I just had a potential client bow out of a project due to a lot of confusion between WordPress and WordPress.com. They asked for a WordPress plug-in, we went through the standard process for bidding on custom development, then they said "wait, but it has to work on this WordPress.com website ... will it work there?"
And that was the end of that job.
As most of you know, you can't install custom plug-ins on a WordPress.com site. Even though the site itself is powered by WordPress, it's still part of a for-profit enterprise that uses a closed system to manage and make money from member accounts. Unfortunately, most people coming in from the outside don't realize that WordPress(.org) and WordPress.com are two different things.
This brings up an interesting issue from a trademark standpoint. Since the WordPress Foundation now owns the trademark ... and they say we (as in the community) can't use "WordPress" in business names, domain names, or "in any way that suggests an affiliation with or endorsement by the WordPress Foundation or the WordPress open source project."
Further, "under no circumstances is it permitted to use WordPress as part of a top-level domain name.""
I realize that Automattic had been using WordPress.com for a long time before any of this happened ... but does that mean WordPress.com will be grandfathered in to this new rule as an exception? What does that mean for the rest of us running for-profit WP hosting sites? Since WordPress Answers was around before the announcement and explicit trademarking rule, are we exempt as well? How significant is the name confusion problem (WordPress versus WordPress[.org] versus WordPress[.com])?
From a comment on Matt's blog we can gather that, yes, Automattic is being grandfathered in to the new trademark stipulations. WordPress.com will remain even though it's a for-profit project.
The question about the defensibility of the trademark, though, remains. You can't really have strong "under no circumstances" statements alongside exceptions like this.
I'm also still wondering how we can use the trademark to easily distinguish between WordPress[.org] and WordPress.com for new users who haven't been around long enough to know about the trademark's journey.
So, knowing the trademark rules and the clear distinction between open-source WordPress and Automattic's WordPress.com, how can we best and most easily convey this information to end users? Should we even try?