Website (sometimes written as two words: Web Site)
Much as a number of pages make up a brochure, pamphlet, or book, a number of web pages (such as the one you are reading) make up a website.
Originally a contraction of "Web Log", by analogy with a ship's log, a blog is a website that consists of a number of dated entries. Personal blogs tend to be online diaries comprised of frequent small personal entries, or a series of less frequent but lengthier essays on whatever topics the author wishes to write about. Commercial blog entries range from announcements and press releases from a company, fulfilling a public relations function, to tutorials, journalistic news, or other magazine-style content to attract readers to the blog, either in order to raise awareness of the company's brand or to make money directly by attracting viewers on to make a purchase, either directly from the purchaser or through third-party adverts on the blog through an affiliate scheme. Blogs also encourage audience participation; the front page of the blog features summaries of the most recent entries, which can be clicked upon to read the whole thing - or for the reader to submit their own comments on the entry which, after moderation by the site owner, will be displayed on the page for others to read and in turn comment upon. Lively discussions often occur in blog entry comments, which can be an invaluable way of gaining publicity and engaging with your customers.
Affiliate scheme
An affiliate scheme is a means for the publisher of a web site that attracts readers to make money, by offering links to affiliated web sites where the readers might actually buy some product or service. As part of the affiliation deal, the affiliated site will give a small "finder's fee" to the site that linked to them if the reader makes a purchase. Affiliate schemes vary - in particular, some are based around obvious advertising on the original web site, similar to adverts in a printed publication, while others work more subtly, such as us suggesting you click here to buy a book on affiliate schemes. We haven't actually read it and have no idea if it's any good, but we would earn a few pence if you did buy it.
Any site that allows the public to submit their own content, comments, or messages for public view has to deal with abusive users. This process is called moderation. There are two main approaches that can be taken; for situations where abuse is a serious danger, all submissions from the public are kept hidden within the web site, and moderator (like the editor of a letters page) reads each and decides whether to publish them unchanged, edited, or not at all. For situations where abuse is less of a concern, one can allow submissions to become immediately visible to the public on the web site, but the moderator keeps an eye out for abusive content and takes action (editing or removing content) if anything objectionable is found.
A Wiki is a web site where any page can be edited by anybody. Amazingly, in practice this rarely dissolves into chaos; wikis require relatively little moderation, as for every abusive users, there are many serious user who will eagerly use the wiki's ability to undo modifications to undo any vandalism they encounter. The most famous wiki in the world today is Wikipedia, a project to create an online encyclopedia. By making the encyclopedia as a wiki, the creators of the site have made it possible for any member of the public with useful information about a topic to create an entry on that topic, or add their information to an existing entry, thus allowing the encyclopedia to grow to unprecedented proportions. Wikis are more often created for narrower audiences, such as groups with a particular interest, or private audiences: many small (and not so small) companies use an internal wiki as an intranet, accessible only to their staff, as a valuable medium to share the kind of day-to-day operational knowledge that all too often otherwise ends up lost in a filing cabinet somewhere. Setting up a wiki initially requires experienced wiki users to lay out a sensible structure, like the chapters of a reference book, so that future users have a framework to add their knowledge into. Although most people will benefit from an hour or two's training in how to edit pages, wikis are surprisingly easy to use and get used to - adding information to the wiki quickly becomes second nature!
A forum is a web site specifically created for hosting discussions. The web site has a number of discussion pages, each devoted to a particular topic, and each of which shows the most recent things people have said on that topic; the reader can then make their own statement, which will then be added to the top of the list. People then in turn comment on that, leading to a discussion. The discussion is kept archived by the site, and can be searched in future, as useful answers to people's questions often crop up in discussions. Forums are often used by groups with a shared interest to discuss that interest, or by companies to allow their customers to discuss their products, sharing tips with each other and acting as a cost-effective customer support service where the company's specialists can answer customer questions, and those answers will remain online for other customers with the same problem to find. This also allows the company to easily assess their customers' reactions to new products or other announcements, and to quickly publish responses to customer concerns as soon as they arise.
Instant Messaging (often abbreviated to IM)
Instant messaging is a way of communicating instantly over the Internet. Whereas e-mail works like the postal system, allowing electronic letters to be sent off through the system, delivered, then found and read by their recipients, instant messaging (as the name suggests) is more like a telephone conversation, except performed as written text rather than with voice. To start an instant messaging conversation, you must know the IM address of the person you wish to talk to; they might tell you this in person, or publish it on their web site or business card. You type this address into an instant messaging program installed on your computer (or select a previously-entered one from an address book), and a request to start a conversation is sent to their computer - much like placing a phone call. If their computer is not switched on and connected to the Internet, or they are not available, then the request will fail, much like an engaged line; but if all is well, the recipient sees the request pop up on their computer, and they can enter into the conversation with you. Once a conversation is started, whatever each party types appears on the screen of the other until either end chooses to end the conversation.
Mailing list
A mailing list is a special facility allowing a group of people to converse together via e-mail. Normal e-mails are like letters, written by one person and address to another; a mailing list has an e-mail address of its own, and any e-mail sent to that address is therefore received by the mailing list system. The system then forwards a copy of the message to every e-mail address on the list, so everybody gets to see it. If they reply to the message, the reply goes back to the mailing list system, which again forwards it to everybody - so that all interested parties may take part in the discussion. They can also be set up to only allow certain people to post to the list, which then permits them to be used to easily post announcements to a large number of people. Many companies have a mailing list of all their customers, so they can send them news and announcements; it is even possible to set up a web site that allows people to enter their e-mail addresses to join a mailing list without requiring any work on the part of the list owner. Mailing lists are often used by clubs or societies to allow their members to discuss things electronically, or for announcements; public mailing lists are often created to allow people with a common interest to discuss that interest; and many companies create internal mailing lists for their staff for discussion and announcements.
