The Inventor of the Animated Image Format "GIF" Has Passed Away


In Harry Potter, magic can make newspaper pictures move; in the real world, if you want to make people in pictures move, then you mostly need to use a special picture format "GIF".
Harry Potter

This morning, it was reported that Stephen E. Wilhite, one of the main inventors of the GIF image format, died on March 14 at the age of 74 after suffering COVID-19. His wife confirmed the news in an interview and revealed that "everyone in the family was with him when he left."

In 1987, Wilhite created the first GIF image in the history of the Internet from his home - an airplane in the air.

Today, GIF has a history of 35 years and is also one of the most frequent image formats on the Internet. Because of its most intuitive feature - "movable" - GIF can convey much more information than still pictures, making it a carrier for a large number of memes.

But 35 years ago, Wilhite's intention in creating it was not to make pictures move but to have a universal picture format that would work for all computers and be small and compressible.

In 1987, Wilhite, who was still a programmer, worked for a network service company called Compuserve. At that time, the home computer market was divided by several companies, including Apple and IBM, and each company's computer followed its own picture format, which brought great inconvenience to the information processing at that time.

In addition, limited by the network transmission speed at that time, if you want to transfer a picture remotely, it often takes quite a long time.

So at the company's behest, Wilhite and his team eventually developed a graphics format called "Graphics Interchange Format", or "GIF" for short. The original GIF could be adapted to most computer models on the market and had the advantage of being "compressible and small", plus it was the only format that could display color images on the web at that time, so it was widely used as soon as it was born.

But its inventor was more concerned with the pronunciation of the word "GIF" than with the countless memes that have been created on the GIF format.

The pronunciation of "GIF" has always been controversial. On social media, "GIF" has two forms of pronunciation, one is the soft-sounding /dʒ/, and the other is the hard-sounding /g/. Both pronunciations have a large number of supporters.

A manufacturer of peanut butter has used the pronunciation of "GIF" as a stunt to produce two different packages of peanut butter so that customers who support different pronunciations can buy the product as expected.

Even the rigorous Oxford dictionary has a problem with the pronunciation of this word, and to maintain neutrality, the dictionary specifically says that both pronunciations of "GIF" are correct, but its inventor doesn't think so.

In 2013, Wilhite won the Wilby Lifetime Achievement Award for inventing the GIF image format, and when he went on stage to receive the award, he prepared a short animated video to show the audience the correct pronunciation of the word.
Stephen E. Wilhite

In 2000, Wilhite officially retired, and according to his wife's description, in his later years, he enjoyed assembling model trains in his bedroom and going camping in the wilderness.

When the sad news of Wilhite's death came, many Internet media and netizens began to pay tribute to the father of GIFs, one of which read: "He changed the Internet forever".

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