Echo Chronicles: Homelings™

by SealWyf, HSM Editor

On June 26, 2012, the Homeling Collective passed a major milestone: it became one of the first user-created Home groups to trademark its name. The name “Homelings” is now protected as something that applies uniquely to us, and may legitimately be written as Homelings™.

What is a trademark? And why did we feel it was worth a significant amount of work and expense to acquire one for a social group in Home?

A trademark (or service mark, which is technically what we have, since we don’t produce a physical product) means that a distinctive name or logo has been registered with a national government for protection against counterfeits and imitations. On June 26, an attorney filed a trademark application in our behalf with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). This means we can now add the letters TM (or, more properly, SM) in superscript to our name, Homelings, to show that it is protected.

Over the next three to six months, our application will be examined by the attorneys of the PTO. If it passes the examination, it then enters a period where other parties can challenge its validity; this may last another six months. But in the end, if no credible challege is issued, our name will become a registered trademark, and we may switch from TM to the full, official ® symbol. The during-the-application phase of the process is sometimes referred to as a “common-law trademark”. However, since the intent to register the mark has been made clear, our name is already protected.

What do they all mean?

Why do this in the first place? Trademarks are usually associated with products for sale. When a corporation applies for a trademark, it has often already created a product and built up a customer base. If the product is popular, other corporations might be tempted to lure customers by creating an imitation. A product that looks or sounds like a successful one — a CokeyCola beverage, for instance — could fool people into thinking they are getting the real thing. The reputation of the original company would be diluted by a flock of wannabes, shoddy knock-offs and counterfeits.

The Homeling Collective is not a for-profit corporation. Our product, according to our trademark application, is “Computer services, namely creating an on-line community for registered users to participate in discussions, get feedback from their peers, form virtual communities, [and] engage in social networking.” (We didn’t write this. The lawyers did.) But, in many ways, our need for protection is similar to that of a company with a physical product. Having spent the past four years building our distinctive image and reputation, the Homelings can’t afford to be blindsided by counterfeits. And, to an increasing extent, the Collective is involved in actual real-world activities. And so, in June, 2011, the Generals’ Council decided to investigate protecting our identity by registering our name.

From whom might we need protection? One source of confusion, deliberate or otherwise, is other Home-based user groups — the hostile, the envious, and the clueless.

It should come as no surprise to any Home user that there are hostilities among Home groups. Fam wars are a staple activity of Home, and have turned several public spaces into no-go zones for respectable citizens. The Homeling Collective has faced its share of attacks, despite our credo of respect for all in Home. One reason we decided to pursue a trademark was to protect ourselves from possible hostile action.

Envious and clueless groups also cause problems, even if they are not motivated by malice. From time to time someone will decide that the Homeling Collective is so epic that there ought to be two of them. They create a copycat group, declare that they are the real Homelings, and recruit Home users who don’t realize they are joining a counterfeit. Now that we have protected our name, we can confront such activity with a cease-and-desist letter from an actual attorney. Whether a copycat group would respect such a letter — or whether we would know to whom to send it — are open questions. But it’s nice to have the option.

But in the end, our real motive for declaring Homelings to be a brand, protected by law, came not from the often juvenile hostilities of Home, but from the hazards of real-world commerce. The Collective has a modest but constant need for funds to maintain its web sites — the Fluidic Space site where all Homelings have accounts, and our small public-information wiki. In the past, members of the Generals’ Council have simply pitched in when the sites were due for renewal. But some income would be helpful, and we have been experimenting with ways to raise it.

Real-life commerce

Our initial experiments took the form of sales of Homeling t-shirts, featuring graphics designed by one of our Generals. These were a modest success, but we wished to expand our offerings. However, before we could move forward with serious commerce, we needed to protect the Homeling name from imitations. One of our Generals investigated acquiring a trademark though the LegalZoom website and reported his findings to the rest of the Generals’ Council. After much discussion, we decided that the cost and work involved were a worthwhile investment.

Then the work began. Generals who could afford to pitched in financially, those who were not intimidated by legal verbiage filled out the paperwork, and the rest contributed to the ongoing discusions. In the end, it was a thoroughly cooperative venture. All eleven active Generals are listed on the application as the holders of the trademark on behalf of the Homeling Collective.

