Writing for the web jargon buster

An A to Z of wired words for my ‘Writing for the web’ and ‘Making the most of digital communication’ students.

alert box
A dialog box that appears on screen to warn the user or to report an error.

ALT tag
The ALT text within this html tag is meant to provide alternative text, primarily for use when an image is not being displayed. It is partularly useful when read out to those using speech synthesising software.

animated GIF
A type of GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) file format containing more than one frame, in order to display simple animation in a fixed position on a web page.

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)
A numeric code for each English letter, number and punctuation mark. Any word processor or text editor can manipulate material that consists of ASCII. Advanced word processing software (such as MS Word) may insert non-ASCII characters such as en/em dashes and smart quotes; this can cause problems, as some older web browsers cannot interpret these characters.

assets
The elements of content – text, images, video, sound – that may be integrated into a website or app.

authoring
The process of creating a multimedia product for distribution. It combines the creative and technical aspects of the process.

B2B (Business to Business)
Applied to websites that are intended for use between commercial concerns and not the general public.

bandwidth
A measure of data, or its transfer rate. The larger the bandwidth, the greater the information-carrying capacity.

bounce rate
Bounce rate is the percentage of web page visitors who arrive at a web page, then leave without getting any deeper into the site.

broadband
The generic description for faster connections to the Internet.

brochureware
A type of site with limited functionality – generally one that does not do any more than a printed brochure would. See also Shovelware.

check box
A square control with a text label that is designed to provide binary choices (e.g. yes/no) for users. Unlike radio buttons, more than one check box can be selected from within a list.

chunking
To create short passages of text that can be displayed on a single screen. Chunking can include writing text from scratch or breaking up longer passages into independent segments.

churn
Churn refers to what happens when a user discontinues their use of a website.

churn rate
For any given period of time, the number of participants who discontinue their use of a website service divided by the average number of total participants.

compression
A technique for reducing the amount of data needed to store digital information – especially images.

content inventory
A document listing the site content, who will provide each chunk, its expected length and its status (if the content needs to be written from scratch, if it exists but needs to be revised for the website or if the content is finished). Also known as a content schedule or content tracker.

content management system (CMS)
Data management system designed to store and feed data to a website or other online system. Web copy is usually broken up and inserted into ‘fields’ within the content management system. Makes updating of multiple pieces of text relatively easy. Examples include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! and Sharepoint.

content population
The process of feeding text into a web design template. A little like filling a layout with text in InDesign or Word.

contextual menu
A pop-up menu containing useful commands and assistance specific to the item being pointed at by the cursor. An example would be a contextual help menu, as compared to a non-contextual (or static) help menu where the contents would not automatically be related to the item or page being viewed.

cookie
A small file placed on a web user’s computer by the server when they visit a website. Its uses include detection of whether or not the user is new to the site and, if not, to help to personalise the pages he or she views – for example, by inserting the person’s name in relevant places.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
An extension of HTML, CSS gives web designers greater control over the style and positioning of text on web pages.

default button
A button whose effect occurs if the user presses ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’ as well as when the user presses the button itself.

dialog box
A box that appears on the screen to solicit information from the user or to report that the computer is waiting for a process to complete.

digital
Information in a form capable of being processed by a computer.

digitise
To convert raw assets into digital form.

domain name
Used for identifying and locating computers on the Internet. Domain names provide a system of easy-to-remember Internet addresses, which can be translated by the Domain Name System (DNS) into the numeric addresses (IP addresses) used by the Internet. See IP address.

dotsam
The wasteland of abandoned websites, Hotmail accounts, Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, blogs, wikis, MySpace pages, etc., that their creators have ignored for months or years but which remain accessible.

drilling down
The process of using hyperlinks to move through an information structure. This type of navigation presents a neatly organised hierarchy of information to the user. See Taxonomy.

drop-down menu
Another name for a pop-up menu.

e
The most used and abused letter on the Internet. At the moment the unhyphenated form is more commonly used – take email as an example. Take the spelling you would use and add it to your style guide.

early adopters
Individuals and groups of users who will typically adopt technology and new work processes immediately or soon after their introduction into the marketplace.

ecommerce (electronic commerce)
The buying and selling of goods and services across the Internet.

external link
A link that allows users to travel off a website.

extranet
A close relative of an Intranet (see below), with the difference being that remote company offices not confined to the corporate location can utilise the Intranet via the Internet.

Flash
A line-drawing animation technology.

frames
A technique for dividing web pages into independent windows, each of which is capable of scrolling while leaving the remainder of the page fixed. They can cause printing, bookmarking, accessibility and SEO problems. They are now most commonly used on supermarket websites.

global navigation
Set of navigational elements that appear on every page of a website. Also known as persistent navigation.

GUI (Graphical User Interface)
On-screen environments in which users operate, and which enable the actions of users to be translated into information that computers can process. They are designed to be self-explanatory and easy to use by pointing and clicking on text selections and icons. Often pronounced ‘gooies’.

hot spot
A place on a screen that contains a hyperlink. It can be a word, phrase, picture or part of a picture including graphical (non-HTML text). The hyperlink can link to another page or image, or it can trigger playback of sound or a video clip.

(X)HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
The language in which web pages are written.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)
The method by which web pages are transferred from servers to browsers and back again.

hyperlink
A word, image or file on a web page which, when clicked on, will open another page on the Internet.

hypertext
The text on a web page that, distinct from ordinary text, can link from one document to another by users clicking on a given word or image. Often, but not always, denoted by underlining and/or a change of colour.

interactive
Media that dynamically responds to a user’s actions via mouse, touchscreen or keyboard.

internal link
A link that allows users to travel within a website.

Internet
The international network of computers, which supports the World Wide Web and allows exchange of information via email.

intranet
An internal (as opposed to external) computer network. Often used by companies or organisations to share information internally. Often held behind a firewall and often password protected. See Extranet.

