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.

Iphone You Say

I had heard whispers in technology circles (this means my friend’s Dave & Dave) about the Iphone and it’s virtues. And now that I am an older I guess, I at first, could not give a flying …. So I ignored them.

Let’s back up a bit… Around the time Dave & Dave were telling me about the great iPhone, my wife was chiming in to me how they are fantastic, etc. etc. Still I did not listen, nor did I have anytime to think about it. I just figured it was something similar to an Ipod, which I had used and basically it was not for me. There was a bit of argument over the Iphone with my wife, because I did not listen. Well I probably should have. A year later, Dave & Dave were extolling the virtues again, when I began to listen.

Finally my orange Palm Treo began to fizzle out. It was dropped, beat to a pulp, and none of that mattered to me. It did the job of calling and emailing (very badly), and it somewhat worked. So why was I carrying around 2 cell phones? It was simple. I got one for my day job and I figured I would use it for work email. So for 6 months I kept two cell phones in my pockets. This was pretty much an exercise in radiation therapy for my hips. I knew something was wrong with this. Forget about putting my work, exchange/microsoft onto my personal phone. Isn’t that what a blackberry is for? Well did not have a blackberry. I had a microsoft based HTX phone. And seemed good.

Anyway, one day my palm phone stopped working. I mean I could not stop phone calls. The keypad just went dead! I was kind of screwed. When I called people, I had to ask them to hang up for me. I could use the touch screen, but that was it. So I was determined to get a new phone.

That’s when I remembered there was this guy in mid-Boca who ran an independent cell phone store which had a pile of old phones on a shelf behind him. I figured go over there and grab one, pop in my tmobile sim chip, which was 10 years old and get right back to work. So I stopped by Smart Communications. This began a whole saga of getting a new phone through the backdoor, I guess. I had purchased an orange unlocked Palm Treo on eBay, so what the hey. I might as well do it again.

Mark showed me all the newest stuff. An Android phone, new Google offering, which I considered. Then there were palms and blackberries and other HTX’s. I had already an HTX flip in side pocket, so that was out of the question. I looked them over and then I looked at the iPhone. He determined right away it was not for me, from an expense standpoint and he declared “its a toy!” Anyway, I called my wife, and she said why don’t you get it! Hmm. That was the key words for she wanted it for herself… So I decided to go for it. Now mind you this is putting an iPhone on Tmobile, a bit of a tricky deal. It was a bit clandestine, because apparently this is an anomaly, since at&t has some exclusive contract with apple. Anyway, I purchased it.

This started the second part of the saga, the painful part. The actual iPhone was something like version 2.6 and that meant that you needed to unlock the thing with a turbo thingy. Looked like a piece of foil that goes behind the chip. He said it came from a guy in Hong Kong. And guess what as soon as I walked out of the store, it immediately stopped working… So I went back. Here is where I made up my mind to get the darn thing to work. My 10 minutes with the iPhone had converted me, and I was now determined. So I went back to the guy and we tried this and that, and upgraded. I even went into a Tmobile store and got a new SIM chip. Just told them it was no longer working… Now I am carrying around 3 phones. My work, HTX, the iphone and my treo, just in case to pop the sim back. My pockets were hanging low and I expected a banana joke at anytime.

Finally, Mark told me to give him the phone back and wait a week. A guy in HongKong was going to break/unlock the newest 3.0 iphone load. I was suddenly feeling like a junky waiting for the new shipment. And I put up with wait, another week. In the meantime my wife told me I was fooling myself and to give up. Finally I went back and he said not ready. I was thinking Android on that day, trust me… But I had patience and the guy from hongkong did the job and the old phone, non 3g got updated. I was able to get the iphone working… In the end I was able to get rid of all my phones and move to a single phone. This was a long time coming. and now I guess I am an iPhone advocate. Even thinking about being an Apple shareholder.