Shamika

Shamika

May 10, 2024

May 10, 2024

Rise of the GIFs

Rise of the GIFs

A twist, a trial, a triumph.

A twist, a trial, a triumph.

Who would’ve thunk the solution to a digital storage hiccup would become a universal medium of expression? In an age where memes reign supreme, looping videos a.k.a GIFs are destined to be the overlords. They have single-pixedly beaten 7,139 languages spoken across 195 countries to emerge judge, jury and executioner of the ‘Misunderstanding’ Olympics. Despite the impressive array of achievements (conveying melancholy, angst and even *gasp* Schadenfreude) built on the graveyard of our communication skills, their crowning achievement lies in granting uncles (or boomers) the ability to express beyond 👍.

Imagine being invited to a party in a quaint countryside home in Spain. On arriving, you find that your friend forgot to mention that it was a birthday party, leaving you at the altar of empty-handedness. You pull your Spanish friend aside to mention how you are embarazada (thinking it means embarrassed), only to find them start a flurry of whispers that end with the room cheering ‘felicitaciones!’ Guess what happened? You just crashed a kid’s birthday party with the announcement of your pregnancy. GIFs would never, ever, do that to you.

The reason GIFs are universal is because they are impossible to misunderstand. A measly rectangle of 8 bits/ pixel with a palette of 256 colours to choose from effortlessly circumvents the potential faux pas of linguistic translations by conveying emotions.

Let’s digress: How do you convey emotions? 

> The Corrugator supercilii muscle near your eyebrow exerts so your dinner partner can feel your wrath at them for pouring ketchup on pizza (are you insane?). The Zygomaticus major and minor over (or under?) your cheeks exert to convey pleasure on being surprised with flowers! You get the idea— specific muscles on your face do all the literal heavy lifting. The six key emotions are (Inside Out had them right) anger, sadness, joy, fear, surprise and disgust. The most crucial parts of your face that convey emotions are your eyes, eyebrows and mouth, while the nose is as useful as a laser pointer in a room full of sleeping cats.


Speaking of:

<iframe style="border:none;width:100%;height:auto;aspect-ratio:740/1000;background:none;overflow:hidden;" width="740" height="1000" src="https://rive.app/s/kRxUDWqp0UGUKzvWCMVmTg/embed" allowfullscreen allow="autoplay"></iframe

The whiskers are honorary eyebrows in cats, don’t you think?


Let’s answer the main question: How did GIFs come to be?

We weren’t kidding when we said that they were invented as a solution to a storage problem. Compuserve employee Stephen Earl Wilhite ‘served’ GIFs as a format to display images while saving memory. The Lempel–Ziv–Welch (LZW) lossless data compression technique is dramatic voice the backbone, the secret sauce, the driving force, the Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back– wait, actually, that’s a story for later. LZW was, non-dramatically, responsible for the lossless compression. The reasons have long since evolved away from storage considering that in today’s world the average user utilises almost 500GB. Speaking of evolution, let’s flip through the proverbial photo album to look at key moments from a GIF’s life.


Baby GIF was invented born on 15 June 1987, a hot, sweltering day (this is a fact) in Columbus, Ohio, USA. That makes GIFs ‘millennials’ born under the thumb of Boomers. On September 18, 1995, actual boomers and millennials could access GIFs through Netscape navigator 2, the first browser that emotionally supported looping GIFs. Gen Z, of course, were GIF heirs and heiresses, blissfully unaware of the struggles involved in making them the ubiquitous linguistic replacement for discussing feelings using ACTUAL words.

