February 2008 Archives

Truth in irony

29 February 2008

I don't care whether this one-liner was intentional or not, it's just great:

"...not enough people even know what the word 'semantic' means"

BTW, I think Mathew Ingram is wrong. The Semantic Web won't fail because it's dull – it will fail because it relies on everybody supporting the same metadata formats and protocols. Which. Will. Never. Happen. (However, we might still get something that looks like it by merging the concepts from people such as Clay Shirky and Tim Berners-Lee - a number of AI researchers are working along the lines of "we'll take whatever metadata we can get, every little helps").

Bland leading the brand

23 February 2008

With some of the electronics magazines cutting back on their coverage of the electronic design automation (EDA) business, you'd think the vendors would be trying to do more to increase their visibility on the intertubes. Someone needs to tell the people who come up with the product names that, whatever they're doing, it's not working. The trend right now, particularly with the two largest companies – Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys – is to pick as anodyne and forgettable a name as possible and then coat every single tool they have with it.

One of them complained this week about not being name-checked in a recent feature. I had a look at why that was and immediately ran into a problem: I couldn't remember what the actual product was called. I could remember what it used to be called, but not its current moniker. That caused a bit of a problem when I went to the website I had to whittle down the list of possibilities by a process of elimination - and only because the company hadn't rebranded everything else in the meantime.

Take Synopsys. It bought a company called Virtio a few years back that does simulations of the blocks that go into system-on-chip designs. Then the brand police swooped in and called it...Innovator. I am so going to remember that. What was it again? To this day, in my mind it remains "the tool formerly known as Virtio". Unfortunately, that doesn't do a lot to help find it.

Let's whizz across to Cadence where every tool in the verification arsenal is now Incisive something or other. Now, the name NCsim was hardly going to set the world alight. But at least it was googleable. Now it's the Incisive Enterprise Simulator, unless it's the equally memorable Incisive Design Team Simulator. Not to be confused with the Incisive Enterprise Manager. OK Vmanager – Verisity's original name for the tool before the company got bought by Cadence – was not that much better but you can guess which one sticks in my head.

And the companies think these 'umbrella brands' are the best thing ever: even organising meetings to tell hacks they have just thought up a new umbrella brand for some group of otherwise unconnected tools. It's hard to suppress the response: "You got me here to tell me you're launching an umbrella brand. Are you kidding me?"

PR man Lou Covey has an interview with venture capitalist Drew Lanza at his site that, although it was recorded before EDN laid off two senior journalists, is well-timed. Basically, Lanza is not happy with the way things are going in this particular corner of trade publishing and makes some points that publishers should bear in mind as they try to work out what to do about the separation of ad money from their business.

Lanza is not trying to make an argument on behalf of anyone: his interest in the content of magazines such as EETimes and EDN is selfish. In short: "I made money on articles in EETimes".

Of course, it is highly possible that the content we have all been producing has really only helped VCs. But I don't think that's the case as Lanza alighted on the things that can set a newspaper or a magazine apart from other sources.

Unfortunately, Lanza is only missing it because it seems to have gone: "I know there is something changing and it is impacting the way I do business. There used to be a crystal ball and it used to be in these pubs. I'm missing the in-depth technology articles...it's going to be harder to synthesise the future [without them]. We make money by taking those views of the future".

Lanza is sceptical of whether bloggers can fill that void. "It is not clear that bloggers are going to be capable of doing that synthetic activity – synthesise a view from multiple competing smart people."

In reality, there is nothing to stop one or more bloggers doing that. But Lanza doesn't make the point on the basis of bloggers being bad at it. Just lacking the motivation to make it happen: "How will they get paid?"

What's useful about Lanza's comments is that we have had these debates internally for many years. What do we deliver as journalists? The answer, at least from a trade perspective and, very often, in a consumer or newstand environment is: context. What's happening. How it's happening. Why it's happening. It's handy to this kind of thing from someone outside the publishing environment.