Instagram’s new Boomerang feature isn’t a GIF-maker, but it thinks like one: the tool makes one-second videos out of a burst of photos. The Boomerang videos loop indefinitely, forwards and then backwards, making a very GIF-like sequence that, because of its symmetry, feels a little bit neater than the original format can. And, crucially, it’s easy to access for Instagram’s 300 million active users. What used to be a learned skill is now, more and more, something anyone can do by pushing a button.
GIFs – particularly the ability to make them – have long been something of an exclusive club on the Internet. For a while, Facebook didn’t even support them, keeping the format separated from moms and wedding photos and old high school friends. GIFS lived elsewhere (see: literally any Tumblr blog).
But Boomerang is an example of how quickly manipulation of the format (and now, its competitors) has started to become accessible to the rest of the Internet. Facebook, the company that owns Instagram, keeps expanding its ability to support GIFs on its own site – and Boomerangs will be able to post right to Facebook, as well as Instagram, from the phone that makes them.
Boomerang is not even the first, widely-distributed GIF-like making tool to launch this week: GIPHY’s incredibly simple GIF maker launched a couple of days ago.
Although Vine, and even Instagram’s own video feature, came before Boomerang, neither produced finished products that were really the same as a GIF. A GIF usually loops a single phrase, action or moment. It’s a reaction, an emotion, and sometimes, art. Vines – all six seconds of them – have taken on a personality and purpose of their own, largely thanks to the proliferation of Vine stars. And Donald Trump’s prolific use of Instagram’s video capabilities demonstrates why it, too, isn’t the same as a GIF.
Of course, there have long been GIF makers available, either to download or to use online. GIFs are basically just series of images, sequenced and stored in one file, often used to create the familiar animated effect. But until recently, it seemed that would-be GIF makers looking to turn a video into a looped animation had to choose between relatively complicated programs that took time to learn and required several steps, or in-browser GIF-making sites that were easy to use but added an ugly obvious watermark, advertising that the GIF was made by an amateur.
So, have we reached peak GIF? Maybe, or at least we’re close. But before we go proclaiming that the GIFs of the masses will be the Minion macros of 2016 Facebook, it’s worth keeping in mind that GIFs first came to many of us as the lowly mark of a GeoCities-style website.
Sure, maybe GIFs are about to become uncool, if they haven’t already. But they’ve been there before.