What Twitter Isn’t Telling You About GIFs
The 13 year old in all of us rejoiced when Twitter started supporting GIFS! Yaayyy, but I’m here to crush your dreams, Twitter’s GIFs are actually displayed as looping videos.
We did a little test, here is the original:
Here is the Twitter “GIF”.
It appears that on upload, Twitter is converting the GIF to an MP4 and embedding the video instead. Why would they do such a crazy thing? Well, size and control.
GIFs are terrible at compression. The original GIF above is 500kb while the mp4 version is only 100kb. A GIF is literally a sequence of independent images squeezed into the same file. An mp4 video can take advantage of all kinds of fancy compression techniques like keyframes and forward-predictive frames.
If most of your users are on mobile, this is a huge win. Even desktop users will notice better performance on a page with many GIFs.
Pausing a GIF isn’t really possible. There are some tricks to swap out the gif with a static frame, but it’s not built into the browser. Videos allow Twitter to leverage the browser. This means play, pause, and seek, but also cool things like slow-motion. Think your GIF is funny now? Wait til you see it in slow motion.
Cool story, so why is this important?
Now you don’t have to wait an hour for a GIF to load on your phone. Hopefully this technique catches on and we’ll have faster GIF sharing all around.
Specifically for Twitter, I think this leads to future video sharing directly through the app. Twitter seemed late to the GIF game, but they’re ahead of us all.
Long live the VIF.
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