Confusion in the jargon jungle

Incomprehensible marketing jargon is endemic in the tech industry, and should be seen as a warning to avoid the products in question at all costs

The scene: a busy newsdesk on a web-based IT publication. A story comes in from afar; a report from a major industry keynote announcing major new products.

The news editor glances through it, and decides nowhere is it mentioned what the products described actually do, or how they differ from each other. This results in an impromptu conference. The vendor's website — which invites us to spend many thousands of dollars on the products — is checked. After that, nobody is any the wiser, nor are they any better informed.

The vendor's PR is called. The PR begins to describe the products, but peters out half way through a sentence. They can't explain it either.

By this point, the confusion has spread to five or six people who deal with the commercial application of this technology on a daily basis — and one who is paid to be the company's interface with the press for exactly these matters. Not everyone can be an expert on everything in IT, but in this case the common factor is clear: the vendor. It is not describing its products in terms anyone can understand. Similar products in its lineup have similar names and apparently do similar jobs, but how they differ from each other is never made clear. How their functions relate to other, similarly named functions in products from other vendors is impossible to fathom. The licensing they require is obtuse, contradictory and, frankly, suspicious.

This luxury of confusion is unaffordable. Customers cannot be expected to pick their way through this semantic jungle, let alone come to a clear idea of what they might buy and why. Yet these maelstroms of maladroit marketing are endemic in the industry, especially in the enterprise sector, and it is easy to think that such confusion is deliberately engineered to bamboozle the punter into buying much more than they need — or even things they don't need at all. After all, who wants to look stupid by admitting ignorance?

The ultimate consequences of deliberate obfuscation are much worse than a few bad sales. The financial markets are in meltdown largely because incomprehensible products were allowed to poison the balance sheets of the world's largest controllers of money. They looked good, they promised much: nobody could understand how they worked nor what would happen if they didn't. But who wanted to admit ignorance? Who wanted to pass up the large profits being made by others who had subscribed to these ideas?

The use of jargon like gas to stun the prey is a poisonous and dishonest practice. It is the mark of a dishonest vendor, a warning that the products should be avoided at all costs. That is our defence mechanism. It is one we ignore to our cost — a cost that may be beyond counting.

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