Given that a company's or product's name can help determine its eventual success or failure (the initially much derided iPad being an exception), the founders of one of the Internet's most popular social networking sites are probably lucky they scrapped their original brand name. In an interview with WNYC that appeared online Monday, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey discusses how the site got its moniker, revealing that the service was known in early brainstorming sessions as Twitch. How did Twitch evolve to Twitter? Here, a brief guide:
Was Twitter really going to be called Twitch?
Yup. "We wanted a name that evoked what we did," says Dorsey in the WNYC interview. In the original conception of the service, a user's cell phone would buzz when fellow users sent him an update (not yet known as a Tweet). In other words, it would "jitter" or "twitch." So, Dorsey and his co-founders considered naming the company either Jitter or Twitch.
How did that evolve to Twitter?
Thankfully, something about Twitch rubbed the creators the wrong way. So the team generated alternatives in a distinctly un-digital way: By searching the Oxford English Dictionary. They scanned the list of "Tw" words around "twitch," landing on "twitter," which means "a short, inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds." The definition described "exactly what we were doing here," Dorsey says.
How did Tweet come about?
It was the service's users who first adopted the word "tweet" to refer to the site's trademark 140-character updates — an organic development given the site's bird-themed imagery and the definition of "Twitter." "We're like, 'No it's a status update,'" Dorsey says. "They're like, 'No it's a tweet.'" The company thought the word was "too cute" for a service it took very seriously, but eventually gave in and adopted the terminology. It may have been the best move the company made, says Matthew Fleischer at Mediabistro.com. The ubiquity of the phrase "to tweet" is what "undoubtedly saved the company's hide." "I couldn't imagine having to send out a 'twitch,'" agrees Chris Gaymali at TIME.
Were there any reservations about the name Twitter?
Yes. There were plenty of detractors, says Dorsey. But although the word "twit" is a demeaning insult in some cultures, the team went with "Twitter" anyway — a decision Dorsey says, in hindsight, was amazing. "Once we saw the word Twitter, the definition, the concept, and we put it on the site and saw how it looked, we said immediately 'That’s it.'" The name clarified the mission of the company: Keeping things "simple, social, short, and tangible." All jitters about the name were gone.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- Even critics of the euro didn't see this coming
- How America's broken immigration system is failing the military
Subscribe to the Week