Wednesday, May 24, 2006

TLA Tutorial: HTML

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients regarding dealing with my fellow technology workers (other than the smell, the funny clothes, and our complete inability to understand that no one is interested in the intricacies of the latest "Star Trek" episode) is the language we use. It is so full of jargon and technical shorthand, that we might as well be speaking Swahili. The average techie spews forth Three-Letter Acronyms (TLAs) as if his very life and livelihood depended upon it.

In my efforts to "clear up the confusion", I've decided to start a semi-regular offering where I will make an effort to describe some of these technologies in a way that is more approachable to the non-techie. Tonight we'll start with an easy one -- HTML. It's actually an FLA (four-letter acronym), but who's really counting, right?

Not that it is really important, but HTML stands for "Hyper Text Markup Language". It is the language which is the basis of every single web page you see. Of course, it is a computer language. Outside of the world of web-heads, I don't know anyone who actually tries to communicate with other humans using this language.

If you look at the source of any webpage, you can see that HTML can actually look extremely complex. If you'd like, just use the menu on your browser and select "View" -> "Page Source" if you use the FireFox browser or "View" -> "Source" under Internet Explorer. If you glance at the window that pops up, you will immediately be turned to stone. No, not really. Still it can just look like a big mess if you don't know what you are seeing. Quickly close that window before you go blind.

The thing is, if you look at the very basics of HTML, it truly isn't very complex. You can see an "open tag", some text, and then a "close tag". For example, if I want to make a piece of text bold, I would do something like this:

This text is <b>bold</b>

And it would look like this on screen:

This text is bold

As you can see, the open tag is "<b>" and the close tag is "</b>" and the text in between is what gets "bolded". Depending on which word processor you use, this is just like clicking on the "Bold" button in the toolbar to turn on the bold face, typing some text, and then hitting the button again, to turn it back off.

There are tons of other tags: <i> for italics, <u> for underline, etc. There are some which are more complex, like those for lists and tables. You can even put one set of tags inside another (for those frequent occasions when you need text which is bold, italic, underlined and blinking), but it all comes back to this basic concept -- open tag, text, end tag.

Congratulations! You survived the description of a technical concept! Now, when someone starts blathering on about HTML you won't have to feign a migraine headache just to get out of the conversation. You might still want to, but I will leave that to your personal choice. If you'd like to satisfy your morbid curiosity and see a list of all the tags that are available, I recommend the Bare Bones Guide to HTML.

What other TLA's would you like to know more about?

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