Years ago, AT&T marketed a computer named the Unix PC. It bombed.

My memory is that while playing with the device at a computer specialty store (they don't exist in any real sense today, either), I found it to be extremely easy to use. The problem was that AT&T did not market the product as extremely easy to use. It emphasized its use of Unix. But nobody cared about Unix, outside of hard-core enthusiasts.

That issue of how much to promote technology when selling technology products remains today. Nowhere is this shown more than in the current effort to promote Extensible Business Reporting Language. XBRL, the brainchild of Charles Hoffman, was effectively developed and promoted by the American Institute of CPAs.

I have frustrated a number of PR people over the years by telling them that XBRL is important, but that it's also plumbing. Most people don't care whether their pipes are copper, PVC, or cast iron, as long as they handle water and waste effectively. How many buyers, after they find a dream house, run to their neighbors gushing, "It's so wonderful. It has all copper pipe!"

Outside of C-level executives, I doubt many business people will buy products because they are XBRL-based, and the early feedback from vendors has been that the interest (unless it's taken off recently) hasn't been strong.

Early on, Microsoft tried to demonstrate the usefulness of XBRL on the investor relations section of its Web site. You can use XBRL to analyze its financial results. I have had a strong interest in financial analysis for years, and my reaction was that it wasn't worth the effort.

But the stream of press releases emphasizing the wonder of XBRL rolls on.

Part of the problem is that so many marketing and public relations people worship at the Altar of the Holy Acronym. They emphasize buzzwords and technology because they do not understand the use of the technology in business--translation, what their customers' needs are. The result is that a lot of good products go by the wayside.

Maybe that is the issue. We don't need better technology products. We need better marketing and PR people--people who understand the users.

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