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).
So 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.
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.’ ”
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.
I 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.
Frank Catalano (@FrankCatalano) is an independent strategist, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose regular GeekWire columns take a practical nerd’s approach to tech. See the column archive. He still enjoys reading the annual Banished Words List from Lake Superior State University, where you will find “selfie.”