A Web 2.0 Glossary (Part 1 of 2)

by | June 19th, 2007

Web 2.0 picWe will no doubt be having a lot to say about Web 2.0 technologies in this space so we thought we might begin with a brief glossary of common terms associated with these technologies. As is typical for a burgeoning area of software development, there is already a pretty extensive family of terms to master just to be able to follow the current conversations. So, without further ado, here is our attempt at a guide to the perplexed:

  • Ajax: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML is a term given to the use of JavaScript to perform asynchronous communications to a Web server necessary to update portions of a Web page or application providing a speedy desktop-like experience (see: Google Maps). While XML is part of the name, Ajax applications do not necessarily need to send XML back and forth and commonly use other formats such as JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). See also: RIA and SPA.
  • Atom Syndication Format: An XML-based syndication format used for Web “feeds”. It was derived from RSS (Really Simple Syndication) but is more defined and has a richer data format. Atom also has a complete API designed to handle publishing from posting to reading.
  • Blog: A portmanteau of “Web log,” the blog evolved from online diaries or journals, often manually-updated sections of standard Web sites or small personal sites, featuring frequent chronological entries (or “posts”), displayed in reverse chronological order, and often containing hyperlinks to other blogs or non-blog Web content. As blog authors (“bloggers”) began to write about (“blog”) topics beyond those characteristic of the personal-yet-public diary (e.g., tech blogs, political blogs, etc.), and as blogging tools and services (e.g., WordPress, Movable Type, LiveJournal, etc.), began adding features such as reader comments, WSYWIG editors, permanent links, trackbacks, searchable archives, and RSS/Atom feeds, blogs began to serve an increasingly-important role as self-organizing indexes of Web content. This role continues to expand today, for example with the rise of the “vlog” (video blog).
  • Crowdsourcing: A term that can be defined as outsourcing repetitive or challenging work to a large group of semi-organized individuals (a crowd) via the internet – or “Many hands make light work”. An example of crowdsourcing might be the use of human recognition to identify objects in photographs or to scan forum posts for inappropriate or off topic content. This is work that is difficult for machines to do, but relatively easy for a person.
  • EDI (Electronic Data Interchange): EDI system allows linked computers to conduct business transactions such as ordering and invoicing over telecommunications networks. Often cited as the ancestor (and still viable alternative to) Web services.
  • Folksonomy: A user-generated taxonomy of Web content based on the use of open-ended labels (or “tags”). A social-bookmarking web service such as del.icio.us is a fairly pure example of the phenomenon, but it is also widespread in other social networks such as the photo-sharing site Flickr. Like blogs, folksonomies serve an increasingly-important indexing function on the Web, ideally making content progressively easier to search and discover. Criticisms of folksonomy in information theory highlight the same unsystematic, open and informal qualities that attract users to folksonomic tagging, but focus on the negative consequences of these qualities for efficient information organization/retrieval (e.g., polysemy, synonymy, irony).
  • Internet Meme: A unit of cultural information that propagates from one person to another via web sites or e-mail.
  • The Long Tail: A term coined by Chris Anderson in a self titled 2004 Wired Magazine article that summarizes the success and business models of companies such as Amazon and Netflix. The Long Tail illustrates how the volume of many obscure or less popular things (such as books, movies, or blog posts) often exceeds the volume of the popular or immediately “hot” things (like a bestselling book, or a popular video on YouTube). This explains why Amazon makes more money selling 1001 obscure titles than selling 1000 copies of the latest Harry Potter.
  • Mashup: A site or application that combines content from multiple services into some integrated user experience, e.g., Paul Rademacher’s popular housingmaps.com.
  • Microformats: A set of conventions for using common, short, descriptive class names to add semantic meaning to human- and machine-readable mark up (X/HTML, Atom, RSS, arbitrary XML). The intent is to allow humanly-meaningful data such as events, contact information, or locations, embedded in Web content, to be mechanically detected, extracted, indexed, searched, saved, referenced, reused and combined. As an example, the hCalendar microformat would use divs with the class name “vevent” and spans with such class names as “summary” and “location,” to represent an iCalendar event and its details. Microformats are often touted as part of the so-called “lowercase semantic Web.”

Stay tuned for next week’s conclusion A Web 2.0 Glossary (Part 2 of 2).

[photo under CC by flickr user Yaniv Golan]