Stephen E. Weilheit, a computer programmer best known for inventing GIF, the loop animation that has become a global language for conveying humor, sarcasm, and anxiety on social media and instant messaging, died in Cincinnati on March 14. He was 74 years old.
His wife, Kathleen Weilheit, confirmed his death in hospital on Thursday, and said the cause was complications from Covid-19.
In 1987, while working at CompuServe, the nation’s first online service, Mr. Wilhite led a team of engineers that revolutionized how people share videos on the Internet. They called the format they created GIF, short for Graphics Interchange Format, a type of compressed image file with the ease of use that makes it durable.
The allure of technology has expanded from computers to smartphones, giving celebrities and non-famous the ability to share GIFs on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and eventually create their own episodes. The popular animated GIF inspired the “Dancing Child” in 1996 and popular apps like Giphy.
“I saw the look I wanted in my head and then I started programming,” Mr. Wilhite He told the New York Times in 2013.
That year, Mr. Welheit, who was also a former principal engineer for America Online, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Webby Awards.
In addition to his wife, among the survivors of Mr. Welheit is his son David Welheit; sons-in-law Rick Groves, Robin Landrum, Renee Bennett, and Rebecca Boise; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In 2012, the Oxford American Dictionaries recognized the GIF as “word of the year. “
While the utility of Mr. Wilhite’s innovation was undisputed, the pronunciation of “GIF” has been a frequent topic of discussion. Is it pronounced with a hard G sound or a soft G?
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both areas,” said Mr. Welheit. “They’re wrong. It’s a soft G, pronounced ‘jif’. End of story.”
“Friendly web trailblazer. Extreme pop culture advocate. Reader. Organizer.”