Word travels fast on the web. That can be a big boon to a business, but it has its down side as well. Consider Blews.

This is the name of a news aggregator being developed at Microsoft Research. It not only displays news stories, but also shows how much they’re being discussed in blogs from the political left and right. And it does automatic sentiment analysis to determine the “emotional charge” of the associated blog posts. It’s not even an actual product yet–it’s a research project. But here it is being discussed by Michael Arrington on TechCrunch, almost as if it were a web startup’s beta.

The problem with Blews is not the technology, which Arrington finds promising, but the name. In the slow old days, this in-house project name would probably never have made it into the wide world. But thanks to the web and influencers like Arrington, it threatens to become a brand.

Arrington is careful to point out that the creators of Blews are not UI experts or web designers, implying that readers should not judge the idea too harshly from a user experience perspective. The same sort of slack should be cut, The Name Inspector supposes, for the name. (A name is, after all, a part of the user experience. It might not affect the way a user decides where to click, but it affects the way a user remembers an app, thinks about it, bookmarks it, and tells others about it.)

So perhaps it’s not fair to pick nits. On the other hand, there’s a value to getting criticism early in the process, right?

This is a pretty bad name. Presumably it’s a blend: Blogs + news = Blews. It also alludes to the use of colors to represent the political spectrum: red for conservative and blue for liberal (and purple for those mixed-up areas). The GUI uses the colors red, white and blue in a way that makes it, as Arrington points out, a dead ringer for a sideways Rocket Pop.

But there are three big problems with the name Blews. First, people are likely to modify it with Microsoft, on the pattern of Microsoft Word. The result sounds like “Microsoft Blues”, which does make a pretty good name for the malaise experienced by the characters in Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs, before they started working at that virtual Lego startup in California and got all confident and fit and sexed up, but not for an innovative web technology from the software giant.

Second, there’s the unfortunate but inevitable evocation of the phrase “Microsoft blows” (or the slightly less negative “Microsoft blew”, which at least leaves open the possibility that Microsoft no longer blows). Some TechCrunch commenters picked right up on that.

Third, Blews looks like a violation of grammar: a third person singular present tense ending stuck onto an irregular past tense verb. It’s the linguistic equivalent of biting on tinfoil.

Let The Name Inspector make it clear that he finds nothing less interesting than gratuitous Microsoft bashing. He knows nice, smart people who work there. He’s just saying that it’s a mistake to give the haters this kind of raw material. The Name Inspector stands always at the ready to help people avoid this kind of situation.

[tags]blews, the name blews, microsoft blews, the name microsoft blews, microserfs, coupland, douglas coupland, legos, sentiment analysis[/tags]

One Response to “Get the Microsoft Blews”

  1. on 14 Mar 2008 at 4:57 pm Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with "sketch")

    I found “blog” an unpleasant enough word when I first heard it, though I rarely think about the sound of it anymore. You would expect a “blog” to live in a swamp, but its oddity has a certain charm.

    “Blews,” on the other hand is just painful. I think I might actually like it if it were spelled differently, however. The portmanteau would be subtler, and the word more aesthetic. Blues. Bluez. Bleus. Bluz. Spelled as it is, the word looks faintly rude, not to mention obvious and uninspired.

    And here Microsoft usually has cool internal code names for things, but woefully pedestrian offical names.

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