Glossary of Web journalism terms

One of the most common requests is having a glossary of terms… it’s hard to do because the language and terms are constantly evolving. But here is a collection, made from W3Schools, Poynter, WikiPedia and my own.

API (Application Programming Interface)
An interface for letting a program communicate with another program. In web terms: An interface for letting web browsers or web servers communicate with other programs. (See also Active-X and Plug-In)

A measure for the speed (amount of data) you can send through an Internet connection. The more bandwidth, the faster the connection.

One of the first widespread web-native publishing formats, generally characterized by reverse chronological ordering, rapid response, linking, and robust commenting. While originally perceived to be light on reporting and heavy on commentary, a number of blogs are now thoroughly reported, and legacy media organizations have also launched various blogs. Originally short for “web log,” blog is now an accepted word in Scrabble.

Civic Media
An umbrella term describing media technologies that create a strong sense of engagement among residents through news and information. It is often used as a contrast to “citizen journalism” because it also encompasses mapping, wikis and databases. MIT has a Center for Future Civic Media.

CMS (Content Management System)
A computer software system for organizing and facilitating collaborative creation of documents and other content, especially for loading to a website. Usually a database driven that runs a dynamic website. (like: Drupal, WordPress)

Creative Commons
A flexible set of copyright licenses that allow content creators to specify which rights they reserve and which they waive regarding their work that is supposed to codify collaborative spirit of the Internet. There are six main Creative Commons licenses based on four conditions that creators can choose to apply: Attribution, Share Alike, Non-Commercial, and No Derivative Works. The least restrictive of the licenses is Attribution, which grants anyone, from an individual to a large company, the right to distribute, display, or otherwise make use of the work so long as the creator is credited. The most restrictive is Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives, which grants only redistribution. First released in December 2002 by the nonprofit Creative Commons organization, which was inspired by the open source GNU GPL license, the licenses are now used on an estimated 130 million works worldwide. The glossary you are reading is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license in an effort to encourage wide distribution and contribution. (Also see open source)

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
A W3C recommended language for defining style (such as font, size, color, spacing, etc.) for web documents.

Data Visualization
A growing area of content creation in which information is represented graphically and often interactively. This can be used for subjects as diverse as an analysis of a speech by the president and the popularity of baby names over time. While it has deep roots in academia, data visualization has begun to emerge on content sites as a way to handle the masses of data that are being made public, often by government. There are many tools for data visualizations, including Seattle-based Tableau and IBM’s Many Eyes. Data visualization should 1) tell a story, 2) allow users to ask their own questions and 3) start conversations.

Domain Name
The name that identifies a web site. (like:,,

A popular content management system known for a vibrant open-source community that creates diverse and robust extensions. Drupal is very powerful, but it is somewhat difficult to use for simple tasks when compared to WordPress. Drupal provides options to create a static website, a multi-user blog, an Internet forum or a community website for user-generated content. It is written in PHP and distributed under the GPL open source license. uses Drupal.

A term meaning to place a specific piece of content from one web page inside of another one. This is often done using an embed code (a few lines of HTML and/or Javascript) that you can copy or paste. This is a common way for video content to be spread around the Internet and is increasingly being used for interactive components. A recent example is PBS Newshour’s oil spill tracker widget, which was placed on many news sites around the country. Note: This is different from the newsroom sense of “embed,” popularized during the 2003 Iraqi invasion, which means to have a journalist work from within a military unit.

A proprietary platform owned by Adobe Systems that allows for drag-and-drop animations, program interactivity, and dynamic displays for the Web. The language used, ActionScript, is owned by Adobe; this contrasts with many other popular programming languages that are open source. Creators must use Adobe’s Creative Suite products and web surfers must install a Flash plug-in for their browser. Many claim that Flash players are unstable and inefficient, slowing down web pages and crashing operating systems. Apple has not allowed Adobe to create a Flash player for the iPhone operating system, which has created a feud between the two companies. HTML5 is emerging as an open alternative to Flash.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol)
One of the most common methods for sending files between two computers. (like: Fetch or Filezilla)

FTP Server
A web server you can logon to, and download files from (or upload files to). Anonymous FTP is a method for downloading files from an FTP server without using a logon account.

