Bingo!

Wow. Everyone loves Buzzword Bingo, but sometimes it gets a tad ridiculous. Back in July I got a gem via email. It started off with this zinger of an opener (identities censored to protect the innocent):

Program Focuses On Helping The Open Source Ecosystem Grow Sustainable Businesses By Implementing A Community-Leveraged Model

It then went on to say:

XXXXXXXXXX, a leading provider of commercial open source middleware solutions for database high availability, today announced XXXXXXXXXX. The program is focused on creating a rising tide for the broader open source ecosystem, and is focused on leveraging community-driven development and frictionless distribution to extend the ecosystem.

Shazzam!

It is interesting that when you remove the company and the specific announcement, the rest of the paragraph is completely meaningless. What exactly is frictionless distribution? Are the rest of us somehow lumbered with friction in our distribution? From what I can tell “focused on leveraging community-driven development and frictionless distribution to extend the ecosystem” is a lot of words for saying “focused on Open Source development“.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that language is a tool and a facility, and it needs to be carefully selected and worded for your target audience – the choice of language for an executive director varies from the choice of language for a member of the IT team, and that varies from the choice of language for a typical community member. It would be naive to suggest that everyone should consume the same words, but we have to draw a line somewhere between spiritless generic text and meaningless bullshit.

When I was a journo and I was learning how to write effectively, I became a big fan of William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well. This, combined with Strunk and White’s The Elements Of Style and a few books on journalism provided me with the chops for a career in writing. One salient point that Zinsser says is Don’t write like an institution, and it is something I have always taken as a core element in how I approach writing myself. His point is essentially the meat behind the point I was making above – don’t write meaningless institutional nonsense for the sake of it sounding professional – sure, write professional text that is carefully worded for you target audience, but there needs to be some real, accessible, understandable content in there

Lets look at this in practise. Lets take the original paragraph and re-write it:

XXXXXXXXXX, a leading provider of commercial open source middleware solutions for database high availability, today announced XXXXXXXXXX. The program is focused on creating a rising tide for the broader open source ecosystem, and is focused on leveraging community-driven development and frictionless distribution to extend the ecosystem.

My version:

XXXXXXXXXX, a leading provider of commercial open source middleware solutions for database high availability, today announced XXXXXXXXXX. The program is focused on growing the Open Source ecosystem by being a strong participant in emerging Open Source technologies.

…notice how I left in ecosystem and threw in emerging technologies to still play to the right audience. :)

Ding!

  • http://www.murrayc.com Murray Cuming

    When I was a journo and I was learning how to write effectively

    So what happened?

  • http://felimwhiteley.wordpress.com Félim Whiteley

    I’m sure with “Community” in there yours would be even more perfect :wink:

    Nice pointers on the books, I’m going to get hold of them as I’ve a good bit of documentation to write, and I fear my English is deteriorating into Fringlish at the moment !

  • http://www.kryogenix.org/ sil

    I note the existence of http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=%22creating+a+rising+tide+for+the+broader+open+source+ecosystem%22 which, when combined with the cache, will reveal the company in question :-)

  • RK

    This puts me in mind of Erin Kissane’s Attack of the Zombie Copy. Zombie sentences are easily recognizable: “syntax slack and drooling, clauses empty of everything but a terrible hunger for human brains.”

    http://www.alistapart.com/articles/zombiecopy

  • Mikey

    I know I am somewhat technically challenged. What is an open source “ecosystem”? Is this something new invented by Al Gore to help both the internet and the environment?

  • http://www.happyassassin.net Adam Williamson

    Yeah, I’ve always taken much the same approach here. Fortunately I have a proofreading role, which means I get to see most press releases before they go out, and I interpret proofreading to include cutting out all the ridiculous management-speak…I’m proud to have a 100% record in zapping “synergies” and “leverage”.

  • http://jldugger.livejournal.com jldugger

    Interestingly, I think it was Jakob Nielsen that said if none of your competitors would ever say the opposite, you’ve said nothing worth reading. It’s tricky to apply negation correctly. This seems valid: “The program is focused on growing the Open Source ecosystem by being a non participant in emerging Open Source technologies.”

    But one could imagine Microsoft saying: “The program is focused on shrinking the Open Source ecosystem by being a non participant in emerging Open Source technologies.”

  • Matt Jones

    Don’t you just know that everyone is just going to search google for mandriva, together with synergy and leverage.

    Interestingly, Firefox’s Spell checker underlines Mandriva, and as a replacement suggests mandrake. Might want to fine a bug about that one :smile:

  • http://www.happyassassin.net Adam Williamson

    Matt: you will notice I am an old hand in this game, and left myself a get out clause:

    “I get to see most press releases before they go out”

    sometimes the PR department forgets to send ‘em to me first, so I don’t get my paws on them. Any egregious use of management speak and Franglais you find is undoubtedly caused by this and thus not my responsibility in any way ;)

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