Internet Terms for Beginners
As you strive to make sense of the Internet and the World Wide Web, these 30 terms are bound to be very helpful.
1. The Web vs. the Internet
The Internet is a vast ‘interconnection of computer networks’ that spans the globe. It is comprised of millions of computing devices that trade volumes of information. Desktop computers, mainframes, GPS units, cell phones, car alarms, video game consoles, and even soda pop machines are connected to the Net.
The Internet started in the late 1960′s as an American military project, and has since evolved into a massive public spiderweb. No single organization owns or controls the Internet. The Net has grown into a spectacular mishmash of non-profit, private sector, government, and entrepreneurial broadcasters.
The Internet houses many layers of information, with each layer dedicated to a different kind of documentation. These different layers are called ‘protocols‘. The most popular protocols are the World Wide Web, FTP, Telnet, Gopherspace, instant messaging, and email.
The World Wide Web, or ‘Web’ for short, is the most popular portion of the Internet. The Web is viewed through web browser software.
Grammar and spelling note: Use capitalized ‘Internet’ and ‘Web’ when using either word as a noun. Use lowercase ‘internet’ or ‘web’ when using either word as an adjective. e.g. ‘We were browsing the Internet on our television last night.’ e.g. ‘We found a really good web page about global warming.’
2. http and https
http is a technical acronym that means ‘hypertext transfer protocol‘, the language of web pages. When a web page has this prefix, then your links, text, and pictures should work in your web browser.
https is ‘hypertext transfer protocol SECURED’. This means that the web page has a special layer of encryption added to hide your personal information and passwords. Whenever you log into your online bank or your web email account, you should see https at the front of the page address.
:// is the strange expression for ‘this is a computer protocol‘. We add these 3 characters in a Web address to denote which set of computer lanaguage rules affect the document you are viewing.
A browser is a free software package that lets you view web pages, graphics, and most online content. Browser software is specifically designed to convert HTML and XML into readable documents.
The most popular web browsers in 2013 are: Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.
4. HTML and XML
Hypertext Markup Language is the programmatic language that web pages are based on. HTML commands your web browser to display text and graphics in orderly fashion. HTML uses commands called ‘HTML tags’ that look like the following:
- <a href=”www.about.com”></a>
XML is eXtensible Markup Language, a cousin to HTML. XML focuses on cataloging and databasing the text content of a web page. XML commands look like the following:
XHTML is a combination of HTML and XML.
URL’s, or ‘uniform resource locators’, are the web browser addresses of internet pages and files. A URL works together with IP addresses to help us name, locate, and bookmark specific pages and files for our web browsers.
URL’s commonly use three parts to address a page or file: the protocol (which is the portion ending in ‘//:’); the host computer (which sometimes ends in .com); and the filename/pagename itself. For example:
6. IP Address
Your computer’s ‘internet protocol’ address is a four-part or eight-part electronic serial number. An IP address can look something like ’126.96.36.199′ or like ’21DA:D3:0:2F3B:2AA:FF:FE28:9C5A’, complete with dot or colon separators. Every computer, cell phone, and device that accesses the Internet is assigned at least one IP address for tracking purposes. Wherever you browse, whenever you send an email or instant message, and whenever you download a file, your IP address acts like a type of automobile licence plate to enforce accountability and traceability.
Email (formerly spelled e-mail with a hyphen) is electronic mail. It is the sending and receiving of typewritten messages from one screen to another. Email is usually handled by a webmail service (e.g. Gmail or Yahoomail), or an installed software package (e.g. Microsoft Outlook).
Email has many cousins: text messaging, instant messaging, live chat, videomail (v-mail), Google Waving.
8. Blogs and Blogging
A blog (‘web log’) is a modern online writer’s column. Amateur and professional writers publish their blogs on most every kind of topic: their hobby interest in paintball and tennis, their opinions on health care, their commentaries on celebrity gossip, photo blogs of favorite pictures, tech tips on using Microsoft Office. Absolutely anyone can start a blog, and some people actually make reasonable incomes by selling advertising on their blog pages.
Web logs are usually arranged chronologically, and with less formality than a full website. Blogs vary in quality from very amateurish to very professional. It costs nothing to start your own personal blog.
9. Social Media and Social Bookmarking
Social media is the broad term for any online tool that enables users to interact with thousands of other users. Instant messaging and chatting are common forms of social media, as are blogs with comments, discussion forums, video-sharing and photo-sharing websites. Facebook.com and MySpace.com are very large social media sites, as are YouTube.com and Digg.com.
Social bookmarking is a the specific form of social media. Social bookmarking is where users interact by recommending websites to each other (‘tagging sites’).
ISP is Internet Service Provider. That is the private company or government organization that plugs you into the vast Internet around the world. Your ISP will offer varying services for varying prices: web page access, email, hosting your own web page, hosting your own blog, and so on. ISP’s will also offer various Internet connection speeds for a monthly fee. (e.g. ultra high speed Internet vs economy Internet).
