Paddy Johnson emailed Google for its input on why it uses one form of web animation over another on its main search page. Predictably they sent her some public relations blather about employing the tools to best serve their users.
How should one frame the question? If they consider animated GIFs an outmoded filetype, which seems to be the consensus among leading edge web developers, they would never say "we chose method X over a GIF because..."
This leading edge consensus seems to have made strong inroads into Johnson's thinking about GIFs. The increasingly nasty discussions we've been having in her blog's comments came in the wake of a show she curated called "Graphics Interchange Format." What started out as a celebration of a plucky file format enjoying a renaissance among creatives (or so it seemed to me as an artist in the show) has become a funeral, with Johnson equating GIF makers to Polaroid film photographers who, sadly, must accept a changing technological landscape.*
Not too long ago Johnson was describing the GIF-heavy site dump.fm as a new and interesting star in the media firmament but after a few weeks of comments about the "shaky position" of the GIF from her editorial assistant and tepid remarks from an artist in the show about creativity surviving in the face of obsolescence (creativity will always survive, we know this), dump comes to resemble a camera club, association of ham radio operators, or other group of vanishing media fetishists. These are not good reasons for including it in a show, or for organizing a show.
But is the leading edge developer consensus that has become so vocal on Johnson's site, chipping away at the case for GIFs, all that much more palatable? This mindset unquestionably accepts HTML5 as an improved standard over previous HTMLs, despite strong disagreements that still exist about it, such as what type of graphic elements it should employ (SVG vs the Apple-initiated "canvas"; the Ogg Theora video spec vs the Apple-endorsed h.264).
Dump is interesting because it created a new kind of social space online, for display and exchange of web-friendly media. The preference for GIFs there is noteworthy but to the leading edge developer mentality, GIF makers are some strange "tribe" whose motives are mysterious and ultimately a bit suspect. Reason after reason was given for why GIFs are preferred, only to have them rudely swatted aside (of course company X didn't allow GIFs, what, they should look like MySpace?) leaving us with the slightly pathetic rationales of nostalgia and resistance to change.
*Update: Glum as this sounds, it raises an interesting point, addressed in a follow-up post.