Who Killed the Webmaster?

Back in the frontier days of the web–when flaming skulls, scrolling marquees, and rainbow divider lines dominated the landscape–”Webmaster” was a vaunted, almost mythical, title. The Webmaster was a techno-shaman versed the black arts needed to make words and images appear on this new-fangled Information Superhighway. With the rise of the Webmaster coinciding with the explosive growth of the web, everyone predicted the birth of a new, well paying, and in-demand profession. Yet in 2007, this person has somehow vanished; even the term is scarcely mentioned. What happened? A decade later I’m left wondering “Who killed the Webmaster?”

Suspect #1: The march of technology

By 2000, I think every person in the developed world had a brother-in-law who created websites on the side. Armed with Frontpage and a pirated copy of Photoshop, he’d charge a reasonable fee per page (though posting more than three images cost extra.)

Eventually the web hit equilibrium and just having a website didn’t make a company hip and cutting-edge. Now management demanded that their website look better than the site immediately ranked above in search results. And as expensive as the sites were, ought they not “do something” too? Companies increasingly wanted an exceptional website requiring a sophisticated combination of talent to pull off. HTML and FTP skills, as useful as they had been, were no longer a sharp enough tool in the Webmaster’s toolbox. Technologies such as CSS and multi-tier web application development rapidly made WYSIWYG editors useless for all but ordinary websites. And with the explosion of competition and possibilities on the Internet few businesses were willing to pay for “ordinary”.

In 1995, the “professional web design firm” was single, talented person working from home. Today it’s a diverse team of back-end developers, front-end developers, graphic artists, UI designers, database and systems administrators, search engine marketing experts, analytics specialists, copywriters, editors, and project managers. The industry has simply grown so specialized, so quickly, for one person to hardly be a master of anything more than a single strand in the web.

Suspect #2: Is it the economy, stupid?

Then again, perhaps the disappearance of the Webmaster can better be explained by an underwhelming economy rather than overwhelming technology. Riding high on the bull market of the late 90’s, companies were increasingly willing to assume more risk to reach potential customers. This was especially true of small businesses, which traditionally have miniscule advertising and marketing budgets. Everyone wanted a piece of the Internet pie and each turned to the Webmaster to deliver. More than just a few Webmasters made a respectable living by cranking out a couple $500 websites every week.

Once the bubble burst in early 2000, the dot-com hangover left many small businesses clutching their heads and checking their wallets. As companies braced to solely maintain what they already had, the first cut inevitably was to marketing and advertising. In-house Webmasters were summarily let go, their duties hastily transferred to an already overworked office manager. Freelance Webmasters were hit even harder as business owners struggled to first take care of their own. The gold rush had crumbled to fools’ gold even faster than it had started.

While a few Webmaster were able to weather the storm—mostly those with either extraordinary skills or a gainfully employed spouse—the majority were forced to abandon their budding profession and return to the world of the mundane.

Suspect #3: The rise of Web 2.0

Another strong possibility is that the Internet has simply evolved beyond the Webmaster. “Web 2.0? is the naked emperor of technological neologisms; we all nod our head at the term but then stammer when pressed for a definition. As far as I can tell, Web 2.0 is mostly about rounded corners, low-contrast pastel colors, and domain names with missing vowels. But it also seems to be about an emphasis on social collaboration. This may seem like a no-brainer given the connectedness of the Internet itself; however, thinking back to Web 1.0 there was a distinct lack of this philosophy. Web 1.0 was more an arms race to build “mindshare” and “eyeballs” in order to make it to the top of the hill with the most venture capital. Even the Web 1.0 term of “portal” conjures up an image of Lewis Carroll’s Alice tumbling down a hole and into an experience wholly managed by the resident experts–the Webmasters. Despite the power and promises to be so much more, the web wasn’t much different than network television or print. Even the most interesting and successful business models of the Web 1.0 era could have been accomplished years prior with an automated telephone system.

It wasn’t until after the failure of the initial experiment did people begin to rethink the entire concept of the Internet. Was the Webmaster as gatekeeper really necessary? If we all have a story to share, why can’t everyone contribute to the collective experience? Perhaps it was the overabundance of Herman Miller chairs, but Web 1.0 was inarguably about style over substance. Yet, as anyone who’s ever visited MySpace can attest, today content is king. With all of us simultaneously contributing and consuming on blogs, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, and SecondLife, who needs a Webmaster anymore?

117 Replies to “Who Killed the Webmaster?”

  1. Great article. I have one correction, though. Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, not C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis DID have a portal to a fabulous world–the wardrobe.

  2. Nicely done, insightful and well written. The first two “Suspects” I completely agree with, having been a web developer both before and after the “burst” and having literally watched the things you mention happen right before my eyes at the firm I contracted for.

    Your third “Suspect” however, has left me feeling required to comment. You’ve got the right idea, but I think there’s more to it. This “web 2.0” age – the age of the web following the inwardly-focused sites – is an age in which we as web developers have realized that the true use of this “Internet” we’ve built is to create programs (automation) that brings together in meaningful ways the immense amount of information (knowledge) the human race has begun to generate.

    When I said the previous “age” was one of “inwardly”-focused sites, I mean to say that because of the dot-com boom specifically, the web was over-capitalized to the point that no site realized the benefit of aggregating the wealth of “geographically” disparate information that was available (“geographically” as in separated in distance on the web, by url or otherwise). Google was the first, and is still the best, at developing incfredible automation that can be let upon a task at which humans were never suited.

    “Webmasters,” as the used to be, have ceased to exist because the new web requires serious vision on the part of the programmers developing the sites, and to meet the expectation of the hundreds of millions online today, professional graphics designers have become the standard requirement for true “web 2.0” design nirvana.

  3. I very much enjoyed that post. Being a web-designer and graphic artist, I am not surprised that “The Webmaster” has gone MIA. I think many will share my opinion when I say “good riddance to ill-crafted websites that made navigation a lot harder than it needed it to be…and had far too many animated gifs as a sad attempt to look dynamic”. Accessibility is a huge issue these days. People will no longer bother if browsing a website seems far more effort than it’s worth or than the user in question is capable of.

  4. Great post! I think I am actually one of the few ‘webmasters’ left out there, and I work for a company that normally has 10+ web developers per site.

