2 Min Read
Long Live the GIF
Stephen Wilhite passed away last week.
Wilhite created the first GIF more than 30 years ago, setting the stage for countless memes and redefining the way we communicate online.
In 1987, Wilhite was working at online services provider CompuServe. At the time, different computers displayed images differently, and all were painfully slow at loading images. (The average household broadband internet connection today is 40,000 times faster than the top speeds in 1987.)
Wilhite came up with a universal compression algorithm that shrank images down to usable sizes without compromising color or quality too much. With that, the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was born.
As the scale and speed of the internet has evolved in the decades since, the humble GIF has proven to be an effective way to efficiently share images on websites, phones, and more recently in email.
Despite their compressed packaging, GIFs pack a huge communications punch. Like emojis, GIFs have come to serve as a more universal form of communication rooted in a shared understanding of pop culture or instantly recognizable images. From the dancing baby to the Shaq shimmy, each GIF tells a story and conveys more nuanced and relatable emotions.
It’s hard to overstate their impact on the internet and digital communications. Beyond memes, GIFs provide an economic shortcut toward eye-catching motion in everything from social platforms to PowerPoint presentations.
Today, many organizations are looking beyond memes and creating custom GIFs featuring their own branding that can be used in decks, websites, social channels and more. Designing them is easier than you think and makes a deck or social post come to life much better than a PowerPoint transition or stock image can.
And it’s all thanks to Stephen Wilhite.
Stephen was memorialized on countless sites across the web and hailed as a pioneer in shaping the way the world communicates today. Many also noted his lifelong campaign to pronounce GIF like the peanut butter brand (don’t get us started).
So the next time you find a GIF that says it better than you could have said it yourself, thank Stephen Wilhite.