This morning while editing Sheila Regan’s preview of Ady, I came across the word “website” and, with a sigh, did some Googling to confirm what I’d heard from multiple sources: the Associated Press Stylebook, which sets widely-recognized standards for writing style in journalism, changed its guidelines this spring to recommend “website” rather than “Web site.” Thus, Sheila’s article became the first article I’d edited to reflect the new preference. The one-word convention has long appeared in non-arts stories on the Daily Planet, as Mary Turck—like many journalists—did not wait for the AP to make the change.
I agree that “website” looks tidier than “Web site” and has long been common usage among people who aren’t wedded to the AP Stylebook, but I’ve always found “Web site” to be satisfying on a theoretical level. The reason one worries about things like grammar, punctuation, and writing style is that one would like to communicate information to readers as efficiently and accurately as possible. “Web site” is more accurate than “website,” as I argued at length ten years ago in an impassioned discussion with my friend Erica, an editor now working at UC Berkeley. (Yes, editors do have impassioned discussions about these things.)
To give Erica credit, she saw this day coming. She acknowledged that “Web site” was preferred by the AP and the New York Times, but she was already using “website” wherever she could get away with it, and she predicted that one day the AP would follow suit. The Internet, she argued—and, by extension, the Web—should not be a proper noun. (The AP still does recommend that “Internet” and “Web” be capitalized.) The Web, said Erica, is not a single thing—it’s a network of computers.
In response, I argued that we experience the Web as a thing: we talk about “going online” and “going offline.” There are sub-networks of computers, which we may be on without being on the network. Getting “on the Web” is kind of like jumping into “the ocean.” (Granted, you use a lowercase O there, but you know whether you’re jumping into the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.) Further, there are all sorts of networks and organizations that we refer to with proper nouns, from Target to Doomtree. You yourself are, fundamentally, an organization of cells. The Web is decentralized, but it is organized and—however loosely—governed. You can’t just use any domain name you want; you have to register and become a recognized member of the community.
So the Web is a thing, and there’s just one of them. When you have a site on the Web, it is a Web site, not a website. Okay, okay, I give up on this one—but Mashable be damned, I’ll be cold in my grave before I drop the hyphen from “e-mail”!