Many of these terms are discussed in more depth throughout Composing Cyberspace, and all are discussed extensively on the Internet. This glossary is intended only as a starting place and a way to quickly understand some of the relationships among these terms. Glossary items are cross-referenced throughout CC Online with direct links, except for the most common terms such as Internet, online, software, and World Wide Web. For further information, consult an Internet reference book or one of many online glossaries, such as the ILC (Internet Literacy Consultants) Glossary of Internet Terms or Patrick Crispenís Internet Roadmap.


Access A social issue often raised with regard to information technologies: who has access to what technology?

Anonymity A common condition in electronic spaces, where the only clues about a personís identity may be textual.

Asynchronous Not at the same time, or not in "real time." Snail mail and e-mail are both asynchronous communication forms because people send and receive messages at different times.

Bandwidth The amount of data or information that an electronic line or wire can hold. Graphical, video, or multimedia data require more bandwidth than text.

Bits and bytes The smallest form of electronic data, which are measured in a binary system of 0s and 1s. As the building blocks of electronic signals, bits and bytes may be contrasted with atoms and molecules, the building blocks of physical matter. A byte is about 8 to 10 bits; a kilobyte (K) is 1024 (210) bytes; a megabyte (MB) is more than 1 million (220) bytes. The text of a college essay might require less than 20K of computer memory to store, depending on the computer platform and program being used, while the word processing software used to create it may require several megabytes.

Bookmark An electronic placeholder, like a physical bookmark, used to mark a location on the Internet. Web browsers can store and customize hundreds of bookmarks, a helpful way for people to organize their online interests and Internet research.

Browser A client application program (a kind of software) that allows users to navigate the World Wide Web. The two most common browsers are made by Netscape Communications and Microsoft Corporation.

Chat To "talk" electronically -- that is, in text -- in real time or synchronously.

Chat rooms are electronic "spaces," often devoted to particular topics, where people "meet" for conversation or online socializing.

Client A computer or computer program that receives information from a server computer across a network. The "client-server" model predominates on the Internet.

CMC (Computer-mediated communication) Any form of communication using computers and computer networks, including e-mail, electronic conferences, newsgroups, and Web chats.

Constructivism Generally, the idea that people and human institutions are socially shaped or "constructed" and that human behavior is determined more by convention than by nature or biology. Social constructivism is one theoretical model for the use of computer networks, such as the Internet, and for educational uses of technology.

Cracker A kind of hacker who uses his or her skills maliciously, for example to break into other peopleís computers and steal, destroy, or corrupt data.

Cyberporn Pornographic or offensive material transmitted across the Internet.

Cyperpunk Can refer to a literary and artistic genre or to a subculture or social movement. The term was coined in the late 1980s to describe the work of William Gibson (see Gibsonís story in Chapter 1 and Gibsonís story in Chapter 8) and other science fiction writers (see John Shirleyís story in Chapter 3), characterized by a dense, fast-paced narrative and socially-marginal characters in a technological future. The cyberpunk counterculture "combines an infatuation with high-tech tools and a disdain for conventional ways of using them," in the words of Time magazineís Philip Elmer-Dewitt. That disdain has been associated with online anarchism, rebellious punk music, psychedelic drugs, and rave culture (involving quickly-organized, nomadic all-night dance parties).

Cyberspace A general term for any or all electronic "space," or the virtual space of bits and bytes as opposed to the physical space of atoms and molecules. The term comes from William Gibsonís 1984 novel Neuromancer, where it refers to a vast electronic matrix of data controlled by powerful corporate entities; Gibsonís matrix has a visual, three-dimensional interface that specialists navigate by "jacking in" or hooking up special equipment.

Cyborg A contraction of the words "cybernetic organism," referring to a human-machine hybrid or a combination of biological and artificial systems. According to Donna Haraway (see Harawayís essay in Chapter 1 in the Foreword to The Cyborg Handbook (ed. Chris Hables Gray, Routledge, 1995), the term was invented by researchers Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline in 1960.

Digital Electronic; composed of bits and bytes, as opposed to atoms and molecules.

Download To transfer information to oneís computer from another computer, usually across a network. See Upload.

Electronic democracy A term used by computer enthusiasts, and debated by technology critics, for the potential of electronic technologies to increase opportunities for participatory democracy and social justice.

E-mail Electronic mail, nearly instantaneous messages sent across computer networks. Though fast, e-mail is asynchronous, because messages are stored on the recipientís computer or mail server until she or he wishes to read or reply to them. E-mail is now contrasted with snail mail, a term describing the relative slowness or inconvenience of conventional paper mail.

