Originally published Mar 21, 2007

On Monday The Name Inspector hosted a Biznik workshop and everyone discussed the name of the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. It’s an interesting case study in selecting a real word to serve as a business name.

The word flicker clearly evokes scenarios associated with light and photography. One person said it reminded her of movie projectors and old movies. Someone else thought of the light that flickers on a camera before the flash to prevent red eye. Another person imagined a bunch of flashbulbs going off at once, like what you see near the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Another thought of flames.

Everyone agreed that the associations with light are strong and appropriate. There were, however, some less positive reactions. Several people, The Name Inspector included, took issue with the unreliability associated with the word flicker. Lights tend to flicker when there’s a bad electrical connection or when the power is about to go out. Dying flames flicker. This association might tend to undermine confidence in a web application–those things are, let’s be frank, prone to have some technical problems from time to time. On the other hand, the dynamic quality of flickering light can be a positive, and the association with flame suggests warmth and soft, beautiful light.

Of course, no discussion of the name Flickr would be complete without some mention of that missing e. Misspelled names often seem cheesy, as if they should appear in those late-night TV commercials that flash 1-800 numbers on the screen. Think of Krazy Glue, for example. Flickr does not completely escape that fate. Right now it may still have a certain cutting-edge sheen, but that’s unlikely to last with all the imitators it’s inspired: WishListrZooomrGabbrFrapprFlagr, etc. See even more over at Brand Dialogue.

It seems only fair to say a few words in defense of the misspelling, though. Of course, it’s an understandable response to the extreme difficulty and/or expense of getting a real word as a domain name. Instead of forking over the big bucks to someone who happened to register a word but has nothing better to do with it than serve up a bunch of random ads (which The Name Inspector is by no means encouraging you to click on), why not come up with a creative work-around? This particular misspelling works pretty well, because the er in flicker just stands for a syllabic r sound, which makes the e superfluous from a phonetic point of view. Leaving it out doesn’t make the name difficult to pronounce, and is reminiscent of the abbreviated spelling used in text messaging, which might even make it a little hip.

There was a pretty strong consensus in our group that Flickr offers such a fun and useful service that the potential weaknesses of the name pale in comparison to the strengths. People just like Flickr, and that makes them very forgiving.

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