So … Tim O’Reilly is back from holidays and has given a typically thoughtful, nuanced, and historically illuminating view of the whole Web 2.0 service mark issue. As I expected, this was not something that Tim was behind, despite what the conspiracy theorists might think.
In general, I feel badly for Tim. He is one of my favorite people in this fickle industry: insightful, warm, and ethical, but also a business guy, not some unreconstructed techno-utopian. But it is his name on the company, even if CMP has primary culpability for its legal heavy-handedness (which is again what I surmised), which makes this one of those times when it is tough being the founder/CEO.
So, do I agree with Tim’s view of the issue? Mostly. He is right that people wrongly personalized the debate; he is correct that O’Reilly/CMP absolutely has the right, both moral and legal, to protect their respective businesses and associated service marks. And the blogosphere was its usual messy, knee-jerk, and over-attacking self, almost to the point of discrediting itself.
Almost is the key word here though. Because let’s not throw out the bloggers with the blogosphere. At root we have unhappiness over CMP claiming ownership of a widely-used phrase — “Web 2.0” — that most people perceived as being generic. Were bloggers and others wrong in thinking that it was generic? Strictly speaking, yes, but it not unsurprisingly rankles them that people who knew “Web 2.0” wasn’t generic (even if only in a conference context) did nothing to disabuse them of that notion as the meme took hold. Most of the recent anger and frustration was partly out of not getting direct and useful answers for a few days, but at a deeper level it was about people who felt suckered by wrong-headed hyperbole one bubble back, and were newly worried that it was happening a second time.
It isn’t happening again, or at least it isn’t O’Reilly’s fault if people get in over their heads based on Web 2.0 enthusiasm. And I think Tim is on the right path forward. He says he wants to find a way to protect O’Reilly’s excellent Web 2.0 conference series, while taking into account the phrase’s usefulness in discussions of the technological change that is around us. I have confidence Tim can do it, and I look forward to next November’s O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference when I’m sure all of this will be long behind us — or better yet, will make for a few good jokes in the opening talks.