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GIFs get a new life as pop art

The term 'GIF,' named the word of the year for 2012 by the Oxford American Dictionary, is experiencing a resurgence in every field from blogging to advertising.

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GIF creator Steve Wilhite.

Brad Barket/Invision/AP

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Recall, dear reader, the infant Web. Modems squeaked and whirred, and AOL ruled supreme. Devoid of videos, the nascent Internet was static and textual. The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, was an exception. An icon of Web 1.0, the low-resolution, animated image fell out of favor as bandwidths grew to support more sophisticated online videos. But the GIF (say “jiff”) has experienced a renaissance of late, as bloggers, advertisers, and artists have found new ways to utilize this digital relic.

“In content creation, there’s always been a way that people have appropriated things as identity markers,” says Lee Rainie, director of Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. He compares animated GIFs to the way people use emoticons or unique e-mail signatures as a form of personal expression.
GIFs arrived in 1987 and became a fad among early Internauts. They decorated GeoCities pages with gaudy, looping animations of “under construction” signs, a spinning Earth, and a dancing baby made famous by the hit television series “Ally McBeal.” Then, as quickly as they had arrived, GIFs became design faux pas as streaming video and high-quality images rendered them woefully passé. 

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