November 27, 2006
@ 05:02 PM

Every once in a while I read something in a blog I find so ridiculously empty of content and contradictory that it makes me question the entire human race. Most of the time it's usually someone spouting their opinion on politics which sends me into this pit of despair. Today, it is Kathy Sierra and her post Why Web 2.0 is more than a buzzword where she writes

But to say it means nothing (or WORSE--to say it's just a marketing label) is to mistake jargon (good) for buzzwords (bad). Where buzzwords are used to impress or mislead, jargon is used to communicate more efficiently and interestingly with others who share a similar level of knowledge and skills in a specific area.
So... back to "Web 2.0"--I'll admit that this one's trickier than most domain-specific phrases because it wraps many different--and big and ill-defined--concepts. But when Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty (the guy who first coined the term) talk about Web 2.0, it represents something real and specific and meaningful. Over time, a lot of other people (especially those who've spent time around them, including me) have come to understand at least a part of what they've encapsulated in that one small phrase. "Web 2.0" may be the least understood phrase in the history of the world, but that still doesn't make it meaningless.
A problem with blogs is that it encourages people to not proof read what they write. On the one hand Kathy argues that jargon allows us to communicate more efficiently then in the same breath points out that "Web 2.0" wraps many different and ill-defined concepts together. That seems pretty contradictory to me. How is it communicating more efficiently if I say "Web 2.0" to Bob and he thinks AJAX and widgets while Jane thinks  I'm talking about social networking and tagging while I actually meant RSS and open APIs? We may be communicating with less words but since we are guaranteed to have a miscommunication, this efficiency in words exchanged is small compared to the amount of time we waste talking past each other.

I've made my peace with the idea that "Web 2.0" is here to stay and that it is such a wide umbrella term that it is effectively meaningless other than a catch all to describe Web trends have become popular over the past two years. However that doesn't make it worthy of being elevated to "professional jargon" unless your profession is slinging bullshit to VCs or trying to wade through which bullshit knockoffs of YouTube and you want to be investing in.


Monday, 27 November 2006 18:22:57 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Well, yeah, it was a stretch and I'm not a skilled enough writer to make this point in the way I'd intended. But I don't see the same contradiction that you do -- jargon doesn't help *everyone* communicate more efficiently, only the people who have a shared understanding about the ideas encapsulated in the word or phrase. The fact that some of what Web 2.0 means is still not well-defined doesn't change that.

And I didn't elevate it to "professional jargon" -- I referred to it as "domain-specific jargon" that is "used to communicate more efficiently and interestingly with others who share a similar level of knowledge and skills in a specific area." To me, "professional" is simply one subset of "insider" jargon, which is why I included jargon from sports and hobbies. That's a key distinction, so if misled you or other readers into thinking that all jargon is implicitly 'professional', then... my bad.

I acknowledge that at least one big difference/problem with "Web 2.0", though, is that those who first began using it (like Tim) DID intend for others to understand it more clearly. It certainly fails there, big time. But as I said, even if it's meaningless to a huge chunk of people, that still doesn't make it meaningless to all. I disagree with you that people are *guaranteed to have a miscommunication* when using it. A decent chance, maybe, but not a guarantee.

On another point... it's not every day that I cause someone to "question the entire human race." Either I have a lot more power than I ever dreamed, or you're being a bit of a drama queen with that one. (You may have taken my *personal blog* more seriously than others do.) Most of my regular readers already know that I'm more than willing to risk saying things that (often) turn out to be total crap. But... it's criticism like yours that help me learn to improve, especially in areas where some of my regular readers wouldn't call me out, so... thank-you.
Kathy Sierra
Monday, 27 November 2006 18:38:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The ability for people to get swept up by the tide of the herd or the mob is a trait I find quite disappointing in humanity. I would classify someone who I consider a fairly intelligent person calling an obviously empty buzzword like Web 2.0 'jargon' due to the fact that it has pervaded our industry... disappointing at that level.
Monday, 27 November 2006 23:02:22 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I thought the post was very strong. I think that you read it wrong... I think she meant something more social in nature around user behavior. Jargon is not a positive thing when not in the proper context.
Tuesday, 28 November 2006 00:01:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, I agree with you completely. I, too, was really surprised to see Kathy defending "Web 2.0" as jargon. Her response here questions your statement that the term will guarantee miscommunication, which may be fair.

To look at it another way, what is the value communicated by the term "Web 2.0" when exchanged by two people knowledgeable in the field? The value is minimal, but I guess there's something there. If someone says a site should be made more Web 2.0, you know they're suggesting one or more of a dozen or so concepts. There is some information in there.

It's a funny perversion of jargon. Jargon is usually opaque to the layperson, but very specifically meaningful to the insider. In this case, the jargon is only correctly nebulous to the insider, while the layperson may mistakenly associate a concrete definition with it.
Tuesday, 28 November 2006 00:48:39 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Anthony: "In this case, the jargon is only correctly nebulous to the insider, while the layperson may mistakenly associate a concrete definition with it."

I can't disagree with that. And certainly Web 2.0 is one of the best (worst) examples of this. I didn't say there weren't big, big problems with it. does mean something useful and real to *some* people, and that makes it a form of "insider" jargon, even if way too many people use it incorrectly, or worse-- as a buzzword.
Kathy Sierra
Tuesday, 28 November 2006 01:00:31 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, I actually never called it "professional" jargon. I said "domain-specific", which is a key distinction. Sports, hobby, and professional are all subsets of specialized jargon. And you're mischaracterizing when you say, "...calling an obviously empty buzzword like Web 2.0 'jargon' due to the fact that it has pervaded our industry." That's not at all what I said (or meant). The industry is full of buzzwords I'm not about to promote to jargon status. I called it jargon because there are people for whom that single phrase is meaningful and useful.

If it were "obviously empty", well, we wouldn't be having this conversation since nobody would be using it. So I can speculate that by "obvious", you might mean "obvious to thinking people." I can live with that, in my case it might be true -- but I'm pretty sure Tim and Dale think quite a lot... and not just on clever ways to perpetrate marketing hoaxes.
Kathy Sierra
Tuesday, 28 November 2006 06:23:16 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
It is a judgement call and a semantic debate, so I don't agree with Dare's absolutism. But still I think the weakness in Kathy's position is that even if smart people coined the phrase and continue to use it, the real deciding factor is how it got spun by the industry at large. This substance hit the fan and it blew out, like um, have you seen a hippo lay waste?

I feel the same way about the term XML in some respects -- that it began losing its meaning almost immediately due to the hype, and now the backlash is as a result of so many bad bloated things getting associated part and parcel with XML.
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