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Why “Wonderful Machine”?

Monday May 24th, 2010

I just heard that the photographer Cameron Davidson is putting a few choice URLs on the auction block, including editorialphotographer.com, and soon, locationphotographer.com.

You can read more on his blog and debate the merits there. Whatever the case, I mentioned this news tidbit because it reminded me of the value of an effective URL, a company’s name in general, and because it’s also made me nostalgic about the origins of our own company’s name.

When we first opened our doors, people would commonly ask why we were called “Wonderful Machine.” A legitimate question, considering that our name’s a little abstract, and at first glance there’s not such a direct connection between our name and the boutique photographer’s web portal that we’ve always been. So let me take you back…

To begin, when we were looking for names for our new company, a lot of the more obvious considerations came to mind: most of the titles included “photo”, “pixels”, “image,” or something else as literal. And there’s nothing wrong with being direct, necessarily.

Additionally, it was important to us that our website’s address would be “[our_name].com” for branding purposes and ease of use. You’d be surprised at how many websites are already taken that have photography-related names. Or perhaps you’re not surprised, considering how many people are sitting on URLs that they’ve purchased in the hopes of “bribing” (it’s legal, and potentially entrepreneurial) the company or individual who actually wants to use the website of that name. Plus, there are just a ton of companies out there with the name that you had originally thought was so unique.

So it took several weeks (months?) for our small committee to agree on “[something]photo.com,” as our company name. We had already battled over the many names that we could call ourselves, made sure the “.com” address was available (a necessity before getting your hopes up), and slept on it for several nights to make sure it still sounded right in the sober hours.

Now we were ready to register the name that had not already been taken on .com/.org/.edu/.omg. The morning that I was set to to pay for our new URL, our founder, Bill Cramer, came running into the studio and said, “Wait, I have a better name!”

We all eyed each other nervously, because it had taken long enough to find consensus on our previously agreed-upon name. But Bill persisted: he had been reading a bedtime book to his young daughters the night before, and a chapter heading stood out to him, especially in light of its meaning.

“The Wonderful Machine” is a chapter in the popular Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books (in this case, “Little House in The Big Woods”), recently made famous by Michael Landon in suspenders.

So what is a Wonderful Machine? Basically, it was described as a wheat threshing machine pulled by horses, separating the waste from the polished, final product. Bill thought the name was evocative enough, and it had symbolism and a personal back-story for him.

We all cautiously agreed to Wonderful Machine, and then privately wondered if it was a mistake. Fortunately, Bill suggested that we sleep on this name for a night, too. And that night produced a strangely unanimous decision to go with the unusual title for our new company, and one that we quickly came to enjoy.

It’s interesting how popular the term “wonderful machine” is in the American vernacular, as well. This is borne out by my Google Alerts for the words “wonderful machine,” which often return links to articles and comments on websites referring to inkjet printers, sewing machines and, truly, fertility monitors. As in, “the new Pregmaster Q2100xp has been such a wonderful machine to use.” So I’m glad it always has a positive association with a product.

I’ll tell you though, the first time I answered the phone “Wonderful Machine, this is Neil,” I figure that I was probably beet red. It sounded a little clunky, and possibly not related to what we were doing.

But after each invocation of the name, including it in our email signatures, and seeing it on a professional logo, I was confident in our choice because it was memorable, light-hearted, and symbolic of quality.

We also realized that a lot of successful companies have abstract names, or at least evocative ones that dare you to think beyond the General Electrics and British Petroleums of the world. But what must the first person who uttered “Hello, this is Google, how can I help you?” have thought?

-Neil Binkley

4 Responses to “Why “Wonderful Machine”?”

  1. damien says:

    interesting read. thanks for filling us in on the backstory.

  2. Greg says:

    I have to say this post reminded me of the origins of my own tiny photography business’ name… Juskuz.

    In college I shared a house with some guys and lot of us basically made up the entire bike shop/outdoor shop work force. At our house our dining room turned into a full service bike shop complete with all the spare parts you could ever want. We had a tree in the side yard that got hosed down in the winter so that we could get some laps in ice climbing after class. We had a yard full of kayaks, and at one time we had 15 bikes on the porch all costing north of $2000. Yet our cupboards were stocked with Ramen, and no one owned a car that was sure to be working the following week. Friends would visit and ask us why… and all we could say was “just because”. Eventually we dropped the “T” and shortened “because” to “kuz” and it became a sort of motto.

    Back then and even still today our priorities were just a little different from the norm, and when it came time for me to make my photography efforts a little more official… “Juskuz” seemed like the perfect place to start. Juskuz the best reason to do anything worth doing.

  3. $,2000 bikes and cupboards full of Ramen. That sounds like the right balance for burgeoning adventure and sports photographers!

  4. Hi Thanks for the shout out.

    Its actually editorial-photographer.com, not editorialphotogapher.com.

    I dropped the dash by mistake.

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