Audience Dialogue

Glossary of internet jargon

Many regular users of the Internet find the jargon confusing. Here are explanations of about 100 of the commonest terms and abbreviations, as clear as we can make them. If the computer-related term you were looking for isn't here, try FOLDOC - the Free Online Dictionary of Computing.

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Applet
A program that runs on the web, through browser software. Often written in a language called Java.

Application
What computer programmers call an application (or app, for short) is known to the rest of the world as a computer program.

ASP = active server pages or application service provider

ASP is a very confusing abbreviation, because it has two completely different meanings.
(1) ASP = active server pages
This is Microsoft software that is used to update certain elements of a web page. For example, if you see today's date on a web page, it may not have actually been updated today. Perhaps the ASP software is automatically inserting the current date. If the file extension (the bit after the last dot in the file name) is asp instead of the usual html or htm you know that the software is automatically inserting some parts of the page.
(2) ASP = application service provider
Instead of buying a statistical package for $1000 or so, you can use online ASP software for some purposes. So ASP is software that you access using the browser software (e.g. Internet Explorer). The software is not held on your computer, but at the web site you are accessing at the time.
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Banner
An advertisement on a web site - usually displayed as a wide, thin strip across the top of the computer screen.

Blog
Short for web log - like an online diary, created using software that makes it very easy to update a web page.

Bookmark
It's called a Bookmark in Netscape Navigator, and a Favorite (spelt the American way) in Internet Explorer - they're the same thing. The idea is that when an Internet user finds a site they like, and want to come back to it later without copying down the whole fiddly URL, they can click on "Add Bookmark" (or "Add to Favorites") and they can easily return to the site by clicking on the appropriate Bookmark. For web sites, being bookmarked is highly desirable: it means your customers intend to come back.

Bot
Short for Robot: software that automatically searches the Web - e.g search engine software that looks for links. Sometimes called a crawler or spider.

Browser
A piece of software used for looking up the WorldWide Web. By far the two commonest browsers are Netscape (Navigator or Communicator), and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Button
A button on a computer screen is a shape that you click with the mouse on to perform some action. In a web site, the action is usually to go to another part of the site. This is a button. (Don't press it, whatever you do, or you'll be sucked into the void.) Much the same as an icon.
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CGI = Common Gateway Interface
Originally the Web wasn't designed as a two-way medium, but only to send information outward. CGI provides a way of getting information back from visitors to a web page.

Checkbox
A square button that you can click on when filling in an online form. Unlike a radio button, clicking one checkbox in a set does not mean that the others in the set become unclicked. Checkboxes are used for questions such as "Which of the following statements do you agree with?" Any number of boxes in a set (or none) may be clicked.

Clickstream
The sequence of pages that a visitor to a website sees on a single visit to that site.

Click-through
When somebody clicks on an advertising banner on their computer screen, and gets through to the advertiser's web site. Thus the click-through rate is the number of click-throughs as a percentage of the number of times the banner is downloaded.

CMS = content management system
A database system used to manage a large website: expensive to buy, but makes it easy for untrained people to update web pages. Each page is kept as a separate record in the database. More on our CMS page.

Cookie
A file that a web site stores on your computer, so that the site can recognize visitors who return. The cookie is saying something like "This is the 14,345th person to visit this site; they were last here at 4:01pm on October the 13th."

Crawler
Same as a bot.

CSS = cascading style sheet
A method for making all web pages on a site follow the same general style. For example, see style1.css on this website - this determines the style of the pages, in terms of font family, type size, line spacing, colours, and all the other sorts of things that a word processor does.

CSV = comma-separated vaLues
A common format used for transferring spreadsheet files and simple database files between different software.

Customization
Providing a uniquely tailored product for a customer. On a web portal this usually means that you can select a wide variety of choices - the colour scheme you like to see, the arrangement of items on a page, the news sources you prefer, and so on. As each choice is made independently, there can be thousands of possible combinations. See also personalization.
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Dithering
If you set your computer to display only a small number of colours (or it can't display more than 256 anyway, because it's old) you'll notice little speckles when the monitor tries to display a colour part-way between the ones it can show. To avoid that dithered effect, which looks unpleasant and can make text hard to read, many websites used to restrict their colour palette to the 216 Domain
A part of the internet, reserved for one organization. For example, Australian business web domains usually take the form of http://www.name.com.au where name is the business's name, com means commercial, and au means Australia. Many countries omit the com part and go straight from the organization's name to the country code. The part before the name is normally www (short for World Wide Web) but can be a name given to a web server or a division of the business.

