Stephen Wilhite, an American computer scientist and the main creator of the GIF format, has died at the age of 74 from COVID-19, as confirmed by his wife Kathaleen to The Verge. Although the news was released just a few hours ago, Wilhite died on March 14, as the funeral home's obituary shows.
In 1987, Wilhite developed the GIF format (Graphic Interchange Format). He did it together with several members of his team, when he worked at CompuServe, an internet service provider company. The main idea of GIFs was to offer a compressed image format, but of high quality. In this way, it could be easily used on social media websites and interactive guides. And it is that the internet speed of the time was too slow to opt for another type of multimedia content.
“He invented the GIF himself. He did it at home and then took it to work to perfect it. He would figure it all out in private in his head and then go into town to program it into the computer,” says Kathaleen, wife of Stephen Wilhite, when quoted medium. Wilhite retired in the 2000s, after having worked as chief architect at America Online (AOL).
Pronounced 'JIF', not 'GIF'
In 2013, Wilhitewon a Webby Award (considered the Oscars of the Internet) for lifetime achievement for the creation of the GIF format. His speech was notable for the way he revealed how the word 'GIF' was actually pronounced. He did it through a video where you could read the phrase «It is pronounced 'JIF', not 'GIF'”. It was a kind of answer to the Oxford English Dictionary, who that same year introduced both pronunciations as correct.
Nowadays, GIFs are used and created to show reactions to messages or posts on social networks. They have also become a huge library of memes. Mythical scenes from movies, spectacular falls initially recorded on video or any other important event, have been transformed into GIF format to be shared massively from any platform. The GIF format, however, “would have died in 1998” if it weren't for Netscape, a software company that made its namesake browser compatible to support this type of file, as Wilhite himself assured in an interview with the Daily Dot.