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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

What's in a name?

Democracy Player is a wonderful bit of Open Source software for managing video. I’ve written about it before, and recently version 0.9.6 has been released. The last version before it gets a name change to… “Miro”. This, I believe, is a minor disaster.

What “Democracy” has, is an emotional reaction. It’s a powerful word. It embodies a concept and a belief and a way of thinking. It’s a familiar word too, one that people can remember easily. It’s also unique - no other software is called “Democracy”. Frankly, it’s the perfect name for this product. It makes the agenda clear from the very start - Democracy TV is about democracy for your videos. It’s about you being in control, you choosing what networks to subscribe to, you choosing which shows float and which sink. When a product is called “Democracy” and it shouts out about its versatility, how it runs on almost any Operating System, how it plays almost any video format, how it allows you to subscribe to thousands of free video channels, how it allows you to organise your video how you want, how it allows you to create and publish your own video channels… that’s a powerful and immediate concept. That truly is a democratic thing. The notion clicks with the name.

So, what is “Miro”? What does that counjour in your mind? My guess is sweet nothing. Your mind is a void. You’ve got nothing to latch on to - it’s a word with no meaning, no associations, no power, no memorability, no recognition. If I were to mention to you in a week “Democracy Player” or “Democracy TV” you’d stand a good chance of recognising that I’d spoken about it before, and even what it was. If I mentioned “Miro” you’d be struggling. Was it that video player, or was it that web 2.0 company? Perhaps it was that flashy application with the shiny buttons? Or was it that guy you were talking to on IRC?

Miro is a listless and limp name. It’s something that could have been made up in under a minute, it has no power, no association, no recognition, it doesn’t stand out but rather blends in with all those other web 2.0 names (flickr, twittr, pidgin, viddler, vimeo, pandora, last.fm, joost…). Adding to the poor memorability and lack of intrinsic meaning, a name change causes confusion and will take a chunk of Google love away. All those old reviews and raves now talk about a product that doesn’t exist. Anyone reading about Democracy Player will find only Miro, and wonder what the heck is going on. And if they google Miro, they’ll find another video product with the same name.

What’s in a name? A lot can be in a name - picking the right one is important. I don’t thing Miro is the right one.


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  1. Little Bro posted 59min, 43sec after the entry and said:

    And at first I thought it said Micro XD
    I won't remember it being called Miro, it's like MSN, it's now WLM but everyone calss it MSN, 'Miro' will still be Democracy Player.

  2. Matt Wilcox posted 17 days, 19hrs, 25mins after the entry and said:

    Well, looking at the comment thread - no one has a good word to say about the new name that isn't a developer.

    And there's a lot of people that really don't like it.

    I never did get any feedback about the justification for the name change - and that's as worrying for the software as anything else. Seems that the 'democracy' in the project will be removed as soon as the name is.


  3. totallymeat posted 36 days, 8hrs, 22mins after the entry and said:

    All those names with, "no meaning, no associations, no power, no memorability, no recognition"? You mean like:

    pidgin = A simplified non-native contact language. Seems fitting for a cross-protocol IM program.

    pandora = Greek mythological character that has captured imagination for thousands of years for her association with a certain box and the torrent of evils it contained. Seems fitting for a service that connects you to a staggeringly large collection of genre-linked free music, considering its addictive qualities.

    last.fm = As in, the final entity and the FM broadcast spectrum, an electromagnetic frequency almost synonymous with music. Put together, you get the last music broadcast, which is fitting for an intelligent social music tracking station.

    Even some of the other non-standard names you mention like Flickr and Twittr are just tweaked spellings of words that have a natural association with the product.

    I don't like the Democracy name change any more than you, but come on, "miro" means "I see" in Spanish. It's a bad move, but it's not like they just made up a word. Like iPhone.

    Matt says: I agree that many names, if you understand the etymology or obscure mythos, are fitting. But the aim isn’t to appeal to geeks that know this stuff - it’s to appeal to Joe Blogs. And they don’t know spanish. So to them it’s a made up word with no intrinsic meaning, no memorability, no power.

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