Jason Mashak

24 January 2011

Demystifying ‘standard’ IT security terms – how would YOU do it?

"The Thinker" (Rodin) My boss, Marketing Director Milos Korenko, made a blog post here a few days ago in which he mentioned/linked to an honor received by a book of poetry I wrote. He also said that my job at AVAST is pretty much “crafting IT-terms into words and texts that normal people would understand.” I would argue that my job is not quite so simple as that ;-) but I’ll explain Milos’s point.

I’ve been a regular computer user since buying my first PC, an HP desktop, in 1997. It ran Windows 95, and I think it had McAffee antivirus (the engine for which was provided by avast!). I sacrificed sleep on many nights, to try to learn a new operating system that was NOTHING like the Commodore 64 (complete with cassette-tape drive) that I had taken my only real computer classes on 10 years prior. In 2002, I bought a Gateway desktop with Windows XP… that’s right, from Windows 95 to Windows XP.

I’m probably an average computer user. I use my laptop at home for social (and other) networking, Skype calls, research, and word processing, primarily. My job all day is on a desktop PC, from which I handle various writing assignments, web research, project tasks, and seemingly endless forms of communication.

Aside from what I use PCs for daily, however, I really don’t know much about them – which is, in many ways, good for my work.

As a copywriter for AVAST, my target audience consists primarily of:

  1. those uninclined (or unable) to learn more, perhaps because they only use a PC occasionally and are overwhelmed enough already by technological developments of the last two decades (a group that much of my family belongs to)
  2. those who tend to use Google and do some research, in order to demystify unknowns (a group that I belong to)
  3. “geeks” – that is, the technological avant-garde, who seemingly emerge from the womb like innovation-hungry androids (a group that I’m glad to say includes many of the people I've worked with over the years) ;-)

As you can imagine, it’s tough to communicate – with one voice – to a full spectrum of computer users. Many of the regularly used terms in the computer security industry – like in the cloud, virtualization, sandbox, rootkit, malware, or phishing – are almost nonsensical terms to many people I know, who are even on PCs all day for their work. Conversely, tech-savvy users will read this list and think “What’s the big deal? Those are easy to understand!” These same users likely read “operating system” spelled out above and wondered why I didn’t just write “OS” (in a slower-moving world, we might all be more like them).

What we’re trying to do now with communications at AVAST Software is to explain the actual functions better to average (non-technically inclined) users, while simultaneously not putting our techie audience to sleep. This requires daily brainstorming to determine how much we should explain and why. Does the end user even care about features? Should he or she care? Will a particular feature term be out of fashion or obsolete a year from now? Should we educate users about this or stick to what they know? Etc.

We try to make the jazz axiom “Less is more” our guiding principle. Sometimes we hit the mark, sometimes we don’t. As the avast! Community is what shapes our company, I’m curious… how would you do it?

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