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Blogs > Office Jotter

Have you Tungled your Drupal lately? A rumination on names
Roger Whitehead By: Roger Whitehead, Director, Office Futures
Published: 26th January 2011
Copyright Office Futures © 2011

Have you noticed how often social software companies, products and services in English-speaking countries are being given names that aren’t proper words and that offer no clue what they’re for?

Take the two in the title, for instance. If you weren’t au fait with social networking, would you guess that Tungle is a shared calendar service or that Drupal helps you publish online material? Tungle could equally be a range of outdoor pursuits clothing. (“It’s tough, from tundra to jungle.”) Drupal sounds like a cough medicine.

I’m not criticising the products — both are good, and popular — just wondering about the names. Tumblr is another; it could be a child’s toy. Joomla might be a friendly being from Star Wars (but in fact is based on the Swahili for a gestalt). TIBCO has just launched tibbr [sic], which I suppose we should call Mr tibbr.

My word processor’s spelling checker can’t cope with any of them. It offers me tunnelled, drupe (a kind of fruit), tumbler (no surprise there), gumball and tubbier.

Some new(ish) names make sense. Facebook (especially if you’ve been to school in North America), Groupon (group coupon — clever), Twitter (it’s even onomatopoeic) and LinkedIn (clearly about networking). A new competitor to the last is BranchOut. Not so sure about that; possibly it’s for diversifiers.

When men were men and product names had firm wrists

The leading companies when commercial computing started had foursquare* names. IBM (International Business Machines; to the point), Data General, Digital Equipment Company, Sperry Rand (distant founders’ names; no probs), Honeywell (ditto). Nothing waffy there.

Then came personal computers and things started going wonky. IBM PC (speaks for itself) was fine and, in Britain, so were Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) and Sinclair (also for its founder).

However, in the USA there were also, for example, the Altair (named for a star; it faded), Commodore (it sank), Apple (designed for vegetarians; still is) and Cromemco (based on the name of a university dormitory). None of them is what you might call an intuitively obvious name for a range of computers.

Software and its makers showed a similar split between relevance and obscurity. Microsoft is almost self-explanatory, as are (or were) WordPerfect, WordStar, Visicalc (Visible Calculator) and Photoshop. But why Lotus, Adobe or Brøderbund? A plant, a building material and a (misspelled) band of brothers? They seemed like good ideas at the time, no doubt.

So to today, when we’re expected to remember what seemingly random collections of characters like these mean: Bebo (sounds infectious), Elgg, Jaiku, Plurk, Qaiku, Sina Weibo, Viadeo, Xoops, Zoints and Zorpia.

Luckily for you, I’m not ending with a short test.

*not to be confused with Foursquare.

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