Download
Bringing a computer file (e.g. a web page) "down" from a server to your PC. The opposite of upload.
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E-commerce
Making financial transactions on the internet.

Extension
The end of a filename or URL, after the last dot. Web pages usually have extensions of htm (for Microsoft-produced files, or html for files produced on Unix, Linux, or Macintosh systems. You also see other extensions, such as asp or php

Extranet
A private website,accessible only within the organization that owns it,plus other people it allows to access the site - usually by password. Cf. intranet.
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FAQ = Frequently Asked Question
An innovation from the computer world that's creeping into the real world. A list of questions often asked by users of a product, plus the answers to the questions. Having an FAQ section on your web site can save you a lot of time on the phone.

Favorite
The Internet Explorer equivalent of Netscape's Bookmark.

File
In computer terminology, a file is a single document. This often confuses people, because a paper file is a whole bunch of documents. A web page is usually several files - one for the words, and one for each picture.

Frames
A web page uses frames when it's divided into two or more parts. Clicking on a link in the smaller part (usually a column on the left) will change what's displayed in the larger part. Usually there are two sets of vertical scroll bars, one at the right of each frame.

FTP = File Transfer Protocol
This is a method of sending files over the Internet without displaying them at the same time. You use this to download software from the Internet, or when you're sending a file from your PC to your web site.
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GIF
A type of web image format, normally used for diagrams and buttons. The other common image format is JPEG.

Guestbook
The computer equivalent of the Visitor's Books you see in hotels and tourist places. People who visit your web site can make comments, and read other visitors' comments. This can be a very useful source of customer feedback, specially if you resist the temptation to censor critical remarks, and reply to them instead.
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Hit
When somebody downloads a file from the Web, that's one hit. When a web page contains a number of images, every image is a separate hit, and the words on the page are usually one other hit. For example, this page is 4 hits: one for the text, one for the Audience Dialogue logo at the top, and two different buttons. This "back to the top" button Top appears many times, but was only downloaded once, so it's only one hit. Compare with Page view.

Home page
The main page on a web site, that all the others link back to. When a web site is diagrammed like a tree, the home page is the trunk.

Hosting
Keeping a web site on a server: this is something that ISPs do. Thus we might say "Our site is hosted by Binary Logic" (as this one is).

HTML = Hypertext Markup Language
The programming language that controls how web sites look. It consists of instructions in angle brackets <like this>. You can see the HTML for this web page right now:

HTML tells the browser how to lay out a web page, but not the meaning of each element. That requires XML.

HTTP = Hypertext Transfer Protocol
The particular way of sending files that's used by the Worldwide Web.

Hyperlink = Link
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Icon
A small image on a web page that you can often click on to start a process: a pictorial button. For example, the little blue triangle above is an icon that takes you back to the top of this page when you click on it. The subtle difference is that the symbol itself is the icon, and the button (not necessarily a picture) is what you click on to produce the action.

Image
An image that appears on a web page can be a photo, a drawing, or a diagram. That's obvious. What's not so obvious is that words can also be an image. The only way to be sure of displaying a particular font (e.g. in a company logo) on the Web is to send it as an image. For example, the words "Audience Dialogue" in our logo are part of the logo image file.

Internet
Some people think of the Internet as being only email, or only the Worldwide Web. But it's both of those, and more. If the Internet is anything tangible, it's really a network of links between computers. Things like email and the Web are not the Internet itself, but services that run on it.

ISP = Internet Service Provider
A company that connects you to the internet - usually through a modem attached to a phone line.

Intranet
A company's private, internal website, accessible only to its staff. Cf. extranet,
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Java and Javascript
Java is a programming language often used in web-related programs, or applets as they are often called. Javascript is similar to Java, but more limited; it works inside web pages. If you edit the preferences in your browser and enable Java, you may find that when you visit some web sites, a program is automatically downloaded to your computer. A lot of people are cautious about enabling Java, because (a) it can be very slow, and (b) it can pose security risks. Javascript, which is normally used for gimmicky things on web pages, is quicker and safer (but seldom necessary).

JPEG
The other common type of image file, along with GIF. The JPEG format is normally used for photos. JPEG image files usually have the extension .JPG
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Killer app
A type of software that people urgently want to buy - e.g. when the first spreadsheets appeared, around 1980, this was the "killer app" that caused personal computer sales to boom.
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Link
Technically known as a hyperlink, this is a connection to another web page - usually underlined, in blue letters (before you've visited it) or purple (afterwards).

