We know the words we use don’t always translate.

The technology industry is built on new and emerging concepts, meaning terms continually appear, change, and phase out. Those that do stick around can be technical and hard to understand. This glossary is our attempt to clarify some terms that are currently fundamental to our work and often confusing to the public (and occasionally to us).

Disagree with a definition? Let us know.

This glossary is a work in progress. Help us grow it by submitting an entry.


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence refers to the concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider “smart.” Examples include technologies such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Nest.


Blockchain is a shared ledger of secure digital transactions. It is the foundation of cryptocurrencies — digital, encrypted units of money — like bitcoin. Blockchain transactions are requested, recorded, and completed immediately and without the help of a centralized authority, like a bank. The ledger—or blockchain—is instead maintained by peers in a shared network. The technology works by storing data from each transaction record in a “block” and connecting that block to those coming before and after it, meaning transactions cannot be altered once recorded. The technology being developed allows for transactions that are highly secure, extremely quick, publicly available, and of any size. As a result, blockchain has potential applications for every industry, from finance to real estate to advertising, and even voting.

Breakthrough technology

Breakthrough technologies are those that have major effects on our world—influencing areas like the economy, politics, medicine, and culture. These technologies have staying power. Examples include apps like Slack, which has revolutionized workplace communication, and the precise gene editing method CRISPR.


Broadband means fast internet service. How fast? According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), internet service with a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of at least 3 megabits per second (Mbps) qualifies as broadband. The City uses this same standard. As we continue to use the internet for more things, the standard will need to go up. This way, broadband will always mean internet service that’s fast enough for users to take advantage of just about everything the internet has to offer.

Civic tech

Civic technology is technology enabling greater connection, transparency, and engagement throughout a population. Examples include a mobile app streamlining the process to identify and call your senator, and NYC’s 311 app, which makes it easy to report issues like potholes and broken streetlights.


Co-creating refers to the practice of building with communities, not just for communities, as a way of improving equity through design. Co-creation requires including community members in the research, design, and development of products and services that will effect them. This method ensures they’re designed around the realities of the communities they impact.

Content strategy

Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content for digital products. Content includes any element that holds information, namely text, images, and multimedia. A strong content strategy allows those building websites or apps to achieve consistency and quality in structure, messaging, and usability across a digital product.

Digital literacy

Digital literacy refers to the ability to find, assess, use, create, and share content using communication technologies like computers and the internet.  What it means to be digitally “literate” is constantly changing, along with technology at large. The City aims to provide digital literacy by ensuring that New Yorkers have the resources they need to keep pace with these changes and benefit equally from the opportunities the digital world offers.

Emerging technology

Emerging technologies are those which are currently developing or will be developed over the next five to ten years, and which will substantially alter the business and social environment. Examples include blockchain and drones.


A moonshot, when referring to technology, is an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profit or benefit and sometimes without full investigation of potential risks and benefits. Moonshots are undertaken to inspire change and introduce new ways of thinking about problems or conventions. The term comes from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration to send a man safely to the moon within the decade.

Open source

Open source software refers to software whose source code is available for anyone to copy, learn from, alter, or share. Open source programs, such as the Firefox web browser and the Linux operating system, are largely free and collaboratively built. Now, “open source” is also used to more broadly describe technology initiatives developed around the values of collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, and transparency.

Plain language

Plain language is a mode of writing that uses simplicity of words and structure to make information easy to understand. It focuses on getting core messages across in the simplest terms, while writing for an audience’s specific needs and literacy levels. Plain language is considered an accessibility measure, as complex language can prevent readers from fully understanding information.


In the context of internet use, privacy refers to the protection of personal information shared when we access the internet using digital technologies like phones and computers. Privacy doesn’t require completely blocking of shared information, but rather the ability to choose the kind of information we share, when we share it, and with whom.

Real-time data

Real-time data is information about an environment that’s captured and relayed as it happens. Smart technologies use sensors to capture real-time data, like traffic conditions or air quality, and relay it using an internet connection.


A sensor detects and measures conditions, such as temperature, light, or sound, in its surrounding environment.

Smart city

A smart city uses technology to improve government operations and the resident and visitor experience.

Smart technology / Internet of Things (IoT)

Smart technologies are devices connected to the internet and equipped with sensors that capture data. Examples of smart city projects include garbage cans that measure and alert sanitation teams when they’re full, digital tools or kiosks that allow residents to submit feedback or vote on priorities, and benches that also provide phone charging or other amenities. The overall network of these connected devices is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).


STEM is an acronym referring to the academic topics of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Increasing the availability of STEM education is seen as a way to prepare students for a wider range of career opportunities.

User-centered design

User-centered or user-friendly design refers to products and systems designed with and for the people who will ultimately use them. These are designed to specifically address the needs and behaviors of users, versus those of the designers. Products built with and for the user have proven to produce greater satisfaction, efficiency, and adoption than those built without user-input.