30 YEARS OF GIFS: the GIFts that keep on giving

As you know by now, we love to add GIFs into our social feeds, sprinkle them in a tweet, or have a good laugh at them in our group chats. Gifs are truly the GIFts that keep on giving - and now it's our time to GIF back (Okay, okay, we'll stop).

It's 2017 and that means it's the 30th year of the GIF! In honour of our favourite file format, we're giving you a crash course in what the heck a GIF (jif?) is and how it has, and is, changing the world.

Let’s begin our lesson explaining the acronym GIF: Graphics Interchange Format. It was created by CompuServe employees in 1987. Among those employees is Steve Wilhite, the man who has been referred to for years as the general expert on the format. Disastrous circumstances led to the miraculous birth of the GIF: lack of available data on websites, which meant photos and videos were out of the question (the average youtube video would have taken 40 minutes to buffer in 1987). Through this twisted non-union, we have been blessed with the GIF. The Graphics Interchange Format allowed for 256 colours and retained a compressed file size that even slow modems could load. When it was combined with GCE (Graphics Control Extension) it was able to create the effect of motion through timed delays (Videos are on the internet! Pigs are flying! Mostly we’re just seeing spinning ‘under construction’ signs on websites).

Like any miracle birth, complications can follow - the creation of the GIF is no different. A patent was filed by Unisys in 1985 for the compression technique that made GIFs possible; CompuServe had been unaware of this. In the long-run Unisys won out over CompuServe, but in a miracle twist of fate, CompuServe was acquired by AOL in 1998. AOL didn’t renew the patent for GIF and it became publicly available to the world (thank you AOL!).  Many GIF-using pioneers, like internet artist Olia Liliana, took the opportunity to make the GIF their own. As social media formats like MySpace began to offer users customization options, the wonderful age of internet social profiles was born, complete with glittering embellishment GIFs, aka Pimp My Profile.


Gifs as we’re seeing them now, were fostered on the social media site Tumblr, which allows users to create blog-style pages, as well as repost, tag, and publish content from other sources. Tumblr was an early adopter of the GIF format, and led the way towards the GIF-acceptance revolution across other social platforms. Present day apps such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and even alternative texting apps allow you to easily respond to messages and notifications with GIFs. You’re also able to create your own, thanks to free services on websites and apps such as Giphy Cam. Unfortunately, GIFs haven’t been accepted by every platform just yet...


Instagram in particular has been holding out on accepting posts in GIF format (and no, boomerangs don't count)- but seeing as the rise of meme culture and 36% of millennials noting that emojis or GIFs communicate their thoughts better than the English language, Facebook has FINALLY come to its senses and is in the works of improving its support of GIF files. 

We hope you enjoyed our mini history lesson and learned a thing or two about the importance of self-expression (in three seconds or longer if you need)...because GIF use across all social forms aren’t going anywhere. Just this month, popular GIF site, Giphy, unveiled a new feature that would allow you to view the source your favourite GIF has been pulled from, with the thousands of GIFs that are created and made searchable from their database daily. With video content being declared the ‘new king of content marketing’ (Forbes), viewers are still only able to watch so many videos- GIFs fall into the sweet spot of instant recognition, understanding, and connection, without investing themselves into something long term. (talk about millennial commitment issues...)

We’re fully backing this (not so new) format. 

Bonus: Here are some legendary Gifs (and our personal favourites) in honour of GIPHY's 30th birthday. We <3 you!

Stefani Forster