Linux
An operating system that's Open Source - a simplified variety of Unix, available free or at low cost, and often used for running servers.

Listserv
A system for sending out bulk email messages to a mailing list. Very useful - but if people don't want that mail, they call it spam.
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Macro
A small computer program, written by a normal user, not a programmer, in software that allows for this. For example, you can insert macros in Word or Excel to make thing happen automatically. The big problem is that some macros are viruses.

Malware
Software that wants to be bad - viruses, worms, and other software with malicious intent.

Metcalfe's Law
The usefulness of a network grows as the square of the number of nodes. If 100 people have a telephone, each one can ring each other, so there are 10,000 combinations (100 times 100). But if 200 people have a telephone, there are 40,000 combinations (200 times 200). Cf. Moore's Law - the two are commonly confused.

MIME = Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions
A way of extending email to cope with formats other than plain text: sound, video, pictures, software, text, etc. When an email is sent from a website to an email address, the MIME type needs to be specified. Often seen as an error message - e.g. "MIME type not supported" means that you don't have the right software installed to view (say) a video in an email message. in that case, you'll need to download the appopriate add-ons for your email software to see the message.

Mirror
Two meanings, in computing...
(1) A web site that's an exact copy of another. This enables quicker access from the nearest part of the world.
(2) On any computer: a second hard disk that's an exact copy of the first. If the first hard disk fails, data can be read from the second one without a break. Often used by banks and other large businesses that need to have their data accessible without a break.

Modem
A gadget that connects a computer to a phone line. It converts the computer codes for symbols (letters, numbers, etc.) into sounds.

Moore's law
The observation that the power of computers, since the early 1960s, has been doubling about every 18 months, while the cost remains the same. It shows no signs of slowing down. Cf. Metcalfe's Law - the two are often confused.

Multimedia
Using more than one medium on a computer - usually referring to sound or video, in addition to the normal static screen display. We did a survey in Australia a few years ago, and asked respondents what they thought Multimedia meant. By far the commonest answer was "Owning a lot of different media: TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines." That suggests that this term is not widely understood, and maybe should either be avoided or explained wherever it appears.
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Newsgroup
There are thousands of these on the Internet: discussion groups devoted to specific topics. Sort of like an email forum. Also called Usenet.
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Offline
You're offline when your computer isn't connected to the Internet (or any network).

Online
Connected to the Internet, e.g. using a modem and phone line.

Open Source
Software for which the original code is publicly available. It can be modified by anybody - and is thus more likely to be bug-free than is proprietary software such as that produced by Microsoft. Much Open Source software is written for the operating system called Linux.

Operating system
The computer program (or set of programs) that makes the other programs work. When you start up a computer the operating system is the first thing you see - it usually shows you what files and software you can choose from. Common operating systems include Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh system, Unix, and Linux. The application software written for one operating system generally doesn't run on a different one.
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Page (or Web page)
The unit of display on the Web. What you're looking at now is a web page. It's made up of several files, and is part of the Audience Dialogue site. Each page has one URL (web address). A web "page" is not the same as a printed page, because there's no limit to its length. A typical web page, when printed, would fill 2 or 3 A4-size pages; some fill 10 or more. The closest equivalent to a web page is perhaps a magazine article. A group of web pages forms a web site.

Page view
When you view a web page, and any image files that go with it, that's one page view. Cf. hits.

PDF = portable document file
This is a type of file format produced by Adobe's Acrobat software. So a "PDF file" is the same as an "Acrobat file". This is a page-based file format designed to ensure that a web page, when printed, will look exactly as the designer intended: the same type fonts, and identical graphics and layout.

Personalization
When you get a letter from a company you've never heard of, addressing you by name ("Dear Lisa, please buy our product") that's personalization. See also customization, which takes the process a step further.

Pixel
One dot on a computer screen. If you look at your computer screen very closely, you'll that all the letters and pictures are made of tiny dots, or pixels. These days, most screens are set to display 800 pixels across and 600 down. A screen usually has about 75 pixels per inch, and high-quality colour printing has about 1200. So, compared with a colour magazine (or even an inkjet printer) a computer screen can't show tiny details.

Popup and popunder
A popup window is a small window that pops up in front of a web page that you're trying to look at. A pop-under is the opposite: you don't see it till you close the window that displayed the pop-under. See whack-a-mole.

