You’ve seen them. You’ve held them in your hands — repeatedly. In fact, most of us use one several times daily. But somehow, the powers-that-be forgot to give the damn things a name.
I speak, of course, of those small but oh-so-powerful tools of money-seeking shopkeepers and restaurant servers everywhere, the portable credit card payment-processing machine, or as you and I more commonly know it, simply the “machine”. All of the combined economic and corporate might of the world’s most successful financial corporations, and the best they can come up with for their treasured multi-billion dollar profit-generating loot-intake technology is “machine”?
Banks and payment processing companies are the 800 pound gorillas of capitalism. You’d think if anyone would get the basics of commerce right, it would be these titans of global finance. And yet… here we are. I am trying to picture the scene when the banking-tech guys first pitched the proposal for these devices to their corporate overlords:
Credit Card Machine Project Lead: Boss, we think we’ve got a game-changer here. We believe this new tool has the potential to revolutionize how payments are made on a global scale for years, maybe generations. We’ll build millions of them. [Whips out prototype portable credit card machine, walks boss through how it works].
Bank Boss: Guys, this is huge! You’ve absolutely crushed it. Your invention is going to change commerce as we know it. It will be in the hands of consumers all over the world and we’ll make a tidy sum on each and every transaction! What do you call it?
Project lead: [Flustered & clearly caught off guard, casting eyes nervously back at his team] Ahh..uhm..err… a machine?
Boss: Brilliant! Love it. We start production tomorrow.
I mean really. Did no one think to talk to a single human in either the marketing or sales departments before they started churning these things out by the factory-load? And what the heck did the sales guys put on the cover of their powerpoint decks as they began pitching them to shopkeepers everywhere: “INTRODUCING… THE MACHINE!”?
The Google tells me that these things do have a sort-of more official name at least in some quarters: a “POS terminal”- which is a truly POS name if I’ve ever heard one. In their case, “POS” is supposed to stand for “point of sale”. In mine, it means something else entirely. And “terminal” immediately brings to mind thoughts of either airports or death, so that’s no help either. This formal name is also entirely unworkable in real-life situations. Picture yourself at a high-end restaurant on a Friday night. Do you want to be the one flagging down your server at the end of your meal, raising your voice just slightly to catch their attention before saying; “Excuse me, Miss, can I please get a POS over here when you get a chance?” No, me neither. If that was the only other choice available, I can see why we all collectively went with “machine”.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. Companies spend millions every day naming and branding items that are way less integral to our lives than these stupid things. Baking soda, string, batteries, they all have names, and brands too. Hell, even toilets have a name – it’s a toilet not a “bowel movement processing machine” after all. And there’s toilet brands too: American Standard for the regular folk, Kohler for your more high-falutin types. There’s even another joke to be had here about POS terminals, but that’s not important right now. The message is clear: WE CAN DO THIS. And since the banks apparently won’t, it’s up to us.
My own vote is that we take a functional, user-centric approach to this naming exercise. Given what these machines do to our personal finances, I’m thinking something like “pillager” or “ransacker” makes sense. Distinctive, yet still simple and descriptive. With my approach, when you are finishing up at the restaurant you can just say to the waiter “Excuse me, I’d like to run my card through the ransacker now”. Honest & to the point. I know the credit card companies probably won’t love my name ideas, but they had their chance and they didn’t take it. Now it’s our turn.