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September 2012

Product Naming and Unintended Consequences

Rhymes with FOPE


How would you pronounce this?

  1. As in "dope"
  2. As in "soapy"
  3. As in "floppy"
  4. With two syllables, the last one like "touche"

Answer?  I don't know.  I've heard it pronounced like #2 and #3 above and will no doubt encounter a pronunciation like #4 before long.

What It Does is What It Is

So what exactly is FOPE? Glad you asked.  FOPE stands for "Forefront Online Protection for Exchange."  It's a Microsoft service; you can read about it here.  In simpler terms, FOPE provides the anti-virus and anti-spam functions that are part of any good messaging system.

Let's dissect the name.

  1. Forefront: OK, this has a tinge of Marketing.  "Forefront" as in "out in front," which is where you want your anti-virus and anti-spam to be--helping you before a message is received, not afterwards.
  2. Online:  yes, this is an online (hosted "in the cloud") service, vs. software you install and run on your own server.
  3. Protection:  yes, this provides protection from viruses and spam and similar nastiness that assails the world of email.
  4. for Exchange:  ah, it's a service that works with Exchange, Microsoft's email service.  As far as I know, Microsoft is not in the anti-virus business the way Trend Micro or others are.  So their anti-virus and anti-spam service is built to run with Microsoft's product, period.

Forefront Online Protection for Exchange.  This is a classic case of naming a product based on what it does; the name says it all.  You often see names like this in companies that have a strong technical culture.

That would be fine, but there's a problem.  The name is a mouthful.  Imagine the poor sales represenative on a cold call.  He knows he's only got about ten seconds to engage the prospect, and he's going to burn two or three of those just getting the product name out.  He'd be much happier if the product were named "Blitz!" or some other monosyllabic word.

Of course, the sales rep isn't the only one who doesn't want to say "Forefront Online Protection for Exchange" over and over.  Hence, FOPE is born.

FOPE might be fine for internal use, but no one in Marketing or Sales is going to want to talk about a product that might rhyme with "dope".  It just sounds stupid.

Why It Is is What It Is

Now imagine a different name (we'll even anticipate the acronym):

Forefront Mail Protector

or FMP if you prefer.

What's the difference?  The emphasis here is on why it exists:  to protect your email from threats that arise from spam, phishing and viruses.  I can easily understand what a "protector" does for me.  And the great thing is, I don't have to know (or care) how it does its job.  I use Forefront (the likely short form of the name) and I'm protected.  Done.

Move from Description to Value

It's easy to end up with a name like FOPE.  Early in the project, people want to give the thing you're making a name and no one's thinking about its ultimate value.  They just want another reference besides "that thing."  So all eyes turn to the Product Manager, who blurts out something like "EasyLAN with Meridian Extension!" (no kidding--my first product name).

My advice: name the project using some arbitrary name... say, Cybele.  Make it obvious that this would never be the name of the product.  This will buy you some time to work with the Marketing and come up with a name that expresses how it benefits the customer, not just what it does.  Let the technical folks call it by some acronym that's convenient.  But get cracking on the ultimate market name, the one that Sales won't be inclined to mumble over or replace with a name of their own invention (lacking any direction from you).  Then let the techies make that into an acronym--hopefully one you've already planned to use.

In short, don't be a FOPE.



Planning, or Not

The folks at Sequent Learning Networks got in touch with me recently, to get my thoughts on business and product planning.  You can read about it here.  Large companies, such as Nortel Networks, had well-developed planning processes.  At the other extreme, I've been involved with numerous startup's where long-range planning meant what you wanted to do two development sprints from now.

Have a read, and let me know what you think.

Aloha Auntie

We lost our dear friend and "auntie" to our children, Kaui Napualani Naone Doyle, at the end of August. Even though I had lots of time to prepare for this event, it hasn't made the adjustment any easier. These are my thoughts.


I came across this picture, scanned from the old-fashioned print kind, and realized that Kaui was wearing the hat that is currently in vogue with the Hipsters. Of course! Kaui was cool without even trying to be cool.

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Crystal met Kaui when they worked together at a law firm in Palo Alto. After an extended lunch hour spent drinking wine they no longer worked together, but that cemented their lifetime friendship. Eventually Kaui got to know the shy service tech that lived upstairs from her in Palo Alto, and that's how we met Steve.

Kaui and Steve have been in our life ever since. We shared a house together, Crystal and Kaui bought TR-7's together, the four of us went to clubs together. And when we started a family, Kaui and Steve took on the role of aunt and uncle.

Kaui became an "auntie" to Sean and Brian. When Sean wanted to go to Hawaii after high school, it was Kaui and Steve that looked after him. Kaui introduced Sean to Frank, who ran the stables in Waimea for hotel guests that wanted to go on trail rides. Frank let Sean work with him (contributing greatly to Sean's eventual horse training career). When our boys each were old enough, they stayed on in Hawaii in order to see Kaui, or (in one case) to help take care of her during a round of chemotherapy treatment. Even though we didn't see Kaui and Steve as often as when they lived in California, Kaui was always a part of our family life. She attended many events (most recently, Crystal's 50th birthday party) and made sure that she was current with all of Sean and Brian's goings-on.

Kaui battled cancer longer than anyone I've known. It had to be close to 20 years. And considering that she wasn't given long to live, her story is all the more amazing. If that was all you knew of Kaui, it would be inspiration enough. She decided (with Steve's help) early on that she was going to fight cancer, and she did so relentlessly, and with the smile and sunny disposition that she always had. When the doctors in Hawaii couldn't help her further, she found doctors in Germany that offered a promising treatment. She repeatedly fought back her cancer, and repeatedly it returned in another form. That never deterred her; she just fought some more. She fought and fought, all the way to the end. Kaui did not go gently into the night.

What did Kaui teach me?

Kaui taught me to love Hawaii, in particular the Hawaiian people and culture. I went to Hawaii for the first time with the usual pre-conceived notions of someone visiting for the first time, someone unaware of Hawaiian history and culture. Kaui showed me, through her actions, what the spirit of aloha really meant. It seemed that Kaui knew everyone. So anytime I had a question or wanted to do something Kaui would offer up the name of a relative who could get us kamaaina rates at some tourist attraction, or arrange for me to go golfing at a local course, or get us into the best Hawaiian luau. Everyone she introduced to us took us in as part of their family, looking at us as if to say, "Come on! I said you're welcome to join in! What are you waiting for?!" Kaui's Auntie Lorna didn't just get us into the tour at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory where she worked—she gave us a personal tour, and insisted on sending us home with freezer bags full of the rejects from the nut packing line. When Brian got interested in politics, Kaui said "I'll get you in touch with Danny"—Akaka, son of Senator Daniel Akaka. She did these things in a totally selfless way, never to impress you with who she knew or what strings she could pull. For Kaui, it was a simple equation: you need help, I can help, so I will help.

Kaui taught me how to live life without fear, how to live with a purpose, how to want nothing and yet achieve everything. It's a cliché at someone's funeral to say something like "look around to see the impact this person has had." But I have no doubt that this is true in Kaui's case. Someone who was so focused on doing something for every person she met could only have that kind of impact.

I'd say I'm going to miss you Kaui, but to be honest I can't really believe that you're gone. And I'm hoping that when I get to Hawaii I'll realize that you're not really gone, just… as they said about Abraham Lincoln, "you belong to the ages." I'll see you in every smile, every offer to help out a lost haole, every time a local gives with no expectation of return, every time a little keiki asks me where the island of California is located. I can only hope to honor you by living your spirit of aloha and showing others what makes Hawaii and Hawaiians so special. Godspeed, and thank you for enriching my life so wonderfully.