Every field has unique terminology and jargon. The tech industry is a prime example, featuring acronyms, initialisms, software references and hardware terms that can make you feel like you’re hearing or reading another language.
Even if you’re not operating a tech company, you likely already use technology to help run your business. An understanding of everyday tech terms demystifies your business’s tech tools, broadens your knowledge base, and helps you ask the right questions when considering new tech products or services.
We’ve outlined 50 tech terms entrepreneurs and small business owners should know and understand no matter their industry, products or services. We’ve organized these terms by sector, but keep in mind that there’s a high degree of crossover, and some terms may apply to more than one area.
The following terms apply to website hosting and management, which many business owners deal with daily.
A data center is a facility that houses computer and data-storage systems, including servers. Internet service providers (ISPs) or large companies, like Google and Amazon, own many data centers. Data centers are protected with military-grade security and are usually not advertised externally to prevent cybercriminals from targeting them in a data breach.
Servers are devices that support a company’s computer and internet networks and host all associated data, including email account data and website content. ISPs typically own servers and lease server space to customers in addition to providing them with internet connectivity. Businesses without the in-house technical support necessary to maintain a server typically rent space on a remote server or use a managed hosting service. These services provide businesses with servers while conducting full-time technical support.
There are two kinds of hosting, depending on your business budget: dedicated and shared hosting.
Sandboxing means hermetically sealing a program or application away from anything else. The program or app has everything it needs to operate within the sandbox and does not need to draw on external resources. IT managers can use this setup for all sorts of experiments – even infecting the program or app with malware – without contaminating anything outside the sandbox.
Linux is an open-source operating system (OS) IT personnel can install on web servers as an alternative to the more commonplace Microsoft Windows OS. Some businesses believe Linux is a more secure and reliable option and choose the best web hosting services that run Linux. Linux was used to develop the Chrome OS installed on Chromebook computers and also forms the basis of the Android smartphone OS.
What you see when you click on a webpage is the front end of the site. The back end is everything behind the scenes – servers, databases or applications that make the page work. When you’re developing your website, these back-end elements affect what search engines see.
The term “surface web” applies to any publicly visible online content that users can find using search engines like Google and Bing.
The underpinnings of surface web content are housed in the deep web, such as the databases containing product stock lists and the infrastructure that allows social media content to be posted and viewed.
Dark web content is accessible only through the Tor browser; users can’t find this content via conventional search engines. Each piece of data sent to an end-user terminal is bounced all around the world, making it impossible to ascertain who is viewing what. This is a slow data distribution method, but it’s highly secure.
HTML5 is the default programming language used worldwide for websites, video content, graphics and web applications. HTML5 was developed to a universally recognized standard, ensuring blanket compatibility and accessibility on almost any web-enabled device. It’s the fifth generation of the HyperText Markup Language, distributed using the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) across the World Wide Web (WWW).
WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get.” This term is commonly used in relation to website building tools, which automatically modify HTML5 code every time you add a new piece of content or move around a page element. Leading WYSIWYG editors include WordPress, Wix and Weebly – though platforms that don’t start with “W” are also available.
The following terms relate to the networks your company uses to transfer and interact with data.
A VPN allows users to connect to a private network from anywhere for added security. For instance, instead of using the public Wi-Fi network at a local coffee shop or hotel room, which comes with a heightened security risk, employees can connect to your private network with the same security as if they were in the office.
A web app is a webpage that looks and acts like an app on a smartphone or tablet. Web apps provide viewers with a familiar format and more intuitive navigation and are immediately mobile-friendly. They create a more consistent aesthetic than separate desktop websites and mobile apps.
An API helps different software components work together so that they appear to operate as a single piece of software. Such interfaces are very common, helping to coordinate numerous elements to make a program or app easy to use.
