A couple of weeks ago The Name Inspector wrote a brief post about Thoof, which he called "a name whose existence cannot go unremarked." He continued:
This is a name that defies criticism. It’s so intentionally meaningless and phonetically counterintuitive that it renders irrelevant any earnest discussion of its strengths and weaknesses. A commenter on TechCrunch said it sounds like a potato gun being shot. What more is there to say?
Very well put. But in fact there is a bit more to say.
What makes Thoof unique is a sophisticated algorithm which discovers a reader's interests and tailors the stories to each reader's individual tastes. Every Thoof reader will see a personalized page with stories he or she will find interesting. All that you, as a reader, have to do is simply read what you like, and Thoof takes care of the rest!
And further down the page, there's this curious line:
The original Thoof concept is due to Ian Clarke.
I say "curious" because "due to" is an oddly passive way to express Mr. Clarke's relationship to the company. The very next sentence, in fact, says he is the founder and CEO of Thoof. Why not come out and say he "created the concept"?
It's not as though Clarke were an unknown quantity. Seven years ago, at 23, he created an anonymous information-sharing system called Freenet that drew considerable controversy. Since then he's been involved in three other venture-backed startups, including the video-sharing site Revver.
In his TechCrunch blog, Michael Arrington wrote about Thoof from a business perspective, but some of his commenters wanted to weigh in on the name. There was the potato-gun comment, for one. Another commenter observed sarcastically, "With a name like Thoof, how could it fail?" Said another: "The name is a deal-breaker. It may be the worst web 2.0 name yet. These goofy names may work for the technorati but I don’t think they scale. " And yet another put it tersely: "Name sucks, concept uninteresting."
Finally, at comment #27, Ian Clarke joined the conversation:
To those who don’t like the name, I guess all I can say is “sorry”. I think mostly names are defined by the companies that use them, rather than the companies being defined by the names. Consider the impact of “Yahoo!”, “Flickr”, “EBay”, or “Skype” before they became well known companies. I think most people probably viewed them as being rather strange, but now they are part of our language. I think if Thoof is a success, that will define people’s perception of the name, positive or negative.
So where did "Thoof" come from? In a June 17 interview with New York Times technology reporter John Markoff, Clarke said he "discovered" the name Thoof by writing a program to search for Internet addresses that had not been taken. And, Markoff reported, "he said he also liked that it rhymed with truth."
There are several naming and branding fallacies here. Let's look at three of them:
- "Thoof" rhymes with "truth." Not in standard English, it doesn't. It rhymes with spoof, reproof, and oof! In some British dialects (mostly lower class), -th- can sound like -f- or -v-, but Clarke is Irish and presumably doesn't favor those pronunciations. (Irish -th- tends to sound more like hard -t-. I once had an Irish yoga instructor who would exhort us to "relax your ties!" It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about thighs.) I'm willing to bet that not one out of a hundred Thoof users make any connection to truth. Or even truthiness.
- The domain was available. Remember that SNL mockumercial about the Dillon Edwards investment firm ("the people you trust")? Good news: they were finally online. Bad news: the only domain they could get was clownpenis.fart. But hey, it was available! Thoof isn't as embarrassingly bad as that, but its availability has little to do with its effectiveness as a brand. A professional namer could have pointed out to Clarke that (a) there are many good domain names being transferred at reasonable prices, and (b) there are many memorable, pronounceable, non-silly alternatives to a preposterous "available" name.
- If the business succeeds, the name will sound good. Unfortunately, the examples Clarke cites--Yahoo, Flickr, eBay, and Skype--are all based on real, recognizable English words or phonemes. None is a nonsense syllable with zero inherent meaning. "Empty vessel" names like Thoof have an uphill (and expensive) battle to prove to customers and investors that their brand has significance. That's why truly coined names are relatively rare. The exception is Kodak, which is not as random as it may seem: it follows a familiar English word-formation pattern (consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant); it's easy to pronounce in virtually any language; and the KO- syllable even suggests "co-," a prefix that means with or together--a highly positive association.
Thoof may prove to be a good business idea, but it's a poorly conceived name. I do, however, like the Thoof logo. Unlike the name, it actually communicates meaning.
Read other posts in New Name Beat.
Update: The Ask Jason blog takes a more fanciful approach to the problem of Thoof:
So how did Thoof get its name? Well it all goes back to ancient Norse mythology. Thoof was the younger brother of the Thor, the god of thunder and war. Thoof, on the other hand, was the god of smiting antiquated news services. Newspapers, scrolls and tablets were his enemies. He instead wanted to provide his followers with dynamic news and information from all over the world, provided customized for each person. Anyone who tried to cross Thoof, met their demise in an unpleasant manner.