    I really think #1 is the most correct reason for the disappearance of ‘webmasters’. When a webpage was just HTML, one person could handle creating it. But now, with dynamic sites, DB’s, CSS, UI, UE, localization, QA, etc, etc, you really need a team of people to get a site out the door in a timely fashion.

    Good stuff!

  5. A few things, 1) webmaster still lives on just not as common, 2) CMS’ moved the web master from the primary point of contact/updater of the website to all of the users with the web master only maintaining things where necessary. I agree that web masters have been not only expanded but integrated into other roles beyond what one man can do. I’ve seen this especially having moved from a single web master, an old librarian, to a ‘webmaster’ managing the technical aspect and applying simple fixes as well as training, maintainence/backend officer and a dedicated web content editor as well as the users who ‘own’ their content.

  6. Great article – I particularly agree with numbers 1 & 3, having been a webmaster myself (but since moved on).

    I think another suspect, certainly in big companies, is the wont of marketing people to use external agencies for resource and time to market reasons (understandable, one guy can only do so much).

    And also the fact that they never paid us enough 🙂

  7. Webmasters are to me the amateurs running their own pityful websites. Today, the cool guys are Communication Directors and all they need to know is how to use the CMS that the IT department installed.

  8. I guess the adult industrie on the net has killed the webmaster.

    Webmaster is almost == to porn website manager

  9. Quote
    “Webmasters are to me the amateurs running their own pityful websites. Today, the cool guys are Communication Directors and all they need to know is how to use the CMS that the IT department installed.”

    This is so true. Web space hasn’t reached the WebApp level yet and I really don’t think it ever well. It’s a moving target. Every year a new programming language is released. AJAX, Ruby on Rails. CMS systems have come a long way, but you really don’t need a dedicated position for this task. That is what PR people do.

  10. Ryan: Agreed. Too many web sites were hard to navigate in the dark age of web design, where AJAX would prevent the back button from being useful, where you could no longer paste a link to a comrade because the state was only held in JavaScript. I will be glad when “Web 2.0” is gone.

  11. The guy asking this question and positing his thoughts has a web-site that doesn’t validate.

    I’d consider this when wondering what happened to the devs.

    Of course, making a website is so super simple, that it’s something any halfwit should be able to do.

  12. Thinks like Microsoft Frontpage and Macromedia Dreamweaver killed the webmaster by making tools so any Joe Bob could call themselves a “webmaster”.

  13. Some webmasters died, others became administrators for the next flavour-of-the-month CMS. What happened to phpNuke, the once ideal CMS for everything?

  14. It is the same as with the development of the motor car. It went from a few people doing many jobs to many people doing a few specialized jobs on an assembly line. You can roll out a website faster using an assembly line process with many experts doing a few jobs very well than having a single webmaster who is semi-competent at many jobs.

  15. Technologies such as CSS and multi-tier web application development rapidly made WYSIWYG editors useless for all but ordinary websites.

    You seem to be living in some sort of parralel universe … CSS has hardly touched WYSIWYG editors, unfortunately. Most Pages are still creted by Frontpage, Dreamweaver et. al. Just try to look at some website’s source.

  16. The daft name webMASTER suggested exclusion, ie, I understand this web stuff you don’t, and I am in control of your website. webMASTERs were a hurdle to people within a business getting their content out there, it is a dreadful self aggrandizing term. They have evolved away because businesses want control of their own content, not to be ‘granted’ the favour of it being updated for them. Blogging has shown the world that content management should be the norm.

    As soon as people learnt to use Frontpage and could paste in nasty little animated gifs, they labelled themselves webMASTERs, no self respecting web site manager, editor, publisher would use such a devalued term.

    my few cents worth


  17. I giggled when I read this, mostly because it’s so true. Suspect #2 has my vote, I was one of the ones that weathered the storm; lucky for me I moved in to the Education sector as a developer and continued to freelance at the same time. Worked for me.

  18. Web Developers calling themselves ‘Webmasters’ is like drummers calling their little chair a ‘Throne’

  19. Great article. I think the webmaster became the bottle-neck of websites. Like mentioned in previous comments, institutions need updated content by a number of individuals and the easiest way to do it is with a CMS.

  20. Webmasters turned in ‘web developers’ for the most part. Suspect #1 is the real cause. #3 is important, but still not the rule by far. There is still a large demand for static, web 1.0 style sites. What does community collaboration have to do with Joe’s Plumbing website?
    The real break is between ‘web developers’ and ‘web designers’ now. ‘Webmasters’ are more the people who update their Joomla pages, or change the theme on a wordpress.. , web developers make all those nifty tools, and web designers make it pretty and attractive.
    A good analogy is the early years of game development, where one or two people could work on their game and release it. And now top games are on the scale of hollywood movies, with millions of dollars thrown into large numbers of specialized workers

  21. Web master, that seriously sucks as a term, may they rest in peace, good riddance.

    I think the web master had to learn how to be a web developer to keep clients happy nwhen they requested XY&Z

    Then the web developer wrote the CMS that killed off the web master as we knew them.

    Finally the end user got their hands on the CMS and gave it flashy animated backgrounds, dancing cats, spinning globe icons, embedded video, audio and junk.

    The end user is now the master of the web but looking at myspace they don’t know what to do with it.

    What happens in the next five years when the kids who are on myspace today have moved on and started building their own apps.

    What will web 3.0 be like? I guess part of will be beautifully crafted by amazing dedicated teams who know what they’re doing and the other part will be user generated and look like a bad acid trip on your screen.

  22. Insightful post, however I disagree slightly regarding #3.

    “Web 2.0” (/grimace/) is distinguished by the use of advanced interactivity, the evolution of a fully read/write web. You cut straight to the point when you describe the established model as static and one-way: “Despite the power and promises to be so much more, the web wasn’t much different than network television or print.”

    The difference in culture that you mis-attribute to “Web 1.0” was a cultural difference demarcated by the dot-com crash. The smarmy version numbers are meant to describe only that the web is coming to a point where it is truly, finally, the interactive, two-way medium that everyone expected it to be.


  23. Being a former “webmaster” I would have to say I agree, it is a dying if not dead breed. Today’s sites are too complex for one person to handle it all.
    Seems most of us “webmasters” have ended up being web managers, trying our hardest to pull all those complex parts of a web 2.0 site together and of course under budget.

