The story of how Facebook and Twitter users lobbied the AP Stylebook to change “web site” to “website”
by Simon Owens
On the day the AP Stylebook announced it would change the requirement that its users refer to online destinations as “web sites” to the more widely-used “websites,” I sent a message to a person named Justin LaBerge requesting a phone interview. He responded quickly saying that he was “about to go meet up with my GF for our Friday night plans (In light of today’s event, we have much to celebrate!)” When I spoke to him a few days later he said he was mostly kidding about the celebration part (he had been planning to go out with his girlfriend already) but that they did raise their glasses to “toast” the news. “You wouldn’t believe how many emails and Facebook messages I got when people saw that,” he told me.
Back in 2008, LaBerge had created a Facebook group called “Dear AP Stylebook: Could You Please Spell ‘Web site’ Like a Normal Person?” Working for a Missouri PR agency, LaBerge said that he had become frustrated after constantly sending copy to clients with the “web site” spelling only to have them send it back edited to include the more widely-used “website.” “I just get sick and tired of having to spell and explain why we spell ‘web site’ this weird way,” he said. “I am the AP Style writer in the office. I really like AP Style, I’m a fan of it, and I use it, and when something you love messes up, it almost hurts you more than when something you don’t care about messes up.”
So LaBerge created the group and he sent invites out to a cadre of other PR people he knew regionally encouraging those who really believed in the issue to then forward it to their friends. In the first month or two it amassed around 200 to 300 people and continued to grow from there. When I checked in last week it had reached 700 fans.
LaBerge had used other methods to lobby the AP Stylebook to no avail, including emailing the book’s top editor and also a magazine journalist who had interviewed him. But he saw his golden opportunity when the Stylebook made an open call for user input into changes it should make, specifically in regard to social media.
“They said we’re going to make some changes to AP Style, specifically social media, and a woman who is a member of our group saw that and forwarded it to me and I forwarded it to the group and said, ‘here’s a website where you can go and they’re actively soliciting these requests, tell them you want them to change ‘web site.””
Though he didn’t remember the name of the woman, it most likely was Tracy Russo, a DC-based Twitter user who had begun her own campaign — in this case on Twitter — to get the AP Stylebook to change its policy. Russo told me via email that after seeing the AP announcement soliciting input she had messaged Justin. But her lobbying didn’t stop there. “I submitted my own comment, but then wanted to rally friends and colleagues as well. So I e-mailed 200 or so friends, most of whom work in online or political communications and asked them to chime in as well.” She also began directing Twitter users to the suggesting form, tweeting things like, “Tell the @APStyleBook “Web site” (2 words, capital W) is lame. It should be “website” (1 word, lowercase w),” and “Have you told @APStylebook it should be “website” instead of “Web site”? ”
Obviously, the demographic that felt passionate about this style usage was relatively small, but the above demonstrates how one can funnel a small but eager audience into a very targeted campaign, one that produces results.
“You can see there doesn’t appear to be that many,” Russo said. “But a clear coordinated message offered up an obvious correction that a lot of people are excited about today.”
And that’s how your AP Stylebook sausage is made.