What is a Website?

There are questions that are simple, and then there are questions that are merely worded in a simple way.

One of my favorite “worded in a simple way” questions lately is: “What is a website?” Don’t answer right away. Think about it for a second.

The more I started looking at the question, the more I started thinking about it as the story of The Blind Men and the Elephant. A networker will see the network elements and connections. A DevOps adherent will see the systems, automation, and deployment infrastructure. A developer will see the code of the website itself and possibly the overall structure of the webpage. One of my friend’s kids called it “A page in the book of the Internet.” All of these are important and interesting, but none of them are correct on their own. After turning it over for a while, I came up with the following working definition:

“A website is any part of your infrastructure (or someone else’s) that creates, transmits, or processes bits in order to put pixels on the user’s screen.”

So, what does that mean?

  1. A website covers a lot of territory. It’s annoying but true. Some parts are more important than others, but the fact stands that there are a number of factors that will determine website performance, and they’re distributed down the full length of the path from your origin to your user.

  2. A lot of it is out of your control. See above. Your infrastructure, the user’s browser, and everything in between are all needed for someone to think that your website isn’t down, but you typically only control the first one of those.

  3. Unless you’re a user, saying “the website is down” is not precise enough. I’ve seen websites considered “broken” due to coding issues that made it unworkable on a single browser type, as well as some that made the site inoperable on all browser types. They can be broken in a geographical region due to network issues, or just flat-out down for everyone if the origin infrastructure isn’t working properly. The flip side is that if you are a user, then you don’t actually care why the website is down; it just doesn’t work.

In short, Your website is made out of everything, you don’t control most of it, and not a single user cares about what has gone wrong.

That’s where you’re starting.

1 Comment

Filed under Web Optimization

One Response to What is a Website?

  1. Craig

    I think your definition is slightly off, I suggest that it is a mechanism for presenting information. Pixels aren’t always the expected target (hint: lynx), nor are users always the expected consumer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *