'The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms' Socrates



This is not a book on information technology [IT]. It is a book about e-commerce written from a business perspective. Any technical terms are simplified and included only because an understanding of them would be an advantage in a business context. It is, predominantly, a book for students and practitioners of any aspect of business that involves the use of the Internet. If there are any IT practitioners or students who wish to learn about the online business applications of the technology they work with, it is for them too.

book cover: key concepts in 

The structure of the glossary

Whilst every effort has been made to include all of the key concepts in e-commerce, the phenomenon is that e-commerce is still evolving as a discipline - it being only around a decade old - and it is changing at a pace never before experienced in a business environment. As a result of this a number of significant difficulties arise, namely that:

(a) New concepts will have surfaced since this book was written

(b) Concepts popular at the time of writing lose favour or are superseded, or

(c) Many practices are known by different names - for example, the terms search engine spam, link spam and web spam are all used to describe the same practice.

In other cases, the unregulated nature of the Internet as a medium for communication has caused the origins of definitions become obscured - with various terms being exposed or promoted in the medium itself with no check being necessary to support the validity of comments made in connection to them. This is exemplified by the abbreviation 'RSS'. For the more technically minded it stands for RDF Site Summary or possibly Rich Site Summary. However, when the technology became commonly used it also came to be known by the definition that, for the less technically minded, more closely describes what the technology does - Really Simple Syndication. Another problem is the phenomenon of the so-called backronym. A portmanteau of back and acronym, a backronym is where a term begins life as an ordinary word but is later converted to be an acronym. Spam and PING are two examples of this practice.

For the reasons listed above, the definition or description of some terms may be disputed by some. Such disputes might arise because [a] the author is wrong, or [b] the reader is wrong. More likely, however, is that either the author's or the reader's sources of reference are wrong. Whilst every effort has been made to verify the terms used in this book, the very nature of the way and speed in which e-commerce has developed makes this an in-exact science. An example of such ambiguity is the term URL, standing for uniform resource locator. So common is the mistake of identifying the first word as universal [even in academic papers and texts], that people will argue that universal is correct, citing its use in [incorrect] publications to support their argument.

Whilst the book concentrates on words, terms and phrases used in e-commerce, a number of more generic Internet-related entries have been added - avatar, for example. These are included to help the readers develop an understanding of the culture of both the Internet and its users - essentially, the environment in which e-commerce is conducted. Throughout the book some terms are listed under their acronym or abbreviation, whilst others are presented in full. The listing decision is based on whether readers are more likely to come across the abbreviation or the full phrase. Hence, HTML is listed as such, with the full term [hypertext mark up language] in brackets, whilst the reverse is the case for clickthrough rate where only a specialist publication might use the abbreviation [CTR].

The key concepts have been arranged alphabetically in order to ensure that the reader can quickly find the term or entry of immediate interest. Such is the integrated nature of e-commerce that many of the terms listed are affected by, or themselves affect, others. To address this, each entry has its own definition with any reference to another key concept term or phrase within that definition being highlighted in bold type - thus enabling readers to investigate related terms.

The book avoids promotion of specific brands or products. There are instances, however, when to make this resolution absolute would be to the detriment of the content. An obvious example is Google. The brand now has so many applications that an e-commerce glossary without reference to the brand would be incomplete - it is now even considered to be a verb [to google]. Similarly, PageRank is part of the Google search algorithm [and is trademarked as such], but to exclude it would be to miss out a valuable element of online marketing. Another exception is where products or services are available without charge, often in open source - the Bobby web compliance tool fits into this category. That any product or brand is mentioned should not be considered as an endorsement, nor should any omission be considered to be a rebuke or dismissal.

There are a number of entries that cover only the online, or e-commerce, application of that practice or concept. This is deliberate. Any attempt to cover in full the offline version of terms would make this book both lacking in focus and somewhat unwieldy. An example of this is behavioural targeting. Marketers in particular will recognize the concept as it will have significant coverage in any marketing text. In this book, however, only the online application is addressed. It is expected that the reader will have at least some knowledge of business and so be familiar with such concepts in their offline manifestation. Those readers who are not familiar with any [offline] concepts or practices are advised to use the companion books in the Palgrave Key Concepts series.

In a similar vein, there are terms from non-business disciplines that have e-commerce connotations or applications. In these cases only the e-commerce related description is offered. For example, an algorithm is a mathematical or computational procedure, but if the e-commerce student or practitioner were to come across the word at all, it will be in relation to search engines. Therefore, in this glossary, the term defined is search engine algorithm. There are a limited number of legal terms included in the book. Readers should note that any definitions offered are only general descriptions of the terms and how they relate to the e-commerce practitioner and should not be considered to be legal advice.

Prior to using the book the reader is advised to review a number of terms included in the text - an understanding of which will help in appreciating much of the other content of the glossary. Those terms are: e-business, 'e' as a prefix, cyber as a prefix and online as a prefix.

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