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Bill Bennett


Tag: language

How journalists and others use words and grammar to describe technology and business.

What reviewers mean when they say best ever

Samsung Galaxy Note 7Technology publications and daily newspapers are full of gushing Samsung Galaxy Note 7 reviews.

Samsung deserves much of the praise. It’s an impressive phone. Expect a review here in the next few days.

Where reviewers give stars, the Galaxy Note 7 either gets five or 4.5. When they give a percent the scores are often north of 90 percent.

Glowing praise

Many of the words reviewers use to describe the phone are glowing. One phrase that pops up a lot, is best ever. Some call it the best ever Android phone. Others are more general. You might also see best phone period.

Which means reviewers like it. But best ever?

On one level the phrase is meaningless.

Few Apple product launches pass without an executive saying a product is the best ever.

Of course an iPad launched in 2016 is the best ever iPad. Apple would be in a sorry state if this year’s model was worse than last year’s.

Language inflation

It’s not just Apple that talks about products this way. Everyone talks up their business. We’ve become immune to inflated marketing language.

Yet reviewers should be dispassionate observers. At least the ones working for respectable publications are.

When they say a phone is the best ever, they are passing an objective judgement. The implication is that they have seen lots of phones and of all they have seen to date, the one in question is the best.

Which it might well be.

That Apple logic applies to reviews. Most of the time this year’s phones are better than last year’s phones.

When they are not, that happens sometimes, it’s a big story.

Looked at that way, saying best ever is the same as saying new or improved.

Platform, ecosystem, environment: What are they?

platform, ecosystem, envirnomentPlatform, ecosystem, environment: people selling technology often use these words.

Almost everything in the tech world is one of the three.

Some are all three. Hence: the Windows platform; Windows ecosystem and Windows environment. Are they the same thing are are they each different? Likewise Apple, Android, AWS and so on.

The words are a problem because they are non-specific, even ambiguous. They rarely help good communication.

Often you can replace one of these words with thing and the meaning doesn’t change.

Platform; redundant, used badly

Or you can remove the word altogether. Usually Windows, Apple and Android are good enough descriptions in their own right for most conversations.

The other problem is that the words are used interchangeably. People often talk about the Windows platform when they mean the ecosystem.

There are times when you can’t avoid using platform or ecosystem. That’s not true with environment, the word is always vague or unnecessary.

Ben Thompson offers great definitions of platform and ecosystem in The Funnel Framework:

A platform is something that can be built upon. In the case of Windows, the operating system had (has) an API that allowed 3rd-party programs to run on it. The primary benefit that this provided to Microsoft was a powerful two-sided network: developers built on Windows, which attracted users (primarily businesses) to the platform, which in turn drew still more developers. Over time this network effect resulted in a powerful lock-in: both developers and users were invested in the various programs that ran their businesses, which meant Microsoft could effectively charge rent on every computer sold in the world.

An ecosystem is a web of mutually beneficial relationships that enhances the value of all of the participants. This is a more under-appreciated aspect of Microsoft’s dominance: there were massive sectors of the industry built up specifically to support Windows, including value-added resellers, large consultancies, and internal IT departments. In fact, IDC has claimed that for every $1 Microsoft made in sales, partner companies made $8.70. Indeed, ecosystem lock-in is arguably even more powerful than platform lock-in: not only is there a sunk-cost aspect, but also a whole lot more money and people pushing to keep things exactly the way they are.

Thompson then goes on to discuss why platforms and ecosystems are no longer as important as they were in the Windows era. His point is that in the past owning the platform and ecosystem was the key to sales success, today being the best product or service for a consumer’s needs is more important.

And that is great news for users.

Greetings and salutations: How to address mail

There’s a great post on this subject at Are greetings and salutations redundant in a mail?

Mail, or email if you still live in the last century, is a quick, efficient way of communicating.

It has a problem. People often come across as rude. Some people are rude. There’s no getting away from that. Others sound rude even when they don’t mean to.

To get around this, I start mail with ‘Hi’. If I know the person’s name I use it. This is respectful, but informal and short. It doesn’t carry any baggage.


Any other word here seems wrong. Mails that start with ‘good morning‘ or ‘good evening’ are polite, but make potentially wrong assumptions about when mail is read. ‘Dear Mr…’ sounds like something from Jane Austin.

‘Hello’ is acceptable, although it can sound twee. ‘Hey’ works if you know the other person well and want to sound jaunty.

I sometimes remember to write ‘Kia Ora’ when mailing another New Zealander. If the phrase offends people, then that’s an added bonus. It can get an odd reception from overseas.

There’s no need to sign-off with anything at the end of a message. I have a signature at the bottom of my mail. That’s to let people know how to get in touch. Nothing else.

Why I don’t like the term ICT

ICT is a dumb piece of bureaucratic jargon that found its way into the technology mainstream.

I say dumb because it confuses matters and makes understanding unnecessarily difficult. The term is widely misused as a substitute for IT.

Information technology

IT, or information technology, is readily understood. It refers to computers, software and all the other stuff used to create and process information. This includes the communications networks used to move information from one place to another.

Information technology can be complex, but we all know what it is when we see it.

ICT (information and communications technology) fails as a useful name because it isn’t clear and unambiguous. It is irritating and unnecessarily pompous.

The term is popular in some circles because it sounds more substantial than IT. Not because it adds meaning.

You could argue the word communications is redundant – after all most modern communications technologies are a sub-set of IT.

Blame public servants

It’s not surprising the term was first used by people in government. Pomposity is the public servants’ first language. But the term is creeping in elsewhere.

The Wikipedia entry for ICT gives a fairly detailed explanation of how the term is used as a synonym for IT but has a more general meaning that takes in telecommunications and other technologies.

We need a term to describe the bigger technical picture, but ICT is too much like IT and that leads to the two terms being confused.

ICT – We’ve been here before

In the late 1980s the term IT&T (information technology and telecommunications) was pushed as an alternative to IT. It was especially popular with Japanese companies that sold products into both sectors.

At the time there was much talk about convergence between IT and telecommunications. As expected the two industries converged and IT&T fell from favour.

Not issues: problems, stuff-ups, failures

Technology products no longer stop working or fail. Instead, they have issues. This is particularly true in telecommunications.

We had problems with a site hosted on an Orcon host. The company told me it was having “issues with a server”.

The issue meant it stopped working for 24 hours and was flaky for days after. That sounds like hardware failure or software problems.

When customers on Telecom NZ’s XT network had problems with data connections in October, the official company response said:

“Data issues affecting some XT mobile customers earlier today are now resolved. Some customers in the lower North Island and South Island using mobile broadband on the XT mobile network experienced issues from mid-morning.”

Yes, we are back to the crazy world of PR and marketing euphemisms. Some plain talking might be a better approach. Problem, stuff-up and failure are better words to use when things go wrong.