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GIF inventor dies; his five-word acceptance speech rocked the internet

The man credited with creating the GIF has died at age 74.

Stephen Wilhite, who died last week in Milford, Ohio, led the team at the online service provider CompuServe that introduced the Graphics Interchange Format in 1987. Their goal had been a format by which simple color images could be shared even over a slow connection.

Twenty-six years later, when he was given a lifetime achievement Webby award, Wilhite cleared up a lingering point of confusion. Keeping with the Webby protocol of a five-word acceptance speech, he said: “It’s pronounced ‘jif,’ not ‘gif.’” The audience erupted in applause.

The presentation included a video (embedded below) displaying some of the most popular of the animated GIFs, including the one Wilhite had professed affection for in a New York Times interview: the dancing baby.

Wilhite ended his career as chief architect at America Online, which bought CompuServe in the late 1990s.

Other recipients of lifetime achievement awards from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences include Al Gore, David Bowie, David Byrne, Prince, TCP/IP protocol co-inventor Robert Kahn, Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig, Wired publishers Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, and The Onion.


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