What’s better than sports pictures? Moving sports pictures!

But will GIFs take hold as a new way to tell stories?

Updated below

We’ve all seen the small moving images, preferably of cats being cute or people falling down, looped infinitely. GIFs have actually been around since the 1980s, but haven’t been used much for a while. Now, they’re seeing a comeback thanks to social media communities such as Reddit and Tumblr.

“A number of young bloggers and artists have found a new niche for the long forgotten GIF—it can bridge the gap between video and still photo,” writes Forbes.

The venerable Ann Friedman voices a similar sentiment that GIFs are “a uniquely digital mode of conveying ideas and emotion.” The name stands for the filetype Graphics Interchange Format. (Friedman helpfully points out the GIF renaissance has started a couple years ago, but is reaching full mainstream tilt now.)

Especially the blogging platform Tumblr, with its visual touch and reblogging functionaly, has pushed GIFs into online virality. Even President Barack Obama’s campaign team uses them.

Ann Friedman's coffee table

Can news sites capitalize on this newfound popularity of GIFs among young consumers? There are three challenges to using GIFs in news. (Be warned: Hit the escape key if you want to stop the moving images.)

  • 1. Ridicule.
  • There’s a reason GIFs work great for cat videos. They often repeat comical or painful moments, such as falls. The form itself seems best fit for a 13-year-old, which is why it’s a bit challenging for news content.

  • 2. Visual Overload.
  • The Atlantic used GIF images to explain the gymnastics competition at the Olympics. This was actually a fitting topic because you’re trying to explain why certain movements were better executed than others. But with more than two dozen (!) images moving simultaneously on the page, it has the same effect as blinking banner ads: unnerving busyness.

  • 3. Copyright.
  • Often, GIFs are ripped from movies or TV shows, or reposted from elsewhere on the Internet. Even power users of GIFs admit that trying to find the person who originally created the little image is often impossible. Then there’s the owner of the video or photos used in the GIF. In the U.S. you’re probably covered under fair use. Elsewhere, not so much. What internet users often worry little about, news organizations should.

    Actually, there’s a fourth point: No pre-roll. The advertisements that usually run before online videos fall flat for GIFs – and those ads are big moneymakers for news orgs doing visual content on the web. However, GIFs aren’t the same as video and won’t replace video content anytime soon. Rather, they’re useful for isolating one specific moment.

    Are GIFs here to stay?

    That’s why they work so well for sports coverage: They’re perfect for showing that one play, that one move, and the repetition helps viewers see the detail. In fact, during the Olympic games, GIFs have had a coming out moment, becoming such a mainstream hit that even the New York Times stitched together images by its photographers into semi-coherent moving pictures.

    Yes, the New York Times published a story titled “10 Animated GIFs From London 2012″. Let that sink in for a moment. So it’s certainly fair to say GIFs have hit the mainstream. (One of the reasons is likely the restricted video rights for the Olmypics, which have precluded news outlets from embedding video of events.)

    With the surge in popularity, will GIFs be used after the Olympics? They work very well for sports, but can also add snarky commentary to other stories, as Matt Wynn points out via Twitter:

    He links to this animation. Using GIFs as commentary certainly suits the medium well.

    There are ways to incorporate the visual ideas without entering full-on videogame mode. The New York Times has used a moving image, albeit an HTML5 video, on its homepage on Independence Day. It showed the Statue of Liberty with the water around it moving ever so slightly in the sundown. That’s a subtle way to approach the subject.

    Another option is to pick your GIF moments wisely. Use a rocket launch or a sporting event. Platform matters, too: On Tumblr, there’s no need to worry about whether GIFs are appropriate. They just are.

    Social sharing: Facebook looms large, Twitter and Tumblr sharing skyrockets

    Online sharing has exploded on some social networking sites, according to data released by AddThis, the social sharing service used on 11 million domains.

    As Jeff Sonderman succinctly summarizes at Poynter, the data shows that Facebook is dominant with 52 percent of social shares made through the site, but sharing on Twitter and Tumblr has seen an explosive growth.

    “AddThis also found that 2011 was a big year for sharing on mobile devices, with six times more sharing on iPhones, iPads and Android devices this year. The iPad also surpassed the iPhone in sharing volume in June,” Sonderman writes.

    What can we expect next year? AddThis said its data shows Tumblr sharing is accelerating, while sharing via Google’s Plus One buttons has reached a plateau. Sharing online content with others via email or simply printing it out accounts for close to a fifth of total sharing.

    Interestingly, one single event drew 28 percent of all shares this year: The death of Osama bin Laden. AddThis has summarized all that information in one nifty infographic.

    Tumblr wants to be “the most interesting party you’ve ever been at”

    “I personally think what Tumblr wants to be is the most interesting party you’ve ever been at. That party could have a political discussion in the kitchen or people doing keg stands in the living room, but it’s all about that whole range of human expression.”

