Elgg, Latakoo & Idno: in defense of weird names

Reading time: 4 minutes

1. Elgg

I've written before about how Elgg got its name. I had just recently graduated, and due to an unwise predisposition for flippant humor, I didn't have a single serious email address to my name. I needed one in order to apply for jobs. My full last name is Werdmüller von Elgg, and a brief search revealed that elgg.net was available. I used ben@elgg.net as my email address for years, without any web presence - so when I wrote a prototype social networking platform for education, it made sense to put it there.

Nobody was very comfortable with the name. Alternatives that were suggested over the years included Learning Landscaper, but none of them stuck. Past a certain point, the project was well-known enough that changing its name would have been silly; and anyway, it was a short, easily-memorized domain name.

Imagine, though, if we'd decided to call it Learning Landscaper. While that fit our original idea, Elgg morphed quickly from a social eportfolio engine for capturing informal learning into a multi-purpose engine that anyone could harness in order to create a social networking site. Had we picked a more domain-specific name, we would have limited our scope automatically, and possibly even unconsciously. Had we picked a more rational name (Engine, for example), we would have possibly isolated Elgg's large non-English-speaking userbase, and cut out a huge number of opportunities to talk about it. I lost count of the number of times someone asked us "what does Elgg stand for?" - it was unusual, and people were curious about it.

In fact, my only real regret is that I no longer have use of my ben@elgg.net address.

2. Latakoo

A latakoo is a kind of African lark: a bird that flies high and fast. For a service that allows people to send media footage quicky from and to anywhere in the world, that makes some thematic sense. But there's a good chance you might have never heard of a latakoo before.

When we were brainstorming names, a close contender was Cloud Compressor. The "cloud" was a big innovation back then, and latakoo achieves the bulk of its speed improvements through data compression. On face value, it makes sense. But not only is it a lifeless set of words, like Learning Landscaper, it thematically contrains what the company does.

Today, compression is just one part of the Latakoo service. It's still core to what we do, but we use it hand-in-hand with advanced routing, access permissions, and both service and datacenter integrations. We take media footage via any Internet connection, and deliver it anywhere, in the format it needs to be, securely. That's in no way covered by Cloud Compressor.

Our customers use us as a verb: "latakoo it". That's both a wonderful endorsement of our service and something that would only be possible with the right kind of name. What do you think YouSendIt were after when they changed their name to Hightail? Try to construct an elegant sentence involving sending something with YouSendIt. Now, switch it out to Hightail. "Hightail it". The kind of word you choose matters, because the sentences people use to describe you affect the way they think about you.

3. Idno

Lately, I've been spending some time with Idno, which I started in order to explore what a social publishing engine might look like on today's web.

It's another weird name, whose origins lie in the very unlively term ID node. I lopped off the de, because I wanted the word to phonetically end in a vowel. The idea was to create something that was at once friendly (I think ending in a vowel makes it feel like a nickname), reminiscent of terms like "ID", "id", "know" and "number", and weird. (It's also sometimes used as an acronym for in desperate need of, and a shortened form of I don't know; neither are bad connotations.) My idea is that people would remember idno in a way that they might not remember a more normal name.

We'll see what happens. I've been talking about perhaps changing its name while I can, but part of me likes having a name that's a little unexpected. Maybe that's because I have a bit of a weird name, too, but I genuinely think that standing out and being a bit skew-whiff to everyone else is a positive trait. There are situations where choosing a very conservative name is appropriate - for example, when your customers are, themselves, very conservative - but typically in technology you want to be seen as innovative.

And the way you are perceived starts with what you choose to call yourself.