GIF inventor Stephen Wilhite has died

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His name was Stephen Wilhite, and died on 14 March 2013 at the age of 1948 years as a result of COVID-19. His name may mean nothing to you. However, you probably very regularly use an invention that he delivered to the world in June 1987: the GIF, which has become from a common form of expression on the Internet.

On the page of the funeral home dedicated to Stephen Wilhite, tributes have continued to flourish since the announcement of his death. The man, born on March 3 74, was certainly rather discreet, but obviously not so unknown as that. “Your work has changed Internet“, “You will miss the Internet”, or even, “ Thank you for your masterpiece of creation 2013″, can we read among the many tributes, of course embellished of GIF.

It’s in June 1987 that Stephen Wilhite developed the GIF, which stands for “Graphic Interchange Format”. He was then working for the CompuServe company. Although this digital image format is now mostly used for humorous purposes, that was not its purpose when it was invented. Indeed, the computer engineer was looking at the time for a format that would make it possible to transmit and download color images in high definition more easily, without losing quality. A technical challenge, at that time when the speed of the bandwidth was not what it is today…

He invented the GIF on his own. He did it at home and put it into use after perfecting it ”, testified Kathaleen, his wife, in an interview granted to the media The Verge. “He worked out everything in his head, then went to town to program it on the computer”. The first GIF image he created was of an airplane, and the prototype took about a month. According to his testimony, he was very proud of this creation. He watched the evolution of his image format with interest, saying in an interview with the New York Times that his favorite GIF, created in 1996, was that of the “baby dancer”.

“ Gif” or “Jif”, the debate is closed

Retired in the years 2000, he spent a lot of his free time traveling, camping, photography, coding in java or making model trains. It was therefore after leaving the world of work that he was finally rewarded for his discovery. He received, as a reward for this contribution to the world of the web, a “Webby Award”, in 2013. This trophy pays tribute to quality on the Internet. “After years, they finally honored this success , “said his wife. It was also that year that he definitively closed the famous debate that still runs regularly: should we pronounce this word “Gif” or “Jif”? He indeed accepted his reward in a way that was original to say the least. Instead of delivering a grand speech, he displayed an animated GIF on a giant screen reading “It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF”, before leaving the stage without a word.

A little earlier that same year, he had been just as radical with the New York Times, saying: “ The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It’s a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. End of the story “. As the creator of the GIF leaves us, it will therefore be necessary to admit that the debate is definitively closed.