Now that our name is protected, we have been planning our commerce strategy. We have created a prototype Homeling Store on a popular online store site, and will soon be opening it up for general business. Designing our own real-world product line is an exciting prospect, and many enthusiastic (if not entirely practical) suggestions have come from the Homeling membership.

But our ambitions extend beyond mugs and mousepads. We are a Home group, and we someday hope to have distinctive Homeling goods in Home, available to all Home users.

Our founder

This may seem like a deranged fantasy. But there is already a significant amount of user-designed or -sponsored content in Home. Videos made by Home media groups are shown in the Community Theater and on the LOOT EOD systems. Virtual clothing and furniture honoring Home groups has been produced and distributed, both as free rewards in the Theater and through special promotional codes. Such items have included the AlphaZone4 3rd birthday hoodie, the HomeCast Rewind outdoor furniture, the PS Talent picture frame, the Gamer Indepth t-shirt, and the YourPSHome.net animated shirt. PS Talent has already sponsored a commercial for the Homeling Collective, a video slide show created by one of our own artists, and shown in the Community Theater with other PSTalent videos. So Homeling content in Home is not an impossible dream. Will we someday have MotherShip clubhouses that look like actual spaceships? We hope so. We can see this happening.

We have already come so far — from a tiny group of closed-beta users playing with the Echochrome Suit to a Collective with over 600 registered members, 34 MotherShip clubhouses, constant in-Home activities, and a major web and social media presence. In our own way, we have become a symbol of what is possible in Home. And now we have protected our identity — said, in effect, “This who we are. We are the Homelings. We are unique, and we are here to stay.”

We have come this far. With work and imagination, who knows what else we can accomplish? We already have some amazing tools for creative expression. And Home’s possibilities are constantly expanding. The sky (or its virtually-rendered Home equivalent) is the limit.

July 13th, 2012 by | 14 comments
SealWyf is a museum database programmer by day, and an officer in the Homeling Collective by night. She has been active in online communities since before the Internet, and in console gaming since the PS1. In games, she prefers the beautiful and quirky, and anything with a strong storyline. She is utterly addicted to PlayStation Home.

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14 Responses to “Echo Chronicles: Homelings™”

  1. Gideon says:

    Congratulations to all Homelings! Oh… wait… I can’t say that now. Don’t want to pay royalties. :/
    LOL. But seriously. That’s great. Mother should contact VeeMee, or some other 3rd party dev, to see about a possible collaboration.

    Using the stats of the aforementioned groups: AZ4 has 1600+ members, yourpshome.net has 4,700+ members, PSTalent has close to 1000 active members. Those are all quite a bit larger than the current Homeling collective. I wonder if it would be profitable for a 3rd party dev to support the Homelings. Of course, Homeling items would serve as a recruitment tool like none other.

    I wonder how many current and regular users are in Home and what percentage are Homelings? If there are 60K regular users , that would make the collective 1% of the population. If the numbers are closer to the report from a couple years ago with 85% of 12 million users returning to Home and we have use the generous s.w.a.g. that about half of those actually return time and time again, we get about 5 million regular users. If THAT’S the case, Homelings are 0.012% of the Home population.

    No matter what the stats are, what the Homelings have achieved is impressive and I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.

    • NorseGamer says:

      That may not the most accurate stat to go by. AlphaZone4 has over 1,600 registered members on their website, but they pull several hundred-thousand unique visitors per year, which I believe makes them the most-visited Home fansite in the world by a fairly significant margin. The HSM website has nearly 4,000 registered subscribers, but we pulled more than double that number of unique visitors last month, and we’re on pace to pull about 75,000 uniques this year. And HomeCast plays in Home itself, so god only knows what kind of traffic HearItWow pulls.

      That said, the question of how many regular Home users there are is an interesting one. Second Life had 21M registered accounts, but only about 50,000 active users. While there are significant differences between Second Life and Home, I suspect the number of *consistently* active users in Home, worldwide, doesn’t exceed more than 200,000 to 300,000 (and I may be a bit on the high side).

