Pink Fire Pointer The Favicon, an Untapped Image Promotion Trick - Animated Favicons

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 16x16 pixel image is desired, and sometimes a 32x32 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 16x16 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 16x16 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 16x16 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).

If you are however a fellow do-it-yourselfer, then let's elaborate and look at some techniques and useful tips:

As far as tools go: If you are a lucky owner of Adobe's excellent Photoshop, then you also have a companion application called ImageReady. Linux users have Gimp, an incredibly powerful and free graphics application that can easily handle animated GIF creation. What many people don't know is that Gimp is also available for free for Windows and the Mac. There is also GIMPShop in the wild, which is a nifty GIMP version for the photoshop-inclined audience (did I mention free?). There are also many specialized GIF animation makers, some freeware, some not.

Things to remember when designing animated favicons:

You have control over the number of times your animation will play. Any decent animated GIF editor will ask you whether you want your animation to play once, several times (you specify a number) or forever. It is also important to know that after the animation cycled the predetermined amount of time, it will remain still on the last frame (not the first one!), so make sure that frame contains the image you want displayed at the end of the cycle.

If you really need to, you can set it to loop continuously.

However, out of curtsey to those paranoid about their computer resources being eaten alive by your animation and to those who find animated things in general terribly annoying, I always recommend that you set up a finite number of times your GIF will cycle through the animated sequence. 6 sounds like a good, conservative number, 12 is on the medium side.

By limiting the number of times your GIF plays, you might even set a cool viral marketing effect, where visitors will just click through your pages to see the animation start over. I clearly remember when I first saw an animated favicon years ago (on the first iterations of the Mozilla browser), the animation was set up to cycle once, and I found myself refreshing the pages over and over, and even clicking through the site just to see it again and again. I don't care what anyone says, people are attracted to eye candy.

So you made your animation and are very proud of it. Now it is time to upload it to your web server. You can put it anywhere you want, in any folder you desire. The old school webmasters who follow Microsoft's teachings will be very much appalled by this statement. They will tell you that if you don't name your icon favicon.ico and if you don't put in the very root of your site, it will not work. With Firefox and animated favicons things are very liberal, you can name your animation anything you want (.gif) and place it anywhere you want. You just have to place a special tag on every page that points to the gif.

Here is the big problem: All this works fine in Firefox, but what about the rest of the browsers?

Well, for maximum compatibility you'll have to make a regular favicon.ico and upload it to the root of your website (that's where your very first home page is, where xxx is htm, html, php, cfm, etc..). Then we'll add the following two lines of code to every page that you want to pull and display the animation.

Please remember to replace the "{" and "}" brackets with the standard HTML ones, "". I had to use the curly ones here in order not to confuse article sites. The code has to be placed between the {HEAD} tag and the {TITLE} tags. It might possibly work otherwise, but your HTML code will not be fully W3C compliant:

{LINK REL="icon" HREF="" TYPE="image/gif"}

Of course, replace "" with your own domain, favicon.ico is a standard favicon, favicon.gif is your newly created animated GIF. Again, it can as well be

Always hardcode the location, use absolute addresses (as in the example) and not relative ones ("../favicon.gif").

The first line of code is a standard, a-la Microsoft command that tells the majority of browsers to load a standard favicon.ico.

The second line of code is for Firefox only, instructing the browser to load the animated version.

As a side note, if you forgot to add the two lines of code to a page, that page should pick the default favicon.ico, but only if you already loaded it via one page that had the code in it, or if the page was bookmarked. Additionally, sometimes, Internet Explorer will just refuse to show a favicon...

If the above sounds strange (if it doesn't, what are you doing reading my articles??), I talk about how to create a favicon.ico and about some of the favicon's stranger behaviors in my other related articles. Just Google for "The Favicon, an untapped image promotion trick" (with quotes).

One last thing: I feel that this article will not be complete if I don't support those folks who look at the animated favicons the same way the world looks at the text blink "feature" from the early nineties and would like to forever wipe it of the face of the web.

You can disable favicons - animated or not & site icons in Firefox. Here's how:

Open a Firefox window. Type "about:config", without the quotes, in the address bar. Hit enter or click Go. Scroll down slightly to "" and double click it to change it to "false". This gets rid of the favicons. If you also want to stop seeing site icons, then look right below for "", double click it to change it to "false". Close all Firefox windows. When you reopen Firefox, the pesky little icons should be gone.