Why Twitter embraced GIFs and Facebook is holding off

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GIFs are divisive, and I’m not just talking about the battle lines drawn over how you pronounce the word itself (for the record: it’s “jif”). Some people love the animated images, while others find them irritating. Twitter is wading into the fight by planting itself firmly on the side of GIFs, on Wednesday announcing that the network will now show in-line GIFs.

To share a GIF on Twitter, just upload one like you would any other image. Twitter caps the file size at 3MB. But the GIFs won’t animate automatically in your Timeline—you have to press play. If you open a tweet, the GIF will begin its automatic loop.

This isn’t the first time GIFs have been allowed on Twitter. GIF database Giphy brought GIFs to your Timeline last November using Twitter cards, which is a little bit different than GIFs being directly integrated with the network. Giphy made headlines last summer with a workaround for Facebook, the last network standing against GIFs, that made the animated images work (sort of). It never caught on.

Should Facebook adopt GIFs?

Facebook’s armchair quarterbacks—and it has plenty—say that the network is missing out by not integrating GIFs. People love them, at least more than they love auto-playing videos. But Facebook has stood firm, likely because GIFs would aren’t exactly the kind of high-quality content the network is focused on floating to the top of your News Feed. And can you imagine your feed clogged with looping GIFs? What a nightmare. But I’m already subjected to auto-playing videos that friends of my friends are posting, so that’s not exactly better.

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How Facebook feels about GIFs.

But Twitter is aiming to make its platform more appealing to new users, and GIFs are an easy way to go about that. Facebook natives—those of us who grew up with the network—remember MySpace’s nosedive. Toward the end, pages were covered with GIFs, often of the glittering variety, that completely killed the user experience. (Not that it was great before, but still.)

Facebook needs to keep News Feed clean and simple, which is why it doesn’t bother to offer any customization beyond profile and cover photos. Videos make sense, because Facebook wants you to share your special moments with your friends and family—that's exactly the kind of high-quality content it wants. And while it's possible to make your own GIFs, mostly people just share GIFs of celebrities, TV and movie clips, animals being cute, or people getting hurt—and so far Facebook has said no thanks to all that noise. GIFs work great for a few things, though, like looping an amazing sports highlight or blooper, so perhaps Facebook could experiment with letting media sites use GIFs in their storytelling on Facebook. Facebook loves media, and vice versa—plus, news organizations tend to select better than GIFs than your mom does. At least in my experience.

TechHive senior editor Susie Ochs contributed to this story.

This story, "Why Twitter embraced GIFs and Facebook is holding off" was originally published by TechHive.

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