GIFs are the lifeblood of the internet, the reason most of us get up in the morning. But they haven't really gotten better in the past 25 years—until now. Imgur claims to have "reimagined the GIF" by recreating the traditional animated, looping images we love using the best web video format, MP4.
Born in 1987, the Graphics Interchange Format is a bitmap image that supports full-colour animations in an eight-bits-per-pixel resolution. The images are compressed with a once-patented technique called Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) lossless data compression so they don't lose quality.
But the problem with GIFs, in general, is that even with that compression, they're big compared to other images one might share online. That one up top there is a whopping 2 MB. That can add up when you have a GIF-heavy site.
The thing is, even with the cat-Bieber-hot-dog-bun-fuelled renaissance that GIFs have seen over the last few years, there has still not been much (any?) innovation in the format itself. Yes, there have been improvements as to where they can be viewed, like when Twitter started hosting them earlier this year. But no one has managed to make a better GIF. One might argue that with Imgur's plan, the "better GIF" moment is now.
What Imgur is doing is basically creating a new type of video that behaves like a GIF (hence the file format name, GIFV), using the very compact MP4 video format. So when you upload a video clip to their site as an MP4, it will convert it to this new file extension, the GIFV, and loop it. The result is a video-like animation that's much cleaner and sharper than a regular old GIF. And because of the efficiency of the new format, Imgur will be able handle uploads that are much, much bigger — up to 50 MB, instead of the 5 MB limit the site has now — and crunch them down to regular GIF size. This will help a lot when viewing these on mobile devices.
So here's the fine print, and why you have to go over to Imgur to see an example. Right now, you can only make or view a GIFV on Imgur's site; when you try to download it to your computer, it will turn back into an MP4 and lose all magical powers. However, according to Imgur, you will be able to see a GIFV animate when you drop the link on Facebook or Twitter.
"It's a little-known fact, but the GIF format was never intended for animation in the first place", said Tim Hwang, Imgur's Head of Special Initiatives, in a statement. "With Project GIFV, Imgur is reimagining the looping GIF video with all the richness it deserves as a key piece of internet culture."
But here's the really big deal: If what Imgur is saying is accurate, the company is going to work with online standards organisations to have this become the norm across platforms. Which means you might be sharing a .gifv on your site sometime in 2015. GIFV PARTY!