Web Technology Information: A Primer
Would you like to use Web innovations such as podcasts and wikis, but aren't sure how? Find out with the Web Technology Information Web Guide
. You'll discover that the Web is filled with instruction manuals to get you going with plug-ins, RSS, mpegs, mp3s, Web 2.0, YouTube and more. For a Spanish-language version of the Guide, click here
Before you explore all the wonderful media and tools on the Web, it's important to get acquainted with Web technology basics.
- The sites in this section provide a good foundation for using the Web, and will be useful to consult for the other topics in this guide.
- Knowing key shortcuts in your Web browser can speed up surfing. Visit a browser's Web site for tutorials. Newbie.org has a browser tutorial for Mozilla Firefox; tutorials for other browsers can be found on the upper left of the page.
For general Web technology basics...
is an online encyclopedia full of definitions for Web terms and technology. The "Did You Know?" section has explanations of more general Web topics.
For basic information on Web technology such as file formats/extensions ...
is a searchable file extension database. Find technical information on almost any known file extension, as well as a list of programs that use it. If you download a strange file type (denoted by the letters following the "dot" in a file name, such as ".doc", which is a Microsoft Word file) and don't know what to do with it, this is a good place to find out more about it.
has somewhat easier-to-read explanations of file types but is a bit bogged down with ads. Useful features include "recently changed file extensions" boxes, and links to sites for common programs using each extension.
is similar to FILExt but is geared toward programmers. Included with the file extension entries are downloads of specifications, architecture, resources and tools for programmers to use the file type.
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Keeping up to date with your favorite Web sites doesn't need to be an exercise in persistence. Learn how to use news aggregators and RSS feeds to stay current with all your favorite blogs and news.
- To keep track of a number of sites and blogs, use a syndication technology called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. Many sites that update frequently post RSS "feeds" that you can subscribe to for free. A small program called an RSS reader will keep track of these feeds and instantly notify you of new content on the sites you choose. So instead of checking all your sites five times a day, you simply click on your RSS reader and see a list of what's new. For more on RSS and how it can help you keep current, see the links in this section.
- RSS readers were designed to make things simpler for you. Overloading them with any and all sites you encounter can defeat the purpose of this time-saving technology.
- RSS can be used to keep current even if you don't know what sites to subscribe to. Special sites called news aggregators do the picking and choosing for you, using RSS feeds to scour the world of news and blogs and bring you the latest on any topic you search for. Check out the sites below for more on news aggregators.
For an explanation of RSS ...
Back in Skinny Jeans
provides a comprehensive beginner's guide to RSS. Don't miss the accompanying graphic for a good look at what RSS can do for you.
To find RSS readers ...
" section lists many of the readers available for specific platforms, including Windows, Mac and Web-based readers. If you're looking to syndicate your own blog, take a look at the site's list of RSS editors for more options.
Phil Windley's Technometria
blog has a good list of feed readers, as well as other resources and links to help you explore the uses of RSS.
For news aggregators ...
is a fully customizable site that allows you to add and arrange modules that show RSS feeds of whatever you choose. Sign up with the site to browse other user-created modules and share your own.
A wiki is a community-produced and edited document. Wikis are collaborative efforts, and can continually change as new users add, edit or remove them.
- This must be said: Wikis are not always reliable! You don't know who's writing the content, or what their backgrounds and biases are.
- Don't like what you see? That's the beauty of wikis: You can change them. But exercise caution. Different wiki sites have different policies, and posting slanderous, ill-intentioned information or otherwise "defacing" wiki entries can get you banned from the site pretty quickly.
For a wiki definition ...
a wiki encyclopedia, is the most famous wiki in the world, with the largest user base. Controversial, powerful, influential, Wikipedia is a cultural phenomenon. Here's its take on what, in fact, a wiki is, and how a common wiki functions.
For other famous wikis ...
the parent organization of Wikipedia, runs a number of wiki resources, all linked to from this page. They include dictionaries, book resources, research source wikis, news, quotes, media and more.
is a very large wiki how-to manual, where you can get "how-to" advice from people who "have-done." The site is not affiliated with Wikimedia.
To search the wikisphere ...
is a customized Google search tool that scours wiki sites. Don't be surprised if Wikipedia, WikiHow or other Wikimedia sites dominate many of your search results; these sites are so large. If you want to avoid this, you can restrict your search to "indie wikis only."
Though it's most famous for its illegal uses, there is nothing inherently illegal about file-sharing. There are many programs that connect you to files on other users' computers, so you can share files with users worldwide.
- Once you connect to these Web sites, there's nothing to tell you which files are legal to share, and which infringe on copyrights. The onus is on you to find out.
