In November 2009, as PublicEarth was opening for the public, we needed a better way to describe the part of our website where users saved the places that were important to them. We thought of it first as a “Rolodex” of Places, but PlaceDex was actually already being used, and was a little cryptic (not to mention Rolodex is a registered trademark). A better way to visualize this collection was as a “book of places”, and we thought a Place Book (or PlaceBook) was a good metaphor. PublicEarth debuted the “PlaceBook” feature on Dec 2 at the Boulder Tech Meetup. (That’s me, at left, giving a demonstration.)

Rapidly, the PlaceBook aspect of the site grew in importance, and as location became a strong organizing principle, we explored the ways the book made it easy for our users to manage what usually was complicated. By 2010 we were developing a full site dedicated to the concept of the PlaceBook: a website full of books about location — there were EcoBooks and TravelBooks and Fitness Books, Address Books, Scrapbooks… they could be “linking” books like in Myst. I always loved Myst

From an intellectual property standpoint, we weren’t sure we could trademark the name: it was already being used across a range of small blogs and websites, most noteably Placebook Scotland, a travel site which used the word “placebook” for twitter and other locales. Our sense was it was a “common” term already, admittedly not used frequently, but still starting to be used as a generic descriptor for saved sets of locations. But the domain was available; it was first registered with ICANN in September of 2000, and now, in December 2009, we purchased it.

The name clearly felt familiar – two common words put together; so much better than the impossible-to-spell domain names that start-ups are forced to use today. Sure, it rhymed with other words, most notably “Facebook” — but we didn’t believe anyone could own the word “book” apart from “face” – we knew of a number of websites that had similar names that were clearly not copying Facebook: Cookbook, Blackbook, eBook, RunBook, AddressBook, RedBook, JokeBook, Comfibook, Blue Book… and so on. (For that matter, there is also Facetime, FaceMe…) And as for the rhyme? Racebook, Casebook, Tastebook… Clearly, rhyming alone wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Certainly there were websites that had other agendas in mind; sites that not only used a similar ‘book’ name but had logos, formats and services that were somehow derivative of Facebook. In those cases, the name was being used somewhat frivolously and had little to do with the website and more to do with Facebook. Sites like Vetbook and Doctorbook were social networks designed to be niche versions of Facebook, and we presumed they wouldn’t last long. They didn’t.

But PlaceBook is a very appropriate descriptor of our business and website. Our UX is about books. You book travel. You can make photobooks of your trips. We tried to make sure that no one would mistake our site for Facebook — we would write the name as two words, in camelcase; we’d use distinctive colors. By the time we filed for a trademark on the term “placebook” we were 5 days late: had registered the term days before us (even though they began using the term a few months after we started). We were pretty sure our legal issues would be in confronting…

But in May we were contacted that Facebook found our use unacceptable and would litigate to stop us from using it. They argued that the name was too close and that even if we had NO social component to our site, we could not use the word “book” as a suffix. Facebook was drawing a line in the sand that we were on the wrong side of: words in common use before there was a Facebook (e.g. “cookbook” “blackbook”) were somewhat permissible, and words that came after (e.g. “tastebook” “tracebook” “comfibook”) were not. In an ever evolving language, is this a fair division? The beauty of the English language is the way new words come into use. Put two common words together and make a new word! Regardless, as a start-up we were in no position to fight. So we changed our name. Still, we still think of ourselves as PlaceBook (or, if you chose to pronounce it differently so it doesn’t rhyme: PlacéBoök), but with the launch of our new site, we have adopted a fine name – TripTrace.

“PlacéBoök: I love it!”


11 Responses to PlaceBook

  1. OMG says:

    Has anyone every told Facebook about

  2. Don’t worry; Facebook will soon go the way of MySpace, then they’ll have bigger fish to fry than PlaceBook!

  3. Brian Wick says:

    We came up with the idea of Faith Based social networking in 2001 and an overall broader social networking site in 1999. According to what I seem to be reading – should be expecting a demand letter from facebook or myspace

    • Rubin says:

      It depends, and you should probably speak with a trademark lawyer — but my educated guess is that (a) if you have “book” in your name and (b) you have a social component to your site, they’re going to send you a C&D. Now, if you created the site before 2004 and your logo/site really don’t look like FB, you MIGHT be able to defend yourself – although it would be an argument. I’d need to know more to help… but regardless, they WILL contact you, and you WILL need some legal advice and the stomach/cash to make your case. Good luck.

  4. Faced-Book says:

    I never would have changed the name of the website. This is what happens when an online presence gets too big for its britches.

  5. polo says:

    Hi, FB has already contacted me for a similar reason on my website. Is there a way to have a direct contact with you to have more insight on this?

  6. Wow! This is really fascinating! I wish I could contribute to the society with tools likes this. Placebook looks promising and I am so excited about it. Thanks to the contributor! More powers!

    Joan World Travel Guru

  7. James Hanson says:

    Interesting article! It makes me want to learn more about those stuff.
    Brian Fisher

  8. Peter says:

    I purchased PLACEBOOK .TRAVEL and will be using it in the very near futre I really dont care what FACEBOOK has to say thier Business is about FACES mine is about PLACES

  9. James says:

    If everyone would just ignore their cease and desist letters then we could bankrupt Facebook with all the court cases and lawyer fees.

    You do not need an attorney to represent you in Court. Learn the law and represent yourself. That is your right. Talk to the judge, lawyers, business execs like a human being. You don’t have to speak their language.

    Screw Facebook. They violate so many privacy policies it’s not even funny. I’m sure we could all legally sue Facebook for selling our information to advertisers and submitting our information to intelligence agencies foreign and domestic.

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