Google Images is one of the most powerful image-finding resources in the world. In the early days of the web, you could quite simply just copy and then paste an image from Google Images into your project and call it a day. This wouldn’t work for publications, and it opened up a gigantic legal nightmare for anyone caught using copyrighted images in their advertising “by accident” after an intern did that (copyright is one of those laws you can’t say ‘I didn’t know you couldn’t do that’ and get off), but for personal and internal use, Google Images could do what you needed it to.
However, the internet is a tricky place, and a website who used a picture (legitimately or not) could appear before the original source of the picture did. While this still didn’t affect the most basic use of an image, it had the potential to turn into a problem when content reposting got really popular on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. and online news sites wanted to use an image they found. They’d end up asking the wrong person!
Secondary to that is images that are free to use, but poor quality. The website supplying the image doesn’t want people to use the worse 300×300 px version of it if a better-quality version exists.
WebP images solve both of these problems, both intentionally and accidentally!
Websites Run on Google Properties
Image-loading speed has been an unbreakable barrier for websites with images on them for forever. Pictures are a lot of information, and pulling that information from the server makes the entire page slower. The bigger the image, the slower it goes.
The earliest days of the web only had JPGs and other weak, lossy formats to supply the web with the images, and even those took forever on dial-up internet. Now, we have dozens of formats to choose from, although JPGs and PNGs are the most common for both size and convenience of use. PNGs are also capable of being transparent, although they take up more space than JPGs do due to their lossless nature. Thus, in Google Images, a WebP image will likely be both the smallest and best copy of any particular image.
However, WebP has thrown a wrench in many a meme – the file type can’t be converted to a JPG or a PNG with the default software on your Windows computer (yet). When they come up in Google images, you can’t just save them straight off the site (which you shouldn’t have been doing anyway!) anymore and expect that same file to be uploadable to a meme website or your art program. Sketchbook and GIMP can’t handle WebP images!
Of course, nobody at all would be using these if it was all downsides. WebP images are faster to load, smaller, animatable, and can handle transparency, fusing all of the best traits of JPGs, PNGs, and even GIFs. When making a website, every single second the user has to wait is a second they’re less likely to continue to wait, unless they actually care about the content they’re looking for. Waiting even five seconds for a webpage to load wipes out a huge chunk of potential views! PNGs have been a pinnacle online image formats for a long time, but they can delay loading times, and can even be used to DDOS a website if that website doesn’t have size upload limits. WebPs can do that too… but only if the website allows WebP uploads, and only if the format of it is lossy. It’s weaknesses are it’s strengths – it’s difficult to use, difficult to steal, and difficult to alter (again, for now – as it becomes more common, many of these problems should subside given Google works with developers).