Lacking In Communication

The computer
industry media

The media reporting on the computer industry generally do a remarkable
job of covering a fast-paced, increasingly important sector of the
economy. Trade industry publications, technical newsletters and
general business magazines all offer news, analysis, product reviews,
vendor ratings and personality updates. But the disconnect is alive
and well in the computer industry media because covering it over
serves the interests of reporters, editors and publishers. Without
the ability to recognize how the disconnect biases reporting, CEOs
and other executives will have a difficult time understanding the
real issues.
Again, the problem is not accuracy, but bias. Many journalists are
encumbered with two raging forces: their publishers and an instinct
for controversy. It’s not clear which force is more destructive
to judicious journalistic principles.

"Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between
a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."
George Bernard Shaw
Irish dramatist, 1856-1950

Publishers are
in the business of producing magazines and newspapers, right? Wrong.
Their business is selling advertising space, and to that end, most
publishers enter into an implicit contract with readers: In exchange
for advertisers underwriting the delivering of genuinely accurate
and valuable information to readers, publishers deliver targeted
and qualified prospects to the advertisers. This is the contact
and it’s a sound one. Most publishers enforce a clear separation
between the editorial and advertising departments so that no one
can accuse them of covering or favoring certain vendor companies
in return for advertising dollars. But a few publishers cut corners
around their publication’s editorial sections and blur the distinction
between editorial and advertising.

When that happens,
publishers abdicate an important role they could be playing in the
industry. They could offer an independent voice on behalf of their
readers, keeping the vendors, analysts and other self-serving groups
honest. But that might mean offending someone and there is little
reward in that. So publishers sometimes serve as accomplices to
the voices of friction, unwittingly opening their pages to more
hype and hokum.

Computer journalists,
like all reporters, have the sentiments or Hollywood scriptwriters:
They gravitate toward drama and conflict, two qualities not naturally
overabundant in the computer industry. Not to worry. If genuine
conflict and discord are not forthcoming, they can be produced.
And what’s the perfect metaphor for conflict? You guessed it: a
war. That’s one of the driving forces behind the computer language
wars, the database wars, the platform wars and all the other mythical
‘wars’ that are mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing for the
businessperson with real business problems to solve.

The ‘browser’
wars are a case in point. The technical press is having a field
day with the marketing contest between Netscape’s Navigator browser
and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, putting the event up there with
the Cola Wars and the Network TV Morning Show Wars. While to the
vendors involved, a lot of money is riding on the outcome, businesspeople
care about the trade name that appears on their browsers about as
much as they care about the name that appears on their fax machines
or pagers.

My point is
this: Appreciate the underlying motivations of the media and don’t
be caught up in its quest for melodrama. Fierce competitive pressures,
both economic and personal, encourage news coverage that is provocative
and controversial. In war, truth is the first casualty. This is
no less the case in the database wars, language wars and platform
wars that periodically entertain the computer industry.

Here are
two pieces of advice regarding the computer industry media:

  • Be wary of
    benchmarks or comparisons between products. The reported results
    of these tests may be weighted by hidden agendas, skewed by protocols
    designed to reach predetermined conclusions or just plain misreported.
  • Apply appropriate
    corrections to all figures reported by the media. For number of
    installed sites, decrease by 50%. For response times, increase
    by 50%.

In short, remember
the old credo cigar-chomping city editors used to growl to cub reporters:
nothing. If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Vendor-speak to English Dictionary
Do you ever get the impression that software vendors sometimes say
one thing but mean another? Ever wish you could get on-the-spot
interpretation of what the vendor actually meant to say? Here is
a quick reference guide for the systems, shopper:

When they
say this.
They really mean this.
"Completely open."
"There’s a 50% chance that it will work with your existing

at over 250 sites."
"Actively used by 25 sites, uninstalled at 25 sites, 200 sites
have filled out bingo cards requesting information."

interoperability among standard computing platforms."
"We’ll do Windows and UNIX first, but don’t hold your breath
waiting for the OS/2 and Macintosh versions."

hour hotline support."
"It’ll take us at least 24 hours to get back to you."

a completely new architecture customizable to you specific requirements."
"Architecture announcements we have out the wazoo, just don’t
pin us down on delivery."

"Our customers
have the benefit of scalability."
"Watch as we try to sell you bigger and bigger machines."

"We deliver
support for industry-standard application programming interfaces."
"We couldn’t figure out any other way to make this product
operate with any other vendor’s product."

"We operate
in a fully heterogeneous environment."
"If our product doesn’t work, we can always blame the other

object-oriented at the physical and logical levels."
"Out only object is to get payment. Good luck on finding the

from Techno Vision II
By Charles Wang
Published by McGraw-Hill
Courtesy: Computer Associates

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