Today, you will also hear about WISP’s, which are Wireless Internet Service Providers. They cater to laptop users who travel regularly.
Downloading is a broad term that describes when you make a personal copy of something you find on the Internet or World Wide Web. Commonly, downloading is associated with songs, music, and software files (e.g. “I want to download a new musical ringtone for my cell phone”, “I want to download a trial copy of Microsoft Office 2010″). The larger the file you are copying, the longer the download will take to transfer to your computer. Some downloads will take 12 to 15 hours, depending on your Internet speed.
Be warned: downloading itself is fully legal, as long as you are careful not to download pirated movies and music.
Malware is the broad term to describe any malicious software designed by hackers. Malware includes: viruses, trojans, ratware, keyloggers, zombie programs, and any other software that seeks to do one of four things:
- vandalize your computer in some way
- steal your private information
- take remote control of your computer (‘zombie’ your computer) for other ends
- manipulate you into purchasing something
Malware programs are the time bombs and wicked minions of dishonest programmers.
13. Router (aka ‘Network Router’)
A router, or in many cases, a router-modem combination, is the hardware device that acts as the traffic cop for network signals into your home. A router can be wired or wireless or both. Your router provides both a defense against hackers, and the redirection service of deciding which specific computer or printer should get which signals in your home. If your router or router-modem is configured correctly, your Internet speed will be fast, and hackers will be locked out. If your router is poorly configured, you will experience network sluggishness and possible hacker intrusions.
14. Keywords and Tags/Labels
Keywords are search terms used to locate documents. Keywords are anywhere from one to five words long, separated by spaces or commas: e.g. “horseback riding calgary” e.g. “ipad purchasing advice” e.g. “ebay tips selling”. Keywords are the foundation for cataloging the Web, and the primary means by which you and I will find anything on the Web.
Tags (sometimes called ‘labels’) are recommendation keywords. Tags and labels focus on crosslinking you to related content… they are the modern evolution of ‘suggestions for further reading’.
Read more about keywords and tags/labels here…
Texting is the short way to say ‘text messaging’, the sending of short electronic notes usually from a cell phone or handheld electronic device. Texting is popular with people who are mobile and away from their desk computers. Texting is something like the pagers of old, but has the file attachment ability of email.
To send a text message, you will usually need a keyboard-enabled cellphone and a text message service through your cellphone provider. You address your text messages using the recipient’s phone number.
In 2010, texting has spawned a controversial habit called ‘sexting’, which is when young people send sexual photos of themselves to other cell phone users.
I.M. (usually spelled ‘IM’ without the periods) is instant messaging, a form of modern online chatting. IM is somewhat like texting, somewhat like email, and very much like sending notes in a classroom. IM uses specialized no-cost software that you install on your computer. That IM software in turn connects you to potentially thousands of other IM users through the Internet. You locate existing friends and make new friends by searching for their IM nicknames.
Once the software and your friends list is in place, you can send instantaneous short messages to each other, with the option of including file attachments and links. While the recipient sees your message instantly, they can choose to reply at their leisure.
P2P file sharing (‘peer-to-peer’) is the most voluminous Internet activity today. P2P is the cooperative trading of files amongst thousands of individual users. P2P participants install special software on their computers, and then voluntarily share their music, movies, ebooks, and software files with each other.
Through ‘uploading’ and ‘downloading’, users trade files that are anywhere from 1 megabyte to 5 gigabytes large. This activity, while in itself a fully legal pasttime, is very controversial because thousands of copyrighted songs and movies trade hands through P2P.
E-commerce is ‘electronic commerce’: the transacting of business selling and buying online. Every day, billions of dollars exchange hands through the Internet and World Wide Web. Sometimes, the e-commerce is your company buying office products from another company (business-to-business ‘B2B’ e-commerce). Sometimes, the e-ecommerce is when you make a private purchase as a retail customer from an online vendor (business-to-consumer ‘B2C’ e-commerce).
E-commerce works because reasonable privacy can be assured through technical means (e.g. https secure web pages), and because modern business values the Internet as a transaction medium.
A bookmark (aka “favorite”) is a marker that you can place on web pages and files. You would bookmark something because:
- You want to return to the page or file later
- You want to recommend the page or file to someone else
Bookmarks/Favorites can be made using your right mouse click menu, or the menus/toolbars at the top of your web browser. Bookmarks/Favorites can also be made on your Mac or Windows computer files.
20. Social Engineering
Social engineering is the conman art of talking directly to people to trick them into divulging passwords and their private information. All social engineering attacks are some form of a masquerade or phishing attack, designed to convince you that the attacker is trustworthy as a friend or as a legitimate authority figure. The attacker might use an email, phone call, or even face-time interview to deceive you. Common social engineering attacks include greeting cards, bogus lottery winnings, stock investment scams, warnings from an alleged banker that you’ve been hacked, credit card companies pretending to protect you.
