One of my favorite things (that I always end up doing) is explaining how something works on the Internet to someone who isn’t very technologically savvy. This usually results in wild analogies involving cars, houses,  mailboxes, lost letters, and confused mailmen. It all started out when I taught web design to nine-year-olds. Yes, nine-year-olds.  Children who couldn’t possibly understand how the Internet works, much less where all the keys are on the keyboard to type their names (let’s see, there’s “A”… there’s “L”…. where’s “Y”? Where’s “Y”?! Help, I need help!)

So what do you do on your first day teaching web design to a bunch of bright-eyed kids who are eager to create the next Google or simply make a website about their favorite ice cream flavor? What do you do when Grandma brings her new laptop over to you and asks you to tell her how it works? And golly, how do you explain to a client why using IE6 is the worst possible idea?

Well first thing’s first, let’s start with:

The Website
The website is like a house. It’s got its own land, its own address, its own design, and it’s got multiple rooms. Let’s use our own Rocket Pop Media website for example. Our address is www.rocketpopmedia.com.

Pages vs. Subdomains
A page is like a room in a house. Rocket Pop Media has many pages, for instance, www.rocketpopmedia.com/discover. Discover is a room in the rocketpopmedia.com house. Sometimes, there’s a room within a room; www.rocketpopmedia.com/discover/got-music-spotify-does/, is the room “got-music-spotify-does” inside the room “discover”.

If the address were structured like “www.discover.rocketpopmedia.com”, then discover wouldn’t be a room inside the Rocket Pop Media house. Instead, discover would be its own building with its own rooms on the Rocket Pop Media property.

The Browser
So we have all these houses and all this land. How do we visit them? Why, we hop onto our browsers, which are like cars (or bikes/motorcycles/reindeer/your favorite mode of transportation. Kids can get creative). Like the many different makes and models of cars in the world, there are also different makes and models of browsers. Firefox and Chrome are your BMW’s and Porches; Safari is that nice hybrid car; Opera and Camino are those foreign cars that you may or may not have heard of (they look cool, but the drive is hit or miss). Then there’s Internet Explorer. That’s the lovely hand-me-down car from your grandfather. It was the best car to have when your grandpa was young, but it reached its prime about thirty years ago.  He kept it nice and you added a stereo, but don’t drive that thing on the highway! Why he kept it around is still a mystery.

And Netscape—oh nevermind, you are all too young to know what that is…

(I’m not at all car savvy, so I apologize for any inaccuracies in this analogy).

Email
People need to send you letters! How? They send it directly to you. If you live in Rocket Pop Media land like I do, then you’d send the letter to me, Alyssa at rocketpopmedia.com. That’s structured like so: alyssa@rocketpopmedia.comalyssa@ is my mailbox at my Rocket Pop Media house.

But how does it work? Who delivers these letters? Well a mail carrier does, and his/her name is the Email Server. When you hit that SEND button, you’re giving your letter to the Email Server. He/she takes that letter, travels around the Internet and delivers that letter into your mailbox, where you can read it.

Domain
Usually by the end of the week, when the kids are finishing up their website, I’m hit with the question of how to get your own .com address. When I tell them you have to pay for one, I get a chorus of exasperated groans followed by a perfectly harmonized “Why?” (sometimes they’ll change it up and I’ll hear a drawn-out “Whaaaat?”) So I tell them, owning a domain means you’re owning a piece of land, therefore you have to pay for that piece of land.  You can get a subdomain, but because you’re living on someone else’s property, you’ll be stuck with their address too, like alyssalikescupcakes.rocketpopmedia.com instead of alyssalikescupcakes.com.

Web Servers
This is the physical dirt your house is built on.

What? You didn’t think your house would be built on air, did you?  If it was, then the air would be the web server.

And that’s how I explain the Internet to kids, grandparents, and clients alike. You should hear my analogies when I’m teaching video game design! Your video game is a book… each level is a chapter…

Shameless Plug
I taught web design and game design at an incredible nationwide technology camp called iD Tech Camps (www.internaldrive.com). If you have a kid, or know any kids, who would love to get their hands on some technology, then send them to this camp!  They are held in week-long sessions at prestigious universities throughout the country (including locations in Canada and in Spain). It’s the most fun at a summer camp a kid will ever have! I worked there for four years, and every summer I still dream of going back to fill eager minds with knowledge and to get mercilessly destroyed in Call of Duty tournaments!