    Tumblr’s Mark Coatney tells CNNMoney.

    He calls news organizations very important to Tumblr’s growth and promises the company will come up with some way to help users make money on their platform, which has eluded them so far.

    “The more we can do to figure out how to help people make money of Tumblr, the better,” Coatney says.

    Monetizing the platform and helping users measure the impact of their blogs are two key challenges for Tumblr, which just raised $85 million in funding. Tumblr plans to add an analytics dashboard to help users keep track of their stats, Coatney said at an online journalism conference in September. He wouldn’t go into detail on a timeframe, however, saying only that he hopes it will be within a year.

    Even without those tools, Tumblr is immensely popular, apparently reaching 13 billion pageviews per month. The interesting question is where these pageviews come from.

    Continue reading

    “We are the 99 percent”: The stories behind the economic crisis

    I think they want to let others know that they’re out there, that they exist, that their problems exist. That they’re not just some statistic compiled in a spreadsheet, that they’re real human beings with real human challenges.

    …the founder of the blog We Are the 99 Percent tells Mother Jones. The blog’s title has become a rallying cry for the Occupy movement that is spreading from New York to other cities.

    Fashion industry grumbles over Tumblr’s money-making plans

    Some fashion brands are enraged about the fashion week coverage that microblogging site Tumblr is proposing, the New York Observer reports. At the last New York Fashion Week, Tumblr negotiated access for some of its popular fashion bloggers.

    “The bloggers, once the red headed step children of Fashion Week, got access beyond their wildest dreams. The brands and designers got their shows covered on a hip social network that drove a ton of traffic and engagement.* It was a win-win.

    Things are playing out a little differently this time. … Unlike last year, Tumblr is now asking to be paid,” Betabeat writes.

    The proposal to fashion brands obtained by the Observer ranges from $10,000 for a private event with bloggers to $100,000 for 15 blog posts on the brand’s Tumblr page. Tumblr is asking fashion brands to pay for coverage of an event that’s already saturated with media, leave alone brand’s own PR people, simply because this coverage will be created by Tumblr bloggers.

    I will say this… someone is completely out of their goddamn mind.

    Jessica Coghan, Director of Digital Media at fashion PR firm Starworks, which reps brands like Ann Taylor and Kate Spade, wrote on her Tumblr. She continues,

    Fashion brands have adopted this platform in a big way and do you want to know what fashion brands need from Tumblr? An analytics dashboard!

    Tumblr offers no way to track how many people see, like, reblog or comment on your posts. The lack of analytics makes it difficult to justify investing a lot of money into a brand Tumblr because you can’t quantify the return. (*That’s why the “ton of traffic and engagement” noted by the Observer seems to be more of a feels-like stat).

    That’s unfortunate because Tumblr is actually great for fashion brands like Kate Spade, Ann Taylor or Modcloth who can post pictures and notes that can easily be shared.

    Fashion brands are so desperate for those numbers that they’re basically begging Tumblr to create such a dashboard, even publicly saying they would pay for it.

    Meanwhile, Tumblr is raising money at a rate that would value the company “‘in the range’ of $800 million – possibly higher,” Business Insider reports.

    One startup founder defends Tumblr, saying kinks like this are expected of a company growing as fast as the blogging platform. (At least the server outages seem to have decreased, from my anecdotal experience). As it grows bigger, complaints about the lack of tracking tools will only become louder.

    Blogs to Love: Powerful people, acting strange

    Today’s edition of “me pointing out fun things I find on the Internet” is turning to tumblr! The micro-blogging platform was started in 2007 and has been growing rapidly, lately eclipsing WordPress in page impressions (However, WordPress still has more than 10 times as many users – link in German).

    While anecdotal evidence suggests many 14-year-olds and cat lovers among the tumblr users, there are also the politically minded sites such as the ones below. Two of them offer a satirical take on political figures, while the final one brings us often not-so-funny reality.

    Uncomfortable Moments with Putin

    This is brings us “Images of people looking uncomfortable in the presence of Vladimir Putin, fearsome former President and incumbent Prime Minister of Russia.” Putin manages to even make Santa Claus look confused, leave alone current Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medwedew (below). German chancellor Angela Merkel gets a pass from me since,she always looks like this – but the cutline is worth a read.

    uncomfortable w putin

    Kim-Jong Il looking at things

    Whether you’re president, king or dictator, one of your duties includes touring your country and, well, looking at things. Such as beverages or woodwork. It seems Kim-Jong Il doesn’t like looking at food too much (too opulent?).

    Officials say the darndest things

    ProPublica has set up this great tumblog (which, by the way, represents a GREAT adaptation of a news organization’s core mission to a different publishing platform). They post quotes from politicians and other figures in the news. I like that they took the idea of the soundbite, but choose interesting, shocking, and sometimes plain stupid ones. We learn: Don’t have sex with Julian Assange, and don’t expect getting your money’s worth from Illinois.