In a nutshell, “super hero” Dustin Curtis released an interesting new blogging engine called Svbtle, which he opened for only a select handful of “vetted” bloggers. This perceived arrogance obviously didn’t go down well with a number of Hacker News regulars; in particular Nate Wienert who cloned the platform, called it Obtvse, and open-sourced it on github for anybody to fork.
I’ve read a number of comments on either side of the argument for and against this move but I think some people have misinterpreted Nate’s move. He didn’t set out to create a copy of the app for commercial gain; he has simply made a point about the way in which the app was launched, its tone of voice, and the general attitude that surrounded its launch.
I enjoy Dustin’s blog and twitter, and he usually delivers some fascinating points-of-view and unearths some great content. Yet fundamentally, I have no idea who he is or what sort of work he has done, other than redesign an airport boarding card, and create lifepath.me (I can’t find references to either, but you probably know about them). Both are admirable design endeavours, but fundamentally neither attribute him with the monicker of “super hero” which he tells us he is at every opportunity. A super hero in my mind (and in our industry) is somebody who is genuinely awesome at what they do, but who are humble about their achievements: Jack Dorsey and Jeff Veen come to mind. I’d imagine neither would ever call themselves a super hero, with however much irony.
Yet on the other hand I see hundreds of design rip-offs whilst searching for new interesting posts for siteInspire. The fact is, a copied site or idea is clearly a copy whose quality is almost always dreadful, and in my opinion is usually little more damaging than a fake Gucci handbag bought in a Hong Kong market. I have even had the entire siteInspire design ripped off with hilarious consequences. I was flattered, and just passed it off as someone’s attempt at learning by rote: a fairly ineffective but acceptable learning technique, but which is usually the motivation for these rip-offs. I mentioned it to them, but didn’t demand for it to be removed with such vehemence that a lot of “victims” do (they were sufficiently embarrassed to take the site down anyway).
If you find that your site or application has been copied, see it as feedback. In Dustin’s case, he can learn a huge amount from the episode. His reaction to the news wasn’t great and reflected on him poorly, such that he subsequently redacted and replaced it with an opinion on stealing designs. I think it still suggests he misunderstood the motivation for Obtvse and hasn’t learnt much from it.
In everyone else’s case, a general rule of thumb is to first be flattered. If it’s just a bad copy it won’t do you image any harm, and if it’s a much, much better copy… well there’s quite a lot to learn from that too, however frustrating it might be.
I suspect this is a controversial topic and I’d love to hear your thoughts: especially if your work has been copied; what you thought about it and what happened.
Update 2: Chris Shiflett writes about an important observation on Hacker News. While for the majority of the people this is true, I would guess that as a self-styled super hero Dustin quite relishes the attention on Hacker News, having been a front-pager many times.
The mistake the Hacker News community routinely makes is to assume the author of whatever they read is making a big deal about something.