Platitudes from Balsillie

Senior executives in the technology industry can be as bad as politicians when it comes to speaking in vacuous cliches and foggy ambiguities. Statements can be so vague as to be meaningless, yet there will be obsequious toads who come away proclaiming that what they’ve just heard from a CEO somehow points the way to a bright, if decidedly nebulous, future.

RIM’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie was at it again at the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona earlier today. First, he spouted the hackneyed old saw about carriers having to be choose between being pipes and platforms. How long have I heard this one? For too many years, I’m afraid.

But wait a minute. Who said subscribers (you know, the common folk who pay the freight) want carriers to be anything more than a pipe? It’s clear to to me that carriers don’t have a clue how to build a platform, certainly don’t understand content or creativity, and can’t be depended upon to deliver consistent innovation. But they know how to turn the taps on and off and bill you accordingly at the end of the month. Let’s not push them into unknown territory where they can only injure themselves and others. 

So, given the self-evident limitations of carriers, why does Balsillie encourage their harmful delusions? Oh, yes, now I remember: They’re his customers. He’s got to get them to dream big, or they won’t buy the products he’s pushing alongside his latest industry narrative.

He’s good at more than cliches, though. Balsillie also speaks in sweeping generalities that are superficially plausible but lack any particulars or corroborating substance. Exhibit A: His prediction of a "business-to-business social-networking revolution." Look, I like revolutions as much as the next guy, but could we understand exactly why we’re revolting, and what we’re going to get once we’re done? Unfortunately, not many details were to had.

Said Balsillie:

"Once social networking becomes a B2B phenomenon–not unlike IM and texting–I believe every single social-networking user will want a data plan."

Some obvious question to which I don’t think we’ll find ready answers: How will social networking become a B2B phenomenon? Just what is B2B social networking, anyway? Why will people want it, and why will their employees feel compelled to pay for it? Or, will you be selling it, like consumer services, to single social-networking users?

I know, I know: I’m ruining the dream, complicating things with cavils and questions, sweating the small stuff.

At some point, though, we in the technology community have to demand clearer messages from the people who run the show.

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