GIFs are a novel new way people are communicating on social media.

GIF (or Graphics Interchange Format) date back to 1987, and for most of that time the brief animations have been a tacky, unwelcome Web presence. But for a while now, we’ve been noting a comeback of GIF culture. Some artists are turning to them as a way to differentiate their work (Mexican photographer Ignacio Torres, for example), and let’s not forget all the Tumblrs specializing in GIFs around Internet memes. A few brands have been using them in interesting ways. For its 2012 London Fashion Week show, Burberry created GIFs to showcase each look. Its Google Plus page features subtle animated images as well, while Nissan uses GIFs to convey a car speeding, and Red Bull shows a stunt biker in action. Last month, Volkswagen sponsored a “GIFaway,” awarding tickets to a series of sold-out Kraftwerk concerts in New York through a GIF-creation contest.

Much of the current novelty around GIFs is in how they translate to mobile social networks—i.e., GIF versions of Instagram. Apple’s app store has dozens of GIF apps, including Cinemagram and Kinotopic: Users can film a video of 2 or 3 seconds, or use a preexisting clip, then select a specific area of the image to animate, leaving everything else motionless; as with photo apps, there are filter options and easy sharing on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook. GifBoom is an app that lets users animate a sequence of their photos. Watch for GIFs to become bigger on mobiles, which thus far have hosted mostly static images.