Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Web Language: Evangelist

Before attending the recent Computers in Libraries conference in Washington DC, I thumbed through the program and was struck by the short bio for one of the speakers: Paul Miller, Technology Evangelist, Talis Information Ltd. The job title had somehow never registered with me before. What the heck is a Technology Evangelist, I wondered.

The traditional definition of an Evangelist is "a bringer of the Gospel." Famous Protestant ministers are usually associated with the word: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, etc.

A lot of people must claim this title, because the Google Number for "Technology Evangelist" is 212,000. An early use of the phrase: "He [Bernard DeKoven] is one of a handful of technology evangelists across the country who are striving to bring the power of personal computers into corporate conference rooms"--PC Week, Nov. 17, 1987.

There is even a Wikipedia entry for it:

A technology evangelist is a person whose job is to assist organizations adopting new technologies. The role of Technology Evangelist was first created by Guy Kawasaki while working for Apple Computer in the late 1980s when the Apple Macintosh was first being marketed.

I find this definition problematic on two fronts. The religious fervor aspect of "evangelist" is missing, and Kawasaki's job title back in the 1980s was "Software Evangelist." similarly defangs the word with its definition: "One who advocates something, as in technology."

An evangelist has always been more than just an assister, promoter, or advocate. You can't be an evangelist for anything unless you really believe. One of the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions is "A zealous advocate of a cause or promulgator of a doctrine." Can all the people tagged with this title really boast such a huge dollop of zeal? Probably not, as it has become more of a status symbol to be recognized as a web "evangelist" even if one isn't really possessed with the traditional internal fire and brimstone.

Guy Kawasaki, in the 1980s, was identified in the news media as a Software Evangelist: "Filevision is one of the most impressive uses of the Mac so far," says Guy Kawasaki, Apple's "software evangelist," who helped seed the software development community with Macs during the past nine months" (InfoWorld, July 16, 1984). He even had this title printed on his business cards.

Kawasaki's job "was to use the fervor of a missionary to persuade software developers to write programs for the machines."

Some people are identified as a specific kind of technology evangelist. Listed here are a few along with their Google Numbers:

Technical Evangelist = 229,000
Software Evangelist = 129,000
Internet Evangelist = 87,400 ("We'll start in the center ring with Gates, impressario of Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software publisher, and Internet evangelist par excellence." Chicago Tribune, Oct. 23, 1994.)
Network Evangelist = 96
Hardware Evangelist = 27

We live in heady 2.0 times, and there are corresponding evangelists for Web 2.0, PR 2.0, Mobile 2.0, and Office 2.0. Somewhat surprising is the Google Number for "Library 2.0 Evangelist"--Zero! (although sometimes it seems their number is legion.)

Social software applications attract their own evangelists:

Blogging Evangelist = 26,600 ("If you're not reading it in RSS you're wasting your time," declaimed Microsoft's blogging evangelist, Robert Scoble, who says he subscribes to nearly 1,300 feeds." AP, Feb. 27, 2004.)
RSS Evangelist = 1,660
Podcast Evangelist = 166
Wiki Evangelist = 89
SharePoint Evangelist = 25

Even individual Web sites accrue evangelists:

Amazon Evangelist = 9,010
Yahoo! Evangelist = 525
eBay Evangelist = 143
Flickr Evangelist = 26
Second Life Evangelist = 20
Wikipedia Evangelist = 6

The evangelist bar has been lowered to such a height that anyone can jump over it. All a netizen needs is to decide which Web site or application s/he enjoys the most and proclaim devotion--with or without the traditional passion.

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