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April 12, 2007

Jaiku vs. Twitter: Battle of the Problematic Brand Names

twitter.gifFor those who are unfamiliar with Twitter, the latest offering from the creators of Odeo, Obvious Corp., it exists to allow people to answer the question “What are you doing now?” in 40 characters or less, by SMS (short message service), IM (instant messaging), or through a web interface.

Twitter enjoys remarkable popularity among Web 2.0 early adopters, but recently suffered a blow when Leo Laporte, the most-followed member, decided to switch from Twitter to Finnish rival Jaiku.

Why the switch? Because of the name. Leo Laporte hosts a popular podcast called This Week in Tech, commonly abbreviated “TWiT” and pronounced, you guessed it, “twit.” And that means any name with “twit” in it causes problems for Laporte:

"The problem is the name. I wish to heck he'd named it Tweeter, or Tooter, or anything but Twitter. Twitter is so close to TWiT that I'm afraid it's really confusing. And it hasn't helped the confusion that I've been such a fan of Twitter. I'm sure half the people there think we have some sort of relationship. But we don't. And the proliferation of programs like Twitbox and sites like Twit This are not helping things much."

jaiku.gifBut while there’s no chance of confusion with “TWiT,” the name “Jaiku” has problems of its own. Jaiku co-founder Jyri Engeström said this about the product name in an interview with Kristen Nicole on April 7th:

"We came up with the name Jaiku because the posts on Jaiku resemble Japanese haikus. A haiku is a short poem about the moment that a person is living through even as they are writing it down. In Finland too the nomadic Lapp people share stories by singing Joikus. We liked the name Jaiku mainly because it had a fun sound to it."

It’s a clever name. The only problem is, nowhere on the Jaiku website or the Jaikido blog does anyone explain just what that “fun pronunciation” is.

Which language’s rules should we be applying to that initial “J”?

  • Spanish would give us an “H” sound, which brings out the relationship to “haiku.”
  • But Jaiku’s creators aren’t Spanish, they’re Finnish, and in Finnish that “J” is pronounced like the “Y” in “yes.”
  • English-speakers who don’t live near the Mexican border will automatically pronounce the “J” as a consonant.
  • And I won’t even get into the different possible pronunciations of the diphthong “ai.”

Come on, guys, give us some help. If we’re going to help spread the word about Jaiku, we need to be able to say the name of the product we’re raving about.

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Posted by Diane Prange at April 12, 2007 9:30 AM
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Did somebody just call for help?

You're right, in Finnish 'Jaiku' would be pronounced like 'y' in 'yes', but since we have quite a few foreign employees (two of them speak English as their 1st language, one from the US and one from NZ) and quite a few of our users live in the US, we tend to pronounce it like 'joy' or 'jello' - maybe this should be written as 'dzaiku'?

Now, please go and spread the word about dzaiku :)

Petteri and the Jaiku team,

Those of us in the U.S. would not consider our English to be like that spoken in New Zealand or Australia. On the other hand, English speakers from both these countries might not even consider how we in the U.S. pronounce English words as appropriate and accurate.

Having said that, though, one of the beautiful things about the English language, which can be frustrating for somebody learning it, is that it's a fluid, growing, breathing, ever-changing organism.


Thank you, Petteri.

Hi William

Spoken English in the US is pretty similar to the stuff we speak down here in NZ - it's just your spelling of the occasional word that's a bit different :)

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