Tulalip Tribes question Microsoft about name for company’s social media project

TULALIP — It got the techies buzzing.

One day last week, Microsoft published online a prototype of an uber-secret social media design project.

Here’s the kicker: The project name was “Tulalip.”

Across most of the country, it left people wondering if Facebook had a challenger and it got them searching Wikipedia and Google to find out about the name.

For a certain group of American Indian tribes in Snohomish County, it meant discussions with Microsoft officials.

“Tribal officials are talking to people at Microsoft to determine the facts,” said Tulalip spokesman George White. “At this time, while those discussions are going on, we are not commenting.”

At Microsoft, an unidentified corporate spokesperson responded by email to a request for information about the “Tulalip” social network.

“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,” according to the email. “We have no more information at this time.”

Tulalip tribal member, state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, heard that some of the employees of the computer software company involved in the project live on or near the Tulalip reservation.

“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,” McCoy said. “I have no idea what our tribal officials plan to do, but technically these Microsoft employees infringed on the Tulalip name.”

John Echohawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, agrees. The Colorado-based nonprofit law firm he oversees is dedicated to defending the rights of American Indian tribes and individuals.

“It’s really a matter of common courtesy, not to say anything of the legalities,” Echohawk said. “It’s the tribes’ name and nobody should run off and use the name without permission.”

McCoy laughed when a reporter floated the idea of a new casino game named the “Microsoft.”

“Well, they take plenty of people to court over intellectual property rights,” McCoy said.

On Friday, a writer for HuffingtonPost.com, along with bloggers from around the world, speculated that perhaps Microsoft launched “Tulalip” as a social networking service to compete with Facebook and Google+.

The site’s introductory page said, “With Tulalip, you can Find what you want and Share what you know easier than ever.”

Also shown were non-working links for “See how it works,” “Privacy Statement,” and “Terms of Service.”

The splash page was replaced the same day it appeared with a message acknowledging the error: “Thanks for stopping by. Socl.com is an internal design project from a team in Microsoft Research which was mistakenly published to the web. We didn’t mean to, honest.”

Gale Fiege: gfiege@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3427.

Correction: July 21, 2011: In an earlier version of this story, the headline incorrectly stated the tribes’ actions.

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