Names of Social Networks and the Experience Architectures They Engender

Consider the names of social networks — MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Tribe — and how they inflect the experience of each site despite the fact that each site enjoys more or less the same functionality.

MySpace is precisely that — a space for and by an individual. It is a user's space on the web, there for him or her to mark up, blog, spin. Sure, there are friends and hook-ups on MySpace but somehow Facebook came to own that function.

Facebook references the old printed facebooks of collegiate yesteryear in which upperclassmen were given a book of the faces of the incoming class. A facebook is essentially social. It is a vehicle to interact with others.

Hi5, too, is essentially social: a high-5 takes two, after all. And, like its name, it is a social activity for the young with a suggestion of the groovy. And such is the site: young and cool.

Tribe, too, is social — but suggests nodes, groups, bound by common interests. And such is Tribe.com.

All four of these sites do basically the same thing — profile pages, news feeds, messaging. And yet each offers a distinct architecture of that experience — leading into this room before entering that, emphasizing this feature and not that.

And it is the name — among other factors, no doubt — that sets this all up, that inflects the experience just so.

And in turn inflects the entire architecture of the experience — from what visitors expect to what the company develops. In the name, is a vision — like it or not.


Naming and The Experience Architecture of a Brand

A name figures a thing. We say "moon" which references the cyclical nature of that rock in the sky. The French say "la lune," speaking to the luminescence of the same thing. But is it the same thing? The French see light; we see cycle. Of course, they see cycle, too, just as we see light. And yet the different names figure the terms of the relationship to the thing.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about all the different ways you can spin a product or brand, the diversity of ways you can situate an offering. For any given product, and especially for interactive products, you can emphasize this or that component, construct the experience in this or that way. I call this the experience architecture.

Now, everyone these days talks about building a relationship with consumers, building a dialog. And this is no doubt important. But what I've been thinking about are the different ways you can construct the terms of this relationship — the terms of the promise, of the delivery, of the effect and affect of the thing.

Any product has multiple qualities — a sneaker may be comfortable, light, sturdy, cool, chic, expensive, inexpensive. A brand chooses to emphasize some of these components, not all of them (usually). Take Volvo and Mercedes. Mercedes is the safer car and yet safety is not what Mercedes emphasizes. Volvo takes safety.

In the grand scheme of things, this is arbitrary — Mercedes could just as easily "own" safety. But it doesn't. Why?

Well, there are a lot of reasons. But I want to suggest that one main reason is that both of these companies have a clear vision — a clear experience architecture — of their respective brands. They may do all sorts of things but the clarity of their visions set the terms of the dialog with their customers.

So now it's time to name something. I look over the brief. It tells me the name should be fun, memorable, short; it tells me the benefits of the thing I'm naming — it makes life easier, safer, healthier; the brief tells me we want to suggest something dynamic yet easy to use.

But what the brief doesn't tell me is the architecture of the experience. For instance, does this thing coddle me? Or is it there when I need it? These are two fundamentally different postures — always there vs. actively nurturing.

In interactive software, these architectures can become quite complex. Is the product a cockpit for the user to drive his way through the web — Pilot.com? Is it a magnet that draws things in and lets the user organize it all — Magneto.com? These can describe the same functionality but they describe two very different visions of the experience: moon vs. la lune.

It's my job to name the thing. It hence becomes my job to cast the terms of the experience architecture. I wonder, however, if at least part of such a discussion shouldn't come earlier, shouldn't be driven by the vision of the stakeholders?

What is your vision of how your product interacts in the world? What is your vision for how your product shapes experience? What is the relationship between information, time, human bodies, human desires?

I almost think companies should start by mapping their visions, how they imagine their products interacting and distributing the different elements. This, I believe, would help make a brand, an experience, and a dialog with consumers more powerful and more effective.


The Rhythm of your Brand: On Punctuation

Punctuation provides the meter for written language. It tells us when to start and stop, when to linger, when to await a dramatic flourish (it can even whisper an aside).

The space — between words, between paragraphs — is perhaps the most basic punctuation, telling us when words start and stop. Space lends coherence, visually and conceptually. Otherwisethingscangetmessy.

The semi-colon is so exquisite; combining both a period and a comma, it marks a full stop and a pause.

The colon, two big spotlights, dramatically declares: heed this.

Commas, often over or under used, can temper an idea.

Where would we be without the question mark? It is an open invitation to the reader.

And, oh, the exclamation point! It can lend poignance and passion to even the most quotidian of utterances.

