Associated Press style change marks growth of “internet” and “web”

Longtime readers of the TechTank blog will notice a slight change in the headline of this article. Beginning today, June 1, 2016, the words “internet” and “web” will no longer be capitalized on TechTank, following a change to the Associated Press (AP) style guide. The AP announced the change in April, and is one of the last major media organizations to decapitalize the words. The World Wide Web, often shortened to “web”, has existed for over 25 years, and the internet for much longer. This style change marks just how ubiquitous these technologies have become since their inception.

Capitalization of internet and web has sparked debate for years. Wired magazine dropped capitalization for internet in 2004, but many dictionaries continue to capitalize the word today. The Oxford Dictionary cites a slight preference for the capitalized word in English usage, although capitalization remains much more common in the U.S. than in the United Kingdom and other anglophone countries. The Chicago Manual of Style upholds capitalization of internet but not web in its most recent edition. The AP Style Guide typically reserves capitalization for proper nouns and names, and specifically urges writers to “avoid unnecessary capitals.”

The word “internet” was originally capitalized to distinguish the global internet from local internets, or “interconnected networks”. This distinction reflects the architecture of the internet as a unique network of computer networks linked across cities, countries, and continents. The first such network, ARPANET, connected mainframe computers at four American research universities in 1969. The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 as a set of technical standards that allow content like this blog post to be published on the internet.

Since the beginning of ARPANET and the World Wide Web, the number of connected devices has grown rapidly, as has the number of Web pages that can be accessed on those devices. Besides stationary computers, the internet now connects smartphones, tablets, machines, wearable devices, driverless vehicles, and more. In 2015, the internet encompassed an estimated 18.2 billion devices, more than twice the world’s population. Meanwhile, the number of active websites surpassed 1 billion in September 2014.

Dropping capital letters on web and internet recognizes just how common these technologies have become. The internet of computers now exists alongside the internet of things, greatly increasing the amount of digital information that travels around the globe. Given that internet connectivity is so widespread, it becomes harder to make the case that the internet deserves a special distinction. The capitalization change comes as the internet itself is fundamentally changing.

Jacob Lineberry contributed research to this post.