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Don’t change your daughter’s, or your intranet’s, name, Mrs. Worthington

I know a thing or two about name recognition. My name is Wedge (these things happen, I assure you). So let’s talk about the name of your intranet, or indeed, the name of your major Document Control System software or the name of your Enterprise Resource Planning software.

You could just use the software’s name, or you could christen it with a recognisable ‘brand’ name or a name that kinda explains its function.

Intranets are often named, while it seems that ‘clunky’ document control or business intelligence systems retain their (clunky) software’s name.

So, intranets get named, usually by the users by survey or poll. First people are invited to send in suggested names, then later on, people are polled for their vote on their favourite name.

Intranets get named at their launch; when do they get re-named? When their system is upgraded? When the business gets taken over or rebranded? When the front page gets a superficial design make-over?

When is a renaming necessary? What’s the purpose of the name and what’s the purpose of the renaming?

Renaming anything costs money. Oh yes it does. Think of all the literature that mentions the intranet / system as a reference. So why do we rename things?

Well, if the system has completely changed beyond recognition then ‘it’ is no longer what it was. If I were to have a second daughter, I wouldn’t name her after my first – although ‘Savannah 2.0’ has a certain ring to it (What? You don’t want me to name my first daughter Savannah 1.0?).

But if the system does the same thing, if it fulfils the same function, then, for the end-user, what’s changed?

“Oh we used to have this system called ‘Resource Booking’ that let us book rooms and food, but now we have a brand new system called ‘Workspace Enabler’ that lets us book rooms, food and desks, so… yeah, Workspace Enabler does look quite different; it’s blue.”

If, like many companies, you rip-out and replace the software that runs your intranet every three to five years, then you’ll be sorely tempted to re-launch it with a great fanfare and a new name.

This new intranet actually works,” you’ll proclaim, “we know the last intranet was badly structured and had a weak search engine, but this new one works really well, and we did ‘Information Architecture’ to it as well.

(Three to five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about re-launching a new intranet, as back then many companies were on their first ever intranet. Not all companies have valued an intranet system since the Nineties.)

I think there’s some value in giving a brand new intranet a brand new name. It can foster a feeling of freshness in people’s hearts and minds. A new name is a clean break away from the past, considering that people may have a poor opinion about your ‘old fashioned’ intranet.

But, y’know, people are still going to refer to your new shiny intranet with the old dull one’s name – in conversation, on the phone, even in emails. It will take a lot of time for your new intranet to become known as ‘NewsFlash’ instead of ‘FlashOnLine’.

(Please don’t ever use names like these!)

So, unless your current intranet name is wholly inappropriate for the company and culture you’ve become, why change it?

“Oh because this new system is so much better,” you’ll tell me.

That’s OK, but in a year no-one will really give a hoot. Word got updated. IE got updated, Windows got heavily revised. Is Windows Vista really not Windows? Oh OK, it has it’s own name to distinguish it from XP, OK, that’s fine.

Is there a cultural or business need to distinguish your old intranet from the new one you’re planning / launching?

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Why call it something else? It’s your company intranet, it’s not something ‘new’, it’s your company intranet.

Me? I’ve launched new intranets in the past and run polls to re-name it, yes. We got some great name ideas. This year, for this company, I’m ripping-out the old intranet system and replacing it with a massive integrated communication solution (see, it’s more than a system, it’s a solution, heh heh). I’m keeping the old intranet name, oh yes I am.

This company has changed its internal magazine’s name before, and yet years later, people still use the old name. This means people don’t know what other people are talking about – we literally don’t understand each other when they ring up and say they’ve seen something in ‘FlashDance’ (again, a fake name!).

We’ve changed the name (and email addresses) of our feedback, ‘idea’ and complaint channels. We did this to keep them ‘on-brand’ but to be honest nobody cares; they just want to be able to contact the ‘top’ of the company.

So, considering the massive changes this company is undergoing (we will be unrecognisable internally in just six months) I don’t see the point of correcting people all the time:

“You mean NewsFlash, not FlashOnLine.”

People don’t want the hassle. I may be living and breathing our new intranet as we design and build it, but people don’t (and shouldn’t) care as much as I do. Why bother them with a name-change that will (demonstrably) take years to filter down and get embedded?

We have a good name; I’m sticking with it (although secretly I personally wanted to rename it to Delta).

[Wedge]

Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps (mandj98)

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About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

7 thoughts on “Don’t change your daughter’s, or your intranet’s, name, Mrs. Worthington

  • After years of waiting, we are finally redeveloping our intranet and moving to a new CMS system.

    The current name reflects the name of the NHS Trust I work for. As the trust’s name will change next year if we become a Foundation Trust, we thought we should change the intranet name when we relaunch it, rather than go through another change next year.

    Our web editor did a bit of research on the current intranet and found that several staff didn’t actually know the difference between our intranet and website, so we want a name that explains that. Something simple like StaffNet – does what it says on the tin (although personally I’d like to call it Boris).

    There are some users who have argued it should just be called ‘the intranet – because that’s what it is’. We’re not convinced that solves the problem of people not knowing who it’s for (and not for) though.

    Not many staff getting involved in the opportunity to contribute their ideas – although I’m sure we’ll hear from them all once the decisions are made…

    Good to read your blogs and see other people face similar challenges!

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  • Great to hear about your process, thanks for stopping by.

    The intranet is ‘the intranet’ in the same way that one’s email program is ‘the email client’ but is most often referred to by its name – Outlook, Thunderbird, Lotus Notes, Mac Mail etc.

    Plus, one can’t always hear or read the difference in the words “Internet” and “intranet” – in fact a lot of people spell it as “intrAnet”…

    So a name is kinda important I feel, and yes, differentiating it from the external website is also a need. For me, we don’t have a name for our two external websites, so that’s confusing for us.

    StaffNet and Boris are both fine names, because they fulfil the same purpose – identification that rolls off the tongue.

    “It’s on StaffNet” – “I found it on Boris” – both easier than saying “I got it off the intranet”.

    (Although we have to consider how new starters will hear the name – ‘who’s Boris?’ they may ask – which is fine question that can lead to engagement!)

  • I’ve been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  • As always, great reading Wedge – thank you. I just wanted to share some experiences in a similar vein. We have had a couple of ‘namings’ by staff competition. Experience #1 The staff members winning name was promptly overturned by an incoming CE (which was shortly after the competition took place). Fortunately the staff member did not have to return their prize. Experience #2 After the closing date the staff could see the list of entries but didn’t have a say in the selection. Ok understand why that might be the case but that didn’t go down terribly well…

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’m in a situation where the intranet’s strongest asset is the name which is so recognised that people don’t know what “The intranet” but in stead they know it by its name!

    Wait… Did he just say that the name was the best asset? Yes – a bit sad, but that’s a story for another rainy day…

    Last year we launched a new collaboration platform based on Lotus QuickR and we were making plans for naming competitions etc. until we realised that since everybody was calling it “QuickR”. In other words, we would be tilting at windmills if we tried to rename this so we didn’t!

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