Emoticon Combining "emotion" and "icon," a typographical symbol for an emotional state. Emoticons evolved from widespread use of e-mail, a textual medium in which tone and emotion can be difficult to convey. Emoticons are read counterclockwise by turning oneís head to the left. The first widely-used emoticon was :-) or :), the smiley face, used to express a humorous or joking intention; entire dictionaries of other emoticons have evolved for more subtle emotions or purely for entertainment value.

Face-to-face (f2f) In person, "live," or in "real space" as opposed to digital, virtual, or electronic space.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Originally, literally a compendium of the most frequently asked questions, along with answers, about an Internet newsgroup. FAQs (pronounced "fax," singular "fak") are published by experienced participants so that newbies can quickly get up to speed. Now used more widely, FAQs may be described as documents that summarize the salient facts about any project or endeavor, on or off the Internet (see, for example, the Composing Cyberspace FAQ).

File server A computer used to store documents and/or to share software applications on a network.

Flame (Verb) To insult someone online or engage in an angry textual exchange, or (noun) the result of that insult or exchange. Flaming has been associated with anonymity online, because people can be less inhibited when not using their real names. Flame wars are ongoing exchanges of electronic insults.

Gender bending Experimenting with gender identity online, most commonly on MUDs and MOOsor in chat rooms. The term can describe men posing as women, women posing as men, or either posing as nongendered or "neutral" characters.

Global village Oxymoronic term coined in the 1960s by Canadian media critic Marshall McCluhan to describe how instantaneous communication made possible by electronic technologies could unite the world on a global scale. While McCluhan warned of TVís potential to facilitate a monolithic monoculture, lately the term has been used in constructive ways by enthusiasts of the Internet and other information technologies.

Hacker Originally, someone who illegally breaks into electronic systems such as telephone or computer networks. The first hackers figured out ways to make long-distance phone calls for free. As the term has become more generalized, it can describe any clever computer programmer who enjoys solving problems, especially by less conventional means -- as distinct from crackers, who use their skills more maliciously.

Hardware Physical computer equipment such as CPUs (central processing units), disk drives, monitors, printers, and scanners and the wires, cables, and hubs that connect them.

Holodeck The Holographic Environment Simulator, an extremely realistic virtual reality space imagined by the writers of the "Star Trek" TV series. Holodeck "matter" and even holodeck people look, sound, and feel like the real thing. Star Trek crew members use the holodeck mostly for recreation and training and occasionally for fantasy, intellectual, or artistic expression.

Home page or homepage A hypertext document on the World Wide Web published by an individual, group, company, or organization. Home pages have proliferated largely because HTML, the language of the Web, makes it relatively easy to publish electronic texts and link them to other documents on the Web.

HTML Hypertext Markup Language, the computer code that controls documents published on the World Wide Web. HTML adds "tags" -- symbols such as <p> and </p> to indicate the beginning and end of a paragraph -- to describe how text, graphics, and other elements should appear. As later versions of HTML have gotten more complex, WYSIWYG editors have allowed people more readily to translate other kinds of documents, such as word processing files, directly into HTML.

Hyperlink See link.

Hypertext, hypermedia Nonlinear, or multilinear, computerized text. Unlike book pages, which are arranged in a set linear order, hypertexts are arranged in nodes or parts that may be viewed in a variety of orders by following links. Hypertext and hypermedia are usually used interchangeably since computer hypertexts often include graphics, sounds, or movies. Some hypertexts, such as a multimedia information kiosk in an airport, are just for reading or viewing; other hypertexts are interactive, meaning that the reader can make changes or add links. The World Wide Web is an interactive hypertext environment, because readers with the right hardware and software can publish their own documents and link to others.

Information Highway, Information Superhighway, Infobahn Terms first popularized in the 1980s by then-Senator Al Gore to describe the developing web of communications networks, computers, and consumer electronic appliances. Originally, the "Info Highway" referred more to potential consumer applications such as "movies on demand" than to the Internet, but with the growth of multimedia delivery on the Web, the term has become more generalized.

Instructional technology Broadly, any technology used for teaching and learning, from blackboards and chalk to the Internet. Usually the term refers to the latest electronic technologies, especially computer-aided instruction and the use of instructional software and computer networks.

Intellectual property Current term for information that an individual, group, or company claims legally to own. International copyright laws and agreements governing intellectual property, mostly designed before the advent of electronic publication, are the subject of much debate.

Interface A more general term for the operating system or a software program used by a computer or other electronic appliance. Most computer interfaces today are graphical, using the metaphors of "windows," "folders," "menus," and "desktop icons" to help the user control the computerís functions.

