Monday, April 11, 2022

Stephen Wilhite, RIP

Mitchell Clark (tweet, Hacker News):

Stephen Wilhite worked on GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, which is now used for reactions, messages, and jokes, while employed at CompuServe in the 1980s.


Although GIFs are synonymous with animated internet memes these days, that wasn’t the reason Wilhite created the format. CompuServe introduced them in the late 1980s as a way to distribute “high-quality, high-resolution graphics” in color at a time when internet speeds were glacial compared to what they are today. “He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,” Kathaleen said. “He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”


While there have been long-standing debates about the correct pronunciation of the image format, Wilhite was very clear on how he intended for it to be said. In 2013, he told The New York Times, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

Troy Gaul:

I implemented the GIF spec in 1992 for a Mac app named Color It! I remember at the time that the spec document included his pronunciation.

Years later I looked it up again, and the pronunciation section had been removed (I assume by someone else).

Color It was such a good app.

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