Over the past 3 months, I’ve noticed an interesting trend popping up across the web. Instead of using online video formats such as Flash Video Format (flv) or Qucktime (mov), people have been saving short clips as gif files. Last time I checked, this wasn’t 1997, so why have people started this old trend back up?
First, a little bit of back story. In the late 90′s, the Internet, and specifically the World Wide Web was a different place. Rich content on the Internet had just started to catch on, and user driven content was barely even known. Heck, people still had 486′s back then (guilty). Probably the most important aspect of this time period was that broadband hadn’t really penetrated the mainstream yet. Outside of corporations and academia, most normal people had a 56k modem connection. At the time, this worked great for browsing the web. However, imagine trying to watch a 15 second Youtube clip on a 56k modem. Yeah, it’s not going to work out great. You’d probably end up waiting about 3 or 4 minutes for the clip to cache, and then you could watch it.
Enter the GIF
For years people had been using gif files to animate things on web pages (Hamsterdance anyone?), but some people got a bit more creative with them. Instead of using gif files for small animations, then used them to create video clips. If they were sized down in quality, resolution, and frame rate enough, they were considerably smaller than the rich-media alternatives.
Death of the (movie) GIF
With broadband penetration came richer media and easier access to it. Once people were no longer chained to a dial-up connection, they jumped ship on the movie gifs. Most of us considered this a blessing and never thought of movie gifs again… until 10 years later.
A couple months ago, the movie gifs started popping up again. I quickly checked to see if Netscape Navigator was bugging. But it wasn’t. Strange I thought, so I checked the page in IE 4 just to make sure. Still, the movie gif kept showing up instead of a flv based film. “Why has 1998 invaded my interwebs I said?”. Here’s why.
The internet loves nostalgia. Tech nerds can’t get enough of recalling their past tech conquests. True story, I had this conversation with my girlfriend the other night.
Me: “Hey, did I ever tell you about my first computer with internet access?”
GF: “Are you serious?”
Me: “Yeah, it was a 486 DX-4 with 16mb of RAM and …(interrupted).”
GF: “Why are you telling me this?”
As you can gather from this conversation, she isn’t a tech nerd. However, other geeks would enjoy the story. I can already feel the nostalgia oozing from the readers. Back to the matter at hand though. The flv format has such a high penetration rate now that a lot of people look right over it. But if you had a title on a blog that looked like: Jumping Kangaroo[GIF], tech nerds would be intrigued and definitely click it. More clicks=More conversions=$$$$.
An alternative theory is that corporations have started to block traffic from rich content providers (Veoh, Youtube, Dailymotion, Google Video, etc) so people have started to put REALLY interesting clips in gif format.
Personally, I’m not sure what the right answer is. In the meantime, I’m going to open up IE 3 and search Dogpile for some cool animated gifs. Maybe the overwhelming nostalgia (and vomit creeping up in my throat) will provide me with some insight.