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Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK


Sci/Tech

So you think you're a surfer

Just call him a surfer

We are not clickers, readers, viewers or users - we are surfers.

At least that is the view of people logging on to BBC News Online.

Faced with the question, "just who do you think you are?" more people wanted to be known as "surfers" than anything else.

While critics will call the term uninspired, at least it could help close a long-running debate.


[ image:  ]
After all, public consultation has a history of settling such matters. In the 1930s there was a similar confusion over what to call television audiences.

It could have been "watcher", "spectator" or "onlooker".

But following a spot of public consultation, RC Norman, then chairman of the BBC, plumped for "viewers". The sobriquet stuck and has been common currency ever since.

However, when it comes to the internet, "viewer" fails to convey the interactive nature, as does "reader".

"User", "interactor" and "consumer" have all enjoyed some success and were among the scores of suggestions received when BBC News Online opened the debate up to e-mail.

But "surfer" was the favourite, inspiring particular devotion among American respondents.


[ image:  ]
"Onliner" came a close second while "clicker" and "browser" were joint third. Other popular choices included "visitor", "netter" and "participant".

More than 100 differing suggestions were received. They included "usurfer", "i-tourist", "entherian", "multimedier", "mouser", "navigee", "browsetter", "intrepreneur", "internaut" (which is an accepted French term) and "two-wayer".

There were also some inspired acronyms and hybrids.

Yasushi Komatsu, from Japan, suggested "visner", as a combination of viewer and listener, while Tina Liebe, from Germany came up with "icoma" - interactive consumer of online multimedia activities.

Martin Dart, of Oxford in the UK, put forward "mudi" - manipulator and user of digital information - and Sid Lahiri of the USA, came up with several including "digints" - digital interactors.

But probably the most unlikely to catch on is that suggested by Al MacLeod, from Britain, who pieced together viewer, interactor, reader, user and surfer to come up with "virus".

He signed off thus: "We're all 'viruses'".



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