Web Terms for Non-Web People

People who know a lot about the internet can make you feel kinda dumb when they start throwing around fancy terms like metadata and API integration. Here are some basic terms that can help you keep up.

With the unyielding advance of technology comes a swarm of novel terminology and acronyms, determined to knock you off your game and leave your head hurting. When you’ve got SEO, SnapChat, and HTTP whizzing overhead, it can be hard to get your footing, much less grasp the new landscape unfolding before you.

As we’ve lived through the initial dotcom boom, the rise of always-on internet, and the ultimate proliferation of mobile computing, we’ve learned a few things about wrapping our heads around brand new terms. We’ve developed strategies for approaching the future with open minds and ever-changing vocabularies. Remember when email was spelled “e-Mail”? Remember when “login” was two words? Remember when we used to capitalize “internet”?

Since we fire off tech terms more often than Donald Trump puts his foot in his mouth, we want to make sure that everyone is able to keep up. We’ve put together a quick breakdown of some of the most important and ubiquitous terminology you’re likely to encounter when navigating the connected world. Follow along!

To begin, let’s differentiate the internet and the web. The internet is the sum total of all the connected computers, satellites, phones, and other devices on and above the Earth. It’s the infrastructure and data that makes modern communication possible. The web itself is merely the small portion of it that we access via screens; it’s the sites, social networks, and cat pictures that make up our personal experience of the online world. Think of the internet as a vast ocean and the web as the boats we use to traverse it.

With that out of the way, we can look at some specific terminology that you’re likely to encounter. This first section explains a few general web terms.

Browser: This is the software you use to access the web. It displays the images, text, and video that make up every website, blog, and Facebook page you’ve ever seen. You’re using one right now, in fact, to read this (hopefully not Internet Explorer).

HTML: Hypertext markup language is the programming code that the web is built upon. It’s both code and the basic text you actually see, combining tags (which tell the system what and where to do things) with natural speech to build the backbone of every site out there.

URL: This stands for “uniform resource locators,” describing the address of websites and files on the internet. These help your browser name and locate specific pages on the web. For example, this page’s URL is: http://revel.in/web-terms/

IP Address: Similar to the URL, this is a location on the internet. It is a computer’s internet protocol address, a four- or eight-part serial number that tracks your presence online, helping connect to websites and enforce accountability. Think of it as a license plate, identifying your connection as you pass through the web.

Domain: The domain name is what your website is actually called, the “address” that we type in when we want to see it, such as www.revel.in.

Social Media: This is the umbrella term for any tool, site, or app that facilitates the widespread peer-to-peer communication of users. It can be messaging and sharing, like with Facebook, or it can be a publishing and discussion platform, like blog sites.

Now we can discuss a handful of important terms specific to web design, the kind you’re likely to see on this site.

Back-End / Front-End: The back-end is the part of the website that is not visible to visitors; it’s the structure itself, the code upon which the content is placed. Similarly, the front-end is everything you see when visiting a website. Think of it like a body: back-end is the skeleton, while front-end is the skin. Weird, but it works!

CMS: Shorthand for Content Management System, it’s a back-end tool created by developers to separate the content you see from the functional elements that make up a website. It facilitates content creation, allowing for non-designers to add and edit content easily. Basically, this allows a complicated website to be maintained by those without in-depth computer skills.

CSS: Cascading style sheets are used as a starting point, filled with styles for typography and layout, to build websites more efficiently.

DNS: Domain Name Service is your friend. It’s what actually converts IP addresses into domain names. The raw numbers are translated into something that we humans can actually remember and utilize on a day-to-day basis.

The Fold: This term came from the golden age of newspapers, originally referring to the upper half of a page. This is everything you could see at a glance while the paper was still folded in half, usually the most important or eye-catching content in the paper.

The Fold has migrated to the digital age, usually indicating around the top 700 pixels of a website. It’s what you see the moment a page pops up, without having to scroll down. The original point still holds true to an extent: you want to throw your best graphics, headlines, and important information at the top. But in the modern web, scrolling is much more natural to users. The new goal of the content above the fold is to drive users to continue to explore the site. Think of it as the flashing sign that brings people in the door.

Graceful Degradation: When you create a website with elements that take advantage of newer browser capabilities but design it in a way that does not break the site for those with older browsers, you’ve got graceful degradation. It’s basically a way to describe site design that really pops with modern tech but still works as a functioning site for everyone else.

Hosting: Hosting is done by the actual computers and servers which house the data of your website. This can either be done by a major service like WordPress or your own private, hired host. This is how websites are kept up and connected to the web itself.

Landing Page: A landing page is where visitors first arrive at your site and where you’ll want to place an important message or call to action. It’s a first impression, so you want to make it a good one.

Meta Data: This is the information contained in the header of a page, describing the site that a user is currently on. This information is not visible on the page itself but forms a valuable part of how the page is presented.

Navigation: These are the basic elements that let visitors move around a website, from page to page. This encompasses not only main menus, but also links embedded within pages, as well as other portals placed strategically throughout a site.

Plug-In: This is a bit of third-party code that allows for enhanced and new functionality on a website. It can add capabilities to a website without having to fundamentally alter the code itself. It essentially “plugs in” to the existing page, without much hassle.

User Experience Design: User Experience Design, or UXD, is the concept of building the front-end of websites to best suit a user’s needs. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? In reality, great UXD is hard to come by. Just think of how many sites you’ve been on that were hard to use or horrible to look at. UXD focuses on the goals of the website, calls to action, and the specific target audience to create an interactive experience that is perfect for your niche.

These are merely a handful of the colorful galaxy of technology terms you may encounter, but they’re a good start and cover many of the basics that we in particular deploy on a daily basis. Each of these terms was selected because of their relatively common usage and the way that they call back to other related terms. Don’t worry if you don’t have them all memorized; if you can get the gist, the rest will snowball.

The real reward of having familiarity with these terms is an overall understanding of how the web operates. We engage with the internet on a seemingly constant basis, yet many people aren’t quite sure how it works. Now that you understand the basic building blocks, you’re ready to dive even deeper into the cat-infested content machine that is the web.


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