The American computer scientist Stephen Wilhite, creato has died of COVID-19 at the age of 74

Stephen Wilhite, American computer scientist and the principal creator of the GIF format, has died at the age of 74 from COVID-19, his wife Kathaleen has confirmed. Although the news broke just hours ago, Wilhite died on March 14, as the funeral home’s obituary shows.

In 1987, Wilhite developed the GIF (Graphic Interchange Format). He did so together with several members of his team, when he was working at CompuServe, an Internet service provider company. The main idea behind GIF was to offer a compressed, but high quality image format. This way, it could be easily used on social networking websites and interactive guides. The internet speed at the time was too slow to opt for other types of multimedia content.

“He invented the GIF by himself. He did it at home and then took it to work to perfect it. He would figure it all out privately, in his head, and then go into town to program it on the computer,” says Kathaleen, Stephen Wilhite’s wife. Wilhite retired in the 2000s, after working as head of computer systems at America Online (AOL).

In 2013, Wilhite won a Webby Award (considered the Oscars of the Internet) for lifetime achievement for the creation of the GIF format. His speech was notable for the way he revealed how the word ‘GIF’ was actually pronounced. He did so by means of a video where the phrase “It is pronounced ‘JIF’, not ‘GIF'” could be read. It was a sort of response to the Oxford English Dictionary, who that same year introduced both pronunciations as correct.

Today, GIFs are used and created to show reactions to messages or posts on social networks. They have also become a huge library of memes. Mythical movie scenes, spectacular falls initially recorded on video or any other important event has been transformed into GIF format to be shared massively from any platform. The GIF format, however, “would have died in 1998” if it were not for Netscape, the software company that made its eponymous browser compatible to support this type of file, as Wilhite himself assured in an interview granted to Daily Dot.


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