The Creator of GIF Dies From COVID-19


Washington: The creator of GIF, Stephen Wilhite, died of COVID-19 last week. He was 74 years old.

Wilhite, one of America Online’s primary architects, died on March 14 — just days after his 74th birthday which was on March 3.

Millions of users today use a GIF in their daily conversations but not many know who created them or how it was developed. Wilhite’s obituary page notes that “even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man”.

GIF or Graphics Interchange Format makes conversions on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and all other social media platforms more interesting and engaging. Here are some important facts about the GIF creator:

–The US-based company CompuServe introduced GIF in the late 1980s as a way to distribute “high-quality, high-resolution graphics”. The bitmap image format was Wilhite’s brainchild.

–GIFs these days are synonymous with animated internet memes, but that, unfortunately, was not the reason why Wilhite developed the format. In a recent interview with The Verge, Wilhite’s wife Kathaleen highlighted that, “he invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it”.

–Wilhite worked on GIF while he was employed at CompuServe in the 1980s. Revealing some bits of the process of creating GIF, Kathleen said Wilhite “would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer”.

–Wilhite retired around the early 2000s and spent most of his time travelling, camping, and building model trains in his basement.


Even today, the internet is divided on how to pronounce GIF. To which, Wilhite said in 2013 during an interview with the New York Times, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story”.

Not many know that Wilhite received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for the invention of the GIF in 2013. Even during the event, he reiterated that it is called ‘jif’ and showed an animation to give his acceptance speech. “After 25 years, they finally honoured that achievement that he did,” his wife said during the interview. She added that GIF was the thing he was most proud of.

During one of the interviews with the Times, Wilhite said that one of his favourite GIFs is the dancing baby meme.

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