  24. I think the key feature of web2.0 is the seamless accessibility to data, through single-logins, multiple access, etc. In other words, if you have a homepage on MySpace, a blog on Blogspot, pictures of Flickr and stores on Amazon and eBay, you can integrate them all and feed the information, ie take your identity, from one location to the other. It is the layering and recombination of data that adds another dimension to the internet, bringing about “Web2.0.”

  25. I think a term that could be used is Web Brand Manager. After all, most websites try to extend a product beyond the material realm. It’s like most products that companies create.

    You have a product that needs to be perceived in many different ways. A laundry detergent might just be soap, but it’s advertised and presented in so many different ways. You have the item on the shelf. You have the item in the advertisement, in magazines, newspapers, on tv. These are all presented many different ways. And you have the manager that presents that product, directing the people who create the “vision”.

    Having a “webmaster” used to mean someone with full control over the website. These days, as stated, this includes programming, database management, design aspects (CSS, HTML), user feedback..etc. You need to have a manager overseeing the “production flow”. Perhaps “brand manager” might not work as a term, but website design certainly has the manager in control of direction and flow just as brands have that.

  26. Lack of standards killed the webmaster, it’s true. People don’t need Flash but they think they do. People don’t need Photoshop slices, but they think they do. People don’t need fontsize=”1″ in their source code but they have it anyway.

    Another problem: non-professional “professionals”. I’m the only person who codes in valid XHTML 1.1 application/xhtml+xml, WAI AAA compliance, 508, CSS 2.1, and tableless layout standard code. But I’m not looking for work, why? There is better money to be made elsewhere.

    Fourteen year olds who illegally download Dreamweaver think their 2 megabyte table layout pages are the bomb. “Oh my brother can make you a webpage”. The profession has been taken out by the non-professionals and NO ONE is setting the standard.

    Where am I in the mix? Unfortunately one can’t make a living from $20 a page because eventually those pages run out. People also want interactivity that will require serverside related skills and if you’re good with serverside code you probably couldn’t write valid HTML 3.2 while making a good looking site. Design and Development are completely alien to each other and while many will dispute this how many PHP geniuses do you know how can do it all? None. Designers can be good at designing, developers are good at developing.

    Lastly designers don’t know how to design and those that do tend to work for magazines and not on their websites. When was the last time you encountered a page that made use of :focus pseudo-element not in a meaningful way but in any way? Did CMS kill the webmaster? I think it’s only part of the problem. Every industry has it’s standards including ours and I have a sneaky suspicion that while no one really follows standards (except for a minority of us and thank goodness for at least them) I would imagine this is an issue for every industry. It’s mainly the idea that no one wants to pay for quality and a missing doctype and JavaScript code before the opening HTML element (referred to as “tag” by non-professionals) won’t get caught by a validator by the person who hired the person to create a page for them.

    In the face of it all I’ll give credit to the many who actively research the topic as it’s one hell of a hobby.

  27. The web is about content and the webmaster is an arrogant jerk, technogeek guru construct that while technically competent, has no outside interests that make him have the staying power to exist any longer than initially setting up a website. The people interested in producing the content need initially, designers that create layout, templates and a way of storing all that, once in operation, they need professional help from time to time to change the design, but it’s all about content and once again, the master in webmaster says it all, a dungeons and dragons name that’s kind of like the comicbook shop owner on “The Simpsons” who might know comic books and could webmaster a site on them, but no inclination to do it.

  28. There have been several posts expressing this sentiment, so I’ll just echo it here. We may not have webmasters anymore but we have web designers, web application programmers and UI designers, and content administrators in multitudes. We’ve also reached a point where pretty much anyone can get a simple web site up with a tiny bit of training, because there are companies out there who specialize in making site design easy for non-designers and non-geeks.

    In other words, we have specialists to handle the hard stuff, and the easy stuff is mostly done by do-it-yourselfers. Why would we have it any other way?

    As a side note: as a sysadmin who dabbles in web programming and design on occasion, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting self-described webmasters on a number of occasions. On most such occasions, their technical skills left something to be desired. I had to explain to one guy, who actually taught courses on site building, why it was probably not a good idea to have SQL code in embedded Perl on every page of your web site, including the user credentials for the connection strings.

  29. Interesting article for sure. Some valid points. I don’t agree that they are “dead”. I think, just like the web, they have evolved. I think it is quite a bit more difficult to obtain the title “webmaster”. You need to know a lot more than just HTML and FTP. I think a “webmaster” is one who can be dropped in to any situation (application development, CSS, HTML, graphic design, scripting, DBA, web server administration, etc.) and shine. There are still “webmasters” out there, they are just harder to find and doing much more than updating HTML via FTP. Good article though, I enjoyed reading it.

  30. Nice article, but I have to agree with a few of the other comments that wordpress and other CMS have taken their toll on the webmaster.

  31. Yes I agree “Dan”, there are multi-faceted webmasters that are still around. Take me for an example. I dont have the budget to pay 10 people to build my site, so I just learn it all myself and do the best I can in each task.

    Small startup sites that just are ideas with pride cannot afford back-end developers, front-end developers, graphic artists, UI designers, database administrators, search engine marketing experts, analytics specialists, copywriters, editors, and project managers.

    I find that all of these technologies and new requirements of a web 2.0 application sometimes cause normal developers to become well rounded enthusists in each of the site administration needs. This could be a terrible thing if you are only good at back end programming. Most of the hardware and networking stuff can go to your service provider, unless you are into that kind of stuff.

    My point is:

    Webmaster == ‘low budget projects who cant afford all those assistants’


  32. Managers, ha ha! I’d love to be able to just have meetings and emails for work. It’d be so fucking pointless.

  33. Webmaster = The occupational equivalent of working on an auto assembly line, knowing that the cars you’re producing are going to explode sometime in the next five years, killing everyone inside them.

  34. It’s a combination of factors. CMSs obliviate the need for a specialist to be in the mix merely to post to the web. That’s a huge step forward for most businesses and organizations, and ultimately a positive thing in terms of lowering barriers to entry.

    The old position of “webmaster” is now spread out between talented writers who are HTML-literate, graphic designers who can make templates and special pages, and CMS engineers who design systems and functionality.

  35. Webmaster was a senseless term as far back as 1998. I worked as a feeds programmer for a PR company back then. We had PR releases throughout the Americas, in English, Portugese, and Spanish.

    They hired a woman with a linguistics degree, and no computer skills whatsoever, to handle the Portugese and Spanish PR releases. She met with customers, and showed her business card. Her title on the card was “International Webmaster”.

