Once the hallmark of low-end online ads—dancing girls for dating sites and jiggling bellies for weight loss products—animated GIF images are popping up everywhere. You'll see them used throughout Tumblr and even on big news sites in place of video.

An animated GIF file is like a little cartoon and is much smaller than a video file. It's easy to attach to an email, post to Facebook or pop into your own blog.

You can make animated GIFs for free from your smartphone , which is probably what you are using to shoot photos and video anyway. You'll need an app such as GIFBoom (the runaway favorite for iPhone), that's available for free from the App Store and for Android from Google Play.

You may log in with Facebook, Twitter or an email address. Choose a video from your phone's camera roll. GIFBoom converts your video into single frames. Choose up to 20 sequential frames to make your animated GIF. You then have the option to have your GIF play backwards or forwards.

You can add filters for different effects, such as black and white, sepia or night-vision (which makes everything green). Then preview your GIF and save it. At this point, you can email or text it to a friend or post to social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. (You can see an example of a canon firing on the GIFBoom site.)

You can also make GIFS from still images stored in your phone or take pictures (in a quick series like a flipbook). You can choose up to 20 images for your GIF. If you want to save a GIF to your own camera roll, go into the app's  "Advanced Settings" and turn on "Save to Camera Roll."

GIFBoom is also a social network like Instagram . In fact, it's tough to tell the difference between the two when you log on. You can browse by popular GIFs and search by tags. Any GIF can be "reboomed" (reposted) to your own newsfeed.

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