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Consumer evangelists vs. lawyers: using “WordPress” in domain names

| January 22, 2008 | 35 Comments

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:

  1. Trademark dilution
  2. 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:

The Apple Blog

Apple iPhone

Apple Fun

Apple Are

Apple iPhone Blog

Apple Matters

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):

WPCandy

Hack WordPress

Darren Hoyt

Weblog Tools Collection

Solostream

Lorelle on WordPress

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Comments (35)

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  1. Matt says:

    You’re forgetting the most important thing – the user experience. Users assume that when something has “WordPress” in the domain name it’s an official resource, and they’re confused when it isn’t. A lame disclaimer no one will read doesn’t really help that.

    Of all those WP blogs you linked, only hackwordpress uses “WordPress” in their domain name. Do you think their site would be any less successful if it was hackwp instead? The policy pre-dates your domain registration by more than a year. Sites that violate our domain policy are never going to be officially promoted because it’s a pretty blatant disregard (or ignorance) of a core tenet of our community.

  2. Kyle Eslick says:

    Miriam,

    Thanks for mentioning HWP in your post!

    Based off my sites name, I obviously also had an interest in this. You can see what I wrote about it here:

    hackwordpress.com/should-wordpress-fan-sites-worry-about
    -the-wordpress-trademark

    As an active domainer, I knew that there was some risk involved in my choice of domain names, but I don’t think it will be a problem. Like you said, these blogs are in their best interest, and they are in fact an open source company.

    I picked up a “WP” domain name just in case, but don’t expect to have to make the transfer. If I am asked to, however, I will respect Automattic’s wishes and make the change.

    Great post! I’m looking forward to any discussion that follows!

  3. Lorelle says:

    Um, I have permission to use WordPress. :D

    You’ve left out a very big issue. If your blog is titled WordPress and you don’t blog about WordPress, aren’t you disappointing your readers? Many do that, taking advantage of the WordPress attention but not following through. Many resent that.

    Another issue you left out, small by some people’s thinking, is respect. When you respect a company, you respect the name. If they want permission before you put it in your domain name, then that’s what you do. They might give it to you.

    Is WordPress willing to take on someone using their name? Well, don’t you wish they would take on the scraper who continues to steal your blog’s content on their WordPress domain name site? ;-) That would make cutting off that scraper a lot easier.

    Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that using WordPress is really limiting, unless that is the only thing you are blogging about. People don’t see that. Mostly they see the attention it gets, even when their blog is about car racing and their blog is at car-racing/wordpress/.

    And you don’t say. Are you going to keep the name or not?

  4. Ryan says:

    On the page you linked to, it says “if you’re going to start a site about WordPress or related to it that you not use ‘WordPress’ in the domain name”. That sounds quite reasonable to me. But since you weren’t aware of it until after your site was established, I seriously doubt they’re going to mind you continuing to use your domain. Alienating one of their most ardent supporters would be silly.

  5. Ryan says:

    Footnote: Matt’s post didn’t appear till after I made my post above and it seems he does mind.

  6. Miriam Schwab says:

    Hi Matt – Thanks for your response.

    I can definitely see why a company would not want unaffiliated people using their trademark in external activities, and I can see your point about the user experience. However, just to explain the point of view of many WordPress evangelists, to many of us in the WordPress community, WordPress isn’t just another Microsoft. It’s the “Apple” of the blogging world, meaning we feel like we’re part of it, and are willing to invest a lot in promoting it. You may not care, but I’ve gotten many emails from people thanking me for this blog which helped them get started with WordPress. I’ve had people tell me they scrolled through every page of this blog reading everything. Thanks to me, and the other bloggers like me, you’ve got quite a few new users. And, ironically, thanks to me there may be greater awareness of this domain issue among WordPress bloggers.

    You say that using WordPress in the domain is “a pretty blatant disregard (or ignorance) of a core tenet of our community.” Well thank you for the benefit of the doubt, as if we’re all evil-doers purposefully ignoring your company’s policies. I don’t doubt that a blog could be successful with WP in the domain instead of WordPress, and would have done that from the beginning if your “core tenet” wasn’t so obscure and unknown. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but people over at Automattic weren’t exactly aware of it either.

