the Birddog Blog
The following glossary of terms aims to explain the many buzzwords and terms used when talking about digital and websites.
Tuesday 31st August, 2010
Accessibility is the process of making web content accessible to people with disabilities such as those who are visually impaired, hearing-impaired, colour blind people, or anyone else who cannot for whatever reason, use a computer in a conventional manner.
A website with poor accessibility will be difficult for these people to use. Accessibility is particularly important for sites providing information to those with disabilities such as those in the healthcare sector and government departments. Accessibility is an important aspect to consider when designing any site. Guidelines for the various levels of accessibility are set by industry bodies, such as the W3C WIA: http://www.w3.org/WAI/
Anchor text usually gives the user relevant descriptive or contextual information about the content of the link’s destination. For example Birddog home page
The anchor text above in bold – what the visitor will see on a website.
Active Server Pages (ASP), also known as Classic ASP or ASP Classic, was an early server-side script engine for dynamically-generated web pages.
The back end of a website is the part hidden from view of regular website visitors. The back end generally includes the information structure, applications, and the CMS controlling content on the site.
Backlinks are links from other websites back to yours. They are sometimes also referred to as “trackbacks” (especially on blogs). Backlinks have a huge impact on your sites search rankings. Lots of backlinks from high-ranking sites can greatly improve your search engine results, especially if those links use keywords in their anchor text.
A “bad neighbourhood” refers to the server where your site is hosted. A site hosted on a server that hosts other sites that spam or use black-hat SEO practices can end up penalised by search engines solely because of their proximity to those sites. Linking to sites in bad neighbourhoods can also have a negative effect on your search rankings.
Bandwidth can refer to two different things: the rate at which data can be transferred, or the total amount of data allowed to be transferred from a web host during a given month (or other hosting service term) before overage charges are applied. It is generally referred to in term of bits-per-second (bps), kilobits per second (kbs), or other metric measurements. Lower bandwidth internet connections such as dial-up mean data loads slower than with high bandwidth connections such as broadband.
Below the Fold
This term is a carry-over from newspaper publishing days. In newspaper terms, “below the fold” means content was on the bottom half of the page below the physical fold in the paper. In web design terms, “below the fold” refers to the content that is going to appear off of the bottom of the screen for the average website visitor in their browser.
Website bounce rate is the number, or percentage of people who leave the site from the same page they entered, without clicking through to any other pages. This can be a good indicator of how good the navigation on the website is, as well as an indicator of the quality of the content on the website. Generally, a high bounce rate indicates a poor page design.
Breadcrumbs are the navigational elements that generally appear near the top of a give web page that show you the pages and subpages that appear before the page you’re on. For example, on a blog, the breadcrumb might look something like: Home > Category > Year > Month > Post, or maybe a lot simpler. The term ‘breadcrumb’ comes from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”
Browser refers to the program a website visitor is using to view the web site. Examples include Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, and Internet Explorer.
Cached files are those that are saved or copied (downloaded) by a web browser so that the next time that user visits the site, the page loads faster.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
Also referred to simply as CSS, Cascading Style Sheets are used to define the look and feel of a web site outside of the actual HTML of the site. In recent years, CSS has replaced tables and other HTML-based methods for formatting and laying out websites. The benefits to using CSS are many, but some of the most important are the simplification of a site’s HTML files, which can actually increase search engine rankings and the ability to completely change the style of a site by changing just one file without having to make changes to content. The latest version is CSS3.
The Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is a standard protocol for interfacing external application software with an information server, commonly a web server. CGI usually comes in the form of a script, which is called to perform a particular function on a website. CGI scripts are usually written in a programming language called PERL
Client-side refers to scripts that are run in a visitor’s browser, instead of on a web server – as in server-side scripts. Client-side scripts are generally faster to interact with, though they can take longer to load initially.
Content Management System (CMS)
Also known as a CMS, the Content Management System is a backend tool for managing the content of a website. The CMS separates the core content (text, images, video) from the design and functionality of the site. Using a CMS generally makes it easier to change the design or function of a site independently of the website content. It will often make it easier for administrators who aren’t web developers, to add content to a website.