21. Phishing and Whaling
‘Phishing’ is what modern-day con men do to defraud you of your personal accounts. Phishing is the use of convincing-looking emails and web pages to lure you into typing your account numbers and passwords/PINs. Often in the form of fake eBay web pages, fake PayPal warning messages, and fake bank login screens, phishing attacks can be very convincing to anyone who is not trained to watch for the subtle clues. As a rule, smart users distrust any email link that says “you should login and confirm this”.
22. Addons and Plugins
Addons are custom software modifications. User optionally install addons to improve the power of their Web browsers or office software. Examples include: a custom eBay toolbar for your Firefox browser, a new search feature for your Outlook email. Most addons are free, and can be found and downloaded from the Web.
Plugins are a special kind of web browser addon. Plugins are essentially required addons, if you wish to view very specialized web pages. Examples include: Adobe Flash or Shockwave player, Microsoft Silverlight player, Adobe Acrobat pdf reader.
A trojan is a special kind of hacker program that relies on the user to welcome it and activate it. Named after the famous Trojan horse tale, a trojan program masquerades as a legitimate file or software program. Sometimes it will be an innocent-looking movie file, or an installer that pretends to be actual anti-hacker software. The power of the trojan attack comes from users naively downloading and running the trojan file.
24. Spamming and Filtering
‘Spam’ has two meanings. 1) Spam can mean ‘the rapid reptition of a keyboard command’. But more commonly, 2) spam is the jargon name of ‘unwanted/unsolicited email’. Spam email is usually comprised of two sub-categories: high-volume advertising, and hackers attempting to lure you into divulging your passwords.
Filtering is the popular-but-imperfect defense against spam. Filtering uses software that reads your incoming email for keyword combinations, andthen either deletes or quarantines messages that appear to be spam. Look for a ‘spam’ or ‘junk’ folder in your mailbox to see your quarantine of filtered email.
25. Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
Cloud computing is a fancy term to describe that your software is online and ‘borrowed’, instead of purchased and actually installed on your computer. Web-based email is the most prevalent example of cloud computing: the users’ email is all stored and accessed ‘in the cloud’ of the Internet, and not actually on their own computers. This is the modern version of the 1970′s mainframe computing model. As part of the cloud computing model, ‘Software as a Service’ is the business model that claims people would rather rent software than actually own it. With their web browsers, users access the cloud of the Internet, and log into their online rented copies of their SaaS software.
26. Apps and Applets
Apps and applets are small software applications. They are designed to be much smaller than regular computer software, but still provide very useful functions. Lately, apps are very popular with cellphone and mobile platforms; specifically: with the Apple iPhone and the Google Android phone.
Examples of apps: rangefinder GPS for golfing, song identification software, restaurant reviews, pocket video games, language translators for traveling.
27. Encryption and Authentication
Encryption is the mathematical scrambling of data so that it is hidden from eavesdroppers. Encryption uses complex math formulas (‘ciphers’) to turn private data into meaningless gobbledygook that only trusted readers can unscramble. Encryption is the basis for how we use the public Internet as a pipeline to conduct trusted business, like online banking and online credit card purchasing. On the provision that reliable encryption is in place, your banking information and credit card numbers are kept private.
Authentication is directly related to encryption. Authentication is the complex way that computer systems verify that you are who you say you are.
28. Ports and Port Forwarding
‘Network ports’ are thousands of tiny electronic ‘lanes’ that comprise your network connection. Every computer has 65,536 tiny ports, through which Internet-working data travels in and out. By using port management tools like a hardware router, users can control port access to better safeguard themselves against hackers.
‘Port forwarding’ is the semi-complex technique of opening specific network ports. You would port-forward to speed up your downloading and speed up your online connections for gaming and teleconferencing.
Firewall is a generic term to describe ‘a barrier against destruction’. It comes from the building term of a protective wall to prevent the spreading of housefires or engine compartment fires. In the case of computing, ‘firewall’ means to have software and/or hardware protecting you from hackers and viruses.
Computing firewalls range from small antivirus software packages, to very complex and expensive software + hardware solutions. All the many kinds of computer firewalls offer some kind of safeguard against hackers vandalizing or taking over your computer system.
30. Archives and Archiving
A computer ‘archive’ is one of two things: a compressed container of multiple smaller data files, or a purposeful long-term storage of files that are not going to be used often. In some cases, an archive can be both.
The act of ‘archiving’, similarly, is one of two things: to combine and squeeze multiple files into a larger single file (for easier emailing); or, archiving is when you will retire data and documents to be put into long-term storage (e.g. your thousands of old emails in your inbox).
By Paul Gil