    So one suggestion: if this is such a core tenet, why not make it a little bit more core? Instead of hoping that people will stumble upon that page about the domain, try to make this point more prominent. Luckily for you, you’ll probably have more bloggers who want to write about WordPress, so why not prevent problems from the start by promoting that page on main WordPress pages, like the download page, for instance. Also, offering a friendly (friendly being the key word here – we’re not all out to get you, you know) suggestion on that page would help; you could say “A possible alternative to using WordPress would be to use WP.”

  7. Miriam Schwab says:

    Kyle – You’re very welcome – it’s a great blog, so why not? Sorry about the link your comment; for some reason comments aren’t appearing if they have links in them. I hope to figure out why and fix it.

    I’m glad you liked this post. As you can see from Matt’s response, as long as we have the word WordPress in our domain, the site won’t be promoted by Automattic, whatever that means. I just bought an alternative domain name too. It seems that Automattic’s wishes are that we cease and desist from using WordPress in the domain. This doesn’t bother me, except that it’s a pain! I just wish I had known about this a year ago!

  8. Matt says:

    1. I don’t think it’s worth arguing how prominent the notice could be. I think the assumption is someone who knows enough about WordPress to start a site dedicated to it would either read the about page at some point or see other people like Lorelle talk about the issue.

    2. It’s not an Automattic issue unless it’s a legal violation of the trademark, which this site is not. It’s a WordPress.org community policy. It’s important to know the difference.

  9. Miriam Schwab says:

    Hi Lorelle – I figured you have permission, you lucky gal. I can understand why Automattic doesn’t want us to use WordPress in the domain, but it would have been great to know about this a year ago. And all of your points are good, but: I only blog about WordPress; that scraper should be taken on for so many reasons, and I’m not exactly a scraper; and I didn’t use WordPress in the domain out of disrespect or “blatant disregard” as Matt put it, but out of ignorance.

    That doesn’t mean I think it’s right, I just wish I had known.

    As for what I’m going to do – I don’t know. I use this blog to manage knowledge and have fun. Doing a whole redirect is such a pain and I barely have time to blog. But since this is the wish of those on high, I’ll probably end up redirecting.

  10. Miriam Schwab says:

    Matt – Ok about the prominence of the notice, although I knew quite a bit about WP before starting here and never encountered it. I may try to put this issue somewhere over here in a prominent place.

    As for the fact that this is a community policy and not a trademark issue – can you elaborate? It would seem to me that the “community” behind WordPress.org is Automattic, but if it’s not, who is it?

  11. Ryan says:

    What a lot of huff over a silly domain name. Expecting someone to read the fine print is always a poor assumption.

  12. Miriam Schwab says:

    Ryan – that’s exactly how I feel! Also, if you read Matt’s response above, you’ll see that it’s not actually a trademark issue, but a “community” issue. Do you know who this community is, and how they formulate their rules?

  13. Ryan says:

    I always assumed that was under the control of Automattic, but I guess not judging from Matt’s response.

  14. Kyle Eslick says:

    Interesting discussion here. As Ryan mentioned above, my comments were also written prior to the others showing up.

    It is interesting to see both Matt and Lorelle’s thoughts on this issue. Matt appears to be very passionate about his opposition of people using the WordPress trademark in their domain name.

    As I mentioned above, I was not aware of the WordPress disclosure in particular, but was aware of the potential complications (in general) of using a companies name in your domain name.

    I think the primary reason for using a companies name in your domain URL is obviously the SEO advantages it gives you over blogs that simply use “WP” or don’t even mention WordPress in the domain URL. In other words, my choice of using a domain with WordPress in the URL has nothing to do with trying to trick people into thinking I represent the company, but instead to ensure the search engines know what my blog is about. It is 100% about all things WordPress.

    After reading the comments above, I think that explains why Matt and others had no interest in promoting my campaign to support WordPress by getting more people to use Gravatars on their WordPress.org blogs. Regardless of my thoughts on the issue, it is what it is, and I’ll respect their decision.

