You might not know Stephen Wilhite’s name, but if you’ve spent any time on the internet, you definitely know his work.
Wilhite worked at the early online service provider CompuServe in the 1980s and created the now-ubiquitous GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, in 1987, which, as you know, is used on social media for reactions, messages and jokes, according to The Verge.
Wilhite died last week of complications from COVID-19 at the age of 74, at his home near Mt. Oreb, Ohio.
Wilhite’s widow, Kathaleen Wilhite, said her husband created the format on his own in order to distribute “high-quality, high-resolution graphics” in color at a time when, according to The Verge, “internet speeds were glacial compared to what they are today.”
“He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,” Kathaleen told the website. “He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”
Wilhite told The Daily Dot last year that the first GIF was a picture of a plane, but he often said his favorite was the “dancing baby,” which first appeared in 1996 and became one of the first viral memes.
Wilhite retired in the early 2000s but was able to see his invention spread far and wide on the internet. He earned a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 for the format, which he always insisted was pronounced “jif” and not with a hard “g” like “gift.”
Funeral services were held on Tuesday for Wilhite, but many people chose to honor him Wednesday on Twitter in the most appropriate way possible: GIFs, lots of GIFs.