On Words: Web Linguistics

People ask me questions about this piece of technology and that piece of technology. What i am often asked, even by experts themselves, is whether this is the right term or not.  This is for a technology discussion or a pitch.  Either way, there is some confusion about the difference or use of the words.  For instance Plugin vs. Add-on.

I am putting together a list of used and mis-used words that I am hearing a lot of in Internet ventures, from Angels, VCs and just kids playing with web sites.  These words have become interchangeable within each group, mainly because the general population really does not see a difference, but tech people know there is a difference.

I know I will embarrass myself here because there are sticklers who are more specific about these words and their use.  I am just pointing out the blurring of the lines and how the web has changed the language and meaning of these words for users, who find themselves having to explain things to people on calls to their technology companies whether its the phone company, cable or third party provider.

Words have a funny way of changing over the years.  I am writing this blog entry as would William Safire in the New York Times Sunday addition I used to read as a kid.  He would cover all the new words he has heard and give a history to where they came from in their origin often citing the Oxford Dictionary.  I read it every week carefully.

Plugin, Add-on, Extension

All three words seem to convey the same existential meaning, a piece of a software that creates new value that can be added or not added to your existing piece of software.  This is not the same as an App.  These are extra stuff.  I am sure they had historic meanings for each and when they first came into use.  And of course WordPress uses Plugin and Joomla uses Add-ons.  Quite honestly these 3 are becoming completely interchangeable.

Feature, Function

Somewhere along the way, while programmers know technically what a function is, the actual user does not see the difference in these things that you get when you plugin or add-on stuff.  They just see a new piece of working software that does something.  For end users these words are synonymous, though programmers would beg to differ.

Widget, Drop-in

Once again thank WordPress for coming up with the word Widget, which is a little different than a feature.  These are things that you put in your software yourself and they go to work.  There are occasionally drop-in apps around that kind of work like a widget.  The widget reference I think is different than other extension type applications, in that it is specific to a place on the page.

Pop-up, Pop-Under, Light-box, Hover

These are things that just annoy us that show up when we arrive or leave a website. I am including a Light-box here, because that is a thingy that shows functionality as well, but takes over your screen with a dark silhouette in the background.  The Light-box is a pop-up of sorts, but it uses a local function, so it is technically not a pop-up.  A hover, as you know comes up with a mouse on-over.  These 4 words have kind of merged into one thing for users, extra things or functionality that occurs on an action.  But users like everything don’t always get the difference.

Template, Theme, Skin, Brand

What has happened with these four words is they have come to virtually mean the same thing to people, whereby the look and feel or Brand of the software can change, yet the guts or application remains the same.  Everybody talks about where to get their newest theme.  Yet, we know as programmers that a template is more than just a visual  But what has happened in WordPress is Themes have programming in them.  So the lines are getting blurred.

Program, Application, Platform, System, App

Most of these are old technology words.  That have various technical meaning to programmers, yet to the user, there is no difference.  These words refer to the computer program.  Even the word App has now on it’s own come out and stands for specifically a Mobile or Smartphone app.  The word Platform for PHP and .Net programmers has come to mean which method they are using to program…  Not important to end users though.

Smartphone, Tablet, Ipad, Iphone, Mobile, Cellular, Cell

Even I, having worked for a cellular phone company for 10 years at one point, I see the words merging here.  We know there is a difference between Tablet and Smartphone, but have you see the Ipad Mini or the Galaxy S4. What is happening is all these words refer to some type of nice UI device you can carry around and get to your stuff, surf the web, make a call, etc.  Does it really matter in the end what you call it all, as long as it provides what you are looking for.

Cloud, Hosting

I have myself been guilty of merging these 2 words of late.  The word cloud has come to mean, in my eyes, now pretty much all hosting.  I am completely technically wrong, but am I theoretically wrong?  Not sure. I have put down cloud on a couple VC pitches recently and I am just waiting for somebody to challenge me.  They haven’t.  They get it.  Cloud is inclusive of hosting (in my eyes).  You can argue with me if you want here!

I probably missed a few item here or there.  But hopefully you get the overall drift of these words. They have meaning for everybody in several ways, yet they are merging in meaning overall.  Within the programming world, you have specific conventions, but in the outside world of everyday people, they are just terms we use to help us communicate, so what if accidentally call your Nexus an iPhone?  You will just nod your head, and say “yes”, you meant my Iphone?

