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KnowNothing. Posted on 06/28/2001.

It's funny to watch the bashing of KnowNow's marketroid copy on Joel and Doc's sites, with pleas to Rohit (whom they both seem to know, at least through email) to straighten it up. (An example of the verbiage: "KnowNow provides Internet-scale event routing solutions that seamlessly integrate information among Web services, applications and users -- enabling the real-time enterprise to fully leverage the Internet to drive revenue, reduce costs and enhance business relationships.")

Thing being, of course, is that the founders aren't actually in charge there. They mortgaged their control in exchange for magic beans from Kleiner Perkins, the VC firm known for it's keiretsu strategies. And with that investment, KP placed who they wanted in the company, and you can be damn sure their Smart Strategic Input lead KnowNow down the obfuscatory messaging path. (They were also likely responsible for keeping KnowNow in "stealth mode" for so long, long enough for its competitors to announce similar products ahead of them and bask in the buzz.)

VC firms, in the last 5 years or so, have a remarkable track record for damaging the companies they invest in (the grow-big/built-to-flip strategy that led to the bubble bursting was VC-driven). The buzz I hear in Silicon Valley is that KP is particularly bad, resting on laurels of past success, convinced that their shit doesn't stink, and lording their standing over their investments. Not all VC is evil--I've heard great things about New Enterprise Associates (though their website could use a redesign), and I know some upstanding folks at August Capital.

On a separate note, one also has to wonder who on fucking earth thinks such marketing copy is worthwhile? Like, you see it all over the place, so someone thinks it has value... But who? Has anyone ever said to you, while pointing at such prose, "Now this--this is good writing!" When did such blathering begin? What perpetuates it? It's such a total mystery.

26 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Getting More ROI From Design."
Next entry: "Let's Continue to Beat up on KnowNow!"


I doubt that the KnowNow marketingspeak would have received any of this attention if "A-list weblogger" Megnut had never been employed there. More interesting to me is the history of the real keiretsu and their zaibatsu predecessors in Japan.
Posted by brian @ 06/28/2001 02:48 AM PST [link to this comment]

I highly recommend a visit to

The "LAQ" (lame ass quotes) section is especially good :)
Posted by Madhu Menon @ 06/28/2001 03:48 AM PST [link to this comment]

The marketing speak, in my experience, comes from:
1. clients providing all content, no-one who knows anything about the web ever looks at it.
2. yes, marketing people. I've seen them do it, they just can NOT help themselves. I personally think it is because they don't understand what's going on and using marketeese can hide that. (this sounds like bashing but I really truly have seen this many times).

The times that I have proposed alternative (readable and understandable) language, it's often the executives who don't want it. They spend a week writing this mission statement in marketeese and then they think it's really good and they want it on the site.

Posted by Peter @ 06/28/2001 06:52 AM PST [link to this comment]

I've seen companies trying to position themselves in the market, and coming up with this "what do we do?" brainstorms. The result is what we're talking about here...
Posted by Peter @ 06/28/2001 06:53 AM PST [link to this comment]

Marketing people write what they write because that's the way it's always been done. There was some original dumbass who penned the first marketing screed and mission statement (he was probably a university professor writing a textbook), and ever since then every marketing major has copied him.

The same thing happens in a lot of other professions too (like design). But the people who are able to transcend the lowest common denominator status quo have a competitive advantage.
Posted by Timo @ 06/28/2001 09:27 AM PST [link to this comment]

much as i adore meg, i think you're way overestimating her influence here, brian. knownow has some potentially remarkable technology that lots of folks are really curious and excited about seeing - and i think people are concerned that knownow digs its own grave as it succumbs to the mistakes of "yet-another-startup syndrome". i think doc searls and joel spolsky are likely more concerned about that than they are about the few months meg worked there.
Posted by judith @ 06/28/2001 10:01 AM PST [link to this comment]

The problem is that KnowNow's products are complex and their benefits vague or untested. There is no NTSB test for crash-resistance, Consumer Reports rating, J.D. Power survey, BTUs generated, top speed or purity of ore--in short, nothing tangible--for anything it sells. I'm not surprised that nervous executives might prefer the vagueness of marketing a "solution," as their actual products don't lend themselves to being explained (clearly or not) in 50 words or less. I've looked at their site and still can't figure out what KnowNow does.
Posted by Paul Kretkowski @ 06/28/2001 11:29 AM PST [link to this comment]

