The man who spawned millions of memes via his invention in 1987 of the humble GIF, Steve Wilhite passed away. Wilhite, whose Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) helped personalize the internet, lost a two-week battle with COVID-19 earlier this month, his wife told NPR.
Wilhite was 74. The computer scientist's team at CompuServe developed the GIF in 1987, years before the format became a signature feature of the early web and later the go-to means for exchanging jokes, memes and reactions on social media.
He was awarded a Webby Lifetime Achievement award in 2013, using the occasion to settle a long-running humorous debate about the proper pronunciation of the acronym. It's pronounced 'jif,' he communicated — via the use of a GIF.
The GIF's ability to loop brief animations made it a popular tool for creating dynamic elements in early web design. MySpace and Tumblr, two of the pioneering social media services, were defined by their use of GIFs, and the web service Giphy started life in 2013 purely to help people find cool and amusing GIFs.
Thirty-five years after its invention, and several generations of graphics and animation formats later, the GIF endures as a popular and beloved mainstay of the web. Social networks like Twitter and Telegram have integrated GIF search engines, which are populated with snippets of iconic moments and video clips.
'Even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man,' Wilhite's obituary read.