Background: What is an Animated GIF?

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The animated GIF is a strange animal.

At heart, an animated GIF is a digital image just like any other image you see online. But it's also a lot like a video, with movement and flow. Animated GIFs look like videos, but behave like images.  Perhaps they are the platypuses of the digital world (but prettier).  By unpacking how they actually work, you'll see that their power is easy to understand. 

A Quick Bit of History (and a boring acronym)

G.I.F. stands for Graphic Interchange Format and was invented by the Compuserve Corporation in 1987. A team at Compuserve tweaked the format to allow for individual GIF images to be combined into an animation - an animated GIF. Then, in the 1990's Netscape created a way for animated GIFs to play in a loop on web pages. These early web pages, runnning on slow connections, could display something with movement and interest. That was the beginning of the first golden age of animated GIFs. 

Here's a GIF that sums up the format:

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Perhaps the easiest way to understand animated GIFs is to think of them like a modern version of a flip book:

Flip Book

But there's a lot more to animated GIFs. Next let's find out why they are so useful and popular...

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