 

Marketing Trend: Our Decreasing Need To Remember Anything

Years ago in the not so distant past there used to be these little black books we all carried around that held in them names, addresses and phone numbers. Ah, yes we called them address books and phone books. To those of us not well endowed with the gift of memorization, these little books were very, very important. Ok, you know I am being facetious. Along with the demise of these little black books (I personally see the iphone/ipad as the death knell), there is also a big trend, in fact a marketing trend, that we don’t need to remember much about who we know, where we go online, who we email in order to contact others. Why is this important? Well if you look at the recent trend of social bookmarking, social media and sharing sites, like Addthis.com, you are seeing a new paradigm emerging where we don’t need to know this contact information anymore. In other words, social networking and other kinds of sites are becoming the conduit for our contact information. The question is how and why can you capitalize on this trend.

Phone Numbers, Cell Phones & PDAs Start The Know Nothing Trend

Let’s step back a bit. I had been in the cell phone business back in the 90s, when the first internal phone books emerged. They were good and you could choose from a list of people to call, but when you broke, lost your phone or upgraded, you had to go through the painful move your contacts over process. But long before cell phones, landline phones, the old phone companies had those 10 digit numbers you had to remember. I am saying “had” because I believe phone numbers one day will be so obfuscated, you won’t need to know a number. In fact maybe you just say a name and your smart device finds that person.

When the Palm emerged (how soon we forget) it had all kinds of contact information apps on it. When the Palm merged with a cellphone, we were ecstatic. We would no longer need to keep that litttle black book for phone numbers. We still had to keep the address book around for the written addresses and some emails at that time. In the late 2000s as the phones got smarter, we were able to keep our contact list, integrate lists eventually with things like Google and Gmail. This made it possible when I lost a phone to get back at least an old copy of my contacts. But we were not free of having to remember some information.

Tell-A-Friend

As a little side note here, we had put the Tell-A-Friend page on almost every site we built up until recently. The problem of course with Tell-A-Friend is, if you don’t remember their email address, you couldn’t tell a friend. So how close a friend were they. So in the early years of the web, you remembered all your friend’s email addresses and if you didn’t, you copied and pasted it from your email program. But this is where the little black book came out.

Google Throws A Life Line

Gmail was the first really great implementation of a technology that naturally offered up contact information, such as email addresses and names of previous email contacts in a way that was unobtrusive. It used a natural intelligence that was not dorky or difficult and did not bother you. Using my Gmail account, I would just start to type either an email address or a name and it would show the contacts I needed. You could still search Gmail and find it other ways. Now, the geeky at-heart will email me and tell me that there were others before Gmail with this capability. I am sure of that. But this is the place I remember losing my “email” mind and not having to add email addresses to my little black book. I think it was around 2003 or so for me, but it doesn’t matter. What is important is I don’t know your email address if you asked me now!

Make It So Linkedin! Now We Don’t Have To Remember Ourselves

The emergence of Linkedin.com is much more than just a place for our business info and contact info. It created a place where we could put our resume information and not really have to maintain a physical resume. We are not totally there yet, but it is the beginning of another little piece of paper shoved into my little black book going away. The critical aspect of LinkedIn is it allowed people to change jobs, lose their primary email address, and keep in contact with you regardless. If you are LinkedIn with somebody, they can change their email address and life is good again. You don’t lose them. Next time you login to LinkedIn they have a different email address but life goes on just the same for your contact relationship. And the ability to use LinkedIn to communicate to you with “send them a message” changed the game. This small innovation in the business world has made it so even my little Gmail artificial intelligence is not that important anymore. The ability to contact and communicate within these types of applications was well underway with the big daddy of them all coming to town, Facebook.com

Social Networks, Honey Where’d My Brain Go?

So now that Facebook is upon us and seemingly consuming 90% of the online time of people who seem to have all the time in the world for Facebook, a second phase of this trend is now kicking in. We no longer need to remember not just phone numbers or email addresses. We don’t even have to remember our friend’s names. When you share a link or webpage on the web and you use one of the many sharing mechanisms, like Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Vimeo, and there are others, life has gotten easy to ping somebody. If you use Facebook sharing to share you can send your message by searching for a face now, right? That conceptually means that you don’t need to remember anybody’s name anymore. And I see this trend increasing as Facebook logins and other types of sharing mechanisms seem to be everywhere these days.

The Final Frontier: Smarter Devices Means You Can Be Even Dumber!

When you got your first iPhone and you logged in to iTunes, and you downloaded your first Angry Birds app, the trend became apparent. You did not have to enter your email address each time. Just enter a password. Apple knows who you are, your contact info and basically we don’t need to know ourselves (email-wise). The whole concept of remembering your email address is becoming less important. Once you are on an iPad you don’t need to enter your email address to get on a list with an app. You buy things through iTunes. And if you use Words With Friends by Zynga you interact with people that you don’t really know and your contact info is embedded somewhere on a hard drive in the cloud (“the keyword for India hard drive storage”). So smart devices are making it so we don’t need to even know who we are.