  36. I’d agree with that, our company has a team of 14 webmasters, who actually have no idea about anything to do with web development. They are just an interactive customer support team. It seems they acquired the name many years ago and it has stuck.

  37. I suspect I’ll be dating myself somewhat with the following. Be that as it may, what I do is “multimedia development”.

    It was multimedia when it was distributed via floppy and, as so far as I’m concerned, it’s still multimedia when distributed via the web. It was multimedia when it was developed in hypercard and it’s still multimedia when developed in xhtml, javascript, mysql, flash or a myriad of other tools/languages.

    I’ve used the titles “webmaster” and “web developer” with an understanding that they will likely evolve into something else- something that the client will be able identify with a particular technology. And that’s fine. I’m not in the least bit constrained by either title because what I *do* is multimedia.

    If the plumbing in your house springs a leak, you don’t care if the “plumber” has a masters degree in engineering so long as the water quits running into the basement. And guess what- he doesn’t care if you refer to him as a “plumber” so long as the check clears.

    Working the above analogy a little harder, if you hire a plumber whose only tool is a plunger (ie frontpage), you can rightfully expect he’s not going to be in business a long time. It might also be prudent to ask your wife to bring home some swim fins when she stops off to pick up milk after work.

    The “webmaster” didn’t die. He or she simply added a few more tools to the collection and kept on moving.

  38. Having not been a web designer as much as a web design hobbyist, it’s difficult to really know what title to use. I’ve always wanted to design websites as a job, but never put forth the effort to really “dig my heels in”.

    Jerry’s comment about manager struck me as interesting. Perhaps the field has been thrown together over the years so sloppy, that the actual title has been lost amongst the projects that have created for said job.

    I know that I’ve seen several titles across my screen when browsing monster.com, and none really seemed to fit. But I do know from a business prospective, all projects must be managed to be effective. If you consider the old “webmaster” title, it was mainly one guy doing all the html and design work. That job is still in existence, but it takes a tandem of people working together to get the jobs done.

    Does the title “designer” replace the webmaster role? No. But it’s an intricate part. So, perhaps Web Brand Manager is not the right way to put it. Since it’s a team job, then perhaps “Web Brand Management Team” is more precise?

  39. Web sites that aren’t complex use Mambo/Joomla or WordPress, and have no need of an administrative Webmaster.

    Web sites that ARE complex need a programming Web Developer.

    Web sites that want to look pretty need a Graphic Designer (Web).

    Basically, Webmaster is a term from an era when HTML 3.0, and later CSS, were obscure programming languages known only to a few. Now, they’ve been replaced by robots.

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  41. The Webmaster profession is indeed dead. Within my experience – as a professional hired in that capacity by a successful software company – it was killed by a combination of things. First off, the perception that anyone can do it because Frontpage and Dreamweaver make it so easy – which of course misses out on dozens of other aspects of site design which are not handled by some WYSIWYG editor. Secondly, the perception that for most companies, the website is merely an extension of marketing, and as such the Marketing Department is fully capable of taking their announcements and just pasting them on a webpage without change. Certainly in the last company I worked at, I was moved from IT to Marketing & Sales – where I was constantly explaining how websites worked to people who had little interest in the subject, and constantly working to help revise written content to suit the web effectively. Lastly, the evolution of websites in general, adding in more complex technologies, back end programming, CSS, Flash, etc – often where it really isn’t needed and often actually obscuring the information content to some degree. The Webmaster has most often transformed into some form of Web Developer due to these changes, and more than likely become a team.

    The funny thing is, I think its still quite justifiable to have one individual who vetts the content, briefs people on content requirements, style of writing, maintains the various aspects fo the site, draws up design specs for new features etc – its just that we call them something like a Site Manager now instead of a Webmaster. Webmaster was always a rather stupid term in any case 🙂

  42. However lets be honest about one thing… We have an absolute tidal wave of badly designed, defective websites out there.

    Webmasters are dead, long live eyesore websites.

  43. I’m currently a webmaster, and make a great living working from home. I think the key is diversity…large projects require lots of people with a few talents, or a few people withmany talents. The latter is generally cheaper and easier to work with, so compamines are often very willing to work with one reliable person who can handle a multitude of tasks.

    I feel strongly that design is an integral part of a good website, and if a company can find a person who can handle the design, development, implementation, QA and installation of a site, they will jump at the chance. I’m also discovering that being able to manage a site by choosing the right technologies is very valuable.

    We exist, but the skills required are pretty diverse. I think the mainr eason not so many of us exist is that many people specialized in one type of web skill and did not jump at the chances they had to learn new skills. Ont he days I’m not using HTML I’m happily designing sites, or building them in Flash.

  44. The webmaster simply evolved to a more technical role – web applications developer, etc. Those who didn’t put in the smarts, time and effort to further their skillsets/knowledge don’t work on the web anymore…or are graphics/content people. I’d say the webmaster cocooned in the 00’s and a more advanced version of the profession got its wings.

  45. Hey, wait a minute. I am definitely not an arrogant jerk. I work at a place where a small community of professionals is elegantly stimulated to contriubute content. The organization needs me to coherently and systematically train them to do so, to do follow-ups, to provide their help desk. The organization wants me there, so they tell me their objectives in cleartext basicEnglish and I can then code / webdevelop their needs in a precision, unified, totally coherent fashion. In a customary day I optimize my SQL, translate, write-up articles, test the usability of some new feauture, graphically design this feature and make the appropiate calls to schedule a training for the new feauture / policy to take effect. I would have already taken time to implement some mainainance script or deploy my new stylesheet. My organization does not have the resources to pay a team of part-timers to do my job in a disorganized apologetic way – but they understand that by having a professional at my desk they can always expect me to bold, and have the proposals they want to hear. I administer my Apache, btw, but not the firewall or the network.

    CMS is not replacing me anytime soon. That’s funny :D, mine is sooo patched / hacked / customized to their satisfaction it can only be managed by someone who knows ALL that is happening to it Right Now.

    Sure the prince could speak with the cellist and try to get him to talk with the organist so that they could compose toghether a masterpiece for their own instruments, then deploy some courier to organize their rehearsals and make the decorations to the place and also follow through with invitations, all the while having some scholar choose the best repertoire for the rest of the season BUT they usually just commissioned some Kapellmeister.
    Dungeons and Dragons….that’s funny. : D


  46. From 1995 to 1998 I was a webmaster (actually before that I was a gophermaster). The term arose out the postmaster title in IT as the person who manages the email system. Who handles the web? The webmaster.

