Websites: Defined

What is a website?

screenshot of a Google search result for define websiteJust asking the question seems ridiculous these days, something out of a Family Guy episode perhaps, but not all that long ago, people would get in touch with me and actually ask. So I came up with this handy definition:

“Well basically, it’s a location on the World Wide Web. A place where individuals, businesses or other organizations can have a presence that is accessible by some or all of the Internet’s users. It typically has a home page, where users often enter the site, and subsequent directories and subpages. The file structure that makes up a website is really quite similar to that which you’re familiar with on your own PC, in that it is broken up into folders, each containing files (text, images, and other files) which is all pulled together via HTML in order to be presented in an appealing, logical way to web surfers.”

A little more detail please.

Web pages today are typically compiled of three primary aspects: content, presentation, and markup/programming. The content encompasses the vast majority of the site’s textual information, as well non-presentational graphics, videos, sounds and other files like PDFs. In modern browsers, presentation is handled using CSS (which stands for Cascading Style Sheets), a method that allows websites’ visual aesthetics to more easily be created, maintained and updated as well as reducing the time it takes to download each page. CSS has become the industry standard and replaced older, more time consuming and inefficient ways of handling the layout and formatting of web pages. Markup/programming is all of the coding that is required to deliver the content and presentation to a user’s browser. These days, markup typically refers to what we’re now calling HTML5. A few years ago, we called its much stricter, less practical little sister XHTML. Where XHTML was intended to standardize the web with specific ways to write tags and capitalize things and generally get anal about our code, HTML5 is perhaps more of a realization that not everyone creating HTML today is an advanced coder. Grandmas editing their Etsy sites pages and computers generating code alike fill out the spectrum of this World Wide Web we know simply know as our every day lives. HTML will continue to evolve, and having your site built to today’s current standards is the best way to ensure you’ll have a smooth transition into the next iteration. This continual evolution of our core technology for websites requires that web designers and developers constantly update their skillsets in order to provide sites that will have maximum longevity and depreciate gracefully over older browsers.

As the web has grown more robust, though, HTML hasn’t always been up to the tasks we’ve asked of it. Web apps like Gmail and Google Maps require more muscle, and just as our markup language changes to meet new challenges, so do the tools we use to enhance it. That’s where Javascript comes in, and today what are known as libraries, such as jQuery, all of which give us the ability to take things always just a little bit further than we were yesterday.

Finally, programming typically refers to more intense levels of coding, such as PHP, allowing web developers to offer more advanced services such as shopping carts, member logins, and many more of the most interesting things about the web.