9. A-Z of key terms and tools


Asynchronous communication enables participants to take part in an interaction at a moment of their own choosing and at a variable frequency. Hence asynchronous interactions are often spread over a longer period of time. Examples for this form of communication are emails, bulletin boards and forums.


An avatar is a virtual alter ego of the computer user on social network sites on the Internet or in computer games. For various social software platforms it is possible to add a software module that allows creating a graphical representation of a person (gender, face, body, clothes ...) that stands for the user. Usually, this graphic is animated and allows for example different facial expressions to show the feelings of the user.


A blog (a made-up word of the longer phrase "web log") in its simplest form is a page or collection of pages on the web on which an individual or group of individuals can publish articles aimed at sharing information or personal opinions with a certain audience. Individual articles or 'entries' on a blog are published in a chronological order, with the most recent entry on top. Often, articles are accompanied by photos or video. Some blogs also allow readers to comment on entries, allowing for a feedback mechanism. 'Blog' can also be used as a verb, meaning the act of maintaining or adding content to a blog.


A chat (or more specifically an online chat) mostly refers to any form of direct one-on-one or (text-based) group chat. Chatting is a form of synchronous communication and may either be directly embedded in a webpage or use specific standalone software tools allowing the users to exchange text messages in real-time. A chat can take place between people knowing each other but also (mainly the web-based ones) anonymously. Many social network sites have chat functionality integrated in their respective system. Using standalone tools is often referred to as Instant Messaging.

Electronic Mail

Electronic mail, commonly used synonyms are email and e-mail, is a method to transmit messages over the Internet. These may be simple text messages but may also be accompanied by attachments like images, documents or other types of content.


HTML is an acronym for "HyperText Markup Language" and is the language all webpages are (in principle) written in. HTML code not only contains the text for the users to read but also code describing the page layout (bold text, underlined text, tables, ...), code for including images, videos or other objects and code for the definition of links to other webpages.


ICT is an acronym for "Information and Communication Technologies" and stands for any device or system that in some way handles digital information (be it transmitting, manipulating, storing ...). This term covers devices and infrastructure like mobile phones, computers or network systems as well as protocols and services like email or Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony.

Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) is a type of chat and a very popular form of synchronous communication that allows two or more participants to engage in real-time textual communication. IM either uses standalone software tools like Skype and Microsoft Messenger or modules embedded in social network sites. In addition to text chat some tools also offer voice or even video-chat. In most cases IM uses a list of addresses (email, usernames, ...) to establish contact and is, therefore, generally not anonymous.


A LAN (acronym for "Local Area Network") is a computer network covering a small area like a home, an office or a youth centre. A LAN is usually built using cable connections but it is also possible to integrate computers using radio technology (a so-called WLAN connection).

Message Board

A message board (also called Internet forum) is an online service where people come together to discuss topics, raise questions, and give their opinion. One user usually starts a topic or 'thread', to which other users can reply, resulting in a thread of messages. A lot of social networking sites have message board functionalities built in, allowing groups of users to come together around particular subjects on these platforms. Message boards are an asynchronous form of communication.


Microblogging is a relatively new medium and has recently gained considerable popularity thanks to the free microblogging service Twitter. Microblogging is essentially the same as blogging, but typically features much shorter entries, often devoid of images or other rich media. Due to the compact nature of these entries, the medium lends itself ideally to the use of mobile phones as a medium to write entries on-the-go.


Netiquette (a made-up word of the phrase "network etiquette") is a set of social rules for the behaviour on online networks. These rules are not always the same; a certain group or community may change the general rules or even make up new ones as they see fit. It is important to find out about the respective rules and follow them when participating in an online community.


Offline is the opposite of online, meaning not connected to the Internet. This refers both to a non-existing physical Internet connection (e.g. a computer is offline) and to a person not being present online. So, offline activities are activities that take place without using the Internet.


Online means being connected to the Internet (e.g. a computer is online). It also means that a person is "there" in the sense of reading a webpage or uploading content. So, online activities are activities that take place on the Internet.

Open Source Software

Open Source Software (OSS) is software for which the source code (the "program text" in the programming language the software is written in) is available and may be studied, changed and improved by everybody under certain conditions. In most cases this is free of charge and the original author only wants to be mentioned in the copyright notes. This is, however, only an example for a wide variety of license terms. It is also quite common that such software may be used free of charge.


PDF stands for "Portable Document Format", a file format developed by Adobe Systems Inc. This format was especially developed to preserve the full layout and formatting of print documents across different computer platforms.


A post or a posting is an item on a blog or forum. The words can also mean to write such an item.


A profile contains the information that one provides about oneself when registering on a social network site. Depending on the site (but also personal preferences) this may contain a picture, the real name or a nickname, a description of personal and/or business interests, etc.

Proprietary software

Proprietary software is computer software licensed under exclusive legal right of its owner. The source code usually is not available to the public and in most cases the user has to pay for using the program. In general, proprietary software may be seen as the opposite of Open Source Software.

Social media

Social media is a term for tools and platforms that people use to publish, converse and share content online. Examples for social media tools include blogs, wikis, or photo sharing sites.

Social Networking Sites

Social Networking Sites (SNS), like Facebook or Netlog, are online places where users can create a profile for themselves and socialise with other users by using a variety of social media tools (blogs, video, images, friend lists, forums ...). There are also toolkits available (like e.g. Ning) to set up an own social network.

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis is a method for strategic planning developed at Stanford University and is used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a project. An introduction to this method may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis


Synchronous (or real-time) communication requires participants to take part in the interaction at a moment that all of them are able to do so. Messages are sent back and forth almost instantly. Examples for this form of communication are chats and instant messaging but also face-to-face communication.


A wiki is a website the pages of which can be created and edited collaboratively. A very well-known example is the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia to which many users around the world are contributing to.


A WLAN, which is an acronym for "Wireless Local Area Network", is (a part of) a computer network covering a small area like a home, an office or a youth centre that uses radio technology for the connection between computers. WLAN networks have a limited range of about 300 meters (less in buildings). WLAN networks become more and more available at public places like airports, restaurants, etc. in many cases offering free access to the network. Wifi or Wi-Fi are often used synonyms for WLAN.