This document is copyright © 1996 NK Guy (tela @

If you cite this thesis please include its URL, which is Thanks!

Glossary of Computing Terms relevant to Community Networks.

Computer-mediated communications, being a field based on modern computer technology, is one laden with obscure technical terms and arcane jargon. This glossary is provided in an attempt to define some of the more commonly used terms and concepts. Please note that most words are described in very general terms for brevity, and special cases and exceptions are largely omitted. Acronyms are pronounced as individual letters unless otherwise indicated. Some of these terms are also trademarks (proprietary intellectual property) of large us computer firms, though the words may be in common usage.

For much more complete, and thus much more precise, definitions of these and other computer-related concepts I refer you to The Jargon File. (Raymond, 1996.) In addition to technical accuracy this comprehensive dictionary of computer-related slang also provides a wealth of entertaining historical background to - and fascinating insight into - the mysterious world of computer nerd culture.

Account - Storage space on a multi-user computer system to which a person has access. This space is associated with a given user ID, and is generally protected by a password to prevent other people from reading or changing its contents. Accounts do not necessarily involve the transfer of funds. Commercial systems charge users for their computer accounts, but many community networks do not.

ADSL - Acronym for 'asymmetric digital subscriber line.' A fairly new technology that permits rapid transfer of information over regular telephone lines; far more information than permitted by an ISDN connection or a regular modem. It is called 'assymetric' because the technology allows the user to receive information at a considerably higher rate than he or she can send back out. (6 Mbps to the user and 640 Kbps from the user.)

Analogue - Information in a continuously variable form. A useful illustration is to think of analogue information as being represented by an infinite number of shades of grey, rather than being represented by just pure black or pure white. Sound recorded on a vinyl record, for example, is analogue in nature. Traditional telephone and television technology is also analogue technology. However both telephony and television are increasingly becoming implemented in a digital form which emulates analogue standards in order to maintain compatibility with existing analogue equipment. Generally written 'analog' in the US. See also convergence. cf. digital.

Anonymous FTP - People around the world maintain free archives of software and other information as a public service. These archives frequently use anonymous FTP for file transfer. That is, the user uses FTP (the file transfer protocol) to transfer the files, but does not need an account on the archive's host system in order to log in. The user logs in anonymously. However tradition dictates that the user leave his or her email address by way of courtesy.

Anonymous remailer - In real life it is quite easy to send someone a letter anonymously. However, on the Internet, email is normally associated with a user account on a given host computer. An anonymous remailer is a service that forwards a message on to its recipient after stripping off any possible identifying headers. The recipient has no way, therefore, of knowing who sent the message. Anonymous remailers are controversial because of the potential for abuse.

Applet - A small application. Java programs used by Web browsers and NCs are typically described as being 'applets.'

Apple MacOS - A GUI operating system produced by US-based Apple Computer, Inc.; an early pioneer in mass-market GUIs. Macintosh personal computers are based on the MacOS.

Application - In most contexts generally synonymous with 'computer program.' An application is usually directly operated by the user, and relies upon the computer's operating system to function. cf. operating system.

Archive - In variable senses. Frequently a library of software or other digital information. See also anonymous FTP.

ASCII - Acronym for 'American Standard Code for Information Interchange.' A code for representing commonly used symbols - letters, numerals, common punctuation - in a digital form. ASCII is the lowest common denominator on the Internet, its lingua franca, and is supported by nearly all modern computers. Plain ASCII is represented by 7 bits of data, and cannot normally be used to encode many non-English accented characters because it is limited to 127 (2 to the power of 7) different values. Pronounced 'ass-key.'

Asynchronous communications - Forms of communication that do not require both parties to be available simultaneously. Online examples of asynchronous communications include email and Usenet news. Regular mail (Canada Post) is also asynchronous in nature. cf. synchronous.

Backup - As a verb the act of creating and storing a duplicate copy of important information. This duplicate is archived so that it can be restored in the event of calamitous loss of the original data. As a noun a backup is the duplicate copy thus made. Numerous backups of this thesis were hastily made following a fire in the author's apartment building.

Bandwidth - The carrying capacity of a given information transmission system or network. A network capable of carrying large amounts of information is said to have 'high bandwidth' whereas a network capable of carrying only a small amount of information is said to have 'low bandwidth.' Sometimes used by extension to refer to information content itself. (eg.: 'this is a very low-bandwidth conversation we're having here.')

Baud rate - An older measure of the speed at which data is sent over a modem connection, amongst other things. Frequently used interchangeably, though erroneously, with bits per second. (there are highly obscure technical differences in meaning between the two terms: baud rate refers to state changes, not absolute data throughput.)

BBS - Acronym for 'bulletin-board system.' Usually a publicly-available computer information system run by someone as a hobby. Occasionally a small business operation. A BBS is typically accessible only by dialup lines and not by the Internet.

