The CompuServe Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was introduced in 1987 (some of us still remember seeing it referred to as "GIF89a") and remained popular not only for its high compression, but its ability to display transparency and to animate. Its compression was fantastic, and its 8-bit color was lightweight; perfect for small graphics and logos for a burgeoning web.
I created my first animated GIF in 1994 on my geocities webpage which still exists today. I read a book in the mid-90s which proclaimed no web page should be more than 1MB. Of course with broadband as widespread as it is, and the limitations of dial-up modems, that statement is antiquated to many, most of whom weren't even born in 1987. Normally, I wouldn't even be in contact with these people, unless they were children of friends, but the web has truly transcended many social barriers.
Controversy over licensing agreements in the compression technology used in the GIF however led to the creation of the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) file format which contains many of the features of the GIF, but was slow to catch on. Initially, browser support for them was severely limited (point of fact, Microsoft's own Internet Explorer) didn't properly render PNG's alpha channel transparency feature until IE7 and still doesn't properly display PNG's gamma feature, resulting in incorrect hues) and early lack of support in graphics manipulation programs.
On the positive side, PNG is not licensed and contains better compression than that of GIF. Livejournal users understand that avatars are limited to 40kb, which means much creativity must be used in creating an animated GIF as an avatar. There are several optimization options available to lower the overall size of your image, one of which, is color-depth. Unfortunately, getting an animated avatar which has too may frames or lots of different colors under 40k usually results in a unusable grainy halftone image.
I read recently where someone bemoaning the dated GIF wrote concerning using it for animation:
Animated gifs are for those who don't know how to use flash.
Yes, I myself have been somewhat justifiably accused of being an elitist, but I've played with flash. Guess what? I'M NOT AN ARTIST. Flash is very difficult to work with comparatively. Having taught myself HTML 1.0 back in the day, I was humored to find the following response to that statement:
Flash is for those who can't write HTML.
Both do have their place. For different reasons. I for one, would like to see PNG support animation in such a way as a GIF. For the time being however, Livejournal, would it kill you to increase the size of avatars?
I don't have many, but here are some of mine: