To buzz, or not to buzz

Not to date ourselves here but remember when a client was able to simply convey what they wanted in English? I do. Once upon a time a client needed A and asked for it. We made a few versions of A and they chose one, modified it, and we moved on. Now it seems to be the case that we have to describe things in buzz terminology that is often times vague, to say the least.

One that I am happy to finally see go the way of the dodo is “web 2.0”. Anyone in the space can tell you just how irritating it can be to have an RFP come across your desk with an actual bullet point stating “aesthetic must be web 2.0” or [and this actually happened to us] “this site should look very web 2.o-ey”. With all seriousness, can anyone out there honestly tell me this is a valid descriptor of how they want their site to look? Come now.

To take this example one step further, we actually did enter the exploration phase with them and were able to get comps out. In the end however, we were unable to dial the comps in to what they had in mind and the project died. Not surprising either as anyone whose best guess as to an aesthetic, despite several conversations attempting to pull from them what they really wanted, ends with a vague phrase like “web 2.0” is bound to fail anyway. I did manage to come across this client some months later with their “new site” up and running and as some of you might have already guessed, it was our comps (more or less) with a few images changed. Go figure.

Now that the Apple/Adobe war has heated up and developers are scrambling to figure out the best thing to do we find ourselves with a few new buzz words that, at least in our opinion, are just as vague as their prdecessors, if not more so. Let’s examine a few here.

First we have HTML5 [used as a way of describing what a page should look like or function like] : If I could do anything to nip this in the bud early on I would but I am afraid the proverbial train has left the station on this one. I suppose at some level this is a matter of semantics. I suppose it does not really matter, except to developers, that to describe a desire by saying HTML5 is simply inaccurate. One very funny article (which you can find here) goes through the differences between HTML5 and CSS3.

This article, aptly named “CSS3 is not freaking HTML5” does outline the technical differences between the two which is nice for those who care, but does not delve into the overall point that a good chunk of folks have ceased to care what these things actually mean, especially in the context of using these phrases to describe anything to your web developer, and are simply using them as shortcuts to describe a nebulous desire on their part. A huge issue with “buzzing” through an RFP or client request is that it allows the client the possibility to put together a nicely formatted document, complete with buzz words, that looks pretty but does not actually convey what they need. In other words it perpetuates a) their ability to be lazy and b) their ability to continue having conversations about how bad their web design company is for not “getting” their project.

Second we have the new version of web 2.0 which is, yup, web 3.0: As we have already briefly discussed, the first version of this was crap. The second version is no better. While I must admit this one is still fairly new, it is creeping up more and more. What is even worse is that I had heard this a few times months ago mentioned as a joke to make fun of difficult clients and/or pretentious development firms but now the joke appears to be on us as folks are actually using this with a straight face. Imagine a client coming to you and describing their project as follows:

“We would like to create a site unlike anything the internet has ever seen. We want to fully explore the boundaries of available technology to bring our product to our audience in ways not yet seen. We want to have a true web 3.0 experience. We should use HTML5 technology and really wow people.” — We are not far off from this. You have been warned.

The overall problem is that most developers are keenly aware of all of this yet the clients remain unable to wrap their heads around this. In a WYSIWYG world clients are afforded the opportunity to speak inaccurately and also reserve the right to get snippy when we as service providers don’t fully understand them. This begs the question, should we care? Should we just shut up and do it?

Buzz words are fun for a while but when they become a crutch for actually thinking about the specifics of what you want they begin to fail everyone. If your client is insistent on using them then educate, educate, educate. Once armed with better information it has been my experience that clients are much better at more clearly defining their wants and needs. While we as developers may be sitting on a conference call, on mute of course, ripping our hair out and screaming at the sheer absurdity of their statements, understand that a little education can go a long way.