      Contrasting a group like the Homelings to a community media project is a bit of a mismatch, though. Media projects generally want to have broad audience appeal. Specialized groups such as the Homelings, the Hammies, etc. will by their very nature usually appeal to a narrower demographic. When contrasting the Homelings to other comparable groups, though, there’s no question that they’re a highly-organized group with an unusually large member base.

      Is that important to a Home developer? Well, any group that constitutes a sufficiently large economic bloc is worth reaching out to when there’s a commodity that might appeal to them. When LOOT developed the Space Apartment, for instance, it was easy to see that this fit the Homeling aesthetic; if even twenty percent of the Collective purchased the estate, that represents $1200. To say nothing of the expanded visibility the estate would have received to people on their friend lists.

      When contrasted against the development costs to build such an estate, that may not seem like much — but when stacked atop similar efforts elsewhere, the cumulative effect can make a difference.

      Granted, we’re looking at this from a commercial standpoint. If we view it simply as an achievement unto itself, it’s pretty cool. Outside of media projects — which are an altogether different animal — I can’t think of any group in Home which is as large or well-organized as the Homelings. Particularly in light of the adversity they’ve faced in the past, it’s quite a success story — and, like you, I’m curious to see what they do next.

      • Gideon says:

        I figured the numbers were wonky but hey… I used the stats I had available. I fully understand that one does not have to be a member of a site to be a fan. I would even say this about the Homethings themselves.

        I think a more “public” presence of the Homeling collective would make it so that they can be more than a group but subculture. Some would say steampunk is a narrower demographic than the general public (not by much though) and we continue to see releases for that subculture. Same goes for goth, sports, formal wear… the list just goes on. If a Homeling Klenting space was released would more than just Homelings buy it? For sure.

        Without a doubt the Homelings have achieved far and beyond what no other group in Home has. Some-day I hope to be able to tell someone who is speaking of the Homelings that they started on PlayStation Home and their response will be one of surprise.

        • Cubehouse says:

          AZ4 cleared the user tables about a year ago during a server migration, so any stats will be fairly skewed. Some sites will have better spam-bot registering protection, as you can expect a lot of users are just robots. So ultimately, monthly uniques etc. are a much better form of statistic. But those things are precious to webmasters and shall not be shared ;)

          But onto the article, very interesting decision. I wish you the best of luck with your commerce.

  2. Godzprototype says:

    I hope the Homelings get thier Mothership. You guys deserve it. Keep at it, and congrats!

  3. Burbie52 says:

    Doing this was a smart move for the Homeling community. I wish we had HSM t-shirts available in real life, I would buy one right away. Nice article Seal and I wish you and the Collective much success in your endeavors wherever they may take you.

  4. SealWyf says:

    Thank you for the comments. I am pleased that an article on something as dry and arcane as trademarking a Home user group has gotten so much attention.

    I do want to say something about membership numbers. As Norse stated above, there are two kinds of user-created groups in Home — the social groups, and the media groups. Media groups may have in-Home events, but they are based primarily on the web. They host forums and chat rooms, and exist to provide a place for discussions.

    Social groups may have a web presence, but they exist primarily on Home. They exist to provide real-time events and companionship among people using their Home avatars. The peers of the Homeling Collective are not media groups like AZ4 and YourPSHome, but social groups, such as Hamsters Freedom and the Grey Gamers. Among the world of Home-based social groups, the Homelings are enormous — probably the largest such group on Home, by a very wide margin.

    That said, it’s difficult to state actual numbers. We point to the 600+ members of Fluidic Space and our 34 clubhouse MotherShips, because these are things we can quantify. We purge known ex-members from the website, so the web-site membership may be a fairly reasonable estimate of our actual current numbers. And, despite our urging, many Homelings don’t make an account on Fluidic Space, usually because they don’t have access to computers. Our MotherShip Commanders are requested to keep up-to-date logs of their MotherShip’s membership — some do, and some don’t. (This is one of the hazards of being an all-volunteer group.) So, I need to fall back on my training in biology to make a reasonable guess.

