The Decline of the “Webmaster”

Webmaster in Google Trends

I’ve been thinking deeply for a long time about the future of the term “webmaster” and wanted to express some thoughts. Most people recognize “webmaster” as a term from earlier Internet history that describes the activities of the person responsible for a Web site. I’ve previously defined it this way:

One responsible for designing, developing, and managing all aspects of a website’s content, connectivity and human resources.

I’ve always thought of myself as a webmaster, despite the unattractiveness of the term. Today, we don’t usually call ourselves “masters” of anything. Perhaps this is due to humility. Perhaps political correctness. I don’t know. I left any discomfort I had with the word back in the nineties.

On the positive side:
Google has chosen to continue using the term in products like “Google Webmaster Central” and “Google Webmaster Tools.” They are still calling the sacred SEO document the Google Webmaster Guidelines. If Google does it, it must be cool, right?

Causing me concerns:
Webmaster.org recently sold for $50,000, yet sites having “webmaster” in the domain don’t seem to be as popular as they once were. The approximate average monthly search volume according to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool for “webmaster” on exact match is reported at only 33,100.

With the advent of 3G and smartphones, the webmaster is no longer the mysterious guy behind a desktop or in an air-conditioned datacenter pulling switches. He’s at the coffee shop.

Blog software is another factor. The fact that anyone can get a WordPress or Blogger weblog up and running in minutes with a really nice looking pre-made theme makes coding and maintenance less of an issue. Most bloggers probably don’t think of themselves as webmasters.

What about the social media user? He doesn’t have to design, develop or manage anything except relationships. If he happens to be a poweruser, he may control a lot more traffic than the average webmaster.

These are some random entertaining comments I picked up from Digg users that show some insight into their view of the word:

Who still uses the term “webmaster”?

I remember the first time I read some “webmaster” complaining that Firefoxe’s [sic] rising popularity was making more work for them, and “breaking” all their pages. (Fake tear dabbed from my eye.) I almost burst a blood vessel. Firefox isn’t Netscape 4.7, people.

I haven’t used the “webmaster” term in years.

Well the term “Webmaster” died in 1998 so web developers had to come up with something legit sounding.

Does anyone else absolutely abhor the term “webmaster”?

…that’s what they called you 8 years ago if you knew HTML.

Any web guy that calls himself a “webmaster” probably isn’t a master of anything. The term “webmaster” has become a translation for the word “amateur.” The web has diversified into so many different realms that webmaster is no longer meaningful (was it ever though?)

The term “webmaster” just makes me cringe. “Look Ma, I’ve mastered the web!”

Never call yourself a webmaster. Why people still insist on using that terrible term is beyond all comprehension.

I thought webmasters were extinct.

You can tell Syria is behind in Internet technology when they use terms like “webmaster.” In the US we stopped using that term when they realized it made them sound like Spider-Man villains.

…the fact that he calls people that code and design for a living “webmaster”, proves that he is out of touch. he should go back to being a dungeon master like he was prior to writing this.

Dugg for use of the ancient term webmaster.

I don’t know what is going to become of the term “webmaster,” but I have an uneasy feeling about its future.

Emory Rowland

I'm editor and keeper of the flame at Clickfire. I consider myself a fanatical blogger, entrepreneur and builder of Internet things from way back. My love for social media and success with organic search led me to start a SEO consulting venture. Apart from the Internet, I could be considered pretty worthless. More...

12 comments

  1. Brad

    i still use the word webmaster; i even have a webmaster forum; top-share.com

  2. Scott

    I am called a “Web Managing Editor” at my day job and like to call myself an Internet Strategist (a term I actually stole from Clickfire). It’s always been tough to put this industry into categories because it changes so fast. I guess Internet business changes about 10 times as fast as regular business. Of course regular business and Internet are now becoming one so who knows.

  3. The real question is what are they calling webmasters nowadays, because those are the SEO keywords worth checking out.

    The many jobs once assigned to a single webmaster have become too big for one person to handle. At this point, there are developers, designers, marketing teams, IT departments and writers that all work together. To use the term webmaster at this point just screams that you are a small company and out of date.

  4. I think it is very important the term stays around. There’s definitely an attempt with web technology to make things more democratic – software that makes blogging/site building easier; news where you vote on headlines; user recommendation/review engines.

    But here’s the thing – all that is an “attempt.” One funny thing about the web is that when you press people who have real knowledge of how to get things done on here, they tend to share a certain political/cultural outlook. They’re usually libertarian, progressive, and prone in some cases to outlandish conspiracy theories (Utne, a socialist magazine, and I say that because they’d call themselves that, once noted that a lot of Truthers were working for Microsoft). If people don’t think that’s influenced discourse on the Web in subtle (and sometimes not-subtle-at all) ways, they’re out of their minds.

    So it’s important in any given process to keep track of authority and who’s in charge, and not to assign blame, but to just be aware.

  5. few are calling “webguy, web manager” but the ultimate name is webmaster

  6. Ed Kohler

    Probably the biggest change is in webmaster as gatekeeper to website publishing.

  7. It’s been a long time since I have used the term “webmaster”, then recently my gf asked if I could redesign her company’s landscaping website and gather some relevant inbound links. For the last few weeks I have been receiving emails that begin with just that word, suddenly I am a master of the web, it does seem a rather over elaborate description for a rather mundane set of activities. It’s true, no one is the master of the web, the internet is a true democracy, if people like what you do then you’re up on high, if they don’t you disappear without a trace. I was thinking of a few alternative descriptions, here’s a few:- techmage, coding emperor, president of design, netgod, physical incarnation of the lord of all virtuality, e-field-commander, geekzilla. Just a few alternatives if anyone fancies a new title ;)

  8. Emory Rowland

    Okay, Paul, you’ve inspired me :)

    Emir of HTACCESS
    Dictator of Data
    Regent of Reinstallations
    First Knight of Working Late
    Field Marshall of File Transfer

  9. avi

    Web Master is not the master of web these days
    Probably Social Web master has a bit more relevance these days

  10. Still the term Web master is handy enough to fetch a good profile.
    From the seo point of view also the term is very relevant.
    Web Master term gives a complete feeling about all web operations.
    It rocks

  11. Pingback: Master of the Web. Still Cool? at The Pursuit of Techyness

  12. Church Website Design

    A few are calling it “webguy, web manager” but the ultimate name is webmaster.

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