noisia GIF grid

a collection of individual columnar GIFs by noisia that act as modules in a larger grid. This idea has also been explored by Peter Baldes (I like it when the "dudes" are wildly out of sync). I saved columns in the same order as one of noisia's posts but my blog CSS is adding spaces around each GIF so this is a truncated selection.

After animated GIFs, what?

Have said before that I'm not married to the animated GIF for "artistic expression" on the web. If at some point only of 40% of browsers, mobile devices, etc read them then it will be time to use something else. It may be by that time the Web will be completely balkanized into Slow Web, Mobile Web, ZuckerWeb, etc., at which point it will make even less sense to fetishize a particular filetype.

In any scenario the best file to make or use is the one that isn't dependent on one company's proprietary scheme. To the extent there's consensus on "open source" standards, that's the way to go. Otherwise you end up with a hard drive or portfolio full of Realplayer files.

So what are some open source alternatives to GIFs if you want to make light-loading, small file, non-proprietary, universally-read animations? The answer is nothing, yet. Here's a list of comparative file types from Wikipedia that I've annotated somewhat:

1. APNG (animated PNG) - only readable by Firefox, Opera, and a handful of others.

2. The MNG file format has less web browser support.

3. The GIF file format "has better application and browser support than APNG, but it is limited to 256 colors per frame and supports only 1 bit alpha transparency, by mapping one of the palette colors to transparent." I could frankly care less about the transparency issues--am not interested in simulating photography or glaze painting.

4. SVG combined with scripting or SMIL can animate vector graphics and can incorporate raster graphics. An .svg file is basically an open source version of the .swf or Flash file. SVGs have pretty wide browser support at this point, but only for still images. SMIL is "not yet native to web browsers." Programs such as Inkscape can be used to make vector drawings but not animations. You can only export drawings as frames and animate them elsewhere. There seems to be disagreement as to how animation would work in Inkscape. One developer wrote:

SVG-animation is compared to a framebased movieeditor like comparing turbo pascal with c++. These are two different worlds or paradigms. You have to relearn your language, because you have to forget to think in frames. Every object, Line, Rectangle, Path has his own time and space. You could move everything on one single path or give every object a different path to move on. Or you could change the size or its color over time. SVG-animation is designed to get animation on mobile devices. Inkscape should focus on those for animation. We certainly need a global-timeline, on which all animated things get a colored representation (a color bar for each object) of their movement in time. There are already programs to render animated svg into a number of png's or animated png. Inkscape must only be conformant to the svg-standard. --SvH 17:13, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

5. Dynamic graphics created with HTML 5 canvas Object -- Animations using canvas are only "anticipated" at this stage.

6. An alternative method for animations in web pages is to use conventional static images and animate them using JavaScript, Adobe Flash, Java or other plugin based technologies. [Forget Flash--but if the point is to have instant browser reading of animations, for the broadest, fastest possible dissemination of weak universal gestures, how "optional" should JavaScript plugins be?]

The vector-based drawing and animation linked to in item 4 are by Duncan Alexander, who is working on his own post about filetypes--I look forward to reading it. He also responded to Man Bartlett's obscurantist GIF rant; I think it's premature to consider the "art or not" provocation before Bartlett answers some basic questions. Especially since Duncan is now in the position of having to explain art after 1968 to one of his regular trolls.



Olia Lialina, who quoted my term "ubiquitous mini-cinema"* in her essay about animated GIFs for the Guggenheim's blog for the YouTube "Play" show. As I noted to her in an email:

It's kind of ironic that your essay appears in connection with a YouTube show, since one of the purposes of that show was to sell people on the idea that YouTube, not animated GIFs, is the "ubiquitous mini-cinema" of today. Even if the organizers of the show didn't or don't notice this dichotomy, I'm glad you got the ideas about GIFs in there.

Chris Goode, for the link to a page of my "1-bit drawings" in his essay about Tristan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony. His point was

One-bit music is the aural equivalent of a monochrome bitmap image and as such it has a certain ugliness: but scaled up to meet Perich's ambition in writing symphonically for it -- and, Lord knows, he's not kidding around -- the mismatch becomes remarkably moving, almost overwhelmingly so, with thick pixellated tonal swarms buzzing in and around your cranium: imagine the Ride of the Valkyries developed as a game for the Sega Mega Drive, scored by Glenn Branca for an orchestra of a hundred stylophones, and you're just beginning to get there.


Blogger vs animated GIFs

Animated GIF complainers, you are in good company: most of the big Web companies completely agree with you. Blogger (the popular blogging software owned by Google) also doesn't allow you to upload animated GIFs to its image server--it converts them to single frame GIFs. You have to upload them elsewhere and link to them, or "hotlink" them off others' sites. Lets add that to the burgeoning list I noted in an earlier interview:

I like them aesthetically as "moving bitmaps" but part of their appeal is also that they've fallen through the cracks of the software giants' plans for world domination. Google Images doesn't include an "animated GIF" checkbox (only non-moving GIFs, and only in the advanced search), the Safari and Chrome browsers handle GIFs poorly, Facebook doesn't allow them, and people complain that even tumblr limits your ability to use them. They are becoming like the abandoned playgrounds and swimming pools taken over by skaters in the '70s, or the zone of the "recently outmoded" that, according to Dan Graham, is a good place for artists to be working.