File Under: Web Basics

The History of IMG and EMBED Tags

Broken image tag in NetscapeIn the early ’90s, our beloved web was very different than it is today. A dedicated group of geeks used e-mail lists to discuss the future of the language at its core, HTML. Let’s take a ride back in time and see what it looked like when common tags like IMG and EMBED (tags were capitalized back then) were introduced.

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen was still working on Mosiac, the first graphical web browser, when he created the IMG tag to display an image “embedded in the text at the point of the tag’s occurrence”:

I’d like to propose a new, optional HTML tag:

IMG

Required argument is SRC=”url”.

Now it is hard to imagine a time when an inline image was revolutionary. Did Andreessen’s fellow list members immediately accept IMG? Nope. Andreessen received several replies that suggested better ways to solve the problem. Mosiac supported the tag despite the several objections, including one from web inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

Netscape also blazed a trail with the EMBED tag, which makes it possible to display, among other things, flash videos. I’m sure the YouTube guys are thankful. In 1995 Bjoern Stabell questioned the necessity of EMBED:

I fear that the new features they are creating become the ad hoc standards that will prove difficult to undo. One tag that struck me as not wanted/needed was the EMBED tag as it seems to be just an IMG tag with no inline content type specified.

While Stabell may have been off there, he did foresee in 1994 the emergence of CSS:

All this bitchering about what goes into HTML and what doesn’t makes me wonder why we don’t create two standards: presentation oriented HTML and semantically structured HTML.

As I look back, more than 15 years later, I’m sure glad there were some smart people thinking about the future, even if their vision didn’t quite extend to where things ended up.

Where they are now: Marc Andreessen, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Bjoern Stabell.

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