What some of the trendiest words in tech actually mean.
FORTUNE — Buzzwords are an unfortunate side effect of a burgeoning tech sect0r. The general public can’t be blamed for being unfamiliar with the phrases tossed around Silicon Valley. Here are five of the most prevalent — and often times misunderstood — tech terms in vogue now:
Native Advertising: Native ads are meant to blend in. The point is to create an ad that looks, acts, and feels like the rest of the content on the website, says Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough, which helps companies place native video advertisements. On Twitter, a native ad takes the form of a promotional tweet — on a news site, native ads may be sponsored articles, complete with a headline and photo. The goal is not to trick consumers, says Greenberg, but rather to offer an ad that users view as actual content, not just marketing material. “If it’s not content,” he adds, “it doesn’t deserve to be there.”
Internet of Things: The term has been around over a decade, but a number of technological advancements in recent years have led to an increased relevance. In many ways, Internet of Things is exactly what it sounds like: the ability of everyday devices — smartphones, cars, watches — to “communicate” thanks to better software and Internet connectivity. And while the term may be old, its resurgence can be explained, says Dan Saks, co-CEO of AppDirect, a company that powers app marketplaces for clients like Staples and Comcast, which sell software over the cloud to small businesses. Three key advancements, he says, have all added to growing interest in the term: easily accessible wireless Internet, a proliferation of new personal devices, and an abundance of shareable information. “[These things] create this environment where the Internet of Things is, for the first time, really relevant,” says Saks.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More often than not, employees are working from places they weren’t able to before — the train, the car, or simply their home. Enter BYOD, an IT phrase that encapsulates the ability of a company to connect an employee’s personal device with corporate infrastructures, says Vlad Shmunis, CEO of RingCentral, a communications platform that helps businesses integrate office devices like desk phones with personal devices like smartphones or tablets. For example, an employee may receive calls on their cellphone that were dialed to their desk number. “[This infrastructure] affords you maximum flexibility to do work wherever you are, whenever you want,” says Shmunis. It’s also cheaper for companies, which no longer need to purchase devices for all employees, and allows staff to keep a single device for both personal and work use.
3-D Printing: If you can dream it, you can print it. At least that’s the goal of 3-D printing proponents. The process starts with a computerized 3-D image file, which can either be created by the user or downloaded from the Internet. The image is then sliced into thousands of horizontal planes that the 3-D printer uses as a stencil to build a physical version of the image. The 3-D printer lays down material (often plastic) layer by layer, using the horizontal planes of the image file as a guide. Watching the process in real-time is slow — each layer added is so thin that it’s nearly impossible to see any change from one layer to the next. But in theory, any 3-dimensional shape could be created right at home. 3-D printing is great for prototypes. Method, the creator of eco-friendly soaps and detergents, uses an in-house 3-D printer to whip up prototypes for new bottle designs. Nike NKE announced in February that it would create its newest football cleats, the Vaper Laser Talon, using 3-D printing for the finished product.
Bitcoin: This online currency is actually four years old, but only recently seemed to hit the mainstream radar. Bitcoins are used to purchase goods and services, just like U.S. dollars or euros. Unlike U.S. Dollars or euros, however, bitcoins are not regulated by any central bank or governing body, which means their production and use is unrestrained. Bitcoins are generated through a process called “mining,” where computers generate large digital codes over a shared supercomputer network. These codes are then treated like digital cash, which is used to complete transactions online. The general public can buy or sell bitcoins using fluctuating exchange rates, and the bitcoin value ebbs and flows like the stock market. (The current $US exchange rate is hovering around $120=1 BTC.)