By Craig Buckler

The Top 10 Technology Terms that Confuse Clients

By Craig Buckler

Cut the jargonWeb designers and developers are not normally hired for their looks. The reason clients want you is for your technical expertise. If they possessed your knowledge you wouldn’t be hired. Unfortunately, it is easy to assume that clients are on the same web wavelength and understand all the terminology. Your ability to explain services in layman’s terms could be key to winning that next big contract.

A recent UK survey of over 5,000 users highlighted the top 10 misunderstood technology-related words. These are the ones to specifically watch out for:

1. Dongle
A dongle used to be a hardware device required to run certain software packages, but it now encompasses almost any widget from Flash drives to USB lava lamps. It’s become fairly meaningless.


2. Cookie
In the late 1990’s, tasty cookies hit the news as being the biggest threat to privacy since the invention of the covert security camera. They were misunderstood then and they still are. Most clients have no idea that the web is a stateless medium, so there’s rarely a need to mention cookies.

3. WAP
Wireless Application Protocol was the industry’s initial attempt at a web for mobile phones. It is still used but newer devices, such as the iPhone, allow you to browse the real web without restrictions. There is little need to talk about WAP today.

4. Phone Jack
I suspect the word “jack” confuses people. Plug and socket could be better?

5. Navi Key
The navigation key on Nokia handsets. Manufacturer-specific words are best avoided until they achieve widespread notoriety.

6. Time-shifting
Just because I can watch an episode of Heroes later than it was originally broadcast does not affect the course of time itself!

7. Digital TV
Most people do not understand nor care about the difference between analogue, digital, or web television. It’s a moving picture with sounds: no need for further explanation.

8. Ethernet
“Network cable” is probably about as technical as you need to get.

9. PC Suite
Is this a politically correct sofa? Perhaps software or program are better understood by most.

10. Desktop
It appears that most people understand desktop to be the top of their desk.

Keep it simple and, if you must use jargon, make sure your client understands the meaning and the benefits of that technology from the outset.

Have you noticed any other words or phrases that hinder rather than help?

  • Jack

    Browser. At least in Germany that is a quite unknown unconcept among clients. You have to say Internet Explorer instead. That gives them an idea.

  • It’s not exactly a term, but I’m constantly surprised how many clients don’t see the difference between typing an address into the address bar vs typing it into a search field.

    So many people have Google set as their default page, and when they open their browser and want to visit their new site (which needless to say is not even indexed yet); type the address into the search field and come up with nothing or something else in the SERP.

    It’s also difficult to explain without sounding condescending! But sorry, it is pretty dumb.

  • Edwin martin

    Web 2.0 – the chance you and your client share the same definition is pretty small. Better use “user friendly” of “very interactive” or something. Don’t fall back to “using Ajax” because this has almost the same problem as using Web 2.0.

  • WYSIWYG… client: “Whizzy what?!”.
    I’ve reverted to calling it a rich content editor.

    CMS… I explain it like this: “Content… [wait 3 seconds]… got that? Management… [wait 3 seconds]… System… [wait 3 seconds]… see, it’s a system with which you manage your content”.
    Still get glazed looks sometimes, and then I demonstrate.

  • invision2

    The worst is every client wanting AJAX as it was mentioned to them in conversation.
    Oh, and not really needing CMS, but they have to have it & the works.

  • Tomap

    Server… Software or Hardware ?? (like SQL Server or Google Server ?)

  • JK Design

    The term URL instead of “web site address” seems to trip up some of my clients.

  • besh

    I agree that AJAX is a very confusing term for clients. In most cases they consider every dynamic behavior on your page to be AJAX. :)

  • @adesignrsa
    I agree – users do appear to be confused by the address bar. I’ve seen many clients type their web address into Google and choose the first search result.

    Web2.0 and AJAX have evolved from pseudo-technical to meaningless marketing terms that sales people use to sound more impressive!

  • I agree with the search and address bar confusion, a significant part of my site stats are taken up by webusers entering http://www.dcprint.co.uk into Google! Not sure if this is caused by genuine confusion of how a browser is mean’t to be used or just interlectual laziness.

  • ralph.m

    Might as well throw “CSS” and “Standards-Compliant” into the mix as well. I always have to content myself with saying I’m using best-practices and hope that they care.

  • @ralph.m I just stress the search engine friendliness/findability aspect of good coding practice and you’re right…. standards compliancy sounds a bit pompous, and something you “should” be doing anyway. Although many don’t.

    Regarding the exact acronyms like HTML, CSS, PHP, AJAX or whatever, I don’t even bother anymore. An HTML/CSS guy is called a “layout coder”, the PHP coder is called the “functional programmer” and whatever other role is given a “lay” name. Saves me time explaining.

  • Tarh

    Just because I can watch an episode of Heroes later than it was originally broadcast does not affect the course of time itself!

    This made my day!   ^.^

  • Rajesh Wadhwani

    Cache – when we use this word (browser cache) with clients, they don’t have a clue of what it is but they easily ask us and they seem to remember its meaning sometimes.

    Easy way to explain – Your browser caches (saves the webpage in computer memory) the page and sometimes you don’t see the uo-to-date content because it’s reading from the cache, to re-load the page, try refreshing (F5 or Shift+F5).

  • Lol, Ajax: “You mean that bathroom cleaner stuff?”

    It would have been nice if this study focused on words that are still relevant in our lives today. Of that list, only half of them are words that ever -might- come up in a real situation. Those other five aren’t really relevant…

    … well, I guess it is a general “technology”, so maybe the other terms are commonly used in other aspects of Computer Science… maybe…

  • I don’t think there is any reason for ‘Digital TV’ to be on that list, pretty much every time that it is used, the Digital bit is important, otherwise you would have just said TV.
    Secondly, everyone understands what TV is, so are not going to be overly confused if they don’t understand the other word – it’s still TV.

  • sitehatchery

    Navigation. I use menu item, instead, or the links on the side (or top) of the page.

    Links. One of my clients calls every hyperlink on the page a button. “Can you add a button here”?

    I get the typing the URL in google all the time. It’s annoying.

    Attach a file. “How do I do that?”

    “Web Developer” = Blank stares + “I don’t know anything about that” (which, by the way, is why I get paid the big bucks)

    Yes, MANY of my clients NEEDED a content management system, but then had me enter the content. A year later, they haven’t touched it. That’s alright though… giving the client the opportunity for control is a good selling point. And truly, they do intend to use it. But if I enter the content, the control factor is one element that tips the scales to more sales.

  • dejah

    Tyran, those url referrals from Google don’t actually come from people typing urls into Google. There is at least one version of Firefox that when you type a partial address in the bar, instead of just slapping a www. and a .com on it like IE used to do, Firefox looks the term up in Google and refers from there.

    Having written the book on Google Analytics (and currently struggling through drafting the 3rd edition), I find that I have trouble explaining what analytics are when Average Jane politely asks what my book is about but does not want a huge production. Web site owners, much less your average chick on the street, barely know what site statistics are much less how statistics differ from analytics. I tell people it’s “a page counter on steroids.”

    Oh… and try explaining “bandwidth quota” to a 7 year old. Thank goodness she only wants to play Tux Racer!

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