Seven Tech 'Buzzwords' Explained By The Experts

Tech professionals gave some quick explainers on tech and business concepts recently, in a Twitter thread started by software exec Anil Dash. Here are the highlights.

Image by HBO/Silicon Valley

The explanations are sometimes simplistic or biased, but they're helpful when you just need some initial orientation and Google has only made things worse. Here's the best of the thread, plus some of our own commentary.

Startup funding rounds

Startups that hope to grow into massive companies raise money in exchange for equity. They often start with a "friends and family" round or "angel round" from individual investors, then move up to bigger rounds from venture capital firms, who pool together several investors' funds. Each round of funding is lettered. Getting several rounds of funding can be good or bad, depending on the size and direction of the company.

Web developer Laurie Voss gives a qualitative breakdown:

Open office plans

There are pros and cons to working in an open office plan instead of cubicles or private offices, but don't think that the workers are the ones making the choice. And remember that things could get worse - some offices don't even give their workers one designated seat at the table. Capitalism will find a way to make even the most privileged workers feel like itinerant labour.

Augmented reality and virtual reality

It's hard to tell what technology is just a recurring fad, and what will actually change the world. Internet commerce was a bubble before it was real; the PDA was a flop before it evolved into the smartphone. And big tech players such as Facebook and Google certainly think that AR and VR are important enough to invest billions in research and marketing.

Market disruption

In the tech industry, "disruption" means upending an existing market by rewriting the rules. Disruption often shrinks the amount of money flowing through a market, by making that market much more efficient. A disruptive company isn't just a new competitor. It changes how things work for every other player in the surrounding industry. This always has a downside, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.

Amazon, for example, disrupted the book industry by skipping the physical bookstore and funelling consumers into one store. This is fantastic for customers, at least in the short term, since Amazon pretty much killed scarcity. But it's been hell on the industry, which wasn't built to cope with one giant distributor that can make or break everyone else.

Uber, similarly, cut out a huge inefficiency in the taxi market by introducing mobile ride-hailing. This brought cheap car service to cities that previously couldn't support it, upending not just the taxi industry but the industries around renting, manufacturing and leasing cars. Even the local mechanic does business differently thanks to Uber. Of course, that's just the tip of it; Uber is also disrupting customer privacy and the sovereignty of government. Some companies almost seem to exist just to disrupt things, and only make money as a side effect.

GitHub

Software engineer Chris Cerami beats Wikipedia at explaining this nerd site:

Synergy

Software developer Ash Furrow tells the fun backstory for a classic smarmy buzzword:

You can read more about Fuller's concept of "synergistics" at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

Bitcoin and the blockchain

To be honest, it isn't your job to understand how blockchain technology works. You can use a car, a TV or a smartphone without really understanding how they work. And the blockchain is more abstract and complicated than all of those. But here's the basic concept:

What else about the tech world baffles you? Maybe Lifehacker readers can explain all of it to each other, and put this site out of business.


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