Oh Internet, look how far you’ve come. From AOL optical disks, IRC chat rooms, GeoCities and <blink>questionable design standards</blink> to celebrity profiles, Klout scores and rounding web company valuations to the nearest billion, you’ve seen a lot.
Throughout these times of exponential growth, dynamic change and elevated user expectations, one lone image format continues on, leaving smiles in it’s wake. I’m of course, talking about the Graphics Interchange Format, more commonly known as GIF.
GIF animated banners were a hallmark of the 1990’s Information Super Highway. Often garish and obnoxious, they prompted users to BUY NOW or CLICK HERE with moving images at a time pre-dating HTML5, Flash rollovers and YouTube.
Yet time marches on. And on today’s modern web, the GIF is technically flawed. It’s palette is limited to a spectrum of only 256 colours and it’s file size can become considerably large as new frames are added for increasingly more complex animations. These technical limits, and the death of the GIF’s most popular authoring tool Adobe ImageReady in 2005 played a key role in the formats descent from the public eye.
Largely credited to the runaway success of Tumblr, the GIF is beginning to make it’s return to computer screens across the globe. Today’s GIF is supercharged. Gone are the days of banner ads or Peanut Butter Jelly Time, the GIF’s of today are personal short stories told in only a handful of frames.
At the time of this post, the freshly pressed iOS app Loopcam might still be news to some. Introduced as a free App to the store in July of 2011, Loopcam let’s users create GIF-loops on the go and share them with their friends across networks like Twitter and Facebook.
In addition to basic social sharing capabilities, users can also post their GIF-Loops to a shared Loopcam branded Tumblr where uploaded GIFs can be tagged with a username. By linking directly to the tag, users can in essence, hack their way towards a custom profile.
I’ll be completely transparent here. When first using the app, I felt it was missing something more “social”. Perhaps I was expecting something closer to Instagram, where I have an established profile, I can follow friends, add comments and so on.
Yet despite not meeting my expectations initially, I still couldn’t pull myself away from the app and began to realize that Loopcam is a social network (of sorts). It’s not a full blown offering with mass amounts of VC funding and hype like we’ve come to expect but rather a hand-rolled social offering reminiscent of web efforts from a forgotten time.
As if it were mirroring the struggles of the GIF format, Loopcam is also technically limited, yet it’s making excellent use of free web services like Tumblr to remain viable in today’s social web. And yet again, smiles continue to be left in the wake as Loopcam user-base continues to grow daily.
Call it nostalgia or simply a desire to root for the underdog, the fact remains, Loopcam is new, on the rise and trailer loads of fun to use. It’s taught me to not always expect that new web offerings be fully baked and sometimes, it’s the limitations and idiosyncrasies of a service that truly defines it’s value.