Home WTF? Origins of Five Popular Web 2.0 Terms

WTF? Origins of Five Popular Web 2.0 Terms

Web 2.0 is pretty cool – so cool in fact that it’s got its own buzzwords and lingo that not everybody knows. Everybody has a lot to gain from participation in this new cultural phenomenon, though, so there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t know the background on the lingo. We did a little research just to cover our own bases! We thought we’d share it with you.

Think you know where catchwords like FTW and Fail! came from? Think you know who came up with the phrase Web 2.0? Do you know what the first Rickrolled link claimed to be? We did some hunting around to find out – below are our best ideas for the history of these and other popular terms around the web these days.

Update: Note that a number of commenters have said we got some of these things wrong, or that they aren’t really “web 2.0” terms. The conversation in comments here is probably at least as informative as the post itself (though not always very nice!), so check it out too.


FTW is most commonly understood as standing for “For the Win!” The Urban Dictionary says it entered popular culture via the TV show Hollywood Squares. The show featured two contestants playing a trivia based tic-tac-toe game where the squares had celebrities siting in them who “helped” answer the questions.

The final question to complete the tic-tac-toe was asked “for the win…” The show ran from 1966 through 1981 but there were several attempts to revive it.


Now a one word sentence primarily used to mock, sometimes with a touch of sympathy, the prominent use of the word “Fail” is said to derive from 1998 arcade game Blazing Star. According to an article from this Fall in Slate, “its staying power comes from its wonderfully terrible Japanese-to-English translations. If you beat a level, the screen flashes with the words: ‘You beat it! Your skill is great!’ If you lose, you are mocked: ‘You fail it! Your skill is not enough! See you next time! Bye bye!'”

See also the relatively new FailBlog.org, a daily collection of unintentionally funny images and videos with very simple captions.

Right: The cycles of history have a cruel sense of humor.


From the consistently obscene fringe message board 4chan to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! Who would have ever thought a joke like this would go so far?

According to the Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon, the practice of telling someone you’re linking to one thing and then linking instead to the Rick Astley video Never Going to Give You Up was originally based on a practice known as Duckrolling. The link would claim to be to a news item or some other thing but would instead take visitors to a web page containing a photoshopped picture of a duck on wheels. Hey look, it’s a duck…with wheels.

The first Rickroll ever, Wikipedia dutifully reports, was a May 2007 link on 4chan that claimed to be to a mirror copy of the original trailer for the game Grand Theft Auto IV, which was otherwise unavailable.

4chan is also believed to be the origin of Lolcats.

Eating Our Own Dogfood

You often hear about technology companies “eating their own dogfood,” which means using their own software to get work done. According to the book Inside Out: Microsoft in Our Own Words, the phrase came from Microsoft’s Paul Maritz. Maritz had seen an Alpo dog food commercial where actor Lorne Greene told viewers that Alpo was so good he…fed it to his own dogs! Neither Greene nor Maritz apparently ate dogfood themselves, but Maritz did use the phrase in an email calling for Microsoft workers to use their own products more.

Dorky executives have felt like a little “edgy” using the phrase ever since.

Web 2.0

Many people think that Tim O’Reilly, book publisher and founder of the Web 2.0 Conference, coined the term Web 2.0. Last month O’Reilly mentioned in a PBS Science radio interview, though, that some one who worked for him actually came up with the phrase to articulate some concepts the O’Reilly himself had been discussing.

We did a little hunting around and got to what’s apparently the truth. More than 3 years ago Tim wrote an article titled What is Web 2.0:

Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software
where he says that it was O’Reilly VP Dale Dougherty who came up with the moniker in early 2004. (Photo of Dougherty, left, by David A. Mellis) How many of you got that trivia question right? At the time Dougherty was the Editor and Publisher of O’Reilly’s Make magazine, so he was no stranger to invention.

So there you go. Now you don’t have to be a wall flower at parties any more, for fear of not knowing the history of these five terms. Or are the conclusions we’ve drawn here incorrect? If you’ve got reason to believe so…speak up now!

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