As per lore, a little known industry secret is that the LZW algorithm, our hero’s emotionally supportive bestie that powered the lossless compression, was patented. Unisys Corp, the owner of the patent, reared their ugly, justified head to demand licensing fees when GIFs gained traction as a widely adopted format. To everyone’s lack of surprise, the congenial agreement struck between Unisys and Compuserve in 1995 had a shelf life of a mere four, sad years. The proposed revision by Unisys in 1999 demanded $5000 from both commercial and non commercial users. This gold-digging act had web developers march in protest on November 5, 1999, infamously hailed as ‘Burn the GIFs’ day, asking to ‘Free the Web’ and ‘Burn all GIFs’ in colourful language (which you can find here, we don’t gatekeep).

> Incidentally, Portable Network Graphics, our hero’s sister, was invented born to developers endlessly praying to the binary gods for a patent free lossless file format. PNG is a recursive acronym, standing for ‘PNG not GIFs’, playing dual roles as well as Lindsay Lohan in ‘The Parent Trap’.

The patent of all problems died a peaceful death in 2003, letting GIFs escape its tyrannical hold. Why was there such a ruckus in the first place? A patented algorithm meant knowledge was behind a paywall, which prevented a free flow of information, which in turn thwarted technological progress. GIFs were the mascot, the (very expressive) face of this protest.

9 years later, in the year we expected the world to end, something even more incredibly important happened — GIFs were named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries. Nothing like a vanity metric to pull us out of our existential crises. If that wasn’t enough, our hero’s inventor dad won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Webby Awards. 


Epilogue

11 years later, we approach baby (now middle-aged!) GIF’s birthday on June 15. For all the advances made in tech, it still remains annoyingly pixelated. We’ve progressed from Cathode Ray Tube TVs to OLED, but GIFs remain low-res? Ugh.

Not anymore. 

Thankfully, it’s time to let you in on a little secret I’ve been sitting on: Helmer Micro. It’s a handy little app that lets you record crystal-clear GIFs from your desktop and turn eye-sore GIFs to eye-candy loops of goodness! You can embed these directly in emails, or circumvent the god-awful Twitter compression.

Here's a typical GIF

And here's one recorded by Micro:


Razor-sharp, crystal-clear, buttery-smooth. 

You never need to look at GIFs wondering if you need glasses ever. again.

Give it a spin!

Who would’ve thunk the solution to a digital storage hiccup would become a universal medium of expression? In an age where memes reign supreme, looping videos a.k.a GIFs are destined to be the overlords. They have single-pixedly beaten 7,139 languages spoken across 195 countries to emerge judge, jury and executioner of the ‘Misunderstanding’ Olympics. Despite the impressive array of achievements (conveying melancholy, angst and even *gasp* Schadenfreude) built on the graveyard of our communication skills, their crowning achievement lies in granting uncles (or boomers) the ability to express beyond 👍.

Imagine being invited to a party in a quaint countryside home in Spain. On arriving, you find that your friend forgot to mention that it was a birthday party, leaving you at the altar of empty-handedness. You pull your Spanish friend aside to mention how you are embarazada (thinking it means embarrassed), only to find them start a flurry of whispers that end with the room cheering ‘felicitaciones!’ Guess what happened? You just crashed a kid’s birthday party with the announcement of your pregnancy. GIFs would never, ever, do that to you.

The reason GIFs are universal is because they are impossible to misunderstand. A measly rectangle of 8 bits/ pixel with a palette of 256 colours to choose from effortlessly circumvents the potential faux pas of linguistic translations by conveying emotions.

Let’s digress: How do you convey emotions? 

> The Corrugator supercilii muscle near your eyebrow exerts so your dinner partner can feel your wrath at them for pouring ketchup on pizza (are you insane?). The Zygomaticus major and minor over (or under?) your cheeks exert to convey pleasure on being surprised with flowers! You get the idea— specific muscles on your face do all the literal heavy lifting. The six key emotions are (Inside Out had them right) anger, sadness, joy, fear, surprise and disgust. The most crucial parts of your face that convey emotions are your eyes, eyebrows and mouth, while the nose is as useful as a laser pointer in a room full of sleeping cats.