For a look at how BitTorrent works ...
explains how BitTorrent works, and what you need to do to take part in these networks.
BitTorrent entry is rich and detailed. Read it if you understand the basics and really want to dig in to the particulars and history of the technology.
is the official home of this file transfer standard. This page has an introductory description of BitTorrent, supplemented by diagrams.
To find torrent files ...
is a torrent meta search engine that scours many torrent-tracking sites to find the torrent file you need to begin your download. It links directly to torrent-tracking sites, some of which contain offensive content.
For different client programs ...
lists and explains many client programs that use the BitTorrent protocol.
For information on the Gnutella network and client programs ...
To download and use LimeWire ...
is the most well-known client program for the Gnutella network and works on both Macs and PCs. If you don't want to wade through the many client programs available, LimeWire will most likely suit your needs.
Audio and video can be delivered in numerous formats using many different online media players.
- The type of portable digital media player you have, such as an iPod, determines the file format you need.This article from The New York Times illustrates the dilemma facing many digital media consumers.
- Most media players function as plug-ins, meaning that they work with your Web browser to seamlessly display video from other Web sites. Most Web browsers automatically seek out and download the correct player for a file if you don't already have it. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to get familiar with the different formats and players.
To understand the different file formats ...
covers the major audio formats, their usages and some drawbacks and advantages of each.
For the major online media players ...
offers Windows Media Player for the Windows operating system (although there are versions for Macs as well). WMP and its accompanying file formats are one of the industry standards.
is the Mac's native media player, and a basic version of it is available here.
sits on the throne beside its royal spouse, the iPod. This media player is available for Macs and PCs and is primarily used for audio and video that resides on your actual computer. Some Web sites and users play online content directly through iTunes as well.
is typically used by many Web sites to deliver streaming audio and video, such as live broadcasts and Internet radio. A small pointer file is downloaded by your computer, which directs the player to the streaming content.
Flash and Shockwave players are the industry standard for Web animation.
For inline/online/embedded ...
is one of the leading sources of embedded video on the Web. Browse or search the massive user-generated library of videos, or register with the site to post your own video.
Podcasts and vodcasts are delivery methods for Internet radio and TV programs. They are essentially the use of audio or video technology with RSS feeds to bring recurring programs to an audience.
- Podcasts are recurring programs and often have irregular broadcast dates, making it hard to keep track of the shows you want to watch. That's where podcasting software comes in handy: to help you manage your subscriptions to different podcast feeds.
- If you've been interested in getting your views out on the Net but blogging isn't right for you, podcasting might be just the thing. Once you have a microphone or a Web camera and some basic software, it's remarkably easy to start pod/vodcasting.
has a tutorial on how to start podcasting your own show. Look for a number of good resource links at the end of the tutorial to help you along.
is a free open source sound editor. Used by many beginning podcasters, it's a simple and easy way to produce your podcasts.
is a large directory of podcasts. Besides searching for or browsing podcasts, you can add your own podcast to the directory. Be aware that some of the podcasts available contain questionable content.
is a directory of vodcasts. Browse by category or search its growing database of video podcasts.
brings you topical news on podcasting in blog format. Many of the comments on the posts are from serious podcasters, and the broad subject matter appeals to all kinds of podcast enthusiasts.
You may hear the term Web 2.0 bandied around quite a bit today. Dismissed by some as a non-phenomenon, others believe it is a trend that will usher in the next age of the Internet. Instead of trying to define this illusive term, we leave it to the experts.
- Confused about Web 2.0? While it's an interesting field of development, and a catchy buzzword, Web 2.0 is hard to define. Enjoy the strange and interesting new Web sites but remember: It's content, not form, that matters in the end.
For explanations of Web 2.0 ...
founder and CEO Tim O'Reilly spawned the term Web 2.0. In this article from 2005, he attempts to explain what it is and what its future might be.
presents a video called "The Machine is Us/ing Us," an exploration into the future of the Web, Web 2.0 and what it means for our culture and society.
To find Web 2.0 sites ...
annual Web 2.0 Awards highlight the best Web 2.0 sites in a wide range of categories.
is a directory of Web 2.0 sites that allows you to search or browse content tags to find sites of interest. Note that the site loads very slowly, however.
For more news and info about Web 2.0 ...
The Web 2.0 Show
is a bi-monthly podcast focusing on the developers and inventors of new Web 2.0 innovations and the emerging Web technology field in general.
Web 2.0 Validator
is a silly and rather useless tool, but funny nonetheless. If you've ever wondered if a site is really Web 2.0, this tool alleges to validate its 2.0-ness. Two hallmarks of Web 2.0, YouTube and Flickr, apparently don't make the grade.
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