    I think if I could go back, I would go with a “WP” domain instead. Unfortunately, making the switch now would be almost like blog suicide, at least for the first few months after the change.

    I wonder who we can e-mail to request permission or is it to late since the fan blog has already been established? Could we change our slogan to read something like “A WordPress fan blog.”

  15. Ryan says:

    Kyle – If you redirect your old domain to a new one, you shouldn’t lose any traffic whatsoever. Google etc. will see that there has been a domain change but no content changes and won’t penalize you accordingly. Anyone who follows a link to your site will be automatically redirected, so you wont lose traffic via that either and those links will still help your PR so long as you keep the 301 redirect in place.

    Or at least that’s the theory. I’ve seen SEO gurus debating this issue before. But I ‘think’ it should be fine so long as you don’t go doing massive site altering changes during the changeover.

  16. Kyle Eslick says:

    Ryan,

    Yeah, I actually went through that whole process on KylesCove, which was rebranded on a new name. It took about a week for Google to catch up and update their search results, but search traffic seems to have dipped significantly since the change.

    Everything stayed the same but the domain URL. Post structure, databases, and everything else is the same from the old URL. *shrug* I felt it was worth making the change at the time, and still am glad I did, but I was disappointed how it influenced traffic. From reading others that have written about this, it takes 2-3 months for things to get back to normal.

  17. Matt says:

    Miriam, I see how my comments above could be read harshly. As far as I know, no one has asked you to changed your domain name, and I don’t think it’s your fault you missed the domain policy we’ve had for a few years. I’m thrilled about you or anyone who blogs about WordPress. If you’d like clarification on anything in the About section of WordPress.org, feel free to email me or call me, my contact info is on my contact page.

  18. Lorelle says:

    Wow, quite a discussion. Trust you, my friend, to make a big stir. :D

    I just wanted to clarify something. I’ve known about this since the beginning…sometimes in 2003 or 2004. But more than that, I didn’t have to know about this issue to “know” about it. It’s business.

    If you start a company, you work hard to figure out the company name. You play with it in your head, talk to friends, family, testing the sounds, the feelings, and the responses. You research it. Are other companies carrying the same name?

    The last thing you do is want a name someone else has. Unless you can get something out of it, which many of the sites you mentioned regarding Apple and WordPress “get”. They get the name recognition by association. So they better offer up related content, right?

    Still, it’s a general business practice not to use a trademark name. WordPress has not hidden this. They don’t have to. It’s normal business practice. They didn’t have to tell you. You should have known. It’s standard operating procedure.

    And don’t think Apple has let anyone and everyone get away with using their trademark names. They have a whole law firm that does little but protect their names. I used to work for Microsoft and I saw their in-house law department. You don’t want to mess with their name, trust me.

    WordPress and Automattic would rather put their money elsewhere, wouldn’t you? That’s what I mean by respect and what Matt is talking about when he says “community”.

    What’s really at issue is what you want to call your site. If you want to stick to WordPress issues, then I’m sure there is some work around here. If you are going to blog about other subjects, then the name isn’t of benefit to you, other than attracting those interested in WordPress. Many bloggers move onto other subjects. It’s a natural part of finding your blog focus and passion. If it isn’t WordPress, then move on.

    Miriam, you have so many wonderful things to blog about and share, and so many trust what you have to say. Let you be the star, not WordPress. You are what brings people here. Make that your “garage”. :D

  19. Miriam Schwab says:

    Matt – thanks for your last comment. I appreciate that you understand that it’s not my fault that I missed the WordPress domain policy, Nobody asked me to change my domain, but you do have a silent policy, which is now not so silent, to shun any websites that use WordPress in the domain name. I’m assuming this blog is still being shunned.

    I came across a blog post that really explained how I felt when you and Lorelle indirectly accused me of blatant disregard, being like a scraper, etc.: The Unbearable Idiocy of Brands: Ford Runs Over Its Fansumers.

    Anyways, congratulations on raising the new dough, and your post on how WordPress started and grew is really inspiring. That story is one of the reasons I and many others love WordPress.

