I recently posted to twitter an observation that institutional systems tended to be named in one of three potential naming conventions.
To which a splendid fourth was quickly added:
My reasons were posting the question/observation was a little disingenuous, but hopefully people won’t think too badly of me. I really enjoyed the conversations and examples that people shared, and it has been a really useful exercise.
I am product owner for a new Learning and Development platform we have just procured (it’s an LXP or Learning eXperience Platform, because we’re fancy), and we seem to have settled on a name for it. To be honest, I don’t like it. I’m not entirely sure why, but it just feels clumsy or clunky. I posted the message above to help me make sense of this situation, and maybe give me some ammunition to suggest a different name.
The name we currently working with is ‘MyDevelopment’. This follows a number of other systems with similar naming conventions, e.g. MyHR (HR system), MyNTU (kind of like a Portal or Gateway), MyHub (the intranet). We also have systems called NOW (standing for NTU Online Workspace – our VLE (Brightspace)) and systems called their ‘proper’ names.
We’ve even got some systems that we have recently shifted their names, such as our lecture capture system has progressively changed from ‘Set and Forget/Choose to Use’ to ‘Lecture Capture’ to ‘Video’ and now to ‘Panopto (Video)’.
Like children, you can name your systems pretty much anything you like (Wolverhampton Uni used to call their VLE ‘WOLF’ – that’s badass!), but it doesn’t mean that the name works or is actually liked by anyone (sorry to my eldest, and to your little sister, ‘not the eldest’).
I’m going to try to unpick each of the four options suggested above and give some benefits and drawbacks for each naming convention
Use the University Brand
This seems to be far the most popular, from tortured acronyms, backronyms and initialisms, HE just loves itself some word play.
Examples like Northampton’s NILE (Northampton Integrated Learning Environment) or the weird initialism in an acronym NOW (NTU (Nottingham Trent University) Online Workspace) seem quite benign, and have a level of smugness.
Other options include the MyXYZ example we seem to have ended up with for systems at MyWork TM
- Builds a brand identity
- Vagueness allows system to grow and change over time. Lecture capture doesn’t sit well during the Covid lockdown when we didn’t have in-person lectures.
- Someone gets to feel pleased with themselves about a pun or clever acronym
- Is vendor agnostic, so if you change vendors, there is still a common thing it is called
- No-one knows what the hell it is, confusion abound
- It’s vendor agnostic, if you change vendors users might wonder what the hell happened
- Users might not know what the underlying system is
- Awkward for academics joining (I used ‘Joust’ before, now I’m using ‘Forge’, both are Moodle)
- Searching for additional help around the internet – users can’t be self-sufficient
Use the vendor name
If it is Blackboard, you call it Blackboard. Or Learn. Or Learn Ultra. Okay, this isn’t quite as straightforward. My institution uses Brightspace, provided by Desire2Learn, or D2L. Which do you choose? Does it matter?
This works well if you are using an out-of-the-box tool, but when you start customising it, things become really tricky. I have known users who have used Moodle in two different institutions, neither of which called it Moodle, yet they didn’t realise it was the same software underneath. Would calling it Moodle in both instances have helped?
- Users can look for resources from wherever they can Google – less time preparing guides
- Greater familiarisation with the tool to aid conversation across the sector – “Oh yeah, we use Blackboard too”
- If you change vendor, the name will also change – users realise it is more than a reskin and big update
- Easily relatable to other vendor stuff, like applicable mobile app
- Users can look for resources from wherever they can Google – not so great if you have a lot of institutional nuance or customisation.
- If you change vendor, the name will also change – it’s a clean break.
Use the function
What is your system actually there to do? What is its purpose? If it is a VLE (whatever one of those is meant to be) you could call your shiny new shiny ‘Crap old PDF repository’. Sorry, I meant ‘VLE’. If it is a finance system, you could call it ‘Finance’. You get the picture.
- Users know why they are using it – great for signposting
- Name matches your institutional strategic lexicon
- Very literal, no messing around
- Vendor agnostic – replacements maintain same name
- Functions change over time, will the name flex?
- If it is too flexible, does it have enough specific meaning to make sense?
- Vendor agnostic – what if new vendor’s model is very different, will the name change?
Use a wild card
Who doesn’t love this one? You can imagine the conversation:
Project lead: “we’re just finished implementing the new student record system”
User: “cool, tell me more”
PL: “It’s a system called Quercus made by Ellucian” [Note: that is actually a real thing]
U: “Okay, doesn’t mean much to me, but cool. Is that what you’re calling it?”
PL: “Nope, we got consultants in, and we’re calling it ‘Achieve’, do you like it?
Now, as much as I would like to imagine a group of consultants getting high on flipboard pens while ‘ideating’ their little brains off, in a synergistic, blue sky… meh. I kinda get the feeling that normally these decisions are made by one person who doesn’t back down, and nobody really cares enough to argue.
- Unique and special
- The Consultants will move on to become thoughtleaders, hopefully in a different sector
- Gives me something to laugh about
- Nobody has a royal scoobies what you’re going on about. There is the most tenuous of links to what it actually does
- The Consultants might hang around… I’m looking at you Ange
Is the name actually important?
Erm, yes and no. I would say that after time, the name itself is pretty meaningless, it just gets absorbed. “I will post your reading on NOW, now”, and people (almost) know what you mean. Context is king, etc.
At the same time, it does matter, especially for a new system. It often sets the stall out for its purpose. Give it a brand name, and it signifies it is just a tool. Give it a functional name, and it becomes about an aspirational change in practice. Give it a made up name that may or may not conform to a pattern, and well, I still don’t know.
I guess context really is king in a slightly different sense. What is the rest of your ecosystem like? How much customisation have you done? How good are your support resources? How much do you want your non-techies to share practice across the sector? How powerful are your marketing departments?
In my particular example, I don’t like MyDevelopment because it is too long. The URL would eventually be mydevelopment.ntu.ac.uk, which is a pain to type in. However, it tells people what the platform’s purpose is and why people would go there.
However, the system itself isn’t particularly customised or customisable, although I doubt there will be many publicly available help guides (they’ll be within the system itself). We’re tied in to a decent length contract, so no plans to change for a while. As for people moving between different platforms, I’m not so worried about that; it’s user friendly and I think we’re the first in the sector.
So, what’s in a name? Should we call it MyDevelopment (branded), the vendor’s product name, or LXP (function)? As James Clay (kind of) says, none of this will matter in the long run; it’s how we present it initially, and how we use it that really matters.