July 14, 2005

Names matter...

I was writing recently about the importance of names, (here, and here) and how Verizon ought to lock-in a cool name for EV-DO before some competitor does it. (How awkward it would be if the name were "Sprinter!") John Gruber has a detailed post on how Apple has moved very nimbly to add podcasting capabilities to their iPod/iTunes/ITMS constellation. They did not invent the name "podcasting," but it's perfect for them, and they've moved with surprising speed to lock-in the advantage...

...But names do matter. And what makes this so delicious for Apple is that the more popular “podcasting” becomes as the name for publishing audio via RSS, the less likely it will be that a new name will ever take hold. Which leaves Apple’s competitors — including Microsoft, Sony, and the various other gadget-makers producing Windows Media-based players — in the extremely uncomfortable position of choosing from the following courses of action:

1. Embracing the word “podcasting”, even though it contains the name of the competitor they’re chasing, and which name subtly implies that podcasting is meant for use with iPods, which implication sort of further implies that every other digital music player is just an iPod knock-off. I mean, can you imagine Apple using a term like “walkmancasting”, “dellcasting”, or “wincasting”? It’s embarrassing.

2. Devising and using a new term for “podcasting” that doesn’t use “pod”. Good luck with that, considering that everyone — everyone — who is publishing podcasts is already calling them “podcasts”.

[Update: According to
this story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Microsoft employees are pushing “blogcasting” as a “pod”-free alternative.]

3. Ignoring the whole podcasting phenomenon.

There are no other options. The best-case scenario for Apple’s competitors is for this whole podcasting thing to turn out to be nothing more than a fad. That makes #3 a reasonable course of action. But if it isn’t a fad, they’ve got to choose between #1 and #2, both of which are marketing nightmares. And these guys are all already in a deep hole, marketing-wise, versus Apple and iPod...

"implies that every other digital music player is just an iPod knock-off..." Exactly. And once a name "sticks," you pretty much can't change it.

Posted by John Weidner at July 14, 2005 5:07 PM
Weblog by John Weidner