2014's top ten technology buzzwords to learn and to avoid

Not all buzzwords are bad. Some actually convey an idea, a concept, or a valid technology. However, some exist to confuse, distort, and empower those who don't want you to know what they're talking about.

I say this a lot, but I hate buzzwords—technology ones and otherwise. Every discipline has its three-letter acronyms (TLAs) and its own jargon, but technology attracts more than its share. I understand buzzwords, but when they're used so frequently that I can't follow what's being said, there's something to fear about the message and the messenger. My goal in this post is to help you learn the buzzwords, to help you discover their true meanings, to help you discern the real from the fake, and to help you avoid those entities who use them too often.

The terms are in no particular order.

Deep Web - The so-called "deep web" describes websites that aren't cataloged in any of the Internet's surface search engines, such as Google and Yahoo!. These sites typically are controlled by those who wish to remain anonymous in some way, although, if they were truly anonymous, no one would know about them and there'd be no point at all to their existence. Fans of these sites access them with an allegedly anonymous browser called Tor. 

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Deep web sites are famous for scams, porn, file sharing, illegal activities (use your imagination), and bitcoin exchanges. The truth is that there is no deep web. But what's known as the deep web, you don't want any part of it, unless you're into illegal activities under the guise of desired anonymity that you won't actually have.

Gamification - Companies have started using what they call "gamification" to foster more user input and to create an air of creative competition to help improve services, engage users, gather more customer input, and a range of other reasons. Gamification attempts to use competition toward a goal through point systems, rewards, and other incentives to participate and to excel inside the gamified environment.

Whatever you call it, gamification can be a positive business model when applied appropriately and thoughtfully. Many marketing groups use it, software communities use it, and some technology support collectives use it to boost morale and to prevent burnout. It's a concept worth knowing and employing.

Cloud - What buzzword dictionary or analysis would be complete without including the term, Cloud? The answer is none. Cloud is one of those terms tossed around by everyone and unfortunately few really understand what it is. Cloud is a generic term for commoditized services, such as storage or workload computing power. Under the layers of other related buzzwords, there is hardware—computers with memory, storage, operating systems, and network connections running it all. I think that a lot of people forget that there's actually computers and software running the Cloud and cloud services. There are also people who maintain and manage those services. 

Cloud is an overused, but necessary term. The Cloud does exist, but there are private clouds, public clouds, and hybrid clouds that combine the attributes of both of the other two to provide services to employees and to customers. Cloud security is a real concern for users and for businesses. The Cloud isn't inherently unsecure, but its sheer size creates a larger and more prominent attack vector for those with malicious intent.

The Cloud and cloud-related services are worth learning about and exploring. It isn't a buzzword that's going to disappear anytime soon. Learn to live with it and embrace what it brings to you and your business.

Wearable Computing - Watches and "smart" bands make up the bulk of what's known as wearable computing. These devices perform such basic functions as cell phone service, health monitoring (heartbeat, body temperature, pulse), music streaming, GPS location, and a few other non-essential services. Wearable devices are where cell phones were 15 to 20 years ago in that they have limited functionality, high prices, and few adopters. Wearable computing is in its infancy, but is expected to grow over the next few years, and like cell phones, such devices will be part of our regular lives.

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A note of caution to early adopters of wearable computing: You're going to spend a lot of money to purchase a device that won't be supported in two years or less. The reasons are simple. Most of the companies creating wearable devices will be out of business or technology will have surpassed the devices so significantly that they're virtually unusable. Think about the Palm Pilot and other PDAs before you delve into your bank account for these devices.

Think about it. People don't wear watches because you have clocks on your cell phones, tablets, and computers. There's really no need for a wristwatch type device. The health applications are somewhat interesting, but if you want to know your pulse rate, you can just check it yourself with your index finger and your wrist.

Apps - The new software paradigm is apps. Apps are applications that run on cell phones, tablets, and computers, such as the Chromebook. There's an app for everything. Many are free. Some free ones give you the capability to purchase add-ons through in-app dialogs. Apps are what we used to call programs or applications. These days they're just apps.

Apps aren't simply an annoying buzzword, they're here to stay. Apps are the new method of interacting with your computing devices. Most apps require very little prior knowledge and are designed to be extremely intuitive and user friendly. Users interact with apps using gestures, which are swipes, taps, and press and holds. Most gestures are one hand capable meaning that you use one hand to hold the device and the other to interact with it.

Apps are a reality. Learn them. Live with them.

