The misuse of buzzwords

I have decided to start collecting all of my better posts from various other sources and putting them all on my personal blog. More for the search-ability than anything.

This article was first posted to Business Logs, almost exactly as you see it below, and was also featured in a magazine.

Speaking from experience, using buzzwords can actually do you more harm than good, especially when you have no idea what you're talking about.

This topic has been documented before and I'm probably reiterating the feelings of many with this article but I was recently pushed over the edge on this whole "I used Ajax to build this product so it must be good" attitude that we're seeing so much.

To use an analogy, let's look at the automobile. An automobile, for most is a "device" which carries yourself and your family from point A to point B. Unless you're an enthusiast, or a grease-monkey ( I use this term with the utmost respect because I used to be one ), your vehicle is just something you use for this service. Typically when buying a new vehicle, you'll check consumer reports and various other resources to be sure that the car you're buying is stable, safe, and will do well for the area you live in or the purposes you need it for. I'd say that most consumers rarely "look under the hood" and buy automobiles specifically because it uses a specific motor spec, or transmission technology. In other words, most people do not care what is in the car, just that the car performs well.

The same should be for Web applications or services. The fact that the product or service was built using Ajax, Ruby on Rails, or any other popular buzz-worthy technology should be of little consequence if your product or service is useful, usable, feature-rich, and stable.

When using a service like eBay, which millions of people use each and every day, do you think that people care what technologies eBay is using to bring its service to their customers? Not at all. On the contrary, the only thing that customers of eBay care about is uptime and stability. As long as the service works for the duration of their usage, and is always available, they could care less what is going on behind-the-scenes. I believe the same applies to my automobile analogy. Unless your car fails to start in the morning, chances are you'll never care about what is going on under the hood.

The buzzword trap

Misusing buzzwords can also trap you. Stepping away from product-marketing using buzzwords for a moment, let's suppose that you've added all of the most recent buzz words to your resume and turned it in to several companies. You could be trapped the very moment that you're called to task on any one of those technologies.

When I said "speaking from experience" I was not talking about myself. There was a time I had a job where my boss was put in his position based solely on his use of buzzwords. Every person under him knew it, as did he. Several times he was called out on not knowing what he claimed to, and each time that happened his credibility and value was eaten away. It was not long before those that were under him, were moved into position higher than he - including me.

Market your product to those that need it

Using buzzwords to market your product is not a bad idea. It just narrows your audience so much that you're probably missing out on the big picture. By defining your product in simple, easy-to-understand terms, you'll capture the entire audience. You won't leave anyone out in the cold, wondering what your service does. By marketing in this manner you will end up marketing your product to those that need it not just to those that think its "cool" that you've used a specific technology to pull it off.

This isn't to say that some products are specifically built for programmers and the best bit of marketing you might have for your product is to drop buzzwords. For those situations I suppose its fitting. However, if the only thing your product has going for it is the fact that you've used Ajax, don't expect it to get much attention after the initial buzz-burst.