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A Google by any Other Name

Code Names and Former Names for Google Products


It's common for products to have code names, and sometimes those code names even become popular vernacular. Google's Android mobile platform goes with dessert names like Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich (in alphabetical order,) and it's just easier to remember than Android 2.2, 3.1, and 4.0.

Sometimes Google buys products that already have a name and keeps the existing name. This includes products like Blogger, YouTube, Picasa, and Android. Sometimes Google feels like it's time for a name makeover or wants to use the product or employee expertise to beef up an existing Google product or brand. Can you imagine what would have happened if they'd decided to take YouTube and fold it into their existing Google Video service?

However the name change happened, here are some products you probably know with some names you've probably never heard.

1. Taco Town

Taco Town was the working name for Google Buzz. The name comes from a Saturday Night Live skit where they advertise a new Taco Town taco and keep covering it with more layers. A taco covered with a layer of beans, covered with a tortilla, surrounded by guacomolito sauce, wrapped in a crepe, dipped in batter, deep fried, and stuffed in a pancake.

The idea was to emphasize the layers of communication that could all come together in a Twitter stream wrapped in Gmail, surrounded by contacts, and dipped in photo sharing. I'd say the name "Taco Town" seems a bit more interesting than Google Buzz. Maybe they could have just called it Google Taco?

2. Froogle

Ok, this is a less obscure name for those experienced Internet veterans out there. When Google introduced their shopping comparison engine, they used the name Froogle as a play on the words Google and frugal. It's a perfect name, but eventually they decided that consumers were confused by it. The name was changed to the much more boring and straightforward Google Product Search, but (talk about consumer confusion) it's also known as Google Shopping.

3. Keyhole

One of Google's early aquisitions was Keyhole, a product for a virtual globe that allowed you to zoom in using satellite images and see states, cities, and even individual backyards. They changed the name to Google Earth, and that's probably a wise choice, as "Keyhole" sounds a bit too peeping Tom for a product that already makes people twitchy about privacy concerns.

Because of the earlier name, the language used to code locations on Google Earth is still known as KML for Keyhole Markup Language.

4. Eden

According to Steven Levy's book, In the Plex, developer Orkut Büyükkökten wanted to name his new social networking platform "Eden" after the famous Blblical paradise. Eden was already taken as a domain name, so the alternative name they chose was Orkut, after the developer.

If you've never heard of Orkut, don't worry. It just means you don't live in Brazil or India, where Orkut is most popular. In the US, Orkut remains farily obscure. Early product buzz didn't translate to long-term adoption, and Google didn't originally see the value of putting effort into social networks. Would a product named Eden have done better?

Would Google be better off developing Orkut more or starting from scratch with a new product name? I hear Taco Town's still available.

5. Dory

Google Moderator was an internal product for years before being released to the public. Google would use this to moderate their employee question and answer sessions known as TGIFs. According to In the Plex, the tool was originally named Dory after the forgetful character in Finding Nemo. She was a fish that was constantly asking questions. Disney licensing for that sort of thing is probably pretty steep, even by Google standards, so the generic Google Moderator is the name for the product today.

In this case, the name change made a lot of sense. Unlike some hip social communication service that could use a strange name, Google Moderator is a tool that needs a name that tells you what it does.

6. Writely, JotSpot, and Tonic Systems

Writely was the online word processor that became Google Docs. Along the way, Google also acquired JotSpot and Tonic Systems to flesh out Google Docs. Google Spreadsheets was originally developed in-house and benefitted from Google's twenty percent time.

It's actually a product that has undergone several name changes, because it was known as Google Docs & Spreadsheets before presentations, forms, and drawings all became features of the tool. It makes sense to have an online Office-like suite of products go under a single name, but it may serve as a lesson that Google shoudln't try to name their products too quickly when they're still adding features.


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