You're more than likely correct Judith. Sort-of-related : I just finished plowing through a backlog of list digests and was more than a little surprised to find that Rohit Khare (KN cto) had spammed the FoRK list (irritatingly verbose email including a Teddy Roosevelt quote) with something along the lines of a launch party peptalk/speech. BLEH =D
Posted by brian @ 06/28/2001 11:43 AM PST [link to this comment]

considering that it's his list (FoRK = Friends of Rohit Khare), i think it's probably unfair to label a launch party announcement for his company "spam"...
Posted by judith @ 06/28/2001 11:59 AM PST [link to this comment]

Yes, I know it's his list and (imo), the teddy roosevelt message is still very spamalicious. I think that it's possible for a list-owner/mom to post long-winded crap to their own list. =D
Posted by brian @ 06/28/2001 12:19 PM PST [link to this comment]

There's always unsubscription, Brian...

Anyway, back to the subject, Peter, you're right on as far as I'm concerned. The only people who read marketingspeak are other marketing reps and the press. The media, of course, is the sustaining cause...
Posted by Jay Allen @ 06/28/2001 01:45 PM PST [link to this comment]

"Adaptive Path offers clients rich experience developing a variety of usable systems, from architecting consumer retail startups to helping established brands move online."

Is there any worse marketingspeak than using "architect" as a verb?

Architecting? Excuse me while I go bathe.
Posted by Young Luke @ 06/28/2001 03:20 PM PST [link to this comment]

luke, do you say that because you dislike it when people muck with the language -- very french of you, i must say, to dismiss the evolutionary possibilities of language, including our oh-so-calvin-and-hobbes-esque "verbing" of this particular word -- or is it because you don't understand what "architecting" means in the context of the passage you quote, which renders the rest of the passage completely incomprehensible? or to put it another way, are you a language purist or do you just not get what Adaptive Path does?

just looking for clarification. there's a difference between intentional (or semi-intentional, anyway) obfuscation through linguistic manipulation, which is what the rest of this thread has been talking about, and our site, where i see the issue as more of one about folks who are just trying to figure out how to best describe what they're up to -- never an easy task, always something in need of improvement. i'd like to think we're the latter, even if its not immediately apparent on the home page. but we're working on it.

did you have a nice bath?
Posted by lane @ 06/28/2001 05:09 PM PST [link to this comment]

So I did a Google search and found 27,200 matches for "architecting." I still feel dirty.

To answer your questions: Yes, I am a language purist, and, yes, I suppose I don't understand what you do (I tend to mix you guys up with Shining Path). It's quite likely that I'm behind the times, because if "architect" (v. tr.) has entered the lexicon, I missed the memo, though I don't see how it would be an evolutionary advance.

An architect who says "I architected that house" would be -- and should be -- punched in the nose. Why is it any different for information architects? What's wrong with "build"? Every writing perfess'r I ever had warned against using two-bit words when nickel words would do, especially when you want people to understand what the hell you're talking about.

(For the record, I found your site pretty obfuscation-free, and I had to dig around to find this example.)
Posted by Luke @ 06/28/2001 05:39 PM PST [link to this comment]

For the record, I hate it when "architect" is used as a verb. I knew that when I criticized KN's marketingspeak, AP's would be subject... Believe me, we know our first pass at verbiage was a bit dispassionate and business-y... Though to Lane's point, it was decidedly not obfuscatory.

Now, Luke, as a word pedant you should understand that architect's don't build houses. Contractors do. Architects design houses. In general, 'design' is the verb that goes with "architecture."

Unfortunately, to "design" a Web site has an accepted meaning that isn't appropriate to the kind of work we do--we're not visual designers, we're not so concerned with the look of a site. We're concerned with the underlying structure.

A lot of our colleagues claim to "architect" web sites. It's clunky, but, as Google suggests, it's catching on...

