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AstriCon 2009: Asterisk, What's in a Name?

AstriCon 2009: Asterisk, What's in a Name?

October 09, 2009
By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director

Much of what goes into partner and user group events focuses on use cases and technology innovation, after all, that represents the market success and development of any product. The same trend will be true at AstriCon 2009, when Asterisk (News - Alert) users and developers from around the globe congregate in Glendale, Arizona to discuss how they are leveraging the Digium-driven Asterisk open source software and their latest innovations around Asterisk.

But, as with any business, branding, though typically not at the forefront of day-to-day operations is a key consideration. This is particularly true when considering open source code that can be modified and adapted to meet various needs and integrate into other proprietary systems.
Take the Asterisk logo, for instance, which is recognized by the community for what it is – the open source code developed by Mark Spencer (News - Alert) a decade ago. Naturally, users and developers alike would like to leverage that brand recognition to enhance their own market presence.  But, as Digium’s (News - Alert) in-house counsel and contracts manager Michelle Petrone-Fleming notes, “If you show a random sampling of code to anyone not intimately familiar with every line of code in Asterisk, and they will have a hard time telling you what software it is. Show that same person the bubble logo and they’ll immediately know it is Asterisk.”
Ultimately, that’s a testament to the selling power of the Asterisk brand, and creates strong opinions within its community.  Those opinions are what Petrone-Fleming will focus on in her presentation at AstriCon, as she explained in an interview with TMC’s group editorial director Erik Linask.
EL:      This year marks the 10th birthday of Asterisk. What has driven its growth over a decade?
MP:      The community contributors who have worked to make Asterisk the flexible telephony platform that it is today have certainly enabled it to grow. With regard to Asterisk itself, its ability to adapt to fit a wide variety of planned uses and business sizes has kept growth from being stunted.
EL:      How long have you worked for the company? What changes, if any, have you seen in the way the market uses and views the Asterisk open source telephony platform since you started working for Digium?
MP:      I will have worked with Digium for three years this upcoming December. Over the past three years I’ve seen an increasing confidence among consumers in the ability of open source Asterisk to take the place of their old proprietary IP PBX systems.
EL: How does Asterisk help address IT/telecom departments’ pain points?
MP: Considering that I use Asterisk to call my IT department for help with computer problems and that I am frequently calling them, I would say Asterisk actually increases my IT department’s pain. But I am probably a special case.
EL:      What is your area of focus at Digium?
MP:      I handle legal issues, including contract negotiations, trademark issues, and a variety of legal research.
EL:      How does your work help drive market awareness of Asterisk as an alternative to proprietary solutions?
MP:      Regarding trademarks, I work to provide clarity as to what is Asterisk – the software that has not been modified since it was originally distributed by Digium – and what is not. Preventing confusion in the market serves to highlight those open source uses of Asterisk and prevents consumers from using software which is referred to as Asterisk, but really is not.
EL:      You are speaking at AstriCon 2009 – describe your session and tell our readers why they should attend it.
MP:      I’m glad I was asked that question! My session information describes some of what I will be covering, but over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to add something to the session that has never been done with our trademark policy before. I will be speaking about how to use our policy to get the word out on what you’re doing and pitfalls to avoid.
I will also be opening the floor to hear from the attendees about their criticisms or perceived benefits with regard to some of our trademark policies. Digium is in a unique position with regard to trademarks, in that we have to strike a balance between two opposing points of view. We must prevent confusion as to the source of the source code, while recognizing that some community members feel we are stunting their ability to develop a successful Asterisk project by not allowing them to refer to code, which has been modified after Digium originally distributed it, as Asterisk, and preventing them from using the bubble logo if they are using Asterisk in a for profit way, purchasing the word Asterisk as a Google (News - Alert) Adword or Keyword, or by occasionally preventing them from using the word Asterisk in their domain names.
The Asterisk word mark and bubble logo are how the community recognizes Asterisk itself. Take a random sampling of code, show it to anyone who is not intimately familiar with every line of code in Asterisk, and they will have a hard time telling you what software it is. Show that same person the bubble logo and they’ll immediately know it is Asterisk. That means the ability to use the logo and the ability to use the word mark Asterisk is something that every user of Asterisk has strong opinions about. 
I have heard strong opposing points of view from both proprietary users of Asterisk and open source users of Asterisk. It often can be difficult to attempt to strike a balance between those points of view while still ensuring that we protect the Asterisk brand.
AstriCon is the perfect place to have a diverse group of Asterisk users in one room to discuss those opposing points of view. The feedback I receive from the audience will be taken into consideration when we reevaluate the policy, so I’m hoping for an active group of participants. I also will be announcing an upcoming strengthening of our trademark enforcement policy. The particular uses of the Asterisk trademark and the bubble logo that the policy will impact will be among those topics that are open for discussion from the audience.
EL:      What else do you expect to see or hear at AstriCon that will be particularly interesting or innovative?
MP:      The keynote speakers are my obvious “I want to go to that!” answer. Beyond that, I think it’s interesting to sit in on presentations from people I’ve either worked with or heard of and see how they’re using Asterisk. Most of what I do is very business oriented and I’m a bit isolated from the technical side. So, seeing in person how people are using Asterisk in their businesses always makes it even more fun to work with them. 
EL:      Where do you see the Asterisk market in five years?
MP:      I think we’ll be seeing it used more and more in enterprise businesses.
Learn more about Asterisk and its branding at AstriCon 2009, to be held Oct. 13 to 15 in Glendale, Ariz. AstriCon’s mission is to expand awareness and knowledge of Asterisk, the world's leading open source PBX (News - Alert), telephony engine, and telephony applications toolkit, over the course of a three-day conference and exhibition. AstriCon includes a wealth of information for every Asterisk user, whether you are getting started or have already discovered the power of Asterisk. Register now.

Erik Linask is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask

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