Early Monday morning Netflix announced a new service, Qwikster, that will do what the original Netflix did: deliver movies to mailboxes. The entity known as Netflix will limit itself to streaming movies and other content (notably games) to customers’ computers and TV sets.
I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.
His explanation of the new name? Terse, to put it generously:
We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.
The outcry was immediate and abundant. Mashable speculated whether Qwikster was “the worst product launch since New Coke.” Last time I checked, there were more than 17,000 comments on Hastings’s post. One of the more temperate ones came from Benjamin Hutchins:
The name itself, to me, shows a lack of thought. You say it was to represent the quickness of the service, but to me that was a bad attempt at trying to find an available.com domain when there are so few good ones left. I bet there were lengthy discussions over a good name, probably taking weeks, and yet to me, it truly sounds like a half-witted idea cocked up from someone in front of an investor and needed to keep things rolling.
Here’s my own disclaimer: I have never been a Netflix customer/member. I rarely watch movies at home. So I’m an impartial observer here—except where the name and branding strategy are concerned.
My take on the name: so bad it’s laughable. The branding strategy: mystifying.
Crazy, right? Like a fox.
Hang on for my explanation. First, though, a little background.
That’s why you’re sad: You’re suffering from jalopia, “fatigue with the laborious maintenance of having a body, a piñata of meat that’s incompatible with the Legoland rationality of the modern world, which was built for beings whose indestructible parts lock onto the Earth with a satisfying ‘click,’ whose emotions are standardized, whose mistakes are best measured in parts per million.” More flavors of melancholy—all invented, all invaluable—at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. (Via @Wordnik and @Bookbench.)
What on earth comes over people when they write about language? It’s not just their ability to use dictionaries that disappears, it’s their acumen, their numeracy, their common sense. Show some people a single unfamiliar word and they’ll whip themselves into a paroxysm of fury, shaking their fist at what they see as a tsunami of black lexical filth sweeping in to destroy the whole of their native tongue.
This one’s for real: In 1986, Disney’s executives changed the title of the studio’s next animated feature from Basil of Baker Street to The Great Mouse Detective. In pissed-off response, reports Letters of Note, the film’s animators issued a fake memo announcing “the retroactive renaming of the entire Disney back catalogue, bar The Aristocats, in a similarly bland style.” Guess which title became The Girl with the See-Through Shoes? Via The Hairpin.
Finally, a name game to carry you through the weekend: Name That Thing, a visual vocabulary test from Merriam-Webster. Each time you play, you get a new set of questions. “Addiction counseling not included,” warns M-W lexicographer Peter Sokolowski.
“Gaypon Is the Gay Groupon” reads the title of yesterday’s TechCrunch post about the new “daily deals site catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LBGT) and allied communities.”
“Groupon” is already mildly suggestive (get your grope on?). Now we have a copycat that sounds like “gape on.”
Not to mention the inevitable “gay p0rn” mixups. (Or capon.)
And then there’s this: Gaypon’s URL is DailyGaypon.com because—you guessed it—Gaypon.com was already taken. The latter is a peculiar, semi-literate, possibly-not-legit dating site. I’m not going to link to it but I will quote a bit of it, verbatim: “GayPon.com is a membership $30.00 per month, Your love is here sign up now your dreams will come true.”
Meanwhile, at least one person in my virtual circle got a whole ’nuther association from Gaypon:
Actually, it was “Would you have any Grey Poupon?”
Nymwars: The controversy over Google Plus’s mandatory real-names-only policy. The word, sometimes spelled nym wars—nym is cropped from pseudonym—was coined in late July and gained currency as a Twitter hashtag.
Twitter user botgirlq—full name Botgirl Questi—describes her/him/itself as a resident of Second Life and “a beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar.” Botgirlq began using the #nymwars hashtag on July 29 as an adjunct to, and eventually a substitute for, #plusgate.
Everyone’s abuzz with the “nymwars,” mostly in response to Google Plus’ decision to enforce its “real names” policy. At first, Google Plus went on a deleting spree, killing off accounts that violated its policy. When the community reacted with outrage, Google Plus leaders tried to calm the anger by detailing their “new and improved” mechanism to enforce “real names” (without killing off accounts). This only sparked increased discussion about the value of pseudonymity. Dozens of blog posts have popped up with people expressing their support for pseudonymity and explaining their reasons.
Concern about personal safety is the most frequently cited reason to support pseudonymity.
Another site has popped up called “My Name Is Me” where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What’s most striking is the list of people who are affected by “real names” policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.
This is, of course, serious stuff. But as cartoonist Rob Cottingham discovered, there’s a lighter side to nymwars, too.
Retargeting: A method of online advertising that delivers customized ads to consumers based on their previous Internet actions—or, more commonly, their inactions.
If you’ve ever browsed on a retailer’s site for, say, a pair of boots—perhaps even put those boots into your shopping cart while you browsed elsewhere—you may have noticed that an ad for the boots follows you to many of the other sites you subsequently visit. This is retargeting in action, and as Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin told the NPR program “Fresh Air” earlier this month, it’s considered one of the most productive forms of online monitoring, because it frequently results in a sale. “It’s not that creepy with shoes,” Angwin told interviewer Dave Davies, “but [advertisers] also target things like, are you bipolar?” (Listen to the 39-minute radio interview; the discussion of retargeting begins at about the 12-minute mark.)
Angwin was the lead reporter for a recent five-part WSJ series, “What They Know,” that investigated the world of cookies, beacons, and other consumer-tracking technology. (The series includes a glossary.)
