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Everybody Knows You Never Capitalize a Public Good

A note on style! Moments ago, @thatwhichmatter said:

WEBSITE/WEB SITE? Website is one word, lowercase. When used alone, as “the Web,” capitalize. Some use “Web site” so check preferred use.

ThatWhich is right; it’s definitely “website.” But—and please do not award me any pedantry points; I only mention this because I carry a deep, nerdy conviction on the point—it’s always “the web” and (for that matter) “the internet.” No capitalization.

As I explained on Twitter:

“The Web” is like “The Taj Mahal”: distinct & proprietary. “The web” is like “the sky”: diffuse & open. Thus more accurate.

I don’t think there’s a single diffuse natural system that we capitalize: the sky, the ocean, the atmosphere, the planet, and so on. Right? And therefore, to the degree it’s both descriptive and, perhaps, prescriptive too, let’s use “the web.”

August 17, 2009 / Uncategorized


Rita says…

I fully agree with you on both points!! It’s become common usage and shouldn’t be capitalized… But as of a few years ago, at least, Chicago Manual used to recommend “Web site” and “the Web,” “the Internet.” Booo!

That specific example is now “first day of class” introduction to editing and publishing courses (at least in my experience) when it comes to discussing style. That, and of course, the infamous yea or nay to the comma at the end of a list. Ah yes, the rules of style…

MT style is to capitalize “the Web,” but leave “website” in lower case. I’m not sure where that came from. It’s rather inconsistent.

pcrackenhead says…

For some reason the Web (uppercase) never bothered me, but Web page ticks me off like mad.

We’re talking about websites, which are made up of webpages. At the very least make it web page if you have to have a space in there.

You can always say “the WWW”, neatly sidestepping the capitalization issue. Downside: confused readers imagine you refer to a massive global conflict in the distant future or possibly another dimension.

Maybe it’s a potential confusion issue? “website” doesn’t mean anything but a website; but “web” could mean lots of different webs, e.g., of cloth, spider’s silk, a duck’s membrane-y feet, networks or traps of various kinds — only one of which is The “Web.”

But we already use the lowercase version interchangeably (and comfortably) for all of those different things. Context will always clue you in.

I think aggressive lowercasing is like the people’s resistance. We’re claiming things for the commons. E.g., oh what’s that, search giant? You don’t want to be turned into a common, lowercase verb? Too late.

You find something on the web by googling it.

Dan says…

Am I the only person here who bristles a bit at Robin’s description of the World Wide Web as “a single diffuse natural system”?

It is not a natural system, right? It’s a deliberately engineered system. Or rather, according to Wikipedia, the Web is “an application built on top of the Internet.” So its an application built on top of a deliberately engineered system.

All of which is to say: the Web is more like the Taj Mahal than like the sky. Actually, its probably even more like Amtrak, than the Taj Mahal. But it’s not the sky.

Dan says…

(To be clear, though: I did not bristle at Robin’s title for this post. That made me laugh.)

OK, good point, it’s not “natural.” But it’s also a specific kind of engineered system, marked (I’d argue) by growth & development that more closely mimics the growth & development of a forest than of, say, a suspension bridge.

There are other (older) engineered systems like this.

We don’t say Power Grid; we say power grid.

We don’t say Water System; we say water system.

I don’t think the web is like Amtrak, either. AOL was like Amtrak. Maybe Level3 or Akamai is like Amtrak.

The web, however, is like the railroad. (Not the Railroad.)

I was going to say the railroad!

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