What’s Next?

Well, I have no crystal ball, but obviously Facebooking your way around the web, using Facebook to contact and communicate is here to stay. The smart devices to me represent a major change in how and where this contact info lies. I noticed recently in my Android phone that I can sync my contacts with Gmail and/or the main company I use so I don’t lose it. I guess in the near future some of these mechanisms many cross paths either through mergers, acquisitions or just a central control system, like the old phone company.

Learning is Earning

A few years ago, and I would love to find this article again, on Yahoo Finance, there was an article about why you should just forget about getting an MBA. Just start an Internet start-up and skip business school! That is what the writer prescribed. Not sure if this was written to get the Yahoo Finance readers up in arms or to make a point. It did get lots of responses, good and bad. And in some ways I totally agree with the writer. In some ways I did not. I had my own answer to this, but my situation was very different than the audience the writer was writing for. Seemed like she was writing for a group of 20 something technology hacking recent grads.

Your GMAT Score Is Inversely Related To Your Ability To Run Your Own Business

Your GMAT score is inversely related to your ability to run your own business. I stole this line from a book I read years ago on how to survive the Harvard business school. Yes, it is true that MBA programs train people to work at companies and deal with big company issues. It is also true the degree is a generalist degree in many ways, kind of like an engineering degree. What you learn in school is not what you are going to be doing in real life. And it may actually be true that those who go to get their MBA are often not able to start and run their own business, but when I ask entrepreneurs if they could have an MBA right now to assist them in their business and their answer is always yes. It is always better to have more education. I would get a PHD, if I had unlimited money, time and resources.

More Learning Means More Money

If you do some research, like here, you will find that the more education you get, the more you earn in general. Obviously we would all love to start a company and make money on our own working for ourselves, but the statistics say that overall getting more education means more money. It is a simple principle. Also, not everybody can go off and start an Internet company. There are as many failures in online business as there are offline. It is easier and faster to start a business online and thousands of new websites every year prove it. You can’t knock people from trying, but don’t argue this start-up method is an alternative to an MBA. You can have an MBA and be in a start-up, in fact that combination is more powerful than a start-up founder without an MBA.

I Went To Learn

My MBA education was not about the degree. Well, it became about finishing the degree in the last year, but overall, it was done over time, at 2 programs and I literally took my time and made often my class work about my day job. This was not about the degree in my mind, it was about my mind. I think it is important to learn and not just be handed a piece of paper. One of the issues that speaks broadly about this, is the lack of ethics among MBA grads. Well, if they are not about learning, and just about the degree, what do you expect them to be like. There are many with no scruples, no ethics and why do we often hear about guys like Madoff attempting to run a scam.

Education Realization

I recently had a epiphany not about my own MBA, but about certain pillars of my own learning in the past 10 years, especially about the web. What I realized is that there are probably a dozen foundational areas of being an expert on websites, such as web design, web programming, web analytics, business development, product management, email marketing, search engine marketing and organic SEO. What I realized is that you can be an expert in one of these areas. Once you become an expert, you will find that your desire to learn more in that specific field may top out, especially after many years in the field.

This just means you need to get knowledge in the other areas, if you work in the web. Our brains can handle the same thing day in, day out for just so long. And learning something new does not mean giving up what you know, it means building on what you know by learning a new area, especially if it is related. Maybe I am nothing like the rest of the web workers out there, especially if their answer is I am happy knowing my little silo of information and that’s that. This is a rare person, and in fact, this kind of person is the perfect company person.

Ford’s Assembly Line

If you look at the original concept of Ford’s Assembly Line and why it was so ground breaking, its because of specialization. Each person in the factory would specialize in one small area of the making of the car and just do their job. I probably would have quit that job at some point, or maybe I would have moved around the plant and worked on the fenders for a while. I need to get around and learn more about different areas after I master an area of business. I had for the longest time been considered a web analytics expert. This expertise, which is somewhat uncommon in the market, is in my opinion, not an end unto itself, but one of many disciplines needed to truly understand the web. It is foundational.

The Designer Becomes The Programmer And Vice Versa

I have actually seen web designers start out writing a few PHP programs here and there and turn into a full time programmer. I have seen designers become directors and engineers become writers. We seem to migrate towards not what we know, but what we are good at. In fact, maybe initially we did not even know we were good at these things, but when we found out, by chance, that we were good at it, be decided to like it. I stole that idea from the New York Times article on why Chinese Mothers are superior (They make their kinds learn something. They say be good at something, and then one day you will learn to like it!).