In web design terms, a comment is a bit of information contained in the HTML or XHTML of a web page, which is ignored by the browser. Comments are used to identify different parts of the file and as reference notes. Good commenting makes it much easier for a web designer to make changes to the site, as it clearly defines which parts of the code perform what functions. There are different comment formats for different programming and markup languages.
A conversion is the completion of a goal by an end user of a website – having gone through a series of steps to reach that goal. A goal can be defined as anything, ranging from the user completing a registration form or survey, downloading a file or purchasing something. Conversion rate is a good measure of the performance of a website and will often be the benchmark used when trying to improve the efficiency of a website.
See Cascading Style Sheets.
A CSS framework is a collection of CSS files used as the starting point to make XHTML and CSS web sites quickly and painlessly. They usually contain CSS styles for typography and layout.
Deprecated code is code that is no longer included in the language specifications. Generally this happens because it is replaced with more accessible or efficient alternatives. This happens when a new version of a programming language or framework is released.
Stands for ‘Domain Name Service’ or alternately ‘Domain Name System’, or ‘Domain Name Server’. The DNS converts IP addresses into domain names. DNS servers are provided with the IP address of your web server when you assign your domain name to those servers. In turn, when someone types your domain name into their web browser the DNS servers translate the domain name to the IP address and point the browser to the correct web server.
The doctype declaration specifies which version of HTML is used in a document. It has a direct effect on whether your HTML will validate or not.
Stands for Document Object Model. It is a language-independent, cross-platform convention for representing objects in XML, XHTML, and HTML documents. Rules for interacting with and programming the DOM are specified in the DOM API.
The domain is the name by which a website is identified. The domain is associated with an IP address. Domains can be purchased with any combination of letters, hyphens (-), and numbers (though it can’t start with a hyphen). Depending on the extension (.com, .net, .org, etc.), a domain can be anywhere up to 26 to 63 characters long.
Stands for Document Type Definition. DTD is one of several SGML and XML schema languages. It provides a list of the attributes, comments, elements, entities, and notes in a document along with their relationships to each other.
Short for Electronic Commerce, E-Commerce is the process of buying and selling of goods online through websites. Products sold through e-commerce can be physical products that require shipping, or digital products delivered electronically such as program and document downloads, license keys and music.
An elastic layout is one that uses percentage and em for defining page width, paired with a max-width style to allow the layout of the website to stretch when font sizes are changed. The ability to flex to accommodate the browser width and visitor’s font preferences is where the name ‘elastic’ comes from.
In XML, an element is the central building block of any document. Individual elements can contain text, other elements, or both.
Em is a unit of measurement for sizing fonts and other elements within a web page relative to the parent element of the item. A 1em font is equal to the point size for the font already defined in the parent element. For example 2em would be twice the current size, .5em would be half the current size and so on.
An embedded style is a CSS style written into the head of an XHTML document. t only affects the elements on that page, instead of site-wide as a separate CSS file does. Style in an embedded style sheet will override styles from the linked CSS file.
Ex is a measurement for font height or size relative to the height of a lowercase “x” in that font family.
Extensible Markup Language
Otherwise known as XML. XML is a markup language used for writing custom markup languages. In other words, XML describes how to write new languages. It is sometimes referred to as a “meta” language because of this. It also serves as a basic syntax that allows different kinds of computers and applications to share information without having to go through multiple conversion layers.
External Style Sheet
This is CSS that is stored in an external document. The biggest advantage to using an external style sheet is that it can be linked to by multiple HTML/XHTML files, meaning that changes made to the style sheet will affect all the pages linked to it, rather than having to change each page individually.
Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to connect and share content with friends and associates. Facebook is now the largest social network on the internet, with more than 400 million active users, half of whom log on to Facebook in any given day. People spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook
Favicons are tiny (generally 16x16 pixels, though some are 32x32 pixels), customizable icons displayed in the web address bar in most browsers next to the web address. They’re either 8-bit or 24-bit in color depth and are saved in either .ico, .gif or .png file formats.
Fixed Width Layout
A fixed width web page layout has a set width, usually defined in pixels. The width stays the same regardless of screen resolution, monitor size, or browser window size. It allows for minute adjustments to be made to a design that will stay consistent across browsers. Designers have more control over exactly how a site will appear across platforms with this type of layout.
