Why all new tech startups have stupid names

The proliferation of domain-name squatting means online startups have to resort to increasingly ridiculous branding

 
Screenshot from HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” featuring fictional internet company Hooli.
Screenshot from HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” featuring fictional internet company Hooli.

The other day I got a press release for Ruumi, a new U.K.-based company that has set up an Airbnb-like service for finding roommates in London. I didn’t find the service itself that interesting, but the name stood out.

The same day, Peeple was making news for its about-to-launch service, which lets people rate… uh, other people. The app is stirring up controversy, but that’s not why I noted it. Again, it’s the name that stuck with me.

Websites, apps and services are increasingly adopting strange names, or strangely spelled names, and it’s bugging me. It’s turning me into the veritable old man yelling at a cloud, pictured above.

Whether it’s Ruumi or Peeple, or the likes of Lyft, Shyp, Shomi or even Flickr and Tumblr, technology companies are making a mockery of the English language. At the rate this is going, today’s kids are going to grow up substituting “y’s” for every vowel, or dropping vowels entirely. Pretty soon, they’ll be calling me Petr, or worse yet, Pytyr.

The worst part is, it’s not the companies’ fault. Aside from the age-old challenge of trying to think up a name and brand that will be catchy to consumers, there’s the additional 21st century problem of coming up with something that isn’t already taken. And that’s a near impossibility with the amount of cyber-squatting going on today.

I’ve got firsthand experience. Think Alphabeatic.com was my first choice for my website? Nope. More like my 81st choice. The same goes for my wife. Her business’s name, HappyKitty.ca, is the product of weeks of brainstorming and searching. It’s okay, but far from ideal.

Here’s a fun exercise: think up 10 names for a new business and then look them up to see if the domain names are available. Ten bucks says they aren’t.

Here’s another fun one: take a week and think up 10 more, then look them up. Once again, those names are virtually guaranteed to be taken. Probably by someone who spends all their time thinking up word combinations and registering them. They’ll gladly sell you the domain name you really want, for a handsome price.

Some efforts to fix this problem have arisen. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization that’s in charge of this stuff, routinely approves and releases new domain extensions, but it’s not an elegant solution. Nobody really wants a .io, .airforce or .blackfriday as part of their website name. Everyone just wants a .com.

Shopify and others also offer tools that generate business names for you – simply type in a word you want to include and voila, you get a list of available domain names that include it. It’s a functional option, but it’s again not that elegant or creative. You might be better off spending your time thinking of how you can mangle vowels or drop letters to get the name you really want.

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