Either “My Sequel” or “My S-Q-L” are okay, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
A database is just a fancy spreadsheet that can hold tons of information and interact with programs. MySQL is one of the most popular because it’s found pretty much anywhere you can write a program, and it’s free.
In something like Excel or Microsoft Access you can poke and prod and drag values around, but databases like MySQL don’t really have a way to see them without using another program. You get to type something like this:
SELECT name FROM cocktails WHERE color = 'red'
Which, as you can probably tell, gets us all the cocktails that are red. This incredibly droll method of talking to a database is called the Structured Query Language, and it’s the SQL part of MySQL.
Databases are a powerful part of any dynamic web site, and MySQL is a widely-used and widely-known option.
There are a ton of database solutions out there, and everyone is always arguing about what is best. One particularly vocal group at the moment is the NoSQL movement, which is against RDBMS’s (Relational database management systems – say that five times fast). Other people might push PostgreSQL or Microsoft’s SQL Server.
Many large tech companies use multiple databases for different things. Facebook and Twitter use both MySQL and a NoSQL database called Cassandra, among I’m sure many others.
A big benefit of MySQL and many other RDBMSes is something called ACID compliance. You can read more about it here, but the basic idea is that it’s a very reliable system in terms of data integrity. If you accidentally lose a couple tweets, no big deal, but if your database forgets to deposit $50,000 into your bank account someone’s in trouble.
Cocktail Party Fact
It isn’t called “MySQL” because it’s yours – it’s actually named after the daughter of the main developer, My, which is a common Finnish nickname!