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10 Best and Worst Internet Company Names of the Decade

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Like the internet phenoms they trumpeted, Internet company names of the last decade have been, by turns, wildly inventive, deeply troubled, breathtakingly silly, serviceable (if dull)—and, occasionally, brilliant.

Having christened our share of Internet phenoms, we at Catchword decided to looked back to identify the 10 biggest dot-com naming trends—and their best and worst examples.

(Although, frankly, it was hard to choose just one "worst" in some cases. There were so many Web 2.0 disasters! It was as though the rules of language had ceased to apply.)

Here are the trends and names that rose to the top (and sank to the bottom).

1. The Hookup


Sometimes two words are better than one—especially to convey a new way of doing things. Serviceable hookups can range from descriptive (Facebook, StubHub) to suggestive (LinkedIn) to evocative (Snapfish).

But if two words don't have a discernible relationship with each other—or the brand—it's a Random Hookup. And we all know how short-lived those are—in this or any realm.

Win: YouTube

Intuitive, catchy, grassroots-y. The retro slang "tube" for TV evokes simpler times and ease of use: clever for a new app that could have been seen as intimidatingly high-tech.

Fail: TalkShoe

Say what? The name is a play on the use of Ed Sullivan's pronunciation of the word "show" on his long-ago TV show. Like anyone is going to make the connection...

2. The Conjurer

Evocative words can make memorable brand names when they relate to the core of a brand's story (like Yelp). But the line can be fine between edgy and baffling.

Win: Twitter

Whimsically conjures up users' sharing short little bursts of information (like birds twittering in a tree)—as well as excitement ("all atwitter"). It's extendable, too. A whole vocabulary quickly takes flight—from tweet and twitfriend to twipic.

Fail: MOO

Great for cows, milk, cheese, ice cream. Not so great for a site offering printing services.

3. The Letter-Dropper

The problem with this type of coinage is it's so distinctive you're almost bound to look like a copycat if you're not the first out of the gate. And if you drop more than one letter, you're asking for trouble. (Was Motorola's SLVR cell phone meant to be Silver or Sliver? And what's with Scribd?)

Win: Flickr

The image of a camera's flicker is relevant for photo sharing and reassuringly familiar, while the dropped letter—a new naming convention—suggested cutting-edge technology.

Fail: iStalkr

Creepy.

4. The Assembly Line

Names assembled from word parts with meaningful associations can be rich and unexpected (witness Gizmodo, the gadget blog). But tone and messaging need to be just right.

Win: Wikipedia

The unusualness of the name establishes it as a fresh player, while the evocation of both encyclopedias and speed ("wiki" is Hawaiian for "quick") is spot on.

Fail: Nupedia

The flatfooted claim of newness sounds dated from day one. Plus it's risky to stake an identity on newness in internet-land. Before long, this premise is far from "nu."

5. The Misspeller

This kind of brand name often spells disaster: hard to remember (Ideeli, Scrybe), confusing to pronounce and spell (Myngle, Wotnext, Gravee), and reeking of URL-search desperation (Itzbig, Profilactic, Fairtilizer).

Win: Boku

French word "beaucoup" is on the money for an online payment service—and for many Americans, the misspelling is actually more intuitive and inviting.

Fail: Cuil

Meant to be pronounced "cool," but who's gonna get that? Rule No. 1: Your name shouldn't need to come with a pronunciation guide.

6. The Wordster

Another convention that ages fast. And there's nothing more pathetic in naming than a transparent attempt to appear cool (cases in point: Dogster, Agester, Talkster).

Win: Friendster

Not exciting, we'll grant you, but the intuitiveness of the name helped usher in the era of social networking.

Fail: Napster

In light of its ensuing legal woes, to highlight the "kidnapping" of music is probably not the best idea (to put it kindly).

7. The Double or Nothing

Doubling a letter in a real word only works when the word remains recognizable, and the addition of the second letter serves some purpose, other than to complicate spelling (as in Gawwk).

Win: Digg

Intuitive and evocative, the double "g" underscores the digging nature of research and is graphically interesting.

Fail: Diigo

A social bookmarking site, the double "i" destroys the semantic connection and confuses pronunciation. (Is it Dee-go or Dih-go?) Plus, coming on the heels of Digg, it seems hopelessly derivative.

8. The eThing, the iThing, the meThing, the myThing

"e/i" shorthand quickly becomes redundant in the internet space, although it spawns many workhorse names: serviceable, if dull. The me/my thing (as in mySpace) tends to be similarly predictable and unremarkable. (Now, myBad—that would be interesting...)

