On jargon, and creating a common language

Interesting post here from that arch (in both senses of the word) commentator on IT and business issues, Nick Carr, on the subject of jargon – pointing to a post by another really interesting commentator, Kathy Sierra.

Carr’s main point, I think, is that buzzwords aren’t the same as jargon: jargon is of value to specialists as it helps them have specialist conversations using handy shorthand, whereas buzzwords – which often infuriate specialists – are good because (when they work) they encapsulate complicated ideas and present them in terms that non-specialists can get their heads around. In doing this, though, they can end up with rather imprecise and fuzzy definitions, which is why they infuriate the specialists.

I think the more interesting part of Nick’s post, though, is his comparison of two recent attempts to define / explain Web 2.0. Tim O’Reilly has had a stab at condensing his ideas down to a short sentence:

“Web 2.0 is the move to the internet as platform, and an understanding of the rules for success on that new platform. First among those rules is building applications that harness network effects to get better the more that people use them.”

Nick contrasts this with a definition from Wade Roush:

“a combination of a) improved communication between people via social-networking technologies, b) improved communication between separate software applications – read “mashups” – via open Web standards for describing and accessing data, and c) improved Web interfaces that mimic the real-time responsiveness of desktop applications within a browser window.”

Why is the second text is more appealing to non-specialists? Because it attempts to explain the idea in terms of the results/outcomes of the idea, not the technical details of how it comes to be.

We so often get this wrong in the world of IT – trying to explain things by focusing on *how *we built them, rather than *what* a consumer will experience as a result. If IT organisations are going to be service providers, after all, the consumers of those services are going to be shielded from the “how” anyway – all they’ll see, hopefully, is the “what”. So why try and explain what we’re doing in terms of what we’re hiding? It makes no sense at all. (As another great example, think about why “composite applications” is a crappy term).

This is something we talk about a fair bit in the book. If you want to get IT people communicating better in a business context, get everyone focusing on “what”, not “how”. It’s what makes sense from the technology consumer’s perspective.


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