There are many different components to a network, from security to navigation. A technology stack, or “tech stack,” describes the layering of those components, such as data management, logins, and retention. A common example of a technology stack used for websites is LAMP, which stands for Linux (operating system), Apache (web server), MySQL (database), and PHP (programming language). Together, these technologies are the foundation of an effective, functioning website.
Every domain name is translated into numbers as an IP address when users enter it into a browser’s address bar. The DNS is a directory of those numbers.
Open-source code is available publicly for anyone to use. People can take open-source code and modify it for their purposes.
Machine learning is the process of using algorithmic analysis to improve on previous performance. Siri, Apple’s AI (artificial intelligence) personal assistant, is an example of machine learning. By refining a general set of rules through regular use, the algorithm finds an approximate solution instead of each function having a specific algorithm.
The following terms relate to cloud technologies, a burgeoning industry that is rapidly becoming part of everyday business life.
Cloud computing is a digital service that lets users access programs, data, documents and other information stored on remote servers via an internet connection. Cloud computing is an umbrella term for different cloud services, some of which we’ll define below.
Companies that don’t lease servers might pay to store data on virtual servers, a practice known as cloud hosting. Servers that are based in the cloud are accessible only via an internet connection. Businesses typically access cloud-hosted servers through software interfaces specific to their cloud-hosting service providers.
With a cloud backup, or online backup, a business sends its data to the provider’s servers over the internet. Platforms like Microsoft OneDrive allow you to set cloud backups to occur automatically. Cloud backup services are affordable because the business doesn’t need to purchase additional hardware.
SaaS, also known as “software on demand,” is a way of delivering business software via the internet so a company doesn’t have to buy licenses and install software on specific devices. You’ll usually pay for SaaS solutions monthly or annually, making SaaS more affordable than other software options. Many business management packages are now available in SaaS form, including project management software.
The blockchain is a decentralized ledger of activities and transactions. Whenever an activity takes place on the blockchain, a permanent record is created. This record can’t be modified or corrupted, though the parties involved in a transaction or activity may remain anonymous. Blockchain business uses include providing information for audits and helping with quality assurance.
Smart contracts are a key blockchain use. You can program smart contracts to ensure something happens once a particular step has been completed. Because the next step happens immediately, there are no delays. And because an immutable record of each action is generated, nobody can subsequently claim the contract wasn’t honored or seen through.
The blockchain was initially created to support transactions involving a cryptocurrency called Bitcoin. Many more cryptocurrencies have since materialized. Cryptocurrencies have no underwriting bank or institution like traditional (fiat) currencies. A cryptocurrency is worth whatever the market deems it to be worth. Many cryptocurrencies have depreciated to zero or turned out to be scams, though well-established cryptos include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Binance.
“Metaverse” is an increasingly popular term for the digital worlds of social media, gaming and virtual communication. The metaverse allows people to interact and socialize in a computer-generated environment. In the future, there are likely to be competing metaverses, in the same way there are currently competing social media platforms and immersive gaming environments.
Augmented reality is the process of displaying digital content over real-world infrastructure, usually relying on handheld devices like smartphones and tablets. The hugely popular Pokémon GO game was an early example of AR gaming, while home furnishing apps that superimpose sofas and chairs into your living room are a retail-driven example.
Building on AR principles, mixed reality allows real and digital objects to interact. Mixed reality encompasses everything from hand tracking to spatial mapping. AR is a subset of MR, as are holographic displays and headsets. MR will power the metaverse.
The following terms relate to the systems and services businesses use to operate efficiently.
Every website has a CMS to manage its content. CMS solutions usually include a web-based publishing feature that supports content editing and formatting without using a web coding language like HTML5. Many CMS solutions also feature one-to-one marketing tools that enable targeted advertising.
Businesses use learning management systems to train employees. Such systems help human resources departments plan, implement and assess the training process. A learning management system’s software usually includes video conferencing, discussion forums and other interactive features.
Document management refers to creating, sharing, organizing and storing documents within an organization. Whether you choose self-hosted or cloud-based, you can use the best document management software to facilitate the document management process.