    I now work as a web developer, but often get dragged into various projects because of my broad range of skills and my indepth knowledge of html and css (which no one else seems to have these days).

    Sometimes in meetings I am introduced as the “Webmaster Emeritus”, which I kind of chuckle over.

  47. It seems that:

    A webmaster is somebody that uses Frontpage to create a web page, or collection of web pages.

    A web designer is somebody that uses Flash, or Photoshop to create a web page, or collection of web pages.

    A web developer is somebody that uses HTML, XML, CSS, JS, PHP, AJAX, RDBMS to produce a dynamic, interactive, accessible site that also happens to look nice and meet standards.

    I personally hate it when people call be a ‘webmaster’, it’s like slapping me in the face with a large wet fish.

  48. Hate to break it to you but the Webmaster still thrives and is doing quite well. Adapting yes, but thriving all the same.

    Clearly, you need to get out more often. Ok, so maybe I am biased since I am the founder of the World Organization of Webmasters see http://www.webprofessionals.org (oh yes, and Web professionals of all shape and too 🙂

    Nothing like a bit of blogging misinformation to get the blood flowing. Here are a few things to ponder:

    As the others on this post have already articulated, the roles and responsibilities have shifted a bit and that’s a good thing.

    I like to compare the maturity/evolution of the Webmaster to that of the early day medical practitioners (ok in my day) when patients sought medical advice it was typically from a generalist that had a good understanding of everything that ails you. Well, today we have medical doctors that specialize in everything including ed (you know what that means) none the less. That said, medical generalist still thrive and in fact represents the largest of the medical practitioner community today. In most cases, you can’t visit a specialist without consulting/visiting the generalist first.

    Wikipedia has a great explanation of the skills that Webmasters posses (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webmaster ) ok, a disclaimer…I contributed to that too! And the general consensus is that Webmasters are the general contractors of the Web.

    Another way to think about this is that we are the “go to people” of the Web. This is particularly important for small business (80% of the population) because customers need a point of contact to pull it all together.

    Another way to think about this is to think back to the last time you initiated a large construction project like a home, pool or kitchen re model. Chances are you didn’t call the plumber, the electrician or the framer, right? Most likely you called the general that understood the entire process. For example, the bidding process, meeting client’s needs and had a working knowledge of the various construction process to identify and mange the various specialties that were required to get the job done. Oh yeah and that means insuring that everyone shows up on time.

    At the enterprise level, the role of the Webmaster generally means that he/she is tasked to manage all of the above. In addition to attending a number of meetings (some useful and some not so) designed at the strategic level to keep projects moving, on time and within budget. Oh yeah, and usable, compliant, accessible and manageable and profitable too all on a limited budget no less.

    What has died is the Webmaster in a box! By that I mean those Webmasters that took a two week course and call themselves professionals. That’s not to say that I don’t respect those that taught themselves from scratch (me and most of my friends) because the only content and training we could find was the short conference program that promised big bucks if could fog a mirror and had a pulse.

    Today, I am pleased to say that thanks to the many thousands of Webmasters, ten years of my life and the support from industry and education including a 1.4 million grant from the Department of Education we now have college degree programs in Webmastering, Web Design and other titles within the profession (see http://www.webprofessionals.org/education/locator/ )

    Continually adapting, working or fingers to the bone and constantly having to educate our customers and managers yes, but not dead!

  49. Very nice article, but I’m hear to let you know that there is at least one Webmaster still alive and kicking.

    Having been an artist who’s always loved to dabble in Photoshop I sort of stumbled into web design. A good friend of mine knew I was currently out of work (delivery driver) and he told me that if I learned HTML in a week I could apply for a job as an intern. Never got the job, but I did learn HTML which got me going on basic websites. After some trials and a lot of self-education I picked up CSS, learned Dreamweaver and some rudimentary Flash and I was off to the races. It took me 4 years but now I have a strong client base (small businesses with tiny advertising budgets/ service industry mostly) who desperately need advise and web services.

    The websites may not be glamorous but many service based companies don’t need more than a 18-30 text and picture based pages with a form or two tacked on. It’s been a lot of fun creating a web presence in my local area and hopefully that will continue. All I need to do is keep myself informed and educated in the world of Web 2.0.

  50. The web master became three different people: the junior web guy/gal who still does tons of updates in most organizations, the web manager, and the matator (the person who puts metadata taxonomy terms on content items in a CMS). None of them want to be called webmaster, but some older management still call them that.

  51. Interesting. The thing is, in some places, as Mr. Cullifer said, it’s still webmasters. At the various nonprofits I work with, they are delighted to use the term webmaster, and have one person who will take care of all their electronic presence. On the other end of the scale, it seems some organizations are too big (like government) to move very quickly past the webmaster-as-gatekeeper model. (Or maybe their webmasters are morphing into web content managers.) Not all of the entities represented on the web are cutting edge nor profit-driven.

    Myself, I’m unsure which nomenclature I want to use. If people ask me what I do and I say, “webmaster,” they understand immediately. Of course, if I say it to the wrong person, they will hold me in contempt; to them, I should say “website manager.”

    Thanks for an interesting and challenging essay. Up CSS! Up accessibility! Down with rainbow dividers! (Now if we can just get the advertisers to stop saying, “Log in to our website…”

  52. I work at a non-profit and have to wear many hats. Originally I was “web developer/designer” because I had to do both the heavy coding (PHP/MySQL/etc) and the design (Photoshop/HTML/CSS). When we got our own co-located server, I quickly had to become the sysadmin (FreeBSD/Apache/etc). I also manage the CMS and even edit content… so something as broad as “webmaster” seemed an appropriate title for me. I actually asked my boss to change my title (and it’s delightfully kitschy now, don’t you think? like being called a “stewardess” or “milkman”).

    Anyway, it beats “web developer/designer/sysadmin/editor/manager” (though my first choice was “the web team”).

