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What Is a GIF and How Can You Get the Most Out of Them?

The process of improving how information is both stored and exchanged has long been one of the most pivotal struggles for anyone using the internet as a communications tool. Every digital image seen via the internet was uploaded to it at some point. While there are many different options when it comes to uploading images and data to the internet, one of the absolute most popular choices to complete this task is the GIF

Originally created in the summer of 1987, the GIF has all but become the standard format for compressing data and information in order to upload it and spread it across the internet. Before getting the most out of a GIF, first you must be able to answer the question “what is a GIF?” GIF is an acronym that stands for graphics interchange format and can easily be defined as an online moving picture. 

GIF and the Relation to BMP 

In order to better understand what a GIF is and what it does, first, we have to better understand BMPs and their purposes. A GIF is an example of something called a BMP, also called a bitmap. BMP is an acronym for the phrase Bitmap Image Format: BMP is a standard format used to store images. 

BMPs are widely used for the storage and sharing of information on the internet because of their ability to store detailed information in one package. Any information that is stored and shared on the internet must be broken down and reduced to the lowest form possible in order to minimize potential storage issues and help the speed of spreading information from one place to another. 

To better understand how BMPs work to transmit information, imagine breaking down the information found inside a paragraph. First, you would break down the paragraph into sentences, which are composed of words, which are created by letters. In this analogy, the words would be called “bits,” and the letters “pixels.” 

Pixels are the smallest addressable element of a picture formatted to a digital screen. These colorized pixels are then arrayed into a rectangular display of bits, which is often called a bitmap or BMP. The issue with BMP files is that they are often not compressed and are therefore not very well suited for the easy transfer of information across the internet. 

There are many different options when it comes to compressing a BMP in order to help transfer its composed data across the internet. While GIFs are one of the most common choices, there are other options as well. These include:

  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group): JPEGs are most commonly used for natural scenes like scanned photographs. While some information will be lost in the process of scanning an external photo, the loss is almost imperceptible to the human eye because JPEGs can display over 16 million different colors. However, JPEGs aren’t particularly well suited for line drawings, blocks of solid color, or any sharp boundaries.
  • EXIF (Exchangeable Image File): As opposed to a JPEG, which is scanned externally, an EXIF format is used for photographs taken via digital camera. EXIFs will often include more detailed information than a JPEG could provide, such as date taken, shutter speed utilized, and exposure times, alongside information about the camera itself, like make and model.
  • TIFF (Tag Image File Format): TIFFs are slightly more complex than the previously described formats because they utilize a variety of compression algorithms. Several images can be stored in multiple pages of a single TIFF file. They also can store even more information related to an image such as scanner models, the computer hosting the image, the type of compression used, and much more. 

What Is a GIF?

Now that we’ve defined several other examples, we can better define GIFs. GIFs are much more commonly used than the previously mentioned examples, especially for images that appear on web pages. 

Unlike the JPEG format, GIFs work very well for line drawings, pictures containing blocks of solid colors, and pictures with sharp boundaries between those colors. When compressed to a smaller size, no information is lost during the process; a decompressed image will appear exactly the same as the original. 

When a sequence of GIF images are stored in a single file they can form an animated GIF. This formatting style has exploded with popularity in recent years as a tool to spread information, so much so that the term “GIF” was not only added to the Oxford Dictionary but was even named Word of the Year in 2012. 

GIFs have become such a popular option that most social media platforms have introduced the option of a search engine designed specifically for searching GIFs, which led to even more GIFs being seen and shared. In 2017, over 100 million GIFs were shared across the social media platform Twitter alone. 

How Do You Get the Most Out of GIFs? 

The applications of using a GIF are virtually endless. However, GIFs have taken on a new life as a borderline essential tool when it comes to both social media and specifically, social media marketing. Because of their inherent ease in being shared across multiple social networks and their tendency to be eye-catching, GIFs are a very formidable tool for marketing purposes. 

Competing for the attention span of a consumer in today’s fast-paced world is a very real challenge for any business. Because GIFs average only 2 to 5 seconds in length, they are practically the perfect tool for advertising. 

As opposed to older styles of advertising that would last for minutes, GIFs can spread the information a business wants to convey in a concise manner that catches a consumer’s attention, all while being extremely easy to share with other potential consumers. Despite its short nature, a GIF can help any business whose goal is to build awareness of its product or services. Some common uses include:

Showing off a product, service, or goal.If a picture says a 1000 words, then how many words will a moving picture say? Static photos can display all kinds of basic information, but when they become mobile via GIF, they can show the details and actions a consumer would be much more interested in. Consider the difference between seeing a picture of a ball and a movie that shows the ball bouncing. A consumer will gain much more information with the latter.

Visual instructions.Marketing to consumers requires more than just information about a product or service. Oftentimes instructions of how to purchase a product or when a service is offered are required as well. Using visual instructions, a business can do more “showing” and less “telling.” A step by step process can be tedious to read, but witnessing a step by step process that only takes a few seconds can exchange tremendous levels of information to a consumer without them even realizing how much they’ve just learned. 

Replayability.One of the added benefits of GIFs is that they are often looped and repeated continuously. Much like repeatedly listening to a favorite song, consumers can repeatedly view seconds-long GIFs hundreds of times in only a few minutes without having to wait, reload a web page, or even having to click their mouse. Witnessing a GIF on repeat helps to soak up the information presented quickly and easily and makes it more retainable that seeing it once or only a few times. 

Getting the most out of a GIF can be an enormous boost to any business operating in today’s world. Between the amount of information that can fit in a single GIF and the ease of its shareability, it’s safe to say that in terms of business marketing, using a GIF is not only the way of the present but the way of the future as well. 


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