Text in websites and web-applications, as in desktop software, is often written in programmers' technical jargon, making it incomprehensible to the software's intended users. This is known as "speaking Geek" (Johnson, GUI Bloopers, 2000).
Geek-speak can appear anywhere there is text in a website. Sometimes it's in instructions the site provides. Sometimes it's in error messages. Let's look at examples of each.
On its flight-search form, Northwest Airlines instructs site-users to "select the traveler(s) from the drop-down box...". "Drop down box" is a GUI toolkit term known mainly to programmers. Most of Northwest Airlines customer have no idea what "drop-down box" means. They must simply to guess what it means by examining the form and using deductive reasoning. Making users think about the UI, rather than about their own goals, is what makes this a blooper.
To order books from the website of Elsevier, customers must fill out of a form that asks for their Title (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.) and their name. If the customer attempts to proceed without specifying a Title, the site displays an error message: "Title must be a string between 1 and 20 characters." The term "text string" is a GUI programming technology term. For most Elsevier customers, a string is something one uses to tie things together, not a sequence of text characters.
This is even ignoring the problem that even if users knew what "string" means in this context, the Title setting is a menu and therefore isn't a string from the users' point of view.
The Association for Computing Machinery's Digital Library website provides a humorous example of speaking Geek. ACM members who subscribe to a digital library service can view tables of contents of ACM journals. If the Table of Contents for a specified issue of a journal is not available, instead of simply saying that, the Digital Library website displays an error message "No Children Found". This is Geek-speak: from the software's point of view, a Table of Contents is a hierarchy in which the article listings are child-elements. If an issue of a journal has no corresponding content-items in the data base, that means no child-elements of the journal element were found, hence the odd error message.
Geek-speak must go! Web users aren't captive, so they are even more sensitive to geekisms than are users of desktop software. If anything confuses or annoys them, they can leave at any time.
How to avoid speaking Geek can be summarized as follows: