Apologies Galore, Why I Owe One to Tim O’Reilly

O’Reilly Radar > Web 2.0 Service Mark Controversy (Tim responding this time) Tim O’Reilly is back “on the grid” and has written a thoughtful response to the blogosphere melee that took place on Friday and continued throughout the weekend regarding a cease and desist letter sent from CMP to IT@Cork with regards to their Web 2.0 conference.

In his post Tim apologizes to Tom Raftery of IT@Cork for the cease and desist letter. But he also asks Tom Raftery for an apology back for posting on the letter and using O’Reilly’s name in the headline:

“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.”

In my reading of Tom’s initial post I over-reacted, wrote a juvenile post and crafted an image of Tim saying that he was the original Web 2.0 asshole. I regret having done that. And I owe Tim an apology. I don’t know Tim personally and it was tasteless and immature to call him an asshole. Tim, I’m sorry for the personal attack and especially at the viciousness of my tone. I’m embarrassed by my behavior and feel foolish for being part of a what in hindsight was an unjustified blog lynching of sorts.

The first mistake I made was that I assumed that Tim O’Reilly was personally aware and perhaps even authorized the cease and desist letter. Tim has said since that this was not the case:

“I was not aware, however, that CMP intended to send out cease and desist letters to anyone in the short term, let alone to a non-profit organization with whom I’d previously corresponded about the event they were putting on. (Gina Blaber, the head of our conference team, was aware of the letter, however, and approved it, and that’s why Sara Winge, in her postings, did not disclaim O’Reilly’s responsibility.)”

Although someone in O’Reilly’s organization was aware that the letter had gone out O’Reilly himself was not. And I did not attack O’Reilly’s company but I attacked the man himself. This is regrettable.

The second mistake I made is that I did not contact, or even try to contact anyone in the O’Reilly organization to ask about the letter myself. I did not take any time to do any thoughtful research. Instead I just reacted and ready, fire, aimed piled on with the rest of them. In fact I did not even try to contact John Battelle, Tim’s partner in the Web 2.0 Conference and someone that I do know well, who would have had a lot more insight into the situation than I do. This was reckless and again is embarrassing as I would like people who read my blog to think that I do a little more research before shooting my mouth off.

My third major mistake was that I jumped to the conclusion that O’Reilly was trying to capture service mark on the phrase Web 2.0 when in fact CMP and O’Reilly Media really were only trying to protect the term Web 2.0 as it applied to a conference.

To complicate the entire situation, Tim O’Reilly was not online and was unaware of the beating that he was receiving. While some smarter than I cautioned us to wait and give the man a chance to speak. Initially I did not do this. Again, a more thoughtful person would have allowed someone to defend themselves before attacking them.

A few people have commented on my affiliation with FM Publishing, John Battelle’s blog network, and Valleywag suggested that I may have been strong armed to retract my original comments by Battelle himself. I would like to address that. First off I think the fact that I could feel comfortable enough writing something which quite possibly could offend Battelle (and in hindsight should have and probably did) should speak to the freedom that bloggers have in being a part of FM’s Network. John has always made it clear with all of FM’s authors that we, not they, have total editorial control over our blogs. John Battelle never asked me to change my post. He never suggested that there would be any repercussions over what I wrote and he is someone who in my opinion greatly values a censorship free environment. Never did I feel uncomfortable about blogging about his partner Tim O’Reilly.

That said, I did call John after he sent me an email telling me that I did not know all of the facts. And I appreciate that he spent the time with me and brought up the points that Tim may not have known about this action personally and told me that Tim really was unreachable and “off the grid.”

I would hope that John, who I consider a friend, would call me out on any irresponsible post that I write as I would hope any of you who read this blog would as well. I make mistakes and here I made one. But I am especially embarrassed as I do know John personally and feel that my initial post reflects very poorly on me as a blogger. Hopefully at least I’ve learned a lesson in all of this.

John, by the way, was not the only one who suggested that I was off base here. Many other people that I consider friends also rightly took me to task. Meta-Filter and PVRBlog Pal Matt Haughey, Flickr’s Stewart Butterfield, Ian Betteridge (who blogs at Technovia) all suggested that I was off base and I appreciate that they bothered to take the time to address my ill thought out rant.

Now. I know I’m wordy sometimes. After all that I have to consider Tim’s actual response as well as my thoughts on what he might do from here.

I think it’s valid for them to register Web 2.0 as a conference (as they narrowly define their focus).

It was a mistake for them to send a cease and desist to a non-profit and they already have recognized this and apologized for it. They’ve even offered to let IT@Cork use the service mark this year as it is too late most likely for them to change their materials.

I think they’ve handled this as well as can be expected at this point.

Should they do anything else at this point? Maybe. Certainly the reaction that was so swift and strong in the blogosphere was in part due to a certain ethos that many associate with the term Web 2.0 and to the extent that it represents a kind of open concept about making the internet a better place through creative software.

I think that at this point, if they chose, they do have an opportunity, although not an obligation, to turn this bad PR situation into something good and interesting. I stukk think it would be a great thing to take this turn of events and use it to highlight the significance of Creative Commons, another cause very closely aligned with the whole Web 2.0 movement by licensing the term Web 2.0 as applied to conferences under the Creative Commons mark.

