The Creator Of The Gif Has Died

The Creator Of The Gif Has Died

Stephen Wilhite, the man widely credited as being the creator of the Graphics Interchange Format image, better known as a gif, has died at the age of 74.

Wilhite’s wife Kathleen has been confirming with media outlets that her husband died of Covid on March 14.

He worked for decades at CompuServe, and while there led the team responsible for the gif, which was introduced in 1987 and at the time was intended as an optimal way to create colour images that were a lot easier to download over dial-up modem speeds than existing formats.

“He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,” Kathleen told The Verge. “He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”

While famous as the man who invented the format, Wilhite is also almost as famous for his thoughts on how to pronounce the word. While most of the world has settled on using a hard G (“gif”), owing to the word’s spelling, Wilhite maintained that it should be pronounced “jiff”, and even went so far as to devote his Webby Lifetime Achievement award acceptance speech to reminding everyone of this.

We may know them now as one of the best ways to communicate and express emotions/sentiment online, with short animated images baked into everything from Facebook to smartphone keyboards, but while gifs have always held at least some basic animation functionality, that aspect of their use didn’t really take off until the 1990s when early web browsers began supporting the feature.

Friends, former colleagues and family have been posting their memories of Wilhite on a memorial page, a reminder that while he was most well-known for his work on one of the most important aspects of the modern internet, his contributions over a long career spanned everything from user interface work to “web chat software”.


    • I always felt sorry for the dude because technically GIF pronounced as JIF is correct but he waited until the current pronunciation was firmly established before he attempted to correct it.

      Now I have the scenario in my head of him meeting God who tells him the correct pronunciation is in fact, Jod and they both cry in a moment of shared grief and empathy.
      “I even sent my son to set the record straight, but you know how THAT turned out”

        • The most common consensus is that both are correct due to the existence of examples and exemptions that support either pronunciation.
          The argument has become little more than a squabble over preference of language.

          Personally it will always be a hard G for me since it’s already well ingrained, I’m just not going to pretend that the other isn’t possible either since I’ve always been in the camp of language being in a constant state of flux and evolution across modern and historical.
          I also get why so many people take offence to it as well because hearing people pronounce H as “haich” or even hearing my son say words like dance, drive me absolutely nuts.

  • Vale. His work continues to bless us all.

    But the initialism isn’t short for something pronounced ‘jraphics exchange format’ or “giraffics exchange format”. So the ‘g’ in GIF sounds like the ‘g’ in graphics. Hard-g.

    I mean, if someone ever invents a quick and simple way to exchange giraffes, then soft-g pronunciation would be right. Also, now I want a giraffe.

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