Adobe Flash is a technology that enables websites to display vector-based animation. More recently, Flash has become a powerful tool for creating web-based applications. Files created in Flash can now be distributed as stand-alone desktop applications by using another technology – Adobe Air.
See Liquid Layout
The focal point of a web site is the spot on a web page that they eye is naturally drawn to. This could be an image, a banner, text, Flash content, or just about anything else. It is important to ensure that the focal point is the most important part of the page.
See ‘Below the fold’
A font family is a group designation for defining the typefaces used in CSS documents. The font family tag generally lists multiple fonts to be used, and usually ends with the generic font category such as “serif” or “sans-serif”.
In CSS, the font style refers solely to whether a font is italic or not.
The font weight refers to how thick or thin (bold or light) a font looks.
Foursquare is part of a new breed of social applications, known as geo-social networks. Geo-social works by combining a traditional social networking model of registered users who connect with one another, to GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology. By connecting these two models, users don’t just get updates, they also get information about where the updates were made.
The front-end is the opposite of the back-end. It is all the components of a website that a visitor to the site can physically see such as pages, images and other content. More specifically, it is the interface that visitors use to access the website content. It is also sometimes referred to as the User Interface (UI).
The World’s largest Internet search engine, indexing literally billions of web pages. In May 2010, 30.7m people in the UK searched on Google.
Graceful degradation refers to a the ability for a website to have elements that may take advantage of the capabilities of newer browsers, but done in a way which allows users with older browsers to still view the site in a manner that at least allows them access to basic content. It also applies to making sure that if one small portion of your site does not work in someone’s browser, it does not cause the site to error or crash in their browser.
Graphical User Interface
Also referred to by its acronym: GUI. A graphical user interface uses a an input device such as a mouse and gives visual representations of how the user is able to interact with a web application. In other words a GUI is all of the front-end stuff you see on a web application. The purpose of a GUI is to allow you to interact with a web application without having to enter code.
Also referred to a “hex” numbers, they are a base-16 numbering system used to define colors online. Hex numbers include the numerals 0-9 and letters A-F. Hexadecimal numbers are written in three sets of hex pairs. Because screen colours are Red, Green and Blue the first pair define the Red hue, the second pair defines the Green hue, and the third pair defines the Blue.
Contrary to popular belief, a hit does not represent a single visitor to a website. A hit is actually a request for a single file from your web server. This means one page can actually generate multiple hits, as each page generally has more than one file, for example a HTML or other base file, a CSS file, multiple images and so on. Each request for each file is one hit, so a web page with 50 images on would register 50 hits. Many years ago, hits were quoted as the main traffic metric, to amplify sites into sounding like they were receiving more traffic than they actually were.
The .htaccess file is the default directory-level configuration file on Apache web servers. It is also known as a “distributed configuration file.” Configuration directives contained in the .htaccess file apply to the directory in which the file is placed as well as all of its subdirectories. Within the .htaccess file, settings such as authorisation and authentication, rewriting of URLs, cache control and customised error responses can all be specified.
Stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is the primary language used to write web pages. HTML is primarily intended as a way to provide content on websites, with CSS handling the layout and stylistic options, although it can also be used to determine how that content is displayed. HTML version 5 has just been released and offers developers powerful new tools for creating rich web content. Apple have created a page to demonstrate some of the new features in HTML5 (requires either Safari or Firefox 4 to view) http://www.apple.com/html5/
Also referred to as an HTML element, an HTML tag is the bit of code that describes how that particular piece of the web page it is on is formatted. Typical tags specify things like headings, paragraphs, links, and a variety of other items.
Stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. HTTP is a set of rules for transferring hypertext requests between a web browser and a web server.
Similar to HTTP, HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol over SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or, alternately, HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. Like HTTP, it is a set of rules for transferring hypertext requests between browsers and servers, but this time it is done over a secure encrypted connection.
A hyperlink is a link from one web page to another, either on the same site or another one. Generally these are text or images, and are highlighted in some way; text is often underlined or put in a different color or font weight. The inclusion of hyperlinks creates the “hyper” part of “hypertext.”
