Opinion: The industry's language sickness needs a cure, and fast.
Six months ago, I wrote what was surely one of my crankiest columns,
which I thought would elicit enough "Get a life" responses to make me seriously question how I use my time.
To my surprise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It turns out I wasnt the only one who had noticed the industry has a problem with how it misuses the English language.
Its a frustration shared by many in the channel, who say the goofy terms, misuse of words and indecipherable phrases that vendors use to excite interest in their products often get in the way of getting customers to understand the value of the technology.
Well, so much for knowing your audience!
The responses got me thinking, so I asked my colleague Jessica Davis to look into this problem and write a story for our eWEEK Strategic Partner monthly publication. The story, "High-Tech Tower of Babel,"
was published in the June 25 issue, and you can also read it at the eWEEK Strategic Partner Web site.
As Davis wrote, the industrys marketing language has become an "impenetrable forest of jargon" that often confuses the customer.
Its a front-to-back problem, from the marketing materials designed to promote a product to the manuals that accompany the product, said Corey McFadden, managing partner at Philadelphia-based VAR Infradapt.
Vendors, he said, "create brochures that are completely baffling to even the best engineers. This can torpedo their chances in the market."
I have first-hand experience with what McFadden is talking about. Having worked as a freelancer on and off over the years, occasionally I picked up some marketing writing. In one case, I was charged with writing descriptions for some fairly complex technology that even folks employed by the vendor that hired me for the work didnt really understand, which made the project quite an adventure.
In other situations, I had the frustrating experience of working with someone so intent on using dense technical jargon to write copy for Web pages that I was sure no one besides a handful of people at the vendor in question would have understood what it meant. Attempts to translate the jargon to easily understandable lay terms met with resistance, the result of which was Web pages with very little that anyone not wearing a propeller cap could understand.
One of the most common complaints from channel folks that emerged in the research for "High-Tech Tower of Babel" was the gratuitous use of acronyms. Hopefully everybody in this space knows what a VAR is (though I got a nasty e-mail once from a reader about that), but the proliferation of nonsensical acronyms and abbreviations is downright scary.
At least "VAR" rolls off the tongue. But try to articulate DMTF or UEFI in one breath. Hell, I dont even know what UEFI stands for, but DMTF is short for Distributed Management Task Force.
If you think thats bad, check this one out: NDM. OK, it sounds benevolent enough, right? It is used to abbreviate "non-dairy milk," as if the term is such a mouthful. But in our circles, it stands for NCSS Data Management. Its an acronym of an acronym! NCSS stands for Non-Commentary Sources Statements. Ouch!
David Yewman, president of Dash Consulting in Vancouver, Wash., said he believes the industry suffers from a language sickness, relying too much on buzzwords and strange turns of phrase to make its points.
Yewman films executives and shows them the footage with the intent of getting them to talk about their products and companies in understandable language.
Its a tall order for sure, but the fact that he gets hired to do it proves that I am not the only one around here whos noticed this problem. With a little luck and effort, who knows, maybe we can start to cure the sickness. Or at least tackle the worst symptoms.
Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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