Dolt is Git for Data. It's a SQL
database that you can branch, merge, clone, fork, push and pull, just
like files in Git. Today we're going to be talking about our quest to
get Dolt's branding right, and our first attempt to find a mascot that
reflects the spirit of the product and the company.
Why a mascot?
Well, it's a good question, one that we debated on the team for quite
a while. AWS doesn't have a mascot (they barely have
and they dominate cloud. Why do we need one?
Obviously you don't need a mascot for an open source project or
software product. But a lot have them, and for a reason: a mascot is a
visual shorthand for the product that is instantly recognizable. It's
a character that you can relate to, even form a little imaginary
friendship with. That's a little bit of magic -- it sounds crazy that
people would relate to these marketing critters, but they really
do. They put the stickers on their laptops and the stuffed animals in
their cubicles (if they're lucky enough to have a cubicle).
Again, lots of successful software projects have iconic mascots.
The golang gopher:
The GitHub Octocat:
The Scylla DB monster:
Many of our pseudo-competitors in the data sharing space have their
own charming mascots.
The Pachyderm elephant:
The Qri blob:
The lakeFS lake monster:
Even Noms, the open source graph
database that Dolt is built on top of, has an adorable otter:
Hopefully this list of examples convinces you that mascots can be a
good idea for a software project. But what about Dolt? Why did we
think Dolt, specifically, needed one?
DoltHub's branding: a serious tool for serious people
As we end up explaining on social media constantly, we named
Dolt to pay homage to how Linus
Torvalds named Git:
Torvalds sarcastically quipped about the name git (which means
"unpleasant person" in British English slang): "I'm an egotistical
bastard, and I name all my projects after myself. First 'Linux', now
'git'." The man page describes Git as "the stupid content tracker".
We wanted a word that meant "idiot" and started with "D" for data. So
"Dolt". We really did name our product "idiot," which a lot of people
have trouble believing.
But if you look at DoltHub, you will find none
of that whimsy or playfulness in the visual branding.
Its visual language is no-nonsense, a serious tool for serious
enterprises. There's nothing wrong with that (many people want a
serious tool for serious enterprises!), except that it's pretty
forgettable, despite the name. There's no single visual element that
catches your attention and makes you remember the product. It's bland.
After some spicy internal debate, we decided that we weren't happy
with this state of affairs, and wanted to do better. We wanted a
visual branding that reflected who we are as a company, and that was
memorable. We agreed that part of that story could be a mascot.
Creating the Dolt
The entire idea for the mascot for
Dolt came up a little randomly,
when The New Stack wrote an article about
accompany their article, they chose to use an illustration of "Dolts"
with Creative Commons licensing. I really liked the look of it.
Something about the goofy looking character with the giant, friendly
smile and buck teeth really spoke to me. It reminded me of one of
Dolt's coolest features: that you can play with your data like a big
idiot and not worry about screwing it
up. If you
manage to step in it, you just revert your changes, no harm done.
I reached out to Tim to pitch him
on commissioning a mascot by the same illustrator, and he was into
it. I managed to track down the
illustrator, Daniel Santi, and emailed
him to see if he would be interested. He was! After a few rounds of
back and forth, this is what he came up with. Meet the Dolt!
We worked with the illustrator to come up with a set of moods for the
character, so that we could use him to tell little stories in our
documentation. Here he is confused about his choice of database tools.
Then he gets to work designing a schema.
Then he breaks something important.
But then he remembers that he represents a version controlled
database, and he can just revert his changes.
He's a charming, expressive fellow. We love him dearly.
We aren't yet sure what future this particular character has. Branding
is complicated, and a mascot has to be part of coherent whole. But we
sure like him! For now, he'll start making limited appearances on
GitHub, as well as in our documentation, and we'll see where he goes
Do you love the Dolt, or hate him? Drop by our Discord
server and tell us!
Branding is hard. It's harder when you're a bunch of nerds whose main
skill is making software with cool features, not making it look
cool. This exercise into finding a mascot has been educational, mainly
in revealing how little thought we have given our visual brand so far,
and showing us where it's lacking.
We don't know whether the Dolt mascot will become a permanent addition
to our company. But we are grateful to him for the lessons he has
taught us already.