In a recent presentation I attended, the speaker warmed up with a couple of bulleted lists that outlined the agenda of the session before moving onto his third slide that was clearly many days, work of stitching together powerpoint glyphs and figures in a sort of three dimensional loop that attempted to show the progression of software APIs around the evolution of networked computing. It was utterly baffling and the more I stared at it, the more I felt I was looking at some kind of latter day Escher drawing. I gazed around the room and saw most of the other attendees on their laptops distracted by their chat or e-mail clients, however amongst those of us who weren't using the session as down time in their schedule, I saw no-one question the meaning of the figures, or the information it was attempting to convey. The speaker was extremely proud of it however, and lingered on the slide for about twenty minutes as he waved his arms and spoke of REST, ATOM, Ruby, and a plethora of other acronyms that apparently were all part of the Web 2.0 solar system.
This editorial isn't a diatribe against Web 2.0, far from it, it's against the vast overuse of meaningless diagrams that presenters use to confuse, impress, and befuddle their audience. Part of this I believe stems from an insecurity of the speaker to actually understand their subject matter, and seemingly complex figures are used as a sort of crutch to fall back onto and mask the lack of content. A lot of this probably dates back to high school Math or Science classes, where the apprentice PowerPoint maestro had long since lost the plot of what the teacher was discussing, but noticed that as some of the problems got harder diagrams were introduced to help illustrate the ideas being taught. To the confused yet cunning child the association was clear; if the teacher could impress the audience with impressive looking figures, then in later life when the student was given the task of being the presenter, if they just skipped the content part and showed figures with boxes and lines between them, then they too would assume the role of authority their teacher commanded. It's sort of based on the bigger fool theory, which states that in life you don't need to be smart, you just need to be smarter than the next guy you're trying to fool. Rather like the apocryphal tale of two hunters running from an angry bear where one of them stops to put on his sneakers and the other remarks how he'll never outrun the bear, he replies that his intention is to merely outrun his partner. In presentations if the figure is meaningless and has no content, then if the goal is to impress the audience who are too nervous to challenge the emperor's naked ignorance, the speaker has outrun his pupils and achieved the respect originally given to the teacher.
Wikipedia defines a diagram as a "simplified and structured visual representation of concepts and ideas to visualize and clafiry the topic". This definition should apply to software as well as any other discipline, and as a profession we need to do more to challenge ludicrous and meaningless figures that add no value, and strive more towards simplicity so that topics and ideas are made more consumable and understood, and the peddlers of complexity are run out of town with both their sneakers firmly tied.
About Joe Winchester Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.
Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1
Frank Smieja commented on 24 Aug 2007
In general i agree with what the author is saying, particularly with regard to non-probing, non-inquisitory audiences. What indeed is the point of attending a lecture or talk if you don't actually want to question what is being said and reconcile with your own view of things, or find relevance to what you are trying to achieve? we are surely not all sponges, and if someone is throwing up a picture of something complex then it better enable me to gain more insight into the subject, or i am wasting my time.
Would have been good for the author to have attached a diagram or two to illustrate his point though. (i hope that is not being contradictory now!)
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicat...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even cod...
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Busin...
DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the ...
Your registrations includes: Golden Pass Delegates will receive full conference access on October 20-22, 2008 including: Lunch and Coffee Breaks, Collectible Bag and Archives of all sessions on DVD. Includes access to all Conference Sessions including the Technical Sessions, Exhibits, Keynotes, Vendor Technology Presentations, and Power Panels.
AJAXWorld offers the undisputed best platform to position your company as a leading vendor in the fast-emerging marketplace for AJAX and Enterprise Web 2.0.
Who Should Attend?
• CTOs & VPs of Engineering
• Directors of Technology
• Sr. User Interface Architects
• Front-End Engineers
• VCs & Industry Analysts
• Directors of Business Development
• Software Engineers
• Senior Architects
• Application Programmers & Software Developers
• Project Managers
• Web Programmers & Designers
• Companies & Organizations that need to stay in front of the latest Web technology
AJAXWorld Security Bootcamp
Introducing at AJAXWorld RIA Conference 2008 West the world's first-ever full, one-day immersive "AJAX Security Bootcamp" - led by one of the world's foremost AJAX security experts and teachers, HP's Billy Hoffman.