Amid the firestorm of media surrounding President Obama’s public endorsement of marriage equality, a single GIF animation posted to a then-unknown Tumblr site went viral.

The graphic, which references 2001’s Zoolander, is just one of many to indicate a major cyber trend in 2012, the emergence — or, more accurately, reemergence — of the GIF.

We’ve all seen them: (Graphics Interchange Formats, as if that explains anything) those simple and repetitive moving animations that endlessly replay the same one-to-three second clip, occupying the space where photo and video intersect.

Over two decades old, this technology rose to popularity during the Internet’s infancy. I recall downloading GIFs from bellsnwhistles.com (which remains remarkably unchanged) to build Geocities sites (which no longer exist) or bolster rudimentary HTML pages in middle-school tech class. As the Internet grew more advanced, GIFs grew more obsolete. Not surprisingly, they largely disappeared.

Newsflash: they’re back.

Last Tuesday, my office was abuzz: a half-dozen coworkers forwarded me the link to a Tumblr exclusively of GIFs that parodied our workplace, an ingenious satire of the company’s flaws, idiosyncrasies, and stock characters (the blog’s anonymous author will probably be fired, although she really deserves a promotion).

Similar sites like whatshouldwecallme.tumblr.com are gaining enormous popularity on Tumblr, and the medium is transcending the amateur blogosphere. The fashion industry, too, has begun to utilize the “iconic and potentially seizure-inducing format,” as Portable explores here.

[via Love Fola]

As innovation propels the production and consumption of online content into the future at warp speed, how do we account for this counterintuitive resurgence of an antiquated technology?

GIFs, as it turns out, are in the right place at the right time. They lend themselves to three widespread trends across the cultural and cyber-cultural landscape: egalitarianism, nostalgia, and humor.

In a Huffington Post article, my favorite Tweetress, Megan Amram says Twitter “can be used by anyone: young or old, short or not-Ryan Seacrest, gay or not-Ryan-Seacrest.” The same can be said of GIFs, which are easy to create and even easier to share, especially on a platform like Tumblr. GIFs are an anachronism: they were built for the inclusive and egalitarian world of microblogging and social media, just 20 years before either existed.