July 26, 2004

Good Names/Bad Names

This is a basic branding exercise, but I've been surprised as to how often bad names are given to perfectly good technologies, as if it doesn't matter what it's called. I think it matters a lot. Technologies are products, but they have many o the same competitive hurdles. So I decided to brainstorm a list of comparable technologies with good and bad names and see which one had faster adoption (as a technology).

Good Name Bad Name
Firewire USB 2.0
Extreme Programming Scrum
Zigbee Z-Wave
Ambient Intelligence Ubiquitous Computing
Blog Wiki
WiFi 802.11a
Linux BSD

The ones with the catchier names (which means: easily pronounceable, easily memorable, evocative) seem more popular. There may be some entanglement there, maybe better technologies come from more clued people, who are likely to understand the value of naming. In those cases the technologies may win both in terms of the tech and the name, but that doesn't happen often enough that I'm not sure it's a rule. There may be all kinds of other factors. 802.11a probably failed because 802.11b was selling to the markets that 802.11a was targeted toward, and as WiFi (the name and the technology) took off, the network effect (so to speak) was so huge as to dwarf any other factors, but there was crucial moment (sometime in 2001 or 2002) where the name probably had an effect.

I'm interested in other examples, especially ones where the technologies may have had comparable marketing support. And I'm trying to avoid comparing identical technologies (Firewire is IEEE1394 and iLINK, so comparing those is just comparing branding). Suggestions welcome.

Posted by mikek at July 26, 2004 04:52 PM | TrackBack

Also, "Rendezvous" vs. "Zero-Conf Networking" (although maybe that is actually comparing two identical products). Apple's version of it has encouraged some other interesting apps built on top of it, where Zero-conf has...what, made some printer setup easier? I don't know.

Posted by: andrew at July 26, 2004 05:15 PM

There's something about our ability to create shortcuts for names that impacts the likeability of the name itself. If you're into Extreme Programming, don't you call it XP? Etc.

Posted by: Steve Portigal at July 26, 2004 05:25 PM

I would have switched "blog" and "wiki" and called that a counterexample. To me "blog" sounds like "blah", similar to "bleah". When I first heard it I was really hoping a better word would come along.

Posted by: Brian Slesinsky at July 26, 2004 10:49 PM

Bill Gates said one of the most stupid things on this topic in a recent interview. But perhaps he was being sarcastic.

[Discussing the term "nanotechnology"]
SA: Well, one way to look at it is that it's one of the most brilliant ways of packaging
chemistry, which on the surface of it doesn't have that much allure to either people
in Congress or the general public.

BG: Well, how interesting. I don't know if any interest is generated by naming
something cleverly. You have to wonder how deep the interest is. I mean, chemistry is
super interesting even if you call it chemistry.

Quote is from page 8.

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