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I've been researching the origins of the World Wide Web, so basically sifting through CERN reports and Usenet posts from 1989-1993, but I've noticed that the terms "Web site," "website," "web-site," and "web site" appear nowhere.

I've tried Google ngrams, but receive way too many false positives (i.e. links from updated editions and the like). The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the first use of the term "website" was 1994. Random House Dictionary states that it was coined between 1990 and 1995. Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use in a 1993 issue of "Computer Shopper" as "WEB site" and in a 1994 issue of "Macworld" as "Web-site." Merriam-Webster puts the first use as 1992, but without citation.

So what gives exactly? Is there a precise origin here at all?

(My apologies if this is the wrong Stack to post this on, I will remove if it is indicated as such; thanks so much!)

  • To answer the question in the title somewhat facetiously, I’m sure the very first use of the term web site was by some arachnologist a few centuries ago… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 21 '17 at 19:02
  • I think the "Computer Shopper" reference is likely to be the earliest. I find OED to be the most reliable dictionary among the links you've given. – Azor Ahai Jun 29 '17 at 16:30
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The first written usage, according to OED Online, is from Jan. 25, 1993. It is from FreeLore Whitepaper Repost in alt.uu.future (Usenet newsgroup).

World Wide Web sites: info.cern.ch (128.141.201.74)..[etc.].

You can find the full text on this site also:
http://wiretap.area.com/Gopher/alt.etext/014.freelore

Note: It is two months before it appeared in Computer Shopper magazine (Mar., 1993 issue), according to OED.

  • This is awesome! I think this has got to be it, or as close as we're going to get. Thanks so much! – user3684314 Dec 23 '17 at 13:03
  • As a quick aside, this 25 January 1993 post is actually a reposting of a 23 January 1993 FreeLore Project which mentions "World Wide Web sites" (I know it's only two days previously, but it's more correct). – user3684314 Dec 23 '17 at 16:47
  • @user3684314: I noticed the the date Jan 23, 1993 in the link I've provided also but I couldn't be sure if that date is just written as the project start date or the date the actual text appeared. OED might have not given that date for the same reason but I'm going to send an e-mail to them and ask. – ermanen Dec 23 '17 at 20:08
  • solid point, and good idea! – user3684314 Dec 23 '17 at 20:19
  • @user3684314: This is the answer I've got from The Oxford Dictionaries team: "We give 25 January as the date because that was when the posting appeared. This is consistent with our policy for citing documents within published works. Unfortunately, it is not the earliest quotation of 'website, as it is an example of 'Word Wide Web' + 'site', rather than 'website' itself." – ermanen Jan 12 '18 at 18:56
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I think 1994 would be about right. I remember the Mosaic browser coming out in 1993 and then in 1994 Netscape navigator came out, along with their own web servers, and suddenly the public could explore the web. In wikipedia it says:

Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989 and developing in 1990 both the first web server, and the first web browser, called WorldWideWeb

So the word "web" was already floating around along with "web server" since Tim created them.

Some of the first hosts to offer web site hosting back then where Tripod and Pipeline. They were the first ones I used once I left AOL's and CompuServe's closed networks for the wider web. I would dig more into early hosting companies as they would have been the first to advertise in the magazines and coin the "web site" term.

Also take a look into "List of websites founded before 1995" on Wikipedia. "Website of the day" site is listed as up in 1994 so I think that is a safe bet. Navigator introduced images and new features that suddenly made web pages much more interesting. That's when I moved into web site development. Come to think of it even back then it was web site development so the term could have come from Usenet or CompuServe/AOL which would explain why there is no obvious starting point. Usenet was the Reddit of the day and lots of stuff was argued and talked about there that trickled out to the wider web.

I wish I could pinpoint it better but I thought I would share a few thing that might help you narrow down your search.

  • Did Tim Berners-Lee call them 'websites' when he invented it? (before the public) – marcellothearcane Jul 12 '17 at 16:03
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    Tim seems to call them hypertext pages, web pages, web servers but no mention of a site. Here are some rabbit holes you can follow.. You can still find Tim's first website at info.cern.ch but it refers to sites as web servers. Netscape came out with netscape navigator and netsite servers. That was in 1994. So you would have to hunt down if they coined the term site or if they just borrowed from common terminology for the time. – chaiboy Jul 12 '17 at 19:59
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    I noticed on the cern site that they did use the term FTP site so site as a location on the internet was already in use. – chaiboy Jul 12 '17 at 20:05

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