Is O'Reilly One of the good guys? Maybe ...

by Paul Browne

As an Irish O'Reilly Blogger , I have mixed feelings around the controversy on the Web 2.0 name. The original story is here, about a Web 2.0 conference organised by friends of mine in Cork , Ireland.

The O'Reilly response is here. What is remarkable is the polarisation of opinion between the 'O'Reilly is a big bad corporation' and 'O'Reilly is ok guy , just an honest mistake'.

My view probably leans towards the latter - while I'm no fan of lawyers, the fact that I'm here on the O'Reilly site, blogging about the controversy means that O'Reilly is still far from your average faceless corporate monolith.

Update (1): Latest from Cork here.

More on Technology in Plain English


Aaron 'Teejay' Trevena
2006-05-26 05:26:03
Thats the thing with Corporate Lawyers - they think they know best, but can end up doing more harm than good. You need to keep them carefully controlled and focused on what's important to the business cost..

In this case you have several problems at O Reilly
* Out of control lawyers
* Lack of communication between business units
* Submarine servicemark/trademarking a generic meme/buzzword
* Failing to acknowlege the real mistake was getting the servicemark in the first place, or not realising the meme was growing much bigger than just a conference

None of those problems have really been acknowledged - you could put it down to growing pains that these happened - but how the company reacts, and it needs to go far beyond just 'generously allowing this conference to use the servicemark once because Tim is there', will show whether it's just another greedy american corporation or still has some soul.

Paul Browne
2006-05-26 05:37:14

Just to be clear : I'm independent of O'Reilly , other than the fact that I have written articles for them and they allow me to blog here (Being an Enterprise Java Consultant is what pays the rent).

So I'm torn: My personal experience of dealing with the guys at O'Reilly have been excellent. I also know and respect the guys behind IT@Cork (Ireland is quite a small place). So it's like watching friends fight - not pretty , and hard to understand.


Aaron 'Teejay' Trevena
2006-05-26 09:08:13
Yes, it is a shame.

Like I said - companies get old and lose their soul - this sucks when you have a good relationship with them.

Didn't mean to associate you with O Reilly, but it's an O Reilly blog about O Reilly so it seems the right place to respond - you was meant as general 3rd person rather than you specifically.

2006-05-31 05:38:05
lawyers can be like badly trained guard dogs. they sometimes seem to bark at and bite random guests and lick the hands of unwanted intruders. bad lawyer! down! down!
Stuart Jefferys
2006-06-01 23:30:54
Wow. Up to this, my opinion of O'Reilly as a company has always been 'Everyone should be like them.' I own more books from O'Reilly than any other publisher, mainly because I trust the brand name to "do the right thing". At first, this seems to be a clear example of "doing the wrong thing". However, reading through the above linked responses shows why Tim O'Reilly earned my trust in the first palce. By providing a substantive description of the actual complexities of this issue, my initial negative response diminished. The fact that I found out about this whole issue through an O'Reilly newsletter helps too. But I still think O'Reilly is ultimately wrong.

I believe most people understand why brand names are important, and marketing slogans that are associated with a successful product need to be protected for similar reasons. The key issue is the value of the "Web 2.0" term when used to market a conference. O'reilly and apparently a partner, CMP, want to distinguish their conference from others. Trademarking - or whatever this is legally called - benefits me as a consumer because I trust the brand name. I certainly don't want to be tricked into buying something that isn't what I thought it was. However, a trademark can also benefit a trademarking entity at my expense when it gets in the way of finding a similar product from a competitor. It is this aspect of the "Web 2.0" trademark that is really causing all the fuss.

Unfortunately, "Web 2.0" has become a key descriptive term for a technology that is not owned by O'Reilly or CMP. By preventing the use of the generic name for a technology, even when limited to conference titles, O'Reilly and CMP are barring conference holders from clearly identifying what they are holding a conference on. This makes it inconvenient to finding a competitor's product. If unintentional, this "help the company at the expense of the customer" is not good for customer relations. Sadly, I believe the impediment to competitors IS intentional. By trying to prevent others from using a popular "buzz word", O'Reilly and CMP hope to be the only conferences that seems worthwhile. This is at odds with the previous policies of a business that has an amazingly strong supportive relationship with its customers. The strength of this bond is apparent in the "I'm surprised and hurt" response of customers to what is a standard predatory business practice for many companies.

I suggest that O'Reilly and CMP find another trademark to identify the Web 2.0 conferences that they put on. If the trademark was for "The home of Web 2.0", "The real Web 2.0" or some equally specific thing, no-one would care. I still want to know which are the conferences to go to, and I appreciate the effort marketing departments put into keeping me from being confused.

I ask that O'Reilly and CMP accept the loss of revenue that may occur when I find conferences on this technology by competitors. Earn my brand loyalty by being the best. Not by being the only one I can easily find. That's tainted money.

If the cost or difficulty of obtaining another trademark is a barrier, start a donation fund to buy another trademark and/or a contest to come up with a more targeted name. Those that would otherwise complain or worse, grumble in silence and hold a grudge, can put up or shut up. Give the winner a free pass to the newly trademarked conference. Good publicity instead of bad! Everyone wins. That's the O'Reilly I know and love.

Paul Browne
2006-06-02 06:03:42

The most hopeful thing I've seen on this has been in Tim's Response
This controversy is also bad for my most important brand, my own name, especially since O'Reilly and not CMP is taking all the heat!.

I'm sure it will all get sorted.