Microsoft’s indirect attempt at a youthful social networking site, Wallop, is packing it in after 2.5 years as a venture-backed spin-off company.

And one thing appears to be clear: Regardless of the merits of the technology and features behind the platform, Wallop never had much of a chance of succeeding during the same time frame in which first MySpace and then Facebook rose to massive prominence.

Why? Because the “Wallop” brand name that the new owners (presumably voluntarily) took over from Microsoft Research Labs is simply a horrible idea branding-wise.

One can almost see how a group of middle aged techies thought it sounded sort of cool. But as reality has proven, there are a number of things wrong with the name:

1) It is a generic noun/verb and as such creates little differentiation in the mental real estate of consumers.

2) It is confusing in terms of giving no indication what “Wallop” is supposed to do for its users. Brand names like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook on the other hand give a reasonable hint. When you are free to choose, when in doubt opt for something that makes a modicum of sense, and actually helps make your case as a company.

(Granted that a number of very successful companies have used “non-sequitur” names – Google, Amazon, and Yahoo come to mind. But that was during the Web 1.0 era when it was a lot easier to break through the noise, and get your share of attention to imprint your brand on the mental real estate of consumers. Also, back then everything Web was still so new and wondrous…)

3) Worst of all, the only association it does have is with something negative and somewhat archaic sounding, per the American Heritage Dictionary, “Wallop – v. tr. 1. To beat soundly; thrash. 2. To strike with a hard blow.”

Given that Wallop apparently started out as a photo sharing site at Microsoft Research, the name makes even less sense. But one should NEVER use a name in branding that conjures up potentially negative associations. Unless you know exactly what you are doing (as in some youth slang were “bad”, “ill”, etc. actually means “good” – or at least has in the past), and know your target market audience to a T.

Not so good if your 15-30 year-old target market for a social networking site associates your brand name (even if more or less unconsciously) with spankings they may have received by their parents, or on the playground.

4) It is missing any kind of pleasantness in sound, rhythm, or rhyme that would make it more likely to be repeated by people (to themselves or to others), which may seem trite, but in reality can make a huge difference in the adoption of your brand name “meme”.

Wallop rolls of the tongue like a sack of potatoes. Its particular combination of consonants and vowels leaves it oddly unpleasant to say (maybe that’s because the word originally denotes an unpleasant event). Just try it out-loud to yourself a few times: “Hey dude, go check out that party invite I put up on Wallop.”

5) There could be spelling issues in terms of people hearing it word-of-mouth (if it weren’t for the fact that people are already less likely to repeat it very often), as to the number of L’s and P’s, also never an advantage in getting something to spread “virally”.

Do your homework…

In regards to both 4) and 5), do your homework people: It’s easy enough to bounce names off of friends and family, and see what they think, and more importantly, if they can’t stop saying the new name – or not. See if people spell it right in writing each time without you spelling it out for them (the recent “Cuil” launch has become infamous in this regard).

Why am I kicking Wallop in such detail when they are already down? Only for this reason: To demonstrate that despite what I actually believe may have been some reasonably innovative technology, these good folks were never even close to helping their business venture from a branding perspective.

In this regard, it is very telling that they apparently neglected to hire a branding firm or other similar assistance when they spun-off Wallop from Microsoft Research, and kept the name (needlessly, as there likely was next to zero brand equity accrued to the name at that point).

There is always the danger/trap that as a business founder you become attached to a name created during an incubation phase that has simply grown on you. Or appears clever TO YOU in one way or another (and is often too-cute-by-half). None of which guarantees that anyone else will think so, which is why you need to ideally test such names with your target market (of course some simply get lucky, such as Facebook).

And when you are trying to launch a social network, something that almost by definition needs to make use of “viral” network effects, the above factors, and hence the rate and speed with which your brand spreads, do indeed matter.

Just ask the guys who got it right almost accidentally, like Facebook. Ignore these principles in your own small business branding at your peril.