Internet Evolution — Name Game

I’m posting these here not because they are particularly good (they weren’t) but because I wanted to leave them online after Internet Evolution, the site which originally hosted them, went away.

The Name Game Moves to the Web

Written by David Manheim 4/28/2011

Addressable space has been an issue with computers since time immemorial. My first computer had expanded, extended, and HMA memory, just so I could use the second DIMM of RAM. We had 2- or 4-gigabyte limits on addressable RAM on 32-bit machines, and FAT16 limits for hard drives that are similar. Hell, IPv6 faces the same issue. We just don’t know how much space we’ll need when designing a system.

But there’s an impending bigger deal, with a less well defined limit: There aren’t enough words to describe what we need!

You may have noticed this issue with acronyms over the last 10 years: There are too many of them that could stand for anything. The FAT16 I mentioned above stands for File Allocation Table, but that’s obvious only to those who know it. It could just as easily stand for Feature Acceptance Test, Factory Allowance Test, Failure Automation Triangle, and so on. Or fat.

Tech acronyms aren’t the only terms for which we’re running out of alternatives. We’re also running out of names for rock bands, for instance. Dave Barry has been worried about this longer than IPv6 has been around, and he has a useful starter list in case any budding musicians get stuck.

Pharmaceuticals is having a similar problem, but with more profound consequences: OPDRA(one of those acronyms again) is the branch of the FDA making sure that prescription names are not similar enough to be confused with one another. Giving clozapine instead of olanzapine, or giving serzone for seroquel, has injured or killed patients. Computerized medical systems would prevent transcription errors, but no one can prevent confusion or misstatements on the part of a prescribing doctor.

In computing, the latest generation of technologies is ignoring the problem and reusing terms with reassigned definitions: I use Windows (wooden framework with a glass pane) and Vista (a distant view or prospect) to get to clouds (a visual mass of water droplets) via LAMP (an artificial source of illumination), so I can access the grid (a regularly spaced pattern of lines).

If we don’t have enough space for new terms, we can always reuse old ones!

But this only works if the technology is widespread, and no one needs to copyright it. Otherwise, we need to expand the namespace, or what I’ve called Wordv1 to Wordv2, which squares the size of the available namespace for the low price of using two-word names.

So we have Facebook and Foursquare, Techcrunch, Techflash, and Techdirt. We even had an “Untitled Startup” for awhile, but it finally found a name that wasn’t already copyrighted and is now “Simply Measured.”

I guess it won’t be long until we complete the circle and names expand into Wordv3, and we get great three-word names like International Beekeeping Mavens. But, don’t worry, if it sounds too long, we can always use the acronym.

— David Manheim works as a terrorism insurance modeling specialist at Risk Management Solutions.

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