Steve Wilhite, creator of the popular Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) file format, died on March 14 due to complications from COVID-19. Wilhite, 74, is best known for creating the GIF file format while working at CompuServe in 1987, which is now used for comments, posts, and memes.
GIF inventor Steve Wilhite dies
Since its introduction in 1987, GIFs have been widely used since the dawn of the internet. The short video clips had become popular means of expressing a reaction or emotion and were even staples for early social media services like MySpace and Tumblr.
The GIF’s ability to repeat short animations has made it a popular tool for creating short videos that combine emotions with cultural references that will last for generations.
GIFs have held up for decades, in part thanks to the use of pop culture references from TV shows, movies, or even news clips. The internet is full of memes that have gone viral with people sharing them on various platforms. GIFs make it easy for users to comment on or share emotions when the words don’t occur to us.
They are also part of pop culture. Since GIFs are animated images, they can convey a lot of information faster than text or static images and act as a digital version of telling a joke or expressing sentiment without the need for words, with GIFs acting as an intermediary between still images and movies.
Wilhite was also Chief Architect for America Online and received the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Wilhite leaves behind his wife, four stepchildren, a son, 11 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren,
Is it GIF or JIF?
Despite the popularity of GIF, there is an ongoing debate about how to pronounce the acronym for GIF. Some have argued that it’s a hard ‘g’ like in ‘graphics’ or a soft ‘g’ like ‘George’. The debate was somewhat settled in 2013 when Wilhite herself confirmed: “It’s a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. End of story.”
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