Building support for GIFs over night

Ludo Antonov | Pinterest engineer, Growth

With a strong culture of making, we’re always putting our heads together to build the next great thing. We regularly hold Make-a-thons, all-night events where we work on projects we’ve been wanting to crank out, but may not have had the time during the normal work day. This is how products such as Send a Pin and Price Drop Notifications (built by a Pintern) got their start.

At our last Make-a-thon, a small team, including another engineer, designer, and localization manager, brought animated GIFs to Pinterest. After building the product over night, we quickly launched on web, and worked on mobile in parallel. Starting today, GIFs are available to everyone on Android and iOS!

A night of GIFs

By Richard Perez of

The idea to build GIFs occurred to us around midnight the night of our Make-a-thon, while working on a separate project. We had been hearing from Pinners that they wanted a way to save GIFs, and quite frankly, I also wanted a way to make my Cats board more playable.

And so, we ran with it.

Challenges and wins

One of the biggest challenges, and the reason why GIF support had been missing for so long from Pinterest, was we wanted to make the experience elegant and seamless, yet highly functional.

From Memeplaza

We tried a number of tests, including playing GIFs in the grid, then transitioned to playing on hover, and even experimented with putting a bigger Play button on the Pin itself. Ultimately, we came up with a treatment for animated content with a small Play button on the bottom left of the Pin.

In the spirit of Make-a-thons and dogfooding, we started collecting feedback. As much feedback as we could. It was great to watch Pinployees find and enjoy funny GIFs in the middle of the night and navigate the UI of this newly formed product.

The positive response was a clear indicator that we were on the right path to a great solution, and thus on to a race to launch to achieve our goals:

  • Make GIFs playable in the grid and Pin close-up.
  • Maintain an elegant user experience by only playing GIFs when the Pinner clicks them.
  • Minimize waste of speed and bandwidth by using the click-to-play design. As a result, GIFs, which are generally large files, are only loaded with the intent to play.
  • Build with an easy-to-consume API so we could extend to mobile clients.
  • Work closely with design to differentiate experiences on mobile, where it doesn’t make sense to play in the grid. Design was also crucial in helping us quickly build a seamless experience that Pinners would love.

Shipping GIFs

With the qualitative results looking good, we needed to ensure that quantitatively we also felt good. We ran an experiment to see the impact on activity such as of re-pinning, viewing and sending Pins, and Pinner following, and saw encouraging results.

Stretching into the wee hours of the morning, we launched GIFs on web to the company, and later to all Pinners. We began working on mobile immediately in parallel, and with the latest mobile releases, GIFs are now available for your enjoyment across all platforms!

Now you’ll find GIFs all over Pinterest, including our board of Valentines.

Ludo is an engineer on the Pinterest Growth team