A piece of information that goes with content and contains geographically based information. Commonly used on photo sites such as Flickr or in conjunction with user-generated content, to show where a photo, video or article came from. There has been some discussion of its increasing relevance with geographically connected social networking sites, such as Foursquare. Twitter has implemented geotagging, and Facebook has announced plans to do so.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
HTML is the language of the web. HTML is a set of tags that are used to define the content, layout and the formatting of the web document. Web browsers use the HTML tags to define how to display the text.

The upcoming, powerful standard of Hypertext Markup Language, which has added advanced interactive features, such as allowing video to be embedded on a web page. It is gaining in popularity compared to proprietary standards, like Adobe Flash, because it is an open standard and does not require third-party plugins. Using HTML5 will allow web pages to work more like desktop applications. The latest releases of most browsers support HTML5 to varying degrees. HTML5 does not cover CSS and JavaScript, but often when people refer to HTML5, they often are using it as a blanket term, applying not only to changes to the HTML, but also to changes in CSS and JavaScript.

A incredibly popular open source JavaScript library designed for manipulating HTML pages and handling events. Released in 2006, jQuery quickly gained widespread adoption because of its efficiency and elegance. The definitive feature of jQuery is its support for “chaining” operations together to simplify otherwise complicated tasks. It is the most popular JavaScript library.

Data about data. Examples of metadata include descriptors indicating when information was created, by whom and in what format. Metadata helps to organize information online and make it machine-readable. HTML is an example of metadata — it organizes the data in a web page so browsers can display it sensibly. Web pages often have hidden metadata that helps with their search engine ranks. Photos uploaded to Flickr carry metadata such as time taken, camera model and shutter speed. MP3s have metadata such as the artist name, track title, album name and so on.

Search Engine
Computer program used to search and catalog (index) the millions of pages of available information on the web. Common search engines are Google and AltaVista.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
A suite of techniques for improving how a website ranks on search engines such as Google. SEO is often divided into “white hat” techniques, which (to simplify) try to boost ranking by improving the quality of a website, and “black hat” techniques, which try to trick search engines into thinking a page is of higher quality than it actually is. SEO can also refer to individuals and companies that offer to provide search engine optimization for websites.

Semantic Web
A web of data with a meaning in the sense that computer programs can know enough about the data to process it.

Social Media
A broad term referring to the wide swath of content creation and consumption that is enabled by the many-to-many distributed infrastructure of the Internet. Unlike legacy media, where the audience is usually on the receiving end of content creation, social media generally allows three stages of interaction with content: 1) producing, 2) consuming and 3) sharing. Social media is incredibly broad and refers to blogging, wikis, video-sharing sites like YouTube, photo-sharing sites like Flickr and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

A method of sending audio and video files over the Internet in such a way that the user can view the file while it is being transferred.

A hierarchical classification system. In the world of content, this can be a hierarchy of terms (generally called nodes or entities) that are used to classify the category or subject content belongs to as well as terms that are included in the content. In many cases, website navigation systems appear taxonomical in that users narrow down from broad top-level categories to the granular feature they want to see. An ontology is similar to a taxonomy in that it is also a classification system with nodes or entities, but it is more complex and flexible because ontologies allow for non-hierarchical relationships. While in a taxonomy a node can be either a broader term or narrower term, in an ontology nodes can be related in any way.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
A web address. The standard way to address web documents (pages) on the Internet (like:

Web Host
A web server that “hosts” web services like providing web site space to companies or individuals. (like: BlueHost, GoDaddy, MediaTemple)

A web site with pages that can be easily edited by visitors using their web browser, but generally now gaining acceptance as a prefix to mean “collaborative.” Ward Cunningham created the first wiki, naming it WikiWikiWeb after the Hawaiian word for “quick.” A wiki enables the audience to contribute to a knowledge base on a topic or share information within an organization, like a newsroom. The best-known wiki in existence is Wikipedia, which burst onto the scene around 2000 as one of the first examples of mass collaborative information aggregation. Other sites that have been branded “wiki” include Wikinews, Wikitravel, and WikiLeaks (which was originally but is no longer a wiki).

The most popular blogging software in use today, in large part because it is free and relatively powerful, yet easy to use. First released by Matt Mullenweg in 2003, WordPress attracts contributions from a large community of programmers and designers who give it additional functionality and visual themes. Sites that use WordPress include the New York Times blogs, CNN and the LOLCats network. It has been criticized for security flaws.

WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
In Web terms: To display a web page being edited exactly the same way it will be displayed on the web.