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.
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 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, allowing users to take advantage of the storage and computing power of massive data centers (though even this designation is disputed).
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…”
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.
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.
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.
And software that makes creating “memes” easy isn’t helping.
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.
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.
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.