Speaking of:

<iframe style="border:none;width:100%;height:auto;aspect-ratio:740/1000;background:none;overflow:hidden;" width="740" height="1000" src="https://rive.app/s/kRxUDWqp0UGUKzvWCMVmTg/embed" allowfullscreen allow="autoplay"></iframe

The whiskers are honorary eyebrows in cats, don’t you think?


Let’s answer the main question: How did GIFs come to be?

We weren’t kidding when we said that they were invented as a solution to a storage problem. Compuserve employee Stephen Earl Wilhite ‘served’ GIFs as a format to display images while saving memory. The Lempel–Ziv–Welch (LZW) lossless data compression technique is dramatic voice the backbone, the secret sauce, the driving force, the Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back– wait, actually, that’s a story for later. LZW was, non-dramatically, responsible for the lossless compression. The reasons have long since evolved away from storage considering that in today’s world the average user utilises almost 500GB. Speaking of evolution, let’s flip through the proverbial photo album to look at key moments from a GIF’s life.


Baby GIF was invented born on 15 June 1987, a hot, sweltering day (this is a fact) in Columbus, Ohio, USA. That makes GIFs ‘millennials’ born under the thumb of Boomers. On September 18, 1995, actual boomers and millennials could access GIFs through Netscape navigator 2, the first browser that emotionally supported looping GIFs. Gen Z, of course, were GIF heirs and heiresses, blissfully unaware of the struggles involved in making them the ubiquitous linguistic replacement for discussing feelings using ACTUAL words.

As per lore, a little known industry secret is that the LZW algorithm, our hero’s emotionally supportive bestie that powered the lossless compression, was patented. Unisys Corp, the owner of the patent, reared their ugly, justified head to demand licensing fees when GIFs gained traction as a widely adopted format. To everyone’s lack of surprise, the congenial agreement struck between Unisys and Compuserve in 1995 had a shelf life of a mere four, sad years. The proposed revision by Unisys in 1999 demanded $5000 from both commercial and non commercial users. This gold-digging act had web developers march in protest on November 5, 1999, infamously hailed as ‘Burn the GIFs’ day, asking to ‘Free the Web’ and ‘Burn all GIFs’ in colourful language (which you can find here, we don’t gatekeep).

> Incidentally, Portable Network Graphics, our hero’s sister, was invented born to developers endlessly praying to the binary gods for a patent free lossless file format. PNG is a recursive acronym, standing for ‘PNG not GIFs’, playing dual roles as well as Lindsay Lohan in ‘The Parent Trap’.

The patent of all problems died a peaceful death in 2003, letting GIFs escape its tyrannical hold. Why was there such a ruckus in the first place? A patented algorithm meant knowledge was behind a paywall, which prevented a free flow of information, which in turn thwarted technological progress. GIFs were the mascot, the (very expressive) face of this protest.

9 years later, in the year we expected the world to end, something even more incredibly important happened — GIFs were named Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries. Nothing like a vanity metric to pull us out of our existential crises. If that wasn’t enough, our hero’s inventor dad won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Webby Awards. 


Epilogue

11 years later, we approach baby (now middle-aged!) GIF’s birthday on June 15. For all the advances made in tech, it still remains annoyingly pixelated. We’ve progressed from Cathode Ray Tube TVs to OLED, but GIFs remain low-res? Ugh.

Not anymore. 

Thankfully, it’s time to let you in on a little secret I’ve been sitting on: Helmer Micro. It’s a handy little app that lets you record crystal-clear GIFs from your desktop and turn eye-sore GIFs to eye-candy loops of goodness! You can embed these directly in emails, or circumvent the god-awful Twitter compression.

Here's a typical GIF

And here's one recorded by Micro:


Razor-sharp, crystal-clear, buttery-smooth. 

You never need to look at GIFs wondering if you need glasses ever. again.

Give it a spin!

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©2024, Helmer Media Private Limited

Proudly crafted in India 🇮🇳