COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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TECHNEWS

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Issue Date: June 2007

Webbleyew will do nicely, thank you

June 2007
Terry White

How is it that every time anyone on the radio who is naming a website says something like: “For more information log on to double yew, double yew, double yew, dot info, dot see ou, dot zed ay”?

When I hear this I cringe for the IT nerds who love their acronyms. They defend their use of acronyms because they purportedly make sentences shorter, encapsulating a complex concept in a few simple letters. It would be just silly to say: "Systeme, Anwendungen, Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung", or the English: "Systems, Applications & Products in Data Processing" instead of just saying SAP.
In this case though they have it wrong in my view: They have traded a three syllable phrase 'World Wide Web' for a nine syllable acronym. And we all fall for it, because that's the way it's done.
All this is a thinly veiled attempt on my part to introduce a new word to the English language for the www acronym. I want to call it 'Webbleyew'. How cool is that? Instead of the nine syllable www, we now have a chic new word! .
But in retrospect, this is as silly as the nine syllable www acronym. After not very deep reflection I reckon we should stick to "World Wide Web" - it describes exactly what we want to say without resorting to jargon and techno-speak. And it's shorter to say. Perhaps there will one day even be a www key on all computer keyboards - then we can call it the webbleyew key.
I came across this quote the other day: "TCPIP is just another mouthwash to the average business person." I love it. It confirms the other quote that I usually manage to work into the conversation within a sentence or two of uttering the TCPIP thing: "IT people are a silicon-based life-form, not really human at all." Which I suspect is the view of the average business person of their IT people.
Before you read on, think to yourself: "What is SAP? And what does TCPIP mean?" I've given you the literal meaning of SAP, but if you thought about it, you may have come up with: "SAP is an ERP", and "TCPIP" is something to do with network protocols." Certainly before I got onto webbleyew.acronymfinder.com, that's what I thought. Of course I had to look up ERP. (If you say ERP to the average business person they'll probably say: "Bless you! Was it something you ate?")
The TCPIP acronym is also a little silly because it has a tautologous meaning: "Transmission Control Protocol Internet Protocol." But the techies will know that the protocols in the TCP and the IP are different types of protocol and that it really should be TCP/IP, and that it represents a synthesis between LAN protocols and Internet protocols. (Now we have to look up LAN, because we are not that techno-savvy). Oh by the way, if you found yourself thinking: "That should be TCP/IP when you read the first TCPIP in this article, then have a gold badge, but stay away from users - you can't speak their language.
Let's get back to SAP. Because of course it means South African Police, to the majority of our population. Of course it means "Session Announcement Protocol" to the TCP/IP boffs. If you're in the US Department of Defence it means "Special Access Program" which may have something to do with giving recruits access to Universities. You might have "Severe Acute Pancreatitis" or "Systemic Arterial Pressure" if you're a hypochondriac. Or it might be part of the increasingly popular "Save America Plan". There are a further 250 definitions if you want them, but I think the point is that acronyms are obviously so useful, that everyone in every discipline uses them. SAP is a relevant acronym in IT, medicine, the military, academia, zoology and politics to name a few. (The good news is that TCP/IP is specific to IT only so there can be no confusing its meaning. Or can there?)
But the big mistake is to think that we are actually communicating when we use acronyms - because if the recipient of your message doesn't understand you, then you haven't communicated at all. The down-side is that the recipient will seldom tell you that he doesn't understand, because that makes them look dense and it is embarrassing to admit that they don't have a clue about what is being said. Very early in my IT career I was sitting in the office of our Systems Manager, a man who I regarded as a mentor and someone who knew everything. We were listening to one of his Project Managers talking about his project. I was lost beneath a barrage of acronyms, when my mentor held up his hand and said: "Louis, I have no idea what you are talking about!" And this was one techie to another.
That was a liberating moment, because I realised that there was just so much happening in IT that there was no way I could keep up. From that moment, I asked every techie what every acronym meant - I still do. It forces them to dumb down to my level and often teaches us both a thing or two.
The point of all this, is that while acronyms are useful, even essential, within the discipline you practice, beware of using them outside of that discipline. This means all business communication. This is also true of jargon - like architecture, servers, blades and virtualisation. These words have specific meaning to IT people (and over a few beers even they argue about that meaning), but they also have very different meanings in the real world. An interesting thing I found when I looked up "jargon" on Wikipedia, was that jargon is often used specifically to exclude others who are not in the know. And when a user tries to use jargon, they expose themselves as the dorks they are by almost always getting it wrong. Good for a laugh but not good for IT - business relations.
At random, I had a quick look at the webbleyew.CIO.com website and found this headline: "More than 2K sites now exploit .ANI security vulnerability". While this is important to CIOs perhaps, it requires some translation before it is business-ready and the security implications need to be distilled before communicating the facts.
I am often aghast at some of the internal IT newsletters which proclaim: "AD now active," and "Network upgrade improves response time." While the Active Directory headline is obviously meaningless to the average business person, the network upgrade one appears innocuous. But the headlines should really focus on the business benefits and leave the jargon in the IT department (response-time is jargon). The net effect of all this is not to bring business closer to IT. On the contrary, at best it makes them indifferent to IT, and at worst it alienates them.
Every IT department needs to review all their communications with their business associates, with an active jargon and acronym detector, and with the aim of translating IT-speak into business language. Is that dumbing down, or wising up?


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