By Taylor Davies
One of the greatest abilities we have as humans is to be able to acknowledge our own faults and shortcomings. I am here today to lay a few of my Internet-related shortcomings out for you. I do this because I care. I do this because I am pretty sure that if I've managed to run my own blog for three years, intern in social media and land this fabulous job without understanding the following things, I can't be alone. Right? Please tell me I'm right.
You've heard these words. You see them around. Maybe you even used one in conversation. Perhaps, you have a (very) vague idea what they mean. If you don't read this post, life will go on and you can happily blog and tweet and be amazing without knowing exactly what these words and acronyms mean. However, feeling smarter and being a little more knowledgeable is cool.
If you're taking your blog seriously and working towards becoming a professional in this industry, many of these terms are actually important to know, and will help you understand how your site (and the Internet in general) functions.
For all of you out there in Internet land who've ever secretly scratched your head and thought, “Wait, what the what is a server?” This one's for you.
So, what is…
1. A web server?
The term “web server” can refer to either the hardware (like a computer) or the software (as in a computer application) that serves to deliver web content that can be accessed through the Internet. The most common use of web servers is to host websites, but there are other uses like gaming and data storage. Think of it as a filing cabinet for your blog. It's where everything is stored. For example, if your blog is on Blogspot, the “blogspot.com” part is your server. (Same goes for wordpress.com.) Please note that along with being a “space” on the Internet (you know, “in the cloud”), servers also exist physically.
2. The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org sites?
A WordPress.com site is hosted by WordPress (on their server, which means by their rules). A WordPress.org site is self-hosted, but you use the WordPress framework to create and manage your site.
3. A Self-hosted website?
Self-hosted means you are responsible for finding a service that will house your content on the web. (This means not using Blogger, Typepad, OnSugar, Tumblr, etc.) With a self-hosted site, you pay for the hosting fees, which vary, depending on which provider you choose, and how much space you need (think of the filing cabinet again).
FTP is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol. Say what? In layman's terms, it's the thing that takes files (like images, text, music, videos, or just about anything) and puts them on the Internet. For example, when you go into your blog and upload an image file from your desktop, the way that it gets there, the language that has been developed on computers to make this happen, is called FTP. (Also, FileZilla is a form of FTP, and it's a free program!)
5. An IP address?
IP stands for Internet Protocol. An Internet protocol address is a numerical label (or, a unique identifier) that is attached to every individual piece of machinery that accesses a network (like the Internet). Your computer is an example of a device that has an IP address (so is your smart phone, printer, or a fax machine, if you still have one of those). Think of an IP address as a license plate for your computer. This identifier shows ownership, and allows your machine to be located. (There are also two types of IP addresses, IPv4 and IPv6, but you can look up the difference between those on your own.) Browsers find each IP addresses using DNS, or the Domain Name System (which is like phone book of devices that are hooked up to the Internet).
6. Clearing your cache?
Your cache is the place where your Internet browser (Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, etc) stores information about what websites you have visited (like HTML pages and images). It does this so that sites load more quickly and to reduce bandwidth usage. Think of this as being able to recall a memory, rather than having to freshly research something for the first time. However, the cache takes up space on your computer's hard drive. Clearing your cache (and history and cookies) allows your browser to access to the most recent and up-to-date version of the sites you visit.
7. A Cookie?
The cookie that's stored in your cache is like a little bit of memory. A web site sends this small piece of text to your browser when you visit, so that your browser remembers things like your preferred language and settings, or what's in your shopping cart. You may not want your browser to collect cookies, which is why most have customizable settings you can control on a site-by-site basis. (For more, you should definitely watch this clip from Parks & Recreation.)
8. A plugin?
For our understanding, plugin is a “set of software components” that adds specific abilities to a web site. They allow for customization of how your site looks and how it works. They were developed when sites started getting too fancy for the original HTML format which was designed to support mostly just text and images. Third-party developers often create plugins that are then used on a site to allow it to do different things. For example, Adobe Flash Player and Quicktime are plugins that allow videos to play. Plugins can also scan for viruses, display ads, etc.
9. HTML code?
HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. Yikes. This is the language of the Internet. It's how things are displayed on web sites. Browsers were created read this language and display it visually for us. HTML documents (that become web sites) are created offline, then uploaded to the Internet using FTP. (See above!) HTML is created using (usually) paired tags that look like this <h1> blah blah blah </h1>. The tags and code tell the browser what the site is supposed to look like. You can make an HTML file in Text Exit or in Microsoft word, if you save it as a “.html” file. (For more, insanely complicated details, consult Wikipedia.)
Is this an exhaustive list of all the Internet terms I don't fully understand? Not even close. Is this a comprehensive definition of each of these terms? Not quite. This is just the tip of the iceberg. (Don't even get me started on the world of protocol…) I just hope this brief list will help you and I go forth into the future, ready at a moments notice to tell your next hot date what a server is.
*Please note that to explain the above terms I had a lot of help from my coworkers, Wikipedia, HowStuffWorks, Ask.com and good old Google.