Stephen Wilhite: The creator of the GIF, essential animation in network communication, dies in Ohio from covid at the age of 74 | Technology
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Communications through messaging and social networks would not be the same without two main protagonists: emojis (the icons that accompany the texts) and GIFs (acronyms for Graphic Interchange Formatlooping animated image). Stephen Wilhite, the creator of this latest graphic exchange format, died on March 14 at the age of 74 due to covid in Milford (Ohio, USA), as confirmed by his wife, Kathaleen Wilhite.
In 1987, the computer scientist created animated images, which have allowed an exponential growth of memes (cartoon-like images and videos). He did it, according to his wife, at home, although he completed the work at the company he worked for, CompuServe. He was looking for an image file that could be downloaded in a short time and, although the first ones were static, animation soon emerged.
The first GIFs were used to indicate that a website was under construction or to identify categories of a page. It was a time when downloading videos could take a long time incompatible with the speed required by communications and they soon became popular.
The advance in telecommunications, which allowed the exchange of videos in an agile way through all devices, seemed that it would put an end to this format. But its conversion as an element of language on messaging platforms and social networks strengthened it. The final accolade was received from the most popular search engine, Google, which in 2013 added an option to locate animated GIFs. Two years later it was introduced by Facebook and the rest of the platforms followed.
Wilhite was honored with the 2013 Webby Award and used animation for his speech. “After 25 years, they finally honored that achievement that he did,” his wife recalled.
“Without GIF there would not have been a whole world to express myself,” Yvette wrote on the page opened by the family on an obituary website. “Without GIFs my life would be a lot less fun,” adds Sven.
Symbols help improve conversation, avoid misunderstandings, or emphasize messages. Sara Peters, Associate Professor of Psychology at Newberry College, is the author of an article on how the digital age has developed ways to mitigate some of the “tortuous ambiguity” of some texts. “One possibility is to include an emoji or a GIF to make it clear to the reader that the intent of a sentence was ironic,” she explains. The British linguist Vyvyan Evans considers that pictograms have many characteristics that make them the essential communication system of the digital age.
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