In a recent New York Times article Ashley Parker delves into the burgeoning use of hashtags (#) both online and offline. I will be clear; I love this article. Besides being well written and sharp, the topic is incredibly fun. Ms. Parker is doing nothing less than noting the evolution of the English language and, for a writer, there is nothing quite so fascinating.

While some will bemoan the “death of the language” due to changes like this or new spelling methods deriving from texting (watch the Weiner jokes, now), this use of hashtags, I would argue, represents something entirely new.

Far from bastardizing standard spelling, this is a new addition to our language, a new symbol that carries its own meaning and isn’t derived from any of the roots of our known language. In addition, here we have something that is easier to communicate in writing than it is in spoken form. Obviously, the pound sign has been used for years, but with different meanings. But no, this is something new–now we’re not only seeing the language evolve, but also the symbols that are attached to it.

This use of the # sign is almost a metalanguage–it provides classification to what comes just before or after. I’d say that this is just the beginning; as more written electronic communication becomes closer to verbal communications, we’ll see more of these popping up, shorthanding even emoticons. Then finding their way into everyday conversation.

No one has come into my office yet and said anything like “I’m having a hashtag bad day,” but I’m looking forward it. And, I can’t help but wonder, what’s next?

Product Naming — The Art of Choosing a Name

Ever wonder how companies go about product naming or naming themselves?

The Vistage online community is called “Vistage Village.” Nice product naming, I like it. There is a place where you can see a list of members both existing and new. It’s called “Vistage Village People.” As I clicked on the icon I half-expected to be treated to a chorus of “YMCA,” but was disappointed. I think Vistage is missing a great opportunity.

So, as a naming specialist I have to wonder how this product name came about — curious as I am.  I have visions of a bunch of 50-somethings (Boomers) sitting in a conference room with a six pack of Heineken and someone blurting out, “I know, let’s call it “People.”  It will be the Vistage Village People and we can create an icon with a group of “people” each wearing a unique hat. One hat could be a police cap, one could be a hardhat, and the other could be an Indian chief headdress! Far out!”

THIS is how great product naming comes to be…..in case you wanted to know how it is done.

But, alas, the truth is more likely to be that some Millennials came up with the name and thought it was a great fit because it makes sense. And, it does. Then, they probably ran it by some Boomers who smiled and said, “Village People? Really?” They then had to explain to the youthful set who the Village People were. After looking at the blank stares reflected back, the Boomers gently suggested a slight modification to the name might be appropriate.  Thus, “Vistage Village: People” was born — and it was good.

If you are a Vistage member I invite you to visit Vistage Village: People. There is a wealth of information about Vistage members. But, alas, don’t expect to see profiles of your favorite police officer, Indian chief, cowboy, biker, construction worker, or GI. Nor are there embedded sounds files to entertain you, with selections such as Macho Man or In The Navy.  For that you will have to get your Village People fix here: http://www.youtube.com/user/villagepeople.

Predictions and Things That Go Bump In the Night

I attended the annual Top Tech Trends event last week, put on by the Churchill Club. The panel included some of the top VCs from ’round here as well as Aneesh Chopra, the CTO of The United States. This year they had a team from SRI–a group of smart people, if there ever was one–put together 10 trends they see becoming large in the next three years, and Curt Carlson (SRI’s CEO) read them and got reactions from both the panelists and the audience.

What surprised me most was how most of the audience and panel disagreed with most of the identified trends most of the time. Yet, these 10 trends were put together by smart people in the center of it all.

It makes me wonder why do we try so hard to do this? What is 0ur fascination with predicting the future, especially when it comes to technology? After all, history shows us that mostly, we’re wrong. Who could have predicted the sheer mass of Google in 1990? Or Facebook in 2000? Or any other number of companies that have thrived, failed, or crashed and burned years before they did so?

Even though history shows us to be very poor prognosticators, we continue to try–and try hard.

Well, there’s the obvious answers; getting ahead of other supporters and investors in these trends can vastly improve our reputations as well as our wealth. But that’s too easy–of course everyone wants that. But my sense is that there is something more here, something more basic to humanity.

And, what I’ve come to, after some thought and research, is that the future is inherently unknown and unknowable, and that is scary. It frightens the old, reptilian, part of our brains, so we make predictions as a security blanket. Something to hold on to, to give us some sense of surety, and to help keep at bay the things that go bump in the night.

So, in the end, the accuracy of our prediction may be much less important than that calming effect. Because, I don’t know about you, but I sure want something that helps me deal confidently with the monsters that we’re all sure are out there in our crazy, accelerated, and rapidly shifting world.