PBS video: Animated GIFs - The Birth of a Medium

[Video Link] Here's a fun history of the animated GIF from PBS.

GIFs are one of the oldest image formats used on the web. Throughout their history, they have served a huge variety of purposes, from functional to entertainment. Now, 25 years after the first GIF was created, they are experiencing an explosion of interest and innovation that is pushing them into the terrain of art. In this episode of Off Book, we chart their history, explore the hotbed of GIF creativity on Tumblr, and talk to two teams of GIF artists who are evolving the form into powerful new visual experiences.
I like the fact that they didn't get hung up on whether or not GIF is pronounced with a hard or a soft G, and pronounced it both ways in the video.

Animated GIFs: The Birth of a Medium | Off Book | PBS


    1.  huh, weird.  of course, the _ads_ and the sidebar load toute-de-suite.  but I was gonna mention that I saw the one with the cab reflected in the window on B-Side first.  It was the first post, iirc.

  1. They actually do get hung up on the pronunciation at the end, after the fade to black. I don’t buy the “Say it the way the inventor says it” argument in this case.

    1.  I would use a hard G because it stands for “graphic”, but people can be quite insistent on what is correct which may depend on what they first heard or analogies to other pronunciation.

      Consider the  “Gillian” problem. This name was more common in the UK than the US and is pronounced there “Jillian”. I have known people in the US who liked the name from reading UK mysteries and insist it should be pronounced with a hard G, I guess because

       1) they don’t know better
       2) “Gilligan’s Island” uses a hard G.
       3) If it was supposed to be pronounced with a soft G then it would be spelled with a J!

      1.  Yep, since it’s a G in graphic then it’s a hard G. If it was a J sound, people would confuse it with the peanut butter brand, whereas a gif is unique. At least unless someone thinks you’re talking about gifts.

  2. I’ve never heard anyone pronounce GIF with a hard g. I must live a sheltered life. It reminds me of the time my friend was telling me about “me-mes”. I explained that the word rhymed with gene, and was a single syllable. She said she’d only ever read the work and didn’t know how it was pronounced.

    1.  I’ve only ever pronounced it with a hard “g.”  Probably so I wouldn’t get it confused with the peanut butter.  :-)

      1.  That peanut butter doesn’t exist in New Zealand, so there’s no influence of it on the way I, or anyone else here, pronounces GIF.

      2. Me too, though I’ve pretty much only ever pronounced it in my head.  I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to discuss GIFs out loud.

        Reed and Rader both seem to suffer from that vocal fry thing that came up here a couple months back.  Weirdly, it makes me not want to talk like they do.

        1. I saw an ad Katy Perry was on yesterday and thought I could hear the vocal fry too. Thought it was weird coming from a singer

  3. I used to have one of those bandwidth-intensive sites with about 20 or more animations running on just the splash-page. Flashing cop lights, a dog running to a mailbox, every tacky animate image you might associate with Compuserve.

    Other horrid shit: Text sitting on top of busy wallpapers, randomly sized static images (usually book covers, I did a lot of book reviews and actually got a lot of traffic from my local BBS community (remember those? I was a big mucker for about a minute on my local BBS scene) for book reviews and discussions), a hit-counter ON EVERY PAGE. God I’m so ashamed.

    The crazy thing is I could show someone that page and land a job designing for them.

    1. The crazy thing is I could show someone that page and land a job designing for them.

      There’s a local “web designer” who did a (very frightening) page for a local charity. I mentioned something about CSS and found out that she’s doing her professional web designs on MS Front Page from the late 90s. I live in hell.

      1.  To be fair to myself the sites I put up for businesses were very sedate and clean. I did all of my pro stuff in VI, until I realized nobody gave a shit and my professionalism deteriorated: VI–>Hot-Dog PRO–> Netscape Nav Gold

        For about two years all I ever did was what was essentially a cover letter with an email link, at most a business splash page with a submenu for the employees (I did a dozen or so local insurance agencies, all cookie-cutter).

      1.  I had some up on the first day; I remember very vividly when the two boards I used (Heartbeats of Portland and Rose City Online) actually got internet service and within a couple of weeks I has begun to build a site and put up some “under construction” .gif images but I was very hypo-manic and had what I wanted and posted in very short-order.

        After that I actually developed a bit of professional pride long before I developed any sense of design aesthetic. I never published a site before it was done (although with dial-up and other issues publishing alone could be problematic for bigger sites).

        I think tabletop gaming actually prepared me for my brief time at web design, because I could graph a site on paper and have my linking plotted before I’d ever start coding. If you look at home made dungeons on graph paper and learn to think that way, where you have multi-level maps with multiple routes, then designing a site becomes pretty easy.

