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The Cloud. Web 2.0. Meme. What do these words even mean? At this point, hardly anything: they’ve all switched from being useful terms to pointless buzzwords.

Every industry has its own set of meaningless words, overused to the point that they no longer mean anything. Technology seems to love such words so much that it simply must beat them long after they’ve died.

beating-a-dead-horse

Even words that make sense are eventually taken out of context – intentionally by advertisers or accidentally by people who don’t know any better. Here are a few that drive me nuts.

The Cloud

The worst buzzwords are overused until they don’t mean anything, and The Cloud is about as overused as it comes. It’s basically dead at this point, but still worth dissecting.

In the late aughts, The Cloud referred to the trend of apps moving away from the desktop and into the browser How Does Cloud Computing Work? [Technology Explained] How Does Cloud Computing Work? [Technology Explained] Read More , allowing users to take advantage of the storage and computing power of massive data centers (though even this designation is disputed).

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the freaking cloud

It’s started off as a platform-agnostic term, but then marketing happened. Companies started adding “cloud” to their services, at first legitimately. Then came a wave of nonsense, adding the word “cloud” to things like operating systems for no reason. This trend eventually led to this finely polished gem of nonsense from Microsoft:

Apparently The Cloud is a service you can use to access your desktop computer from your laptop. What? Things got worse from there. I’ve literally heard people asking for “that computer with the clouds in it”.

“It’s like Uber for…”

Uber is a smartphone app and car sharing service Hire A Car In Most Major Cities Worldwide With Uber And MyTaxi Hire A Car In Most Major Cities Worldwide With Uber And MyTaxi You'd expect by now that hiring taxis with an app on your fancy GPS-enabled device to tell the drive your location would be an everyday event, right? Wrong. Read More you can use instead of a taxi (assuming your city hasn’t already banned it). It’s also a generic way to describe your startup, if you’re lazy.

like uber for

The business model is simple: tap a button on your phone, be connected with someone in a car willing to give you a ride – for a price. This sort of on-demand usage of things owned by fellow humans lends itself to an endless number of clone apps: the only limit is your lack of imagination. Do a Google News search of “like Uber for” if you don’t believe me, I’m sure you’ll find a couple of recent press-release-inspired articles using the phrase.

Can you make a company in this vein? Easily. Here are a couple of ideas you’re free to try, if you want.  You don’t need to pay me, but I’ll take five percent of your company if you insist.

  • It’s like Uber for kittens,” could be used to describe an app that lets you pay people nearby for the use of their young cats. For a fee.
  • It’s like Uber for friendship,” could be used to describe an app that lets you hang out with people who will pretend to like you. For a fee.
  • It’s like Uber for armies,” could be used to describe an app that lets you borrow nearby French mercenaries. For a fee.

You get the idea: if an app lets you borrow something, for a fee, you can call it “like Uber for”. But seriously: don’t.

Web X.0

This one’s slowed down, but it’s still annoying. For a while there every new website claimed to be “Web 2.0”. What did this mean? Well, by the time the nineties ended, it was clear the web was changing. Once a series a static pages people passively read, the web was becoming interactive.

Early technologists called this emerging web of blogs and social networks “Web 2.0”, though the exact meaning of that phrase was never nailed down. Which is fine, but predictions about Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 – whatever those mean – need to go away. No one knows what they mean, and it’s not a useful construct in any case.

Meme

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins first used the word meme in his book The Selfish Gene. In it he wrote that evolution doesn’t just happen in genetics, but also in the world of ideas. Those ideas that propagate across a culture, adapting slightly as they do so, were called memes.

On the Internet, today, meme basically means any picture with a caption on it.

The word was initially used for images like this because of the way they spread across the net. In the age of Reddit, however, an image macro created this morning is old before the afternoon. It’s hard to see how the word “meme” applies anymore, but at some point, all image macros took on that name and it’s too late to change.

meme

And software that makes creating “memes” easy Make Your Mark On Cultural History With Meme Generator [Mac] Make Your Mark On Cultural History With Meme Generator [Mac] If you’d like to make a meaningful contribution to society and share your expert advice, consider starting a blog; otherwise, make a meme. The Internet loves memes. The humble meme - a term originally coined... Read More isn’t helping.

Disrupt

Skype, the old wisdom goes, disrupted the phone companies. No longer could this old industry charge outlandish rates for long-distance calls, because the scrappy VoIP company undercut their rates so drastically. Calls were basically free, and the phone industry was forever disrupted.

There are relatively few cases of actual disruption in the Web’s short history, but plenty of companies that claimed to be doing it. Most of them no longer exist.

You can read more about how disrupt became a meaningless buzzword, if you want.

Game-changing

game-changing

Like many buzzwords, this one’s not so bad when used after a company’s actually accomplished something. Using it to describe your own app, or any app that’s only been around for a month and used by twelve people, is stupid. Don’t.

Rock Star/Ninja

Dear every technology company: we’re not twelve. Saying that you’re looking for a “Rock Star Programmer” or a “WordPress Ninja” is not going to trick us into ignoring your pitifully low starting salary. Thank you.

