Does Anyone Actually Know What Tech Jargon Means? An Experiment

If the phrases "circle back" and "touch base" make you cringe, then brace yourself because there's a new, bad breed of business jargon out there waiting to scrape your ears--tech jargon. 

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If the phrases "circle back" and "touch base" make you cringe, then brace yourself because there's a new, bad breed of business jargon out there waiting to scrape your ears--tech jargon. Like it or not, we live in a world where the phrase "swimming in the social stream" exists, as Daily Intel's Kevin Roose found out after one day of hanging out at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Thanks to Roose, we have a whole list of those kind of nonsensical, yet important sounding phrases. Warning: It hurts to read.

That's partly because we seriously doubt anyone — including maybe the people who uttered them — knows what these confusing strings of words mean. They're more like totems or symbols: words that suggest that they mean something important, but no one is sure exactly what. To test our theory, we recruited a panel of tech-savvy editors and reporters and asked them to define a few of the phrases that clanged through the Disrupt conference earlier this week. With our gratitude, our panelists consists of Tumblr executive editor Jessica Bennett, Tumblr systems engineer Mackenzie Kosut, director of social media for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek (and Atlantic alum) Jared Keller, Gizmodo senior staff writer Sam Biddle, Mashable business editor Todd Wasserman, and The Verge reporter Adrianne Jeffries.

"Now, let's talk about disrupting the disruptors."

Jessica Bennett: This hurts my head.

Mackenzie Kosut: Disruptor is a very broad term. It can be anything from new contenders in your market to sales calls disrupting your day.

Jared Keller: 'Disrupting the disruptors' is probably the only thing on this list that doesn't sound inherently stupid. I assume what's meant is innovating in a way that challenges the existing meaning of 'disruption.' Social networking has been 'disruptive' to people's media consumption habits for years, and each successive social platform (like a social network for crabs) is just part of the same family of disruptors (sort of). So, disrupting the disruptors sounds like a fancy way of saying "we're going to change the way people think about change." Or "I'm going to fuck shit up around here," if you want to be cocky about it (which, judging from the setting, sounds more accurate).

Sam Biddle: Someone horrible probably said that. The term disrupt is pretty meaningless, so this is just double stupid.

Todd Wasserman: The disruptors aren't to be confused with the interruptors, who are rude. Disruptors are just so damn brilliant that you don't notice how rude they are and they don't notice when they're being disrupted even though that's also kind of rude.

Adrianne Jeffries: I think this is pretty meaningless. It's just upping the ante. Disruption is the telos of start-ups. The best thing a startup can be is disruptive, so this is just a way of saying how super disruptive you are: So disruptive. If you wanted to give them more credit, you could say that now there's been a second wave of internet disruption like the wave of dot-com companies that disrupted certain industries have themselves stagnated and become complacent and it's their turn for disruption.

"Crowdsourcing app discovery-platform."

Bennett: This is not a sentence. These are just words put together.

Kosut: Anything that uses multiple crowds to discover places, content, news.

Keller: If this were "crowdsourcing app-discovery platform" I might be able to venture a better guess. Or "crowdsourcing-app discovery platform." But "crowdsourcing app discovery-platform" seems like a  confusing concept. Is this for discovering apps for crowdsourcing? Or crowdsourcing apps for content discovery? Someone should probably crowdsource better hyphen placement.

Biddle: That doesn't even really make sense, not sure what is being conveyed. Crowdsourcing is bad since the crowd is full of bad people, I don't want them choosing my apps.

Wasserman:  To really crowdsource you need a platform and it definitely helps if that platform has already been discovered, preferably in the form of an app.

Jeffries: Either a site or app for finding crowdsourcing apps or a platform that crowdsources the discovery of all kinds of apps.

"Swimming in the social stream."

Bennett: What I do every day in my Tumblr dashboard. Without clothes, obviously.

Kosut: Staying up to date on all the social feeds in your stream.

Keller: If it sounds like a line from an Alex Blagg video, it probably isn't something you should use in your sales pitch.

Biddle: Fuck whoever said that. TechCrunch Disrupt should be illegal.

Wasserman: Not to be confused with walking in the social stream or doggie paddling in the social stream, which is similar. The question is: Freestyle or breaststroke? The former is faster, but the latter offers an arguably better overall workout.

Jeffries: That's just a nauseating way of saying you're participating in social media.

"We're all about glocal right now."

Bennett: You've got to be fucking kidding me.

Kosut: I don't think I know what this means. Is that like wearing a tie-dyed business suit?

Keller: Glocal, like "global-local?" Why didn't they just say that? Portmanteaus aren't inherently awesome because they're pegged to the next killer app. It's as annoying as naming a new product Beak.r, (the social network for birds. Or chemists. Or bird chemists) or (which I do). Please. Everyone. Just stop.

Biddle: That's probably the worst one. Again, uttered by a moron I'm sure. His/her business will fail and I'll dance on its grave.

Wasserman: When you're feeling lonely, you can just consider that you're actually "glonely" because there are other lonely people across the globe who are made less lonely by this realization. The same is true for marketing strategies, although they don't actually experience loneliness as far as we know.

Jeffries: What the hell does that mean? I think it must be a joke.

"What's your current go-to-market strategy?"

Bennett: Something that people say at conferences to sound smart.

Kosut: If you have a new product, what's your plan to deliver it to your customers, and how is it unique?

Keller: Apparently the go-to-market strategy is to slam a bunch of buzzwords together and pray to God some angel investor funds you into outer space.

Biddle: That one at least sounds like something that an intelligent person might ask another person in the context of business. No asinine fake buzzwords. I guess it's just about selling stuff? I don't have an MBA so I can't be sure.

Wasserman: This differs greatly from a "run-from-market" strategy, which has proven mostly unsuccessful unless the market itself happens to be deceptively moving in the same direction as you as a sort of practical joke.

Jeffries: I think that jargon predates tech startups. That's like: "How will you introduce your product to the public and get them to use it?" If it is especially disruptive then you have to be careful not to blow people's minds.

We may not have made much progress in translating Disrupt-speak into English, but we do hope we've given anyone tempted to indulge in such jargon a sense of what their listeners are thinking.

Image by JD Lasica via Flickr.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.