Hypertext is any computer-based text that includes hyperlinks. Hypertext can also include presentation devices like tables or images, in addition to plain text and links.
No relation of Apple, iframe is short for Inline Frame. An iframe is used to display one or more web pages within another normal web page – one that isn’t a frameset page.
An image map is used in XHTML to allow different parts of an image to become different clickable elements. It can also allow some portions of an image to have no clickable element.
In CSS, elements that do not have a pre-defined style will take on the style of their parent element within the document tree.
Elements with CSS written directly around the element it affects, instead of in a separate style sheet or header style.
Stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (or sometimes Perl or Python), and is referring to the specifications of a web server (defining the operating system, web server, database, and scripting language, in that order). One of the advantages of LAMP setups is that the software used is all free and open source.
A landing page is the page where a visitor first enters a website. Often, a special landing page is created to elicit a specific action from the new visitor -usually in connection with an advertising or marketing campaign.
A link farm is any website setup specifically to increase the link popularity of other websites by increasing the number of incoming links to that site. While some link farms are single pages listing unrelated links, others consist of networks of sites that contain multiple links back and forth to one another. Search engines can generally recognize these types of schemes and often remove link farms from their directories and penalize the sites linking to and from them.
A liquid layout is one that is based on percentages of the browser window size. The layout of the site will change with the width of the browser, even if the visitor changes their browser size while viewing the page. Liquid layouts take full advantage of the browser width a visitor is using, optimising the amount of content you can fit onscreen at one time.
This refers to the coding applied to a text document to change it into an HTML, XML, or other Markup Language document.
Meta data is the data contained in the header that offers information about the web page that a visitor is currently on. The information contained in the Meta data is not visible on the actual web page, purely in the source code. Meta data is contained within Meta tags.
A Meta tag is an HTML tag used to include Meta data within the header of a web page.
The .NET Framework is Microsoft’s comprehensive and consistent programming model for building applications.
Navigation refers to the system that allows visitors to a website to move around that site. Navigation is most often thought of in terms of menus, but links within pages, breadcrumbs, related links, pagination, and any other links that allow a visitor to move from one page to another are included in navigation.
Nesting refers to putting one HTML element within another element. When this is done, the elements have to be closed in the reverse order from how they were opened.
A non-breaking space, also referred to as is a white-space character that is not condensed by HTML. The primary function of a non-breaking space is to hold open table cells or add spacing between words, or the beginning of paragraphs if an indent is desired.
Open source refers to the source code of a computer program being made available to the general public. Open source software includes both web-based and desktop applications. Open source programs are generally free or very low cost and are developed by teams of people, sometimes comprised mostly of volunteers. PHP is a good example of open source.
Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a programming paradigm that uses “objects” – data structures consisting of data fields and methods together with their interactions – to design applications and computer programs. Programming techniques may include features such as data abstraction, encapsulation, modularity, polymorphism, and inheritance. Many modern programming languages now support OOP.
A page view is a request for an entire web page document from a server by a visitor’s browser. In other words, for each page view your site had, someone (or a search engine spider) looked at that page.
Perl is a high-level, general-purpose, interpreted, dynamic programming language. Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall, a linguist working as a systems administrator for NASA, in 1987, as a general purpose UNIX scripting language to make report processing easier.
Short for “permanent link.” Generally used only on blogs, a permalink is a link that is the permanent web address of a given blog post. Since most blogs have constantly-changing content, the permalink offers a way for readers to bookmark or link to specific posts even after those posts have moved off the home page or primary category page.
A recursive acronym for Hypertext Pre-Processor, PHP is a widely used general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for Web development and can be embedded into HTML.
A plug-in is a piece of third party code that extends the capabilities of a website. It is most often used in conjunction with a CMS or blogging platform. Plug-ins are a way to extend the functionality of a website without having to re-write the core code of a website. Plugins can also refer to pieces of third-party software installed within a computer program to increase its functionality. The Firefox web browser has an extensive catalogue of Plugins (called ‘Addons’), which are used to extend its functionality: https://addons.mozilla.org
Progressive enhancement is a strategy for web design that uses web technologies in a layered fashion that allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or Internet connection, while also providing those with better bandwidth or more advanced browser software an enhanced version of the page.
