The digital world can be tough. Terms come and go at such a pace, and before you know it, everyone’s chattering about HTML and mobile-first strategies without having ever stopped to explain what they mean.

We here at Page Lizard are just as guilty of this, and we’re aware that people can sometimes be a little embarrassed to stop us and ask about the basics.

So here, in plain English, is the beginner’s guide to common Digital Publishing terms.

Article-based publishing

This term has been propelled to fame with Apple’s release of its ‘News’ feature with iOS 9. It does what it says on the tin – it’s literally publishing content as individual articles rather than bundled issues. It’s important because readers are engaging more effectively with articles compared to issues, and our bets are that this trend will eventually dominate, particularly amongst the socially-savvy consumers.


‘Channels’ and ‘streams‘ are confusingly often interchanged in digital publishing, but there’s a fine difference between them. A channel is a container to stream something through – so as an example, in Apple News, Wired magazine will have its own Wired channel to push content through. The content that actually goes through will be the stream. Another way of looking at it is on this blog: the Page Lizard blog is the ‘channel’, but the blog posts are the ‘stream’. Phew…


This stands for ‘Content Management System’, and is just a generic term for an application that allows users to publish, edit and modify content. CMS’ are used in many ways in the publishing industry, for managing the workflow of a publication to editing a website, and usually allow users to work in a collaborative way – WordPress is a popular CMS for websites.

When we talk about the Page Lizard CMS (fondly named ‘Egg*’), it’s simply a web-based tool built for publishers who don’t have access to their own content management system. We manage all the uploading, production, design and distribution of our client’s publications through Egg.


A Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) defines how HTML elements are to be displayed. In digital publishing terms, let’s take the example of an article. The HTML tags would define the heading, the subheading, and the pullquotes. The CSS stylesheet attached would define the size, colour and font of those elements across all articles, so the style of these elements can easily be changed without having to adjust every single article. Think of it as a brand toolbox, with all the colours, fonts and more to get the digital publication looking like it belongs to the publisher.

Content curation

In publishing terms, a content curator is someone or something that gathers and organises content from different sources (normally blogs or news sites) and sorts it into topics or particular areas of interest. Content aggregation is another term that you may have come across in relation to this – aggregation is the gathering of unsorted content, before it is curated. Both aggregation and curation can be automated, and there are a number of popular apps that do this such as Flipboard, Feedly and Pinterest.


This is usually mentioned in reference to our apps, and means that publications can be viewed both in its original PDF form, and in mobile-responsive text view. Being able to switch between the two is great for catering for a variety of readers, as some may be more comfortable with a familiar PDF view and others prefer to read the mobile-responsive version.


Adobe Flash is a multimedia technology that supports a lot of animation and interactive content. The free plugin is included in most* major browsers, and powers most online page-turning digital editions.  Flash has a very rocky relationship with Apple, and most Flash-powered publications don’t work on iPads and iPhones. Fortunately, with the increasing capability of HTML5, the industry dependence on Flash is diminishing.

*Due to security flaws, Firefox goes through phases of blocking Flash. Facebook has also issued calls to Adobe to discontinue the software entirely due to these vulnerabilities.


Flipbooks, flipping-books, Flash page-turners…they all essentially mean the same thing. A flipbook is a PDF that has been churned through a cheap piece of software to look like a magazine, complete with sound-effects and tactfully-positioned drop-shadows. Some flipbook providers will allow you to ‘enhance’ the PDF with links, pop-ups and videos, but the bottom line is that these are fundamentally still page-turners, and present a rubbish mobile reading experience. Pick through the jargon on these sites carefully – it may ‘work on mobile’, but it will be pinch-and zoom functionality. Getting content as HTML is the only way to get a truly mobile-responsive experience.


‘HyperText Markup Language’ is the authoring language of websites. Responsive digital publications work on the same principles as responsive web pages, and HTML is the language used to define how that text works on the reader’s device (you may know this as text view). Because all tablet and mobile devices can translate and reflow HTML web pages, they can do the same to HTML articles in apps or web browsers, so it is a language that works across all the different platforms and will be around for a long, long time. Examples of HTML are <h1>, <p>, <body> or <image> tags. CSS stylesheets then define how these are styled. HTML5 is the current revision of the language, and is standardised across the web.


In a publishing context, this term usually refers to content strategies that put the mobile user experience first (N.B. this term is not exclusive to mobile phones; a mobile device is a tablet or a device that is…well…mobile!). Publishers who adopt a mobile-first approach are often more likely to take notice of engagement statistics and reader feedback, and use them to inform their future digital plans.

