About the Author

Chris Shiflett

Hi, I’m Chris: entrepreneur, community leader, husband, and father. I live and work in Boulder, CO.

Mob Mentality and Web 2.0

Disclaimer: I'm an O'Reilly author. I've been to Foo Camp. I've spoken at OSCON.

This is an opinion piece. I'll provide plenty of quotes and links, so you should have no trouble digging into the issue and coming to your own conclusions. These are mine.

Last week, Tom Raftery, an organizer for the Web 2.0 Half-Day Conference received a cease and desist letter from CMP Media, the company who produces the real Web 2.0 Conference with O'Reilly.

Understandably, Tom blogged about it. (Letters from lawyers are intimidating.) When I read his post (it was the first thing I read about this incident), I couldn't help but think the entire thing was crafted to be deliberately misleading. At first glance, I was appalled at O'Reilly's behavior, but I quickly realized that O'Reilly was not involved. A lawyer representing CMP Media sent a cease and desist letter for an obvious trademark infringement, yet this is the title Tom chose:

O'Reilly trademarks "Web 2.0" and sets lawyers on IT@Cork!

CMP Media filed for the trademark (for live events) back in 2003 (before, and in anticipation of, the first Web 2.0 Conference), and its lawyer sent the letter. Why? Well, the reason is right there at the bottom of Tom's post:

I am on the steering committee of IT@Cork and the organising committee of the Web 2.0 conference.

Although he seems to be claiming otherwise, Tom is not involved with the Web 2.0 Conference. Confused yet? You see, in an attempt to discredit CMP Media's actions (and tarnish O'Reilly's reputation), he slips up and demonstrates why trademarks are important. As Connor MacLeod would say, there can be only one.

Tom didn't stop there. With the attention he gained from his first post (it was Dugg, among other things), he continued with a series of related posts. In the first, O'Reilly's mean-spirited response, Tom references O'Reilly's initial response, Controversy about our "Web 2.0" service mark. (In it, Sara Winge gives a safe, corporate response, simply stating the truth. This is what a typical company would do, but people expect more from O'Reilly.) Tom also makes another very misleading statement:

If we run an event on Microsoft Windows, would Microsoft would send us a cease and desist letter for using their trademark in the title? Of course not, how is this any different?

It's unclear whether Tom is genuinely confused about trademarks or deliberately trying to be misleading again. O'Reilly and CMP Media have a conference called the Web 2.0 Conference. Microsoft has an operating system called Windows. Can you guess what would happen if Tom tried to sell an operating system named Windows?

Tom's series of posts continue with Cory Doctorow - O'Reilly apologist, O'Reilly vs. IT@Cork and Web 2.0 - a legalistic solution, I couldn't possibly condone this!, and finally, Sorry Tim. The last post is a rather weak apology, but an apology nonetheless. (He apologizes for not sending Tim an email first, but does not apologize for deliberately spreading misinformation and encouraging vitriol.)

Tim's response, which he just posted yesterday due to being on vacation last week, is very measured and genuine. Most corporate responses are similar to the previous ones made by O'Reilly in Tim's absence - safe and formal. Tim's response is a blog post, complete with personality and even a bit of edge. In fact, before discussing the issue in detail, he takes some well-deserved shots at the mindless mob mentality:

I used to bristle when members of the mainstream press wagged their fingers at the unprofessionalism of bloggers. I looked around at all the bloggers who are, to my mind, practicing great journalism, and wrote off the MSM criticism as fear of the new medium. But now I'm not so sure. The flap about the Web 2.0 Conference trademark has shaken my faith in the collective intelligence of the blogosphere. Of all the hundreds of people who commented on this issue, only a few touched base to do a bit of fact checking. The New York Times, by contrast, was all over doing due-diligence. They talked to everyone they could get their hands on before publishing their story.

He also makes a subtle reference to Tom's inappropriate behavior:

Given that Tom and I had previously had a conversation where I wished him the best of luck with his conference, while the lawyer's letter came from CMP, I would have thought that he would have wondered whether the right hand knew what the left hand was doing before launching and then encouraging the torrent of net vitriol that's come our way. He did call CMP to talk to the lawyer who wrote the letter, but he never tried to contact me. While he acknowledges that the letter was from CMP, he used O'Reilly's name in the headline and repeatedly throughout the piece for maximum net impact. So while we owe Tom an apology for heavy-handed tactics, I think Tom owes us an apology for the way he responded.

I was delighted that Tim didn't play it safe and instead offered a genuine, personal response to this incident. That's one of the reasons I respect Tim, and by association, his company.

About this post

Mob Mentality and Web 2.0 was posted on Wed, 31 May 2006. If you liked it, follow me on Twitter or share:


1.Rob Allen said:

Personal attacks are disappointing to see, regardless of if they are aimed at a "big gun" like Tim O'Reilly or someone small like my friend's blog with 50 odd readers. You'd think in this day and age that people could be civil!

