June 29th, 2017

What is WebM? The Video File Format That Could Usurp the GIF

30 Years of GIFs

On June 15, 1987, the GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) was introduced to the world by software writer Steve Wilhite while working at CompuServe. Over the last 30 years, GIFs have dominated the image format scene of the internet, sparked international debate over its own pronunciation, and and evolved into its own form of visual communication: the reaction GIF.

Thanks to Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr, the culture of social media shifted towards the use of GIFs over video and photo. The nature of the GIF to appear in an infinite loop, combined with the average internet user’s ability to easily manipulate and edit GIFs to create something new, both lend to the GIF’s major role in making things go viral on the web.

But after 30 years, there is a new file format contender entering the stage: WebM.

What is WebM?

Initially released in 2010, but only now picking up steam, WebM is an open, royalty-free, media file format designed for the web.

So, what does that mean?

Open: Anyone can build WebM support into a software application, or contribute code to the WebM project.

Royalty-Free: Some video codecs require content distributors and manufacturers to pay patent royalties to use intellectual property within the codec. WebM and the codecs it supports require no royalty payments of any kind. Anyone can use WebM code without owing money to anybody, ever.

Media file format: Just like the GIF, WebM is a file format for use on the internet. It can be coded to play once through, or loop infinitely just like a GIF.

How Could WebM Usurp the GIF? Is WebM Better Than GIF?

Well, yes and no. WebM can host animated imagery with a higher quality and smaller file size than GIF. They can also easily be coded to autoplay and loop forever, without an additional video player – just like GIF.

Other advantages over the GIF format include:

  • Superior image quality
  • Support for more than 256 colors (GIF only supports 256)
  • Reduced file size

However, there is one slight disadvantage. WebM is not currently supported on all internet browsers. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera offer browser support, but Safari and Internet Explorer require third party plugins.

Which Format Will Prevail?

The answer to this question is entirely up to the user. Will you switch from GIF to WebM? Will internet culture origin sites like Reddit, 4Chan, Tumblr, and Twitter embrace the format? Only time will tell.



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