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The new geek speak / neo-marketing language


We mock the corporate b.s. speak, but have we listened to ourselves lately?
This latest Hugh cartoon I'm in love with reminded me how much the techies/geeks/neo-marketing folks (of which I'm a member) are doing just fine with our own brand (would that be a hijacked brand?) of buzzwords.

(And don't even get me started on the ones used in software architecture. I'll save those as a special subset.)

Not only are you supposed to know and use these terms, you're also not quite clued-in (or is it Hughed-in) if you don't also buy into their true meaning. That is, if you can figure out what that really is : )

There's no pot-calling-kettle-black thing here... I'm just as guilty (although I challenge you to scrutinize the archives for a single instance of my using the word "blogosphere"). I use "Hugh", and "Seth" with full assumption that their last names would be redundant. I make jokes about "transparency" assuming you've heard the Cluetrain arguments. And I do that assuming you know what Cluetrain refers to.

I even use Scoble in my blog banner! (For Robert Scoble, whose blog I adore, despite his Microsoftness.) Here are a just a couple of recent Scoble quotes, "No RSS? Lame. That tells us you don't want connectors/sneezers/influentials to talk about you..." and "Be sensitive to the leading "connectors" -- they'll be the ones who'll really kick off your viral campaign." Of course none of those words are very new but what is new is for so many geeks to be talking like marketers.

Fortunately, there's hope. Like any problem, acknowledging it is the first step, and apparently there's even a drinking game around these words (much like the old business buzzword bingo, except more festive... with alcohol.

But... (and you knew there'd be a but) there's something really interesting in all this. The goal should be honesty, true. And all the new emerging technology and ideas, we do need new words. If a word or phrase describes something new, then it's not necessarily a b.s. buzzword used simply to obfuscate or to make ourselves sound like we have a clue. So, it might be completely appropriate to use these new words so casually, if they represent what we're trying to communicate.

A bigger question might be, should we use these words without defining them? Should we assume that our readers already know what (or who) we're talking about? Is this exclusionary or clique-ish? Yes, yes, and yes... if we're talking about passion.

For one thing, most of us using these words in a blog or other online doc have links. If someone doesn't know who Hugh is, they can click to find out. It stops me from interrupting regular readers with repeats and redefinitions, and Hugh's site does a far better job of trying to explain him (or not ; )) then I ever could. And thanks to Google, we can all get a definition along with the most recent conversations about just about any word I could possibly use.

But that's still not the most important reason to use some of these words and names without referencing them...

When people are passionate (or even just "into") something, they have a shared lexicon that helps dinstinuish them from those who aren't.

And this is not a bad thing. Professionals and hobbyists have had shared, specialized vocabularies for years. Among other things, it helps them get a message across more quickly than if they couldn't use those things. But it also helps build their devotion to their passion. Just figuring out the commonly-used phrases, words, names, stories, etc. are part of what gives people a sense of belonging. A sense of being a part of something special. A sense of having learned, and earned their way in. So in this case, exclusionary isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Becoming a part of something new usually isn't that simple. You have things to learn. Show me an area where people are passionate, and I'll show you how there is virtually always a learning curve that includes ideas, concepts, terminology that are specialized. Most people have an "I Rule" experience in part because they've "crossed the chasm" (reached the tipping point?) and learned what others are talking about. Of course between Google and wikipedia, it's almost too easy these days ; )

Obviously if you use way too much jargon, and the answers are not readily found, you will restrict your "tribe" (there's another one). But that's not always a bad thing either! You may decide that raising the barrier to entry adds value to those in the group who've taken the time and effort to come up the curve. You may decide that you can't even be true to who you are (you know, "your authentic voice") if you have to make the message clear and understandable to everyone, newcomers included. Some passions are worth the trouble, and indeed better for having a certain amount of effort.

Besides, something that gets you to go off and do a little research on your own is often much more powerful than if you're handed everything without having to think about it. So... what special words, concepts, stories, people are a part of what you are passionate about? Or a part of what you want people to be passionate about? Lowering the barrier to entry, especially when it comes to conversations, isn't always the best path when you want genuine passion.

(That said, if you EVER and I mean EVER catch me sounding anything like the couple in my cartoon here, slap your mouse around a few times to slap me out of it.)

Posted by Kathy on March 31, 2005 | Permalink


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Eh. Neo-blogspeak isn't actually that big a deal. It took Thomas "English Cut" Mahon less than a month to familiarize himeself with all the Hughtrain/Cluetrain/RSS/Long Tail schtick, thanks to my frequent beatings.

"Bad Tailor! [SFX] Naughty! [SFX]..."

None of it is rocket science, after all. You think knowing the difference between Atom and XML is hard? Try cutting a perfectly shaped, single breasted peaked lapel:



Posted by: hugh macleod | Mar 31, 2005 9:57:44 PM

I (a techhead from way back) once sat in front of a whiteboard with a viticulturist and a winemaker, and we all put up all the three- and four-letter acronyms and techspeak things we could each remember from our respective fields of interest - and I can tell you I was a long way behind both of them! It's inevitable that a particular field of interest will generate a unique lexicon best (only?) understood by people who share the interest.

Posted by: Ric | Apr 7, 2005 2:45:01 AM

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