The Ultimate Guide To GIF Etiquette

We're entering a new era of communication. Our previous vernacular can no longer keep up with the great deal of emotions and #feels we experience hourly. A casual "lol" has become a passive-aggressive dismissal of a not-so-funny joke. It says: "I'm humoring you by making you think I find said joke humorous." You might as well just send or say "k" because that's really what your "lol" is saying. Internet lingo has shifted the focus away from the words to how they're formed. Capitalizing "LOL," for instance, tends to lend a positive voice to a conversation; "kk" is the polite acknowledgement of a verdict. A true master, however, doesn't need characters to get his or her point across. A true master uses images — moving images to be precise — that get right to the emotion of the situation rather than the words.
Enter the GIF, the graphic image format that the Internet surfs its own waves on. There's a GIF for every situation, every emotion, and every personality. Choosing one can be exhausting — daunting, even, because the fear of using the wrong one (FOGO, a.k.a. the Fear Of GIF Offending, a term we're inventing right here, right now) is overpowering. You want to seem "with it" or risk losing your Internet reputation.
So, we decided it was about time a proper etiquette guide to GIF'ing was written. With the help of the GIF-curating pros over at Giphy and the man behind Cheezburger (among many other memes we've consumed), Ben Huh, we've compiled a comprehensive how-to guide for GIF using. Read it, study it, own it, heck, become it. Consider this our gif(t) to you.
Opener Illustrated by Sydney Hass; Photo: via Giphy.

What Is A GIF?
Ben Huh explained that there are two kinds of GIFs: the GIF used as language and the GIF used as an art form — "moving tools," if you will. "Most people will loop a sequence infinitely to enforce a specific point," he says. Like verbal speaking, if a GIF is too long, you risk looking "like the guy who’s saying too many words that no one is following." On the flip side: "If the loop is too short, it becomes a nuisance. Then you’re like the guy who’s a broken record. You have to have the right time balance for the conversation you’re having.”
The GIF as an art form is a bit trickier. Rather than use it to communicate an emotion, it's used to capture a moment like a cinemagraph. "It’s about sitting there and enjoying the moment," Huh says, "rather than trying to understand a message.”
We're going to stick with the GIF as language. Onwards...
Photo: via Giphy.

Know Your Audience
"For many years, I’ve been saying that Internet culture is the sub-genre of popular culture," Ben Huh says. With that said, it's key to understand the audience you're about to drop a GIF on. "If you’re going to bring in an animated GIF that requires some background information, you have to make sure the audience knows that.” Alex Bedder from Giphy echoes Huh saying, "It's determined by who you are speaking to and the context of the conversation." You wouldn't use a GIF of Tom Hiddleston on someone who doesn't know who he is, right? Right.
Photo: via Giphy.
Know The GIF's Worth
Ben Huh explained that animated GIFs lend a specific voice to a conversation. They represent a "specific tonality that words can’t describe." Bedder further unpacked that statement by saying it's key to know when "the currency of the image is worth more than anything you can say." He continues, "It's knowing the moment when Side Eyein' Chloe (above) can express your judgment better than you possibly could." It hits a deeper chord than pure emotion; it brings up the emotions the pop-culture reference stirs.
Photo: via Giphy.

It Ultimately Comes Down To Timing
The key to properly GIF'ing is using the right size and length of a GIF — "timing and frequency," as Huh puts it. The biggest faux pas one can make is using a GIF that's so big it slows down the entire page or conversation thread. It's like you walked into the conversation late, tried to make a point, but missed it by a long shot (Internet speak for a few seconds). Expect a shaking head GIF in response.
Photo: via Giphy.

Happy GIF'ing!
Photo: via Giphy.

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