Win: iContact

For a provider of email marketing, the "i" works on three levels: "I contact," "eye contact," and, of course, "Internet contact."

Fail: eSnailer, eBaum's World, eXpresso...

9. The Empty Vessel

A word without recognizable semantic roots can be a useful umbrella name for a company that may want to branch out in different directions. But it needs to be pronounceable and have relevant sound symbolism. Otherwise, it's not an Empty Vessel—it's Alphabet Soup. Like Disaboom, Xoopit, Yebol, and Goozex. Cover your ears.

Win: Kazaa

Recalls huzzah or hurrah, conveying excitement. (Sample exclamation: "Kazaa! I just downloaded Season One of Six Feet Under, FOR FREE!!!")

Fail: Eefoof

Vintage Web 2.0: hard to spell, silly—and utterly meaningless.

10. The Foreigner

Words in little-known languages can also make good empty-vessel names, especially if their meaning provides a springboard into their brand story. The trick is to find words that are easy to pronounce and pleasing to the American ear (like Kijiji, a communal website with a Swahili name meaning "village").

Win: Hulu

Good empty vessel name for an entertainment company that wants to keep its options open. (Interestingly, the word means "empty gourd" in Mandarin.) The rhyming word is playful, and by evoking hula hoops, it suggests fun.

Fail: Jwaala

Talk about a tongue-twister.

The Coming Decade

As for Internet company naming trends of the coming decade: Companies will demand more meaningful brand names, as far from Web 2.0 flights of fancy as possible; they'll be willing to pay a premium for real-word or lightly coined domain names; and they will be creative in the messages they explore—as long as they're relevant to the brand.

Like Internet companies themselves, it appears, Internet naming will be coming back down to earth.


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Laurel Sutton is a linguistics expert and principal at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998. For more information, contact Laurel at 510-628-0080 x105.

LinkedIn: Laurel Sutton

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  • by Jill Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Great names!

    A category you overlooked is the Oops...unintentionally spelled something else.

    "who represents" is a site that tells you who represents various famous people. Their domain....whorepresents.com

  • by Nicole Knox Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Loved this article! I do have to say that Moo.com did an effective enough job with their brand and great product offering to overcome the name issue, and the definitely have the benefit of name recall. :)

    And Jill - "Who Represents" - that is just tremendously awful!

  • by Heather Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    All in all, good names; however, I'm not sure I would list Napster as a "Fail" as it was one if the first of MANY "ster" sites/ catch phrases, etc.

  • by Kathrine Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    It would appear that your list is biased by the actual company's success rather than the name itself. Using your logic, wouldn't flickr be kind of creepy too?? I'd rather see some marketing theory-based analysis -- but your list was fun.

  • by Rachel Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Well said, Kathrine.
    Without a theoretical basis or hard data, the list seems rather subjective. But it does point to the nature of individual preferences. After all, what's in a name? Twitter? Google? Amazon.com? 1and1.com?

  • by baba Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    yeh ba ba blacksheep, take that

  • by Jensen Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Napster wasn't in the last 10 years, it was a bit earlier, and isn't it kind of weird to award Friendster for building on the Napster name if Napster is so "bad"? Also, yes, "wiki" means "quick", but Wikipedia came AFTER wikis, so it is not a combo of "quick" and "encyclopedia"...it's an encyclopedia of wikis, which is totally accurate.
    And didn't Catchword coin Boku AND Kijiji?

  • by socialamigo Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    "...the list seems rather subjective..." ???
    That's a curious critique of a list - don't you think?

  • by meher taj Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    A very interesting analysis. While i agree with kathrine that the list is gone by the company' success, i would also want to point out the company's success also is an out come of right branding and Brand name is very inportant aspect of branding hence name is just not a name..there is too much in a name.

  • by meher taj Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    A very interesting analysis. While i agree with kathrine that the list is gone by the company' success, i would also want to point out the company's success also is an out come of right branding and Brand name is very inportant aspect of branding hence name is just not a name..there is too much in a name.

  • by Elizabeth Brooks Wed Dec 30, 2009 via web

    "Cuil" is an earnest attempt at getting to a name (Gaelic for wisdom or knowledge) but it's unintentionally hilarious in so many ways. French speakers will especially get a laugh out of it. In general names of Celtic origin are going to be too exotic in pronunciation for a mass audience.

