• United States

The big ‘I’

Sep 08, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Should “Internet” be capitalized?

Let’s take a break from Longhorn, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and servers for a moment to talk about the subject of networking overall. It’ll get a bit philosophical, but it might be interesting.

Recently, Wired magazine declared it would no longer capitalize the word “Internet” when referring to the network itself. The editors also decided to lowercase both “Web” and “Net” (when used to refer to the Internet, presumably). Their reason was stated, fairly succinctly, as: “The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was.”

It’s that second sentence that does them in.

The Internet has always sported a capital “I” to differentiate it from an “internet” – any collection of interconnected networks. Twenty years ago that was an important distinction. Most commercial enterprises were not connected to the Internet, but they were just beginning to form internets. In the mid ‘90s, of course, we invented the term “intranet” to describe an Internet-like arrangement (using HTTP, FTP, SMTP and other Internet protocols) within the enterprise. No one ever capitalized “intranet.”

Coming out of the ‘80s into the ‘90s, though, internets were a hot item. In the intervening years we’ve called these interconnections of networks by different names. We’ve talked about “value chains” and “federated systems” just to name two. But both of these refer to a number of individual networks (two or more) which have a relationship using well-defined protocols to exchange (usually business-related) data between and among them. While 20 years ago these connections would have been over a private network using point-to-point connections, today they use the public, TCP/IP-based Internet to connect with each other. Still, the value chain connections you set up with your organization’s suppliers and customers can be called an internet.

We do tend to use more specific names (such as “value chain” or federated “circle of trust”) today rather than the generic “internet” – possibly so that in casual conversation (where we can’t see if the “I” is capitalized or not) there’s no confusion. I’ll continue to capitalize Internet when I refer to the, well, “Internet” and lowercase it in other uses (even if they seldom occur). But I’m willing to listen to you, out in the trenches, if you think usage has changed enough that this is an arcane usage.

Next time out, I’ll wander through the usage of client, server and peer-to-peer. Stay tuned.