Stephen Wilhite, Creator of the Animated GIF, Dies at 74

Stephen E. Wilheit, a computer programmer known for inventing GIFs, looping animation, which became the universal language for conveying humor, sarcasm and anger on social media, died on March 14 in Cincinnati, in instant messaging. He was 74 years old. .

His death was confirmed at the hospital on Thursday by his wife, Kathleen Wilheit, who said the cause was Covid-19 complications.

In 1987, when Mr. Wilheit worked for CompuServe, the country’s first online service, and he led a team of engineers who revolutionized how people could share video clips on the Internet. The format they created is called GIF, short for Graphics Interchange format, a type of compressed image file with ease of use that makes it durable.

The appeal of technology extends from computers to smartphones, giving famous and obscure people the ability to share GIFs on platforms like Twitter and Facebook and eventually create their own loops. She inspired popular apps such as the famous “Dancing Baby” GIF and Giphy in 1996.

“I saw the desired format in my head and then I started programming,” said Mr. Willhite told The New York Times in 2013.

That year Mr. Willhite, who was also the former chief architect for America Online, won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Webb Awards.

In addition to his wife, Shri. Wilheit’s survivors include a son, David Wilheit; Their stepchildren Rick Groves, Robin Landrum, Renee Bennett and Rebecca Bose; 11 grandchildren; And three grandchildren.

In 2012, the Oxford American Dictionary recognized GIF as its “word of the year.”

While the utility Mr. Wilheit’s novelty was undeniable, the pronunciation of “GIF” was a frequent topic of discussion. Was it pronounced with a hard voice or with a soft voice?

“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both accents,” Mr. Willhit said. “They’re wrong. It’s a soft G, pronounced ‘Giff.’ End of story. “

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