Your weekly #bhamtech vocabulary lesson: source code, open source, SEO …

Earlier today I posted an article on WordCamp Birmingham, an annual event that aims to help beginners and experts alike improve their use of the popular and powerful website platform WordPress. 

While writing that article, it occurred to me that I may have used words that some people don’t understand.

Here’s your second tech vocabulary lesson: 

Source Code:

Computers, even at their most complicated, are instruction followers. That is literally all they are capable of. Even though they may seem like they are intuitive and spontaneous, that says more about the programmer than the machine itself. Go read about John Searle’s Chinese Room. 

They have to be given a set of instructions before they’ll do anything. That set of instructions is called source code. It’s a type of language that’s readable (and writable) by humans and understandable by computers. There are a lot of different languages that that code can be in (we’ll talk more about that later), but what matters is that the computer can work with it. 

Every program that you use has a particular set of instructions that tell the computer what to do in every instance. Those instructions are called source code. 

Open Source: 

If you think back to my last vocabulary lesson, you’ll remember that we touched on the licensing of software. The reason the licenses are in place is to allow you to use the software, without having access to the source code (i.e. you don’t know exactly what the instructions look like). For instance, you may have a license to use Microsoft Word on your computer. You are not allowed, however, to look at the source code for that program. It’s proprietary, it’s owned by Microsoft, and they protect that knowledge jealously. Microsoft Word is closed source software. 

Open source software, on the other hand, makes the source code completely available to anyone that wants it. This opens up a lot of possibilities. Developers and programmers the world over can improve, change, and troubleshoot the source code to make it do whatever they want. 

Most open source software is completely free. WordPress, which I wrote about earlier, is free. The open source alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite is Open Office, available for free download from Apache. 


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. 
One of the primary ways that traffic flows on the internet is through the use of search engines. Google is a search engine, as is Yahoo! and Bing. 

There is a lot of websites on the internet. These search engines have to aggregate and decide which sites you see when you search for something. Most people don’t look past the first page of results when they search, so if you want to get traffic onto your site, you need to take steps to get your website as high in the search engine ordering as you possibly can. This is search engine optimization. 

There are a lot of ways to go about SEO, but it’s a difficult task because no one can be sure what, exactly, the search engines are looking for. Google and other major search engines use “crawlers” to define their rankings. Crawlers look at the content on millions of websites and report back to the search engines’ indexes. Those content reports are combined with things like page traffic, tagging, and other metrics to determine search engine ordering. 


Blogging is a bit of an expansive word, so I’m not surprised that it’s a difficult for some people to understand. I’ll quote Potter Stewart here and say that “I know it when I see it.”

The term “blog” is an abbreviation of “web log”. Its original definition was a web page which was produced by a single individual. The content was generally informal and sometimes personal (like a public diary). Sometimes blogs followed a particular theme like cooking or hunting or traveling.

Today, blogs have morphed significantly. The definition is more about the format rather than the content itself. They are sometimes produced by multiple people or a company, though there are still lots of personal blogs on the internet. Blogs are generally in reverse chronological order so that the most recent post appears at the front. Most blogs are still themed in one way or another.

As an example of a personal blog, here’s mine. even has a blog. 

If you want to start your own blog, you should read my piece on WordCamp Birmingham. 


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