  53. Hey, wait a minute. I am definitely not an arrogant jerk. I work at a place where a small community of professionals is elegantly stimulated to contriubute content. The organization needs me to coherently and systematically train them to do so, to do follow-ups, to provide their help desk. The organization wants me there, so they tell me their objectives in cleartext basicEnglish and I can then code / webdevelop their needs in a precision, unified, totally coherent fashion. In a customary day I optimize my SQL, translate, write-up articles, test the usability of some new feauture, graphically design this feature and make the appropiate calls to schedule a training for the new feauture / policy to take effect. I would have already taken time to implement some mainainance script or deploy my new stylesheet. My organization does not have the resources to pay a team of part-timers to do my job in a disorganized apologetic way – but they understand that by having a professional at my desk they can always expect me to bold, and have the proposals they want to hear. I administer my Apache, btw, but not the firewall or the network.

    CMS is not replacing me anytime soon. That’s funny :D, mine is sooo patched / hacked / customized to their satisfaction it can only be managed by someone who knows ALL that is happening to it Right Now.

    Sure the prince could speak with the cellist and try to get him to talk with the organist so that they could compose toghether a masterpiece for their own instruments, then deploy some courier to organize their rehearsals and make the decorations to the place and also follow through with invitations, all the while having some scholar choose the best repertoire for the rest of the season BUT they usually just commissioned some Kapellmeister.
    Dungeons and Dragons….that’s funny. : D


  54. I am still a webmaster! I work for the government, in education which is likely why it’s been so slow to change my situation or at the least my job title, I am a relic of the former century. I am still waiting for my throne, my crown and my septor. I have lost the power and control of my former regime and I now have these other ‘programmers’ undermining what was a comfortable dictatorship. Clients now like to be considered as Authors and Publishers, like they work for a media industry or something and expect me to be there at their beckoned call, providing trifling authorisation and access rights as they so demand. I have lost all empowerment, I no longer control the situation, the masses think they know what a web is and how it works now and expect that they can tell me how the navigation structure should appear. More flash, animate it, you have a copy of adobe stuff now don’t you, it’s all just software, you have maintained all the skills required to do anything we consider necessary today, or tomorrow, btw, how is your web 2.0 certification coming along?

  55. Karen R.,

    Great response and it was to the point!

    The reality is that 80% of the U.S. economy is generated by small business. For example, (and this may surprise people) 80% of the employers in the Silicon Valley is small business.

    Studies conducted by ITAA (one of the largest orgs that study theses things) reflect that 86% of IT people work for non IT companies (banks, healthcare, small biz) and of that number, 79% work for employers with less than 50 employees (small biz) according to the U.S. census bureau. The global picture is pretty much the same I can assure you.

    The point is that the BULK of the Web profession does not (and I repeat) work for the enterprise and that includes government agencies and educational institutions.
    To that end, MOST don’t have the luxury of working with teams of specialist and for those that do, please count your luck stars!

    BTW Karen, I’d suggest that were more than just the gatekeeper. That said, I recognize that some (not all) content contributors hate us because they see us as obstacle.
    It’s complicated topic for sure, but as many of you know it’s probably for good reason.

    I mean think of it, as Web professionals we are tasked (and sadly many don’t comply) to insuring that are sites are standards compliant, visually appealing, optimized for search and tiny screens like cell phones and oh yeah, all of the backend has to be bullet proof, secure and running 24×7 all on a tiny and limited budget. Not to mention the fact that my boss, his/her boss and the company that creates my business cards has no idea what I do on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, the guy/gal down the hall wants access to my site? Hmmmm….really makes you wonder why we don’t get paid more.

    Candidly don’t care if people call me a Web monkey or a Webmanager for that matter but as you said so well Karen, it’s the Webmaster that people know and from my chair it’s ok to call us that. In short, it’s not a dirty word and for those that like to be called that we should stand up and take a bow I say.

    But enough of that debate, this is starting to sound like 1997. :—) all over again. I’m happy that I am a Web professional (and yes I think I am qualified to say that) and employed to promote the Web profession.

    What I think we really need regardless of what we call ourselves these days is more respect from the folks that employ us including the HR community (with all due respect) that cant keep up with the acronyms, have no idea how talented some of us really are.

    I vote for pay raises and new laptops and mp3 players for all.

  56. p.s. Sorry about the typos.

    Like most of you, I am multitasking with 7 applications open and running amidst all of the other pressures of daily life.

    Note to Webmaster from government, within education: The certification is going well thanks and by the way, I would like offer you and a handful of you deserving Webmasters that subscribe to this post a scholarship to the WOW Web 2.0 for Everyone workshop (2 day) upcoming in Las Vegas, May 3rd and 4th 2007. (see http://www.webprofessionals.org/community/events/websummit10/ )

    Not intended to be a shameful plug mind you. Just my sincere desire to help you and your colleagues because god knows you deserve it. After reading your post I really feel your pain! Drop me a note at billATjoinwow.org if you’re interested.

  57. I am a young web developer, having been in the profession a little over three years. I first worked at a company with 2-3 web developers, and now I am the only one at a small non-profit. We’re not all dead! But yes I can imagine how it has probably changed over the years.

  58. Huh? I can’t recall hearing such an interesting list of preconvieved notions.

    For the record, I’ve been a Webmaster since 1995. I use the title because that’s the one that was given to me. In the day, I had a staff of 4 running my primary site and it’s associated intranets and extranets. Today, I and the others that I know that do what I do typically do it alone. It’s called downsizing…

    I write in the language that the job requires. PHP, HTML, .NET, even JSP occassionally. All flavors of databases, plus a little flash, and some flex thrown in. Video and image editing as required. Of course, all must be done with the approriate attention to SEO and I need to read the tea leaves of various analytics packages to justify my existence. Oh, and I often must double dip and do tech development for products, consult and generally be up on everything internet.

    To say that today’s sites are too complex for one person to manage is like saying all today’s cars are two door coupes. There are all manner of sites out there.

  59. People try to get their own sites by paying the small fee for the crashable software that has many limits. The “Webmaster phase” has officially died, however the “Web Developer” phrase is rising up to replace the software…again. People need to know about the many, many limits of the “cheap, $20 software off the shelf” and they need to know the power the web holds. I am working for a client who last year had a 5-page site that was extremly outdated and paid their “webmaster” too much to sit on his butt and play games. Now that my “firm” has taken over, we have heard nothing but compliments on how great the site looks, works, and how easy it is (plus, it’s auto-updatable). It has applications like forums, a calendar, interactive staff listings, ListServ applications, and more. And it only takes about 5 minutes of my time to update something or edit something. Overall: this client has discovered (or at least experienced) the “full potential of the Web”

  60. At 2007 a webmaster could be anyone of these example characters:

    1. The person in charge of a site development that supervises programmers, contains, graphics designers, video streaming experts, final shaping, etc.
    2. A freelance that designs websites on demand for small companies.
    3. Just an employee that uploads files by FTP to an URL in order to update the site of a big corporation.
    4. Etc.

