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Thursday, January 20, 2000
By Paul Ford
Touch the robot.
Today's Ftrain is not in words, but in a program.
Sometimes I am hired as a brand strategist. As one of these, I work with others to create names for new Internet companies. We then develop taglines, positioning statements, and branding guides. It is not thrilling, but it's a nice way to pass the time, and you spend many of your afternoons paging through the thesaurus or researching architectural or mythological terms.
Today, frustrated at trying my billionth unoriginal combination of "net," "web," and suffixes like "ient" and "ex," arriving at idiotic destinations like "expowerient" and "webexnet," I quickly build an application which would take good, normal words, cut them up, and transform them into interesting garbage.
(To see the script in action, go to the Brand Name Generating Device.
From a test run with the words new fresh smart essential powerful unique yes good get need find me, some of the results are useless, but wonderful - "Smortpickel," "Exelsnatti," and "Lurchama."
Some are futile: "Ecsmarta," "Eqcel," "Smakt."
But some are interesting. Clicking on them, I can see if they've been registered or not. YESsential.com, Exessential.com, MuSearch.com, and Freshsmart.com are available. Intelligo.com is taken, but Uniquo.com is not. Of those, YESsential could find its way into a hypothetical client presentation. The others are good for backup.
When I came to the Web in its early days, around 1994, I thought Web sites would become
I'm lost in a Barnes and Noble bookstore - too much pressure, too many books - and I'm adrift on the Web. 10 years ago, you could tell what was new and fresh and angry by reading photocopied, stapled magazines piled in local music stores, but those magazines and their publishers all went the way of the hyperlink. They affiliate with Amazon for mutual profit, and belong to Webrings. The individual voice is lost among the HREFs to other articles (as in Salon or Wired News, where your attention is perpetually called away by links on the left and right). Such endless navigation is like driving down a mountain highway with every exit your destination. You can't enjoy the long span of road.
My wordmunger program is a single evening's compromise, a way to take the banality of corporate naming (magnobeam.com and spacevessel.com are available, if you want them) and turn it into a game, a tool, a toy. Writing the program placed me in touch with the old digital vibe, bringing up memories of FTPing etext from a server in Michigan, or using DPaint III on the Amiga to create animations, and reading books like Michael Heim's The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, or magazines like Mediamatic and the long-defunct Creative Computing, before I saw the money that could be made.