Dear PR People:

Are you thinking of sending me an email, asking me to write about your cool new cloud-based app, which will disrupt meme creation by being the Uber for Photoshop rock stars? Here’s my advice: don’t!

Or, at the very least, find a way to describe your app that humans can understand. Leave the buzzwords for your boardroom, and out of your press releases.

Which buzzwords do you hate most? We utilize comment metrics to determine how well we’re engaging our social audience, so leave those terrible buzzwords below.

  1. TheBeast
    April 2, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    The original buzz-phrase, now long dead:
    "The Information Superhighway!"

  2. DyslexicAtheist
    January 24, 2014 at 8:57 am

    nice post Justin!
    We should make "antibuzzword" the buzzword of 2014 as a campaign to end all buzzwords: http://valbonneconsulting.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/disclaimer-this-post-may-contain-buzzwords/

  3. Nik
    January 6, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    To some extent, I don't mind buzz words when they represent a change in meaning: language changes over time, and the majority rules, unfortunately!

    As stated in the article, meme now has a new meaning that is specific to the internet, and that definition (an image with a caption) is specific enough that I know a 'meme' when I see one. I understand what people mean when they say it, so it doesn't bother me when I hear it.

    Many words have multiple meanings. I never picture a performer biting the head off of a live chicken when I hear the word geek, and I don't picture a woman's whom travelling throughout her body such that the only cure is for her to use a vibrator when someone calls her hysterical. One cannot remove these old definitions from history, so it's important to know them, but one must also know of the common usage to consider how the archaic usage might be be confused with the present or vice versa.

    For example, cloud might not be misused as much as its meaning is changing. It's tense now because we are mid-transition and it is very soon, but I think the common usage and the more specific, original usage will become equally acceptable. I might be wrong, but I think a lot of people (at least in the marketing department) define cloud as "on the internet." Consider that in the past, an average (non-technical) person would have only ever experienced the internet in a browser, but when cloud computing emerged, the browser started to behave very un-browser-like, so it's a natural progression for such a person to relate editing a document in a browser with google apps to locally editing an ms word document that is stored in skydrive or yes, watching a movie that is physically located on a single, different computer. From there, it's not a stretch to consider ebay a cloud yard sale or an email a cloud postcard. There is no simpler way to explain ebay or email to a person who knows what the 'cloud' is but doesn't know what ebay or email or some other more novel service is.

    (With regards to the video in the article: in Microsoft's defense, that remote access functionality is performed through the skydive app, and skydrive is a legitimate cloud service, so in a way, accessing a home computer remotely via the skydrive app is like adding that computer to the cloud - albeit with access to that computer limited to one user).

  4. David Oakes
    November 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    I use icloud mail. Don't hate me(me)

  5. Eric
    November 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I hate it when ppl include hash tags after posting their status, because these are usually non computer savy ppl trying to look hip or trendy (posers). I consider myself very proficient with computers and also know how to program, but I've never used a hash-tag on FB

    • Robert
      January 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      I'm pretty computer literate, running an I.T. dept for a fortune 1000 company, however I don't use facebook due to time constraints with work/life.

  6. dragonmouth
    October 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    Any word worth using, is worth overusing and beating to death.
    It is now over 40 years after Watergate but each and every scandal that hits the headlines is suffixed with "-gate". I wonder how many people even know the origin of the suffix "-gate".

  7. John Smith
    October 30, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Lots of the current so-called tech words are just dumb and un-tech.
    Here is my personal list I can think of
    blog (what happened to diary, journal, ..etc?)
    meme (dumb dumb dumb, the worst in my opinion)
    glitch (you can thank the clowns in HHS for making that word a "tech" word)
    app (lazy/short for application?)
    Web app (even worse)

    While we are in the complaining/ranting mode, what makes me almost sick of how a popular product can be used to replace the function or the usage name:

    I will skype him/her
    You can google it
    Did you see my iMessage
    Call my iPhone (I have seen business cards that list iPhone: (xxx) xxx-xxxx instead of phone/cell/mobile
    Blog this
    Cloudify you site

    There is probably more, but I right now that's a short list of what I can think of.

  8. Scott W
    October 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    When I hear "rockstars" and "ninjas" I think of what hair-bands and action movies seemed like in 1992

  9. brucej4
    October 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    It's not strictly a tech industry term, but "iconic" is definitely the new most-overused word in the English language.

  10. Dominic C
    October 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Actually you should add in that when a device fails to function properly people would just call it a 'virus'. Regardless of faults. This is a list of problems I heard and how my friends address them when they ask me to take a look:
    Fan not spinning: virus
    faulty power source: virus
    dead pixels: virus
    adware: virus
    a spoilt keyboard: virus
    a key that doesn't work on a keyboard: virus
    and my personal favourite
    an old laptop running Battlefield 3 giving unplayable framerates: You guessed it
    VIRUS

    • Anita S
      October 30, 2013 at 6:47 pm

      Someone told a friend of mine that her pictures were printing small because she had a virus. I asked her if she checked her printer settings. She said she did but I doubt it.

