Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Stop Dishonest Tech Lingo! (that means you, Apple and Microsoft)

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New technology requires the invention of new words — which used to be coined by engineers. Some were descriptive (“electronic mail”), others whimsical (“mouse”).

Fast forward to today, and technology is big business. The marketing people now coin words, motivated less by descriptiveness or amusement and more by profit.

Sure, It’s the job of marketers to spin. But I object when spin ends up in the dictionary.

The only way new words can be legitimized into the language is when we all voluntarily accept their use. So my question is: Why should we? I say we shouldn’t.

Here are 6 marketing-spin words that have already become legitimized by general use:

1) Netbook

The Wikipedia entry on “netbook” (written no doubt by people who sell netbooks) says it’s “a class of laptop computer designed for wireless communication and access to the Internet.”

Really? In what way? A netbook’s design features for “wireless communication and access to the Internet” are identical to those on a standard laptop. That’s not what’s different about netbooks.

Netbooks are different because they’re cheap, small and low-powered. But the laptop industry doesn’t want you choosing between a netbook or a laptop — they want you to buy both — so they stole a model name from Psion to falsely imply that netbooks enable a fundamentally different kind of mobile computing.

“Mini-notebook” would be more honest.

2) Friend

When two users agree to grant each other access to their Facebook profiles, it’s called Friending, and the people are called “Friends.”

But the word is wishful thinking. Sure, some of the people on my Friends list are friends. But many I don’t know at all. Others are relatives, business associates and people with whom I have other relationships.

“Connections” would be more honest.

3) Follow

If you choose to receive the messages or “tweets” someone broadcasts over Twitter, you’re said to “follow” them.

The word “follow” implies that the other person is leading, or at least that you’re paying attention to what they say. But I’ll bet that half the people who have created an account on Twitter don’t even visit the site anymore, and that those who do log on miss the vast majority of tweets.

The word is designed to appeal to narcissists who always wanted a “following.” It lets users think that people out there are hanging on every word, anticipating every quip and mobilizing in response to the brilliant missives of the genius tweeter.

The responsibility of maintaining such a devoted “following” caused tech writer Steven Levy to write about the “Burden of Twitter.”

“Subscriber” would be more honest.

4) Beta

To label something “beta” is to hang the equivalent of an “under construction” sign. The idea is that a “beta” product should be judged by a more lenient set of criteria than a “shipping” product. Normally, “beta” products are distributed free in exchange for constructive feedback that enables product improvement before the company starts making money on it. The “beta” stops before the income starts.

Somehow, Google got the wacky idea that it could start calling free online services “beta,” and never stop. The most conspicuous example is Gmail, which has been “beta” for five years! Meanwhile, the company has raked in billions in advertising on this “beta” product.

A more honest label for online products like Gmail would be no label at all.

5) iPhone OS

When Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPhone, he was very clear about what operating system it ran. He said: “iPhone runs OS X.”

Except that it didn’t run OS X applications. And it didn’t multitask, copy or paste or share the OS X user interface. And it used fraction of the storage, memory and processing power of OS X.

OK, I’m sure Apple borrowed from OS X in the development of the iPhone. But from the user’s perspective, it bore no resemblance. So why did the Apple marketing team call it OS X? And why did they later change the name to iPhone OS? And why does something now called the iPhone OS run something that isn’t even a phone (iPod Touch)?

Hey, Cupertino is a free country. They can call their products anything they want. But Apple is clearly grasping at whatever marketing pixie dust is available.

OS X was chosen because that was the hotter brand. Now that iPhone is hotter than OS X, that’s the new name. I’m sure that if iPod Touch became the big brand, they would have called it the iPod Touch OS.

Because iPhone OS is misleading (since it runs on non-phones), and because Apple is likely to launch even more non-phone products, a more honest name would be OS X Mobile.

6) Windows 7

In the beginning, there was Windows 1, 2 and 3. It all made sense. “Windows” was a rare good name for a Microsoft product, and a naming system based on version numbers was straightforward.

Then the company came out with Windows NT, which didn’t stand for anything. Then Microsoft launched Windows for Workgroups and Windows for Pens, which violated the version-number system, but at least was descriptive. Then came Windows 95 and then 98. The company chose to abandon the version number in favor of calendar years. Then Microsoft reverted back to the system of meaningless letters with Windows XP. Then recently they invented yet another “system” with Windows Vista — neither version number nor meaningless letters nor descriptive name nor calendar year.

And now… Windows 7? After all we’ve been through, we’re back to version numbers?

The honest naming system for Windows would be to randomly pick one of these and for the love of God, man, stick to it!

Marketing people have to spin products with the coinage of suggestive new words. But we don’t have to use those words. And even when we have to accept them, as in the name of actual products, we don’t have to blindly accept the spin.

Let’s all just stop using the industry’s dishonest tech lingo.

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