Admit it. You’ve used a buzzword in a conversation without really knowing what it means. Or someone else used one and you just played along as if you knew exactly what they were talking about. It’s tough to keep up with all of the new techie-buzzwords.
For those of you with buzzword anxiety, here’s a plain-English explanation of the ten buzzwords that you’re most likely to hear in your next website project discussion.
AJAX is a set of technologies that makes it possible to update parts of a web page without reloading the entire page. Without AJAX, every click requires that the entire web page gets rebuilt and reloaded in your web browser, even if only one small bit of text needs to change.
With AJAX a web page can feel snappier or more responsive. AJAX can also be used to help facilitate cool effects like drag and drop (Google homepage, for example).
First of all, “markup” is the code (usually HTML) that is used to build websites. If markup is “semantic” it means the programmer took the time to use tags which describe each part of the page according to its meaning or purpose.
For example, using a heading tag like this:
gives meaning to the text between the tags and can be considered semantic. Most browsers will, by default, render this text in a larger, heavier font (the programmer can later modify this appearance, though).
Let’s say another programmer chose to markup the same heading text like this instead:
<div style="font-size: 120%; font-weight: bold">My heading</div>
This text, because of the extra style information specified, would also be rendered with a larger, heavier appearance, but wouldn’t be considered semantic. In the first example, the <h1> tag gives the text meaning as a heading, whereas the <div> tag with some extra style info implies no meaning but only deals with the appearance of the text.
Programmers who use semantic markup start out by describing a website’s structure and information semantically, and then control its appearance using CSS as a second step.
Semantic markup is less bloated, more search engine friendly, easier to update, better at looking good on handhelds and PDAs, etc.
In the old days of web development we had to use tables to make a web page look just right. Tables, originally meant for tabular data like that found in a spreadsheet, were enlisted to help get images and text all situated in the proper spot on a page. As designers got more creative, developers pushed the usage of tables in more creative ways.
Websites built using tables are bloated (way too much code), inefficient, and non-semantic (see Semantic Markup above). Tableless layouts use much less code and leverage the power of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to achieve proper presentation.
Using tables for layout is quickly becoming frowned upon so good developers have left tables behind and embraced the new way.
If you’re talking to a good developer about a complex web project, chances are you’ll hear them say “framework” a few times. A framework is a bunch of pre-written code that allows a developer to do common things very easily. Rather than start from scratch on every project, a framework allows a developer to start a project with a good percentage of the code already written.
Developers who use frameworks are more efficient and deliver more consistent quality. A few popular frameworks are Ruby on Rails, CakePHP, and Django.
HTML is the lingua franca of the Web, but it’s being replaced by XHTML. XHTML is like HTML but much better because it’s stricter. XHTML requires developers to adhere more closely to standards and conventions, which means websites built with XHTML work better across different operating systems and web browsers as well as on different kinds of devices.
Web standards are rules and guidelines that, when followed, make website development more consistent. The W3C creates and publishes the standards and good web developers adhere to them. Browser makers are supposed to adhere to the standards when making their new web browsers, but some do a better job than others.
Web developers should adhere to web standards so that the websites they build work in multiple web browers and on multiple operating systems. Websites built upon standards are also more “future proof,” meaning they’ll fare better than those not adhering to standards when the next version of a web browser is released.
Read more on web standards in my previous post.
After building hundreds of websites a developer has usually established some habits or consistent ways of doing things. Most developers settle upon some coding conventions and tend to name things the same way on each project.
For example, a developer might always code up his navigation like this:
Another developer may have been coding up her navigation for years in a different manner, like this:
The whole premise of “web patterns” is that we should all put our heads together and decide upon some conventions that we’ll all use. This will make it easier to work on other developers’ code and save us all time deciding how to write our code.
This is a relatively new movement and doesn’t yet have a lot of traction but if you work with developers they should be keeping an eye on this.
Microformats is another emerging technology. It’s essentially an effort to create an agreed-upon standard for presenting common types of information.
If you think about a “contact us” page on a typical website, it usually has information like a phone number, an address, a fax number, etc. Using microformats that information can be coded in a way that makes it possible for both humans and machines to read it.
If the information is just input like the text on any other web page, then it’s just that…text on a page. But if microformats are used the door is now open to use this information in many more ways.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s a way for content creators to make new information available to people (or systems) that want to be notified when new info is available. If you have a favorite news site or a blog you read regularly, subscribing to the site’s RSS feed means you’ll know when a new article is posted and won’t have to drop by the site regularly in hopes that you won’t missing anything important.
This is the fun one. Who knows what Web 2.0 really is? Ask around and you’ll get a different definition every time. This phrase pretty much means “cool and new” from what I can tell. Here are a few other meanings people seem to ascribe to the phrase:
Websites that are highly participatory or community-driven in nature. Visitors to the site do more than just read static text, they interact with the site by commenting, setting preferences, etc.
Websites that make use of AJAX, DHTML, semantic and/or tableless markup, etc.
In my opinion the phrase is way too vague to have any real value and those who use it heavily are buzzword lovers. If you’re looking for a buzzword to drop in your next conversation, this isn’t the one. Watch for this phrase to start disappearing soon.
These definitions are definitely not comprehensive and to some degree I’ve simplified each in an effort to make them less technical and easier to understand. My goal isn’t to create a dictionary-worthy list of definitions, but rather to help you avoid that glazed-over look in your eyes when the buzzwords start flying in your next website project discussion!