[Foundation-l] Rethinking brands

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Wed May 9 03:57:42 UTC 2007

On 5/8/07, Brianna Laugher <brianna.laugher at gmail.com> wrote:

> What will recognition of WMF projects be like in another five years?
> Who can tell? But if you envision as I do, eventually a global
> presence for WMF, a reputation for free access & license quality
> content in multiple languages, then it seems short-sighted to rename
> everything after Wikipedia just because it is our most well known
> project right now.

Not at all. First of all, the understanding of Wikipedia as a resource
expressed here is very limited. Wikipedia is unlike any encyclopedia
in history. See, for example, these blog posts where I pointed out
some of its unique characteristics:

http://intelligentdesigns.net/blog/?p=61 - in how it deals with current events
http://intelligentdesigns.net/blog/?p=54 - in its sourcing methods
http://intelligentdesigns.net/blog/?p=57 - in its scope

which is only really scratching the surface of the surface. And see
http://intelligentdesigns.net/blog/?p=60 for some thoughts about its
future potential for growth and restructuring. We happen to have
called Wikipedia an "encyclopedia", and this semantic classification
can be useful. But a higher level of abstraction is necessary in order
to understand its social and cultural role as well as its potential
for growth.

Wikipedia, in its design, is a universal "first stop" for knowledge.
It is not a textbook that you consult for in-depth learning, or an
online course that you take. It is not a collection of quotations that
you use to look things up when you want a nice quote for your
PowerPoint presentation. This universality will not change as long as
we're still in this rough conceptual space.

Wikipedia will therefore remain a strong and probably our strongest
brand. Perhaps Wikinews and Wikiversity would have similar universal
appeal if they could grow in the same way, though we have clearly seen
so far that these dynamics of growth do not apply. It is unreasonable
to think that we would ever look "silly" for naming other projects in
connection with Wikipedia, anymore than it is unreasonable for Google
to name their projects after their search engine & company (Google
News, Books, Mail, etc.).

The second mistake that people make in this discussion is that the
broader public understanding of Wikipedia is not identical to our
community's own nerdy conception thereof. A common argument through
this thread has been "But project so and so is not an encyclopedia, so
it should not be called Wikipedia Xy, that's confusing!"

You might want to ask yourself, then, why people ever starterd writing
dictionary entries, collections of quotations, source materials, or
instructional texts on Wikipedia in the first place. This was, after
all, a primary motivation for spinning off these projects! Literally,
in its early days, Wikipedia  _was_ used for all these things, if only
on a small scale.

Clearly, many contributors did not feel limited by the notion that
"Wikipedia is an encyclopedia in the traditional sense". We built
policies to express that notion, and it was probably a good idea to
spin off more focused communities (though I sometimes have my doubts
about that). But we have to explain explicitly to people, again and
again, what Wikipedia is not, because it is _not_ obvious.


The idea that "Wikipedia is making a dictionary" or "Wikipedia is
making course materials" is not at all counter-intuitive to most
people who have never been washed in Wikipedia's culture and its nerdy
battles for semantics. Indeed, it is the opposite notion -- that there
is a thing that's called Wikimedia that runs Wikipedia, and also those
other things -- that tends to lead to confusion.

For example, just in the last few months a potential partner believed
Wikiversity to be a separate organization, even at a fairly late stage
in our discussions. But the more common case is that people ask me
"So, Wikimedia is .... Wikipedia?" Some might even suspect that it's
some kind of scam trying to ride on the Wikipedia trademark.

So I strongly agree with what has been said about the Wikimedia naming
issue being the most serious of them all. I would already be quite
content if, for instance, we were named the "Free Knowledge
Foundation" (analogous to the FSF). That particular name appears to be
taken though.

> It seems to me many of our projects are ahead of their time. I guess
> they will struggle for recognition and popularity until the world
> catches up. Renaming them won't change that.

Again, even in a best case scenario, I do not think that any other
project will overtake Wikipedia's popularity and brand recognition.
Perhaps, in our wildest dreams, some can reach comparable size (which
would not necessarily make the Wikipedia branding approach problematic
any more so than GMail's popularity makes it a bad idea to call it
"Google Mail"). But so far, the differences are orders of magnitude

> This proposal really surprises me, because I feel there is already a
> perception from non-[English ]Wikipedia projects the Board only cares
> about English Wikipedia, and that they are not getting the support
> they want. Suggesting "hey, just rename yourself under Wikipedia and
> boom, success!" doesn't seem to me that it will go down well.

Clearly not, as the reactions to this posting demonstrate -- a lot of
people would get quite pissed. But so far I have not seen convincing
rational arguments beyond that, and I believe the emotional impact can
be dealt with by implementing the changes gradually and involving the
community in the process as much as possible.

> Speaking for my involvement with Commons, I want success for Commons
> on its own terms. Not just as a service project to Wikipedia.

The naming does not at all imply that it would be a service project.

