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Surf The Web

Jean Armour Polly, First popularized the phrase "surfing the Internet"
Jean Armour Polly

At that time I was using a mouse pad from the Apple Library in Cupertino, CA, famous for inventing and appropriating pithy sayings and printing them on sportswear and mouse pads (e.g. “A month in the Lab can save you an hour in the Library.”) The one I had pictured a surfer on a big wave. “Information Surfer” it said. “Eureka,” I said, and had my metaphor.

Jean Armour Polly; Birth of a Metaphor; November 1994.

Surfing refers to the feeling you get when you jump from page to page on the web, similar to jumping from wave to wave while surfing in the ocean. The term “surfing the Internet” was first popularized in print by Jean Armour Polly in an article called Surfing the INTERNET, published in the Wilson Library Bulletin in June, 1992. The term was widely distributed when she released the article on the Internet later that year in December, after which it was translated into several languages and disseminated further.

Although Polly developed the phrase independently, slightly earlier uses of similar terms have been found on the Usenet newsgroups from 1991 and 1992, and some recollections claim it was also used verbally in the hacker community for a couple years before that. These days the term refers less to the wonder of being able to move from one distant information source to another, and mostly to the sensation of jumping from page to page in travel across the web.

The key elements of surfing are described in the following sections: