February 11, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on "wikianswers" conflict

"What's in a name? Everything, when you're talking wiki value"

"A question of confusion has no simple answer, as shown by an argument over the names of wiki-based sites dedicated to providing answers to questions"

I didn't pick the title, but it's OK. I didn't even make a suggestion. I would have tried for something clever like "Wikianswers sites raise questions", but maybe that would be too cute.

The column is about how both Answers.com and Wikia (the start-up company which is not the commercial arm of Wikipedia, understand, it's an entirely separate entity which is just trying to "commercialize the hell out of it" conceptually) now both have sites with a capitalization variant of "wikianswers".

Money quote:

In my opinion, Wikia's relaunch of its site using the name Wikianswers is sleazy and unethical in the face of the far more well-known and successful Answers.com [site].

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikia | on February 11, 2009 09:48 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Another excellent article, Seth. Fix your top-most hyperlink on this page, though.

I don't really understand, what with all of the bad press about the unethical things Jimmy Wales has done (not to mention all of the things we insiders know about, but hasn't found its way to the press), why does Bob Rosenschein still say he's an "admirer" of Wales? It seems to me this would have been an easier opportunity to "burn that bridge" and to finally call out Wales for all of the credit-taking in his recent career.

I guess Answers can't really sue, though, since the great and famous Hemanshu had a little fart of an idea back in 2004, and happened to call it "Wikianswers".

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at February 11, 2009 10:08 PM

Fixed, thanks.

Answers.com can't sue because the trademark office has so far denied their trademark application, that's in my column. Then the argument would be that Wikia had let its rights lapse (which I think it did, in a moral sense).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 11, 2009 10:14 PM


I thought you might find this interesting:

Peter (re: craigslist but seems to be relevant to Wikepedia-Wikimedia also, as far as strategy):

"The secret to Craig's community-building exercise was the following: in the late 90's he realized nobody would be too excited to help promote a service by a corporation. So he registered 2 companies - one non-profit and the other one for-profit.

When he expanded out of his SF base - specifically to NYC, he approached a variety of local groups and organization through his non-profit arm, selling the idea of a community web site and ask for their support in promoting it. He did not say anything about the other entity. When the traffic started flowing, a couple of years later, the "other" craigslist stepped in [and] cashed in."


If true (and it certainly appears plausible (consistent with ebay's complaint -- it actually makes sense of some information that was rendered incomprehensible apparently by craigslist' editing out of things it didn't want the public to know), doesn't it look like Jimmy is trying to do th same thing, albeit much less successfully?
He's trying to do it *after the fact* -- he did not have a non-profit and a for profit registered at the same time.


P.S. I was going to try to see if I could get some info regarding what Peter said by using Twitter, both the actual things that happened back then and whether or not this strategy is in fact legal (doesn't look like it to me) but... Twitter is acting silly! (I came up with a very strong password that I...predictably, forgot... and now they tell me they sent me the email with the info on how to change the password but when I enter the address in the browser they tell me they can't verify that th user requested a password reset... and there is nothing to do then ... try again... just to get the same result -- pretty frustrating! D.

Posted by: Delia at February 11, 2009 11:58 PM

Seth, I'll solicit your free counsel, if you're willing to give it. Do you think that I should be seeking trademark status for "MyWikiBiz", or do you think owning the MyWikiBiz.com domain name and having a fairly public history as being the creator and protector of the brand, is sufficient protection.

I would be pretty pissed if Jimbo started mywikibiz.wikia.com and issued a press release about the newest personal and business directory wiki on the web, "MyWikiBiz Wikia"!

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at February 13, 2009 10:30 AM

Delia: That's an interesting story, though I'm somewhat skeptical of it - what does "stepped in" mean? Generally, it's difficult to convert the assets of a nonprofit to those of a for-profit. This is one reason why Jimmy Wales hasn't yet been able to make BIG bucks. Note, it's no secret that he has been trying to commercialize the concept - he's said as much himself, see above, and the historical record is clear. But there's some pretty tough legal constraints on how much he can do with Wikipedia directly.

Greg: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. But I'd say you should seek trademark status. It seems obvious to me. If you get it, you then have an additional asset for the business. If you're turned down, better to know it sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 14, 2009 12:37 AM

you are welcome, Seth!

re: "what does "stepped in" mean? Generally, it's difficult to convert the assets of a nonprofit to those of a for-profit."

it seems to me that the real asset was not monetary (not at the point of transfer); what he really transfered between the companies, from the non-profit to the for profit was *traffic*! -- traffic that the *for profit* craigslist was able to monetize.

here are some things that craigslist did NOT deny: (page 2nd,point 7 of craigslist's response to ebay's complaint) "it is admitted that Mr. Newmark formed 1010 Cole Street inc. ("1010"), which is a predecessor of craigslist, that Mr. Buckmaster was hired and received shares in 1010 and later craigslist"


Posted by: Delia at February 14, 2009 01:43 AM

But how did he transfer it? What happened specifically? I'm not saying right or wrong at the moment, I just don't understand exactly what is being alleged.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 14, 2009 01:01 PM

hmmm... Seth, I thought I posted another comment but I may not have or something else happened -- anyways it's on my blog if you haven't seen it yet and you'd like to see it D.

Posted by: Delia at February 15, 2009 12:30 PM

Seth, I think I got it: Craig transfered the traffic from ListFoundation to Craigslist.Inc. (by way of 1010 Cole Street Inc.) D.

Posted by: Delia at February 16, 2009 01:30 AM