Binary - Base one information with each datum, a bit, having either one of two values - one or zero. Modern computers are digital and represent all information internally in a binary format. There is absolutely no ambiguity in a binary representation of information - either the bit is true or it is false.

Bit - Contraction of 'binary digit.' A single piece of binary information - a one or a zero, true or false.

Bits per second - See bps.

Bounce - Email that does not reach its destination - whether because of a transient network problem, because the recipient's account or computer system no longer exists or because of a badly formed email address - is said to have bounced.

bps - Bits per second. The speed at which data is sent over a modem connection, amongst other things. Common modern modem speeds are 14.4 Kbps (kilobits per second) and 28.8 Kbps. Speeds common on older modems include 300 bps, 1200 bps, 2400 bps and 9600 bps. See also baud rate.

Bulletin-board system - See BBS.

Byte - Eight bits. See also kilobyte.

Cable modem - A device that permits ordinary household cable intended for transmitting television information to carry digital information used by computers. Cable modems have a very high theoretical bandwidth, much higher than that of ordinary telephone modems. At present they are not widely deployed.

Cancel - In Usenet parlance, to mark a given posting for deletion. Normally only the author of a post can cancel it. However, ingenious hackers have found ways to subvert the cancel mechanism and use it, for instance, to try to stem the flood of spam by sending forged cancel messages. Such vigilante cancelling is very controversial.

CD-ROM - Acronym for 'compact disc, read-only memory.' The use of compact disc (CD) technology, originally designed for storing digitally recorded audio, as a mass storage medium for computer data. Pronounced 'see-dee romm.'

Character - Any textual symbol available on a computer, such as a number, a letter or punctuation. On a MU*, a character is a fictional being or virtual puppet, created and controlled by the player.

Character-based - A computer information display system based entirely on text-only information, usually in an ASCII format. Character-based displays cannot be used to display pictures, or 'graphical' information.

Chat system - In a general sense, any CMC technology that permits people to exchange textual information in real time. (synchronously) IRC is a prime example of a chat system.

Chip - A tiny chip of plastic-encased silicon upon which digital circuitry is built. Also 'microchip.'

Client - A computer on a network used to access information on a server. Can also refer to the software application used in the process. (eg: a Web browser is a client.) cf. server.

Client-Server - A paradigm used in computing architecture, based on the idea that a client computer is used to access information stored on a server. The World Wide Web is based around this type of client-server architecture. The opposite is peer-to-peer networking.

CMC - Acronym for 'computer-mediated communications.' Any human communications in which digital hardware is used as a medium. Email, Usenet newsgroups and Web pages are all forms of CMC. cf. F2F.

Community Network - A locally-oriented CMC system, frequently run by volunteer non-profit groups. Generally community networks are intended to encourage local discussions and the promotion of local information content as well as providing a point of access for those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. See also FreeNet.

Compiled Language - A computer language turned by a computer into binary form usable by a computer from its original source code only once, and then run in binary format thereafter. Usually somewhat more difficult to work with than an interpreted language, but generally much faster.

Computer - In general, a device that uses digital technology to process and manipulate information. Analogue computers do exist, but are so obscure as to be occult.

Conferencing system - An asynchronous text-based online discussion system that permits users to exchange public messages. Frequently implies, but does not always mean, a semi-private or restricted-access system of some type.

Content - Information of interest to a human being - sound, text, pictures, video, etc. As opposed to computer software, which can be run on computers by people, but which is not useful and interesting information in and of itself.

Convergence - Also known as digital convergence. The concept that all modern information technologies, currently based on very disparate technological paradigms and systems, are becoming digital in nature. At present a person might receive information by telephone, television, radio, newspaper and print. In the future these different information delivery systems may be replaced by a unified system based wholly on digital technology with all the advantages (eg.: ease of access, flexibility) and disadvantages (eg.: increased centralization, homogeneity and control) that this model confers.

Cross-post - To post a single message to multiple fora, particularly multiple Usenet groups, simultaneously. Although cross-posting is a useful feature that can be used to disseminate information to many pertinent fora at the same time, it is also a mechanism widely abused for the purposes of propagating spam.

CPU - Acronym for 'central processing unit.' The main component of a computer that processes information. Also, by extension, the cabinet that houses this main computer. (as opposed to video monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, etc., which are considered peripheral devices.)

CRTC - Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The Canadian federal agency responsible for regulating broadcast and telephone communications. The American analogue is the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission.

Cyberpunk - A literary movement that swept the world of science fiction in the mid to late 1980s. The famous Sprawl trilogy by Vancouver author William Gibson, (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive) is the canonical example of the genre, which emphasizes a gritty, streetwise view of technology, set in a near-future dystopia. Gibson's notions of a ubiquitous global network based on virtual reality interfaces, which he named cyberspace, were an integral part of his books, and his ideas have proved very influential with designers of CMC systems.

