Do animated gifs drive you potty?

Google Search - a doodle

The animated version of this gif prompted this blog post

I think it’s been a while since I adopted full-blown “grumpy old man” mode in these blogs, but I’m going for it this week because I’ve just encountered umpteen instances of one of the internet’s most annoying features – animated gifs. Thank you, Google (not). The trite, childish static images on the Google Search page are bad enough without assaulting our eyes and brains with animated gifs. The thing I find most confusing is that Google is widely reckoned to have succeeded over other search engines for the very reason that their search page is clean, uncluttered, and easy to use. Why undermine this with trivia unsuitable for anyone over seven years of age?

What is an animated gif? It’s a series of still images that vary slightly from each other and that can be shown in rapid succession, thereby giving the appearance of animation. All these separate images are contained in one single file called an animated gif. Typically, they are quite small files, so there’s not much “overhead” in displaying them on web pages. The animation that they show is usually of only a second or so’s duration before it repeats and repeats and …

In case you feel like me about animated gifs, you may wish to know how they can be stopped. Actually, there are two main things you can do about them. One is to stop them in their tracks so that they become slightly less annoying as static images and the other is to hide them entirely.

On my main machine I hide them entirely on www.google.co.uk when using my default browser (Firefox), but today I’ve been forcing myself to use my MacBook Pro, so I keep coming across today’s animated gif on Google Search in both Safari and Firefox on the Mac.

That might give you a hint as to how to stop them. Yes, it’s all down to your internet browser. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer actually has a built-in option that you can select to stop such animations. With other browsers you can install “add-ons” to “de-animate” gifs.

Here are example add-ons for the most important browsers:

Internet Explorer 11 - stopping animated gifs

With Internet Explorer 11, simply untick the circled box to stop the animation in animated gifs

Internet Explorer 11 – no add-on needed. Go to “Settings” (the cog wheel at top right), left-click on “Internet Options”, click on the “Advanced” tab, scroll down and untick “Play animations in webpages”. Note that you may have to re-boot for this to take effect.

Firefox – with Firefox loaded, go to this site for the Toggle Animated Gifs add-on and click on “add to Firefox”.

Chrome – with Chrome loaded, go to this site for the Gif Blocker add-on and click on “add to Chrome”. I tried several gif blockers for Chrome before I found this one. None of the others I tried worked. Note that this one doesn’t result in a static gif being displayed. Instead, it removes the gif altogether and lets you know what’s missing by placing the letters”gif” in the middle of a grey box.

Safari – with Safari loaded, go to this site for the Deanimator and clickdownload.

If you need a sample webpage that includes an animated gif, this dancing banana is as good (or bad) as any.

And how do you completely remove both static and animated gifs on the www.google.co.uk page?

Google Search Without Doodles

This is how I like Google Search to look

I do it with the add-on called AdBlock Plus. I’ve blogged about AdBlock Plus before.

To use AdBlock Plus to remove an image that isn’t recognised as an ad (in the following example the gifs and animated gifs on the Google search page), first install it and then go to the add-ons in your chosen browser (in my case, Firefox) and then:

  • Click on the Options button on Ad Block Plus
  • Click on Filter preferences
  • Click “Custom filters” tab
  • Add a filter group called “Ad Blocking Rules”
  • Add the following line as the rule and then ensure that “enabled” is ticked:
    ||google.co.uk/logos/doodles/2015/*
  • Close the “Add On manager” tab.

There you go, making cyberspace a bit more friendly for grumpy old men and women.

From time to time, clients ask me which browser I use, and I reply “Firefox”..

I started using Firefox just because it wasn’t the leading browser (which was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at that time). However, there were a few substantive reasons as well – it was faster, more secure and (most relevant for this blog post), there were lots of bells and whistles you could add on to it.

Firefox is developed and made freely available by an organisation called Mozilla. This is a community of programmers who spend their own time developing Firefox. Mozilla is also responsible for the “Thunderbird” email program. Since Firefox is an open source program, outside programmers and organisations can make their “bells and whistles” (more properly known as “add-ons” and “extensions”) work nicely with the main product.

By the way, having a touch of pedantry about me, I’ve been trying to find out exactly what differentiates “add-ons” from “extensions” and can’t find an answer. This is made worse by also having things called “plug-ins” that seem to do the same thing. The important point here, though, is that there are hundreds of these goodies that you can add to Firefox. I don’t recommend installing them willy-nilly and then keeping them installed unless you find them useful, as there’s bound to be some kind of overhead in having them there. At best, they may have an un-noticeable effect on the performance of your browser. At worst, they can slow it down disastrously or even break it.

But now – at last – to the main point. I don’t like adverts on websites – in particular, the ones that blink and shout and scream at me. I spend lots of money every month with Mr Google so that he will advertise my services on Google Search pages, so I accept that I could be accused of hypocrisy in complaining about ads and even trying to block them. I prefer to think in terms of pragmatism. Anyway, when I discovered an add-on for Firefox called AdBlock Plus I was more chained to Firefox than ever, as it does exactly what it says on the tin (yes, I know that expression comes from an ad).

TfL Journey Planner Website with Ads

TfL Journey Planner with ads highlighted (by me) with red frames

AdBlock Plus will more-or-less remove all ads from most browser windows. I hardly ever encounter ads when I’m at my own main laptop. Today, however, I was updating my client database and needed some information from the highly recommended Transport for London Journey Planner. So I opened Safari on my Mac Mini, went to the TfL website, and was quite unreasonably annoyed to have ads distracting me. I decided to put in a bit of work to see if AdBlock Plus is now more widely available than just for Firefox.

TfL Journey Planner Without Ads

Aah, that’s better. Now the dog can see the rabbit.

And it is! See https://adblockplus.org. If you visit that site, it will recognise which browser you are using, so will offer to install the correct version. I notice that the Mac Safari version is a “beta” version. This means that it is developed to the point that they want a lot of people to be using it so that they can see if it works, and find any wrinkles that need ironing out. So, you install anything that is flagged as a “beta” version at your own risk. If you ever encounter a program described as being an “alpha” version then run away from it very quickly unless you are very nerdy and looking for trouble.

So, I’ve put the beta version of AdBlock Plus on the Mac Mini and we’ll see how it goes. Upon installation, it also offered to do the following:

  • Block known malware websites.
  • Remove social media buttons (Facebook “likes” etc). Most people don’t realise that these are trackers and you don’t need to click on them to give your browsing habits to Facebook.
  • Disable tracking in other ways.

I’m in favour of all of these, so I’ve turned them all on.

AdBlockPlus logoNot only is AdBlock Plus now available on Safari, but also on Chrome, Android, Opera and Internet Explorer.

I do accept that there is a debate to be had about whether it is right to block ads, since that is the source of revenue for a lot of websites. Just to toss a few ingredients into that debate:

  • Why do the ads have to have those incredibly annoying and distracting animations? Surely they put more people off than they attract?
  • There are other ways of financing things. Lots of mobile apps, for instance, offer a free, ad-supported version and an inexpensive alternative that is ad-free. I think this is a brilliant idea. You can use the free one to see if it’s an app that you really want and then pay for it to remove the rubbish if you want to. Maybe that idea isn’t easily transferrable to website financing.
  • Ads are just not appropriate on lots of websites. Are they appropriate on TfL’s Journey Planner? I was about to say “no” and then I thought about the gerzillions of posters on the tube. Would I ban those? No, I don’t think I would.

Conclusion: as long as ads are irritating and intrusive I’m going to continue to block them when I can. Good on you, AdBlock Plus.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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