What’s in a Name? Microsoft Project Name Leak Causes Controversy

A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, but what about a leaked social media name? Tulalip tribal officials react to Microsoft project name leak.

A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, but what about a leaked social media protype named after an American Indian Tribe?  Tulalip tribal officials react to Microsoft project name leak.

Last week Microsoft  (accidentally) published an online prototype of a secret social media design project. The project site claimed: “With Tulalip, you can Find what you want and Share what you know easier than ever.” Sound familiar? Tech experts thought so too; there was immediate buzz around the Internet that Microsoft was planning to release a social media network to compete with Facebook and Google+. So, what’s the problem? The name of the project was “Tulalip”. “Like the Casino?” Yes, but more importantly like the tribe. Tulalip is also the name of an American Indian Tribe in Snohomish County.

According to Tulalip’s website: “The Tulalip (pronounced Tuh’-lay-lup) Tribes, successors in interest to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other allied tribes and bands signatory to the 1855 Treat of Point Elliott. Our tribal population is about 4,000 and growing, with 2,500 members residing on the 22,000 acre Tulalip Indian Reservation located north of Everett and the Snohomish River and east of Marysville, Washington.”

Needless to say, Tulalip tribal officials weren’t impressed with Microsoft’s project name choice. Spokesman George White notes that: “Tribal officials are talking to people at Microsoft to determine the facts” and that while the discussions are ongoing, he has no further comment.

Microsoft, on the other hand, responded with:  “Tulalip is an internal project code name for the online site Socl.com, which is an internal design project from one of Microsoft’s research teams that was mistakenly published to the Web.” Everyone seem to agree; the leak was accidental and the name is meant for internal use only. “By all accounts, it’s an internal project at Microsoft and not a public thing. But in reality they should not have named it Tulalip,” said Democratic state Rep. John McCoy who is also a Tulalip member.

Nonetheless, the title is poor form. The Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fun, John Echohawk notes:  “It’s really a matter of common courtesy, not to say anything of the legalities [ …] It’s the tribes’ name and nobody should run off and use the name without permission.”

Given how often Microsoft launches intellectual property suits against others, you’d think the company would know this.  Projects need names, but what happened to naming projects things like “Eagle” or “Falcon”? Should companies be responsible for all their internal communications? Possibly not. After all, the name was never meant to go public. On the other hand, it seems prudent, particularly in the case of a large company like Microsoft, to show more forethought. Naming a project after any group of people is risky; naming a project after an American Indian Tribe seems downright stupid – even if it wasn’t meant to be offensive.