    For some time, I have noticed that if I see two or three Homelings from my Friend List in a space, there will be ten or twelve Echo-clad beings there when I arrive. Similarly, during our mega-events, when we max out public spaces with 60+ Homelings, about ten of them will be on my Friend List. By this, I estimate that the number of currently-active Homelings is probably about six times the number of Homelings I have personally befriended. Since my FL is maxed, and most of my friend are Homelings, I think it’s reasonable to assume there are currently between 400 and 500 active Homelings.

    As to how many beings have passed through the Collective since it started, this would have to be a very rough estimate. But, judging by the turn-over rate in my own MotherShip, and the number of names I see on older meeting minutes that represent ex-Homelings, it’s reasonable to assume that the full historical membership of the Collective runs to several thousand. If nothing else, this gives us huge name-recognition. I often meet people in Home who say, “I used to be one of you guys!”

    Since I started researching this article, I have become a lot more aware of the trademark status of various groups and products. Among Home-based groups, PSTalent has gone the full distance, and now has the (R) symbol of a registered trademark. (Congratulations, DOD!) On the other hand, some major developers, such as LOOT, are still in the TM phase of the process. As I noted in the article, it takes a considerable time to get fully registered.

    Funny how things jump out at you if you’ve been thinking about them. I was brought to a stop the other morning, when I realized that the B-29 “Enola Gay” (which I pass every weekday on the way to and from my office) has an enormous (R) symbol on its tail. “I know we don’t want people to copy it,” I remarked to my companion. “But did we really have to trademark it?” He laughed — it’s an old joke in the aircraft-historical field.

    A note to Gideon — a trademark is not the same as a copyright. You can talk about us all you want. You just can’t say that you ARE us. But you knew that. :D

    • Nosdrugis says:

      Indeed, Seal. Grand read. Much of what you have just said was what your truly was going to say, only you’ve said it in a far more articulate way than this Homeling could have.
      Am going to have to say, for any readers who feel this venture will be challenged by Sony, am doubtful.
      This was not done with the intention of making revenue at the expense of Sony, Home, or The Homeling Collective(TM). Homelings are a not for profit organization, however, we do require funds in order to maintain and evolve, as Seal said above. Aside from that, we also have the option of setting up sponsorship programs and the like should such opportunities (and revenues) present themselves.
      How glorious it would be, for instance, to be able to offer an official “Homeling Academic Scholarship” award at some point? Quite glorious, one might say. Surely, this is a good move in that respect as well.
      The points SealWyf makes about the true numbers of The Homeling Collective are likely fairly accurate. And it is also true, that the reputation of Homelings precedes us. Have often bumped into Home users in-world that have met a Homeling, text bubble how excited they are to actually see a Homeling in Home. And much of those times they’ve expressed what an honor it is. Especially when we are assembled as a group (which we almost always are). This is both an enjoyable and humbling experience to have.
      The trade marking process of The Homeling Collective is to protect all members. Many Homelings invest huge amounts of time, energy, and monies, into simply being a Homeling and assisting in the growth and welfare of The Homeling Collective. What a shame it would be to potentially allow counterfeit groups to minimize such efforts. And how blatantly ignorant of The General’s Council it would be to not do our utmost to look out for the Homeling Community that we profess to love so dearly.

  5. LUTORCORP says:

    I would like to say congradz! Too all the Homelings out there. Keep working hard to achieve that which you seek. This is a good idea to not only stand out even more ing Home. Yet also to gain more members. You are a respectable group on home as i have many Homling friends. I wish you all the best! ‘Whatever your numbers may be’

  6. CheekyGuy says:

    I personally can’t wait to wear a Homeling T shirt and play with a Homeling Action figure lol, complete with his home ‘ship’.

    Who knows where you will end up?, but I can say this you are the people that genuinely put Home into the public consciousness. I couldn’t Imagine Home without you guys. Yeah, sure, maybe there were a few people out there that thought of you as a kind of gimmick. But you have proven everybody wrong on that score, you are no gimmick, but a genuine image of Home.

    I have always loved meeting you and talking to you all and i wish you the best of luck on your successes. :)

  7. SealWyf says:

    Our Trademark has now been finalized, and we can legitimately call ourselves Homelings®. Many thanks to all who have supported us in this grand journey.

    bows

  8. Razorbax says:

    This has been a labor of love and we are all so very happy with the end result. Thank you to all who have supported us over the years!

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