A glossary of terms related to digital civil society. Have a term or definition to add? Let us know.


“Active” data collection

Information that people contributed with consent and for which they must make a dedicated effort; e.g., people filling out a survey or entering information into a database


A precise step-by-step plan for a computational procedure. A set of instructions for a computer or software or analysis.


Stands for Application Programming Interfaces. A set of rules and specifications that software programs can follow to communicate with each other.

Big Data

(noun) numerous pieces of machine-readable information.

(verb) the process of mining structured (spreadsheets, timestamped, geotags) and unstructured information (paragraphs of text) and applying quantitative methods to massive datasets to identify patterns.

Block Chain

A continuously growing list of records, called blocks, encoded in software which are linked and secured using cryptography.

Bots (chat bots)

Automated reply systems that interact with people online. Can be set up to respond to regular inquiries (chat bots) or used as “fake accounts” on social media sites.

Bug fixing (debugging)

To search for and eliminate malfunctioning elements or errors in a computer program


Information captured at a specific point in time and stored temporarily to speed up processes; for example, web crawlers, which provide search engines’ information, take frequent snapshots of websites to speed up the process of returning search results.

Cloud computing 

The delivery of on-demand computing resources, everything from applications to data centers, over the internet on a pay-for-use basis. Allows people to access information remotely.


Funding by many individuals pooling their money together for a common goal, usually via the Internet


Delegating a task to a large diffuse group, usually online and without compensation. 


Small bits of software code installed by websites to facilitate the tracking of visitors to the sites.


Factual information, especially information organized for analysis or used to reason or make decisions. Also used to refer to any information that has been digitized (see above).

Data crunching 

Slang for analysis data.

Data field (or data record)

The individual pieces of information entered into a database – each piece is a different field, together they make up a data record. Example: First Name = Data Field. First Name, Last Name, Aadhar number = Data Record

Data integrity

The maintenance of data over its entire life-cycle to ensure its accuracy and usability. This is a critical aspect to the design, implementation and usage of any system which stores, processes, or retrieves data.

Data mapping

Methods of matching two distinct data sets so they can be used together.

Data migration 

The process of transferring data between computer storage types or file formats.

Data mining

A technique for searching large-scale databases for patterns.

Data modelling

The analysis of data objects and their relationships to other data objects. Data modeling is often the first step in designing a database.

Data Protection 

The obligation to keep the digital information you or your organization holds secure.

Data surveillance 

The monitoring of people by tracking or storing digital activity on websites, social media, via cellular phones, or through other digital devices.


Stands for De-duplicating. Removing duplicate records in a database.

Digitalisation (digitisation)

Translating a physical object into an electronic software code version. Digital objects all exist in what is known as “binary code” – they are represented by series of “ones” and “zeroes” so that computers and software code can read them. Anything created on a computer – from text to photos to videos – is created digitally. A physical object that is scanned into a computer, in either 2 dimensions or 3 dimensions, is digitized.

Digital Data

Pieces of information in machine-readable form; digital information is different from analog information because it is more generative, replicable, mixable, scalable,­ storable, accessible, and perpetual than analog information and its ownership is harder to determine.


The software that monitors traffic in and out of a private network or a personal computer and allows or blocks such traffic depending on its perceived threat

404 Message

The standard error message when a website can’t be found. Usually because the site has been moved or taken down.


The process of adding geographical identification metadata to online media such as photographs, websites, or social media.


Stands for Geographic Information System. A system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data.


Able to be used and incorporated across different Information- processing platforms (for example, interoperable systems are able to exchange information because they share definitions or syntaxes or are otherwise comparable).


A label for content on social media. Represented by the # symbol


Knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction.


Intellectual Property: Intangible property that is the result of creativity (such as patents or trademarks or copyrights)

Internet Protocol

The principal set of rules and standards that allow information to travel over the internet.

IOT (Stands for Internet of Things)

Refers to physical objects that are not computers but that are connected to the internet, for example many traffic lights, modern home thermostats, wearable fitness trackers, automobile systems.

Live streaming 

Internet sharing of video from an event as the event happens. Can also involve archiving the recordings for later viewing.

Machine Readable

Information that is able to be categorized, recognized, edited, and used by a computer; datasets that are structured or formaHed in a computer language are easier for machines to import.


Information about data; includes the data type, the creator or source, the time/date.

Net Neutrality 

The principle that governments should mandate Internet service providers treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.

Open Data

Information shared in a format allowing it to be accessed and manipulated by anyone with internet access.

Open source 

A decentralized software-development model that encourages collaboration and sharing.

“Passive” Data Collection

Obtaining information without people needing to do anything to provide it; for example, extrapolating information about a person’s mobility by observing the GPS data that his phone automatically tracks.

Payment Gateway

A merchant service provided by an e-commerce provider that authorizes credit card or direct payments processing for online and offline business.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

This is digital data that can be used to contact, locate, or identify a specific person.


A type of computer operating system that provides the environment for running other software.


A website considered as an entry point to other websites, often by being or providing access to a search engine.


The state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion or of being concealed. A person’s right to privacy.


To use software or human copying/pasting to retrieve unstructured information from websites; usually with the computerized method of scraping, the software identifies the underlying structure in order to extract data from websites.


To cause to operate at the same time as something else. Aligning copies of information on different devices, such as your email on your phone and your laptop.


Applying a hashtag(s) to social media content to mark a conversation.


A message sent via Twitter.

UI (Stands for User Interface)

The part of a software application that a user sees and interacts with.


Stands for Unique Identifier


Stands for Uniform Resource Locator: the address of a web page, ftp site, audio stream or other Internet resource

Use case

A description of a potential scenario in which a system receives an external request (such as user input) and responds to it.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Digital representation in three dimensional space of physical places. Can be experienced wearing specialized eyewear (goggles) and makes the user feel as if they are “in” the digitally represented place.


Stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. Telephone service that happens over the internet instead of over analog telephone wires.