IP address (Internet Protocol address
A unique string of numbers that identifies a computer on the Internet. These numbers are usually arranged in groups separated by full stops, like this: 123.123.23.2.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
Used mainly for photographic images, the JPEG file format is readable by web browsers and relatively quickly downloaded, therefore very commonly found on the web. JPEG files can be recognised by the extension .jpg.

keyboard navigation
The ability to use the tab key to jump around the links on a web page, rather than moving and clicking the mouse. Often used by people with motor disabilities.

linear
A medium that runs from beginning to end, and is not designed for user manipulation – for example, books, TV, movies, live theatre, video and audio tape. See Non-linear.

localisation
Usually translation, although it can also mean creating specific content for different cultures, or adapting content so that it doesn’t alienate those cultures.

lower-level pages
Web pages that are not permanently linked from the home page but may be linked from second-level pages and beyond. Also known as B, C and D level pages. See Upper-level pages.

menu
Text or a graphic that lists choices for the user. Also known as a navigation or nav bar.

metadata
Data stored within a file, which is not always visible to the user. HTML meta tags store this data in web pages. See Keyword.

navigation
The process of moving around a website. Also used to describe a collection of links used to move around the various pages and sections in a web site. See Menu.

non-linear
Material authored in a way to promote non-sequential access to the content. For example, users frequently use websites non-linearly in that they can enter and leave them at any point. See Linear.

page weight

The size of a page or file in megabytes. It increases if pictures or graphics are included. ‘Heavier’ pages take longer to download on slow web connections.

PDF (Portable Document Format)
A way of storing and displaying files so that their original formatting (fonts, layout, images) is preserved. The free Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to display these files.

persona
Personas are hypothetical ‘stand-ins’ for actual users that can help you envision real users, their goals and expectations. (See also scenarios)

plug-in
A software extension that literally plugs into your browser giving it extra functionality. For example, the Flash plug-in enables you to view Flash files in a browser.

popup menu
A menu that appears when a button on a web page is pressed. The button’s label indicates the current menu setting. Also known as a drop-down menu.

popup window
A new window launched by a user action. Often slightly smaller than the browser window, it could be used to display bigger versions of maps, photos and illustrations. You could also use them for ads, glossaries, boxes or footnotes. Also called a spawn window.

radio button
A control that displays a setting, either on or off, and is part of a group in which only one button can be set to ‘on’ at a time.

rollover
An image or word on a website which changes its appearance when the user rolls their mouse over it. Often used to indicate links to important sections in a website. A rollover often reveals additional information. Sometimes (less frequently) also known as mouseover.

RSS
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Think of it as a distributable ‘What’s new’ for your site.

scenario
A story that helps to visualise how the likely users will use a site or app by imagining their typical concerns or goals.

scope creep
The translation of a website from a simple, comprehensible project to an out-of-control nightmare. Small changes and modifications can quickly result in budgetary overspend and time delays.

screen reader
Software used by users with impaired vision, which interprets the information displayed on web pages and reads it out using synthesised speech. A popular, if expensive, screen reader is JAWS.

server
A computer which stores web pages and sends them to the user’s browser so that they can be viewed.

shovelware
Sites containing material which has been ‘shovelled’ online without being edited for the web or repurposed from its original use. See Brochureware.

social media
A new set of internet tools that enable shared community experiences and easy content creation by non-web publishing experts. See also Web 2.0.

splash page
An introductory page, often with a dramatic graphic (sometimes animated).  When clicked on, the user reaches the real front page of the site. They delay users from reaching the information they want.

staging server
A server similar to a live server but on this a site can be tested before going ‘live’.

sticky content
Content which engages the user and keeps them coming back.

streaming
The ability to play audio or video as it is being received as opposed to downloading an entire audio or video file and launching a player.

task analysis
The process of analysing what a user will actually do with a system, task by task, in order to design the most appropriate interface.

thumbnail
A tiny image used to represent a larger but identical image. Thumbnails are used to reduce download time since the file size is much smaller than the image it represents.

ticker
A scrolling display of text, usually clickable. Derived from ‘ticker tape’. Has accessibility and usability problems!

upper-level pages
The home page and all pages permanently linked directly from the home page. Links to these are sometimes  known as A level headings. See Lower-level pages.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
The web address, comprising the transfer scheme (often ‘http’), server address and requested file. Eg http://www.bbc.co.uk

usability
The practice of defining and measuring how easy a site or app is to use, navigate and interact with. Best practice aims to make them as usable as possible. Ideally measured independently (perhaps during user testing).

user centred design
is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of the end user of an interface or document are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium – http://www.w3.org)
An international industry consortium committed to developing public protocols for the World Wide Web.

Web 2.0
Term coined by Tim O’Reilly in 2005. Web development and web design that facilitates interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centred design and collaboration. See also social media.

weblog
Now called a ‘blog’, A cross between an online journal and a list of commented links. 

wiki
A website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, typically without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring.

wireframe
An undesigned HTML click-through of a site or app. A working model of how the site will operate created to help get a sense of what the user will experience and if the site makes sense. Some design can be included, but it is best not to let the design of the site influence the experience. Also known as inks, paper walkthroughs and black & whites.

WYSIWYG
An acronym for ‘What You See Is What You Get’. Pronounced ‘whizzy-wig’. Macromedia Dreamweaver is the leading WYSIWYG web page layout package.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language)
XML is a Web formatting language/specification developed by the W3C. It enables Web authors and designers to create their own customized tags so as to provide additional functionality not available with HTML. XML is ‘extensible’ because, unlike HTML, the markup symbols are unlimited and self-defining. EPUB (used for ebooks) is a subset of XML.

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