By altering their service mark and choosing to license it under the Creative Commons CMP and O’Reilly could still protect the economic interest of their license while at the same time allowing, in the spirit of Web 2.0 openness, it’s non commercial use for other conferences. But I’m not a lawyer and rights issues are complicated and they obviously would need to think that through and there are possibly some very good reasons why that would be a bad idea. That said though, it would be great to see Creative Commons used in such a high visibility case.

Tim, I hope that you accept this apology and know that I will try better in the future to do the right thi

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  1. Tim says:

    I do not accept your apology.

  2. CJ Millisock says:

    Whoever made that first comment was OBVIOUSLY not Tim, and you should delete it. I’m not Tim either, but I’m sure he’d accept your apology.

    Anyway, I’m glad to know that people are willing to apologize for things they’ve said while he was gone. Kudos, Thomas. You’ve got a new subscriber to your blog’s feed.

  3. Wow, that was quite an apology. If ORA could only have shifted into reverse that quickly we’d have nothing to talk about here.

    I left Tim a comment asking him to “Convince CMP to withdraw any claim other than your actual conference title “Web 2.0 Conference.” Any other claim is very weak and clearly offensive to many.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well done Thomas. The people I admire most in the world are not the ones who never make mistakes (they don’t exist), it’s the people who have the courage to own up to the ones they do make.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Well done see To Thomas Hawk
    in comments on Tim’s response

  6. stewart says:

    Thomas, thanks for writing that – glad you’ve come around. I don’t have a strong opinion either way about the appropriateness (legally or morally) of the service mark but the lynchmob left a bad taste in my mouth. I think it was wrong to call him an asshole (factually, and as a matter of decorum/tact) but I wouldn’t sweat it that much: apologizing has a way of smoothin’ and soothin’.

  7. Right said Fred says:

    “They’ve even offered to let IT@Cork use the service mark this year”

    Thomas – IT@Cork are based in Ireland. ORAs service has no jurisdiction outside of the US.

    They might as well have offered to let IT@Cork use the term “conference” in their title. They have as much rights over the term “Conference” outside the US as they do “Web 2.0”

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think I’m going to be sick…

  9. Anonymous says:

    there there…

    lets all have a group hug.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I strongly believe that your initial malicious comments were for no reason other than link-bait. I will no longer link to you and encourage others to not fall for this mirage of an apology.

  11. Anonymous says:


    I first started reading your blog after you linked to mine, and find that you have some very good content. However, I seem to recall a similar apology in recent past by you. However, I can’t remember what it was all about. I’m starting to believe that these apologies aren’t that heartfelt, and that your initial blasts are just a means to be more sensational and get more readers.

    I think that your content is good enough that you really don’t need to provide any sensationalism. That’s just my two cents. Other than that, keep up the good work.

  12. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous. My apology is heartfelt. I regret having written the original post. It was not well thought out.

    I have apologized in the past and I’m sure will need to apologize in the future.

    Since I’ve started blogging I’ve written almost 3,300 posts. Almost all of them I stand behind 100%. But a few come to mind where I made mistakes and I think it’s important to own up to them when this is the case.

    Some immediate ones come to mind. I once blasted the TiVo blog for being lame corporate blog. TiVo actually subsequently improved their corporate blog and I met with a TiVo manager to discuss ways that TiVo could improve. My initial tone was unusually harsh though and while the TiVo blog was lame I was too strong in my language.

    I also recall apologizing about a year ago for blasting flickr when I first started using it and thought that they were restricting people from downloading images when in fact this was an optional setting that is controlled by the flickr user and designed to give them more control over their images.

    I may have apologized about other things in the past as well but none come to mind immediately.

    But I will make mistakes as we all do and I’ve always believed that the best thing to do when making a mistake is to own up to it. Believe me, I’d rather not be apologizing and am going to be very careful in the future about trying not to be put in a position where I have to apologize.

    Oh and I apologized a while back in a Flickr forum for grandstanding and manipulating a new image ranking site just to show that it could be done. It wasn’t the best way to handle that.

    But do know that my apology to Tim is quite sincere. The first poster in the comments here. Also is not Tim. Tim wrote me and thanked me for the apology.

  13. Phil says:

    Ah User Friendly just got around to commenting on this very thing:


  14. pb says:

    Quit beating yourself up.

    You’ve proved the world what an asshole you are. Try spending less time online and less time sucking up.

  15. All that writing and yet you still miss the true point of it all.

    Essentially, O’Reilly HAS trademarked a term he didn’t even coin, and even goes as far to say that Web 2.0 is a concept he created, and this is A-OK with you? He states [virtually] point-blank in his “letter” to the World that his intent IS to protect the term “Web 2.0” from being used by anyone other than himself.

    “Just to be clear, neither CMP or O’Reilly is claiming the right to all use of the term Web 2.0, as some of the posters assert. We just want to keep other conference companies from putting on events that trade on the name and concept that we created.”

    What a joke.

    So, by your thoughts, it would be sufficient to trademark the word-term “Mix” for use in conference titles and then send Microsoft a C&D; letter when they throw Mix ’07..? C’mon, think about it…