Surfing the Internet: literally speaking

Surfing is a sport, but in the last decades the digital world thought it could also be an excellent way to address a common habit. Apparently, the expression "surfing the internet" was introduced by a librarian and, yes, riding waves was an inspiration for the iconic term.

Meet Jean Armour Polly. In March 1992, Internet was still a very primitive "activity", but the Master in Library Science had already published an article called "Surfing the Internet" in the University of Minnesota Wilson Library Bulletin.

"In casting about for a title for the article, I weighed many possible metaphors. I wanted something that expressed the fun I had using the Internet, as well as hit on the skill, and yes, endurance necessary to use it well."

"I also needed something that would evoke a sense of randomness, chaos, and even danger. I wanted something fishy, net-like, nautical," Jean Polly once wrote.

"At that time I was using a mouse pad from the Apple Library in Cupertino, California, 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: a pioneer of surfing the internet

For absurd reasons, the 12,000 copies of the Wilson Library Bulletin were destroyed. Only a few issues were spared, so Jean decided to upload her article on NYSERNet's FTP space. In 14 hours, her work had over 500 downloads.

A few months later, in March 1993, unaware of Jean's article, wrote an executive overview of the internet called "Surfing the Wild Internet."

Meanwhile, Jean's article has been updated and distributed via Project Gutenberg. You can actually read the original text online. It features one of the first free internet guides but, like Jean Armour Polly once said, "I'll never get rich from 'Surfing'."