Web Education

Let’s face it, you can get an education on any subject in like 15 minutes today. I use Youtube.com when I cook and watch videos on how to make Indian food. I use Instructables.com to figure out how to do this or that. I research facts that make me as knowledgeable as any doctor, on certain matters, in a matter of minutes. I even found out at a retail outlet going out of business recently, the approximate value of a painting on the wall, before it was sold to me. We are empowered with the ability to discover and learn at a moment’s notice. Think about the impact of this on future generations who will have an answer to any question imaginable in a second. Still the web doesn’t give us the core part of an education that we get in the classroom, and that is working in teams, directly with an instructor that can’t exactly be mimicked online. The day is coming with Skype, Wifi and iPads where this will not be true anymore…

Why Ipad Is THE Game Changer Missing Link

If you don’t already have an Ipad, and you are wondering what all the fuss is about, and why every manufacturer of devices like HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Dell, HP/Palm and Others are falling all over themselves to make a copy… well apparently it is not immediately obvious. I am now saying it is as game changing as the cellphone was to the end of the 20th century. It was not obvious to me.

For instance, before I had one, I stubbornly told my wife one day late in December that the Ipad is a useless device. Little did I know she had already made the purchase and the box was sitting in her car waiting to be opened. Boy she felt foolish, and then I did.

Well, on first glance it is a useless device…from the perspective of replacing either your Notebook PC or your Cellphone. The Ipad is somewhat like playing the piano with big fat mittens on. As a Notebook PC replacement or PC replacement; it just can’t do it like a PC. It’s got no keyboard really, other than a hunt and peck method, and you can’t write the American novel on it. It has no camera. It has no web cam. An Ipad is no cellphone replacement. It’s not for making phone calls and it does not fit in your pocket. The Ipad is basically the flightless bird of the technology world.

Apple should have named the Ipad, “The Ostrich”. Ok, all that said, why am I claiming so boldly that the Ipad is THE Game Changer. And why do millions of people around the world agree with me. A simple statement: The end of newspapers and books as we know it today. There is a reason News Corp introduced the first paid version of an Ipad only newspaper recently.

The Ipad is the first device that makes it possible for me to read The New York Times In Bed, before the wife and kids wake. You can easily read the NYT at 2am, at your desk at work, etc., etc. It is the first device that makes it reasonably possible to read the paper in the toilet. Yes, I know a lot of Crackberry.com people read their Iphones and Androids in the lavatory, but that was child play, and bad for your thumbs and bad for your eyes. And then there are those who take it to work and use it to sign up for dating sites like speed dating without their company recording it on their servers… I know I am in the speed dating business and the numbers show that Ipad users are using it to sign up.

Why is this a breakthrough for me and other technophytes? It’s because we haven’t read a real newspaper in 10 years. Web developers, designers and other web team members have discontinued our paper reading, newspaper piling up ways long ago, and we just don’t get and don’t want a newspaper around the house. It is silly. It is wasteful. And if you work on the computer all week long you don’t want to waste your eyes on a newspaper that leaves ink on your hands. And those 20 or so novels and other books, like What To Do At The End Of The World or Unbroken that I bought last year at Costco, I never read. I never opened up the cover. Why? Because I have to preserve my eyes.

And there is more…

I have only hit the tip of the iceberg on the positives versus other devices. The Kindle, from Amazon, looks like a frail, gray-scale, ninny of a device that can’t run a pinball game or let you play Words With Friends (Our version of Ipad Scrabble, yes, with your friends). The Nook, from Barnes & Nobles, is a device that was extinct before its species evolved. I guess we can describe this as an evolutionary point in time and these other species will just die off. On an interesting note, because the Kindle is also software, it apparently has the option to live on, on these other devices like the Ipad. Kind of reminds of recent archeological studies which now believe that Neanderthals may have mated with Homo Sapiens. I guess you have to do something to survive…

And Finally…

My father, who had one before me, asked me with bated breath what applications do I run on my Ipad. So here is my top list so far:

The New York Times
The International Herald
NPR
CNBC For Stock Quotes
Words With Friends (Scrabble with your friends and relatives)
Evernote (A MUST, thank Guy Kawasaki for this recommendation)
Pandora (Another must for radio/music listening!)
Google Apps (Gmail, Google Chat, Calendar, Picassa)
Scrabble
Scramble
Sky Star Viewing Program To View Planets and Stars (unbelievable)
The Deep Pinball & Wild West Pinball
iBooks
Woot
Godaddy
Paper Toss
Etrade
Labyrith 3D