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Animated GIFs staging a comeback? Not so fast, survey says

Just how big is the renaissance of the animated GIF? Not big enough to offset the decline of the GIF image format as a whole, according to one survey.

W3Techs, a site that surveys the use of various web technologies, claims that PNG is now used on 62.4 percent of websites and is on the rise, while GIF continues to slip and is now used on 62.3 percent of websites.

BuzzfFeed
Inevitable animated GIF of a kitty

GIF and PNG are both lossless image compression formats, meaning that they don't discard any information during the save process.

PNG was originally introduced as a response to patent issues around GIF in 1995, but it's also technically superior, supporting transparency and a much wider range of color depths.

The lossy JPEG format, which does discard some data, is still more popular than either GIF or PNG, and usage is holding steady on about 72 percent of websites, according to W3Techs.

GIFs still extremely popular

The real story, though, is how the apparent comeback of animated GIFs isn't reflected in W3Tech's survey. They've become popular in comments sections and on forums such as Reddit, usually for comedic effect.

News sites such as Buzzfeed, The Atlantic Wire and the New York Times have taken a liking to GIFs as a lightweight way to add motion to an image. Because there's no audio, and playback loops automatically, animated GIFs sometimes make a lot more sense than a full-blown video format. The animated GIF has found its way into art galleries, and was recently the subject of a short PBS documentary.

W3Techs seems oblivious to all of this, acknowledging the animated GIF with only a condescending mention. “The only feature where GIF still shines is its support for animation,” the group wrote. “However, most people find that dancing icons on a website make it look like it hasn't been redesigned in the last 15 years. Animation is mostly used for ads nowadays, and even there, animated GIFs would be considered the poor mans [sic] alternative to Flash.”

GIF usage appears to drop below PNG image format usage for the first time

I'm guessing the discrepancy comes down to the sheer scale of the Internet. While a handful of larger websites may be warming to the animated GIF, the Internet as a whole isn't really using the format for static images anymore.

Also, because W3Techs measures the percentage of sites using a given image format, not the amount of usage on those sites, it won't be the most accurate measure for the rise of the animated GIF. (The image-sharing site Imgur, for instance, is loaded with animated GIFs, but won't weigh into W3Tech's results any more than another site would.)

So don't weep for the GIF. Even if it's not as widely popular as it once was, it's arguably getting more love than ever—certainly more than Flash.

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