Yell leans on Yellowikis

This is a turn up for the books: traditional business listings service Yell has threatened legal action against UK start-up Yellowikis.

Their stated reason? “Misrepresentation”, “passing off” and, they suggested, using the name Yellowikis could “constitute an ‘instrument of fraud’.” [see the Wikinews story, 5th July 2006]

Which got me thinking – firstly, this is this slightly insulting to the majority of adults. I go to the Yellowikis homepage and I can’t see how anyone would think this was the wiki version of Yell. Granted, this is just conjecture and my opinion, and I believe previous similar cases have gone in favour of the plaintiffs. That’s how the law works. But still…

Panic stations?

Secondly, and more interestingly, this speaks volumes about the defensive responses emanating from (some) large media and business enterprises in the face of the internet’s rise to dominance. Lots of smart people work at Yell. But this action does not bespeak foresight or the greatest self-confidence.

This is an irrational response because Yell could yet reinvent itself as a totally digital and still more attractive enterprise to clients and consumers – its online directory is already hugely popular and well known.

Yell made $2.4bn in 2005. It has the resources and ability to forecast and strategise, to innovate on a larger and more commercial scale. Enterprises like Yellowikis occupy a different space to Yell in my opinion.

Search has transformed listings in the web space

As Yellowikis co-founder Paul Youlten notes: “Small and medium sized businesses are beginning to notice that their customers are ringing them up and saying ‘I found you on Google’ and not ‘I found you in the yellow pages'”.

Precisely. The problem – if you want to construe it as a problem – is more Google, search, and the internet in general, not Yellowikis. But as Yell knows full well, Google and the internet are not going to go away (plus you can’t sue the pesky internet). So you force Yellowikis to change their name – then what? What do you do about Craigslist, Adsense, Yahoo Directories..?

Brand sense?

Thirdly: what is this action going to do for the Yell brand? Nothing positive I’d wager. Yell may think they are protecting their brand, but at a time when mistrust of brands is a huge issue and more and more people are chattering away about poor service, ethical flaws and other brand inadequacies in blogs and other online communities, threatening a start-up that has yet to turn a profit seems…

Well, what do you think it seems like – does it look good and make you want to use Yell and recommend it to all your friends?

[Disclosure: Paul Youlten is a professional aquaintance of mine. Some of you may also have seen him speak alongsde Richard Sambrook at Beers & Innovation 2: User Generated Content on 30th March.]

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2 responses to “Yell leans on Yellowikis

  1. It doesn’t help their case that they refer to themselves as ‘Yellow Pages for the 21st Century’, followed by claims to have been ‘First Yellow Pages with Videos… First Yellow Pages with VoIP… Now the First Yellow Pages with Chat!’ – when the name Yellow Pages, used as a ‘directory of businesses and services’, is a registered (UK) trademark, and has been for decades. Yell are perfectly within their rights to protect their TM. And anyway… Google and Yell are already working together as it is. Search for a business on local.google.co.uk – and look where the data come from.

  2. You may be right about the TM (although that is for the law to decide on a case by case basis) but in describing themselves as the “Yellow Pages for the 21st Century” and boasting of their multimedia add-on credentials (Skype, IM, video, etc) they are not hijacking the Yellow Pages brand – it’s quite obvious they are distinct companies. It’s more cocking a snook at mainstream media’s lack of interactivity and value, and its slow decline. Not defrauding consumers. I mean – come on!

    Do you really think that Yellowikis is to blame for “loss of profits” at Yell? Or perchance it is something else causing their profit margins to decrease… now what could that possibly be? Hmm.

    The Google-Yell deal is also interesting, but how do we know who ultimately came off better from that deal? As Mike Butcher asked “when was the last time you saw a search result with Yell in the URL?

    Time will tell.

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