On a tangent, I also have it on good word that you're not only a language purist, Luke, but a journalism purist, too, which I find far more worthy of our collective scorn.
Posted by peterme @ 06/28/2001 06:01 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, Peter, you did OK with "blog." I like "blog." Do you think you can come up with a synonym for "architect" (v. tr.) that's easier to wrap one's tongue around, or is it too late?
Posted by Luke @ 06/28/2001 06:12 PM PST [link to this comment]

Posted by jkottke @ 06/28/2001 06:15 PM PST [link to this comment]

Ah, thank you, Jason! I'd hoped to link to that story, but Harper's has no archive online.
Posted by Luke @ 06/28/2001 06:20 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, the first thing that pops to mind is to make a verb out of the morpheme "tect," which, if I attempted to popularize, would likely (and rightly so) find me pilloried.

And I enjoy moving my arms and head...
Posted by peterme @ 06/28/2001 10:18 PM PST [link to this comment]

Marketing drivel has always sort of amused me. My favorite is from Mylanta...

"MYLANTAŽ Supreme is in a class by itself. The first and only liquid antacid formulated without the heavy dose of chemical preservatives that give other liquids their bitter, chalky aftertaste." and this... "Rollover the images below to choose the MYLANTA that works with your lifestyle."

An antacid that works with my lifestyle and has a great chalky taste! That's exactly what I'm looking for.

Software that can provide "Internet-scale event routing solutions that seamlessly integrate information among Web services, applications and users -- enabling the real-time enterprise to fully leverage the Internet to drive revenue, reduce costs and enhance business relationships". That's exactly what I'm looking for!

Cluetrain says it all. Don't talk to your customer, talk with your customer.
Posted by steve agalloco @ 06/29/2001 08:12 AM PST [link to this comment]

Peter, you make a great point. In the technical world, we have designers, who do one thing, engineers. When someone says that they are designing a site, visual layout is the first thing that comes to mind. When someone says that they are building a site, I think of engineering development. There's no room in either of those definitions for what you guys do.

I think that language purism outpaces its usefulness the second it restricts actual communication.

Hey, what about "Arcking". :-)
Posted by Jay Allen @ 06/29/2001 10:53 AM PST [link to this comment]

I wrote about this when I did BuzzPhraser a zillion years ago. I just excerpted a surviving part of that and put it in my blog.

David Weinberger and I also wrote about it in the Cluetrain book. Excerpted here.
Posted by Doc Searls @ 06/29/2001 12:26 PM PST [link to this comment]

[damn greymatter dropped my post when I tried to preview. let's try this again]

I must say, this thread feels like I'm watching GW Bush berate Gore for not using "straight talk."

When it comes down to it, very few people are the target demo for The largest failure of the site was not bad copy, but its inability to redirect developer types (who most of us qualify as) to
Posted by bryan @ 06/29/2001 12:44 PM PST [link to this comment]

This SVJ article pretty much sums up what the KnowNow stuff is about. The developer site spells out the rest. As Bryan already said, it's a shame it's not more apparent from the press/marketing site.
Posted by scottandrew @ 06/29/2001 05:00 PM PST [link to this comment]

I was so amused by this post, I went scurrying around the web for jargon crimes, of which there are plenty... more than I'd care to cut&paste here. What I found weird is after reading about four of them, they started sounding acceptable to me, even sensible. I begin to understand the brainwashing power they hold.

And as for achitecting, how about "structuring" instead?
Posted by christina @ 06/29/2001 05:01 PM PST [link to this comment]

re: KnowNow's audience. As someone who spent the last 6 weeks and will spend 6 more weeks re-architecting (hah!) a website for an enterprise-level software company, I can tell you that the audience for KnowNow's technology isn't just IT people. They're important, but rarely the one's who start the purchase process. A website has to be able to get it's point across to the folks in HR, Marketing, Sales, whomever will actually benefit from the tech. KN's site does a terrible job of explaining the pain they help address. The Developer Site, however good it is, still only talks to IT.

Re: "structuring": That doesn't seem right. I mean, I think the correct verb *is* "design." We would just have to work to take it back from the graphic designers.
Posted by peterme @ 06/30/2001 09:44 AM PST [link to this comment]

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