    At the fight arena among web hosting companies in order to attract more customers a Website Creator online is part
    of their free features.

    You also can count on a bunch of wesite generators from US $ 49 up that allows you to produce amazing sites in a few hours.

    So answering to the very interesting question:

    Who kill the webmaster?

    The anser is quite simple: The market

  61. Great post….in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king….
    In fact, that one man was the master of many domains…all linked via a web, (hence the term WebMaster, eh?)
    He was the programmer, the graphics chiief (despite the flaming skulls and rainbow lines..or was it because of it?) , the online customer relations and PR guy as he decided what should be said bout the company, the online marketing guru…..heck, he was probably the main Investor Relations dude grabbing the VC cash with his use of the then ubiquitious eyeball web counter at the bottom of the home page announcing the mind-bogglin”xxxxxxxxxxxxxx” users.
    Yes, it is time to note the demise of such an alchemist of many talents…

  62. Ok, last post from me for awhile I promise.

    A few thoughts:

    Tools don’t build houses people do. The Web is not different than of the construction industry, it just hasn’t been around as long. I’ll explain what I mean by that, but first let me address the issue of Web related tools.

    We have tools today that make it easy to build simple but functional sites (to a degree) and given a key board and a mouse and access to some pretty basic hardware and software almost anyone can be a Web Publisher.

    That’s a good thing on multiple levels and I’ll be the first to say that if a site is meeting the needs of the client than that is a beautiful thing. However and by whomever it was created by and whatever it looks like is in the sight of the beholder.

    That’s only half of the story and here’s why:

    Just like the housing market, not everyone lives in prefab houses and trailers. Not that I am picking on prefabs and trailers mind you, its more to make a point that as much as you would like to think that you can automate the Web process for a “one size fits all” for ALL audiences its simply not possible without the element of human interaction and at various levels.

    In other words, just like the homes we live in, some sites are far more complex requiring engineering at some level. In short, the need to meet the taste and the requirements of the customer and the clients they serve and I don’t see that level of detail disappearing anytime soon.

    To suggest that simple site that’s easy to publish and populate content to will eliminate the need for the designer, planner, a project manager, a usability expert, a content writer a marketing expert and a developer (and many others) that can put it all together for the discriminating buyer is like saying my 1968 bug drives still 55 MPH, so no need to upgrade.

    At the end of the day, there will always be a need for Webmasters, just like there is a need for the general contactor. That’s not to say that Webmasters don’t need, appreciate and respect that fact that designers design, web developers develop and Web administrators and the countless of others that make up complex Web teams and Web professionals today.

    Truth is, thousands of practicing professionals have a great deal of experience with all of the areas listed above and should be recognized as such. Does that mean that they will do it all or even want to for that matter? The answer is NO not all Webmasters act alone. Due to the competitive nature of the economy combined with the fact that some companies “simply don’t get it” (my quote) many are required to but in time that will improve as well.

    In summary, whether Webmasters work on their own, have the luxury of working on teams, or contract out there exist one simple truth:

    Today’s Webmaster needs to now enough about the process (like the general contractor) so they can opt to roll up their sleeves and do the job themselves or if they prefer they can collaborate or manage the process.

    What’s REALLY DEAD and more to the point is the catch all phrase that everyone who has ever touched a Website is a Webmaster.

    Frankly, I am SOOOO happy about that!!!!!

  63. I see that many ‘Webmasters’ should be employed by MySpace.com to teach some of the ‘users’ how to create pages that can be read without having to adjust the brightness, contrast, and viewing angle of your monitor. Some of these people need glasses or a test for colorblindness! Great article BTW.

  64. I don’t think Webmasters died. They simply evolved into different beings. They became Web Developers, Web Designers, Online Editors, Web or Content Managers, Producers, or a huge variety of other names which encompass part of what webmasters did.

    As sites became bigger and more professional they found a specialization and “mastered” it.

    And I agree with other posters, it was a horrid name.

    _Rhys, former Webmaster and now eBusiness Analyst

  65. Interesting take on the evolution of the WebMaster. Back in the 90’s I was never hesitant to use the term WebMaster however, today I barely speak it over my breathe. It used to be that the WebMaster was the one who managed the entire site… today it appears to be the one who manages the vistitor feedback. CMS is now king. The Internet has gone corporate and the only way to survive, as a small business, is to use a robust opensource CMS packages. Long gone are the glory days of the Lone Ranger (aka webmaster).

  66. The web master role was taken over by the IT department. There was a period when web masters we a hybrid of marketing/IT, with marketing making most of the decisions. The IT departments hated this of course, and worked to get it changed. All the issues were handed off to IT sub-groups, web databases were handed over to the DBA, IIS/Apache/others are now controlled by the server groups, and networking issues handled by the networking group. The webmaster still exists, but the roles have been redefined to fit groups the business already had. You still have cases were you have a webmaster, but usually in those cases that person is also the coder, the SEO person, and the designer.

  67. Being one of two people who keep the Del Mar High School website up, running, and updated, I think that the best replacement term for “Webmaster” would be “Idiot who needs to fix X”.

    And to think I actually learned HTML and CSS…

    But seriously, “Webmaster” is not outdated. In some places, “Webmaster” is appropriate because there is only one person keeping it nice, updated, and in working order.

    A pity so few people seem to realize that.

  68. Webmaster is as accurate a term to describe the skills and tasks required for a web presence as saying all lung dysfunctions are consumption. It is a historical term that designated “a techno-shaman versed the black arts needed to make words and images appear” on web pages, in the beginning, but is insufficient today and not nearly as informative or descriptive as it once was.

    I have been building web sites since 1992 and grown with the needs of the job: from early simplistic content bound by rigid limitations of early HTML to complex web applications using services and resources across multi-server backends. What started out as a simple platform to share text has become a vastly complicated interaction between technology, information, utility, and people.