Cyberspace - An artificial, virtual, constructed mental environment or notional space developed using computers. The term is drawn from the nomenclature of William Gibson's speculative fiction novels. See also information highway, the Net, the Matrix.

Data dialup - The use of ordinary voice telephone lines to connect two computers together via modems.

Database - A highly structured set of data that is indexed and searchable.

Dialup - Also known as data dialup. The technology that permits a user to connect his or her terminal or personal computer to an online host by means of modems and ordinary voice telephone lines. (aka POTS.)

Dialup pool - A collection of modems accessible via a single telephone number. Users can dial this single number and connect to one of the modems.

Digital - Information divided into discrete pieces of information and not in a continuous form. Modern digital computers rely on a binary representation of data. Digital technology can be used to simulate analogue technology if there are sufficient discrete subdivisions of data that a human cannot distinguish the transitions. A compact disc used to store recorded music, for example, uses very high-resolution recording of digital information and thus cannot be distinguished from an analogue recording by the human ear. But although a CD may sound analogue to the listener, its information is nevertheless represented internally in a digital format. cf. analogue.

Display - As a noun, a video monitor or some other visual device used to show computer information in a visual form. As a verb, presenting computer information visually for the user's benefit.

Distributed - A digital information system dispersed over multiple computers and not centralized at a single location. The World Wide Web is a typical example of a distributed system. Individual Web pages themselves are centrally located on servers, but those servers are dispersed widely across the Internet. A distributed system is less susceptible to cataclysmic failure than a centralized one because it has fewer single points of failure, but is also harder to control. Whether this is desirable or undesirable depends largely upon one's political point of view.

Download - In the context of most community networks, the act of transferring a file from the community network's host computer to the user's personal computer. cf. upload.

Dumb - A device that does not have a CPU and thus cannot process information. A dumb terminal, for example, can only be used in conjunction with a computer, because it is useless alone. cf smart.

Email - Short for 'electronic mail.' Text-oriented asynchronous digital communications.

Emoticon - Portmanteau of 'emotion(al) icon.' Jocular name for the small text-based symbols, such as the familiar smiley: :) used in CMC to represent emotions. Interestingly, Aoki notes that smileys used in Japan are read horizontally, unlike those used elsewhere which are traditionally read sideways. (Aoki, 1994.)

Encryption - The process of passing digital information through complex mathematical formulæ in order to produce protected, encrypted data. This information can only be read again if it has been decrypted first; it appears as random digital garbage otherwise. Decryption requires both appropriate decrypting software and the original password used to encrypt the data.

Environment - The operating environment defined by an operating system.

Ethernet - A medium-speed networking system frequently used as office LAN. Ethernet transmits information at a theoretical speed of 10 Mbps (megabits per second), although it never reaches that theoretical limit for technical reasons.

Fidonet - A large, anarchic distributed network of hobbyist-run BBSs.

File - A discrete collection of computer data. A computer document.

Flame - As a noun, an intentionally inflammatory message. As a verb, the act of sending such a message to a person or a group.

Flamebait - A message deliberately crafted in order to provoke an angry flame as a response. See troll.

Flame war - A heated, angry exchange of messages, usually in a public forum. Implies the complete absence of thoughtful, respectful discourse.

FreeNet - (or Free-Net) In general terms, a community network. More specifically, frequently a community network affiliated (or once affiliated) with the US-based NTPN.

FreePort - A very simple text-only menu system developed by Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in the US for use with the Cleveland Free-Net. Runs on the UNIX operating system. Still used by many Canadian community networks, but rapidly being phased out just about everywhere in favour of Lynx and other Web-based solutions.

F2F - From 'face to face.' Originally used in a jocular fashion; indicates ordinary human communications in person - whether verbal or non-verbal - unmediated by technology. cf. CMC.

FTP - Acronym for 'File Transfer Protocol.' As as noun, the communications protocol used for transferring files across the Internet. As a verb, the act of transferring a file from one computer to another using FTP.

Gateway - A physical network connection that permits the passage of information between two otherwise incompatible networks.

Geek - A term similar to nerd, but slightly less pejorative in tone.

Gigabyte - 1024 megabytes. See also terabyte.

Gopher - An Internet-based information protocol developed at the University of Minnesota in the US. It was designed for the university's campus information system, and presents information, generally in a text-only format, in an easy to navigate fashion. Gopher was rendered largely obsolete by the arrival of the World Wide Web.

GUI - Acronym for 'Graphical user interface.' A technology for interacting with a computer that involves pictorial (graphical and visual) representations of information such as windows, icons and so on. Apple's MacOS and Microsoft's Windows are the two most popular computer GUIs. Pronounced 'gooey.'

Guru - In general terms, a computer expert. UNIX experts are typically referred to as gurus in polite company.