  4. I’ve never heard it with a soft G. (Actually I don’t think I’ve ever heard it be spoken ever…)

    I always read it in my mind with a hard G. Its nemesis, JPEG, is already pronounced with a soft G, so use the hard G to differenciate it better from it.

          1.  Apparently.

            My definition of a soft G is like the first sound in “jungle”.
            Hard G like in “Gorilla”.

            GIF -> gorilla
            JPEG -> jungle

  5. “The web 1.0 of the 70s 80s and 90s”?  No kids, your parents did not have the web.

      1. Do it as a link and I think it will work.  Disqus also strips out time markers in videos, which drives me nuts.

        1. glad I saw this before I posted.  OK, let’s try it:  http://rgifs.gifbin.com/1236957909_black-and-white-vs-color.gif

          I like this one.

          edit: clicking the picture below sometimes works, but not always. the link seems to always work. either way, the GIF doesn’t start at the beginning, just randomly somewhere in the loop. wait for it to say “note: black and white,” then stare at the center. [shakes fist] DISQUUUUUUUSSSSSSSS![/shakes fist]

  6. “Jif”. All the way. Since the early 90s. I never even thought about saying it the other way until I heard someone say it aloud years and years later. I think the more important question really is how do we pronounce PNG? I always say “pee en jee”, but sometimes, in my head, I say “ping”.

    1. I have some in-laws in the Gingras family, and they pronounce the first G as a soft one.  Especially during years when Newt is in the news, they’re faced with a rash of new acquaintances who have trouble not pronouncing Gingras with a hard G, like Gingrich.

      I think I’ll ask them (far more tech-literate people than I) how they habitually pronounce GIF.  I wonder if their own name potentially colors their choice.  Not that it should, I just wonder if it does.  I’ve never heard them say GIF out loud.

      And yeah, before this video, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone say it out loud.  Pwn, yes.  JPG, yes.  GIF, no.

      And you know, though basing the pronunciation on the hard G in Graphical makes sense to me, it makes me wonder why NASA isn’t pronounced Nay-sa.

      1.  Do you pronounce “national” “naytional”? Or is that coming from “aeronautics”? Just curious :)

        I always say GIF to myself with a hard G, and I’ve heard it said out loud both ways (me and my young, nerdy friends…) and JIF always sounds weird to me.

        1. I was thinking of the long-ish A in Aeronautics, but you’ve done gone and stumped me with the short A in National.  Cheeky Sphenischid!

          Yeah, it never occurred to me before that anyone would pronounce GIF like JIF.  To me, that will always be the peanut butter, though I’m a Skippy Super Chunk man myself.

          1. Even with so many people referring to the peanut butter, I still think of GIFs when I think JIF to myself… it was always store-brand (Wegmans) peanut butter growing up, I guess :)

            (and yes I had to look up sphenischid… dammit Don I’m a… geologist, not a biologist)

          2. Store-brand peanut butter… I guess that could be bad.  But I grew up with Laura Scudder’s Natural Peanut Butter (“Just peanuts and salt… that’s all!”), and always kinda resented its “all natural” virtue.  Didn’t taste anything like the peanut butter you’d find in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Nutter Butters.  So the moment I moved out of my parents’ house I switched to Skippy and never looked back.

            Wow.  Once again I’ve strayed incredibly boringly far OT.

  7. All these years and it never even occurred to me that anyone would say or think animated jiff.

  8. Across different English words, the string “gi” is pronounced sometime with a hard g, sometimes with a soft g. But to my knowledge, there are no words (including proper names) where the string “gif” is pronounced with a soft g: gift, Gifford. Can anyone think of a counterexample?

    1.  Giraffe. 
      Closest I could think of. 

      I have found out now that I have mispronounced GIF for 20 years. 

        1.  Our definitions are different. I think of soft ‘g’ as in gift and hard ‘g’ as in giraffe – with a ‘j’ pronunciation. I wonder why we have these different definitions.

          1.  Oh okay. I didn’t know that. I hear more German than English, where it’s pronounced with a hard ‘g’.

    2. Isn’t gift the only non-proper noun with that character string?  If so, that’s a pretty small sample.  A common rule in other languages is soft letter before e and i, hard letter before a, o and u.

  9. I’ve known for ages that GIF should be pronounced with a soft G, and when I was first online in the early 90s I’m fairly sure that almost everyone did (not that it was something you heard out loud often). However, since at the time it wasn’t uncommon for me to run into the JIF file extension, I pronounced the file extension of the animated flame divider on my website with a hard G.

    At least… that was my rationalization after I realized I had been pronouncing it incorrectly!

  10. Can people define hard G and soft G for me please? I think there may be some confusion here.
    As far as I have been taught, hard G is used in words like gift, gap and goggles.
    Soft G is used in generous and genius.
    It’s like hard C as in cat, and soft C as in cinema.

Comments are closed.