Version control prevents people from overwriting their colleagues’ work while keeping historical data intact so you can backtrack and see how a task was accomplished. Version control allows for progress on multiple fronts when teams work together on systems. Access to older versions may support better troubleshooting as well.
Organizations can outsource many day-to-day business activities to cut costs and increase corporate efficiency. Human resources outsourcing and information technology managed services are two examples.
Larger companies may benefit from a distributed system to handle data and server requests. This system uses several network-connected computers to provide a service, compute data, or accomplish tasks.
Merchant accounts are agreements with banking institutions required before a business can accept credit card or debit card transactions. In exchange for converting credit card payments into cash, banks charge merchants an interchange fee, as well as potentially other fees.
There are three types of merchant accounts: retail, mobile and e-commerce. For your business to accept mobile credit card payments, your payment processor can provide equipment that’s easy to use and set up.
The following terms relate to the software your business uses daily.
Some businesses require tailor-made software for their daily operations. Instead of using mass-produced software packages, these businesses use custom software development. Software development companies or in-house software development groups create applications for the company’s exclusive use.
ERP software allows a company to manage various aspects of a business – such as accounting, inventory and human resources – in one place. Companies purchase the enterprise software modules relevant to their business and use the ERP software to view all the data collected by these modules in a uniform manner.
BI is the information a business collects about itself. Given the broad swathes of data currently being generated, business intelligence software lets companies keep all their BI data in one place, making this data easier to access and analyze. Businesses can obtain insights to benefit future operations.
Many businesses make contracts with customers, vendors and employees. Contract management software helps everyone keep track of all aspects of a contract, such as initial negotiations and monthly billings.
Human resources professionals often rely on performance management software to keep track of employee performance. This software can organize and analyze large amounts of data more efficiently.
“Customer relationship management” refers to a business collecting and managing data about its clients. Companies use the best CRM software to track client data gathered from service calls, previous purchases and more. These insights help businesses close future deals and grow relationships with customers.
The following tech terms are integral to business marketing.
When a startup team tries to get its company off the ground, it will often create an MVP. An MVP is the simplest functional iteration of a product – a working first draft that developers can improve upon later. An MVP’s purpose is to collect validated feedback on the product to extract the most benefit from the minimum amount of development and effort.
Email marketing is the promotion of products and services via email. Businesses can create emails that include images, videos and other content that customers will be more likely to view than plain text messages. Many businesses use the best email marketing software to manage and automate distribution lists, campaigns and analytics.
A chatbot is an algorithm that identifies keywords in user input strings and attempts to select the most relevant answer from a database of preloaded responses. For instance, a chatbot that sees the words “when” and “open” might display a list of opening times. Chatbots use machine learning to improve their performance and direct dissatisfied customers to a human operator if they cannot resolve an issue.
Content curation is choosing content to share online. You can cultivate new content from existing content, but it’s critical to refresh and revise your content to stay relevant. Redrafting content also meets search engine algorithm specifications for higher ratings.
Knowing how many people use your online resources and how often people interact with your social media efforts is called tracking engagement. The more engaged your audience is on social media or a website, the more you know your message resonates with them.
An impression occurs each time someone sees a piece of corporate social media content.
In marketing, the term “organic” refers to content individuals have viewed because they came to it through their natural (organic) keyword searches instead of click-through advertising.
Some software and online services measure marketing activities and campaign success through marketing automation tools such as emails, social media, reporting, analytics and customer relationship management. Social media posts can be input and scheduled for release, with data on response rates and interactions collected to measure effectiveness.
A business can use A/B testing to release two pieces of online content to two different test groups and see which version receives the most engagement. Content might include a marketing email, blog post or webpage design. This testing helps narrow down marketing and advertising avenues, predicting which option will be more successful with the general public. The results shape future design choices and marketing and sales campaigns.
Marci Martin and Elizabeth Peterson contributed to the writing and research in this article.