial with the growing mobile market. With limited data plans, users can’t afford to download large GIF files over the already crowded cellular network and Imgur’s GIFV format helps to alleviate some of the network strain of full motion video. Imgur's new GIFV format will help to advance the animated GIF as a communication medium.

The Importance of Non-verbal Communication

Many studies have been done on the level of non-verbal communication cues we rely on, like the work of Albert Mehrabian. His findings boiled down to what is referred to as the 7%-38%-55% Rule. This rule claims that the actual words in a face-to-face conversation account for only 7% of the meaning, while tone of voice and body language account for 38% and 55% respectively.

Now it should be noted that his studies were targeted to illicit a response by having the subjects verbally claim to like something, but use their body language to show otherwise. Still, there is no denying the importance of tone of voice and non-verbal communication. Take sarcasm as an example. This form of response relies solely on verbal inflection and or body language. Sarcasm can be completely lost on the internet due to the use of a pure text response. Perhaps a friend makes a rather extraordinary claim you don’t believe for a second. Reading the response “yea ok" might imply you are in agreement, but seeing a visual cue of sarcasm leaves little to be misconstrued.

Images however, though at times up for different interpretation, are generally more globally understood than words. Signs that utilize symbols to convey their meaning have existed before written language itself. Scientists still do not know the exact origin of human language, but without our ability to record and communicate knowledge we would not have evolved to where we are today.

As a symbol can be used across the globe to indicate the presence of a restroom, so can an animated GIF symbolize an emotional response. Someone from China who speaks Mandarin is able to understand the same meaning behind an animated sequence of images as an individual who might only speak French. For example, if I read a friend’s social status update stating they “Just got hitched in Vegas!", I could simply reply in English “so shocked!" or I could reply with an animated GIF:

Which one is more communicative of my reaction?

Gifs at Adpearance

Here at Adpearance, we have taken this form of non-verbal communication to heart. Productive, or not, occasional email discussions are made up entirely of animated images.

Subject: Defcon 1 - There's No Coffee!

Response:

Subject: New Website Launch a Success!!

Response:

Is it more efficient? Probably not. Can it be more expressive of feeling and emotion?

If anything, it has brought many laughs into the workplace and with everyone working hard and feeling a bit of stress at times, a little chuckle can be just what the doctor ordered.

   

That's Doctor Who, or is it Doctor Whom?


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