Sunday, March 30, 2008

BPN 1053 You write Internet, I write internet

I am a member or better a lurker of the ONLINE-NEWS list, a rather established discussion list for journalists involved in online. And I smiled last week as an American journalist posed the question whether Internet and Web should be written with capitals. Who the hell could care almost 17 years after the introduction of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in Geneva (Switzerland). I had an attitude of who could care less, as long as you spell it consistently with a capital or without. But the question generated some 20 e-mails (or emails?).

(c) Jak Boumans, 2003

But it was fascinating to see that the argument of consistent spelling was not just going to make it. After posing the question, the first contributions went into the authoritative arguments of dictionaries – which are not always consistent in itself - and style books like the AP style guide. These reference works date usually some years back and write Internet and Web with a capital so we should follow them. All kind of grammatical arguments were added; Internet and Web are nouns, so they deserve a capital.

In the same line one of the contributors to the debate claimed to have received emails in the last few years from Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Linus Torvalds, and other tech community leading lights with neither "web" nor "internet" capitalized. You could wait for it, by return mail the authoritative argument emasculated by the argument: Many techies barely capitalize anything.

But the authoritative argument was not over yet, as a contributor brought in an article in Wired from 2004. The article states in the first line that the editorial staff of Wired News will not capitalise Internet and Web any longer. The arguments given are not terribly academic, but run along the line of no longer capitalising Television (if that was ever done). But the argument in itself indicated that the medium was domesticated after a few years of capitalisation. The noun had become a generic word.

Just an extra argument in support of the lower case was that it saves a keystroke. This is a typical argument from the typesetting age. It was relevant for the linotype typesetters in the age of lead. But as this conscientious and knowledgeable guild of operators has died, who will keep up the standard and philosophy behind a consistent use of capitalisation within the editorial staff; certainly not the spell checkers.

I look back at my habit of (non-)capitalisation and found that I am rather consistent in not capitalising internet or web. To me the first shine has been rubbed off Internet a long time ago. It is no longer a noun, but a generic word. It has been a fascinating discussion with no winners. Only one of the contributors indicated that he will change the style book of the newspaper he is working for. Just as I abolished the term New Media/new media in favour of digital media for reasons of shelf life, I will continue the non-capitalised versions of the words internet and web as Internet and the Web have lost their innocence during the dotcom crash in 2001.

Blog Posting Number 1053

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