Any technologist knows a good abbreviation or acronym can propel an obscure technology or term to rock-star status. (Well, at least that's what seems to be the commonly held opinion among some techies.)
Apparently, Tim Berners-Lee didn't think so when he created the World Wide Web.
Legend has it that Berners-Lee (or should that be BL or B-L?) partly picked "World Wide Web" to thwart use of an acronym: in English, "WWW" is the longest possible three-letter acronym to pronounce, requiring nine syllables -- versus only three syllables for the full name. According to Wikipedia, the late Douglas Adams once quipped: "The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it's short for."
In business the same alphabet-soup thinking seems to pervade, as if we save SO MUCH TIME using 2, 3 or 4 letters (or sometimes more) versus the full name of something.
"Hey, Joe. Marie in HR called down to IT to talk about the ERP system having problems with the XML scripting. She said to get back to her ASAP."
I guess this is our way of creating an insider feel, an exclusive club. But, real problems seem to arise when a well-known acronym or abbreviation is used by a new concept.
In talking to a small business client recently, he mentioned his SEO (Search Engine Optimization) guy said he needed to increase his PR. I'm a marketer. I've never heard it put that way before, but I know what PR is. Hell, I don't even need to tell you, right?
But, the more he talked about his PR, the more I wondered what he was talking about. He said he thought he needed higher PR. (I thought he might want to confer with the Pope. Then I rethought that, based on recent Papal PR efforts.) He said, only some pages on his website have good PR. (I thought that was normal. Most pages are not about PR, they might be about service, delivery, process and other elements of the business.) Finally, he asked me what I thought he could do to increase his PR. At this point, I stopped him and asked him what he was taking about.
"PR is PageRank," he said. That's what his SEO guy calls it, I guess.
Ah, a techie doing marketing. Anyone in marketing knows the two letters "PR" mean one thing: Public Relations. Up till now, I'd been impressed with this client's SEO guy and his search engine position. But techies using terms like PR mark themselves as amateurs in the marketing ranks. (I'll give him a PR of 2 as a venerable source for marketers, although with some work, he could raise his rank in the future.)
PageRank is something familiar to me, and something that marketers should know. It is one of the differentiating elements in the Google search architecture and one of the main methods Google uses to determine a page’s relevance or importance. (See The Anatomy of a Search Engine, the 1998? Stanford paper on the topic, by two guys who know a little about the subject: Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.)
My problem with the use of PR by the SEO guy and my client is just this: Why do it? And why use it when PR is such a widely recognized term -- especially in the marketing world? I know, I know. IT guys love the buzz words, acronyms and abbreviations. But if they want to be accepted and understood in the marketing world -- where they can have such a great impact -- they need to learn the language and respect the sacred ground.