    I'm biased as i was employee #7 or something, but Napster did just fine in terms of brand perception- research showed that consumers retained a VERY positive feeling towards the brand throughout its original incarnation- regular users were even more positive- all this in the face of many flying lawsuits. Also, the name has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with kidnapping. If it brings naughtiness to mind, well, that was part of our positioning. Our community loved the name, we were one of the top three Web brands, and in fact Napster did not lose brand equity & positivity until the brand was sold and the paid service built.
    I think it's a little specious to slam our name and then award Friendster, which was a "tribute name" BASED on Napster.
    Also, the above poster is correct that Napster was not named in the 00s but in early 1999 and thus doesn't belong in the list at all.

  • by @amaaanda Wed Dec 30, 2009 via web

    I'm almost 100% with you, but I just love MOO too much :) They have a lot of fun with their name, so they get a pass from me.

  • by tdejoria Wed Dec 30, 2009 via web

    I dont know about putting the 10 best and worst of the decade. I have to agree with Katherine and Rachel. This sounds like one's own opinion and highly subjective. Personally, I've never liked the name Kazaa and dont mind Napster at all. Heck, in respect of the goal of branding, I think Napster has done quite well. And anything with an "i" in front of it should admit they are too uncreative to do anything but follow Apple's lead.

    Just my opinion

  • by aldo Thu Dec 31, 2009 via web

    Oh, yes!
    Veri interesting list of good and worst names, but you miss one of my best:
    http://www.kijiji.com/
    What do you think about ?
    Be serious!

  • by dave conover Thu Dec 31, 2009 via web

    http://bit.ly/8OYsRN a funny blog about names. in this instance compounded (or should it be confounded?) names.

  • by BillSchley Sun Jan 10, 2010 via web

    Great list Laurel. Notice what makes a lot of these internet names great is what always made names great in any industry: they're descriptive, launch your idea, easy to say and repeat to others. The meaningless name successes over the years, like Amazon and even Google (nobody knew what a google was) won for another great branding reason: There services were just so great, innovative, remarkable or delightful, useless names couldn't even stand in their way. I like the name of your company too, Laurel--catchwordbranding. Expect you named it.

  • by Ryan O'Donnell Wed Jan 20, 2010 via web

    A clever article, albeit subjective. Nice job.

    I like the perspective Elizabeth Brooks was able to provide based on her experience at Napster. It aligned exactly with my own feelings about the Napster brand. Perhaps the Wordster category should be renamed the Tribute category? Seems to me this new category could include the eThing, the iThing, the meThing, the myThing as well.

  • by Shazia Tue Feb 9, 2010 via web

    Wow.... amazing list... Nice job Laurel..

  • by Pete Rishel Thu Feb 18, 2010 via web

    Laurel, I read an article a long time ago in which Shawn Fanning said that he named "Napster" after his cat, who napped all the time. Thus the logo--a cat with headphones on. I really doubt that he intended to "kidnap" music. Where did you get that?

  • by Dan Macey Wed Mar 3, 2010 via web

    OK. Very interesting discussion. I am starting a new internet marketing and database marketing company, the latter of which I havee operated for several years. We are intensively consultantive, to understand client's business and derive marketing strategy, using the tools of internet marketing. The name of our company is Macey Marketing Group, Inc
    My consultant for logo design came up with the tag: Tradigital Communications for our logo. Am I crazy or does this have no sense of relationship to our business, or to any business?

  • by eni D Tue Mar 16, 2010 via web

    This is how I remember the origin of Napster: "For his nickname on the channel, Fanning used what he had been called on the basketball court, Napster, because of his short, nappy hair." Also negative because that term can be a racial slur.

  • by Steve Byrne Tue Mar 23, 2010 via web

    Boku maybe, but what about Google as a misspelled Googol?
    (A googol is the large number 10100 coined by Edward Kasner in 1938)

  • by Steve Byrne Tue Mar 23, 2010 via web

    10 to power of 100

  • by Gunter Soydanbay Sat Mar 27, 2010 via web

    Hi,

    Very insightful article. I have started a series of posts on naming. When completed, it will be very thorough. You can check the link below.

    http://soydanbay.com/category/verbal-strategy/

    Cheers,

    Gunter Soydanbay

  • by Dr_ichu Wed Jan 30, 2013 via web

    Dear friends.. unlike u all i am no marketng pro - i am into dentistry ...and i love my job...no head breaking for something innovative ..its mostly drill /fill!!! joking.... but thank god its not like urs... where there is no right or wrong... some just click and some doesn't!! and noone can predict ..... so i though i would ask the experts....

    ok i have a query...pls help.. i am looking to start a dental (maybe later go into other heathcare )post graduate education based in dubai , and i want a good name for an academy and an attached dental practice. I am thinking of 'quantum academy ' and q clinic .... pls comment.... or any suggestions are most welcome...... thanks....

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