IHe was the creator of the gif, the famous animated format on the Internet, in the 1980s. Stephen Wilhite died of Covid-19 at the age of 74, surrounded by members of his family. The computer engineer’s wife, Kathaleen, revealed the news on Wednesday March 23 to The Verge media. According to his obituary, the programmer remained a “very humble and kind” man despite his professional achievements.
In private messages or on social networks, the gif (“graphic interchange format”) has become an essential element of online conversations. However, Stephen Wilhite designed this looping mini-video format for a completely different reason. Initially, this ex-employee of CompuServe was looking for a way to send color images in high definition without losing quality, the bandwidth at the time being much slower than today. “He came up with the gif on his own – he made it at home and implemented it after perfecting it,” his wife revealed to The Verge. The very first example of a gif (pronounced “jif” according to its inventor) was a photo of a red plane (visible here), with a resolution well below current standards.
The gif as a mode of appropriation of popular imaginations
Tributes in gif
Retired since 2000, Stephen Wilhite devoted the end of his life to traveling with his wife. His invention won him the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. With the New York Times in 2013, the main interested party had revealed his favorite animation: that of a baby dancing while turning on itself. Many Internet users have not failed to honor his memory on social networks, with gifs of course.