Courtesy of Waxy’s illustrious Andy Baio, a wonderfully written history of the halcyon years of GIF News, a distributed online newsletter distributed via BBSes (the Internet’s underground, trilobitic evolutionary precursor) dating back to 1988. Luridly pixelated Flickr gallery and all!
As for the content of this newsletter itself, it’s important to note that the content was not about the GIF format itself (the Graphics Interchange Format is described in excruciating detail here), but simply used the GIF format to provide something that in 1988 was pretty unique for a person working out of upstate New York: a full-color, easily transmittable, completely static presentation of computer news. Because he had the 256 color palette to work from, Hsiao could intersperse color screen shots, artwork, and all range of unusual fonts. While not preceding the era of vector-based formats like Postscript, GIF News could produce a relatively low-size file (almost none exceed 100k in size) that could then be archived with other pages and transferred throughout the world…
Beyond the transport mechanism, of course, is the content being discussed. The GIF News would only arrive every 60 days or so, and each issue would be at most four pages/images, so the ability to devour the content in a world with RSS feeds and news shooting at us by the bucketful blows through a given posting in no time. It would be unfair, again, to sit here in 2008 and compare what tools rest in our hands for generating an image-and-text newsletter and berate or sneer at Eric’s seemingly glacial release pace; every one of these pages could have been hours of painful adjustments and drawing, writing the articles and then carefully placing pixels or groupings around captured artwork.
My heart always suffers from a pang, a fond ache, when I read-up on the incredibly creative BBS scenes of the late 80s… a scene I largely missed in lieu of downloading shareware games from Software Creations and playing pornographic door games. There were these clusters of incredible creativity and ingenuity hidden inside a sprawlingly disjointed, 1200 baud spaghetti structure of isolated communities tied together (at best) by the tin-can transmission system of FidoNet. I was never a part of these, but these secret conclaves of phreakers, programmers, artists and writers were the first cowboys of cyberspace. I wish I’d spent my youth getting to know them.
GIF News Gallery [Flickr]