When my father taught me how to sail, before we shoved off for the first time he insisted I learn the names for parts of the boat: bow, stern, port, starboard, mast, mainsail, jib, and so on. It took a while to “learn the ropes,” as old time sailors put it, but acquiring this knowledge was crucial to finding and fixing things, especially in emergencies.
I know you’re eager to learn about WordPress, but WordPress is just a small piece of a much larger communication system. To find your way around in that huge system, the internet, you have to learn some names for things. So, in the next four posts I’ll do my best to teach you the ropes, with this plan:
- Post #1: Very basic terms
- Post#2: Terms related to networks and communicating
- Post#3: Terms related to site promotion and social networking
- Post#4: Terms related specifically to WordPress
Ready to begin? O.K., here’s starting Post#1: Very Basic Terms
You are viewing this screen on a computer, or maybe even a smartphone. Much of the information you consume on these digital devices is provided by computers called “servers,” because they serve information to you when you request it, usually by clicking on a live link, which is nothing more than the address of some piece of information residing on a server. The internet is the HUGE collection of all the servers and corporate and personal digital devices which are networked (tied together) by both wired and wireless connections.
Computers are examples of hardware, that is, manufactured physical devices which make digital communication possible. Other examples include digital telephones, ipods, garage door openers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), thumb drives . . . .The list grows longer and longer every day. Software is digital information that is stored on, and often performs some task as it runs on some piece of hardware. If that information is merely stored and is not organized to perform a task it is called data. If, on the other hand, it is programmed to perform a task, such as send email, show you a web page, govern how your car runs, it is called an application, or app for short.
Every digital device comes with an operating system, OS for short, a core of programs which enable that device to perform its basic functions. If you run the Windows OS, perhaps it’s Windows 7, or XP, or Windows 2000. If you run a Mac, the most recent OS is Lion. If you don’t like the expense of updating your commercial OS, you can install an absolutely free one based on open source code. I like Ubuntu, a Gnome version of Linux.
Operating systems are periodically updated to work out bugs (yes, even the most carefully coded programs have some mistakes in them which show up only after much use by many users); and also, to patch holes exploited by malicious users who love to create viruses to destroy others’ data, or to obtain unauthorized access to information. Whatever operating system you use, make sure you receive notice of security updates, and perform those updates promptly to keep your computer and data secure.
In the early history of personal computing applications resided on your personal computer. You paid for them and received a license to operate them. But nowadays, more and more applications reside on servers. As more and more data and applications are accessed from servers and not from your personal computer, we’re coming to speak of “the cloud,” which is the sum total of all digital information stored on servers owned and operated by corporations. Our personal documents, financial records, photographs, music, everything is getting stored in “the cloud.” Scary, huh? Yes, we’re trading convenience of access in exchange for a loss of privacy. But let me not digress.
The popular name for the internet is the World Wide Web, or Web for short. Most of our online business is done with an application called a web browser, which allows us to send requests (through live links) for information stored on servers, and then see that information displayed on web pages.
Many people think that web pages are stored as total units of information, but actually, web pages are constructed in an instant from pieces of information that are stored on many different servers, some of which may be located on the other side of the world! Text comes from one server, pictures from another, maybe music or video from another, and so on. The web browser sends requests to all these sources of information and then assembles them all, almost instantaneously, in a coherent whole. Slick, huh? There are many brands of web browser, and because web browsers are so important in managing information and marketing products and services, there is a cut throat competition among the people who code web browsers. Examples include: Safari (the browser that comes as part of the operating system for Mac users), Internet Explorer (the OS browser for Windows users), and some free, open source competitors, such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.
To communicate with servers via your personal digital device (computer or smart phone) you upload and download information. Uploading is transferring information from your personal device to the server. Downloading is receiving information from the server onto your personal device. When you download a file from the internet, make sure you know to what folder your browser is downloading it. Otherwise you may not be able to find it easily once the download is completed. I prefer the Chrome browser, because when you download a file with Chrome you can see an icon for the file in the lower left corner of the browser window. You can see a pie graph of the downloading file, which tells you the progress of the download. When the download is completed the icon blinks. Then you can drag and drop the icon onto your desktop. This is the absolute best system for downloading, in my humble opinion.
Your personal device stores all information on an internal drive, either on a spinning hard drive, or a no-moving-parts flash drive, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. If you’re a windows user you can see all the information on your internal drive by clicking on the Start menu in the bottom left corner of your screen, and then click on “Computer”. There you will see information stored in several preset folders, such as Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. If you’re a Mac user you access this information under the apple menu at the top left of your screen.
One more term for this post: “url.” This stands for “uniform resource locator”. If you look at the top long window in your web browser, that’s where you will see the URL for the information your browser is presently displaying. A url is simply a web address for some item of information stored on a server, perhaps a web page, a music file, a picture, etc. Most urls begin with: http://www. Http stands for “hypertext transfer protocol,” which tells your browser: be ready to process this information using HTML tools (standing for hypertext markup language–more on this later). The “www” tells the browser that this information is available on the World Wide Web, the internet. What comes next is the domain where the information is stored. Each web site has a registered domain. In the case of this page the domain is teledavis.com. In some URLs you may see a forward slash after the domain, which means that the piece of information is stored within a folder bearing the title that comes after the slash. Sometimes the file may be nested in a series of folders. The final entry in the url is the name of the file being accessed. It might be a web page file, in which case the file would have the suffix .html, or .htm. Or, it might be a document file, in which case the suffix would be something like .doc, or .txt, or .rtf, or .pdf. Or, it might be a music file, in which case the suffix is often .mp3. When your browser accesses that file at the end of the the url it looks for an application on your computer that is designed to display or play that kind of file. For instance, if the file is a .doc, it will likely open in your preferred word processing application, such as Microsoft Word, or Open Office Writer. If the file is an .mp3, it will likely open in iTunes, if that’s your default application for playing music files. And if your browser doesn’t know which application to use to play or display the file, it will open a small browser window to let you search your applications for one that you think will play or display the file correctly.
Well, that’s more than enough information for one lesson! For the next post on learning the ropes in cyberspace we’ll look at the names of hardware and software tools which we use to network and communicate.
View the next post: Free Communication Tools for Your Web Team