Hacker - Although this term has come to refer to a 'computer vandal,' or 'one who breaks, unauthorized, into other peoples' computer systems' in the popular media, it does not have such negative connotations in computer circles. Rather, a 'hacker' has traditionally meant a computer programmer (not a mere user) of breathtaking technical and creative proficiency. Steven Levy offers a sympathetic portrayal of hackers, and the motivations that drive them, in his 1984 book of the same name. (Levy, 1984.) See also nerd, geek, guru, wizard.

Handle - An online nickname. Drawn from the slang of CB radio users; more common in the BBS world than the Internet.

Hard disk - A mass storage medium used on most modern computers.

Hardware - The physical, tangible, components of a computer. What computer programmers blame when the computer doesn't work. cf. software.

Home page - A Web page designed as a starting point for exploration of information. Since all Web pages are interlinked seamlessly (they are hypertext) there is nothing technically special about a home page - it is simply set up by a Web page designer as being the arbitrary starting point for a given set of pages.

Hop - The number of discrete nodes travelled through in order to go from one network host to another is referred to as the number of hops.

Host - A computer that sits on (ie: is connected to) the Internet and which responds to and services client requests.

HTML - Acronym for 'hypertext markup language.' The markup language, or set of text-based tags, that describe how a Web page is built. The underpinnings of a Web page. A Web browser takes raw HTML code and renders it into a page viewable by the user.

HTTP - Acronym for 'hypertext transfer protocol.' The network protocol that defines the way in which the World Wide Web works. A URL that starts with 'http:' is thus always a Web page of some kind.

Hypertext - Information stored in an interlinked non-linear format. Rather than being presented information in a linear, serial, fashion, a person reading hypertext information can select individual links and view connected pieces of information instantly. It is up to the author of the hypertext document to define these links. The World Wide Web is based on this concept.

Human-readable - A computer program in a form that people, given sufficient training or obsessive interest, can understand. Human-readable information must be converted into binary data before it can be used by a computer. Note that 'human-readable' is a pretty loose and relative concept when it comes to most computer languages, because computer source code is only comprehensible by a programmer who understands the language. (eg.: 'if ( $var =~ /n.*\./i ) {' is considered human-readable, whereas '10011101001011' or '4E 65 69 6C 20 4B 2E' is not.)

Information highway - Cyberspace, or the online world, as popularized by US politicians, advertisers and the like. Intended to conjure up comfortable images of freedom and travel, but perhaps ironically appropriate in more ways than one. Thus, by overextension, 'information superhighway' and 'the Infobahn.'

Internet - The loose, amorphous, international computer network of networks based on TCP/IP networking standards.

Interpreted Language - A computer language turned into a binary form usable by a computer from its original source code by a computer each time it is run. An interpreted language is somewhat easier to work with than a compiled one, but tends to be slower. See also Java, JavaScript.

Intranet - A private network, usually based on Internet protocols, that is not publicly accessible from the actual Internet. Intranets are generally private networks run by corporations for their own internal use.

Invasion - To take over a given discussion space (eg.: email, Usenet newsgroup, IRC channel, etc.) by posting a barrage of irrelevant or off-topic messages, generally with malicious or vexatious intent.

IP - An acronym for either 'Information Provider' or 'Internet Protocol.' In the context of community networks an information provider is a local community organization that has information hosted by the community net. For an explanation of the Internet Protocol see IP address, IP name and TCP/IP.

IP Address - Computers on the Internet are identified by a unique numeric address: the 'IP number' or 'IP address.' This number consists of, at present, four numbers separated by dots, such as, and is thus sometimes also called a 'dotted quad address.' Since IP numbers are not easy for people to remember, computers also have unique IP names. Software is used to translate these names into the equally unique IP address. The Internet is growing so quickly that the traditional dotted quad number space is rapidly being used up. Accordingly the next two to three years will see the implementation of six-digit number spaces instead. cf. IP name.

IP Name - Computers on the Internet are identified by a hierarchically-structured unique network name; the 'IP name' or 'domain name.' A typical IP name is the Vancouver CommunityNet's Web server, which is ''. Note that the name is hierarchical from left to right. 'bc' refers to British Columbia and 'ca' refers to Canada. cf. IP address.

IRC - Acronym for 'Internet relay chat.' An Internet-based communications system that permits people from across the world to hold real-time conversations online, in a text-only form. IRC areas are divided into named 'channels,' and any user can open his or her own channel. It was developed by amateur hobbyists and is thus not a commercial service. IRC can be a fascinating way to meet people. It is also a tremendous way to consume vast quantities of time effortlessly.

IRL - Acronym for 'In Real Life.'

ISO Latin-1 - An ASCII derivative supported by many Web applications and defined by the International Standards Association (ISO). Permits the display of commonly-used accented characters required by most Western European languages.