> > : Other Wikipedia Projects: Sources | Textbooks | Quotes | Dictionary
> > | Media | Species | News | Learning

> We don't need to wait for a rebranding to do something very similar to
> this, do we?

Probably not. Though, admittedly, my conviction that we should rebrand
the projects soon has only grown through the discussion so far.

> > * Recognition of Wikipedia as flagship removes some of the media
> > pressure that every new project has to immediately (or ever) be just
> > as successful, which may very well be completely unrealistic.
> What 'media pressure' are you referring to?

Look at the initial coverage about Wikinews as a fine example.

> Does WMF care if its other projects are or aren't 'successful'?
> http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/foundation-l/2007-April/029773.html

Of course. That does not mean that we should not face new and exciting
challenges, especially if there are good windows of opportunity. I
will respond in more detail regarding LP in the coming days.

> > * Discourages tribal thinking about projects, where even highly
> > experienced Wiki[mp]edians are treated with as much suspicion as any
> > newbie when they join another Wiki-* project.

> I don't see a URL change changing that. While some communities can be
> overzealously protective, a certain amount of protectiveness strikes
> me as a good thing. There's a reason why almost all projects have a
> policy page that amounts to 'We are not Wikipedia, don't do things the
> Wikipedia way because we do them differently here'.

Yes and no. Tribalism can be enormously harmful. The mess we tried to
clean up with the licensing policy is an example of that; there has
been non-free creep in a number of projects & languages due to a
desire to do things "differently." And, to some extent, the response
to that policy has been very aggressive and hostile. "Who are these
people to make policy for our project? We're not Wikimedia, we're
Wiki-xy." Of course, only a tiny minority of users feel that way. But
it's exactly that kind of attitude that a broader communal identity
might counteract. It would be meaningful to say "We are all
Wikipedians. We share these values." Wikimedia, on the other hand, is
a detached concept, which seems to be related by many to notions of
bureaucracy and management, rather than genuine community.

I do not deny that each project should have reasonable leeway to
develop policies that make sense for its application. But I do not see
any reason to believe that the rebranding would have a negative impact
on that ability. Wikimedia seems to generally have an inexhaustible
supply of complaints when things don't go the way people want them to.
It's the opposite (harmony through shared values) where we have

> No. At the moment Wikipedia and Wikibooks and Wikinews etc are all
> conceptually on the same level. But Wikipedia and Wikipedia Textbooks
> and Wikipedia News? These latter two are conceptually at a lower
> level. Reorganising projects like this would not "merely" reduce
> confusion, it would change people's perceptions about the relations
> between these entities...and their relative importance.

Do people think of Google's various services as being less important
than their primary service at google.com? Perhaps, a little bit. The
search is their flagship product. Wikipedia is ours, and will likely
remain so for quite a long time. But in general, the name serves more
as an identifier of an association with a known and (hopefully
increasingly so) trusted entity.

With thousands of wikis out there, "Wikiversity" or "Wikisource" don't
tell you anything about the origin of the project at all. Either
people think it's just another wiki, or they think that _everything_
that starts with "Wiki" belongs to us. And when we do answer, our
answer is cumbersome and confusing: "Wikinews is a project of the
Wikimedia Foundation, which also runs Wikipedia .."

> > * This will crush small projects under the juggernaut of the evil
> > Wikipedia and divert even more attention from them. => There is no
> > basis for such assumptions; indeed, it is quite reasonable to suppose
> > that identification with the strong "Wikipedia" brand will make it
> > _easier_ to resolve the particular technical needs of Wikipedia News,
> > Wikipedia Sources, etc. Raising money and developing partnerships for
> > Wikipedia is relatively easy, compared with a project hardly anybody
> > has ever heard of.

> Why not just use the phrases "Wikipedia Sources" etc with potential
> developers right now, then?

Because people will shout at me if I do it? ;-) Seriously, I'd be more
than happy to use these names in the context of communications with
third parties if authorized to do so.

> > I'd appreciate other critical commentary on this brand model. Frankly,
> > I see very few benefits in the strategy we have chosen to adopt
> > (perhaps more as a habit than as a result of careful deliberation).

> I'm guessing that's because brand recognition wasn't at the forefront
> of people's minds when they mused about potential project names. e.g.
> http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2004-March/011854.html
> :)

Actually quite the opposite. In the full project proposal,


I explained that "Wikimedia" should be an explicit part of the name to
strengthen the WMF brand. To some extent, that has succeeded, though
Commons itself is not that widely recognized yet in my experience.
But, at the time, I did not realize how problematic the
Wikipedia/Wikimedia naming confusion would in fact be in the future.
(To my own embarrassment, I contributed to making things worse by
strongly supporting and partially implementing the software name
change to MediaWiki.)

> Making such a major change merely in service of brand recognition
> seems backward to me, especially given that we're not selling
> anything.

General brand recognition is one of the arguments for this change, but
it is hardly the only one I gave. And while we're not selling
anything, surely we want to spread knowledge widely, and our messaging
to be clear.

Peace & Love,

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the Wikimedia Foundation or its Board of Trustees.

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