Magazine article Information Today

Out-of-the-Box Experiences and Taxonomies: We Must Listen to and Decipher the Messages Behind Vendors' Words. (Quint's Online)

Magazine article Information Today

Out-of-the-Box Experiences and Taxonomies: We Must Listen to and Decipher the Messages Behind Vendors' Words. (Quint's Online)

Article excerpt

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." That's what you think, buster! We can all flash back to a memory of cruel and cutting words that sting long after the speaker may be gone and forgotten. Usually, the truer the words, the more they touch inner fears and insecurities and the more intense and longer-lived the memory. I've subscribed to TV Guide for over 4 decades now and, without the slightest provocation on my part, the editors of that publication struck me to the heart the other day with one word in a movie listing: "the story of a mid-century flamboyant Louisiana governor." The "mid-century" to which they referred was the 1950s! Arrgghh!

On the other hand, there's some truth in that childhood chant. Focusing on real challenges, real dangers, and real opportunities and keeping your cool remains the wisest policy. If words alone can push your buttons, then anyone with lips gets to manipulate you. The trick is learning to listen to the messages behind the words, to find the substance, and to detect the vacuums.

Out of the Box

The other day I was reading Frank Abate's and Fred Shapiro's Word Mine column ("WORD MINE reveals the stories behind the words we hear and read every day in e-business, and explores their usage and how much language has evolved.") in The Wall Street Journal (the Interactive Edition, of course). The article-"Outside-the-Box Thinking Led to Some E-Commerce Buzzwords" (October 4, 2001)-- discussed selected buzzwords and their current usage and earliest appearance. Oddly enough, with one exception none of the "earliest usages" predated the oldest digital archive for the sources cited. (Hmm. Do I detect a quickie column made possible by LexisNexis and/or Dialog and/or Factiva?) For example, I believe the term "mission-critical" extends much farther back than 1976, though that is as far back as you can go in Aviation Week & Space Technology's electronic archive. All right, all right, the authors did hedge their bet on this one by only asserting the quarter-century duration, not the discovery of the term's first re corded usage.

But the buzzword that struck my buzzer was "out-of-the-box experience" (OOBE), which the writers defined as "the initial impression a product makes when first opened and used." They further pointed out that "the success or failure of a product is often a function of the customer's experience, good or bad, in the first minutes after the shrink-wrap comes off?' The OOBE factor has become so important and well-known that vendors often use the term in making claims for the ease of use of their products.

However, one rarely sees the term applied to commercial online products and services. I wonder why. Could it be the conscientiousness of vendors when it comes to issues of truth in advertising? Or could it be because their marketing strategies still focus on getting the customer into the box?

In the past, niche-marketing strategies concentrated on boxing customers into complex proprietary software applied to a variety of complex field structures that were often from a range of data sources. The rise of end-user searching empowered by the Web and intranets pretty much blew that strategy away. Unfortunately, the vestiges remain. It seems that the Web offerings of traditional vendors--extending from publisher Web sites to database provider direct-sales outlets to search service packages-continue to require users to approach their products with a considerable amount of advance knowledge. Attempts to re-engineer services into products aimed straight at users' information needs are few and far between, are usually rather crude, and seem to quickly devolve into large, lumpy search results of the "there's a pony in there somewhere" variety.

However, at least the ancient vendors don't promise anyone an OOBE fantasy life. Many marketing campaigns seem to promise the moon as well as stars and galaxies yet unknown. …

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