ISDN - Acronym for 'integrated services digital network.' A technology that permits use of regular telephone lines as a fairly high-speed digital computer network link. ISDN connections are faster than modem connections over the same copper wires, because ISDN is pure digital - there is no bandwidth loss resulting from the conversion from digital to analogue and back to digital. ISDN typically runs from 56 Kbps to 128 Kbps, depending on the configuration. cf. ADSL.

ISP - Acronym for 'Internet service provider.' A commercial operation that provides dialup access to the Internet.

Java - An interpreted computer language developed by Sun Microsystems. Currently touted as a very exciting multi-platform way to run information over the Internet. Frequently hyped beyond recognition.

JavaScript - A simple interpreted computer language developed by Netscape Communications, Inc. for use with its Navigator Web browser.

Kbps - Kilobits per second. See also bps.

Kilobyte - 1024 bytes. See also megabyte.

LAN - Acronym for 'Local Area Network.' A small computer network that might span an office or several floors of a building. Pronounced 'lann.' Contrasts with a WAN, or 'Wide Area Network,' though this latter term is falling into disuse.

Listserv - See mailing list.

Login - From 'log in.' (ie: sign into a log book, etc.) In variable senses, as a noun, verb and adjective. Refers to the process of signing on to a given computer system by typing in one's user ID and password.

Lurk - To read public discussions online without making any contributions; the act of silent reading without participating actively through the posting any public comments.

Lurker - One who lurks.

Lynx - A text-only Web browser, originally developed at the University of Kansas in the US. Now supported by a team of volunteer enthusiasts worldwide. Lynx forms the technical basis for the menu systems used by many Canadian community networks. The name is a pun on the word 'links.'

Mailing list - Using email as a one to many medium rather than one to one. A mailing list, sometimes called a listserv (from the name of a popular program used to manage mailing lists) is a list of email addresses stored on a host computer. Sending a single message to a given mailing list address will result in a copy of the message being sent to each member of the list. Email lists are thus a discussion medium or a broadcast system, depending on who has the capacity to send messages out to the list. Sometimes called a mail reflector.

Mass storage - Data storage on a system that is non-volatile in nature. Hard disk drives and floppy disks are both forms of mass storage, as are tapes and CD-ROMs. They are 'non-volatile' because they retain data even when the computer's power is switched off.

Matrix - Usually 'The Matrix.' Rarely used owing to its pretentious tone. In general terms the Internet, using terminology drawn from William Gibson's speculative fiction novels. See also The Net.

Mbps - Megabits per second. See also bps, Kbps.

Megabyte - 1024 kilobytes. See also gigabyte.

Menu - In a text-only system a menu is a list of choices, frequently numbered like menus in some restaurants, displayed on-screen. The user can then select a menu item and the computer will respond by carrying out the appropriate command.

Microcomputer - Generally speaking, a personal computer. A digital computer small enough to be portable, designed for personal use. cf. minicomputer.

Microsoft Windows - A GUI-style operating system produced by US-based Microsoft, the world's largest software company. Windows dominates the home and business markets.

Minicomputer - A large, usually multi-user, computer, perhaps the size of a refrigerator. A term that dates back to the 1960s, when computers were hulking giants ('mainframes') that filled entire rooms. Minicomputers are becoming increasingly rare and obsolete. cf. microcomputer.

Modem - A device that converts the digital information used by computers into an audible analogue form that can be transmitted down regular voice telephone lines. A contraction of 'modulate/demodulate.' Common modem speeds are 14.4 Kbps (kilobits per second) and 28.8 Kbps. Modems are used in pairs - one at each end of the telephone line. Pronounced 'moh-dum.' cf. cable modem.

MU* - Any of many different types of text-based interactive computer games. MU* stands for multi-user, with the asterisk as a 'wildcard' that represents any character. MU*s include MUDs, MUSHes, MUCKs AND MOOs.

Multi-line - In general terms, more than one line. Specifically, a system supporting more than one data dialup telephone line.

Multimedia - In a general sense computer technology that includes more than one information medium. Specifically, the contemporary marketing buzzword that means a computer is capable of displaying text, showing static pictures, playing and recording sound, perhaps showing digital video and so on.

Multiplex - To send more than one data stream down a single physical connection. For example, a telephone trunk line can carry many hundreds of thousands of simultaneous telephone conversations by multiplexing the signals onto the same line.

Multi-user System - Any computer capable of supporting more than one user simultaneously. Such systems are frequently based around the UNIX operating system. In contrast to a personal computer, which can normally support only a single person at any time. Community networks run multi-user systems to which their users can connect in order to post and retrieve information.

NCSA Mosaic - The first graphical Web browser, developed by the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Illinois. Much of the original team that wrote Mosaic left the NCSA and went on to write Netscape Navigator.

Nerd - A computer expert by aptitude and not mere training. Usually male, under the age of 35 and socially inept; a person whose tremendous skill with operating or designing computer hardware or software is exceeded only by his, rarely her, passionate love of the technology. See also hacker.

Net - Short for network. When capitalized, as in 'The Net,' usually refers to the Internet.

