The inventor of the GIF, Stephen Wilhite, has died from Covid-19 at the age of 74.
His wife Kathaleen confirmed he was surrounded by his family when he passed in as reported by The Verge, with his obituary stating that “even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man.”
He developed the GIF format (or Graphics Interchange Format) in the 80s during his time at CompuServe, and at first it was intended to show graphics in colour at a time of slow internet speeds.
Of course, over the last few decades the humble GIF has become one of the most important forms of communication on the internet.
It’s become synonymous with sharing reactions and jokes, and it’s become one of the most important tools in everyday communication for countless web users.
Wilhite won a Webby Lifetime Achievement awardStephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Webby Awards
He was very clear on the pronunciation, too. Wilhite told The New York Times back in 2013 that: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
Speaking about the format’s creation, Kathaleen said: “He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it.
“He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”
She also said that the GIF was the highlight of his career and that he was very pleased to receive a Webby Lifetime Achievement award.
“After 25 years, they finally honoured that achievement that he did,” she said.
In celebration of Wilhite’s work, and the impact it’s had on the world, here are some of the most celebrated GIFs of all time.