RealTime IT News

Stop Dishonest Tech Lingo! (That Means You, Apple and Microsoft)

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.

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