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They used 'em, you reeled: the year's most overused phrases

Green cloud-as-a-service, anyone?

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Credit crunch and economic meltdown aside, if 2008 is remembered for anything in tech it will be for the domination of the phrase "cloud computing". The "cloud" was seized on by start-ups and tech giants rushing to catch the next wave or remain relevant.

The "cloud" didn't own the entire mind-share market in 2008, though. Here is our list of tech terms that were so overused and misapplied during the last 12 months that they began to lose their meaning.

The cloud

The industry rushed to wrap itself in the misty folds of "cloud computing" this year with a veritable fervor. Amazon, Google, Computer Associates, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and VMware all announced cloud computing initiatives, and Citrix, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Intuit, Symantec, and CloudNine are expected to do so shortly. But what is it, exactly? Software-as-a-service? Utility computing? Anything running on a browser outside the firewall? We're not saying that "cloud computing" doesn't exist or is wrong. More than $30 billion worth of software (by some estimates) was aimed at the amorphous mass in 2008. But we are wondering whether anyone really knows what it is.

Web 2.0

The term was coined by tech-book publishing and events generalissimo Tim O'Reilly in 2004 to characterize technologies, concepts, or websites focused on dynamic content, social mobilization, and user collaboration. It made this list because of the naming convention it provoked. It wasn't sufficient that Web 2.0 covered a whole brace of technologies, it was tacked onto so many other things: enterprise 2.0, CRM 2.0, marketing 2.0 and so on. And now we've got the endless installments. This year saw the first Web 3.0 conference and expo. Can Web 4.0, 5.0, or 3.1 be far behind? The next web is all about extracting meaning from the vast fogbank of web-based unstructured content. Sort of. Or maybe it's about "collaborative filtering," or "the post-keyword economy." And do we call it Web 3.0, the Intelligent Web, or the Semantic Web? In truth, Web 2.0 remains loosely defined - which makes it easy to tack onto everything from "enterprise" to "email."

Fill-in-the-blank-as-a-Service

Software-as-a-Service is a nice, relatively neatly defined term. It generally refers to a model of software deployment in a hosted environment and provided as a service via the internet. The concept was honed by Salesforce.com, but then expanded by that company with "Platform-as-a-Service," which spawned Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which begat Communication-as-a-Service, which spun off Monitoring-as-a-Service. And yes, Wikipedia now lists "EaaS (Everything-as-a-Service) as a legitimate acronym for the concept of "being able to call up re-usable, fine-grained software components across a network. Wikipedia adds that it's a subset of cloud computing. Head hurt yet?

Agile

Agile software development methodologies are finally gaining the purchase they deserve in enterprise development shops, but the term "agile" was so overused that the agilistos were all but driven to capitalize references to Agile methods. "Agile modeling" is a legitimate expansion of the term, to be sure, but how about "agile enterprise management" and "agile project management?" It seems as though every business application now guarantees to create an "agile enterprise." Online advertisers are encouraged to practice "agile marketing." We now have "agile infrastructures" and "agile service oriented architectures", "agile platforms" and "agile consulting" ,"agile testing" and even "agile IT". What we need is an agile editor with an agile red pen.

Green

Yes, former US vice president Al Gore's slide show of Florida under water scared everybody into "going green" this year - or at least saying they will. And yes, "green" can fairly be defined as meaning "environmentally friendly." But as a label, the term is as watery as a melting glacier, and it also offers some obfuscating cover for vendors. Is a product's low power output a flaw or an energy-saving feature? Could a workforce layoff be spun as "green?" Should virtualization systems get a "green" tag because they consolidate servers, conserving sometimes enormous amounts of power? (That one works for us.) How about software re-use? (Maybe not.) The term "green IT" emerged, and "green tech" newsletters are appearing that will either result in a quantification of exactly what "green" means when applied to computing hardware and software, or a further dilution. Cross your fingers. ®

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