I should have written about animated gifs on Tumblr in the 2nd edition of Blogging!
Of course once anything is published you realise all the things you would love to add. Looking at how my seventeen-year-old was reading about the US government shutdown not in newspapers or on Twitter but through Tumblr’s animated gifs and reblogged screenshots of tweets (and some lengthier Tumblred analyses as well) I realised, again, how much duller – and certainly less animated – my own social media feeds are. I don’t think I mentioned animated gifs in Blogging 2nd ed, which was clearly an oversight.
Nowadays animated gifs are more like this.
That’s a “reaction gif” of Oprah being moved. There are whole repositories full of reaction gifs for any occassion: happy, shocked, bored, annoyed, etc. I chose this one to show you largely because it’s “only” half a MB large, and the first ones I picked were 2 MB each, which of course is one of the issues with the animated gif. They are bloated giants and horrible if your internet connection isn’t fast or if you’re paying by the megabyte. Or if you like me have a tendency to clutter your computer with too many files so you don’t have enough free memory for the computer to keep all these huge gifs running at the same time. Video would be more efficient, but animated gifs are so versatile that they stay popular.
This piece by Stallio is a glorious example of animated gif art, though I suspect this is not the dominant aesthetic.
Pioneering net artist Olia Lialina is also working in animated gifs now. Here’s an example of her work:
Lialina knows her history, cares about file size (this one’s only 169 kb) and specifically uses the transparency that gifs allow, which is not at all used by the video-style gifs. So I could put those hoolahoopers onto any background I wanted. You can see how that works on Lialina’s website.
Other examples are the subtitled comic-like gifs laying out a sequnece from a few minutes of, say, The Colbert Report.
This essay by Daniel Rourke provides a nice brief catalogue of the different kinds of animated gifs, with an interesting introduction where he talks about Walter Benjamin’s idea of the mimetic and how these gifs speak without words. Their silence is certainly also interesting. Rourke’s piece seems one of just a few scholarly works on animated gifs. I found nothing relevant when I searched Google Scholar for “animated gif”, but if you add in “tumblr” you get a few essays. Tumblr is certainly a hub for this, as are Reddit and 4chan.
If you know of more academic work on animated gifs, or simply have some favourites you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it!