    Early on webmasters were the “shamans” of code and uploads. As the sites grew beyond simple posting to intricate interactions the role, too, evolved. It has become a recognizable position in small to large organizations. Staffs run from solo operations to growing staffs of specialists, but the webmaster is still the ‘go to’ title those outside the technocracy recognize as who to call when they have a problem, need some help, or just want to find out what is possible.

    Consider, is calling someone a doctor today nearly as informative today as it was 100 years ago? Is saying someone is a lawyer as precise a descriptor as it was at the turn of the 20th century? We still use these, and many other, generalized titles while simultaneously recognizing the roles, skills, tasks, preparation, and professionalism are vastly different. ‘Webmaster’ has always struck me as a bit arrogant, it certainly isn’t an accurate descriptive shorthand any more, but it is how those who work day-to-day, face-to-face with our non-technorati colleagues are known. It is a title that is earned daily and those who have it should be proud. It is how we are known and though that may change in the future, for the time being, it is who are customers (internal and external) call when they need help.

    And yes, though my job has changed, I am still a webmaster at heart and proud of it.

  69. With the separation of duties (web designer, web developer) there isnt a strong need anymore. Companies are hiring a designer and a team of developers and finding it more cost effective I guess.

  70. @ Cahill – ha, I was just scrolling down here to say the same thing.

    I am still a webmaster because that was the title given to me when I was hired. It would take a lot of paperwork to continually change it to the hip term du jour.

    My duties remain the same: web developer,designer, editor, content manager, server administrator, etc. Not one of those terms describes everything I do. Webmaster is the best umbrella for all of those skills and responsibilities in one person.

    With all the trendy titles proliferating lately, being a webmaster can convey “I’ve actually held down the same tech job for more than 7 years.” A rare thing indeed.

    Sheesh, I had no idea I was being judged so harshly by my title.

  71. very nice article.
    I used to be a webmaster until 2003 actually, then became senior web developer.

    And as someone mentioned, the word webmaster was too unprofessional anyways from the start.

  72. I think the term ‘Webmaster’ slowly acquired the status of ‘the guy who baffles me with technical garbage to keep his sad little job updating our crap little website’.

    This is unfair on a lot of ‘webmasters’ who developed a very useful and broad set of skills out of desire and necessity. These days, it seems old-school webmasters who learnt just enough of everything (html, css, backend, db) are now the ones who can manage a team of specialists. They know enough about every team member’s role to understand their gripes AND recognise bullshit when it’s stated as fact.

    The good webmasters of old, are the project managers of today. The weird ‘dungeons and dragons’ types still spew out countless static sites for local businesses who don’t know better.

    On the other hand, I take issue with specialists who refuse to widen their skillset or even discuss issues outside of their domain. It’s the graphic designer who says ‘oh all that coding’s just nonsense to me’ or the PHP coder who won’t be bothered about the jaggy background on that PNG. That annoys me a lot more. Give me a ‘webmaster’ with a passion for the whole design/development process over that^ any day.

  73. I think automation killed the webmaster. Before a few years running a web site was a very technical thing. Now anyone can have a site, and the title is now different : internet entrepreneur 🙂

  74. What’s in a name? Tiltes come and go, augment…possibly all caught up in attempting to *classify*. What I see now are sites that require someone to have a vision and put all the pieces into place in a cohesive optimized package. There are myriads of do-it-yourself tools, however, I feel organizations/businesses are in part paying for someone else to do the research and implement the correct tools for the job. Anyone hand coding ALL the code be it html, SQL, Java, what have you, is a wasting their clients resources. I stress the word ALL. Of course there is integration…Nothing worse than a facny pants developer who creates something the clients cannot use. Rather than focusing on a name, perhaps focus on results. What can you do for me and for how much $.

  75. I agree with the posters who say that the webmaster has simply been replaced by web designers,

    When I see job ads they are always titled ‘web designer’ but quite often they are asking for front end developer, visual designer, UI expert and search engine marketer all rolled into one. However I also think any web designer worth his salt has skills in all the above. Web Designer is such a general term nowadays that encompasses many skills, much like webmaster in the old days..

    I disagree that a website has to be built by many people all with specialist areas. In particular the separtion of markup coder/designer. If a designer produces a PSD and sends it over to the coder, the design will have implementation issues that wouldn’t arise if they had knowledge of how CSS renders images. I don’t think it’s asking too much to be able to produce a design and code it in CSS because it’s a fairly easy language to learn.

    I think the simlarities between webmaster and web designer exist because of the wide range of skills that are/were expected of the roles, and webmaster died out because it is an unfashionable job title it sounds so geeky and 90’s, designer sounds much better when you tell people what you do!

  76. You had some good points on there. I’ve noticed this one little thing with many website developers and programmers I know: They are very talented individuals, but they all have a general complaint about “frontpagers” and hacks who throw up cheap-ass websites and stole the industry from them, but these hacks somehow get clients (I am probably no exception). At the same time, I notice this one little thing: Many of them do not even have their own website. Think of that: A web developer who has no website of his own to advertise his services. It’s like the auto salesman who has to get rides to work. The accountant who recently filed bankruptcy. The cell phone salesman you have to call at home because he doesn’t have a cell phone.

    Client: “So I hear you do websites?”
    Developer: “Yes, hello, I develop websites.”
    Client: “OK great, I need one. What is your website?”
    Developer: “Well, I don’t have my own website.”

    Do you see the lunacy?

    I don’t get it. Can someone explain it to me?

  77. I think that the role of a webmaster five or ten years ago was a specialized role. The webmaster would have the know-how on how to program and design and now that is done by a few people.

  78. Very informative article and a good read. I think “webmasters” still play an important role in the industry, albeit more limited and rightly so. There will always be room in the market for the “HTML guy” because not everyone wants an all encompassing, web 2.0, collaborative community website.

  79. I though webmasters had gone the way of the Cou Cou bird when bubble 1.0 burst but am still surprised when I see Job postings for webmasters specially when they are posted by medium to large businesses who actually run their business online. The fact is real Webmasters were always a myth, like unicorns many people believed in them but I have yet to meet anyone who ever met a real one, I have met good web developers, good programmers, good web designers and good system administrators, I have been in the biz foe a long time and have never met one that was good at all 4 at least not deserving the ‘Master’ title. What really peeves me these days are the Guru and Ninja titles. I am seeing these pop up here and there. Should wee look at the frequency of these mythical title titles as a sign that bubble 2.0 is about to burst?

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