Should we include a animated GIF of a screencast in our answers? Or should we post a series of screenshots instead? Or is a link to a video hosted externally preferable?

Here's an example of a animated GIF of a screencast, taken from this answer:

Animated GIF of a screencast

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I personally don't mind them. I've disabled gifs in firefox (for other reasons). –  jrg Dec 28 '12 at 17:53
    
I like them: we can improve them, we can fix them, we can make them smaller, we can remove the complete answer if its later broken, they show very easily what can be done... This one is BIG! Fixing it. –  Bruno Pereira Dec 28 '12 at 20:35
    
It is not good for beginners if it is too fast. I don't mind. –  owl Dec 31 '12 at 6:11
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This is a 1.5 MB gif. How big would it be without the meaningless background image? Is it realistic to ban bg images? –  user unknown Dec 31 '12 at 20:04
    
@userunknown if you look at the current answer the image size is now around 350Kb, which seems to be quite acceptable. Did not update it here since that was not the point. –  Bruno Pereira Jan 1 '13 at 20:20
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@BrunoPereira: Well - not the point for you. Quite right so. With high bandwidth it's no problem at all, with GPRS/EDGE speed of about 7kb/s you need a few minutes for loading. And not everybody will think of reducing the size, eliminating high density background images. That is my point. –  user unknown Jan 2 '13 at 1:54

5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Pros:

  • It's animated, and therefore easy to understand. Some things are best explained in a video, where text accompanied by screenshots would be too lengthy.
  • It's inline, as opposed to an externally hosted video. External videos should be avoided for the same reason as link-only answers.

Cons:

  • Bad usability: there is no way to pause, rewind or fast forward an animated GIF. It takes a few seconds to understand which frame is the starting frame of the animation.
  • Hard to edit: if the community needs to edit the GIF, they need to use advanced graphical tools, or record a new screencast.
  • Low visual quality: GIFs are limited to 256 colours, and are often overly compressed to reduce file size. In the example included in the question, the text is too small and hard to read.
  • Possible large file size. The example in the question is 1.4MB large.
  • Some users cannot view animated GIFs: they may have disabled them, or they may have specific accessibility requirements.

The pros and cons should be taken into consideration before using an animated GIF for a screencast. When it doubt, they should be avoided, as text accompanied with screenshots don't suffer from the previously listed cons of GIFs.

However, there are some occasions when an animated GIF is very appropriate. For example, take this animated GIF, from this answer explaining how to move icons in the launcher:

Example GIF

This is an excellent use of an animated GIF:

  • It explains a concept that would be hard to explain in words, with or without screenshots.
  • It is very short, only a few seconds long. Users are unlikely to miss playback control buttons.
  • It is cropped to a small area of the screen. This makes it much easier to follow, reduces the file size, and enhances the visual quality of the animation.
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How can you make so cool animated GIFs? I really like them. –  hhh Dec 30 '12 at 0:40
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askubuntu.com/a/123515/25863 –  Bruno Pereira Dec 30 '12 at 4:58
    
Be sure to check out this userscript as it makes using Byzanz very easy. –  Glutanimate Jan 1 '13 at 8:50
    
This image itself is almost 400 KB in size, depending on the connection it is not a trivial download –  That Brazilian Guy Jan 5 '13 at 18:42

I think animated GIFs can be very helpful and you should not be afraid to include them. If you happen to abuse or use them inappropriately it can be handled just like any other content of lesser quality (editing, voting, deletion, etc.)

Remember that some people may have animated GIFs disabled, access the site with a text-only interface or for some other reason do not or cannot view the animated GIFs. Thus, animated GIFs may be best used as a complement to textual instructions. Also, do not forget to add an alt text for images so that those who do not view the image can get a hint of what it shows and it makes their content searchable. Syntax example:

![alt text](image URL)
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YES.

People who do not want to see GIFs can turn them off. It is your choice. People like me who want to see the cool-looking GIF animations – instead of jamming a massive amount of instructions in hard-reading stream-of-consciousness – should be able to see the GIFs. You can see animated GIFs in other Stack Exchange sites like here so why not here?

P.s. For people who are able to do the nice-looking GIFs, please, instruct people in your answer to do them. I know you can do animated GIFs with iPad's Echograph app but I would like to learn how to animations for instructions in the GUI. It is very hard to explain things only in text or images, animations add a new layer of communication.

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For how to make animated GIFs see askubuntu.com/q/107726/19490 –  N.N. Dec 30 '12 at 17:08

In my opinion they can be useful, though they can be rather large and cumbersome downloads depending on the resolution.

Youtube videos are also useful, though they cannot be embedded, and we have no real control over them.

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Has anyone tried embedding a HTML5 video? My understanding is that you can use HTML tags in your answer/question. –  Seth Dec 30 '12 at 17:26
    
@iSeth I've never seen it done (the video tag) but it might not work if SE is doing some parsing on their end. –  RolandiXor Dec 30 '12 at 21:07

Personally I hate GIFs they make the site much slower and it's very hard to see the exact instructions. I think pictures tells much more and you can do it in your own phase.

I don't like them, I want a nice old fashion list with pictures so anyone can do it.

I think GIFs are just fancy things that doesn't do the job.

As en example this page lags really much when i try to scroll. And I'm only running the usual programs, eclipse, Spotify, 8 tabs in Chrome. GIFs aren't a good solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

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Using GIFs does not exclude using text and normal images. Usually animated GIFs are great when they are used as a complement to text instructions. –  N.N. Dec 28 '12 at 18:30
    
@N.N ok, but the main problem is that this page is using 35% of my cpu at the moment. An becomes unresponsive when i try to scroll. GIFs are slow and use a lot of power... –  Alvar Dec 28 '12 at 18:32
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My laptop is five years old and it is not slowed down by the animation so I think few has that problem. Also, if the animation is helpful in showing how a solution works it may still be worth it. Finally, if animated GIFs are problematic they can be disabled by by the client. –  N.N. Dec 28 '12 at 18:38
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@Alvar: if you bought your computer within the last decade, you should be able to view fully downloaded GIFs with no problems. Your high CPU usage problems sound like a bug to me. –  Flimm Dec 28 '12 at 21:14
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@Alvar: Even with my underpowered netbook, I have no problem with GIFs, normal videos would use more CPU in your PC than GIFs! –  Fitoschido Dec 30 '12 at 9:10

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