On Sep 9, 2011, I received an email from Facebook instructing me to stop using the domain BetterFacebook.net because it infringed on its trademark and might cause confusion to users. I was later instructed to stop using the name “Better Facebook” entirely, among other things. This post will explain why Better Facebook is being re-branded.
Here’s the executive summary… Facebook has instructed me to do the following:
- Stop using the domain BetterFacebook.net within 30 days (I can forward traffic to a new domain for 3 months)
- Change the name of Better Facebook to something else without using the words Facebook, Face, FB, Poke, Wall, or the Facebook logo in any form
- Change the name of the Better Facebook Page to match the app’s new name
- Stop using Mark Zuckerberg in any examples I have on my site
- Stop posting any screenshots of the Facebook UI unless I get written permission for each screenshot
So, this means that I need to completely re-brand Better Facebook and come up with a new name, new logo, and new web site. I must change all references to BFB in the web site, application, documentation, etc. In short, I have a ton of work to do.
So, in the next couple of weeks, Better Facebook will get a new name and web site. The existing Better Facebook Page will be retained but will have a name change. The application will still function exactly as before, just with a new name.
If you want to know some more details, read on…
A Few Details
On September 9th, I received this email from Facebook, instructing me to “immediately stop using betterfacebook.net and disable any site available at that address“. This is actually a standard template that Facebook has emailed out to many web sites.
I followed up to make sure it was legitimate and to clarify exactly what was being requested of me. I got a follow-up email from someone who let me know that I was in violation of the site’s User Agreement, and pointed me to the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities page which states:
You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.
I talked to someone at Facebook so I could understand exactly what was being requested of me, and to verify that I would try to comply with their requests. I talked to Susan Kawaguchi, and she was a very nice and polite woman. We talked for almost a half hour about this, and she explained to me why I had suddenly shown up on her radar and what exactly I needed to do to comply.
While I realize that I need to comply with Facebook’s requests, I wish there was a way to avoid the re-branding. They don’t seem to understand that “Better X” is a common naming scheme for apps that improve existing web sites. There are plenty out there – Better GMail, Better Amazon, Better Grooveshark, Better iGoogle, to name a few. I have even registered BetterGooglePlus.com in anticipation of creating an app to improve their site. Other sites welcome this kind of involvement from the developer community, but apparently this is not the case with Facebook.
Why Not Fight It?
I’ve had people suggest that I contact the EFF, or start a big campaign to protest Facebook, or try to collect thousands in donations to offset legal fees, because they feel like I am just being squashed by the “big guy”.
But that’s not really the case, here. They have some legitimate complaints. I do use the Facebook name in my own product name, and that may in fact be a trademark issue. Also, it may in fact cause some confusion in users about whether the Better Facebook app is part of or endorsed by Facebook. I use their logo, covered in my “Better” stamp, which I don’t really have permission to do. I understand some of their concerns (though others like forbidding screenshots seems like a bit much). I haven’t used their name or logo in an attempt to hijack their users or build a business by piggybacking off theirs. I just did what made sense, as a single lone developer hacking together an app. But now that Better Facebook has grown very popular, I see their concern.
I’m not going to bash Facebook. They do an amazing job solving lots of incredibly difficult problems while bringing a social networking site to almost a billion people worldwide. If they didn’t exist, neither would my application. They do have a duty to protect their trademarks, and to monitor the web for potentially infringing properties. My goal is not to make them look like the bad guy.
Better Facebook will soon be renamed. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pick a new brand and web site to go with it, and I’m getting close. It takes a lot of work and thinking. Unfortunately, “Better Facebook” is kind of the ideal name because it hooks into an existing naming convention for apps, and describes its purpose accurately and succinctly. I’m sad to see the Better Facebook brand go.
I’ve asked for public opinion about a re-branding (see here and here and here and here, for example). I’m glad that I got hundreds of comments and ideas, but it’s hard to sort through all those ideas – especially when many just won’t work at all within Facebook’s requirements.
But, I am narrowing in on a new brand, and I am beginning work on re-designing everything. I may have to hire some help, and I may need to finally upgrade my hosting to support the attention and hits Better Facebook has gotten lately.
Stay Tuned For A New Brand
I’ll keep users informed as I switch to a new brand, so expect to see several announcements about it. My goal is to not lose any users in the switch, and to continue offering great features and functionality to the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the Better Facebook application.
I appreciate all your support, and I hope to continue pushing out a great product for a long time to come. Meanwhile, if you want to help pitch in and donate to help support the project, buy me some caffeine to help me through the late nights, or to help offset the cost of hiring web design help and hosting costs, please do donate. With the popularity of Better Facebook, a little bit from a lot of people goes a long way .
If you have any opinions or thoughts on all this, feel free to post to the Better Facebook Page wall. Thanks, and keep your eyes out for a new brand soon!
– Matt Kruse, author of Better Facebook