There’s lots of confusing terms todo with websites and the Internet. Here I try to lay out, in simple terms what they mean.
(If there are any terms you think should be added here, please shout out).
- Adaptive web design
- Backend coding
- Blogs & blogging
- Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Content Strategy
- Content first
- Dedicated hosting
- DNS, DNS SERVER, DNS RECORDS
- Domain names
- Fixed width design
- Front end coding
- Fluid design
- Hosting (email)
- Hosting (website)
- IP & IP ADDRESS
- Mobile website
- News feeds (see RSS)
- Pay-per-click (PPC)
- Responsive design
- RSS & News feeds
- Shared hosting
- Virtual hosting
- Web browser
- Web designer
- Web developer
- Web server
- Web standards
- WWW (World Wide Web)
A 404 error is what you get when you type in a web page address which does not exist (maybe you mis typed it?).
The default 404 page is pretty uninspiring:
…and depending on what your priority is, what level of traffic you get etc, it may be worth putting a custom 404 page in place which, perhaps:
- offers a search facility
- offers suggested articles
- offers an ability to contact you or to report the error
This can all help sign post lost visitors to a more suitable destination.
This is a fairly typical term in the web design community which refers to a web developer rather than a web designer.
Blogging & Blogs
A blog is nothing more than a website which obeys certain conventions in that it typically:
- is date specific with a series of posts
- Is less focussed on design and more focussed on content
- May have the ability to syndicate content by RSS news feeds
- Is easily updateable by the end user
This topic is covered in depth in this Jojet blog article.
This is a general term relating to the actual information which needs to be present on a website. Content is typically left up to clients and, without proper guidance, can be of poor quality (e.g. simply copied from an existing brochure – hardly suitable for websites).
There is (thankfully) an emerging trend to try to focus on content first before website designs are done; this makes sense as proper time needs to be spent on the actual message of the website if were are to avoid the situation where we are merely pouring poor content into beautify designed web page templates – who does that benefit?
Whilst the above may seem obvious you have to bear in mind that:
- the creative companies deliver websites may have little interest or background in copy/marketing
- many website customers are unable to see the true value in copy; unwilling to hire a professional copywriter and are more than happy for any old copy to be used. Web design companies who are not being paid extra to police this situation are hardly to blame (but they should raise the issue of poor copy).
It is no surprise that this has thrown open a new area of study known as ‘Content Strategy’.
Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS is a facility whereby the owner, client or website administrator can easily alter text & content on the website.
The subject is extensively discussed in this blog post.
This phrase certainly does mean different things to different people and the area of expertise is certainly outside of mine but here is some suggested further reading:
This sensible approach to web design is based on this principle:
Design around the content; do not guess.
I have to say that whilst I love this approach, I’ve found it difficult to implement with clients; however, we will be perserving as I can see the logic in it.
- http://adactio.com/journal/4523/ <– this is a *must* read
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
At a basic level, websites contain two things:
- meaningful content
- frilly design stuff
CSS helps us define the “frilly design stuff” of a website. By defining the “frilling design stuff” (sorry, can’t stop repeating myself) in its own language we are thereby helping achieve one of the holy grail’s of web design; a clear separation between design & content.
By separating design from content we not only make if easy to change the look at some future point (without having to redo the whole website) but we also make it easier for people with screen readers; this is obviously good for accessbility.
CSS is part of the core of web design and is constantly evolving; CSS3 allows for very complex design control which involves animations and user interfaces akin to native, desktop applications.
CSS can also be used to strip away all of the superflous graphics/content so pages can be printed.
These are information stores which are typically not needed for a basic website as they are normally reserved for web applications. However, if it is a basic website built on top of a framework such as WordPress or Joomla then it will require a database.
Databases are an added complexity from a hosting point of view in that there changes do need to be backed up.
DNS (Domain Name Servers)
DNS records, DNS hosting
Geniuses aside, human beings are typically better with words than numbers; we can certainly remember a story better than a long series of digits (and yes, I am excluded those odd people who think it is kooky to remember PI to a few hundred decimal places).
