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The tech industry’s most baffling buzzwords: A brief guide

Jul 06, 20097 mins
Cloud ComputingData Center

A disruptive solution for prosumers confused by public relations paradigm shifts

A handy guide to the tech industry’s most impenetrable buzzwords, slogans and catch phrases.

As tech journalists, we get a lot of pitches from companies’ public relations teams. Some of these pitches, unfortunately, are written in a language that bears little resemblance to English. Indeed, many of these pitches are so indecipherable that even the most hardened veteran tech reporters will find their eyes glazing over after reading 50 press releases informing them that TechnoCorp, the leading provider of cloud-based Web 3.0 solutions, has announced the availability of a disruptively robust new solution that will create an industry paradigm shift. For those normal people out there who have no idea what any of these words mean, Network World has produced this handy guide to the tech industry’s most impenetrable buzzwords, slogans and catch phrases that will hopefully help you tell your blended threats apart from your paradigm shifts.

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Buzzword #1: Disruptive

What’s strange about the word “disruptive” is that it normally has a rather negative connotation. For example: “When my drunken Uncle Jimmy passed out on my coffee table, it was disruptive to my Sunday afternoon.” In the topsy-turvy world of the tech industry, however, it means that a technology is so innovative that it disrupts the current market and forces companies to change their business models to stay competitive. The phrase was initially coined by a 1995 Harvard Business School article coauthored by Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen called “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave.”

Buzzword #2: Paradigm shift

This is what happens when a disruptive technology hits the market. Basically, it means that people and businesses are doing stuff differently than they did before. The Internet, for example, created a paradigm shift in the way people purchased music, because they’re more likely to download songs directly onto their computers than to purchase CDs. Marketers, of course, are eager to describe product releases as creating a “paradigm shift” that will change the way the world works forever. A quick glance through PR News wire reveals that the following products have been described as marking paradigm shifts at one point or another: a cylinder gas delivery system, a piece of fraud-prevention software, a prenatal genetic testing program, a peer-to-peer music sharing service and a marketing venture founded by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

You’ll notice that paradigm shifts are often offered by companies that describe themselves as “the leading providers” in their field, which is actually how every single company in every single industry describes itself.

Buzzword #3: Cloud computing 

When companies offer cloud computing services, it’s their way of saying, “Let us do your IT stuff for you over the Web.” Or to put it in slightly more technical terms, cloud computing services use Internet technologies to deliver IT-related capabilities directly to users. As a recent Network World FAQ noted, cloud computing is “an approach to building IT services that harnesses the rapidly increasing horsepower of servers as well as virtualization technologies that combine many servers into large computing pools and divide single servers into multiple virtual machines that can be spun up and powered down at will.” In other words, cloud computing gives users the option of ramping up their capacity quickly without having to invest in physical infrastructure.

But while cloud computing is a real term used for a certain type of technology, it has also become an oft-abused buzzword. As Network World reporter Jon Brodkin recently documented, some companies have shown a pattern of slapping the “cloud computing” label on their old offerings in order to give them a fresh buzz.

Buzzword #4: Web 3.0 

Does anybody have a clear understanding of what Web 3.0, aka “The Semantic Web,” actually means? European Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding, for instance, said that Web 3.0 “means seamless ‘anytime, anywhere’ business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks. It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines. It signals a tenfold quantum leap in the scale of the digital universe by 2015.” OK …. Internet guru Tim Berners-Lee, meanwhile has described it as “Web 2.0 without the silos.” As best we can tell, Web 3.0 will have the ability to not only understand keywords, but to understand full syntax — or as HowStuffWorks recently put it, you could type a full sentence such as “I want to see a funny movie and then eat at a good Mexican restaurant. What are my options?” into a Web browser and have it retrieve a direct answer to your question.

Regardless of how quickly Web 3.0 becomes a reality, however, you can expect to see every Web site that sells teeth-whiteners for cats to start touting its “robust Web 3.0” capabilities in the near future. Which raises an interesting question: if marketers really wanted to get our attention for their products, why settle at upping the Web ante by one digit at time? Why not tout a Web site that has, say, Web 47.0 features instead?

Buzzword #5: Blended threat 

On first hearing, this term sounds like an awful mixed drink made of four parts vodka, three parts tequila and seven parts Mountain Dew. But according to Symantec’s online glossary, a blended threat is what happens when attacks “combine the characteristics of viruses, worms, Trojan Horses, and malicious code with server and Internet vulnerabilities to initiate, transmit, and spread an attack. By using multiple methods and techniques, blended threats can rapidly spread and cause widespread damage.” So when a security vendor says it will protect your network from blended threats, it’s saying it will stop you from getting hit by a lot of really bad stuff all at once. Good to know.

Buzzword #6: Prosumer

This one is mercifully used less frequently nowadays by marketing departments, as it stands out as one of the most irritating buzzwords ever concocted. Essentially, it’s a mix of “professional” and “consumer.” A “prosumer” product, therefore, is a product that can meet users’ business and personal needs.

Now that this wicked buzzword has been unleashed upon the world, it is routinely used in PR pitch monstrosities that say things such as: “ today released its recommendations for the best prosumer gas pressure washers” and “Sony is expanding its industry leading line-up of high-definition video products with two new HDV(TM) cameras designed to meet the needs of professionals and prosumers.”

Buzzword #7: Seamless

Searching Microsoft Outlook archives for PR pitches that offered “seamless” technology nearly broke the computer. Verizon Business, for example, has offered a product to help companies “seamlessly work between IT groups in order to avoid data breaches.” Apple, meanwhile, boasts that its iTunes store provides “seamless integration with iPod and iPhone.” And Sprint has offered to help businesses “make a seamless migration to IP-based services.” Doing things seamlessly is better than doing things seamfully. But don’t most people by now assume that if a company is confident enough in its own products that it’s already offering seamless transitions? Would any company tell you that its solution is “fraught with perils akin to craggy rocks and whirlpools?”

Buzzword #8: Solution

This buzzword is abused by marketing departments not merely in the tech industry, but throughout the economy as a whole. Essentially, companies routinely push any software, service or product that they produce as a solution. There are many possible reasons for this, but we think that the word “solution” is particularly useful for defusing customer anger if a particular product happens to be really bad. For example, let’s say you have a new piece of software that routinely crashes your computer. When a coworker hears you shouting from your office, “This software is a stinking heap of garbage!” he can interject and say, “Wait, isn’t it actually a solution you’re talking about? If so, then by definition it can’t be at fault, because it’s already solved your problems.” And as you try to wrap your brain around this logical conundrum, you forget why your “solution” made you so frustrated in the first place. Problem solved!