Tim on 2.0

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but I feel obliged given my prior comments (here and here) and my email traffic on the issue.

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.


  1. “Were bloggers and others wrong in thinking that it was generic?”
    I sure don’t think so… as I noted on Tim’s post,
    A point that you didn’t address in your piece is the question of whether ORA or CMP has made the requisite effort to defend your brand between the first Web 2.0 Conference and last week. It seems that noone had any idea that ‘Web 2.0 ‘ was a pending trademark.
    Do you ever recall seeing “Web 2.0(tm) Conference (sm)”?
    Also troubling is his counter-attack on the blogosphere. Regrettably, those few of us (and I worked to recruit some of them) who counseled caution that this affair was CMP’s error and not O’Reilly’s were made fools both by Ms. Winge’s response, and by the second letter which it@cork received, which demanded that they swear never to use the term again. Those added fuel to a hot fire. All that was needed from ORA at the time was, “We’ll be reassessing this; more soon.”
    Had they managed that response, there’d have been a lot less flaming after the ignition of the story. They still haven’t done enough to put it out, but of course that will require (long) discussions with their partners…

  2. Further, it’s not at all clear how strong the srvice mark claim really is. See:
    Trademark Blog post on “Web 2.0” trademark issues
    “IMHO, the 2005 O’Reilly piece begins and ends the discussion. If you coin and promulgate a term, you can sell it as a buzzword or you can sell it as a brand, but under trademark law, it’s virtually impossible to do both. (And if I want to promote the Trademark Blog Web 2.0 Conference about protecting trademarks in the Web 2.0 space, then I will cite the O’Reilly essay as Exhibit A as to how I am using the term to describe a quality of my offering.”