Feeling my Net age

The Associated Press has announced that on June 1 its AP Stylebook will cease capitalizing Internet and Web.

The news on Facebook looked like this, with a good reminder that the internet and the web are not the same thing, capitalized or not.


Beyond that reminder, the style news has me feeling like a cyber curmudgeon, set in my ways after almost 40 years of using computer communication services. As a shortened form of the proper noun World Wide Web, “the Web” uppercase made sense to me when referring to the collection of computer services set in motion by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s. 

AP and the public had gotten inconsistent about “Web,” website,  webmaster and other compound uses. Part of the problem is the sheer size of that capital W in most typefaces. A technical article risked poking the reader in the eye with all those tall barbs. So I understand the need to sacrifice the big W for typographical aesthetics and consistency.

I still like the somewhat geeky distinction between “an” internet — two or more connected networks — and “the” uppercase Internet, the ever-expanding  decentralized global network…  I think of it as a physical entity — all those wires, cables, wireless links, switches, routers and computers, as well as the rules (protocols) that make them work together.

The i/I distinction is admittedly confusing. The big Internet could use a name of its own. I would suggest FRED, and let someone else reverse engineer the acronym, but that friendly name already has other uses, some involving “the F-word.” Perhaps “the Net” could the replacement.

Or… another comparison just came to mind. Does “the ocean” suggest to you all of the oceans of the world? The individual oceans get their proper names, uppercase, while the network of all of them flowing into each other is referred to in lower case as the ocean or the oceans. But, no, let’s not start saying “the internets.” That sounds like a line from a stand-up comedian.

Meanwhile, I disagree with AP’s reference to the World Wide Web” and “email” as “subsets” of the network. They are software-powered services run on the network — programs and data in motion over all those cables and wireless links, following another layer of protocols.  “Subsets” of the Internet sounds more like some part of the physical wiring, rather than the electronic reality of bits and bytes flitting about wirelessly to take shape as pixels on our screens.

(In full curmudgeon mode, I admit I also preferred the word email with a hyphen, but that battle was lost several AP Stylebook editions ago. I thought the hyphen made the pronunciation consistent with other one-letter usages. Not that I’ve ever heard anyone mispronounce it “em-ail.”)

Note: After I posted a short note about this on Facebook, a friend (Dave Winer of http://scripting.com) asked me to put it on my blog so that he could point people to it more easily. This rather long draft was composed on a cell phone late at night, risking both eyestrain and auto-correct errors.
Alas, I’m afraid verbosity has struck, and I have no editing help — other than your comments on this blog post.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in communication, Computers, Internet, Journalism, Technology

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