  11. dpocius
    October 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Initially I was happy to see "rock star" and "ninja" replace "guru" as a job proficiency descriptor, but no more. They've become just as obnoxious with overuse, and at least "guru" conveys some sort of depth of knowledge, rather than flash and sizzle, neither of which I value in most tech jobs, marketing excepted.

  12. Brian
    October 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I'm kind of surprised that "listicle" didn't make the cut, although it would be a bit ironic considering the format.

    • Justin P
      October 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      Hey, Listicles generally don't have paragraphs do they? I thought it was just headlines with animated GIFs.

      But yeah, terrible word. Hate it.

  13. Gord
    October 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Lowercase letters prefixed to any noun. Are we done with "i" yet?

  14. Fik of borg
    October 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Not exactly a buzzword, not even a buzzletter. Buzzsymbol?
    #
    Used mostly to make whatever is written seem worthy of being #hashtagged for future indexing and retrieving. It's #takingover #facebook #newsfeeds, and it's #annoying.

    • Justin P
      October 30, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      It's fine on Twitter, if used in moderation, but elsewhere it can become grating. #hashtag

  15. Limpers
    October 30, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Glad the cloud was first. I just uninstalled my cloud to butt extension but I think I die a little inside every time I see disrupt or We're X for X.

  16. Peter Hood
    October 30, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Tech Republic's Bill Detweiler has an 'IT Ninja' series... ...I can just barely forgive him for it, because he appears to be a very genuinely pleasant man/geek, but cloud? Don't get me started with clouds. It used to be a term referring to everything the used could not see because it was on a server somewhere. Now I prefer to never use someone else's server to store my data, and my backing up is done on to my own devices, though I'll include my network server in that. Clouds. Pah.

  17. Jake Shakespeare
    October 30, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I would add "agnostic" to the list of annoying buzzwords. The word means "without knowledge," and is typically used to describe someone who is unsure as to the existence of a supreme being. It's now being buzzed as a sort of replacement for "not platform-specific," for some reason. It's unnecessary and inaccurate.

    • Limpers
      October 30, 2013 at 11:28 am

      It is in no way inaccurate. Even using your definition and the context in which it is commonly used then it's perfectly apt.

    • Steve
      January 6, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Actually, when you consider that many people using this platform or that regard said platforms with a religious fervor, then "platform-agnostic" is wholly appropriate. "Web 2.0" is a royal pain....as is, increasingly, the "Internet of things."

  18. SamMadHands
    October 30, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Speaking of "geek," how did it come to mean someone who is good with technology? Its original meaning (and the way Bob Dylan used it in "Mr. Jones") was someone who bites the heads off live chickens in a circus sideshow--yeah, like Ozzie. What do computer literati bite heads off of?

    • Hannah Theresa Weyland
      January 6, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      It's the socially awkward or unacceptable part of geekhood I think.

  19. Achraf A
    October 30, 2013 at 1:19 am

    I totally agre with the "cloud" one. Cloud computing is using a datacenter full of computers to co-operatively do computing, storage or delivery not, not your weekend web project hosted in a $3.95 per month hosting plan. Hosting companies also abuse this word, especially Godaddy and the likes. I think the word "social" is next to "cloud" in the level of over-usage by startups, seriously, not anything that let's you send a public or private message or share something in a personal public page social service.

  20. John
    October 30, 2013 at 12:18 am

    "hacked" needs to go also. because you're stupid and didn't log out of facebook, does not mean a computer hacker wasted his time to change your sexual preference to gay.

    • The Dude
      October 31, 2013 at 9:49 am

      LOL i agree ... I hate when people say "You hacked my gaybook page" .. No they didnt.. you left you phone unintended and your PW was saved LOL

  21. terri
    October 29, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    cloud is the most over-used i think but sometimes its the only way i can explain things to my less technological friends!
    also" geek" is out of control....

  22. Aaron C
    October 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    "Viral" is one that always gets me.

    • Bela
      October 29, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Hell yes - viral is nowadays pretty much a disease ;)

    • Justin P
      October 30, 2013 at 12:59 am

      I hate it too much to even mention it in an article like this. Rage.

  23. Joel L
    October 29, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    I think I spend a lot of time on the 'Net in tech-related ways, but I've only really heard the overuse of "cloud" (which is often still used in a legitimate way) and "meme" (which has, indeed, been destroyed). Web X.0 has been dead for a while as far as I know, and the rest don't seem like buzzwords.

    If I could expand the list, I'd include: apps, beta, innovative, viral, and any version of privacy/anonymity/hacks. Argh!

    • Justin P
      October 30, 2013 at 1:01 am

      Oh man, "hacks". I could ramble for days about "hacks", and perhaps I will. Perhaps. I. will.

      My list might be tainted by hanging out with industry people here in Boulder too much, but believe me: tech people are using these words. A lot.

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