Washington Post and Jigsaw launch a collaborative pop-up dictionary of security jargon

Information security's biggest obstacle isn't the mere insecurity of so many of our tools and services: it's the widespread lack of general knowledge about fundamental security concepts, which allows scammers to trick people into turning off or ignoring security red flags.

Explaining these concepts isn't easy, but it can be done. To that end, Jigsaw — Google's online safety division — and the Washington Post are creating a collaborative, visual pop-up dictionary that explains difficult security concepts with analogies, metaphors and images.

The glossary is called the Sideways Dictionary, and its analogies are crowdsourced and then moderated by the site's staff. You can browse the glossary on the Sideways Dictionary site (albeit only if you have nearly perfect vision, as the text is light grey on slightly less grey), but it's also embeddable as a set of popups for news articles, which appear when readers hover over highlit words.

This is a wonderful, thoughtful project that is badly needed. Analogies are never perfect, and these concepts are, to a certain extent, intrinsically abstract. But by delivering the information at the moment in which a reader is encountering them in context — say, because they were just hacked and are trying to figure out how bad it was or what to do next — it may be able to overcome that abstractedness with salience.

Sideways Dictionary, which launches today, runs as a standalone site where you can pore over analogies submitted by the public. You can vote for the analogies you find most useful, and The Washington Post will integrate Sideways Dictionary into all of its stories. Any security keywords appearing in an article will be linked to the dictionary. Hover over the word and the most popualar analogy appears in a box onscreen. "It's about communicating safety as simply as possible to people," says Alfred Malmros, who runs marketing for Jigsaw. In practice, it's more complicated than that.

Sideways Dictionary

Don't Know What a Honeypot Is? Try This Analogy on for Size [Margaret Rhodes/Wired]