Hey all, this is Andrew. I'm Director of Technology here at Concrete Websites, and I'm going to take the reins from Franz for a second.

I've been making websites for more than ten years – first as a production/HTML guy, then a web and database programmer, and now as a director of some very talented programmers. Through it all, a number of things have remained constant. One of those is the impressive amount of bullshit involved when talking about the web. For example, in preparing for this post I took a trip to The Web Economy Bullshit Generator, and while its layout is dated, its content is as hilarious and spot-on today as it was when it debuted. And as the web changes, new sites have arisen to chronicle its changing lexicon. Everyone, it seems, is hatin' on buzzwords.

Why do buzzwords get such a bad wrap? See, as engineers, programmers and information architects, we like precision. We crave it. However, language by its nature is mostly antithetical to precision; terms that get created to express complex concepts can't help but miss some of the nuance, because that's what language does: it distills the complex into something that a person can wrap their minds around without wanting to shoot themselves in the face. But engineers look upon this compromise between precision and accessibility with disdain, and as a result consider buzzwords a bunch of hokum.

I understand this distrust. However, as I've moved from doing day-to-day work in the trenches to more conceptual and managerial work, I've found myself engaging in the unthinkable: I've started to use terms like those so mocked above in serious and non-ironic ways. It started with AJAX, a decent word used to express a technical concept. Now I can't stop: words like "leverage," "scalable," and "monetize" are a part of every day conversation.

Why all the back-story? Hopefully, it convinces you that what I'm about tell you isn't the result of some knee-jerk antipathy toward "buzzwords." I use buzzwords. I think they have their place. I think they can assist in communication. However, when used in excess and in place of any actual content, they deserve to be mocked mercilessly.

Let such mocking commence. The victim? TechCrunch. Their latest article, Bill's Gold Watch, is bafflingly incoherent. Check out some of these quotes, as helpfully disected from the "article" by the second commenter:

  • "cloud infrastructure battle"
  • "made that platform relatively salivating"
  • "while Google methodically mows down the marketplace"
  • "going to consolidate Facebook's equity in social metadata and create a groundswell of OpenID adoption"
  • "warm fuzzy feelings for Web site owners who become part of an expanding network of reuse of the original log-in"
  • "The terms of service for accessing social clouds will normalize over the next few months as users gravitate toward sites that leverage their original investment in OpenID registration"
  • "producing affinity based on less work, common interface guidelines, and pressure on Facebook and outside clouds to modify their terms of service to avoid having to reinitialize access to their social data over and over."
  • "starting to accelerate in real time streams over Jabber and XMPP"
  • "allowing the kind of piping currently enabled between Gchat/Talk, iChat, AIM, and Twitter, which together produce a common set of streams that all are recorded and archived in Gmail's Chat repository"
  • "the last time we saw this type of viral spread, it was Adsense carried on the river of the blogosphere"
  • "social graph being formed out of the combination of follow and filtered Track"
  • "can provide infrastructure to model the unique characteristics of Twitter's dynamic graph using Facebook's avatars"
  • "can fit into this like a glove, feeding downstream vertical versions of affinity groups to skinned Silverlight containers"

Jesus. Come on! I first thought of this blog post after reading the sentence "It's not that Friend Connect is going to slow Facebook down; to the contrary, it's going to consolidate Facebook's equity in social metadata and create a groundswell of OpenID adoption which in turn will drive Open Social app development." Who actually believe this?! I'll talk to you all day about social networking, social bookmarking, and grid/cluster computing, but if someone opines in my presence about the "social cloud," they're probably in for a confused look, at the very least. And the sentence "Live Mesh can fit into this like a glove, feeding downstream vertical versions of affinity groups to skinned Silverlight containers." It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons, in which Lisa, upon seeing a sign for a "Yahoo Serious Film Festival," remarks, "I know those words, but that sign doesn't make sense."

Every industry and field has its echo chamber, in which nonsense is amplified to the point of credulity. The web, with its ability to propagate concepts so quickly and effortlessly, is probably worse than most. Perhaps TechCrunch is a victim of this. Or perhaps they're just trolling for article hits. But if you want people to take you seriously when you say something, it helps to actually say something! I'm convinced that's the true problem with buzzwords: they make it all too easy to write 500 word articles without saying anything at all.