How Ninite was named by a computer program

Naming is easy.  I like to pick something that suggests the concept and has a good sound to it.  Our product was initially Volery.  The internal name for the web code is dancecard.  You get the idea.

The problem is the flat .com namespace.  Context disappears.  In the real world apple can refer to a fruit, a computer company, a record label, and lots of other things.  Online there can be only one.

Search helps, but to most people a website lives at name.com, maybe with a www in front.  Our stats seem to reflect this: 60% direct traffic, only 20% search.  17% of those searches are ninite.com or www.ninite.com.

We were actually set to launch at getvolery.com until Paul Graham brought us to our senses.  I do believe the web should tolerate name sharing better, and 37signals does fine with decorated domains like basecamphq.com, but I bet that’s just one of many exceptional things about that company.  Much of our early press actually thought the product was named Get Volery instead of Volery.  The name.com idea is deeply ingrained, even in technically-adept bloggers.

So the problem morphs from finding a name to finding a .com.  Unfortunately squatters have snapped up most of the good, bad, and even terrible .com domains.

Instant Domain Search is OK for searching by hand, but we’re an automation company.  Naturally, we wrote a program to generate nonsense words that have the .com available.  N-grams from the dictionary made terrible names, but simply combining three-letter prefixes and suffixes worked well.

We’re called Ninite because that was the best looking output.  It also explains my pronunciation of NIN-ite since it’s a prefix and a suffix.  Most of our users seem to have settled on NI-nite, which is also fine since it can be spelled correctly either way.

A surprising discovery from this name search was that there seems to be a certain name-iness to some words.  We found a number of people and towns with the name Volery.  We’ve heard from people with the surname Ninite.  Even the runner-up from our naming program, Refria, shares its name with people and towns.  If it sounds halfway decent, it seems a name is already in use somewhere on Earth.

If you’re interested, the code is here: namer.py

It’s public domain, so have fun.  The dictionary file path is set for OS X, you may need to change it on other systems.  I have no idea if this violates WHOIS terms of service.  Be polite and don’t run it all day long.

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