A while back I did a bunch of research and poked around in a bunch of binary files in order to write a rather detailed history and technical explanation of the GIF file format. I lacked the foresight to hold off until June 15, which was the 25th birthday of the GIF. Had I done so, maybe I could have raked in the pageviews. Don’t worry, though, because the online tech press have jumped on the opportunity. I’m not bitter: my post—which, recall, I spent quite a bit of time researching and writing—was rather well received. I am, however, a bit disappointed at the deluge of badly researched or regurgitated posts that pop up in mainstream media in order to cash in on the momentary relevancy of an arbitrary date. You’re supposed to be real journalists, guys! It’s sad to see you one-upped by a blogger with no connections, not because said blogger is a great journalist but because you were lazy and churned out a post in ten minutes.
The premise is correct: the first GIF standard was indeed published on June 15, 1987. But the only reason anyone cares about the GIF standard in 2012 is animated gifs on the internet. These did not spring into existence in 1987. If you want a date, go with February, 1993, when Mosaic introduced the
img tag, or how about February 5, 1996, the launch of Netscape Navigator 2, the first browser that introduced animated GIFs. If you’re going to celebrate animated GIFs, those dates make much more sense.
No, Daily Dot, the GIF wasn’t introduced as a more versatile alternative to the JPEG. The problem with this statement is threefold. First, the JPEG standard didn’t exist when CompuServe started working on GIF. (The working group that created JPEG was created in 1986, but as far as I can tell by Usenet, never released anything until later. The JPEG Interchange File Format, the standard file format that actually encodes JPEG, wasn’t around until 1991!) Secondly, the source for this indirect quote is another story on Daily Dot, but the direct quote doesn’t actually say that GIF was developed as an alternative to JPEG. The third problem is that it’s very arguable whether GIF in fact is more versatile than JPEG.
Of course when you interview someone who helped develop GIF, he’s going to say GIF rocks. But JPEG is in fact much more widely used (in terms of different applications, and probably also in terms of volume) than GIF. Lossy compression probably has more use cases than lossless compression; in addition, GIF, as is well known, cannot actually compress full-color images losslessly, because it can only store 256 colors per picture frame. The only use for which GIFs are superior to the alternatives (in 2012) is making looping animations on the internet. And that’s only due to historical accident.
No, LA Times, the GIF specification doesn’t state that it’s supposed to be pronounced “jiff” with a soft G rather than “giff” like in “gift”. You quote an online FAQ to that effect, but the FAQ is wrong, as you could and should have verified by actually reading the specification, which is widely available online. The specification says nothing about how to pronounce “gif”, since that’s irrelevant in a technical specification. Furthermore, as any linguist will tell you, the guy who invented the file format gets no say in how it’s pronounced; the “correct” way is the commonly used one.
No, IGN, the GIF format didn’t “evolve over the next 25 years, first gaining color”. Color was in the original specification from 1987, as you would have known if you actually bothered skimming the thing.
In addition to being riddled with silly mistakes like the above, the celebratory articles all seem to ignore the patent controversy that surrounded the GIF format and led to the creation of PNG. This is perhaps one of the more interesting parts of the story, but the tech media are either unaware of it or too lazy to put it in the write-up.
Am I nitpicking? Perhaps, but the issue here is that the way these articles get the details wrong reveals the lack of research or effort put into them. These are things the authors would have known if they spent a little time on their articles. Instead, they opted to churn out a quick post in order to jump on the bandwagon. I understand that this is how online media work: an individual author may be required to write a dozen posts a day. I maintain a blog that requires me to research and write one post per day, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows that I often cut corners there. It’s not that I’m a saint who has never committed sloppy paste-jobs like the above. But nevertheless, sinner that I am, I think we should all, collectively, hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Another difference is that these are paid journalists writing for an audience of hundreds of thousands while my admittedly simplified history lessons are written by a hobbyist to an audience of hundreds. If I’m not satisfied, neither should the guys whose audience is a thousand times mine, and whose income from writing is infinitely higher (since I have none).Jun 17, 2012