Nov 10, 2011 / by jay.krall

Photo courtesy Karin Dalziel via Flickr

Public relations and marketing professionals I talk with sometimes express frustration about  technology terms that get bandied about in our industry without clear definitions. Often when I give the explanations below, the response I hear is “That’s it? That’s all there is to it?” Well of course, each of these technology concepts and tools are incredibly complex and multi-faceted. But it’s important that we can discuss them from a business standpoint and understand each other.

Why do these terms matter to someone who crafts words and multimedia content for a living? Because increasingly, your work is being delivered using these technologies, each of which have ramifications for the way you produce your own content and curate information from elsewhere.

I think the worst thing you can do when someone uses a term in conversation that you don’t understand is keep quiet and pretend to get it. Speak up and get clarity. And if you already understand these concepts, spread the word.

1. Platform. A platform is a piece of technology that can be built upon. It’s extensible, designed to evolve and integrate with other pieces. The Android mobile operating system is a platform in part because you can build an app that runs on top of it. Twitter is a platform because it feeds data into many other applications, and takes information back from some of those apps too–think Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. A “brochureware” Web site is not a platform because nothing can interact with it. In today’s world, few pieces of technology exist in a vacuum, and those that do tend not to achieve much traction.

2. API. An application programming interface is simply a window to another system, usually accessed through the Web. APIs are important to marketers and brand managers because they present opportunities to curate and analyze information easily and in large quantities. For example, an integration with the Twitter API facilitates JournalistTweets, our free site which curates tweets from thousands of top journalists globally. I’m often asked “What does an API look like?” It doesn’t look like anything you’d want to look at if you don’t have some software development expertise, but what can be built on top of it can be crucial to your business. Steve Rubel and Dave Armano of Edelman Digital do a great job of outlining how APIs are changing marketing in this slide deck.

3. “The cloud”. This one may create more anxiety than all the others combined. The concept is easy enough and frequently used in consumer advertising campaigns like last year’s “To the Cloud” effort from Microsoft: data and services stored remotely that you can access from anywhere, as opposed to files and programs stored locally on your device.

Google Docs and Evernote are great examples of cloud technologies that work across multiple devices. Of course, this is not a new concept in technology, but software products like these, along with hardware like Google’s Chromebook, are highlighting and expanding the idea. I love music, but the memory card on my phone doesn’t have any music files on it. With services like Pandora and Spotify, I can listen to music stored elsewhere and use that memory card space for…well, with all the cloud services out there, I guess I don’t need it for much of anything.

For businesses, cloud services mean the ability to “turn on servers in the cloud as needed, run whatever they want to run on them, then turn them off when they are done and only pay for what they used,” says Ed Kim, director of enterprise architecture for Cision.

What other tech terms do you think could use clear definitions?

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