Never gonna GIF you up: Analyzing the cultural significance of the animated GIF

Kate M. Miltner, Tim Highfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The animated Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a digital file format with a long history within internet cultures and digital content. Emblematic of the early Web, the GIF fell from favor in the late 1990s before experiencing a resurgence that has seen the format become ubiquitous within digital communication. While the GIF has certain technical affordances that make it highly versatile, this is not the sole reason for its ubiquity. Instead, GIFs have become a key communication tool in contemporary digital cultures thanks to a combination of their features, constraints, and affordances. GIFs are polysemic, largely because they are isolated snippets of larger texts. This, combined with their endless, looping repetition, allows them to relay multiple levels of meaning in a single GIF. This symbolic complexity makes them an ideal tool for enhancing two core aspects of digital communication: the performance of affect and the demonstration of cultural knowledge. The combined impact of these capabilities imbues the GIF with resistant potential, but it has also made it ripe for commodification. In this article, we outline and articulate the GIF?s features and affordances, investigate their implications, and discuss their broader significance for digital culture and communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Media + Society (SM+S)
Issue number3
Early online date17 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Aug 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • social media
  • animated GIFs
  • internet culture
  • visual culture
  • remix culture


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