Stephen Wilhite, creator of the GIF, dies

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Stephen Wilhite and his wife, Kathaleen, at the 17th Annual Webby Awards in New York in 2013.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Webby Awards

Stephen Wilhite, the chief engineer of the team that created the GIF, died on March 14, according to multiple media reports. He was 74.

Wilhite and his colleagues at CompuServe launched the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) in June 1987. Since the advent of the internet and social media, the short video clips have become a ubiquitous means of expressing a reaction or emotion rather than words.

Wilhite was also chief architect at America Online and received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

“He would figure everything out in his head and then go to town and program it on the computer,” his wife, Kathalene, told The Verge. She told the publication that he died of COVID-19.

Despite an illustrious career, his online obituary states that Wilhite “remained a very humble, kind and good man.”

While the Oxford English Dictionary accepts two pronunciations of the word GIF — with a soft G (as in “George”) or a hard G (as in “guppy”) — Wilhite told The New York Times in 2013 that this was “wrong.” “

“It’s a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’,” he said. “End of story.”

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