An App By Any Other Name …

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OMG/JK: The Color Of Controversy

“One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.”

– Apple exec Jean Louis Gassée on the naming of Apple

Why is Color named “Color”?

“A tribute to Apple’s color logo from the Apple II. This computer changed my life when I was seven (also a reference to another company name I’ve used.)

My dad bought one from ComputerCraft run by Billy Ladin in Houston. He was one of the first computer resellers back in 1977. In an odd twist, I meet him in an elevator 15 years later and worked for him. He introduced me to the Web.

Working at Apple was a dream. Color’s name is a tribute to Apple.”

– Bill Nguyen, Color founder on why he chose the name Color

Reading Semil Shah’s post on group messaging this morning, I was struck by the sheer numbers and diversity of the startup names scattered throughout: Yobongo, Disco, SocialCam, SoundCloud, Beluga, GroupMe, Fast Society, Rabbly, Whatsapp, Kik, textPlus, Convore, SMSGupShup, MessageParty, TextSlide, Bump Technologies, Color Labs and so on, all contenders in the saturated mobile social space. Some like MessageParty or textPlus had names that were actually related to their product, but many like Yobongo, Beluga and Disco had only a tenuous connection.

It’s now pretty clear the app ecosystem has gone mainstream: People talk about apps the way they used to talk about music or drugs (“Omg have you guys tried COLOR. Omg you have to try it. Omg we’re on it right now”). And naming your startup has become like naming your band — An intricate dance between a multitude of contributing metaphoric and literal factors. So which approach, picking something random or actually related to what you do, makes more sense?

Two notable app launches this week highlighted how exactly an app’s name plays into public perception. The most visible instance of this was the launch of Color, an ubiquitous noun/verb name picked by Bill Nguyen and Peter Pham for their photosharing app with a hefty $41 million in funding.

While initial complaints held that the app was unsearchable in both the Android and iPhone App Store and on Google because of its common name, that problem now seems to have been solved on Google. Perhaps all the inbound links from news and other sites are responsible for the fact that the service is now the eighth result for the word “color”? Color also somehow went from being invisible to being the first app to appear in the Apple App Store under the “color” search term (I’m hearing Android is still having issues).

Color’s name, while initially striking some people as slightly off if only for all its other connotations, is valid in that it accurately describes a core function of the Color Labs product, namely the fact that people are sharing images (a collection of colored pixels) through the app.

The Color guys tell me (and Quora above) that they first came up with the name Color in a tribute to Apple’s original reverse-color logo and then bought the domain name for $350K.  In order to appeal to English speakers in other regions, they also bought the domain name Colour.com and redirected it to Color.com. And yes, this did not stave off complaints.

Contrast Color’s name with that of the other hot five-letter app of the moment, Disco. Currently it’s unclear whether Google made the $255K purchase of the domain Disco.com for a Slide-related purpose, or just to have on hand (Google has not given me a straight answer in any of my emails). If the latter is the case then it wouldn’t be the first time Google stockpiled domains (bayareaburritos.com anyone?) for future use.

Whether purposefully acquired or not, the name Disco seems to have a less of a direct relation to its core product than Color. While a disco (nightclub) does bring people together in a sense, the noun has absolutely nothing to do with group messaging, and I think users have already picked up on this distinction. All in all the choice to use Disco as a name for a group messaging app is incongruous, especially when you consider that Google also owns Hello.com.

“This one fits to the product #color, This one doesn’t fit at all #disco,” tweeted Berrehili Réda. “I don’t know, when I first heard about google’s product #disco, I thought they had finally released their music streaming service…”

While it’s possible that the name Disco was already on the drawing board at Slide pre-Google acquisition, if Disco’s makers first chose a vague name and then built out a product for release, then they wouldn’t be alone. Private photo-sharing service Path still called itself Path (at Path.io) back when it was a list-making tool. Guess they thought the Path designation still held after they made the decision to focus on photo-sharing.

In a seminal post on the subject, VC Rich Barton holds in that making up a new word (like Kleenex or Yobongo) is much more powerful than trying to appropriate a already existing literal word like Color or Disco. But if you’d have to go with an existing word, I’d go with the one that has a strong tie-in to the actual product.

Then again there’s always exceptions. No matter which apocryphal origin story you believe, the word Apple has nothing to do with computers. “If somebody had told me in 1970 that Apple would be the name of the top tech company, I would have laughed to death,” said VC Dani Nofal.

Yes, and if someone had told me in 1990 that someone would name their company Color in homage to that top computer company Apple, I too would have chuckled. Color probably hopes it’ll be laughing all the way to an extended featured position in the App Store.