Retargeting is big business. Here’s how Criteo, which specializes in “scalable personalized retargeting,” describes its marketplace advantage:
Criteo has revolutionized retargeting with the most sophisticated form of dynamic personalized retargeting. Over the past decade there has been a slow evolution of retargeting. This third generation of retargeting enables an advertiser to show each lost visitor a unique banner based on his/her very specific past interactions on the advertiser’s website. This new form of retargeting involves on-the-fly, real-time personalized banner creation and has a dramatic impact on campaign performance.
Today I’m over at DuetsBlog, the trademark-law blog of Minneapolis law firm Winthrop & Weinstine, with a guest post about Internet domains. You say all the .com domains are taken? Dry your tears: I have creative solutions.
When your best friend from high school sends you an URGENT!!! email about the postcard virus, or your Aunt Tillie tells you she’s appalled that a new Pepsi-Cola can omits the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, you know what to do: go directly to Snopes.com to confirm or debunk. (In both of these cases, the latter.)
Since 1995, a California couple, David and Barbara Mikkelson, have run Snopes.com out of their home, doing dogged research into urban legends, “common fallacies, misinformation, old wives’ tales, strange news stories, rumors, celebrity gossip, and similar items” (according to their site’s FAQ).
Why did they name the site Snopes? New York Times technology columnist David Pogue asked David Mikkelson that question for a “CBS Sunday Morning” segment. He excerpted the conversation in his Personal Tech newsletter:
David Pogue: Where does the name Snopes come from?
David Mikkelson: Snopes come [sic]from a family of characters who recur in the works of William Faulkner. He typically had different families that represented a different strata of Southern society. And the Snopes[es] were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. But none of that has anything to do with the site. It just -- I knew the name Snopes from having read William Faulkner.
It was my nom de net. And then when we started the site, it turned out to be sort of fortuitous. Because it is so short and catchy and distinctive.
In the interview, Mikkelson quickly dispenses with several common rumors: Mikey from the Life cereal commercials did not die of an exploded stomach; the Chevy Nova was not a failure in South America because “no va” means “no go”; you cannot see the Great Wall of China from space. Oh, and Barack Obama? He’s not a Muslim. Pass it on.
Chatroulette.com was originally called Head-to-Head.org, and it came online on August 2, 2009. Ternovskiy’s friends didn’t like it, so he advertised on Web forums. Users trickled in, but the site had glitches, and the name seemed off. So on November 16th, having recently watched the Russian-roulette scene in “The Deer Hunter,” Ternovskiy bought the domain name Chatroulette.com, for seven dollars, and revamped the code. The site took off when a Brazilian soccer fan posted a notice inviting kindred spirits to mill around and talk about the sport. Hundreds of them showed up—at their peak, they constituted half of Chatroulette users—but they didn’t talk about soccer; instead, they took off their clothes.
Why did "Head-to-Head" seem "off"? Possibly because the name misleadingly suggested a race or sports contest. "Chatroulette," by contrast, connotes play along with a thrilling element of risk and even danger. (With "Head-to-Head," Ternovskiy may have been aiming for the literal French equivalent, tête à tête, which actually means something closer to "face to face," or "in an intimate manner.")
The technology behind Chatroulette is fairly basic and not particularly new. But by combining video-chatting technology and randomization Ternovskiy has bucked a decade-long trend that has made the Internet feel progressively more organized, pleasant, and safe. Google (founded in 1998) makes sure you pull up less flotsam when you search. Social networks like Friendster (2002), MySpace (2003), and Facebook (2004) let you stay in touch with a network of people you already know. Privacy settings keep out the ones you don’t. Twitter (2006) feeds you information from sources you choose to follow. Now Chatroulette has come along and showed us that we want chaos, too.
I learned this week about three business names that, while not technically descriptive—inadvisable from a trademark-law perspective—do express very clearly what they're all about.
2. Traif, a new restaurant in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, specializes in pork and shellfish, both of which are the ultimate in nonkosher foods—that is, they are traif (a Yiddish word sometimes spelled tref or treyf). In many parts of the country, such a restaurant would barely attract notice, but Williamsburg happens to be home to one of the largest communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York. It's also home, as Bari Weiss reports in the Wall Street Journal, to a distinct yet equally devout sect: the hipsters.
The Artisten, as the Hasidim call them, obediently don their skinny jeans, fanny packs and granny glasses. They smoke Parliaments and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon while they bop, understatedly, to indie music. Irony is studied as carefully as the Talmud.
"Though there have been some blog posts praying for Traif's demise," Weiss writes, "as of this week, most Hasidim had not yet heard of the place. Those who had weren't offended. A Hasidic man I spoke to said he found the name 'kind of funny and cool'."
3. TBD, a common acronym for "To Be Determined," is the official name of a new Washington, DC, metro news site that encountered predicable naming challenges in its early days.** "We came very close to securing a name more than once," the TBD home page discloses, "but each time an obstacle – a divided staff, a greedy domain holder, a trademark problem – blocked the way." One of the founders, Erik Wemple, began signing his emails "Editor, TBD.com."
Before long, we realized Erik had stumbled upon the perfect name for our site. The traditional news culture is that you don’t publish or broadcast a story until all the questions are answered, all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted. The evening newscast or morning newspaper is presented as a finished product, the culmination of a day’s work for the news staff.
But TBD will never be a finished product. On the web, on mobile devices and on our 24-hours cable news channel, we’ll always be in motion: constantly updating, improving and evolving; seeking more details, reaction or community conversation. We’ll be a place you visit to watch the news unfold in real time.
"This has to be, in my opinion, the coolest new journalism brand I’ve seen come along in a very long time," gushed Cory Britton on Lost Remote, which covers hyperlocal journalism. "Now let’s see if the site, scheduled to launch this summer, will live up to the hype."
The first TBD.com story I'd like to see: an exposé of how much Wemple et al. paid for that highly desirable three-letter .com domain.
* This is a type of Turking, the wired world's version of piecework at slave wages.