Netiquette - Portmanteau word, derived from 'network etiquette.' Socially appropriate online behaviour; online norms and conventions for discourse.

NetNews - See Usenet news.

Netscape Navigator - Currently the world's most popular graphical Web browser, developed by Netscape, Inc.

Network - The entity formed by two or more computers and the links between them that carry information. The term refers both to the physical communications infrastructure and to the abstract conception of the interlinked hardware.

Network Computer - An idea currently being promoted by Oracle, Sun Microsystems and other large companies. Essentially a network computer (NC) is a stripped-down personal computer without any form of mass storage. The NC relies on an Internet connection for both user data storage and access to applications. With the price of personal computers dropping it is not clear if the NC model is necessarily the vision of the future. cf. personal computer.

Newbie - A person new to online systems who is thus unlikely to be familiar with the norms, conventions and general netiquette of CMC.

Newsgroup - A public discussion area, frequently distributed internationally, using the Usenet system.

Node - A given physical device on a network.

NTPN - National Public Telecomputing Network. A US-oriented non-profit organization based in Cleveland, Ohio, that was formed to bring community networks together, and to help direct some of their information content. cf. Telecommunities Canada.

Online - In general terms, being connected to a given network or linked using some form of CMC. Thus a computer that is online is one that is somehow connected to a network. A person who is online is one who happens to have access to a properly-connected computer at a given moment. Offline is its antonym.

Operating System - The complex suite of software used by a computer to manage information and which forms the basic working environment of the system. UNIX is an example of an operating system, as are the MacOS and Microsoft Windows. The operating system generally works behind the scenes and is usually not manipulated directly by the user. A program written to run under one operating system generally will not run under another operating system unless it is specifically rewritten to do so. This rewriting of a program for another operating system is known as 'porting.' cf. application software.

Packet - A small, self-contained discrete datum transmitted over a network. See packet-switching network.

Packet-switching network - A network which operates by dividing each piece of information to be sent into discrete packets. These packets are then sent individually across the network and reassembled, in order, at the information's destination. The Internet uses the packet-switching paradigm.

Personal Computer - A small (desktop) microcomputer designed for use by a single user. As an acronym, 'PC,' the term frequently refers to a personal computer that runs Microsoft's MS-DOS (disk operating system) or Microsoft's Windows GUI. cf. network computer, multi-user system.

Petabyte - 1024 terabytes.

Pirate - As a noun, one who copies and/or distributes copyrighted commercial software illegally. As a verb, the act of copying or trafficking in such software. Money does not have to change hands when pirating. See also warez.

Platform - The concept of an operating environment based on a specific operating system and a computer hardware technology. The MacOS is a platform, as is Microsoft Windows. Both support a variety of applications. See also operating system.

Platform dependence - A computer program that can run under only one operating system is said to be platform dependent. A program that can operate under more than one operating system is said to be platform independent. Web technology is platform independent, as Web pages can be accessed by a variety of different and otherwise incompatible computers.

Platform independence - See platform dependence.

Player - On a MU*, a human being. See also character.

Point of failure - Potential point within a system vulnerable to failure. For example, on a given network all traffic passes through a single router. The entire network would be out of commission in the event of a router failure, and thus the router would be considered a single point of failure. Community networks frequently have many single points of failure because they cannot afford the redundant hardware necessary to avoid them.

Post - As a noun, a single message from a user, made available to a public forum such as Usenet news or an email mailing list. Synonymous with a 'posting.' As a verb, the act of putting such a post online.

Posting - See post.

POTS - Acronym for 'Plain Old Telephone Service.' Voice-oriented communications, based on traditional analogue telephone technology.

PPP - Acronym for 'Point to Point Protocol.' A network protocol that, amongst other things, permits a personal computer to access the Internet directly. A SLIP or PPP connection is generally required for a graphical Web browser to work with a personal computer.

Production values - A term derived from television, film, etc. The æsthetics and quality of presentation of given information content. Note that the concept does not really measure or describe emotional, social or intellectual value. A big-budget Hollywood motion picture is said to have high production values; an amateur home movie of baby's first steps shot with a handheld camcorder is said to have low production values. Right now the Web is something of a levelling influence for CMC, because it is possible for a creative person with modest tools to build a Web page with production values on par with anything a wealthy media conglomerate can create. This is changing; a process accelerated by increased adoption of complex software such as Java and multimedia technology, especially video.

Program - A set of intangible instructions that tells a computer how to operate. Computer programs are also known as software.

Programmer - One who writes computer programs. Fans of the art frequently prefer to be called hackers, because the word 'programmer' invokes images of corporate drones in shirts and ties churning out software for accounting companies.

Propagate - To travel by being replicated across a network. Propagation implies that identical duplicate copies of the original source material are made, not that a discrete package of information travels unaltered. (this is analogous to disseminating plant cuttings, from which the word propagate originates.) This may sound sinister, but is the way in which a Usenet posting is made available across a distributed network system. Also refers to the way in which network IP names travel over a network.

