Internet Tributes to GIF Creator Stephen Wilhite

Stephen Wilhite created GIFs in the 1980s

While many may not know Stephen Wilhite’s name, many have used his creation, GIFs. Wilhite died last week of COVID at the age of 74. He developed and created GIFs while working at a technology company called CompuServe in the 1980s. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and it allows individuals to send high -resolution images in a backward rotating motion. The CompuServe company put GIFs in the public domain in the 1980s as a way to send images in color at a time when internet speeds were very slow. Wilhite retired in the 2000s and spent most of his time traveling with his wife.

After GIFs exploded all over the internet, used in memes as well as plain text and WhatsApp conversations, a huge debate took place online about the correct pronunciation of the word. The main point of contention is whether it is pronounced with a G “soft” similar to the word like giant or with a G “hard” like the word grape. Wilhite himself was however very clear in the way he called it, and expected it to be called. In an interview in 2013 with The New York Times he said “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G’, called a ‘jif.’ The story is over. ”

After Wilhite’s death, some Twitter users paid tribute to him in the most appropriate way, with GIFs. Stephen Wilhite himself has said that one of his favorite GIFs is a dancing baby that went viral before we used the term viral on the internet.

WIlhite’s contribution to the internet and modern internet culture will never be forgotten.


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