GIFs are positively everywhere, and have been for a while — there's no stopping them. But the massive photo sharing service Imgur thinks they can be improved upon and brought forward into the modern age. "Let's get real, the .GIF format is outdated and is not really that great for the modern web anymore. " says Imgur founder Alan Schaaf. "It was created in 1989, and it wasn't even created for the purpose of animation. What we're trying to do is keep that same experience almost intact but just make the technology around it much better."
To that end, the company is announcing a new way of handling GIFs. Any GIF files uploaded to Imgur are now automatically converted to MP4 video, compressed, and then displayed just as a standard GIF would be. However, the conversion to MP4 means that GIFs can now be significantly larger and higher quality, and the resulting files are still smaller than your average GIF. "What we found in our testing is that we're able to reduce the size of these files by about 10 times," says Schaaf. Imgur provided us with a few examples — the standard GIF file displays much smaller, while the GIF-to-MP4 converted version is significantly larger, while the file itself is smaller.
Thanks to that conversion process, Imgur is able to raise the file size limit for GIFs from 5MB to 50MB, allowing users to create bigger and more complex GIFs. Another advantage to the MP4 format is that the GIF will auto play at full speed even as it is loading, so the familiar choppy version of a GIF you're probably used to seeing as it loads will be a thing of the past.
Like the old GIF — but better, faster, stronger
Imgur also had to build its own file container to work with its new format, which it is calling .GIFV. This will essentially let the MP4 video GIF play back as a normal GIF would. There's no play, pause, or rewind controls like you'd see in a normal MP4 video container; it functions just as a standard GIF does and .GIFV files should be embeddable anywhere on the internet, just like standard GIFs.
All in all, Imgur seems to have this set as a pretty painless upgrade — and with lower bandwidth requirements, dealing with GIFs on mobile phones should get a bit easier, as well. Imgur's new .GIFV format should be rolling out today, and the company says this is just the beginning of improvements it'll be making to the GIF experience. "We're not done yet," says Schaaf. "You will see other cool GIF stuff come out of Imgur."