Get All Access for $5/mo

GIF Inventor Dies From Covid-19 Complications, Twitter Responds With a Torrent of GIF Tributes A brief history of the GIF's evolution and how it's pronounced, according to the creator himself.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Stephen Lovekin | Getty Images

GIF creator Steve Wilhite has died at the age of 74 after contracting Covid-19, NPR reports. According to his wife Kathaleen Wilhite, her husband contracted the virus on March 1 and was later hospitalized, passing away on March 14.

Wilhite's wife told NPR her husband had a lifelong passion for tinkering with his creations and computer programming, which continued in the weeks leading up to his diagnosis. It was 1987 when Wilhite developed the "Graphics Interchange Format" (GIF) while working at CompuServe. In a rare interview via Facebook in 2012, he told the Daily Dot, "I think the first GIF was a picture of a plane. It was a long time ago."

The GIF was revolutionary at its time, when internet speeds were much slower than they are today. The technology's compressed format enabled the more efficient transfer of images, and an animation feature was added to an updated version. When AOL purchased CompuServe in 1998 and let the GIF's patent expire, GIFs proliferated in every corner of the internet — on MySpace pages in the 2000s and Tumblr sites in the 2010s — becoming ubiquitous enough that its very pronunciation was up for hot debate, though Wilhite himself confirmed that it's pronounced "JIF" with a soft "G."

Wilhite received a lifetime achievement award from the Webby Awards in 2013, and today, GIFs continue to play a significant role in digital culture.

Related: How Do You Pronounce GIF? It Depends on Where You Live.

Jason Reed, the art director at the Daily Dot, told NPR via the Signal messaging service, "Without the .gif, the internet as we know it would be a different place. It's a tight medium that you can learn alot about storytelling within, especially tuned for the attention span of the internet."

In response to Wilhite's passing, Twitter users flooded the platform with GIF tributes to the man who started it all.

Users honored Wilhite with massive GIF compilations.

Others stressed the accurate pronunciation of "GIF," quoting Wilhite's Webby's acceptance speech.

Though others continued to stir the pot.

Some users got particularly creative with artisitic renditions of the beloved programmer.

While others put together dazzling montages.

Some admitted that it took Wilhite's passing to put a name to the inventor behind the technology that had changed so many lives.

And still others called for users to post their favorite GIFs in honor of the creator.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Leadership

You'll Never Escape the Cycle of Turnover If You Don't Learn This Important Skill

Employee retention is a top challenge for small business owners — and the key to keeping your employees happy and engaged starts with a skill you can learn to embody as a leader.

Business News

Why Does Taylor Swift Keep Stopping Her Shows Mid-Song? It's Actually a Great Lesson in Leadership.

Taylor Swift has paused nearly half of her shows while on the European leg of her Eras tour, and the reason is something leaders can learn from.

Side Hustle

This Mom Started a Side Hustle on Facebook — Now It Averages $14,000 a Month and She Can 'Work From a Resort in the Maldives'

Heather Freeman was searching for a way to make some extra cash — and her cousin gave her a great idea.

Business News

How to Start Your Dream Business This Weekend, According to a Tech CEO Worth $36 Million

He started his now 14-year-old company in one weekend for $60 — it made $300,000 the first year, and $3 million the second.

Side Hustle

This 26-Year-Old's Side Hustle That 'Anybody Can Do' Grew to Earn $170,000 a Month. Here's What Happened When I Tested It.

Stephen Alvarez was working at a dental supply company and following his passion for cars on the side — then an Instagram ad changed everything.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.