The American computer engineer Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of GIFs, the animated digital images born in the Eighties as a solution to the slowness of the internet and then enormously popular again in the last decade as an expressive and comic tool among the most used, died Wednesday. popular on social networks, despite competition from many other formats. Wilhite was 74 years old and sick with COVID-19.
The GIPHY team is sad to hear of the passing of Stephen Wilhite, the creator of the GIF file format.
GIPHY was built on a sincere love for the GIF – and we are indebted to the creativity and vision of Mr. Wilhite 💕 pic.twitter.com/CTPS895wCQ
– GIPHY (@GIPHY) March 23, 2022
Wilhite invented GIFs in 1987 when he worked at CompuServe, a computer services company and an early internet provider, which was acquired by AOL. The acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format, “Interchangeable Graphic Format”, and at the time they were designed to allow you to show short videos in a very light format, suitable for the reduced speed of the first internet connections. The format spread for its practicality, for the excellent quality rendering despite the small dimensions and for its compatibility with different programs and operating systems, establishing itself as one of the most used on the newborn World Wide Web. GIFs became a way to decorate the websites of that period.
The practicality of GIFs allowed the format to survive the evolution of the internet: after a period of relative obsolescence in fact they returned to being widely used online in the age of social networks, first on MySpace and Tumblr and then also on the sites that had progressively replaced them. from Facebook to Twitter. In the 10s of the 2000s it became customary to transform into GIFs the scenes of films or series, clips of television programs and viral videos, fragments of advertising and particularly eloquent amateur footage, especially of animals. Over time, GIFs also became a tool of artistic expression particularly appreciated by some artists specializing in digital works.
From there, the GIFs then spread to the messaging apps, finding a new and central application as “reaction gif”, that is, used to illustrate the reaction to something said or done by the interlocutor. In 2013, GIPHY was founded, the largest online archive of GIFs, populated over time by official accounts of brands and brands of various types that understood the potential of distributing the GIFs of their products and content by themselves: among the most popular channels, a long there was that of the Game of Thrones series. In 2020 GIPHY was then bought by Facebook.
RIP Stephen Wilhite, creator of the GIF. This was the first GIF ever created in 1987. pic.twitter.com/gqtMBqEOdg
– Blade McG (@Blade__McG) March 23, 2022
Wilhite had been retired since 2001 and gained great popularity for his invention in 2013 after an interview in the New York Times and the Webby Award – the so-called “Internet Oscars” – for Lifetime Achievement. On those occasions Wilhite had clarified how to pronounce “GIF”, a topic on which there has always been a lot of debate online: with the sweet “g”, as in “joy”, and not with the hard “g”, as in “greedy”. The Oxford English Dictionary admits both pronunciations, indeed registers even four, distinguishing between the British accent and the American accent. The pronunciation chosen by Wilhite and his colleagues was inspired by the slogan of the peanut butter Jif: for years the advertisements for this product were accompanied by the phrase “Choosy moms choose Jif”, which means “Fussy moms choose Jif”, and the 'idea was to trace it with “Choosy developers choose GIF”, that is “The demanding programmers choose GIFs”.