Chief Googler’s ‘amazing’ clichés are dull and void
By Lucy Kellaway
When Larry Page opted to spend $12.5bn of Google’s money on some mobile handsets, patents and set-top boxes, he described his thinking thus:
“Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.”
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These 32 words were last week repeated uncritically in newspapers all over the world, but no one seems to have stopped to wonder: what on earth was he on about?
On Twitter a few people squirmed at Motorolans and Googlers. “Is this some dreadful 1950s sci-fi B movie?” someone tweeted. Otherwise Mr Page’s statement slipped down easily enough. At first sight, it appears to be more or less in English, with no leveraging or scaling or reaching out. However, on closer study it turns out to be devoid of any meaning: I have been trying to translate it into simpler language, but can’t find anything to grab hold of.
The reason it slips down so easily is that if you ignore words like “the” and “we”, the cliché content is close to 100 per cent. Indeed he has jammed so many into such a tight space that it is worth doing a little unpacking, word by word, to see if some meaning can be found after all.
Together. This gets the message off to just the right stirring, inclusive, democratic start. All takeovers have to been seen in terms of togetherness, even when, like the acquisition of Motorola Mobility, they are defensive and more about patents than people.
Create. This is the verb of the moment, preferred always to “make”, “produce” or “sell”, because it is so much more, well, creative.
Amazing. Nothing could be less amazing than to find this adjective used here. The only amazing thing is how inappropriate it is. To amaze means “to fill with great surprise or sudden wonder”, but when I go out to buy a mobile phone, sudden wonder and great surprise are not top of my shopping list.
User experiences. I’m taking these two words as a pair, and a wretched pair at that. What is a user experience exactly? Are you having a user experience as you read this column? If so, I hope it’s amazing.
Supercharge. It seems that no modern leader, or at least no modern male one, can resist the idea of sticking extra voltage into whatever he’s talking about, even if the thing itself wasn’t built for it. David Cameron last week said that he wanted to put “rocket boosters” under the welfare system, which sounds like a poor scheme to me.
But the Ecosystem is even less suited to receiving additional power, as the point about ecosystems is that they generally like to be left alone. It is anyway a tired and not especially useful metaphor which, like DNA, is supposed to glance at something elemental and natural, whereas mobile phone software is surely as unnatural as it comes.
Entire. One can’t ever have too much emphasis in a statement of this sort. Never mind that it’s a nonsense in this case, as an ecosystem is by definition entire as it doesn’t come in halves.
Benefit. There is nothing wrong with this word, though one queries the use here. The point of the deal surely isn’t to benefit consumers, etc, surely it is to make money and beat patent with patent.
Partners. This is a weasel noun which pretends that the companies Google does business with have the same interests as its own. In fact the “partners” to whom Google currently supplies its Android “ecosystem” are surely feeling pretty scared about a deal in which Google now owns one of their competitors.
Family. If Google is a family, is Larry Page the father? In that case he’s gone a bit over the top in having 29,000 kids of his own at Google and now adopting a further 19,000. That’s even more than Angelina Jolie. The point about families is you can’t choose them, you share towels and toothbrushes, you look like them, you love them and hate them and are pretty much obliged to have Christmas dinner with them – none of which applies to Googlers or Motorolans. The family metaphor is sound on one thing: when another family is acquired by marriage the step children are guaranteed to hate each other.
Thinking about these clapped out business clichés, I’ve had a sudden revelation. You can put them in a different order and the meaning is the same. Consider this:
Consumers, partners and developers will together supercharge the entire user experiences to create amazing benefit for the Android family of ecosystems. I defy anyone to say this isn’t just as good as the original. In fact, I think I rather prefer it.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.