Firefox May Drop Support for <blink> Tags, Finally

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In a forum about the development of Mozilla's Gecko, the rendering engine for Firefox, we read that the browser may soon drop support for blinking text. In fact, many browsers already don't render the blink tag, as I found out trying to make the following text blink:

OH NO!

The web I grew up with in the 90s is already mostly gone, both its look and its ethos, but the blink tag had somehow managed to hang on, despite the fact that its creation was something between a mistake and a joke. 

Louis Montulli, founding engineer at Netscape, told the origin story on his personal website:

Sometime in late summer I took a break with some of the other engineers and went to a local bar on Castro street in Mountain View. The bar was the St. James Infirmary and it had a 30 foot wonder woman statue inside among other interesting things. At some point in the evening I mentioned that it was sad that Lynx was not going to be able to display many of the HTML extensions that we were proposing, I also pointed out that the only text style that Lynx could exploit given its environment was blinking text. We had a pretty good laugh at the thought of blinking text, and talked about blinking this and that and how absurd the whole thing would be. The evening progressed pretty normally from there, with a fair amount more drinking and me meeting the girl who would later become my first wife.

Saturday morning rolled around and I headed into the office only to find what else but, blinking text. It was on the screen blinking in all its glory, and in the browser. How could this be, you might ask? It turns out that one of the engineers liked my idea so much that he left the bar sometime past midnight, returned to the office and implemented the blink tag overnight. He was still there in the morning and quite proud of it.

At the time there were 3 versions of the browser that ran on UNIX, Windows and Mac operating systems. For a short 12 hours the blinking was constrained only to the UNIX version, but it didn't take long for the blinking to spread to Windows and then the Mac version. I remember thinking that this would be a pretty harmless easter egg, that no one would really use it, but I was very wrong. When we released Netscape Navigator 1.0 we did not document the blink functionality in any way, and for a while all was quiet. Then somewhere, somehow the arcane knowledge of blinking leaked into the real world and suddenly everything was blinking. "Look here", "buy this", "check this out", all blinking. Large advertisements blinking in all their glory. It was a lot like Las Vegas, except it was on my screen, with no way of turning it off.

Though very few people actually liked the <blink> tag, it didn't matter. Once the capability was in the system, it was very hard to extract. Here we are 20 years after a technical joke got embedded into the global information network, and we're still talking about how, precisely, to get rid of the damn thing. Call it an allegory.


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