Not this year
Not on this list: A ‘Selfie’ of the author

It’s 2014, and time to ring in the new and throw out the old. Old tech terms, that is: those made meaningless in 2013 by media and marketers.

I occasionally rant about words that are overused and abused in tech (a popular 2013 noun, “selfie,” may join that group at narcissistic speed). But don’t think of this list as terms that still mean something. These are words and phrases so stretched and contorted in misguided efforts to apply them to everything in tech, that they now mean nothing.

1) Open”: Early on, most commonly thought of as short form for “open source” (code all can use, tinker with and contribute to), “open” has opened up a Pandora’s Box of multiple and sometimes contradictory implied meanings: “open standard” (technical standards anyone can apply); “open access” (for participation in online activities); “open content” (digital content that can be reused, remixed and shared); and “open data” (publicly released data, generally governmental or research).

Watters_Open_tweetSo that new digital product which promotes itself as “open?” It could be a fully proprietary, pay-to-use product that applies an open technical standard. Or an organization could simply be using the word as a trendy techie synonym for “free,” as the Open Education Alliance purportedly does. Outspoken journalist Audrey Watters has a nice term to describe this sad trend: “openwashing.”

2) MOOC” This once-narrowly defined term for huge, no-cost, web-based classes (“Massive Open Online Course”) dates back to 2008, but jumped the shark in 2013 mere months after the New York Times declared 2012 to be the Year of the MOOC. Suddenly, it was cool and mainstream to be a MOOC – even if you weren’t. MOOC quickly became a lame, limp synonym for “online education” of any kind, even if it required payment and applied to a handful of students.

MOOc  (photo @pholloway)
MOOc (photo @pholloway)

I knew the term was in trouble when last month I received a news release from ClickBank announcing “the first B2B platform for the rapidly growing online education market, often referred to as Massive Open Online Courses.” A few days later NPR piled on with, “The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course” – only about MOOCs, of course. Online education (such as that provided by WGU) should not have to kowtow to this dilution.

3) Cloud” Cloud has been floating toward irrelevance for years. At a tech trade show I attended in 2011, Wyse signage touted it was the “global leader in cloud client computing.” When I pointedly asked, they admitted they’d just replaced “thin” with “cloud.” In suggestions for this column on GeekWire’s Facebook page, cloud drew a crowd. Reader C.Y. Lee pointed out while it was still unique when Hotmail ushered in “cloud email” (Hotmail itself dates back to 1995), it’s now trite: “I put the blame on Apple for perpetuating it in the form of ‘iCloud.’ ”

Not the cloud you are looking for
Not the cloud you are looking for

Use Amazon, Gmail, or Mozy? You access, travel in, or store stuff in the cloud. If you’re a consumer or small business and can’t see the disk or server, assume the cloud. Just as TV Guide years ago stopped labelling shows as “Color” and flipped to only identifying those in “B&W,” 2014 should be the year we only identify consumer software and storage if it’s “local.” And in this post-Snowden era, that itself may turn into a unique selling point.

4) High Definition” HD has been so successful as short-hand for significantly better television and video images (at least 720p resolution vs standard definition’s typical 480p), it’s no surprise marketers of other tech products would pile on. Recent years have seen Intel’s HD Audio and terrestrial broadcasting’s HD Radio; indeed a whole Wikipedia page simply lists 13 kinds of “high-definition” something.

KodakHDFilmI knew, however, this tech term was treading on thin (or cloud) ice as I started noticing ads for “high-definition mascara,” “high-definition auto wax” and “high-definition film” (yes, Kodak film). It’s clear that high-def is a relative term (dating back to 1936 in tech), but like many relatives, this one has overstayed its welcome. Creatives? If you’re at all clever, you’ll come up with a high-definition improvement for this now low-usefulness term.

There are many more, as demonstrated by the GeekWire readers who offered their own examples on Facebook, ranging from “disruptive” to “social.” Several on my list last year of overused or abused phrases popped up again as, well, trending toward meaningless (“big data,” especially).

The good news is that if you can’t say something nice in tech, you might as well use one of these phrases. For then you will be saying nothing at all.

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  • Obdurodon

    Also, “creatives” and “strategist” belong on the list. Creativity is not limited to various forms of visual design, and strategy is practically universal. We’re all strategists, and almost all creatives, depriving either word of any real meaning.

    • FrankCatalano

      The “creatives” referred to deal with language, not visuals. And please. That’s “Mr. Strategist.”

  • Michael A. Parker

    Nice work Frank! Open was stolen years ago but it seems to have lasted for a long time. Not sure why. Guess somehow it equals something good

    • FrankCatalano

      Thanks Michael. I recall moderating a debate in the 1990s between Red Hat and Microsoft after the latter claimed it was now “open.” I guess open is not closed to any interpretation.

  • Lamda2

    I really hope you’re right about the “cloud”. It’s just a hyped up name for online services, and it’s getting harder and harder to take people seriously when they talk about it, let alone try to sell me something with the “cloud” label attached to it.

    • Jens

      AOL hipsters: storing email in the cloud since 1985

      • FrankCatalano

        Since it was AppleLink Personal Edition.

  • Creative

    I’m a maker, and in 2014 I’m looking to disrupt the cloud. Who’s with me??

    • FrankCatalano

      Personally, I’m planning a startup for the first high-definition open cloud MOOC.

  • Michael Hazell

    Still think high definition is good for folks that don’t quite understand what HD is, like older people.

    • FrankCatalano

      Agreed party, since it has always been a relative term for video quality. But even there it’s getting even more meaningless with add-ons like “Ultra HD.” Yet I’m pretty sure even younger people would not even get how it applies to mascara and wax.

  • Scott Milburn

    Good rants, Frank!

  • Joe

    Anyone remember hi-fidelity?

    • FrankCatalano

      Great movie. Oh. Wait.

    • Michael Hazell

      Yes, I remember it.

  • Eddie O’Connor

    On the point of Hi-def” sound?…..well it’s all a sham. You see the human ear can only hear sound in set range of frequencies”…and while you can tweak the EQ (equalization) of sounds to get more richness….robustness…and clarity…you will NEVER be able to hear PAS that frequency range. So all those ads claiming “hi-def” satellite radio?…well they’re just using it as a way to get your money….granted there’s no commercials on XM and Sirius and the like…but paying for that monthly is like paying for cable TV……you can get most of the same shows…and even some you can’t on Netflix…which IS commercial free…and isn’t nearly as expensive as digital cable TV…..but hey…I guess if the masses are gullible enough to fall for it then hey…..LOL! If you want your audio in your car to sound crisp…..clear…and “hi-def”?….take it to an audio place…spend the $150.00 up front…and NEVER have to pay a monthly bill!

  • Guest

    How long until “smart” is a part of this list?

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