TECHNOLOGY

Why GIFs Are About to Turn Facebook Into a Big Flashing Mess

This article will be a test. Will you post a cheeky animated GIF on Facebook in response to it?

Share on
BY John Brandon - 15 Jun 2017

Woman Typing Phone Message On Social Network At Night

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I'm pleading with 1.94 billion people right now.

For the love of everything pure and good in the world, please don't start adding animated GIFs to your Facebook comments. I've been to Las Vegas around 20 times in my life, and the flashing lights and neon pandemonium is enough to make me want to stay home.

Now that you can easily add animated GIFs to comments (and, eventually, as a post), it means everyone will be tempted to post the frenetic drumming of a Muppet and Michael Scott saluting the troops at every turn. It's going to get really annoying.

Here's my problem with all of the noise.

First, we all know the human brain is fine-tuned to react to moving images. I won't get into the deeper science, mostly because it's a little boring, but we have exceptional peripheral vision and keen sensing abilities, so when something is moving, we look. That's one reason we love movies. My youngest daughter is learning to drive right now, and I've given her this lecture many times. Whatever is moving is important. If something is not moving--say, a car at a stop-sign, it's not as important. Movement gets our attention.

What happens when images come alive on social media with multiple animations playing all over the place? We go a little nuts. We look, and look, and then look again. It's crazy how effective these moving images can be on a Facebook feed that was normally fairly sanguine. My nephew, who was prone to post photos of cool cars, is about to start posting cool animated GIFs on his feed, and that's going to create something that looks like a casino. Sadly, I don't have any control over any of this.

In fact, here's my prediction. This article will appear on Facebook, and everyone will think it is really funny to post an animated GIF in the comments. Wait for it.

Another point to make here. Do you remember MySpace? All of the flashing cartoons and discombobulated design aesthetics is what ultimately killed that platform.

Facebook has experimented with the idea for years, and at least one report suggested the powers that be (read: Mark Zuckerberg, perhaps) have held back because they didn't want to corrupt the news feed with too many flashing lights. What turned the switch on for them? Users kept demanding the ability to add animations easily. And, they kept finding workarounds. (For at least two years, you could add an animated GIF manually, but the floodgates are open now because of one small icon for adding them.)

And, you can also pick from trending animations, which creates a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) for those who want to show the world they are cool and hip. You can add the GIF for the latest Cars movie, or the one of a shark clapping its hands, or Spider-Man casting a web. When something is easy it is more tempting. GIFs are fun and wacky for a while, then they become annoying and a major distraction.

Today, they are common on apps like Convo, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. Maybe as a way to motivate a team it's funny to add a GIF from The Office once in awhile, but in a business setting we hold back on the throttle a little. We know when to get serious.

Facebook users are there to have fun and post baby photos. It's a different mindset, but I use social media mostly for business purposes, so it's going to be a huge problem for me.

It's already a problem. I made a joke about this article on my feed, and already there are five or six animated GIFs in the comments. I deleted the post.