TECH NEWS – The result of Stephen Wilhite’s work is something most of us use daily…
Wilhite worked at CompuServe in the late 1980s. It was an early Internet service provider, and Wilhite was quite loyal to them until 2001, when he retired. He then devoted his life to his family and hobbies (including camping and building model trains). But at CompuServe, he created the GIF file format. Almost certainly, he didn’t think it would be seriously permanent.
GIFs were a handy way to display animations at the time, but where were gigabit internet connections back then? (In many countries, even the Internet didn’t exist. We only had BBSes!) It’s easy to make animated images short videos, and you can find thousands and thousands of images on any subject in no time if you’re looking for something. And so, it’s become a staple of internet communication these days, so much so that Wilhite was awarded a lifetime achievement award for inventing the format at the 2013 Webby Awards.
GIFs were invented by Wilhite and his team in 1987 and became the standard for images with an eight-bit colour depth until the PNG file format took over. Unisys’ LZW format preceded GIF, but that’s a computer (and this time, NOT ludological…) history that’s best left untold here…
However, The Verge reported that Wilhite has died from complications from the coronavirus. The computer scientist of 74 years leaves behind his wife Kathaleen, children and grandchildren. Stephen Wilite’s obituary and memories of those who knew him can be found on the Megie Funeral Home website.
Indeed, some people’s work is not acknowledged more seriously in their lifetime. Still, Wilhite is not one of them, since the file format, pronounced jif, has been quite widespread on the Internet since the mid-2010s, and now almost everyone uses gifs of this kind for reaction, for fun… so we put one here too:
May he rest in peace.