Native advert

A native advert is one where the content matches the form and function of the platform. Buzzfeed and similar sites often run this ‘sponsored’ content which is indistinguishable from their own content, but will be authored by Spotify or a similar sponsoring brand. Native adverts are becoming more and more popular, as engagement with them is a great deal higher than traditional banner ads.

Native app

A native app is just a more accurate way of describing our popular notion of an app. Written for a specific platform (e.g. iOS or Android), it can be downloaded from an app store, installed on a device and appears as an icon. In the digital publishing industry, native apps can be expensive for publishers to develop or license, but offer a host of benefits like offline reading, push notifications, fast loading, gestures and more. To combat issues with subscriptions and development costs, web apps are becoming an increasingly popular option.

Operating System (OS)

An Operating System is system software that manages the hardware. iOS is Apple’s name for its operating system, and they usually release a big upgrade to it every autumn (the latest will be iOS 9). Android’s OS updates are named after confectionery and are being updated in alphabetical order, with the most recent being ‘Jelly Bean’, ‘KitKat’ and ‘Lollipop’. OS updates may be visible changes such as UX/UI overhauls, or may be small bug fixes and patches.


Sadly, this term doesn’t refer to a really good book. A page-turner, or print replica edition is a level down from a flipbook, and is just the PDF without any enhancements. The reading experience on a large tablet device like an iPad is just about acceptable, but for mobile users, page-turners are difficult to read (pinch-and-zoom…).


A platform is the hardware/software environment for mobile technology. MAC, Android and Windows are all examples of platforms. The term is often used as a synonym of Operating System. A cross-platform publication is one that works across different devices, such as an iPhone or a Nexus tablet.

Print replica

Synonymous with page-turner. It is, as its name suggests, a digital replica of the print page. See flipbook and page-turner for more on why these are increasingly a bad idea.


A push notification is a message that is sent from an app to alert the user. These can range from email notifications to messages about new publications being available. At the moment, only apps can send push notifications, but Chrome have just released an update to their 42 release that will mean websites can send push notifications to desktop and Android users. Don’t worry – you have to give these sites permission to push to you, and you can change the site-by-site settings in your Chrome browser settings. See this report for more details.


If an article or publication is responsive, it reflows to fit the size of the device it’s being read on (as opposed to fixed layout). The same article or publication can be read in the same font size on a mobile or a tablet. This means layout has to be carefully thought about, and on a mobile, some parts might stack on top of each other rather than sit side by side. Creating a responsive version of a publication doesn’t mean sacrificing print layout at all, but it is a different mindset and user experience when reading. See the work we’ve done with our clients to translate their print publications into responsive editions.

RSS feed

An RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed is a commonly used way of delivering regularly changing content, such as blogs or news. It’s a bit like subscribing to a news feed, and lets followers know when something has been updated. Apple will be taking RSS feeds from publishers to feed into Apple News, but it’s important to note that this is nothing new – content aggregators like Yahoo, Flipboard, Feedly and MSN have been using RSS feeds happily for a while.

Social/media channel

A social channel is a container which content is streamed through, typically on a social media platform. For example, on LinkedIn’s Pulse, there are a number of channels such as ‘Social Media’, ‘Leadership’ or ‘Technology’ which users can follow to see relevant content streamed to them. As part of ‘Instant Articles’, Facebook will allow publishers to have their own channels to push content out through, so Buzzfeed content will stream through its own channel. Apple News by contrast is a media channel, as content isn’t being streamed through a social network. Still with me?!


A stream is the content going through a channel. See channels for more information!

Text view

A mobile-responsive way of interpreting print pages. See HTML.


The acronyms for User eXperience and User Interface are often bundled together, but they’re actually separate concepts. In digital publishing, UI is the interface the user sees (branding, design, layout), and UX is the experience they have whilst navigating (flow, stumbling blocks, user problems). App developers and publishers have to work together closely to determine how the readers will travel through the app; where they want to explore, what they notice, what they don’t…! Getting UI wrong looks clumsy, getting UX wrong is fatal.

Web app

Web apps aren’t ‘applications’ in the traditional sense. In fact, most web apps run exactly like web pages. The functionality for the web app is stored on a remote server, but is accessed through a browser interface, and can even be cached and read offline. Like web sites, web apps can support video, audio and other enhancements.

Our Webviewer is an example of a web app, and can host a wide variety of publications without the expense of setting up a native app. It can also be branded and personalised to the publisher’s needs.


Have we missed anything? Need some definitions tweaking? Or has this solved all your digital publishing concerns? Tweet us or get in touch and let us know!

*Egg – where great publications hatch…of course!


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