The dash — perhaps like the parentheses (yet without parenthetical discretion) — lets us flesh and flush out what might have been too thin.

The right punctuation, in the right place, can make language falter or sing.

What's the meter of your brand? What's its rhythm?

Words Perform a Brand

Sometimes, when we say something, we're doing something else entirely. For instance, what happens when I say, "I'm cool"? Well, I've established that I am, in fact, not cool: to say you're cool means you're anything but.

Words never solely state. Words do. They perform all sorts of functions: they excite, provoke, tantalize, assure, inspire. They confuse and obscure; they enlighten.

A writer tends to his performance as much as he tends to his words. Say you're naming a product that is supposed to be easy to use. You can find a word that means easy — "simplio" or "eezee." But you can also create a name that is easy to say, easy to think, easy to use: "Wawa."

The trick to creating powerful language for a brand is to make the words perform the brand, to make the words be the brand, not just state the brand.


Professional Overview

I am a strategic writer and strategist who is equally comfortable developing a distinctive brand voice, articulating a vision, writing a white paper, finding the right name for the right thing, or creating some impossibly succinct tagline.

• Extensive experience as senior copy writer and namer—web, print, ads, white papers, decks, speeches
• Extensive experience as brand strategist and for breadth of companies
• Award-winning Information Architect (Comm Arts, ID, ASCI, among others)
• Founder of ArtandCulture.com and 10Plums.com—a social network and social media app, respectively
• PhD in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley


Writer, Namer, Brand Strategist
Self-Employed, 1998-present

I interview stakeholders, develop a brand position, delineate the goals and rhetorical milieu, and then write what needs to be written.

• Johnson&Johnson/Neosporin: Wrote and co-developed future growth vision
• Odopod: Worked with agency to develop brand and create name for client
• Universal McCann: Developed position and copy for relaunch of corporate site
• Organic: Wrote brand position book aimed for mass audience distribution
• VideoEgg: Developed position, tagline, and copy for relaunch of brochureware
• Salt Branding: Created names for a range of clients and products
• Dialhouse: Wrote presentation to explain a Fortune 500 company’s brand semantic usage
• Catalina Marketing: Developed sales materials for world’s largest targeted marketing firm
• Clorox: Created names and brand concepts for proprietary product

10Plums.com LLC, September 2008-February 2009

• Conceived concept, developed architecture, and oversaw production of web 2.0 social utility application

Founder, Chief Product Officer
ArtandCulture.com, August 2006-September 2008

• Conceived and raised seed round for arts based online social network. Conceived all functionality; wrote functional specification documents and wireframes; wrote positioning papers

In-House Writing Coach + Knowledge Sharing Officer
Stone Yamashita Partners, 2003-2005

• Performed audit of everyone's writing; developed specific strategies for each person. Created and wrote the agency's first knowledge sharing tool set

Director of Writing and Research
Progrexion (now Cicero Group), January 2001-2003; 2005-2007

• Created brand strategy, copy, and concepts for diverse client base, including Applied Underwriters (workers' comp bundled with financial services); DIRECTVDSL; Centex Homes; Covad; Lexington Law

Adjunct Professor
UC Berkeley, 2001-2008; San Francisco Art Institute, 2002-2006

• Taught composition, argument, and critical thinking to undergraduates. Taught introductory lecture and upper division electives in critical theory

Manager of User Experience
Answerthink Consulting Group, 2000-2001

• Created site flow, site maps, wire frames, page maps, and functional specifications for clients, including: Catalina Marketing; an educational science site/CD ROM aimed at kids for Dow Chemical; an interactive web site developed around Levi's Re-Engineered Jeans

Managing Editor
ArtandCulture.com, 1998-2000

• Oversaw production from seed idea to full implementation of multiple award-winning web site: Communication Arts Award for Info Design, ID's Silver Medal for Interactive Design, SXSW's Best Online Cultural Experience and Best of Show, Art Director's Award, among others

Education + Personal Interests

• PhD, Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, December 1998

• MA, Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, Fall 1994

• BA, History & Literature, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Spring 1991. Cum Laude. Honors

Personal Information + Interests
My passion is philosophy, particularly 20th and 21st century French and German philosophy. But my focus is usually the pleasure of deploying these philosophies in interpreting particular objects—art, film, books, martini glasses. For the past several years, I’ve written widely on contemporary art, film, and new media, contributing essays to the Tate Museum as well as to numerous art magazines and gallery catalogs. I recently wrote an article on the different things I’ve learned from eating Uni (as in the sushi, raw sea urchin gonads—yum!).