The Favicon, an Untapped Image Promotion Trick – Animated Favicons?

A favicon is that little image that most browsers display on the address line and in the favorites (bookmarks) menu. Tabbed browsers like Firefox and Opera extend the functionality of favicons, adding them to their tabs. The name was coined based on Internet Explorer (the first browser to support it) and derives from “Favorites Icon”. Each web browser has a unique user interface, and as a result uses the favicon in different ways. The favicon allows a company to further promote its identity and image by displaying a logo, a graphical message, etc. Often, the favicon reflects the look and feel of the web site or the organization’s logo.

A traditional favicon is actually a Microsoft Windows ICO file. An ICO file is actually a repository of bitmap like images. They are used because in some locations a 16×16 pixel image is desired, and sometimes a 32×32 image may be needed. Sometimes a 16 color image is desired, and sometimes a 256 color icon is desired.

You probably already knew all of the above.

But did you know that Firefox can display animated favicons? If you don’t believe me, open Firefox and go to my site, (there should be a link at the bottom of the article). if you don’t have Firefox, download it, it’s a “must have” and you will quickly fall in love with the simplicity and convenience of tabbed browsing. Even if you are not a designer but just a site owner, in today’s environment you absolutely must know how your site looks in all browsers. You would think that all websites should look the same, but as browsers become more diverse and more sophisticated, standards are not respected and things can get messy. For example, I just discovered that a few pages on my site don’t look as expected in the latest version of Opera and need to be adjusted.

Ok, I hope by now you saw my animated favicon in Firefox and came back to the article to learn more about it…

The main reason why you can see animated favicons in Firefox is because Firefox abolished the proprietary ICO format in favor of the ability to display any supported image format in the favicon location, including BMP, JPG, GIF, PNG and… animated GIFs.

So now you know the big secret, the animated favicon is nothing but a tiny animated GIF.

Here’s a very neat trick, that can actually be used to visualize how any image looks like as a 16×16 pixel icon – once you start designing one of those, you will realize that it is extremely hard to produce a legible image on a 16 square pixels canvas:

Find any page with any graphic that you are interested in. Right click the image and chose “View Image” from the dialog. A blank page should display with your chosen image and surprise: you can see a miniature 16×16 copy of the image as a favicon! Uhh… do I have to mention again that we are doing all this in Firefox?

A hacker’s mind will immediately think of how great it would be to use this feature as a conversion tool. Unfortunately, unlike Internet Explorer and Opera, Firefox doesn’t store FavIcons in .ico files, the icons are stored in an encoded format directly in the bookmark file.

You can apply the same principle to animated GIFs and you will notice that a miniature version of the animation also plays in the address bar and on the tabs.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why you don’t see that many sites using animations is browser compatibility. Animated favicons are not treated at all by Internet Explorer. A static image will not be extracted from the animation either. Instead, the default .htm icon (as defined in Windows’ filetypes) will be placed under one’s Favorites – once added, that is. The animations are not supported by Netscape, Opera, Konqueror, Safari; at least so it seems at the time of this writing. The Firefox family seems to be the only friend to animations, yet as browsers evolve, broader support for animation will probably come along (or, the concept will die).

So, why not take advantage of this *now* and ‘beat the rush’?

Basically, this is how it’s done:

1. You make a 16×16 animated GIF.

2. You upload the animated GIF to the “root” of your site, or to any other location.

3. You hardcode in your page the location where Firefox should look for the animation.

That’s really it, “big picture” wise.

If you don’t feel too creative or just don’t have time and/or patience, a reputable professional design firm (such as Bsleek) should be able to make a nice animated favicon for you. Another option – I don’t endorse it, as your goal should be to excel through unique content and push your own image out there – is to find one of the many galleries online and either download a ready made animated favicon or take a large animated GIF and resize it and/or edit it in one of the many available tools. There also are sites that offer online animated favicon creation from a standard image (check out, find “FavIcon from pics”, they have a simple but neat scrolling text feature).

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