Protocol - A suite of instructions and rules that define the way computers can communicate with each other and exchange data. Two computers that support, or 'speak,' the same protocol should be able to exchange information, even if they are very different computers using different operating systems.

Public access site - A terminal or networked computer placed in a public location so that anyone - even someone who can't afford a home computer - can access a given system. Community networks frequently sponsor or encourage public access terminals or public access sites.

RFC - Acronym for 'Request for Comment.' The standards upon which the Internet is based, including all of its common protocols, are described in numbered documents modestly known as RFCs. They are published and coordinated by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Root - In the parlance of the UNIX operating system, root is either the base level of a document hierarchy or a system administrator who has complete access to the system. A person with root access can modify or delete any file on the system, restart the machine, remove any other user, etc. By analogy to the root of a tree.

Router - A computer that directs network traffic from one host to another and is not directly accessible to users. A digital traffic cop.

Server - A computer accessible via a network that 'serves' out information to computer clients upon request. cf. client.

Set-top box - The concept of building an information system based on small boxes that reside atop ordinary household televisions, much like a cable television converter. The televisions would then serve as displays for the computers. The idea was very popular in the 1980s but failed to go anywhere. However recent interest in the network computer has given the idea a new proverbial lease on life.

SIG - Acronym for 'Special Interest Group.' In the context of community networks SIGs are volunteer-run discussion areas which focus on specific topics of interest to its members. Pronounced 'sigg.'

Site - A given computer on a network that is accessible to users. Sometimes refers to a common set of Web pages by extension. (eg.: 'check out the CommunityNet - it's a great site!') Frequently misspelled 'sight.'

SLIP - Acronym for 'Serial Line Internet Protocol.' A simple network protocol that permits a personal computer to access the Internet directly. A SLIP or PPP connection is generally required for a graphical Web browser to work with a personal computer.

Smart - A device equipped with a CPU and thus able to process information. cf. dumb.

Smiley - The :) or :-) symbol; a kind of emoticon. (turn your head to the left and look at them again if you don't recognize them.) Used in text-based CMC to indicate humour, etc.

Snail mail - Derogatory or jocular term for traditional physical paper mail, (eg.: Canada Post) frequently used by aficionados of email.

Software - The intangible instructions that make a computer's hardware operate in a specific fashion. Synonymous with a 'computer program.' What hardware designers blame when the computer doesn't work. cf. hardware.

Source code - A computer program in its original, human-readable form. Source code is turned into binary code (ones and zeroes) which can be used by a computer in different ways depending on whether the language is compiled or interpreted.

Spam - As a noun, an irrelevant message (frequently commercial advertising) cross-posted to many public fora (eg.: Usenet groups) simultaneously. As a verb, the act of posting such spam. The term is derived, obscurely, from a popular Monty Python comedy sketch that celebrates the pleasures of consuming a certain tinned meat product.

Synchronous communications - Communications that requires both parties to be connected simultaneously. Online examples of synchronous communications include IRC and UNIX talk. Telephone conversations are also synchronous in nature. cf. asynchronous.

Sys-admin - See system administrator.

Sysop - Portmanteau word for 'system operator.' See system administrator.

System administrator - Person who maintains a given multi-user system and who usually has a great deal of control over the information on the system. In the world of BBSs the term 'sysop,' or 'system operator' is used. It is considered a major faux pas to refer to a UNIX sys-admin as a sysop.

TCP/IP - Acronym for 'Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol.' The two networking protocols that form the common base for communications on the Internet. Any computer that 'speaks,' or supports, TCP/IP and is physically connected to the Internet is said to be 'on the Internet.' TCP/IP was originally developed by the US Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) but is now an open public standard, not directly controlled by any single government or corporation.

Telco - Contraction of 'telephone company.' Providers of POTS.

Telecommunities Canada - A Canadian non-profit organization that aims to be the umbrella organization for all Canadian community networks. Unlike the NTPN it is a 'network of networks' rather than an organized network of affiliates. cf NTPN.

Telephony - Generally, voice-oriented communications technology as a whole. The stress is on the second syllable, not the the third, when spoken aloud.

Teletype (TTY) - Archaic digital technology that used physical printers rather than video monitors for output. Many multi-user systems still support glass TTY connections. (ie.: a video terminal pretending to be a teletype.)

Telnet - As a verb refers to the act of connecting to another computer across the Internet. As a noun it refers to a network protocol which supports character-based connections between computers linked using TCP/IP.

Terabyte - 1024 gigabytes. See also petabyte.

Terminal - Traditionally a video display device - for output - and keyboard - for input - used to access a multi-user computer system. Terminals typically cannot be used as anything other than paperweights unless they are connected to a computer host. (they are dumb.) This is in contrast with personal computers which can emulate, or pretend to behave like, a terminal or can be used for standalone purposes.

