By: Laura Schewel on January 5th, 2017

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The Story Behind Our Name

Occasionally, when I introduce myself as an employee of StreetLight Data, people ask: “Oh, so you measure the data from streetlights?” We do not do that - yet! (But stay tuned for more information on our new partnership with Current Powered by GE down the road)

We're beginning to hear this question often enough that we wanted to publish a blog post about our name. And now is the right time to tell our story: Next week, we will be exhibiting at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, and the StreetLight Data booth (#639) is located near a traffic signal manufacturer.

In short, our name is a metaphor. At StreetLight Data, we bring real-world travel patterns to light.  Just as streetlights illuminate our roadways at night, StreetLight Data creates analytics that shine a light on mobility behavior.  

There’s one key fact to emphasize: A “streetlight” is not the same as a “stoplight.” Streetlights let drivers, walkers, and cyclists alike see what is happening on a road. They were originally gaslights, and they can range from the gorgeous and ornate to the extremely practical (see below). They have cultural and social meaning, too - remember Gene Kelly dancing and swinging on one while Singin’ in the Rain?

In contrast, “stoplights” turn red, yellow and green to tell you when to go in an intersection. Unlike stoplights, we don’t tell anyone where to go - we show how and why people got there.


Left Photo Credit Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / "Rome (Italy), street light -- 2013 -- 4" / CC BY-SA 4.0 Right Photo Credit: By Famartin (Own work) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

When we were creating a name for our company, we used a few key rules:

  1. We wanted our name to be all real words, spelled properly. We’re sticklers for that type of thing here at StreetLight.
  2. We wanted it to relate to what we actually do. Thus, words like street, route, road, data, travel, traffic, location, geo*, etc. were all of interest.
  3. It had to be copyright-able. Because of the history of computer and internet technology, an extraordinary number of permutations of names using words such as “route” and “traffic” were already used by other organizations.

Ultimately, after weeks of brainstorming, my cofounder Paul Friedman’s wife came up with the idea of using streetlights. They are lovely, widely recognizable, and ubiquitous on small local sidewalks and huge highways alike - and wherever they are, streetlights “shed light” on the travel below.

The next day over lunch, in the very early days of our partnership, Paul and I worked through a few variations on “streetlight” on a napkin. In the end, we had three reasonable options. A trademark query narrowed it down to one: StreetLight Data.

Five years and many branded hoodies later, we’re still proud to be StreetLight Data.



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