“Real Artists Ship”

Colin Johnson’s blog


Archive for May, 2020

Big Scary Words

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

I once saw a complaint about a crowdfunded project that was going awry. The substance of the complaint was that, in addition to their many other failings, the people funded by the project had used some of the money to set up a company. Basically: “I paid you to make a widget, not to waste my money setting up a company”. There’s an interesting contrast in the view of the word “company” here. To someone in business, spending a few hundred pounds to register a company is a basic starting point, providing a legal entity that can take money, hold the legal rights to inventions in a safe way, provide protection from personal bankruptcy, etc. But to the person making the complaint, “setting up a company” no doubt meant buying a huge office building, employing piles of accountants and HR departments, and whatnot.

We see a similar thing with other terms—some things that are part of normal business processes sound like something special and frightening to people who aren’t engaging with these processes as part of their day-to-day life. For example, your data being put “on a database” can sound like a big and scary process, something out-of-the-ordinary, rather than just how almost all data is stored in organisations of any substantial size. Similarly, “using an algorithm” can sound like your data is being processed in a specific way (perhaps rather anonymous and deterministic—the computer “deciding your fate”), rather than being a word used to describe any any computer-based process.

We need to be wary of such misunderstandings in describing our processes to a wider public.