Terminal Dialup - A data dialup connection that supports only character-based terminals or personal computers emulating such terminals. Many community networks support only terminal dialup connections and do not support SLIP or PPP connections. As a result graphical Web browsers are not supported by these systems.

Terminal Server - A device that connects a number of terminals (or a number of modems) to a server or host.

Thread - A series of public postings on the same general topic that constitute a coherent (in form, if not in content) discussion.

Traffic - By analogy, the data transmitted over a network.

Troll - From the fishing term. As a noun, synonymous with flamebait. As a verb, to post controversial or provocative messages in a deliberate attempt to provoke flames.

Unicode - A code similar to ASCII, used for representing commonly used symbols in a digital form. Unlike ASCII, however, Unicode uses a 16-bit dataspace, and so can support a wide variety of non-Roman alphabets including Cyrillic, Han Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Bengali, and so on. Supporting common non-Roman alphabets is of interest to community networks, which may want to promote multicultural aspects of their systems. However Unicode is not widely supported at present, and requires sophisticated (and therefore expensive) graphical computers. cf. ASCII.

UNIX - A powerful, complex operating system originally developed by AT&T Bell Labs in the US. It is very popular in scientific, academic and engineering circles. It has gained additional prominence in the past few years because it is an operating system well suited to Internet server applications. UNIX is not an acronym for anything, and is pronounced 'yoo-nix.' Not to be confused with eunuchs.

Upload - In the context of most community networks, the act of transferring a file from the user's personal computer to the community network's host computer. cf. download.

URL - Acronym for 'Universal Resource Locator.' A URL is a unique network address for a given piece of information on the Internet. The URL for the online version of this thesis, for example, is either:

<URL:> or


Note that you may frequently see URLs written without the angle brackets and text 'URL:' as shown above. However, the brackets and 'URL:' text are defined in RFC 1738 (Berners-Lee, Masinter and McCahill, 1994) and thus are included here for completeness, even though it is rather old-fashioned (almost two years out of date) to do so. See also HTTP.

Usenet news - A distributed global discussion system; (a public conferencing system) basically text-only. Sometimes called NetNews. Developed initially in the United States and, therefore, primarily English-language in origin. Most community networks have a 'Usenet news reader' facility that permits users to read public Usenet posts and add their own contributions.

User - A living breathing human being, who happens to be operating a computer.

User ID - Short for user identification. The short and cryptic (usually eight characters or fewer) name that identifies a user on a system. User IDs are unique on a given computer - no two users can have the same user ID. Also known as usernames or account names.

UUCP - 'UNIX to UNIX copy protocol.' A system that permits the exchange of email and Usenet news over temporary dialup links, rather than over a permanent 24-hour a day connection. UUCP works on a 'store and forward' principle whereby information to be sent is queued up in storage, then forwarded as soon as a temporary network connection is established. Becoming increasingly obsolete with the rise of low-cost TCP/IP Internet access.

Videotex - A computer technology of the 1980s that uses ordinary television sets, or similar low-cost monitors, to display computer information. Videotex systems, such as Canada's Telidon, were a complete commercial failure in North America. Achieved a modicum of success in Europe - eg. France's Télétel and, to a much lesser degree, the UK's Prestel.

Virtual community - The concept that people form social aggregations based on common interest in an online environment.

Virtual reality - The proposed construction of artificial realities in a purely digital realm; not yet technically feasible in the strictest sense. By extension any form of simulated reality - textual or graphical - created using computers. Also used as a marketing term to sell technology that can create two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional space on a computer screen.

VT100 - A very popular kind of character-based terminal developed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the US. Many community networks support VT100 as their basic standard for information display.

Warez - (from 'software') Teenage software pirate slang for illegally copied commercial software. The extent to which community networks should pursue traffickers of commercial software is an important legal and ethical question of great concern to many community nets.

Web - See World Wide Web.

Web browser - A computer application, which usually runs on a personal computer, used to access information on the World Wide Web. A graphical Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or NCSA Mosaic, is capable of displaying images and text intermingled on-screen. A text-only Web browser, such as Lynx, can only display text.

Web page - A computer document available over the World Wide Web. A Web page is a given file stored on a Web server, and written in HTML. It is transferred from the server to the client using HTTP.

Wizard - In general terms, a computer expert. In MU*s specifically a wizard is a person with total control of the MU* environment. See also guru.

World Wide Web - A distributed hypertext information system originally developed at CERN, the European centre for particle physics research, in Switzerland. An extremely popular way to distribute information. Based on the concept of interlinked Web pages. As the Web is based on a set of publicly available standards such as HTTP and HTML, it is a platform-independent system. Therefore a Web page can, for example, be created on a Macintosh, stored on a UNIX computer and viewed using a Windows PC.

onward to the Bibliography.