Month Nine on the Job: Naming

I am a product manager on the Web Platform & Tools team at Microsoft.  I am responsible for several technologies for designing, building and deploying web sites which are used by many big sites you probably visit each day (e.g., www.myspace.com, www.hotmail.com, www.msnbc.com, www.msn.com).

One of the biggest product developments we have been focusing on the past year is a set of technologies for simplifying AJAX-style web development.  The code-name of our AJAX-related technologies is “Atlas” and, as part of the product roadmap we announced this past Monday, we needed a “real” name.

Naming things in the software world is really tough especially if that software runs on the web.  That is because there are millions of potential name conflicts (also known as lawsuits) and Microsoft is a huge target.  Furthermore, most new web-related technologies strive for cool names to make differentiation easier in a saturated market.  However, “cool” and “unique” are typically at odds with “established” and “trustworthy” particularly in the all-too-important enterprise environments (i.e., the big $$$).

It was an eye-opening experience working with the key stakeholders across the company which included upper management, PR, legal and the branding departments.  There was also a fair amount of litmus testing with a few key externals.

I’d be lying if I said the experience was all fun and that I look forward to doing it again soon.  I categorize it as one of those job requirements that carries way more weight than it should because no name will satisfy everyone.  How something gets named is really about picking which battles are worth fighting and which are not and then getting prepared with the data (if there is any) that will at least move the most vocal detractors to a neutral position.

We accomplished that and, honestly, it went about as well as it could have gone considering the tons of press and blog activity the new names generated.