Who remembers HTML image maps?

Seriously, who remembers HTML image maps in 2023? These days, web developers who were not around when the internet and HTML were still in their infancy in the 90s don’t know this cool feature that is HTML image maps. I accept that there are probably not many use cases that call for the application of HTML image maps. Yet, for those niche cases they are brilliant – if you know they even exist.

Here is a little story that spans some 26 years.

I learned about HTML and created my first simple web pages in 1997 (using Microsoft FrontPage!). Support for image maps as we know them today was introduced just in time for me with HTML 3 in 1997. However, even HTML 2 introduced in 1995 through RFC 1886 had support for server-based image maps. Back then, such clickable areas on images were occasionally used for site navigation i.e. graphic menus.

In my experience they quickly fell out of fashion, though.

Then, a couple of weeks ago while on an online video call, I noticed a colleague had changed his virtual background to the bookshelf below. The background distracted me from the call and I went about identifying books I might be familiar with. And then it hit me! What if HTML image maps were only ever invented for us to design clickable bookshelf images? What if a click on a book cover would take me straight to the book details?

In 2023 people like to impress collaborators in Zoom meetings with bookshelf background images. Click for the HTML image map version of this image.

After the call I tracked down the source of this bookshelf image, zoomed in, and went about identifying as many books as possible.

Given that image maps are not really a thing anymore these days I was not surprised to realize that there are hardly any graphical editors anymore that help with creating them. Most old software the internet turns up can not be installed or started anymore. In the end LibreOffice is what saved me. It still has a decent HTML image map editor.

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