The Dawn of the Web Tribe: Will They Ever Stand Erect?

The wind is flatulating out of the e-commerce balloon-and it’s making a really hilarious sound. It’s not the usual loose-sphinctered

The wind is flatulating out of the e-commerce balloon-and it’s making a really hilarious sound. It’s not the usual loose-sphinctered raspberry that one associates with party-balloon deflation. It’s the sound of a new and insane Web-economy lingo-and it’s getting louder.

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The Web has always been a jargon-rich environment (or J.R.E. , as acronym-crazed Web folk might call it); but as more and more dot-coms bite the dust, the gibberish is waxing. I hear it everywhere I go: It’s the sound of frazzled e-commercializers sublimating their anxieties and concealing the innate flaws of their ventures by enrobing them in ever more baroque and pointless babble-and I could not be happier, and more grateful. They have given birth to a hilarious and wondrously lampoonable language that may, ultimately, be the only meaningful legacy of the current Web economy.

I first became aware of this jargon-fest last year, when I called a Web-site designer and asked which of his recently designed sites were “doing well.” This creative dude replied, using incomprehensible Web-speak, something about “incentivizing scalable mind-share” and “envisioneering granular synergies.” I hung up and sought the help of a caring, Web-savvy colleague. She helped me paraphrase my question for future meetings. Apparently, in order to be understood, I should have asked, not “Are any of your Web sites doing well?” but “Are any of your recent architectures driving frictionless deliverables-i.e., have they maximized their cross-platform potentialities?” The Web guy could then have comfortably replied, “There is some portal friction on my deliverables”-as opposed to the infinitely less comfortable non-jargon response of “Nobody’s buying jack shit.”

Clearly, Web-ophiles are protecting themselves with euphemisms and jargon from the horrible reality of uncooperative, unpredictable, smelly, real consumers-i.e., shoppers (i.e, you). Nuclear warfare has a similar jargon system.

There are two primary reasons to learn this language: You want a job, or you want to shag ‘n’ snag a rich Web operative. Caution, you’re a tad late. Every day, more stocks plummet, more sites go kaput-and worse still, the insider lingo is constantly getting updated: e.g., off-radar (your site launch is “heinously behind-schedule”) was popular up until September; now it’s all about stealth sites (the launch is “incredibly heinously behind-schedule and may never launch”). But don’t let me put you off; even if you don’t achieve your primary objectives, learning a language has been clinically proven to help people like you develop feelings of international sophistication.

Unfortunately, Berlitz cannot help you with this particular language-but can. Log onto this right-thinkin’ site and avail yourself of “The Web Economy Bullshit Generator.” Web-ophiles use it to refresh their resumes and replenish their lingo for “business” meetings-but you can use it to create seductive badinage.

Three separate lists-verbs, adjectives and nouns-will appear on your screen. Hit the “Make Bullshit” button and scribble down the combinations which tickle your fancy (i.e., the more suggestive ones). Some of my fave double entendres: orchestrate sticky niches ; leverage sexy functionalities ; and harness front-end vortals . The magical hilarity of this little site will furnish you with some opening gambits for that moment when you get your Ferrari-driving cash cow in your sites.

Your next project is to learn word-morphing. It’s really fun and integral to e-speak. Examples: viewers + users = viewsers ; cooperative + competition = co-opetition . Put a commercial in a new environment and presto!- enviromercial . It’s important to keep coming up with new morphs; netiquette and netizen are already déjà vu .

My vivacious chum, Bonnie Solomon, senior muckety-muck at (a much-anticipated architecture that will take viewsers behind the scenes to interact with movies being made), is a non-apologetic jargon-generator and committed word-morpher. She is also the first person to say the words brand-agnostic , broad-band and teeny-band in my presence. According to Ms. Solomon, “Webster’s Dictionary is so boring-why use old words when you can make new ones up? Creating new words is our way of being sexy.”

Acronyms can be sexy, too. S.A.’s (“salacious acronyms”) were popular when I was a child: People wrote NORWICH (“kNickers Off Ready When I Come Home”) or BURMA (“Be Undressed and Ready My Angel”) on the outside of envelopes to lubricate and titillate recipients. I’m happy to see that acronyms have made a comeback and are raging throughout the architectures and functionalities (“offices”) of the Web economy.

“This is an A.R.E. -‘acronym-rich environment,'” said Talk magazine senior editor and writer Sam Sifton, who’s a pal of mine and whose hilarious book, A Field Guide to the Yettie , will be published-in a frenzy of synergy-next month by Talk Miramax Books ($10.95). ( Yettie is Sam’s word for “young entrepreneurial technocrat.”) Despite taking a sabbatical to complete the book, Sam has not quite recovered from this intrepid, Margaret Mead–ish undertaking. “Most of the time I had no idea what the fuck anybody was talking about,” he told me. “It seemed to me that the jargon-or bullshit-is just a way of masking the fact that nobody knew what they were doing.”