Internet, Net A global computer network, actually a network of networks, connecting millions of computers. The hardware of the Internet includes computer clients and servers along with the various cables and wires, hubs and routers, satellite connections, and phone lines used to connect them. The software of the Internet includes a common communication protocol (IP or Internet Protocol) that allows computers to "recognize" one another, and the browsers on individual desktops that allow people to "surf the Web."

Internet Service Provider (ISP) A company or organization that provides hardware (and often software) connections to the Internet. Some commercial ISPs, such as America Online, also provide private network services separate from the Internet.

Intranet Another name for a local area network (LAN), especially a corporate LAN that duplicates the data-sharing capability of the Internet but for local or private users only.

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) The first large-scale, real-time electronic chat space on the Internet. Analogous to a giant telephone party line, IRC allows participants to join or create separate channels devoted to discussion about any topic of common interest. IRC discussions, which have been popular with college students, are usually fast-paced and largely social in nature.

Keyword A search term used in the most common methods of Internet research. People using search engines type in one or several keywords to describe the topic theyíre researching, similar to searching a traditional library by subject.

Kilobyte See Bits and bytes.

Link, hyperlink The hypertext connection between two pieces, or nodes, of electronic information or data. Most links operate with a computer mouse-click: clicking on linked text (usually underlined or marked by a specific color) or on graphical objects such as buttons leads to another document or portion of the document, which in turn may provide further links. Linking is what gives hypertexts -- including the vast network of hypertexts comprising the World Wide Web -- their complex, three-dimensional, dynamic nature.

Listserv See Mailing list.

Local Area Network (LAN) A group of computers and other equipment such as printers and scanners that are linked together for the sharing of information. Many local area networks also are connected to the Internet.

Lurk, lurker (Verb) To read or "listen in" on an electronic forum, such as a newsgroup or mailing list, without actively participating by replying to others or contributing original messages. (Noun) The majority of participants in most electronic forums are lurkers. Good netiquette requires new participants in electronic discussion groups to lurk for a while in order to get a feel for the conventions of the group theyíre joining.

Mailing list, listserv, list server A way for a group of e-mail users to share information about a specific topic or shared interest. Mailing list participants subscribe to a listserv (or list server, an automated program that helps manage the list), allowing them to exchange messages with all other participants by writing or replying to a single e-mail address. Like newsgroups, mailing lists may be moderated (with messages filtered by a central facilitator) or unmoderated.

Medium, media General term for method of communication or broadcast, including face-to-face and computer-mediated forms. Media may refer to hardware, software, or both. Electronic media include TV, e-mail, and the World Wide Web.

Megabyte See Bits and bytes.

Modem A device for connecting a computer to a network via a telephone line (a contraction of MOdulator, DEModulator).

MUDs and MOOs MUD stands for Multi-User Dimension or Multi-User Dungeon, from its origins as an electronic version of fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons. MUDs are synchronous (real-time) virtual reality spaces, where participants act out character roles in imaginary worlds, all described in text. The social nature of MUDs can be reflected in elaborate reward and punishment systems. MOO stands for MUD, Object-Oriented. MOOs use software that allows participants more control over constructing the virtual space. Many MOOs have been devoted to educational, scholarly, or community purposes, as opposed to the game-orientation of the early MUDs.

Multimedia The integration in digital form of several media such as text, pictures, sounds, or movies, commonly used on CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web.

Navigate To move through electronic or virtual "spaces" or media, especially hypertext. Web browsers are navigation tools for the World Wide Web. The term arose because the experience of reading or searching hypertexts, which often lack a central or hierarchical organization, differs from the experience of reading a linear paper text or searching a catalogued library.

Net See Internet.

Netiquette Network etiquette; conventions that have been asserted by Internet veterans, and that are still evolving, for online politeness. Netiquette "rules" or guidelines have been developed to prevent harassment and flaming, to resist spamming, and to preserve bandwidth on the Internet.

Network A group of computers and peripheral equipment connected for the sharing of information.

Newbie Term, sometimes used derisively by experienced users, for someone new to an online forum, electronic space, or computer technology in general.

Newsgroup An electronic discussion forum on Usenet, part of the Internet, where people with a shared interest can exchange information and ideas. There are newsgroups devoted to nearly every topic imaginable. In moderated newsgroups, messages are filtered through a central facilitator who decides what is appropriate and relevant to post. In unmoderated newsgroups, participants can post any message they choose. Newsgroups, like e-mail, are asynchronous.

