|By Hollis Tibbetts||
|October 6, 2011 02:44 PM EDT||
We're a society obsessed with labels. I don't mean Ralph Lauren or Gucci labels. I'm referring to labels that help us categorize otherwise difficult, unfamiliar, abstract and sometimes seemingly arbitrary things into various discrete buckets.
When applied to similarly functioning software, a label that "sticks" becomes a category - like Business Intelligence or Relational Database software. Categories are supposed to help us make sense out of things. Good categories do. But some categories just confuse things.
Categories Created by Greedy Manipulative Marketers
Back in 1985 there were "trucks" and there were "cars". If you drove a Chevy Impala, you drove a car. If you drove a Chevy Blazer, you drove a truck. Those were the two categories.
By 1995, if you drove that same exact Chevy Blazer, you drove an SUV.
So sometimes labels (or in this case "Vehicle Categories") get created out of a desire to sell more of something. "Aha, some people don't like to drive trucks, so let's change the label to something that sounds better...let's call it a Sport Utility Vehicle!".
You can almost hear the marketers conspiring to pick your pockets.
Then by 2005, SUV became a dirty, untrendy word and all of a sudden, people were driving "Crossover Vehicles".
So if you were driving a Lexus RX-300 on December 31, 2005, you were driving an SUV. That same vehicle all of a sudden became a "Crossover" on January 1, 2006.
Labels Evolving for Social Reasons
Labels evolve for other reasons too - sometimes because it's a "bad" label.
Back in the 1960's, pretty much any kid who was slow was "retarded". In fact, back in the 60's, my kindergarten teacher labelled me retarded as I was unable to write my own name. It turns out that I was left-handed, and this very old-school teacher was insisting that I use my right hand to hold the pencil. So to be a "retard" meant just about anything from a left-handed 4 year old to a child who suffered a brain injury at birth and was unable to even feed himself.
"Retarded" was a very mean-spirited label, chock full of connotation. So the label evolved into "mentally handicapped". Then "mentally challenged" and then "special".
People still call me "left handed", though. That label stuck.
Stupid, Useless and Confusing Labels
And then you have labels that "stick" and become stupid categories.
These are categories that are stupid because they do the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do - instead of helping people understand what the products do that fit inside the "bucket", they actually just confuse people.
Usually it is because they are incredibly broad categories, and the products that get lumped into the category do very different things, have different use cases, different value propositions, and appeal to very different audiences.
In an earlier article, I used the example "Food" as a useless category, as it could apply to everything from Pizza to Alpo to a rotting log in the woods - all depending upon what your frame of reference was. Nobody would launch a new company today and describe themselves as a "food company" - instead they choose more appropriate categories, like "Organic Dog Food" or "Smoothies" or "Frozen Yogurt".
Stupid, confusing categories typically get created in the early days of a technology movement. Any product that does not clearly belong in another (already well-known) category runs the risk of getting dumped into the new useless category, which is full of products that often bear little similarity to each other.
So in an attempt to simplify things for people by creating a label for a type of technology, it simply ends up confusing people and making the situation even worse than it was before. Completely the opposite of what a good category should do.
Stupidest Technology Category Award for 2011
With that being said, it's time to present the award for Stupidest Category:
- For lumping together dozens of vendors whose products do completely different things, for different constituencies, with different value propositions, and barely have the term "Crowd" in common.
- For being a really cool sounding word.
- For making it easy to think that crowdsourcing was just the next stage of evolution from outsourcing to offshore outsourcing (offshoring).
- For becoming one of the near-meaningless buzzwords of 2011
We present the stupidest technology category award for 2011 to "Crowdsourcing".
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