Property is a CSS term and is roughly equivalent to an HTML tag. Properties are what define how a style should appear on a given web page.
A pseudo-element is an element used to add a special effect to certain selectors.
Like pseudo-elements, pseudo classes are used to add special effects to certain CSS selectors.
Really Simple Syndication
Also referred to as RSS. RSS is a standardised XML format that allows content to be syndicated from one site to another. It is most commonly used on blogs and news websites. RSS allows visitors to subscribe to a blog or other site and receive updates via an RSS feed reader.
Refers to the physical number of pixels displayed on a screen (such as 1280x1024). Unlike in print, display resolution does not refer to the number of pixels or dots per inch on a computer screen, as this can be changed by changing the resolution of the screen (which, of course, does not change the physical size of the screen). The resolution of an image, however, is often referred to in terms of pixels per inch, though this has very little effect on how the image is displayed on screen.
Generally, a schema is an XML document used in place of a DTD to describe other XML documents.
In CSS, the selector is the item a style will be applied to.
In semantic markup, content is written within XHTML tags that offer context to what the content contains. Basic semantic markup refers to using items like header and paragraph tags, though semantic markup is also being used to provide much more useful context to web pages in an effort to make the web as a whole more semantic.
Server-side refers to scripts run on a web server, as opposed to in a visitor’s browser. Server-side scripts often take a bit longer to run than a client-side script, as each page must reload when an action is taken.
Stands for Standard Generalised Markup Language. SGML is a markup language used for defining the structure of a document. SGML is not mentioned very often, but it is the markup language that serves as the basis for both XML and HTML.
Stands for Simple Object Access Protocol. SOAP is an XML-based protocol exchanging information across the internet to allow an application on one site to access an application or database on another site.
A specification, or functional specification as it is sometimes known is a document that offers an explicit definition and requirements for a web service or technology and generally includes how the technology is meant to be used, along with the tags, elements, and any dependencies.
A tag is a set of markup characters that are used around an element to indicate its start and end. Tags can also include HTML or other code to specify how that element should look or behave on the page. See also HTML Tag.
A template is a file used to create a consistent design across a website. Templates are often used in conjunction with a CMS and contain both structural information about how a site should be set up, but also stylistic information about how the site should look.
Twitter is a micro-blogging social status service, where registered users can post short 140 character or less updates about what they are doing, thinking, reading, eating or many more subjects. These updates are known as Tweets. Twitter works by registered users following one another to share content.
Stands for Uniform Resource Locator. A URL is the physical address of a website e.g. www.birddog.co.uk. The URL specifies where on the Internet the website can be found.
Usability refers to how easy it is for a visitor to your site to use a website in its intended manner. Good usability means that elements such as navigation, content, images, and any interactive elements are easy to use, functioning the way they were intended, and that any visitor will not need any special training in order to use the website.
Valid web pages are those that return no errors based on the type of HTML/XHTML specified in the doctype declaration at the beginning of the file. The Validator checks that the code used on the web page conforms to the specifications for that version of HTML/XHTML. Web page validity can be checked through various validation services, most commonly the W3C Validator: http://validator.w3.org
A visit is a single user coming to a website. The same visitor returning multiple times means multiple visits.
A visitor is a single user coming to a website. The same visitor returning multiple times in one day is still measured as just one visitor.
A web page is a single document, generally written in HTML/XHTML, meant to be viewed in a web browser. In many cases, web pages also include other coding and programming (such as PHP, Ruby on Rails, or ASP). Websites are generally built from multiple interlinked web pages.
A web server is a computer that has software installed and networking capabilities that allow it to host web sites and pages and make them available to internet users located elsewhere. There are various setups that can be used for a web server, including the LAMP setup previously mentioned.
Standards are specifications recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for standardising website design. The main purpose of web standards are to make it easier for both designers and those who create web browsers to make sites that will appear consistent across multiple platforms.
Stands for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language. Fundamentally, XHTML is HTML 4.0 that has been rewritten to comply with XML rules.
Stands for Extensible Markup Language. XML is a specification for creating other, custom markup languages. It is an extensible language because it allows for the user to define the mark-up elements.
YouTube is a video sharing site.