Picking up the tab

One of the nicest things about modern browsers (like Safari and Firefox) is that they enable tabbed browsing — enabling you to open a tab on an existing page for a related link, rather than having to overwrite the page or open a new window. Like all great ideas, it’s astonishingly simple. But where did the idea of tabs originate? Ed Tenner (author of several thoughtful books on technology) has written a nice essay on the history of this great little idea. Sample:

The tabs story begins in the Middle Ages, when the only cards were gambling paraphernalia. Starting in the late 14th century, scribes began to leave pieces of leather at the edges of manuscripts for ready reference. But with the introduction of page numbering in the Renaissance, they went out of fashion.

The modern tab was an improvement on a momentous 19th-century innovation, the index card. Libraries had previously listed their books in bound ledgers. During the French Revolution, authorities divided the nationalized collections of monasteries and aristocrats among public institutions, using the backs of playing cards to record data about each volume.

Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the link.