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"Meet the World Wide Websters"

by Jill Aldort, Research Analyst for MediaMap
September 15, 1997

When someone talks about hotdogs, cookies, or spam, they may not be referring to frankfurters, Oreos, or a tasty pork by-product. In fact, in the Web-savvy '90's they are more likely talking about "an HTML authoring tool" or "a text file saved in your browser's directory," or "identical and irrelevant [e-mail] postings... a serious violation of netiquette," according to NetLingo, the Web surfer's version of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

NetLingo, located at, not only redefines cafeteria food, but explains other far out Net babble such as cornea gumbo ("... Photoshopped mess") and WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get"), that could scare a newbie off the Web. NetLingo also covers hundreds of traditional tech terms such as MMX, daemon, and frame relay. was co-developed by Erin Jansen and Vincent James. "A little over a year ago, Erin and I were sitting around my kitchen table shooting the breeze about the Internet when it dawned on us that there is no one place on the Net where a user can get in touch with all the new terminology and technology that keeps sprouting up literally every day," says James.

As "A Dictionary of the Internet Language," NetLingo defines the most commonly used terms about the technology and community of the Internet. Jansen and James call it a "one-stop information shop" about the Internet. In the creation stage they envisioned a "hub where experienced and new users could converge to get the latest information. You could use NetLingo to both research a term or download a program."

Jansen and James provide the definitions for the terms. "We're smart," says James, "but really, it's being in the business and having access to people and the technology and being incredibly passionate about whatever I do which allows me to know a lot of these terms."

The remaining definitions come from people who James and Jansen consider authorities on a particular subject. The database of terms is kept current by reader suggestions. People browsing the site have the opportunity to submit new entries to be added to NetLingo. Friends and colleagues of NetLingo's creators also contribute.

In addition to the terms and definitions, NetLingo features a Q&A Message Board (this feature is not currently on the Web site). Here people browsing the site can communicate with the NetLingo staff and with each other about problems and questions revolving around Internet issues. Questions and answers remain on the board for surfers to view, and a Q&A archive will be set up shortly.

The real difference between NetLingo and other Cyber dictionaries is "the overall concept of how it is set up," says James. "The goal is to bring everyone together and say 'OK, here's where you learn it.' It's not by some marketing scheme that we say this, but by intuitive design and rich resourcefulness that we accomplish this goal."

James and Jansen also wanted to create a superior approach to navigating their site which was to-the-point and user-friendly. They needed "to produce a Web site that could speak to the average person as well as the hard core Net user and not confuse or insult either one."

NetLingo users can find words in three different ways. They can browse through an alphabetical listing of all words available in the dictionary; they can look up a word by clicking on the first letter of the word; or they can use The Pocket Dictionary as a desktop reference tool, "another original concept I thought of in relation to an online dictionary," says James. This feature allows users to keep a small Javascript window on their desktop and refer to it when they come across words on the Net they don't understand. (The Pocket Dictionary requires Netscape Navigator 3.0 or greater.)

These multiple levels make NetLingo useful for any Web surfer. "Usership spans from newbies to hackers to hard-core techies to families who just literally got a new computer logged on the Net and are baffled by all the new terminology," says James.

NetLingo strives to recognize the different forms and usage a word may take by including multiple spellings or styles within the definition. As "the semantics storehouse of cyberspace," the site catalogs and defines terms not only by grammar and usage, but also by purpose.

Definitions are practical, clear, and concise. Most have a More button which leads the user to in-depth and much more technical information if they want it. Many of the definitions contain links which point the user to related Web pages on the particular subject, "a totally then-unique concept," says James. A recently added function allows users to search top Web search engines with one click. "There's no need to even type in a search string. We have eliminated that step entirely." Browsers can also download dozens of Internet and graphics programs.###

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