Microspeak: Friction

In physics, friction is a force that resists motion. In Microspeak, friction is an obstacle which prevents somebody from doing something you want them to do. (The preferred verb phrase for getting over an obstacle is overcoming friction.)

There is friction in the system for X that is reduced when developing with Y.

Using X reduces friction of someone being able to do Y without having to Z.

Many companies have found that outsourcing activities can introduce unexpected complexity, add cost and friction into the value chain, and require more senior management attention and deeper management skills than anticipated.

The goals of the Wiki include providing broader and more in-depth solutions content … from a wider variety of authors with less publishing friction than less traditional mechanisms.

While multi-tenancy and richer browser capabilities are valuable, I believe we have to start architecting multi-tenant solutions while incorporating the rich differentiation of new client platforms in disconnected and connected capabilities with the ability of ad-hoc collaborative communities forming around these services without centralized service friction.

(That last one deserves some sort of award for impenetrability.)

JD Meier kindly defines the term as it applies to communication:

It's obvious in retrospect, but I found a distinction between low-friction communication and high-friction communication. By low-friction, I mean *person A* doesn't have to work that hard for *person B* to get a point.

As the term friction gained popularity, second-order jargon emerged, such as friction-free (another citation).

(Remember that Microspeak covers not only terminology specific to Microsoft, but also business jargon that you need to know in order to "fit in.")

Comments (27)
  1. I'm sensing some friction here between Raymond and the Nitpickers…

  2. xpclient says:

    "Auto sorting in Windows 7/Vista Explorer introduces a lot of friction to file management actions like batch rename, batch copy-paste, batch extraction, creation, monitoring a folder for changes or any batch file modification while the folder is open." Or, "There is lot of friction between getting the design of a Windows feature fixed."

    [I admire your ability to turn every comment into a complaint about Explorer. You do realize that the more you complain, the more people are likely to dismiss you as a crackpot. -Raymond]
  3. digi_owl says:

    that last one reads like some kind of marketing/exec verbiage that would result in a instant bullshit bingo win…

  4. John says:

    Windows 2000 – Janus

    Windows XP – Whistler

    Windows Vista – Longhorn

    Windows 7 – Blackcomb

    Windows 8 – Friction

  5. Joshua Ganes says:

    @digi_owl – Agreed. I simply cannot read text like that without my eyes starting to glaze over while my BS meter chimes loudly in my brain. I literally had to stop and find my spot twice to complete that example. I have no idea how to translate that text into something I could take action on.

  6. Simon Smith says:

    digi_owl and Joshua: If you follow the link, the next sentence, which concludes the paragraph, is:

    "This means we must be willing to architect, develop and experience the internet beyond the browser and sometimes, beyond the server."

    Whilst syntactically clearer, it's just as impenetrable in its way.

  7. Falcon says:

    Example #5 demonstrates communication friction so high, even a thermonuclear device couldn't overcome it!

  8. Mike says:

    That last one seems obvious to me; the guy wants a peer-to-peer system rather than a centralized broker, with included support for asynchronous communication.

  9. Preemptive snarky comment: xpclient isn't complaining abut Explorer. He's complaining about New Explorer and reminiscing over the Good Ol' Days.

    Soon we will all start playing the "Guess which part of the article xpclient will take to go into an anti-Vista+ Explorer rant" game.

    Winner gets a cookie.

  10. John says:

    @Lockwood:  The complaint, while perhaps esoteric, is valid.  Just don't come crying when Microsoft "deprecates" functionality YOU use.

  11. My Name is John Too says:

    'You do realize that the more you complain, the more people are likely to dismiss you as a crackpot. -Raymond'

    This already occurs for me, I actually scan all the comments after reading the post to search for xpclient's take on why every design decision after XP was a step backwards.

  12. Rangoric says:

    @John Actually he will complain, or since he is not you "cry". However he's more likely to complain in the right places, as opposed to a blog post about business speak.

    Although maybe you think I should complain about how a certain camera works when commenting on a photo taken of a baby on Facebook.

  13. John says:

    @Rangoric:  Granted this forum is not the appropriate outlet, but unless you're a big deal your complaints will fall on deaf ears.  Maybe if there are enough complaints on this blog it will affect Mr. Chen subconsciously.  The Windows 8 Start Screen sucks!  /fingers crossed :)

    [The important statistic is the number of affected users. One user complaining 10,000 times is worth far less than 10,000 users complaining once each. (And psychologically, one user complaining 10,000 times is actually worth less than one user complaining once.) And a corporation with 10,000 employees can say "This affects all of my 10,000 users." (I can't believe I'm responding to an off-topic discussion. I'm going to delete this thread after a few days.) -Raymond]
  14. Jim says:

    Study Says Most IT Guys Are Ignorant


  15. Joshua says:

    [I'm going to delete this thread after a few days.) -Raymond]

    Too bad. It's actually more interesting than the on-topic thread now that you said something intelligent in it.

  16. Chris says:

    All this discussion of 'friction' and not one mention of Clausewitz?  For shame!

  17. Minos says:

    I can't seem to make my favorite friction joke work in this context.

    If you toss two kittens on a roof, which one will fall off first?  The one with the smaller µ.

  18. chentiangemalc says:

    Great examples of this usage! I hope for a day where I can enjoy lower-friction communication. In any case I find Windows 8 Explorer has significantly reduced friction thanks to the much snappier response times & friction-free file copies, I haven't used RoboCopy once since going to win8…

  19. AndyCadley says:

    I'm still trying to parse that last one. It's impressive how so many words can be used to say so little.

  20. silly says:

    I hope for the day when I can enjoy high temperature superconducting communication.

  21. Michael Grier [MSFT] says:


    When you say:

    I have no idea how to translate that text into something I could take action on.

    I think you meant that it's unactionable.  (Another Microspeak.)  :-)

  22. cheong00 says:

    In here, friction means conflict. (It doessn't change much to the meaning)

  23. Drak says:

    I recall, a long time ago, testing a <brand x> tablet pc with windows XP tablet edition on it with voice recognition. After 'teaching' it my voice for a while, I tried using voice recognition to 'type' a short letter in word. It came out much like the unreadable example in the article :)

  24. René Hartmann says:

    In his book On War, Carl von Clausewitz used the term (German: Friktion) with basically the same meaning.

  25. Klimax says:

    That last example is brutal, but it can be understood/parsed. At least, I think…

  26. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Who on earth talks like in the fifth quote?

  27. Joe says:

    The use of the word friction to describe disagreement or clash dates back to 1761.

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