The Rise and Fall of the Letter E
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE
Pity the poor letter e. Once a symbol of all things modern, it has fallen on hard times. During the dot-com era, putting the letter e in front of a word showed how "with it" you were. We had e-commerce, e-library, e-book, e-learning, e-mail, e-content, e-records, e-documents, e-fax, e-everywhere, and e-everything. We still have companies named eBay, ebrary, and eTrade. Information Today’s Buying & Selling eContent conference still thrives, as does its EContent magazine. Venda’s tag line was "putting the e back in retail." (Now it’s "instant salesware.") These days, prefixing a name with e (with or without the hyphen) no longer automatically qualifies a company, product, or concept as trendy.
The new naming credo appears to be exactly the opposite: It involves removing the letter e. Photo sharing and tagging phenomenon Flickr may have started this. Instead of calling itself Flicker (or e-Flick), it opted to drop the e. So successful was Flickr that it caught Yahoo!’s attention and was acquired by the search company. There’s also Bloggr, a WordPress photogallery plug-in that works with Flickr. Frappr is a mashup application that takes a group and mashes it with Google maps. One of these groups is blogging librarians [www.frappr.com/blogginglibrarians].
What’s so important about the letter e? It’s the fifth letter of the alphabet; it’s the NYSE ticker symbol for Eni SpA; it’s the most frequently used letter in the English language; it’s a vitamin; and it’s a musical key. Its Wikipedia entry gives a host of other examples. Its importance as a prefix stems from its being the first letter in the word electronic. Rather than say electronic mail, people quickly shortened it to e-mail. Similarly, electronic commerce became e-commerce. Before long, the "electronicness" of products and concepts, which symbolized being new, modern, and up-to-date, was inextricably mixed with being on the Internet. In fact, a Google synonym search for e-commerce (~ecommerce) suggests Internet.
Removing the e drives my spell checker crazy. It doesn’t like Flickr, telling me it’s Flicker, and refuses to give any suggestions for Frappr. On the other hand, it works well with online searching. Tell Dialog or Factiva you want information on Bloggr and that’s just what you get, with no Blogger mixed in. This is superior to search results on company names that used the then-trendy idea of capitalizing an internal letter. Only on LexisNexis can you search for NeXt and not retrieve next.
Librarians don’t have to worry about the new naming trend: There’s no e in librarian or library to remove. I wonder, though, will we see e-products for researchrs? Should I have named my blog ONLINE Insidr? Ultimately, what is the significance of the presence or absence of the letter e? I don’t know, but I suspect we’ll find it’s connected to another new trend—appending 2.0 to a name. Web 2.0 started it, Library 2.0 wasn’t far behind. The 2.0 signifies a shift from the appeal of an electronic/Internet environment to one of collaboration, sharing, and social networking. It’s 2.0 that’s now on the rise.
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