Sam’s book contains, among other things, the ultimate acronym directory. This could be very useful to you as you hunt down your prey. If you start dating a Web guy who is R.F.R. (“really fucking rich”) and you overhear him referring to you as having N.P.V.A. (“no practical vertical application”-i.e., you’re good only for sex), you should feel free to kick him really, really hard right in the middle of his Web-enabled portals .

If you’re looking for Mr. Right in Silicon Alley, before you even contemplate deploying your networks and niches (“putting out”), you owe it to yourself to learn how to figure out who’s a peon and who’s a head honcho. This is the hardest part. In the past, you would only have to look at his business card-or call H.R. (“Human Resources”). In Web-world, the H.R. department is invariably run by the creative team, who ungrudgingly devote most of their time to the reinvention of company structures and titles. Bonnie Solomon applauds this system, pointing out that “it gives everyone the opportunity to suggest the title they would like to have.”

V.P. of whatever has been replaced by co -something and chief of this-or-that: i.e., “I’m a co-founder and chief marketing officer.” The unstoppable Ms. Solomon predicts that “the next wave will be related to user experience , like chief user-experience officer and chief visionary/imagination officer , etc.” (“receptionist in the marketing department”).

Dan Ravine, of Web-design collective Kioken, is anti-title, sort of: “Right now, I’m sitting in APC jeans and a T-shirt. We’re just a bunch of punks, hanging out with weird ideas. Kioken’s title structure is nonexistent-it’s a think tank. But my title is producer .” As in movies? “We steal titles from English advertising, but we don’t believe in all this Web jargon. It’s a language of fear. If anybody spoke that way at Kioken, they would be publicly humiliated and fired.”

Evan Orensten, E.V.P. of global communications for Razorfish, “a global digital solutions provider,” also claims to be post-jargon: “Simplicity and clarity is lacking in our industry. So we decided to make anti-jargon part of our brand identity. We help customers recontextualize [ouch!] their business.” Titles? “We’ve gotten rid of titles per se. Razorfish is organized into four networks: the value network, the strategy network, the experience network and the technology network. Any project will comprise people from all four networks. Their role and their title changes from project to project.”


Figuring out the whole title thing is probably going to give you a migraine. Focus your energy on something more amusing-e.g., your look. After all, you are going to need a whole new wardrobe for your Internet-millionaire-bagging safari, and acquiring Web-realness is far more complicated than a trip to Banana. Whatever you do, don’t start shopping on the Web: e-commerce gives you a fat ass and makes you socially inept. Schlep to a store like a regular person: Bird, for example, located at 430 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is in the very epicenter of Web-dom.

Proprietors (and chums of moi ) Belle Benson and Marla Walker really know their customers, as I found out on a recent busy Saturday. “We cater to all types of Web-girls,” said Belle proudly. “There’s the slutty secretary-who is, like, totally not a real secretary.” Slutty secretary? Marla defined: “The successful chicks who work at happening companies like Viacom, or, they dress more midtown. It’s a hot, slightly funky career look.” She suggested a great A-line wool felt skirt with random white embroidery ($152), teamed with a really tight black-and-white wool turtleneck ($210)-both by new designer Alex Reiter. Footwear? Belle grabbed a sexy high-heel with a rubber sole. “It’s Florence Girardier” ($224). Accessories? “A convertible muff-what else?-with a hideaway zipper in baby leopard” ($120). “Fake, natch.”

The successful guys, according to Belle, gravitate to this look. “But most of the shoppers at Bird dress infantile, like chic French children,” she said. “We call them cyber-infants .” Feeling somewhat Margaret Mead–like myself, I grilled Belle. “Cyber-infant: It’s a hip look, though not great for getting laid. Cyber-infants are the creative chicks, the ones that are trying to reinvent the workplace. Most of them are never gonna make it-they work wacky hours and take their dogs to work. Rich boys prefer the Anna Wintour hot career girl, but we love the cyber-infants.”

Belle picked out a typical C.I. look: a plum straight-legged Bird private-label pant ($98); a red Camper swan shoe (on sale for $110); a red Petit Bateau turtleneck ($40). “Your hair has to be a short gamine. Or a pony-tail will do, but make sure it’s fucked up.”

I asked Marla about the personality characteristics of this rare breed. “They are really, really sweet, and they love shopping the old-fashioned way-in a shop. One day a cyber-infant came in to drown her sorrows because her property had just been killed” (her Web site shut down and she was out of a job).

I chuckled at this example of Web-speak, and asked the Birds if the jargon ever got up their noses. Belle responded, “We love the way they talk-it’s hysterical. They don’t even know they’re doing it.

“Chicks try on an outfit and then say, ‘This is on-brand ‘ [it’s “very me”]. Or ‘I want something more bleeding-edge ‘ [“more outré”]. The other day, a chick got really excited about these booties and said, ‘These shoes are totally mission-critical .'” (She couldn’t go on living without them.)

I sniggered. Marla didn’t. “It makes a nice change from all the clapped-out fashion jargon we have to listen to,” she said. Belle chimed in: “If I hear the words genius or modern again, somebody on Seventh Avenue is gonna die.” Amen.

The Dawn of the Web Tribe: Will They Ever Stand Erect?