Consumer evangelists vs. lawyers: using “WordPress” in domain names
Michael over at WPCandy brought up the question recently of whether it’s ok to use the word “WordPress” in the domain name of sites about WordPress that are not affiliated with Automattic. I came across this issue about a month ago thanks to Lorelle, who actually mentions this repeatedly in her WordPress Wednesday posts on the Blog Herald. Lorelle states that you need to get permission to use the word WordPress in your blog’s name and domain, so I immediately contacted someone over at Automattic to see what they had to say on the matter. He pointed me to this page: http://wordpress.org/about/domains/.
Of course, if I had known about this policy before I started WordPress Garage, I would never have used the current domain name. But here we are, almost a year later, and the question remains: do I need to change my domain name? And do all blogs that use the word WordPress in their names need to change that too?
I think there are two issues at hand here:
- Trademark dilution
- Consumer evangelism
Trademark Dilution, i.e. “I WordPressed so much today on my WordPress”
Based on my modest understanding of trademarks (I worked a bit in the field), the reason Automattic doesn’t want anyone using WordPress in their domain name is because they (or their lawyers) are concerned about “trademark dilution.” Trademark dilution is when a brand name becomes so tied to the product that it becomes the general name of the product, and even a verb. Some good examples of this are the use of the word “Xerox” instead of “photocopy,” “Kleenex” instead of “tissue,” and “Saran Wrap” instead of “plastic wrap.” While this may seem like great success since the brand name became so widely known that people just call the product by the brand name, it is problematic for companies because it makes it more difficult for them to protect their trademarks against infringements.
So, in the case of WordPress, their trademark would become diluted if people started to call blogs “WordPresses,” or would use the word “WordPress” as a verb, i.e. “I have to take a break from WordPressing while I go on vacation.”
I’m no intellectual property expert, but this seems unlikely to happen. Blogs will be blogs.
Consumer Evangelism, i.e. “I love WordPress so much that I’m actually going to write hordes of posts about it and create themes and plugins – all for free”
Which company is the king of consumer evangelism? I’ll give you a hint: their name rhymes with Snapple. Yes, Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple have succeeded in creating products that people LOVE. Their customers love their products so much that they talk about them, write about them, tell their friends to buy them, etc. They have armies of consumer evangelists all over the globe hugging their iPods, and coveting the iPhone (the iPhone still hasn’t come to many countries).
Now, Apple is a pretty big company, so you’d think their lawyers would be freaking out over trademark dilution issues. Well, here are a few examples of blogs and sites that are not affiliated with Apple that write about Apple products and use the word Apple or iPhone in their domain and blog name:
I don’t know if Apple encourages this, but as far as I know they aren’t publicizing any policies related to the use of their trademarks in domain and blog names. Maybe they understand that this type of marketing is gold – people who aren’t on the company payroll, and are therefore “objective,” who are willing to dedicate time and money to promoting their products for them. Now THAT is a marketers dream!
Let’s do a quick comparison with the overweight, slightly-balding company to see how they’re managing with consumer evangelists. Here are the Microsoft fan sites that I found:
http://scoble.weblogs.com/ – doesn’t use Microsoft in the domain, but is now dead.
Microsoft’s not exactly about to go under, but I would say that Apple’s position is pretty envious.
Back to WordPress
WordPress has consumer evangelists (me!). Dozens of bloggers are posting about WordPress every day in order to share their knowledge with the WordPress community. And thousands of readers read these blogs every day to quench their thirst for more knowledge about the WordPress platform. In my opinion, this is all part of the Open Source spirit, where people learn from the community, and then want to give back to the community in whatever way they can.
Here are some examples of blogs totally or almost totally dedicated to WordPress (I apologize if I’ve left you out – feel free to leave URLs in the comments):
Check out WP Themes Gallery’s list of the top 40 WordPress blogs to get an idea of how many there are out there.
Now let’s take a look at what I would say is a major WordPress competitor: Movable Type. I did a quick search, and while I found a lot of individual posts about using Movable Type, I didn’t find many blogs dedicated to the topic. I actually only found one, and while it is really good, it is written by Six Apart, the company behind Movable Type.
So who’s in better shape: the company with the dozens of bloggers who blog about them daily but use their trademark in their domain and blog name; or the company that doesn’t have anyone blogging about them and also don’t have anyone using their trademark anywhere?
The lawyers say company #2. The figures say company #1.
In my very humble and not-worth-much opinion, WordPress should be careful about taking action that may appear as an attack on their community. Their domain policy is understandable, but it may cause more harm than good. They should remember that a consumer evangelist is worth a lot more than the best marketing or ad campaign.
A good compromise could be for bloggers to add a disclaimer on their site that says that they are not affiliated with WordPress or Automattic. WordPress Training’s About page has a really good example which says the following:
WordPressTraining.com is not affiliated with or sponsored by Automattic, Inc. or the WordPress ® Open Source project.
WordPress ® is a trademark of Automattic, Inc.
And that, my friends, is all I have to say about that.
Category: News & Views