Day: August 24, 2015
a fun and compelling way to communicate
One of the reasons I didn't sign up for Facebook back when everyone else did was its limitation on image formats.
For years Facebook's big innovation, which helped them "scale" this Ivy League college dating concept to world-dominating levels, was to take every image you uploaded and convert it to a jpeg. So if I was going to go on Facebook as an "artist working with animated GIFs" I would essentially have to say trust me, I know this frozen, mushy image doesn't look like much but if you click this link, over on my website you'll see it really animates in a cool way!
Years later, GIFs became a thing and Facebook had to deal with them. Initially they came up with a kind of fake GIF alternative, transcoding GIFs you uploaded to mp4 video files. If you had any variations in the frame rate that you built into your GIF, tough luck. More recently, Facebook partnered with a startup called Giphy (pronounced with a hard G -- just kidding -- they don't do that), allowing you to embed a GIF file hosted on Giphy. Either way, it's still treated like a frozen image until you click a "play" button. All this is ludicrous if you have a Tumblr account, or an "indie"-type blog, you just post a GIF and voila! -- it plays in anyone's browser without loading from elsewhere or requiring a plugin.
With all this as background, I read about Facebook's latest attempt to work GIFs into their formula, Facebook Testing GIFs on Page Post, Ads:
GIFs are slowly starting to creep into the Facebook News Feed. While GIFs have been supported (though not in auto-play fashion) for personal posts since May, the company is testing the feature on page posts. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed this to Facebook: "GIFs can be a fun and compelling way to communicate, so we’ve started testing GIF support in posts and boosted posts for a small percentage of Facebook Pages. We will evaluate whether it drives a great experience for people before rolling it out to more Pages."
Note the language, GIFs "creep" into the news feed. I had to do some research to understand that "personal posts" means content put up by you, the hapless "free" user, and "page posts" means "paid posts." GIFs aren't really supported in personal posts, for the reasons described above. And the GIFs creeping into ad pages are Giphy embeds.
Why does all this matter? It's funny to me that so much energy goes into taming an anarchic format, especially since we are being told by the art and technology websites that we must embrace the tamers because that's where The People are now.