words

The four founders of Twitter may not be the best business mentors: Their double-crossing saga makes the breakup of the Beatles seem amicable. But as Nick Bilton writes in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal, the quartet got some things really right. One of them? Picking a great name.

Scrutinize your ideas. The four hackers who started what would become Twitter were relentless in criticizing their own name ideas—hence the rejection of Status (too engineer-like), Smssy (too cutesy) and Friendstalker (too “young”).

Follow your impulses. Co-founder Noah Glass was literally thumbing through the dictionary for name ideas when the involuntary twitch of his hand every time his phone vibrated made him look up “twitch.” That wasn’t quite right, but it led him to another entry on the page that was: “twitter,” a word whose definitions both connoted immediacy (“agitation or excitement; flutter”) and lent themselves to branding (“the light chirping sound made by certain birds”).

Make it easy to use. Part of the beauty of the name Twitter is that it has a catchy variant that’s easily used as a verb, making it natural for people to use. When was the last time you thought of birdsong when you heard the word “tweet”?

Don’t follow the pack. Co-founder Jack Dorsey wanted to remove the vowels—a popular Silicon Valley affectation—to make the platform Twttr. The others nixed the idea, as the goal was to get a mass user base and the typical non-techie would likely be puzzled by the jargony no-vowel shorthand. It’s a lesson on the importance of taking your cues from the customers you want, not the peers you’re around.

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