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    In Praise of Animated GIFs Over Boring Headshots

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    The author in a go-kart

    If the Internet is about expression and your avatar is basically you, then you understand the reason for animated GIFs.

    The animated GIF may have been certified gold by the Netscape Navigator logo, but much of its ascendence is owed to their use on web forums. Before MySpace--which also allowed GIFs--these were the proto-social networks, and the coolest ones allowed GIFs. Consider the warning at one of many GIF-making avatar sites, Avatar.Pho.to:

    Warning! Spending only 1 minute on this page may lead to the creation of one of the best animated avatars from your own photos. Only unique and creative avatars made from your photos are here. More than 70 cool avatar templates available! 

    Fast forward to now. GIF-making is a form of high art, an emblem of internet-famous music scenes, a process more interesting and more democratic than ever. In its continued flight from an ugly break-up with millions of Reader lovers, Google has been leaving little bread crumbs along the way--or should I say, sweeping indicators of its love for internet nostalgia and animation. Last week, the search giant gifted the web with new image searching capabilities by adding new filters for Animated and Transparent.

    And now Google has the presence of mind to let you use GIFs to spice up your Google+ profile picture. Huge.

    Think of it as a small bid to outdo Facebook, which never allowed GIFs, and Twitter, which blocked its users from using animated avatars back in September. It's not clear why (Dick Costolo found them annoying apparently). Maybe Twitter just needed to clear its desk before rolling out the new thing, Vine, which so many people at first described as being 'like GIFs.'

    It made me sick. Vine is a wonderful thing. It's teaching the mainstream how to loop. I see this dawn of Vine on Twitter as an up-the-ante in the brand's vein of instantaneous communication. More lived, more felt, more befitting than the meta-funtime of GIF making. I'm not thrilled about seeing self-immolating protestors or rape and abuse victims in six-second video loops, but upheaval and revolution have Twitter tweeted all over them. Perhaps the grit with reality further explains Google's embrace of GIFs and break-up with Reader. 

    As for Twitter's exodus of animated avatars, a spokeswoman for Twitter told Forbes that, "Unfortunately, we don’t have much to share on this." Of course she didn't have much to share.

    But while you can't upload a dancing avatar to Twitter anymore, if you already had one before September's exodus, then it has been preserved. Without further ado, then, a modest excavation of some of Twitter's surviving avatars:

    See how much more interesting those ideas are with the GIFs?

    I've already presumed Google will try to shift the euthanized Reader into some functionality within its Plus framework as well, nearly forcing us to consider Google+ as the alternative to sharing news, like some jailbroken, Android-ish version of Facebook. But until something like that happens--and so long as the Bing vs. Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter vs. Tumblr vs. Tinder saga glides forward--Google is clearly going for the GIF vote. And Google, you've got mine. 


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