After months of chaos under Elon Musk, Twitter is finally facing its biggest change yet. Musk has decided to drop Twitter’s famous name and bird logo in favor of changing the social network’s name to ”X.” The reasons for this seem mostly driven by Elon’s bizarre obsession with the letter “X,” which apparently dates to the late 90s. (See “SpaceX,” or the algebra problem-like name he gave one of his kids.) There’s also Musk’s desire to make Twitter into a catch-all “everything app” (similar to China’s WeChat) that can handle multiple functions, including finances.
Unfortunately, everything about the change from Twitter to X is an example of what not to do when renaming your website. On top of, well, “X” being an awful name in the first place.
How to rebrand your website
By coincidence, this week is the anniversary of my site’s launch. When I launched my site back in 2010, I originally named it “Anthony’s Notes,” after myself. This was fine for a generic personal blog, but as the years went on, I decided I needed a name that reflected what my blog’s actually about. Thus, in 2017, I renamed it “Diverse Tech Geek.”
In 2021, as part of already having split the site into two categories (media and tech), I decided to rename the categories to make them into semi-separate blogs: “Diverse Tech Geek” (for tech) and “Diverse Media Notes” (for media). Basically, I assume people wanting to read about cartoons don’t want to also read about Linux distros (and vice versa).
I’ve written about choosing domain names before, but to summarize, the criteria I used:
- Check if the name’s available, including as social media handles.
- Make sure the domain name isn’t used by or too similar to an existing name, or infringing on a trademark.
- Make sure the domain name’s not inappropriate (off-color, etc.).
- Pick a reasonably short and memorable name.
Using Google to search for possible names was crucial. I also used a few site name generators, including one owned by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.
While I could probably do better than “Diverse Media Notes” as a media blog name, it’ll do for now. (Perhaps another change in the future?)
How *not* to rebrand your website
Unfortunately, Twitter didn’t do any of the above website name change tips. The reasons “X” is a very bad site name:
- While “X” is a very short and memorable name, it’s also just a letter, and thus too short.
- “X” is already used by, well, everything, from the X-Men to “The X-Files” to the Xbox.
- Related to the previous point, “X” also is used by, and associated with, adult websites, and thus carries some associations many users (and advertisers) won’t want in a social network.
- TechCrunch reports that there’s almost 900 trademarks on the name “X,” so trademark lawsuits over Twitter’s new name are basically inevitable.
- Like HBO Max becoming “Max,” “X” is harder to search in Google.
- Twitter didn’t even bother to check if the “@X” Twitter handle was taken, which it was. Which Twitter resolved by forcibly yanking it from the owner without asking. While it’s within their rights as the owner, it’s still an obnoxious move.
- The new logo for “X” is generic.
- The rollout of the new name is erratic and uneven; visiting the site formerly known as Twitter shows both “Twitter” and “X” used.
- It’s unclear what terms like “tweet” and “retweet” will be called: “Xed?” “Re-X-ed?”
As for Musk making Twitter an “everything app,” the example often cited is WeChat in China. That said, there are multiple reasons that won’t happen in the United States. Americans don’t want to use the same app for sending payments as they do for posting memes.
Since launching in 2006, Twitter has become a household name, with its famous bird logo and the phrase “tweet” entering common usage. Throwing all of that away in an ill-conceived and needless rebranding effort speaks more to Musk’s ego and whims than business skills. 10 seconds of searching in Google should’ve been enough to show Musk and Twitter’s staff why renaming Twitter “X” is a bad idea. However, that’d require anyone left on Twitter’s staff that aren’t either Musk’s yes-men or, like George Jetson, working under constant fear of being fired; like Mr. Spacely and other bad cartoon bosses, Musk is prone to firing those that question his decisions.
Overall, I expect Twitter’s rebranding as “X” to go down as one of the all-time worst corporate rebranding decisions. A few examples that cross my mind:
- NBC’s “N” logo in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which, like X, also ended up infringing on an existing trademark. Though apparently NBC’s giving it another go with a new “N” logo for its evening news (using mobile devices as an excuse this time).
- “New Coke” in the mid-1980s.
- Tribune briefly becoming “Tronc” in the mid-2010s.
Finally, as yet another reminder, while alternatives to Twitter aren’t perfect, they do exist. I strongly recommend picking one or more of the following:
- Tumblr (for an old-school social network)
- A personal blog
- Google News/Apple News/an RSS reader (if you only want news updates)