Computers are the opposite though; they are typically much happier with numbers than words (which is probably why we invented them in the first place).
For instance, domain names (e.g. JOJET.COM) is one of these cases. At the raw, low level, computers do not want to know about domain names, they want to know the actual IP ADDRESS of the computer.
I.e. JOJET.COM is the domain name for my company and IP address of the web server which hosts the website is:
JOJET.COM = 126.96.36.199*
These numbers mean a lot more to computers and enable them to talk to each other (i.e. network).
To bridge the gulf between the world of numbers and words we have the DOMAIN NAME SYSTEM (DNS)
The domain name system essentially allows computers to ask it questions like:
Hi there DOMAIN NAME SYSTEM!, what is the IP address for JOJET.COM please?
…and the DNS system comes back with:
Hello back..I’m feeling a bit sad today but, in answer to your question, the IP address for JOJET.COM is 188.8.131.52. I hope that helps.
So, DNS is essentially a sign posting service.
The burden for these DNS ‘lookups’ is shared across many DNS computers; this is why, at some stage, you may have fallen victim to a typical DNS issue. You make a change to your domain name but it takes a while to ripple through the Internet (there are ways to minimise these issues though; it’s all about proper planning).
(*Note: this is an IP4 address, there are IP6 addresses coming out much are much longer; this is happening due to the fact that we’ve got more & more devices coming online all the time. From smart phones to fridge freezers).
These are pretty much essential on the Internet. E.g. I own JOJET.COM and, because I own it, I can do other things like set up a website which answers to that, I can set up email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Indeed I can set up anything I want (e.g. this blog is BLOG.JOJET.COM).
It is important to note though that a domain name is NOT the same as a website.
This blog post has much more information on domain names & what you need to know.
Fixed Width Designs
This is where the design of the website is designed to be a certain width; eg. 960 pixels is a fairly common width which works across many type of computer or Internet capable device.
However, this fixed width design is commonly being challenged with more adaptive techniques.
Flash is a proprietary technology owned by Adobe (before they purchased Macromedia) which allows for some very flashy, multi media and graphical elements to websites. Sometimes a Flash element is used on a website or, more rarely nowadays, an entire site might be written in it.
Flash is generally installed as a browser plugin and, when a new version of Flash is released, your plugin will need to be updated. This is obviously a bit of a pain.
Many people believe that Flash as a technology is being obsolete as more open techologies (e.g. HTML5) offer less propritery options. E.g. most people would normally encounter Flash as it is used as the default video player technology for Youtube; however, youtube are trailing a non-Flash, HTML5 alternative.
We would rarely use Flash on any of our websites but, it is a tool in the box and it needs to be considered for use on a case by case basis.
Front End Coding
Some front end coders may even blur the boundaries into back end code but peoeple who are equally good in both camps are rare.
This is a design technique for websites which has been around for a good few years. This technique allows the website design width (and page elements) to resize & scale depending on the size of the web browser. Fluid design is a key ingredient in the more broader concept of adaptive design.
Dedicated hosting, shared hosting, virtual hosting
Hosting generally refers to the provisioning of resource so that a website can be served on the World Wide Web. In short, a website is (typically) nothing more than a set of computer files; these files need to be on a special computer connected to the Internet; this special computer is called a web server.
Hosting, like any resource, needs to be paid for and, like any resource, there are different tiers of offering to suit different budgets.
In this scenario, there is one webserver which has the files on it for lots (pershaps hundreds) of websites; the web server is therefore being shared across many websites.
The plus of this scenario is cost; it’s typically cheap as chips.
The downsides are many: with many websites on one computer, if one website crashes or is hacked or becomes really popular (i.e. stealing all the bandwidth), your website could easily lose out and be offline for a period of time.
The complete opposite of shared hosting. You have a web server dedicated to your website. In fact, for more advance configurations, you may have multiple web servers which are load balanced (i.e. if one web server develops a fault, the others handle the increased load without any disruption to the end user).
