Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Alphanumeric Soup II

February 1999

By Mike Gould

How many times have you thought to yourself: "Huh?" when confronted with such a sentence as the above? Fear not: every confusing cloud of acronyms contains a sliver lining; a sharp and pointed nugget of information you pick up when walking barefoot across the unfinished floor that is the Internet. (To mix/stretch a metaphor to its tensile limit and beyond).

What's It All Mean?
The above is a URL; this stands for Universal Resource Locator, and is an address on the World Wide Web - the Internet's way of finding itself. Breaking it all down:

http:// - This tells your browser software (probably Network Explorer or some flavor of Netscape Navigator/Communicator) that you want to look for a website. Http stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, the means by which browsers can follow the links embedded in web pages. The "://" business is just the way of specifying the start of the path to the file you want on the server you are going to. - This is the domain name of the site you are addressing. Long time readers of this column will remember that a few months back we discussed what this is and why you want to have one. (For you new readers, briefly, it's your address on the web, the equivalent of a universal phone book entry that only you or your company can use.) Computer folk, a bunch of down-home, informal types, have standardized on small letters for URLs.

.com - The Internet addressing system is broken down into several upper-level domains. Commercial sites are given the designation .com, .org is used for non-profits, .mil is for military sites, .gov is for government sites, .edu for educational, and .net refers to sites involved with networking. A plethora of new domains await in the wings, and once the politicians have finished their dancing we will probably see .rel for religious, .biz for business, .arg for computer crash recovery clinics, and the ever-popular .sex for, well, you know what.

/buzzwords/blather/blahblah.html - This is the path within the website that leads to the file you are looking for. Old time DOS users will recognize this as a way of saying: "Here is your path, pilgrim: Go ye to the directory called "buzzwords", and seek therein the directory that men call "blather"; there will you find the document known to seekers as 'blahblah.html'". (Some DOS users go waaaay back indeed. For you whippersnappers out there, DOS stands for Disk Operating System, and was what old-timers used to defend themselves against their computers before Bill Gates grabbed the Macintosh Operating System and transmogrified it into Windows. But that's a legend for another time...). The .html at the end of the document (also known on some servers as .htm) tells the browser "Behold: I am a document you can read and display onscreen as a web page. Rejoice!"

In less dramatic language: the browser is told to go to, look for a folder called "buzzwords", open it, look for a folder called "blather", open that, look for a document called "blahblah.html", and display it on your computer screen.

Why Knowing This Stuff Can Be Useful
Here's a scenario you've probably run into: you click on the "Click here for Free Artichokes every month of the year" button on some page you've found that directs you to a page called "". You get a 404 (file not found) error, so you type into your browser's address bar and hit return; here you are working your way up the path. In other words, your browser didn't find artie.html, but there may be some useful info in the directory that holds artie. If this doesn't work, you can type in and find yourself at the beginning ("Root") of the site, from which you may be able to find an alternate page that gets you your free artichokes.

Pictures at an Exhibition
Here are a few more letters you will see stuck on the ends of things: .jpeg and .gif. These 3-letter jobbies are known as extensions, and are little helpers (also left over from DOS days) that tell your computer what sort of files they are - in this case, graphics files.

.gif - This stands for Graphics Interchange File, and is a way of displaying pictures on the web. This format was developed by CompuServe, and displays pictures in a limited number of colors, but highly compressed. It can also portray animations and invisible backgrounds, so that irregularly-shaped objects can be shown on web pages. (Without invisible backgrounds, all pictures on the web would be square.)

.jpeg - This format is named for the committee that wrote its specification, the Joint Photographic Engineering Group. As its name would imply, this was developed as a means of getting better pictures into the web, especially photographs. This is another scheme of compressing graphic information so that it displays as quickly as possible on a web page.

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