I can't help feeling that CMP/O'Reilly set themselves up for this one by not mentioning that they had TM'd the name that they were "talking up" over the last 3 years. Pointing out their trademark to the world via a laywer's letter to a non-profit in another country is hardly the right way to let the world know that you are enforcing this. Especially when they already know about such issues as shown by the Camel licensing page!

Wed, 31 May 2006 at 19:20:18 GMT Link

2.Nat Torkington said:

Don't be too hard on Tom. The poor bloke had a baby and got hit with a C&D for a two-week out conference in the space of something like 24 hours. I'd have been spewing, too. And the initial O'Reilly responses (the best we could do while our hands were tied by lawyers, and unable to unilaterally throw off the lawyers because of an important partnership) didn't help to calm him down.

For the record, we don't consider Tom's apology weak. Tom and Tim are grownups dealing with mistakes. We apologize and we move on.


(O'Reilly Radar blogger)

Wed, 31 May 2006 at 19:33:42 GMT Link

3.Chris Shiflett said:

Rob, are you sure the Web 2.0 Conference logo hasn't always displayed a trademark symbol? It certainly does now. I don't think O'Reilly is interested in trying to trademark Web 2.0 in any other context.

Nat, I completely understand Tom's flustered response. What I object to is what I perceive to be a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation. Hopefully I'm wrong about that. :-)

Wed, 31 May 2006 at 20:29:39 GMT Link

4.Mike Lively said:

I think it should be dualy noted and explicitly said that the usage of term web 2.0 in and of itself is not being restricted by the trademark. Only its usage in conferences, tradeshows, workshops, tutorials, etc. The request for the service mark is very specific and imo doesn't warrant the backlash that o'reilly is recieving.

The responses on O'Reilly Radar would make you think this is just the end of the world as we know it. It seems that people just aren't grasping how 'little' of a deal that service mark really is. The only thing I could see being problematic is that it seems to me that workshops given at other conferences such as PHP|Works, etc. won't be able to use web 2.0 without permission. I may even be wrong about that though. Even if I'm not. I think o'reilly in this case has proved that if you are willing to work with them, they will work with you.

In either case, this is definantly in the running for biggest FUD of the year.

Wed, 31 May 2006 at 22:52:57 GMT Link

5.Chris Shiflett said:

Mike, that's a good point, and it seems to be missed by many people. Trademarks are context-specific.

Wed, 31 May 2006 at 22:58:55 GMT Link

6.Aaron Wormus said:

Thanks for the roundup Chris, I hadn't really taken the time to read all the blog entries. You put it all together nicely.

I understand the traditional business sense involved with the registration of a trademark. What it comes down to is another argument for the ogg vs. mp3 or bitkeeper vs. oss alternative arguement. Be sure you understand the legal baggage involved with something before you use it.

I'm sure if developers would have understood this they would have been slower to jump onboard the web 2.0 bandwagon. I have been hesitant to use it, and will be even more so from now on.

Thu, 01 Jun 2006 at 13:19:04 GMT Link

7.Keith Casey said:

I am on the steering committee of IT@Cork and the organising committee of the Web 2.0 conference.

This is the comment that struck me right off the bat... Maybe I'm biased*, but you can't have two products named the same thing without confusing people, which forms the basis of trademark protection. Although I've been critical of O'Reilly in the past - http://blogs.caseysoftware.com/?q=node/170 - but I think they're in the right here.

* I'm on the Exec Committee for the DC PHP Conference - http://dcphpconference.com/ .

Thu, 01 Jun 2006 at 14:51:29 GMT Link

8.Tom Raftery said:


A couple of clarifications.

IT@Cork is a small non-profit networking organisation. This event is run primarily for our membership which consist of local companies. I can guarantee you that none of our members had heard of the O'Reilly/CMP Web 2.0 Conference. None of them would have heard of CMP either so after we spoke to the staff of CMP and ascertained that the C&D had been run by O'Reilly's staff, I felt it was not inaccurate to name O'Reillys (whom my readership would be familiar with). Also the CMP representative we spoke with confirmed that the trade mark is held jointly by O'Reilly's and CMP.

As for confusing the two conferences - ours is called the IT@Cork Web 2.0 half-day conference, it is in Cork, Ireland and entry is free for our members (or €50 for non-members). The O'Reilly Web 2.0 conference is in San Francisco and costs over $3,000. Nobody was confusing these two events.

As for the "rather weak" apology - I think it was extremely strong. I titled the post "Sorry Tim" and I straight out said "Sorry Tim" in the post.

There are other mis-representations and inaccuracies in your post but it is late at night here, you have displayed your bias and you have fallen into exactly the same trap Tim pointed out in his response (you have failed to do your fact checking). My email address, phone numbers and address are on my blog. You didn't try to contact me to establish the facts, you just posted and the facts be damned.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 00:30:19 GMT Link

9.Chris Shiflett said:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

If there are any inaccuracies in my post, please feel free to point them out, and I'll correct them. Forgive me, but I'm always suspicious of hollow claims.

The trademark application is linked from my post, so you're welcome to read it for yourself. I think you were misinformed, but this is why I try to always use links when presenting statements of fact - it lets people do their own research.

