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The origin of 9 popular Web buzzwords

You see them over and over again in blogs and news articles. Web buzzwords like The Cloud, Web 2.0, wiki, cloud computing, crowdsourcing, and so on. They have become part of our everyday vocabulary.
Have you ever wondered who actually came up with these words, and when? Where did they first show up?
To answer those questions we’ve looked into some of the most popular Web buzzwords to find their origins.

The Cloud

These days “The Cloud” has become a metaphor for Internet-based services. The Cloud as a term comes from the common usage of a “cloud outline” in network diagrams, an abstraction hiding more complex inner workings.
However, the term “cloud” has been used for other things in the past and has a long history within the telephony field. In the early 90s, “cloud” was already a commercial term referring to large ATM networks. Once “cloud computing” (see below) became a popular term, the term “cloud” started to be used more the way it is now, an abstraction of the Internet and services on it.

Cloud Computing

The term “cloud computing” was launched into the mainstream in 2006 when Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, used the term when describing Google’s own services during a Search Engine conference.

It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing – they should be in a “cloud” somewhere.

Who actually coined the term is more difficult to pin down. Interestingly, in 1997 a company called NetCentric tried to trademark “cloud computing”, but this was abandoned in 1999.

Web 2.0

The term “Web 2.0” was first used by Dale Dougherty (co-founder of O’Reilly Media) and Craig Cline (editorial director of Seybold Publications). The term became famous after the O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004. It is a common misperception that Tim O’Reilly coined the term.


In 1997, Jorn Barger coined the term ”weblog”, and its short form ”blog” surfaced in 1999 when Peter Merholz, as a joke, broke up the term into “we blog” in the sidebar of his own blog.
Shortly after that, Evan Williams, founder of Pyra Labs, started using the term “blog” both as a noun and a verb and coined the term “blogger” for someone who blogs. This became the name of Pyra Labs blogging product, Blogger. (Yes, it’s the same Evan Williams who co-founded Twitter.)


The term ”crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired magazine article.
From his article:

Technological advances in everything from product design software to digital video cameras are breaking down the cost barriers that once separated amateurs from professionals. Hobbyists, part-timers, and dabblers suddenly have a market for their efforts, as smart companies in industries as disparate as pharmaceuticals and television discover ways to tap the latent talent of the crowd. The labor isn’t always free, but it costs a lot less than paying traditional employees. It’s not outsourcing; it’s crowdsourcing.

The Long Tail

”The Long Tail” was coined by Chris Anderson in a 2004 Wired magazine article.
From his article:

The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.
This is the Long Tail.


Although phishing techniques were described as early as 1987, the actual term “phishing” showed up for the first time in 1996 in the Usenet newsgroup The term may have been used in print prior to that in the hacker magazine 2600.


Although the concept of “software as a service” existed prior to 1999, the term began to gain acceptance in the year 2000.
The acronym SaaS was coined in a whitepaper called “Strategic Backgrounder: Software as a Service” which was written in 2000 and published in 2001. (The whitepaper was published by the Software & Information Industry’s eBusiness Division.)


The ever-present wikis that have become so popular got their start in 1994, when American programmer Ward Cunningham (Howard G. Cunningham) developed the software WikiWikiWeb. It went live on the Internet in 1995 and is considered to be the first wiki.
Cunningham got the term “wiki” from the Hawaiian word for “fast”. An employee at the Honolulu International Airport had told him he could take the “Wiki Wiki” shuttle bus between airport terminals. WikiWikiWeb essentially means “quick-web”.

Future buzzwords?

It’s the nature of the ever-evolving Web to come up with new buzzwords almost as often as you change your underwear, but only a few of them really stick.
For example, one we’re hoping will stick is the Twitter Effect (think “Slashdot effect” translated to Twitter’s unique conditions, i.e. Twitter as a site crasher). We came up with it in February on this blog, so we just had to throw it in here. 🙂
What are your own favorite new buzzwords?
Sources: Other than the links above, Wikipedia was (as it always is) a great resource. Image from Wikimedia Commons. (We added the buzzwords to it.)

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