Watch Out! These Tech Terms Have Many Meanings

By Mike Elgan Print this article Print
Tech Words

We use technology buzzwords every day without agreeing on what they actually mean. If you come across unclear tech terms, be sure to clarify and specify.


You hear a lot about trolls on social media. But what is a troll, exactly? People disagree.

Some people have a strict definition of troll, which is a user who derives gratification from upsetting other people on the internet. Others have a looser definition and apply the word "troll" to someone who argues or disagrees.

If you have a policy about blocking or reporting trolls who attack your social media profiles, it's very important to ensure that everybody knows specifically which kind of troll you're going after.

Net Neutrality

The concept of net neutrality sounds simple—at first. It's the idea that no online data gets priority over any other online data. All bits are treated equally.

The devil is in the details, however. To over-simplify an extremely complicated reality, think about the internet you use as being two internets. There's the internet between you and your internet service provider, and there's the internet between the ISP and websites and content providers.

The assumption many make is that everything travels through the so-called internet backbone, which is the totality of main routes for data between very large networks and routers on the internet. So when you request a web page by clicking on a link, the data that makes up that page travels from the host computer through the backbone to your ISP and thence to your laptop.

But that's not how the internet works anymore. Nowadays, some of the biggest sources of data—think of Netflix and YouTube and all the companies that want to be Netflix and YouTube someday—make what they call peering deals with ISPs to connect directly.

Sometimes the ISP and content companies haggle and bicker over who pays for peering. Sometimes the specifics of peering arrangements result in something that feels like throttling. The important thing to know is that traffic is not treated equally, and peering arrangements are not legally covered by net neutrality.

Also, as Facebook learned in India, offering a lightweight, internet-like alternative to the internet (such as Facebook Free Basics) is considered a violation of net neutrality in some markets.

There are two problems with defining the phrase "net neutrality." One is technical, and even networking specialists disagree on technical grounds. And the other is legal, with legal experts within each country, as well as the legal systems of different countries, disagreeing on the legal definition of "net neutrality."

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and 360-degree video can all be experienced with special goggles. Those goggles are usually and ambiguously called virtual reality goggles or VR headsets.

As a result, lots of people use the phrase "virtual reality" to refer to media types that are actually not virtual reality.

This, er, reality, leads to all kinds of confusion. When someone says they're going to make their event available in virtual reality, they could be talking about 360-degree video, in which case there's nothing virtual about it.

Anytime someone talks about VR, press for details.

Internet of Things

One definition of this term is, "anything with an IP address." Another is, "anything with an IP address that is not designed to function mainly as a computer—a server, PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone or wearable.

Some people include wearable computers under the internet of things umbrella. Others toss in devices that connect to a smartphone or computer, other than to the internet directly. Still other users include devices that cannot connect to the internet at all, but connect only to other "things."

As with so many ambiguous tech terms, the desire to use a trending phrase to sell stuff muddies the waters.

These are just a few examples of technology related words with multiple meanings. If you come across these tech words, remember to clarify and specify—and demand clarity and specificity from others. Your business may depend on it.

This article was originally published on 2016-09-07

Mike Elgan, a Baseline contributor, is a Silicon Valley-based columnist, writer, speaker and blogger. http://elgan.com/

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