Domain Name
Domain names are the fundamental form of address on the Internet. Web site names, email addresses, and instant messaging addresses are all based around domain names. Domain names such as amazon.com, google.com, and bbc.co.uk almost become household names; if you type them into a web browser you are taken to the front page of the web site of that organisation, and email addresses for that organisation all look like something@domain.com. Domain names all have a small code at the end, such as .com or .co.uk; this represents a high-level category the organisation is claiming to be part of. Ones ending in a country code relate to a particular country; .co.uk is for UK companies, while .org.uk is for non-profit organisations, and .me.uk for private individuals, while .com is for international companies. Different countries have their own rules for domain names using their name - and domain names have to be rented, with different types of domain name carrying widely varying costs; the interaction of different national rules and conventions that have arisen among the Internet community make choosing the right domain name a specialist task. Please tell us what kind of organisation or company you are, and let us advise you!
Servers and Hosting
Everything "on the Internet" - web sites, email addresses, mailing lists, instant messaging addresses, even domain names themselves - has to be provided by a special computer called a server, which is on a permanent high-quality Internet connection quite unlike normal "broadband" or "ADSL". The process of a server providing Internet services is known as hosting; any given web site or whatever is hosted on a server. While any modern computer can function as a server, they will not be as reliable or efficient as specially-built servers, and servers require expert setup and maintenance. Servers for professional use are always located in specialist data centres.
Data centre
A data centre is a special building constructed to house servers. The data centre consists of a number of rooms with special filtration and air conditioning to keep servers free of dust and at their optimum operating temperature, and preventing the significant quantities of heat they generate from building up and damaging them. The building provides special electricity supplies, with generators that supply power in the event of a power cut, and provide physical security in the form of guards and locks to ensure that only the owners of the servers and their appointed staff can gain access to a server, to prevent theft. Lastly, data centres have multiple high-quality Internet connections with backups, allowing the servers within to remain connected to the Internet at high speed, even if faults or accidents break one or more of the connections.
A e-book is a book made available electronically, for reading either on a normal computer or laptop, or on a special hand-held e-book reader. e-books can usually be made easily from the same proofs as a printed paper book, and the cost of distributing an e-book via a web site is nearly zero, allowing them to be sold at a much lower price than paper books. e-books can be published without needing a conventional publishing company, as their low overheads of production remove the need for printing presses, meaning they are much more accessible and can be cost effective for much more specialist publications than would interest a paper publisher.
e-publishing refers to any form of publishing on the Internet. This includes the publishing of e-books, as well as writing blogs and wikis.
Skype and VoIP
VoIP is the general term for placing telephone calls over the Internet (it stands for "Voice over the Internet Protocol"); Skype is a particular VoIP product that dominates the market. People who have the Skype program installed on their computers and who have suitable microphones can place online phone calls to other Skype users if their computers are switched on - and there is no phone bill to pay! Skype allows you to place calls to normal telephone numbers, or have a Skype phone number that can be called from a normal telephone, although these calls will cost you some money.
The Internet is a global electronic communications network - much like the phone system. Just as you can place a phone call from any telephone on Earth to any other, the Internet allows any two computers with an Internet connection to communicate with each other. Most often, one of the computers is an ordinary PC or laptop in front of a person in a home or office, who uses special Internet programs such as a web browser to do something such as view a web page; their computer then connects, via the Internet, to a server that hosts the web site they are visiting, and the server then sends back the web page for the person to read. Systems like instant messaging and Skype, however, work by communicating directly between PCs. Just like a phone line, an internet connection usually costs money, although modern "broadband" connections work on a fixed monthly charge rather than usage billing - more like a TV licence than a telephone line! Because of this, many organisations are willing to let visitors use their internet connections for free, particularly if it lures customers into their premises.
The term "intranet" is a play on the word "internet", but it's really a kind of web site; one which is private to the staff of an organisation. Often a wiki is used as an intranet, to allow the staff to share information with each other easily, but organisations with a more top-down management structure will benefit from a blog instead.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Although companies go to great lengths to encourage their customers to remember their domain name, featuring it prominently in advertising, a large number of people understandably don't remember them. Also, a lot of people will go the Internet in search of a product or some information without knowing which web site will have it. These two facts combine to mean that a significant proportion of visitors to a web site do not come there by just typing the address into their browser, but by finding it through a search engine such as the famous Google. Search engines work by having computers that automatically and silently browse the web all day long, visiting all the pages they can find and analysing their content to create giant indexes. So when somebody visits Google and types "lawnmower parts" or "how to make curtains", Google consults its index and finds the best pages it knows on the topic they have asked for, and then presents a list. For example, click here to see what Google has on lawnmower parts. Clearly, it is of vital importance that a web site is amongst the first few results on Google when a potential customer or reader is searching for something the site provides; in order to ensure this happens, building a web site so that all its pages are found by the search engines, and so that the search engines can accurately tell what a page is about in order to correctly index it, is a specialist task known as Search Engine Optimisation. Many widespread Web site technologies such as Flash and Javascript make web sites look lively and interesting, but any sales advantage gained from this is often more than lost due to the fact that such technologies, if carelessly applied, obstruct the search engine's indexing processes; losing ninety percent of your potential customers in the first place far outweighs the extra few percent of successful sales you might gain from having a flashier web site.