Posted 11.13.2010

Posted 11.13.2010

Technology Alphabet Soup

Everybody has their own language. — I talk to my friends that are teachers that have all kinds of terms for testing and curriculum sequences. My nurse friends use abbreviations and medical terms that I could never remember, even if I tried.

I know on my blog, I’ll throw around my own vocabulary. So, I thought I’d help you out with some of the terminology. I’ll try to describe each of these in a non-geek way. :-)

Domain Name / URL and Hosting

Let me use a non-technology analogy. When you’re building a house, you have to have a few things. (1) A piece of real estate to put the house on and (2) and an address so people know how to get to your house.

The web world is no different. You must have server space (real estate) to store all your site files, this is called hosting. Then, you have to have an address to tell people how to get your site. Mine’s This is a domain name or URL.

When you get ready to create a site, you can go to a site like or or Network Solutions to register your domain name. Unfortunately, you can’t have whatever you want. A lot of domain names have already been taken. But, each of these sites will allow you to search and see what’s available. A domain name will set you back about $11 a year, depending on what service you use.

I’ve gotten to the point where I collect domain names like baseball cards. :-) I don’t have sites on half the domain names that I own, you never know… and Network Solutions both offer hosting services as well. My personal preference, however, is MediaTemple. Granted, I’m partial to how great their site looks compared to GoDaddy, but there are a few features that make their service less hassle and easier to use. (GoDaddy’s site is so cluttered that I often feel like I’m clicking in circles.) Besides, MediaTemple has several larger sites using their services, so I know they can handle my bandwidth should my traffic ever spike.


A browser is what you use to view (or browse) pages on the Internet. In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re using a browser. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Chrome are the most popular.


FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. I know, I told you I’d veer away from geek speak. An FTP client is a program that will allow you to upload / download files to your server.

My personal favorite is Transmit. But, there are plenty of options out there: Fetch, CuteFTP, YummyFTP, CyberDuck. It just depends on your personal preference and how much / little $$ you’re willing to throw down.

It’s worth noting that sometimes you’re hosting service will offer an FTP interface within their site. I do this for a living, so it was worth every penny to purchase a license for Transmit.


HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. Basically, this is what the browser reads when it shows you a website. You can visit any website, right click, and select “View Source.” Usually there will be some other markup there, but for the most part, that’s the site’s HTML. Some of it, you will probably be able to understand, but it will be interspersed with a lot of <s and >s.

HTML is not as hard to learn as you might think. In fact, I’ve written a brief guide in plain English, if you’re interested.


CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet. This is used in connection with HTML. It defines the colors, fonts, and placement on a page.

The idea is that I could say in my style sheet, I want all my headings to be Georgia, black 18 point font. I only define it once and it just knows. Then, when I show it the client and they say, “You know, brown is the new black. Will you change all the headings to be in brown?” “Well sure.” instead of going to each heading and changing the color, I can open up my handy dandy stylesheet and change it in one place!


RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. I’m not kidding. That’s what it means.

I’ve talked about RSS before, when I talked about Google Reader.

RSS is a feed that a site can provide that contains updates to the site, usually its blog post or news updates. But, it can also contain podcast updates or comments posted on a site.

A site like Google Reader can then manage all your RSS feeds for you. So, instead of visiting 10 sites every morning to see whether any updates have been posted, you check one place, where it gathers all the new content for you.


Javascript is the Flash eater right now. Why? Well, partially because of a man by the name of Steve Jobs. :-) But, also because JavaScript doesn’t require any plugins to work within a browser.

Some of the things JavaScript allows you do:

  • Animations (not Pixar or anything, but fade in, fade out, move objects across the screen, etc.)
  • Form Validation
  • Talking to the Server (typically called AJAX)

You can always tell whether the user is Flash or not by right clicking on an item. If the menu that appears says something like “About Adobe Flash Player 10”, then you know it was created in Flash.


jQuery is really JavaScript. But, one of my frustrations with JavaScript is that when you write it, different browsers will interpret it differently. Meaning, I have to write certain functions for Internet Explorer and other functions for Firefox. In my head, it got complicated fast! That’s where jQuery comes in. It’s a library that makes writing JavaScript easier…much easier.

MooTools, Dojo, and Protoype are essentially the same thing, just different libraries.


MySQL is a database language. It allows you to Create, Retrieve, Update, and Delete to a database, or as us geeks call it, CRUD.


PHP is a server language. It allows me to work with dynamic content. How can content be dynamic you ask? Well, take a blog for instance. In the olden days (10 years ago), when you wanted to update a site you have to call your web master (sometimes you still have to do that) and ask them to publish your entry for you. They would probably make a copy of an existing page, put the new content on the page, and then go through the entire site and update the navigation manually to reflect the changes. Tedious and expensive.

With PHP, you can have the site navigation in one file and it gets included on all pages. A change gets made, the update is made in one place and it is reflected everywhere on the site.

Take that a step further. Look at a CMS (listed below).

.Net and Rails

Before I moved on, I did want to mention .Net and Rails. These are different coding languages that accomplish the same thing.

.Net (yes the period intentional, it’s pronounced “dot net”) is Microsoft’s coding language.

Rails is short for Ruby on Rails. Rails is a little different. Ruby is the coding language and Ruby on Rails is a framework that has a lot of functionality built into it, making coding faster and easier.


CMS stands for a content management system. Sounds complicated. Actually, it’s meant to make your life easier. Back in the olden days of Internet (10-15 years ago), anytime you wanted to update your site, you had to create a new HTML file or modify an existing one. For large sites that meant tons of files. But, it also meant you have to go to someone that could write HTML every time you needed your site updated. Talk about amping up cost!

Now, we can hook up your site to a CMS that will allow you to fill out a web form and it will update the site with as little to no coding knowledge. Actually, all blogging platforms are CMSes: WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, MoveableType, SquareSpace, and my persoanl favorite ExpressionEngine.

A while back, I wrote a post about choosing the right CMS to fit your needs.


CRM stands for Contact (or Customer) Relationship Management. Think of this as the modern day rolodex. My personal preference is Highrise.