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…
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..?
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?