Big Data - Data drives everything that we do. If you think about it, data has always been big. We've always fretted about data storage, since the beginning of the computer age. As far back as I can remember, data has always been a problem, but not always a popular buzzword. It simply means huge amounts of data flowing into and out of a computing environment.

The handling of big data comes with its pain points. First, you have to have the capacity to store it. Second, you have to be able to transport it securely and quickly. Third, you have to figure out what to do with it—retain, archive, or delete. Finally, there's the problem of using "big" data. How do you efficiently store and retrieve the data you need when there's so much of it? That's the problem that companies such as IBM, HP, Dell, and others attempt to solve for you.

Data has always been big and there's no sign of it shrinking. People love data. We can't get enough of it. We consume it faster than we consume oil. We spend a lot of time with data. Data is our life. It's not big data, it's just data.

The Internet of Things (IoT) - If there was ever a bandwagon to jump on, this is it. IoT is the hot new thing. The problem is that most people, even technology people, have no clue what IoT really means. Sure they might know the definition, but they don't know what it really means to them, to the economy, or to data volumes. The Internet of Things means simply that you can gather data on just about everything using small sensors and WiFi connectivity.

The data gathered can be complex, such as weather data or as simple as an ON/OFF signal from an actuator opening and closing. The Internet of Things has yet to really catch on, but it's just as likely to catch on in your home as in your business. For example, you can setup an alarm system in your home that you control with an app. (See how all of these things relate to one another?) So-called smart homes aren't new. In fact, a company called X10 has been using this technology for almost 40 years. They waited a long time to become new again.

Watch for companies moving into IoT in a big way over the next couple of years. A word of caution for would-be get rich quick investors: Invest with brands you know. They're in for the long haul.

Hyperconverged/Hyperconvergence - The term has gone through several iterations over the years, but it began life as "Integrated". I suppose that the word integrated is too trite for today's tastes. But it means integrated. Generally speaking, hyperconverged means a system that combines storage, networking, and compute in a small footprint. It refers to infrastructure. You'll hear industry types using the term hyperconverged infrastructure. It means that the system is integrated with all of the necessary "stuff" required to provide a service. You know, like an enterprise class server or small cluster of servers. It is now, hyperconverged.

Hyperconvergence is a buzzword in its purest form. It has no real meaning on its own and a flimsy one when applied to computer hardware and software. This is a buzzword to be ignored. Those who use it only have a surface knowledge of what it really means. If you hear someone using it, ask them the difference between hyperconverged and integrated. Perhaps I'll coin a new term: hyperintegrated.

Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) - So few people have a grasp on what this one means, it's almost laughable, that is if it wasn't so sad. I won't even use my own words to describe this one, when IBM does a much better job of it:

  • A set of services that a business wants to provide to their customers, partners, or other areas of an organization
  • An architectural style that requires a service provider, mediation, and service requestor with a service description
  • A set of architectural principles, patterns and criteria that address characteristics such as modularity, encapsulation, loose coupling, separation of concerns, reuse and composability
  • A programming model complete with standards, tools and technologies that supports web services, REST services or other kinds of services
  • A middleware solution optimized for service assembly, orchestration, monitoring, and management

Now that you have the IBM definition, do you know what SOA is? I didn't think so. The bottom line is that SOA is a buzzword that could use an overhaul or deletion. Someone once asked me snarkily what SOA is. It was clearly a trap. I answered in kind with, "Do you?"

Data Privacy - Since the NSA's alledged spying was brought to light by overpaid, underqualified, trained-as-a-spy Edward Snowden, much has been said and written about data privacy. Here, in a nutshell, is what data privacy is: Nonexistent. You know what's private? Only the thoughts in your head. And that's only if aliens aren't tapping into your brainwaves (cue to don your tinfoil hats). There is no such thing as data privacy.

If you write it down, it can be stolen. If you email it, someone can hijack it and read it. Everything you do, say, and write is recorded. Your email isn't private. Your browsing history isn't private, even in Incognito mode. And not even if you use Tor and Bitcoin. Sorry foil hat wearers, there's nowhere to hide. And unless you're doing something illegal, there's no reason to hide. 

The same people who are so concerned about data privacy still use cell phones in public, still post to Facebook, still tweet, still blog, still pontificate at local coffee shops and oxygen bars. If you really want to keep your precious privacy, shut up, unplug, burn your social security card, and stop using computers, credit cards, and public WiFi. Otherwise, you have no privacy. You're not anonymous.

These are my top ten buzzwords. What are yours? Talk back and let me know. Who knows, maybe I'll post a second list.

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