Stephen Wilhite, the man widely credited as the creator of the Graphics Interchange Format image, better known as GIF, has died at the age of 74.
He worked at CompuServe for decades, where he led the team responsible for the GIF, which launched in 1987 and was thought at the time to be the best way to create color images that were much easier to download at dial-up modem speeds than existing formats.
“He invented GIF all by himself — he actually made it at home and brought it to work after perfecting it,” Kathleen shared The edge. “He dreamed it all up privately in his head and then went to town to program it on the computer.”
While Wilhite is as famous as the man who invented the format, he is also almost as famous for his thoughts on the pronunciation of the word. While most of the world has settled on using a hard G (“gif”), due to the spelling of the word, Wilhite insisted that it should be pronounced “jiff,” even going so far as to end his acceptance speech for the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award to dedicate to remind everyone.
We may now know them as one of the best ways to communicate and express emotions/feelings online, with short animated images baked into everything from Facebook to smartphone keyboards, but while gifs have always included at least some basic animation features, This aspect of them didn’t begin to be used until the 1990s, when early web browsers began supporting this feature.
Friends, former colleagues and family have posted their memories of Wilhite on a memorial pagea reminder that while he is best known for his work on one of the most important aspects of the modern internet, his contributions throughout his long career have included everything from work on user interfaces to “web chat software”..