Affiliate marketing is also called "performance marketing", in reference to how sales employees are typically being compensated. Such employees are typically paid a commission for each sale they close, and sometimes are paid performance incentives for exceeding objectives. Affiliates are not employed by the advertiser whose products or services they promote, but the compensation models applied to affiliate marketing are very similar to the ones used for people in the advertisers' internal sales department.
One of the cool things about Google AdSense is that it's so easy to get set up. If you have a blog or website, you can sign up for a free Google AdSense Account. From there, Google will give you a unique code that you will paste onto your website. Google takes it from there, tracking your page views, traffic, and earnings on your behalf. There is no upkeep or maintenance to get this thing going, which makes it a no-brainer if you have a website already.