[Foundation-l] Rethinking brands

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Tue May 15 12:54:06 UTC 2007

On 09 May 2007 21:38:00 +0200, Claus Färber <GMANE at faerber.muc.de> wrote:
> Maybe it's better to use the "Wikimedia" brand for that strategy and
> reserve "Wikipedia" for the "Wikimedia Encyclopedia":

I don't believe so; the Wikipedia brand enjoys the strongest global
recognition,  so phasing it out would probably be unwise. If we do
_not_ phase it out, we continue to suffer from the single largest
source of confusion, the Wikipedia/Wikimedia similarity. In fact, we
amplify it if we call Wikipedia the "Wikimedia Encyclopedia".

But your main point is very valid. It is extremely difficult to
protect a name globally. And the less protection you pursue, the more
deception by spammers and scammers will ensue. Besides those, we have
had a few disputes with truly insane detractors. Given the generic
nature of the "wiki" prefix, there will also be an ever-increasing
overlap with legitimate ventures. Even Google could not properly
protect "GMail"; it still resolves to "Google Mail" in the UK and

We're not in the position of a cereal company that, step by step, sets
up operations in different countries. Everything we do is global and
multilingual from day 1. Our exploding complexity of brands and domain
names across languages & countries poses a huge management problem for
an organization of our size.

Even for an artificial name like "Wikimedia", people write it in
different scripts; the interwiki links for our article about WMF
indicate that this is the case in Arabic, Dhivehi, Persian, Gujarati,
Hindi, Hebrew, Macedonian, Russian, Sinhalese, Serbian, Tamil, Thai,
Yiddish, and Chinese. For the names that are based on real words like
"news" or "-pedia", the number of variants is much larger still, and
you get names like "Viquinotícies", "Wikinotizie", "Wikiştiri", all
referring to the same project.

As internationalized domain names take off, things will only get worse.

People may complain that giving the Wikipedia brand primacy is
horribly unfair. But it is already part of WMF's trademark strategy,
which is organized in tiers where we pursue the highest level of
protection for brands of high significance. That's the only way to
avoid wasting huge amounts of resources on trademark registrations and
domain name negotiations, all of which can be quite expensive.

In my opinion, it is much more honest to give a project a spin-off
name like "Wikipedia News" _unless_ you are also willing to afford the
same level of protection to its name _and_ its officially recognized
variants that you give to Wikipedia. And, simply put, we cannot afford
to do so at present for all our names.

You may argue that smaller projects do not need the same level of
protection, as abusers are less likely to be interested in them.
Unfortunately, parasites do tend to plan ahead. Any new brand we
announce widely will generate international interest. If we don't
immediately pursue wide protection, we will have to wrestle control
from illegitimate owners later.

Given its size, Wikimedia has actually done a remarkable job at
protecting its interests, and the chapters and local project
communities have often helped or led this process.  Still, I fear that
the challenge is Sisyphean in nature. One reason to simplify brands is
quite simple and IMHO appealing: We can free a lot of energy that is
currently diverted by whack-a-mole games.

Many people are uncomfortable with the notion of giving the Wikipedia
brand primacy. Interestingly, however, the practical challenge you
raise (which I also pointed out in my original proposal) has hardly
been discussed at all, as have other disadvantages of the current
brand setup. Names do not, however, exist in a vacuum!

One way to address the community concerns is to define criteria (clear
milestones, annual review, etc.) for a project to receive its own
name. Much like we qualified some projects as "beta", having them
officially associated with Wikipedia would recognize that their
reality doesn't yet reflect our ambitions. Having such a process could
also be a major incentive for a community to reach certain goals.

Arguably, if we do recognize at least the _potential_ for projects to
obtain independent brands, the organization should not be called
"Wikipedia Foundation" -- perhaps it needs a different name entirely.

One thing is clear: rebranding is _always_ controversial, in any
company or organization. People become attached to names. But when we
have a mess like the one we are currently dealing with, it may be
necessary to make some people unhappy in order to achieve clarity,
consistency and -- importantly -- basic manageability.
Peace & Love,

DISCLAIMER: This message does not represent an official position of
the Wikimedia Foundation or its Board of Trustees.

"An old, rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open,
free and exciting is waking up." -- Ming the Mechanic

More information about the foundation-l mailing list