Stephen Wilhite The Internet Novelty and Inventor of “GIF” Has Died. He was 74

Stephen Wilhite Inventor of GIF

According to multiple news sources, Steve Wilhite, the computer scientist who invented the ubiquitous GIF file format in 1987, died in intensive care last Monday from COVID-19 problems. He was 74.

Stephen Wilhite Has Passed Away

Stephen Wilhite Inventor of GIF
© The Webby Awards / Steve Wilhite

Stephen Wilhite’s family told The Verge that he died surrounded by his loved ones. “Even with all his triumphs, he remained a very humble, gentle, and kind man,” according to his obituary. Among his achievements is his retirement from American Online as Chief Architect. In addition, he received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It came on suddenly. He woke up one morning and he said, ‘Honey, I don’t feel good. I don’t feel good at all.’ And he was running a fever, throwing up so badly. And then the next day he started coughing badly,” Kathaleen Wilhite told NPR over the phone Wednesday night.

NPR / Stephen Wilhite

He spent decades at CompuServe, where he led the team that created the animated gif. It was introduced in 1987 as an ideal technique to make color photographs that was much easier to transmit over dial-up modem rates than current formats.

Stephen Wilhite is almost as well-known for his opinions on how to enunciate the word as he is for being the man who originated the format. While most of the planet has adopted the hard G (“gif“) pronunciation due to the word’s structure, Wilhite insisted that it be called “jiff,” even dedicating his Webby Lifetime Achievement award acceptance speech to the subject.

Friends, former coworkers, and family members have been sharing their stories of Wilhite on a memorial page, a shining example that while he was best known for his work on one of the most important aspects of the modern world wide web, his accomplishments spanned everything from user interface work to “web chat software” over the course of his extensive career.

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