The animated image above is a sequence of abstracted neuronal images from brain visual cortex that I originally posted here. The images are from neurons labeled with different probes, though that is not important for the discussion here. What is relevant is that I’ve been wondering why science does not more widely implement animated GIFS to explain and represent scientific image data for ease of communication. The .gif format is one of the oldest standards on the Internet for display of raster graphics, introduced by Compuserve back in 1987. In addition to their long history on the Internet, .gif files have wide support and are incredibly portable. (The history of the gif is summarized nicely here on a PBS Off Book video on Youtube). Animated gifs have made a resurgence of sorts on the Internet as a means to communicate or show motion in ways that were not originally intended, but nevertheless are innovative and useful. It would seem that for scientists and those interested in communication of scientific ideas, supplemental data are an ideal way to show animation or motion or any number of approaches useful to scientific communication. Granted, one can do all sorts of animations with video formats like MPEG or Flash (not very convenient for portable uses like phones or tablets) and new HTML5 and emerging HTML standards, but the gif is a robust standard that has been around for many years and can be utilized by those in parts of the world where bandwidth and some of the latest tools are not as available as they are in 1st world countries.
As science and science education becomes more available via open access to wider audiences around the globe, we should strive to adopt open standards with low to reasonable standards for accessibility and gifs fit nicely within those requirements.