Creating effective alt text for gifs

September 05, 2019

One of the first things people notice about my Twitter feed is that I inline caption my gifs.

Twitter currently does not have a way to make alt text for gifs. In order to make it more usuable for all my users, I add the alt text inline with my message. This also has the benefit for any users that have image preview turned off can see what the gif is about.

Accessibility isn't just for those that use assistive technology.

This blog post is also available as a Twitter thread if learning via gif works best for you.

Picking a gif

I always try to consider the meaning or feeling I want to convey. What do I want people to feel after viewing the image. I use the words I am trying to make people feel in my gif search. I have been using gifs for decades and have a bunch of predefined gifs in mind for various emotions and situtations.

I try to use a diverse set of gifs. I don't want to use the same ones every single time. I also consider how jerky the motion is or if it is flashing. I want everyone to be able to enjoy my gifs.

Describing the gif

The point of the gif is to add extra feeling to my tweet. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I want to use less 30 so I have room for my tweet.

Finding the right balance is tricky. I assume not everyone has the context to know all the Saturday Night Live characters or access to the same cartoons I grew up with. I sometimes add the show or movie name to the beginning to let people know where the gif is from, this way they can look it up for themselves if they want.

If I add the show's name, I will skip overly describing the characters and just use their name. If I do not know the show, I will try to pick out a few key features from the character.

As an example:

I could have used, "Monica pulling a label maker from her purse" if I knew my audience would be able to recognize the character from Friends. Who the character is wasn't important to this tweet, so I opted to not name her.

Gifs are seasoning

Gifs enhance my tweets. They have meaning and I want to make sure my audiences understands why I added that gif.

Every gif has been added for a reason, I want my audience to know why I added it.

Use punctuation

Be nice to those using screenreaders. The reader will pause on punctuation. So unless you really wanted a super long run on sentence of doom, be nice and throw some punctuation in to break it up.

Alt text can vary from use to use

I always to try to think what is the one thing I want my audience to get from my tweet. My alt text will drift from time to time. Maybe I have learned a new word that better explains the feeling. Or maybe I only have room for 50 characters. No matter what, if I have added a gif, I want everyone to be able to appreciate how awesome it is.

Keep trying

Alt text is a skill that you can get better at over time. As you describe your gifs and images, you will get better at understanding what you want your audience to know from it.