Many of your favorite animated memes, spread all over the internet and social media by millions of users every day, are a specific file type called a GIF (with some controversy over how to pronounce the now colloquial term…gif or jif) are due to the work of Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of the GIF.
The looping, animated images have become a universal language in which we can speak to one another without words. While Wilhite likely didn’t realize what his creation would become in 1987 but the GIF would be a route by which to transmit viral ideas from the days of Web 1.0 to the present day and will likely continue to transmit viral content for years to come.
Wilhite’s wife stated that he’d suffered a stroke a few years ago which weakened his right lung and he die from complications of Covid-19. Whilhite was 74 years old.
In the 1980s Wilhite was a developer for popular ISP CompuServe. His team was tasked with overcoming a tangled web of obstacles including then slow dial-up speeds, color image files that were too large to send over the fledgling internet and incompatible computer systems.
Finally in 1987 Wilhite discovered a way in which to compress images so the maintained their sharpness, would load quickly and could be displayed on any computer despite what system it was running. This was the GIF or Graphics Interchange Format.
The first ever GIF was a clip of an airplane soaring through a pixel sky.