Pros: web servers (and it’s resources & capacity) are at your complete disposal. A flaw in someone else’s (completely unrelated) website, will have no affect on you.
Dedicated hosting costs a lot more than shared (for obvious reason).
Load balancing can cost a lot more still (depends on the level of resilience you need).
This is almost the perfect marriage between shared & dedicated and is the solution which Jojet ha been using for many years (although it is still quite new to some people).
In computing there has been a big drive towards virtualisation in the last few years as this approach can mean you can get much more value out of your hardware resources.
E.g. in a virtualised hosting environment you may have a very powerful dedicated computer which is running a special operating system. This special operating system is actually able to run virtual versions of many other operating systems; e.g. it could be running virtual machines for Windows, Debian, OSX etc. The beauty is that, because of the virtualised separation, these virtual machines cannot impact each other – much more secure than a typical shared environment. In a sense you can get all the benefits of dedicated hosting, but at a fraction of the cost.
At Jojet I use Memset for dedicated & virtual hosting.
HTML is the programming language which websites are typically written in. If you’ve ever “viewed source” on a website and seen a document of computer language looking goobledegook then that’s HTML.
When you fire up your web browser (be it Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Firefox etc) and type in your website address (e.g. http://www.jojet.com), this is what happens:
- You type “WWW.JOJET.COM*” into the web browser
- The web browser asks the ISP’s DNS server to translate JOJET.COM into an IP ADDRESS
- The web browser asks the web server at that IP address for the default page of JOJET.COM
- The web browser receives the HTML, CSS etc and tries to render the web page.
The funny thing about point 5 is this – we are used to bugs in programming languages and when we hit a but we’ve seen programs crash (I’d be amazed if anyone reading this has not!). Anyway, web browsers (like Google Chrome) are also pieces of software but software which has been written to be very defensive; to have to deal with some very badly written HTML code – and to try to display it as best as it can (without crashing!). The up shot of this is that web browsers have been very lenient to poor code. Obviously good outfits (like Jojet) take pride in good code and understand the benefits, not everyone does though!
Responsive Web Design
(and adaptive web design)
This is a web design approach which helps address the fact that websites are increasingly being accessed via very different devices; from our desktop PCs, our widescreen laptops, our smaller screen iPad and then iPhones and lower; quite a range!
Traditionally a website is design as a fixed width (and we’ve done that at Jojet for years), using a general width of 960 pixels as being a pretty standard width which will work pretty well across a range of devices (if you use an iPhone and the like, you’ll be used to it scaling such wide websites down and you’ll have to pinch & zoom to get to the content you need).
This new web design approach means that we are much more savvy about these different screens sizes and the design tries to automatically adapt ; e.g. let’s not try and deliver the desktop experience to an iPhone; let’s be more respectful of the screen size (i.e. no more pinch & zoom). Note: this is a completely different concept to having a mobile website.
There are two main approaches here: adaptive and responsive web design (however, the situation is muddied that you can actually have a mix of these approaches).
With adaptive design, the overall design of the website snaps to a new layout at certain predefined points (e.g. at iPad size or iPhone size.
With responsive design, there is less snapping and it more fluidly re-sizes.
There is a lot of debate about these topics in the web design community. Indeed some quarters say that adaptive & responsive are white elephants and, instead, we should concentrate on making our websites as fast as possible; the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
To see a responsive website in action, via the Boston Globe website and gradually make your web browser window smaller; notice how the content changes? Cool huh?
At Jojet my approach is that, where it makes sense, we should be delivering some form of responsive or adaptive website to clients by standard.
WordPress is the hugely popular publishing platform which is used by a lot of blog (including this one).
However, when people talk about WordPress they often get confused between WORDPRESS.COM and WORDPRESS.COM; whilst these two are intrinsically related, they are most certainly different beasts. The difference is discussed here.
Many people thinking of WordPress and immediately think of blogs but, it’s more complex than that. WordPress is actually an amazing publishing platform which can be embedded into *any* website (whether it is a blog or not). Indeed, at Jojet we use WordPress a lot because of its Content Management System facilities.