Portal
A gateway to the Web. Most of the search engines are trying to become portals, by offering lots of services and encouraging users to set up their computers to go to their portal every time they start up their browser.
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Radio button
A small round button in an online form. Like an old-fashioned car radio, these buttons come in sets. If you click on one, the one previously clicked (with the dot in the centre) becomes turned off. These are used for questoins that allow only one answer - e.g. "Which sex are you?" Cf. checkbox.

RTF = Rich Text Format
A format used for word processing files which can be read by almost any word processing software produced since about 1997. If you need to send somebody a word processor file and you don't know what software they have, save it as an RTF file and send that. The receiver will be almost certain to be able to open the file, and the probability of it carrying a virus is almost zero.
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Scrolling
Making another part of a web page visible, e.g. by clicking the mouse, or pressing the space bar. (What really annoys people is having to scroll sideways, to read the end of each line.)

Search engine
Not an engine in the mechanical sense - just a web site where you can search for words and phrases mentioned in other web sites. There are dozens of these. Our favourites are:

Google (which has an uncanny knack of showing the best site first).
AllTheWeb (lots of European pages that you don't find with the US-based search engines).
Vivisimo (a bot that searches other search engines, and tries to group the results into meaningful categories).
Yahoo (a directory rather than a search engine: use when you're looking for information on a specific topic).
Open Directory (another directory, better than Yahoo in many non-commercial topic areas)
Social Science Information Gateway (a directory for social science research)
Hotbot (easy to specify date ranges, file types, etc.)
Anzwers (when you're only searching for Australian and New Zealand sites).

Server
A computer that sends files to users on the Internet. An ISP's setup consists of a server (or two) connected to lots of modems. Small web sites are usually held on an ISP's server, but large companies often host their web sites on their own servers. Each web server has a name, and the commonest name is www - that's why many web addresses begin with www.

Site = Web site

Source code
The coded instructions that make a computer program work. See HTML for instructions on viewing the source code for this page.

Spam
Unsolicited email, which annoys many Internet users when it's trying to sell something they have no interest in. The Internet equivalent of junk mail.

SQL
Pronounced "sequel" - a widely used language for getting information from computer databases.

Stickiness
A website has stickiness when visitors stay on it a long time.

Surfing (the Internet)
Browsing through the Worldwide Web, not searching for anything in particular.
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Thumbnail
A small photo on the screen, about the size of your thumbnail. You click on this, and a larger version of the photo appears. This lets users see more pictures at once, and less time is spent downloading the page.
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Unix
An operating system commonly used in large computers - now becoming more popular on personal computers, in its simpler form called Linux

Upload
Sending a file from a PC to a server, normally using FTP. Opposite of download.

URL = Web address
This actually stands for Uniform Resource Locator, but nobody ever uses the full term. It sounds complicated, but all it means is a Web address - what you see in the Location box when using your browser. For example, the URL for this page is http://www.audiencedialogue.org/gloss-net.html.

Usenet
The system of newsgroups.
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Virus
A malware program file, introduced to a computer by file transfer, that disturbs the operation of other software or files.
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Web safe
A web page using one of 216 colours that almost all monitors and old computers and monitors can display correctly. If not, the colours are dithered.

Web site (or just plain site)
A collection of web pages, all linked together on the same server. For example, what you're reading now is one web page on the Audience Dialogue site, which is one of many sites on the server belonging to Binary Logic, which is our ISP. Confusing a site with a page (as many people do) is like confusing a magazine with an article in it.

Worldwide Web = the Web = WWW
This is what you're using right now: a major part of the Internet. When you're using a browser, and the URL begins with http:// you know you're on the Web.

Whack-a-mole
A term borrowed from a game, now used for the activity of closing pop-up advertising windows before they can display their message. If such popups annoy you a lot, try downloading one of the new browsers such as Mozilla or Firebird. In these, you can set the preferences so that extra windows never pop up.
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XML
Short for eXtensible Markup Language. Contrasts with HTML which is what most websites use. HTML sets the visual style of a page, but XML adds meaning. XML is used for purposes such as companies automatically buying and selling products from one another.

Zip
A zipped computer file is one that's compressed, so that it can be transmitted online more quickly. Software such as Winzip is used to compress and decompress the files. (A Zip Drive is unrelated: it doesn't zip the files, but just packs a lot onto one disk.)

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