Offline or off line Not connected to a computer or computer network; see online.

Online or on lineUsually, connected to or using a network, especially the Internet; often contrasted with offline. Alternatively, online means simply on a computer, as in the "online documentation" that may supplement or replace paper manuals for computer programs.

Operating system The software that controls a computerís basic functions and interface. Applications such as word processing programs must work in conjunction with a computerís operating system. The two most common operating system platforms at educational institutions are Microsoft Windows and Apple Computerís MacOS.

Platform Another term for operating system.

Post, posting (Verb) To send a message to a newsgroup or other electronic discussion forum. (Noun) A post or posting is the resulting message.

Search engine A computerized Internet research tool developed for the World Wide Web, such as Alta Vista (<>) or HotBot (<>). Typically, users type in keywords that the search engine tries to find in Web documents or other Internet sources such as newsgroups.

Server A computer that transmits or "serves" information to other computers called clients. The server-client model predominates on the Internet. Web servers, usually shared by a number of individual computers, serve HTML documents so that other computers can display them. Other kinds of software and files can also be shared by multiple users on a file server, mail server, or list server.

Smiley, smiley face See Emoticon.

Snail mail Tongue-in-cheek name for traditional mail service, by contrast to e-mail or electronic mail, which is much faster.

Social constructivism See Constructivism.

Software Any set of codes that work in conjunction with a computerís operating system (another form of software) and allow people to do useful things with computers, such as write, manipulate numbers, or communicate on the Internet.

Spam (Noun) Junk mail on the Internet, usually sent to newsgroups or via e-mail. (Verb) To send junk mail on the Internet. The term originates from a sketch by the comedy troupe Monty Pythonís Flying Circus, in which a restaurant serves lots of the canned pork product Spam.

Synchronous In real time, at the same time. Face-to-face conversation, MUDs and MOOs, IRC, and chat rooms are all synchronous communication forms.

Thread A topic or subtopic within an electronic discussion group or forum. Discussion threads are often distinguished in the subject header of a message by the "re:" abbreviation for "in reference to" or " concerning." Electronic discussion software, such as e-mail or newsgroup-reading programs, often generate "re: [topic of the original message]" automatically when the sender replies to a message. Other software, such as Web chat programs, can facilitate message threading by other means, such as grouping subtopics in the same folder.

Upload To transfer information from oneís computer to another computer, usually across a network. See Download.

URL Uniform Resource Locator, the addressing convention used for all locations linked to the World Wide Web. Every "page" on the Web has a unique address, usually beginning "http://".

Usenet A network of over 20,000 topical electronic discussion groups called newsgroups. Usenet, one of the oldest and most diverse components of the Internet, has a history of democratic and sometimes anarchistic self-regulation.

Virtual Consisting of bits and bytes instead of atoms and molecules; electronic as opposed to "real." This distinction is somewhat spurious since electronic information and interaction are still "real," even though they have a different material basis or occur in a different medium.

Virtual community A community that exists in virtual space instead of, or in addition to, existing face-to-face or in physical proximity.

Virtual rape Rape conducted in virtual space, through words or text instead of by physical force. The existence or seriousness of virtual rape has been debated by critics, especially since the publication of Julian Dibbellís "A Rape in Cyberspace" (Chapter 2).

Virtual reality (VR) Digital simulation of real-life scenarios using computer technology, multimedia, and sensory apparatus such as special helmets and gloves. VR has been used by the military and business community for training purposes and by other people for entertainment or artistic expression. See Holodeck.

Web site, website A discrete set of documents published by a person or organization on the Web. In common usage, a website is usually larger or more complex than a home page. For example, corporations and universities maintain large organizational web sites which may include hundreds or thousands of home pages.

Wired, unwired The state or condition of being or not being hooked up to a computer network, usually the Internet; or more generally, having or not having computer equipment.

World Wide Web, WWW, Web A vast hypertext network that comprises the largest and fastest-growing way to access the Internet. It originated as a way for scientists to easily share their research using multimedia. The Webís popularity has derived from its ease of use via graphical-interface browsers and the ease of publication using HTML.

WYSIWYG editor Computer program for Web publishing that uses a "What You See Is What You Get" interface, similar to most word processing programs, so that users donít need to know HTML coding to put their work on the Web.


Composing Cyberspace Home | MHHE Home

feedback form | permissions | international | locate your campus rep | request a review copy

digital solutions | publish with us | customer service | mhhe home

Copyright ©2001 The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Any use is subject to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
McGraw-Hill Higher Education is one of the many fine businesses of the The McGraw-Hill Companies.