Saturday, January 28

Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of GIFs, dies of covid at the age of 74

Internet and computing accumulate decades, so their pioneers get older, and sadly, they leave us.

His serious and shy face seems strange to us for someone who is basically the father of memes. Something that, of course, he never looked for.

Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of GIFs, died last week at the age of 74., although his death has not been made public until today. One more victim of the terrible pandemic that we have been suffering for two years.

Stephen Wilhite received a Webby, the Internet Oscars, in recognition of his contribution to the Internet, in 2013. Here you can see him receiving the award from David Karp, the founder of Tumblr:

Stephen Wilhite was a computer scientist who worked at CompuServe in the of the first companies in the world that began to offer Internet services and local networks, in the United States.

At that time the online connection was beginning to take its first steps, but there was a big problem: it was so slow that sending an image took hours.

Stephen Wilhite worked at home in a new graphic format, which he baptized with the name of GIF. It compressed the image based on the LZW algorithm used by Unix. As his wife Kathaleen explains in The Verge, when she had it finished she took it to work to program it.

The GIF format became the Internet graphic standard because the photos and images took up much less than other formats of the time, so they were uploaded to the Internet and downloaded faster.

This is already a considerable achievement, but the ability of the GIF format to store multiple images within a single filehad an unexpected side effect: the memes.

By converting a video or animation into still images that play one after another in a cycle, you could save a short animation of a few seconds in a GIF file, which took up very little.

These animations began to be used as joke, greetings, reactions, and jokesgive place to the memes. The rest is history.

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He never planned it, but Wilhite confessed to being proud that his GIF image format is used to create the memes that appear everywhere today. In an interview with the New York Times he confessed that his favorite was the Dancing Babythe Dancing Baby, who is possibly the first meme in history.

Retired in the year 2000, in recent years he has dedicated himself to traveling, going camping, and to his great passion: model trains.

Stephen Wilhite passed away on March 14, at the age of 74. Rest in peace.

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