  20. Miriam Schwab says:

    Lorelle – I can stir up quite a discussion, eh?

    It seems from Matt’s last comment that he doesn’t expect me to change my domain name, so I’m not going to for the time being.

    As for whether the name of this blog is fitting: 99.9% of what I’ve been writing for almost a year is pure WordPress, the other 0.01% of stuff being about extra tools and widgets that can help enhance a WordPress blog. In short, this is most definitely a blog about WordPress.

    It’s very nice what you said about the value of what I have to share etc. I have to disagree, but in any case I’ve implemented a lesson I’ve learned from you – every blog should have a focus. So WordPress Garage focuses on WordPress, but it does have my personal flavor. My business blog focuses on business, social media and Israel. And maybe one day I’ll start a blog on how to raise truckloads of kids and run a business. That’s pretty much the wisdom that I can offer the world (that it would like to hear) through my writing at this time.

    So I guess I have quite a few garages :) I’m not creating any more since sleep is something that I hear is highly recommended for human beings.

  21. Ryan says:

    FYI, I transferred a whole bunch of posts via 301 redirects from ryanhellyer.net to pixopoint.com quite a few months ago now. I saw absolutely no change in search engine traffic volumes during the changeover apart from a rapid shift from one domain to the other.

    So basically my first statement here about 301 redirects not causing any loss in traffic seems to be true in my case. There is no reason (that I can think of) for Google not to continue to feed traffic to your site in this type of situation.

  22. Miriam Schwab says:

    Ryan, that’s really good to know. I actually bought the domain wpgarage, so maybe one day I’ll get around to moving this site onto that domain. But first I need to recover from our recent horror moving our sites from one server to another.

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  24. [...] researching the issue I came across this very interesting post on the very subject which drew a couple of very pointed comments from Matt Mullenweg himself (seems [...]

  25. [...] about third-party sites that use the word “WordPress” in their domain name. We posted our opinion on this issue since WP Garage has been running (until yesterday) on a domain with the [...]

  26. [...] was reading a post on wpgarage which faced the similar issue as they had wordpress in primary domain name , but later they moved [...]

  27. [...] in our main domain. We are violating their rights. More info belowWordpress About DomainsConsumer evangelists vs lawyers: using “WordPress” in domain names by WP GarageUsing WordPress In domain Name by ShoutMeLoudNew FTC policy rules that all bloggers [...]

  28. [...] i came across a site which changed its domain from wordpressgarage to wpgarage, after facing the same [...]

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  30. Thanks god i did not bought the domain in which i was going to include the word “WordPress”.
    Thanks for this article.

  31. Leaf says:

    Hey Miriam. Do you, or does anyone else know, how detailed the Tradmark issue is with WordPress –  they’re promoting “wp” as an alternate variation, but waht about variations like “wpress”, or “wordp”
     

  32. KatieB says:

    I work for a firm that develops websites, and one platform we use is WordPress. We build clients sites on test servers using dummy domain names.  One we purchased has our firms initials and ‘wordpress’ in it.  We have the install set up so search engines won’t index it (why would we want it to if we are building sites on it?). 

    I do, however, get on WordPress.org and ask for help (like many thousands of others) and of course most of the time it is helpful if you post the domain name so they can see the site.  It is the ONLY place on the internet the link gets posted, and the themes never have content on them (save for the plug-in that creates fake content).

    I have been ‘chewed out’ a few times “You are infringing on the WP trademark!!!!”  :-\  I’m not even putting CONTENT on the site, were only use this domain to build themes and test plug-ins or test new versions of WordPress.

    So…  how ‘illegal’ is that?

  33. [...] met merk woocommerce, en ook het logo Ik weet dat wordpress daar redelijk lastig over doet: (Consumer evangelists vs. lawyers: using "WordPress" in domain names) Misschien is woocommerce wel te klein om zich er druk over te maken, succes [...]

  34. techie says:

    I dont know why i registered a blog with wordpress keyword in it,,,shame i now have to let it expire

  35. […] (I recently experienced a Ford-like episode with a pretty big company that produces one of the world’s most successful Open Source platforms. You can read about it and the resulting comments here.) […]

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