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Editor's Note: Smartnering

This article first appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

I wrote my first "letter to the editor" when I was in fourth grade—a missive to the Milwaukee Journal that called for the NBA to ban the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kermit Washington for blindsiding Houston Rockets’ forward Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch that almost ended Tomjanovich’s career. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

More precisely, I wanted to be a journalist. I was in love with the power of the written word to inform, influence, and inspire with ideas, as opposed to being the kind of writer who is in love with the words themselves. For me, words are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. I admire a beautifully written sentence as much as the next person, but only when it enhances rather than obscures what’s being said. Mike Watt, the great bass player for punk bands the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, once said that he was just a workman doing his job, and his instrument was just his shovel.

I like that idea, and I tend not to get too offended by word usage that drives some of my more "writerly" peers to the brink of madness, judging from the fire in their eyes and the spittle forming around the corners of their mouths as they rail against what apparently are affronts to the English language that are so egregious they should be punishable by death or worse. A graduate school friend of mine once spent the lion’s share of an otherwise lovely breakfast railing against the use of "enthused" as opposed to the more accepted "enthusiastic." And an editor I used to work for thought there was no greater offense than to use the word "agnostic" the way it’s used all the time in the technology business; i.e., "Our player is format-agnostic." The list goes on: "deprecated" to refer to a software feature that’s no longer supported; "kludgy" to refer to an inelegant or inefficient solution to a technological problem; and the newest one I’ve come across, "ask" used as a noun to mean "request," as in, "The only ask I have is that you wait until 8 a.m. to post the press release."

OK, that last one offends even my not-so-delicate linguistic sensibilities—there’s no logical reason (and I’m hard-pressed to come up with a defensible illogical one) to use "ask" as a noun. But what the self-appointed arbiters of grammar fail to acknowledge is that language is constantly growing and evolving and that it is the servant of people and our ideas, not the other way around. So the proper response to neologisms and unconventional—but perfectly comprehensible—usage is embrace, don’t scorn. When someone says something is "format-agnostic," I know exactly what they mean, and the phrase serves its function as shorthand for a potentially much longer string of words.

The buzzwords that tend to rub me the wrong way come from the worlds of marketing and PR, since anything born of those professions deserves to be approached with skepticism—words such as "recessionista" to describe a fashion maven who stalks bargains in a recessed economy. There’s even a Recessionista blog, written by, you guessed it, a marketer. Something tells me that laid-off autoworkers and home foreclosure victims might not find the word "recessionista" so cute.

But sometimes even words that reek of marketing buzz are worth embracing. I was fortunate enough to have been present for the creation of one, at the Streaming Media Europe event in London in October. Dom Robinson, CEO of Global-MIX, was talking about the need (especially in the fragmented European market) for companies to find the right partners to expand their customer bases. Anyone can say they offer an "end-to-end solution," as long as they define where the ends are. At some point in the online video distribution chain, however, even the biggest vendor will have to bring in a third party to achieve its objectives—even if it markets the solution as an "end-to-end" offering of its own.

That’s where Dom’s new word "smartnering" comes in. It means exactly what it sounds like it means: smart partnering with an organization that brings to the table a technological solution, customer base, or geographic reach that’s beyond the scope of what your company can achieve by itself. And even though Dom coined "smartnering" with the European market in mind, it’s equally applicable—no, especially applicable—to anyone trying to do business in the borderless world of online video.

It’s not exactly a new concept, of course. But I like the elegance and simplicity of smartnering because it really drives home the point that a productive partnership is a mutually beneficial arrangement where two entities work together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, some people would call that "synergy." Now there’s a word I can’t stand.