Sitegeist Blog - Beiträge vom March, 2010

Locked In: Lanier and Rushkoff on What’s Wrong (assuming something is wrong)

Friday, 26. March 2010 8:58

A couple of interesting outbreaks for the closet neo-luddites out there (you know who I am you are!):

Lanier: Web 2.0 is anti-humanist
Jaron Lanier, the virtual reality and avatar trailblazer (and philosopher and multi-instrumentalist) has recently published a book called You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. In this sweeping book about individuals, culture and the Web, he argues that the Web 2.0 revolution in online social networking and collaboration is a problem. A BIG problem.

According to Lanier, sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and even Amazon are anti-humanist: they elevate the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and the power of advertiser-driven algorithms above the discriminating judgement of individual people. They create a ‘hive mind’ that leaves little room for individual expression, let alone an environment that respects such creativity.

The root cause of this is the design of technology. First, Lanier claims that we, as users, get ‘locked in’; we have to conform to a particular ‘relationship status’ on Facebook; Wikipedia becomes an authority, even though it is written by anonymous contributors; if you bought this book, you should buy that book; etc.

Propelled by 1960s anti-government paranoia, technologists designed the Internet to be anonymous. And because of this, the online world (and especially Web 2.0 manifestations of it) is riddled with trolls who can easily and cynically shut down reasonable conversations, and who have created an environment (and tools) that devalue individual artistic accomplishment (“Content wants to be free”, copyright infringement, etc).

SXSW – Rushkoff: Program or Be Programmed
In a zeitgeisty moment, at last week’s South by Southwest tech event, Douglas Rushkoff – post-McLuhan media theorist, one-time cyberpunk and the pioneer of ‘social currency’ – gave an address titled Program or Be Programmed: 10 Commands for a Digital Age.

You can read lots of descriptions of the talk (here, here and here for example). Interestingly, many of Rushkoff’s ideas intersect with Lanier’s book.

The overarching theme is that, rather than ask how we can use technology, we should be asking what we can make technology do for us. Jaron Lanier called it being ‘locked in’. Rushkoff says that if the Web is something we consume, rather than create, that’s a problem. A BIG problem. “If we create a society that is programmed, we will be the users and most importantly, the used.”

Other big ideas:

  • The Web can be happily asynchronous, so why are we ‘always on’ and demanding synchronous communication?
  • Why do we send text messages to the person sitting next to us?
  • Facebook (and others) promotes forced choice. What’s your relationship status? Feel free not to opt in to this. (Rushkoff says that withholding choice does not denote failure. It reminds me of that great line from Richard Linklater’s 1991 movie Slacker : “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”.)
  • Anonymity promotes facelessness, polarisation and a lack of consequence.
  • Contact is King, not content. Rushkoff says, “Social marketing is an oxymoron”.
  • Nothing is free. Don’t steal. It breaks the social contract.
  • Overly negative? Maybe a bit. These guys were born in 1960 and 1961, and have been technical pioneers; they’ve seen a bit.

    Are they jaded oldies who are getting in the way of the cool kids, or wise elders in a world that needs just this kind of introspection and critique?

Thema: Trends | Comments Off | Author:

Product names

Friday, 12. March 2010 10:13

Purple or Prosaic?
It’s a tricky business naming a product. The first decision is probably to work out whether you want something suggestive, creative and ephemeral, or something literal and descriptive.

I always want to go down the purple path, but common sense (usually) eventually kicks in.

The right way to go might depend on a few variables:

  • the nature of the product (Socket Set versus CK One)
  • names of competitor products (Jif, Vim, Bam)
  • fit with other products you make (iSnack 2.0???)
  • your target market (Carlton Draft versus Mountain Goat Hightail Ale)
  • and more

In the end, you want a name that resonates with the right people at the right time.

Getting the right ‘feel’
When I was thinking of a name for this business, I thought literal (Content Strategy Australia), personal (Ryan Strategy Group), evocative (too embarrassing to reveal) and thematic (WordWork) before hitting on Sitegeist. It’s a name that not everyone ‘gets’, but it works for me because it captured the spirit of the business I wanted to run:

  • clever
  • funny
  • sophisticated
  • self-aware

Not everyone likes it, but most of my clients do.

Slipstream what?
I recently helped Ben, a friend and former colleague, come up with a name for some software he has developed. The original name – ‘Slipstream’ – was evocative; meant to imply speed and ease – two of the product’s main attributes. It was also already being used, so he chose another name – this one far more thematic and overt about the actual product: WindowFlow.

In hindsight, he was lucky my initial suggestion wasn’t available; the new name is clearer, less ambiguous, and should work better with the product’s target market. Smart thinking.

What tree?
I also worked for a while on the popular online travel bulletin board at Lonely Planet, the Thorn Tree. A great name…if you already knew what it was.

But, as a smart website manager asked me, why would anyone click on those words in a navigation menu? She was right. The product name was too obscure. The result was a product that felt just a bit too ‘clubby’ and exclusive.

Solution? Simple: call it “Thorn Tree travel forum”. It retains its quirky on-brand identity, and also “says what it is on the tin”. Bingo.

Research. There it is again.
A word of warning, though. When naming a product, do a bit of research into what the words actually mean. Toyota’s Starlet is a good example: A starlet is a young movie star with potential. Yes. But another common definition is “a young and inexperienced actress who is projected as a potential star”. Overhyped. Hmmm.

Another car model is the Mirage: “Something illusory”. And there’s the whole Pajero=wanker debacle. Or does it mean “straw seller”. Or is it just an urban myth?

Here’s a fun product, snapped in a shop window in the charming Victorian town of Beaufort last weekend. It’s always worth checking out any slang implications for your product name too…

Children's toy called the Sit 'n Spin

Thema: Being good, Pedantry | Kommentare (1) | Author:

Simple & Great

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