Copy vs. Original: Who Needs an Umpteenth Facebook?

Copy vs. Original: Who Needs an Umpteenth Facebook?


This talk is not new, but it still remains up-to-date from ancient times. Truth be told, hunger for success and laziness are typical of man. Since the time when people started producing something, there always were some imitators, the so-called copycats. Just think for a second - such weapon as a bow with arrows emerged approximately at the same time in different parts of the planet, almost independently from each other. There exists a theory that travellers noticed the prosperity of communities whose hunters were equipped with bows and then people began to produce bent sticks with a string all over the world (luckily, the making is simple). Today we won't find out the name of the groundbreaker thanks to whom the bow appeared. It got lost in the history when the world was invaded with replications. But not everyone simply copied - some people upgraded and improved shooting weapons, made them more complicated and effective, and nowadays the difference between a bow and a sniper rifle is obvious. The same difference can also be seen in all other spheres of life, including software.

Clone wars or how to create social network of new generation

Nowadays any popular service that brings profit to its creators is doomed to be cloned. In most cases these are short-lived products which users will look at just for fun, will not find anything new or more interesting in them and will return to their old-shoe applications. Whereas clone apps also cost their creators considerable expenses and such a situation can be called nothing but a waste of money. So is it worth to make copies nowadays? The answer is discouraging: no, it isn't. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram cope with their functions perfectly, they are being constantly updated and supported by developers. If you still want to make a website like Facebook or mirror some famed mobile app, why should you limit yourself to just replicating? You can and even have to resort to "mutations".

Let's take such a clone of Facebook as LinkedIn. It keeps afloat perfectly well, but why? The answer is simple: it's convenient for business audience. By changing the focus of the app, we get a product which is similar but at the same time more sector-specific than Facebook, more convenient for solving business tasks, having business talks and making up a CV. Or another clone of Facebook social app - Initially it was targeted at Russian speaking audience and appeared much earlier than the mass user of Runet learned about the original. Since then plenty of time has passed, but VK has already formed its audience for which this service is much more handy, familiar and better. And again, the shift of the target audience allowed this startup to live. There are some other examples like Instaframe, Padgram, Insta Booth - they existed for a month at best, after which Instagram hunted them down for plagiarism. Of course, not all clones are destined to find itself in court, but many of them will receive a cold reception from the audience. Indeed, why should I, as a user, switch to a less popular resource that offers pretty much the same as the original one, even if it has the same level of implementation? It's an important question to ask yourself before conceiving a start-up based on a replica of social networking website like Facebook.

The plague of plagiarism

Let's review the following instance. The visit of Apple employees to Xerox PARC research centre in 1979 got famous as the biggest theft in the history of computer industry. Steve Jobs actually didn't deny that, quite the opposite, he spoke about it with pride: "Good artists copy; great artists steal. We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas". So said so done, thus, the future Macintosh got its mouse and a graphical user interface. But, unlike Xerox, whose mouse was more like a breezeblock with three buttons, could hardly move across the table and, added to everything else, had a price tag of $300, Jobs created a manipulator that was able to move across any surface for just $15. The graphical user interface created by Xerox was considerably upgraded and improved, working with windows and the desktop was simplified, the computer itself became easier to operate and more user friendly. Xerox Star ended in a fiasco, mostly because of its high price, poor realization of its core functionality and because it was made with the view to being used in offices with a connection to the local network. Macintosh was based on the same ideas but realized them way better than Xerox did - that is exactly why today everybody is familiar with Apple brand.

What does it tell us? It's useful and even necessary to adopt ideas. Take aim not at the second/fifth/twentieth Facebook, but at a new social network. Borrow the idea and make an app like Facebook but realize it so that your project will be way more convenient, pleasant and innovative than the original. It sometimes happens that long lasting projects make clearly questionable decisions. YouTube, for example. After merging with Google+ and introducing a new policy on copyright, there exists a popular opinion among the users that YouTube is destroying itself. The service now uses bots which detect the presence of copyright content in users' videos. However, the system is so imperfect that it blocks any video with the slightest hint of copyright infringement. This nonsense reached its peak when a video of a purring cat was blocked, because, by some miracle, the bot recognized in it a famous musical piece.

Such a difficult time for video bloggers calls for new video services which would be able to create serious competition for YouTube. And by the way, nobody needs primitive clones or copies of the old versions of the site - we need something new with a simple user friendly design, a healthy functionality and a loyal policy.

In the cloning issue, we can't avoid mentioning plagiarism, however, when talking about commercial projects you should beware of this word. Who likes copycats? Perhaps, their friends and parents (if they have any), but not the wide audience. People enjoy stories about plagiarism, they take pleasure in discussing copycats and chuckling over their inability to generate ideas. In addition, the authors of the original materials can sue you. This happened to Samsung, which got a lawsuit from Apple for copying the design of their smartphones. As a result, Samsung risks to pay several hundreds of millions of dollars as compensation to Apple. In big business you will never become a leader, trendsetter and driver of innovations by copying the competitors' ideas. Moreover, when figuring out how to make a website like Facebook or YouTube, also think of how not to end up in trouble for plagiarism.


I didn't bring up the topic of weapons by accident at the beginning of the article, it is quite a bright image and great analogy. When you decide to create a clone of some project, just ask yourself: who needs a bow with arrows in the era of nuclear arms? And even if you have your audience, will your offer be better than its analogues on the market? If you can answer both questions positively, then the game is worth the candle. But if you are going to fill the market with something that it already abounds in, ask yourself a question first: "What for?"