Vapor-speak and Vaporware

vaporDoes anyone remember Vaporware?

The nineteen-eighties were like the Wild West in software development. Small companies sprouted like crabgrass, each promising an amazing new product. Many of these startups didn’t last long. Maybe it was because they sold Vaporware.

Vaporware was an idea or a half-developed program that didn’t exist yet. Some entrepreneur scraped together a little capital, formed a software company, and hired a few sales reps. They created ads with pictures of (empty)  5-1/4-inch floppy disks bearing the company logo, next to a computer.

The programmer, often the business owner’s kid, was still trying to figure out how to make the program work. It was not a scam … they just overestimated their own skill and underestimated the development time. But the company boldly sold the product with a promise of “thirty to sixty days” to delivery. Usually, after about ninety days of the same story, the customers wised up, the sales evaporated, and so did the company.

Why would anyone fall for that? It was an unsophisticated time. Interactive processing was new, no one had personal computers yet, and there was no such thing as the Internet. No Microsoft, not even graphical user interfaces. This new thing called software promised small businesses a way to be more modern and efficient. They couldn’t see it, they didn’t understand it, but they wanted it. Sellers learned to talk about their phantom products without committing to specific features or delivery dates.

People today are more savvy and they don’t buy Vaporware anymore, but the techniques we used to sell it are still around. They have just morphed into Sales and Marketing Vapor-speak. It sounds trendy, but if you use Vapor-speak, it can suggest that you’re being dishonest or trying to hide something. Here are some of the major offenders:

It’s all about

With X product, it’s all about delivering customer service and improving your return on investment.

What, exactly, is it? Are we referring to promised benefits here? Are you saying the product delivers them? All about doesn’t promise anything. If I were a potential customer, I’d be all about shopping elsewhere.


Product X addresses issues around security, audit trails, and data storage.

Issues around these items? Does that mean problems inherent in them? Directly concerning them? Peripherally related to them? If you can’t be clearer than that, I wonder if you understand your product.


Our goal for the coming year is to improve the business process ecosystem.

Unless you’re talking about all the water, air, soil, plants, and living organisms in a defined physical space, you’re hijacking a word and using it where it doesn’t belong. Is it a department, a market, an industry? In a business sense, ecosystem is so vague it means nothing at all.

Retail businesses could not get away with Vapor-speak. Just imagine you were buying tires for your car. You ask the dealer, “Are they safe and do they come with a guarantee?” How would you feel about this response:

In our business, we’re all about the tires. Our tires focus on questions around tread wear and traction, and we guarantee that we’re part of the automobile safety ecosystem.

You might ask if they accept Vapor-cash …

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

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From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

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