As for the apology, I don't want you to feel like you have to defend yourself, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether you were intentionally spreading misinformation. As I stated above, I hope I'm wrong about that.

Sorry for not contacting you, but hopefully you can understand that many of us feel like small fish. It seems a bit egotistical to expect to receive a personal response, which is why I simply waited to hear everyone's side of the story before offering my thoughts.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 01:11:34 GMT Link

10.Tom Raftery said:


I have already pointed out some of the inaccuracies in your post.

I don't believe we were misinformed. Sandy in CMP informed us that the trade marks were jointly held. I have read both trade mark applications (the EU one is here fyi) and while neither mention O'Reilly, Tim confirmed to us in a phone call that the trade marks are to be transferred into their joint ownership.

Therefore I don't feel I was spreading misinformation.

And in no way did I encourage any of the vitriol which took place. I am appalled by some of the comments which were left on the O'Reilly site however, I believe they would have been left on any site where the owners had been accused of trade marking the term "web 2.0" - that is a function of the mob mentality of the blogosphere and the esteem in which the term "web 2.0" is held.

My initial post was not emotive, it merely presented the fact and asked, what should we do in this scenario?

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 07:53:33 GMT Link

11.David Jones said:

O'Reilly says that CMP told him they were worried about brand dilution and he agreed that something would have to be done. What do you think that might be other than attempted trademark enforcement?

Neither O'Reilly nor CMP mad it clear they were attempting to trademark 'Web 2.0' - which would have been a good start in mitigating brand dilution.

O'Reilly was invited to the conference and wished IT@Cork all the best with it - but didn't bother to tell them about this little problem.

O'Reilly's response isn't the full story and suggesting an apology is due to him is ridiculous when he and his business associates bully small non-profits in this way but let the bigger fish go.

CMP has allowed other Web 2.0 conferences to pass without slapping on C&D notices

CMP misapply their own hoped-for trademark on their own conference website where they appear to suggest the TM is for 'Conference' or 'Web 2.0 Conference' when in fact it's for 'Web 2.0' in the context of a conference.

The trademark probably doesn't apply at the moment in Eire, Madrid protocol notwithstanding; CMP had no legal authority to threaten in the manner it did.

The trademark is too generic to be successful.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 11:55:41 GMT Link

12.Chris Shiflett said:

Hi Tom,

> I have already pointed out some of the

> inaccuracies in your post.

I don't think you did, but that's fine. I just wanted to make sure you had the opportunity.

> I don't believe we were misinformed.

Then there is some verb tense inconsistency, at the very least. Saying something is true now, when you believe it is not (but will be in the future), is not entirely accurate.

> Therefore I don't feel I was spreading

> misinformation.

Very glad to hear that! :-)

In my opinion, intent is everything, so the details are less important. Hopefully you can understand how your series of blog posts might be interpreted, especially when you slip and refer to your conference as the "Web 2.0 Conference" in the very first one.

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to share your side of the story, and sorry if you felt like that was necessary.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 12:29:10 GMT Link

13.david jones said:

'<i>Rob, are you sure the Web 2.0 Conference logo hasn't always displayed a trademark symbol.It certainly does now</i>'

And this is one of the problems.

The trademark symbol appears at the end of the word 'Conference'. CMP and / or O'Reilly haven't applied for a trademark either for 'Conference' or for 'Web 2.0 Conference'. So what's the (TM) doing at the end of the word 'Conference'?

CMP - who have applied for the trademark - didn't coin the term and haven't added any meaning to it. O'Reilly has enhanced understanding but O'Reilly didn't apply for the trademark. Besides, the jurisdiction doesn't extend to Eire.

Like you say. You're an O'Reilly author.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 13:37:00 GMT Link

14.Keith Casey said:


Actually - as much as the "Web 2.0" term annoys me sometimes - much of the concept and discussion came about as a direct result of Tim's presentation and discussion last fall - http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

That doesn't mean the concept was new, just that this was the first time it was stated this clearly and people actually noticed.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 13:51:32 GMT Link

15.david jones said:


Yes, O'Reilly has added meaning to the term 'Web 2.0' - as have many who attended the conferences and many who didn't.

Now, who is it trying to trademark the term? Oh yes, CMP.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 14:24:30 GMT Link

16.Chris Shiflett said:

Hi David,

It's clear you've taken a stance on this issue, and I'm sure we can all appreciate that.

However, not all of us see this as a "choosing sides" issue. I think there are mistakes made on both sides, and I think both Tim and Tom understand that now.

Note that I did not really offer my opinion on the issue of whether I like the fact that CMP Media has filed for a trademark Web 2.0 in the context of live events. That is a closely-related, but separate, issue.

P.S. I think you mean to be responding to Keith in your last comment.

Fri, 02 Jun 2006 at 14:31:35 GMT Link

17.Keith Casey said:

I just noted this one... https://www.execbizevents.com/web2/

I wonder what O'Reilly & CMP will do on this one.

Thu, 08 Jun 2006 at 15:29:10 GMT Link

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