18 thoughts on “In the HuddleChat Debacle, a Lesson for Web 2.0 Startups”

  1. The “Look and Feel” wars were fought in the 80’s and 90’s (Apple-Microsoft-Borland-Lotus etc.). Nobody ever won that argument unless someone was stealing source code or scraping a substantial amount of identical text.

    37Signal’s looks ridiculous to be complaining about someone else “copying” their product. Let your product speak and stand for itself. If someone can offer more value at a lower price, your product doesn’t deserve to win.

    I think Google should have also released the Huddle Chat source code; let a thousand flowers bloom by letting the 10,000 developers who got AppEngine accounts make HuddleChat derivatives.

  2. Usually I do not leave comments which only say “I agree”, but here I have to. However, I feel that here Google made the bigger mistake of pulling down the app and implying admission of guilt. What is going to be their policy regarding such applications and complaints in the future? Are they going to leave it to the developers to take down the app or are they going to do it themselves. The message at http://huddlechat.appspot.com/ is signed “The Google App Engine Team”!

    Of course, TC already says the same thing


  3. @ Adnan

    in continuing “agree” chain, I agree. But I think the problem is bigger than just Huddle Chat. I think this is going to happen more and more often in the near future.

  4. Why shouldn’t Google use its dominance to crush every Web 2.0 product? Simple, for the same reason that Microsoft shouldn’t have used its dominance to crush Netscape.

  5. With a zillions of PhDs that Google have, Can they be different than a 10-odd army?

    Why does Google need an imitation art?

    HuddleChat puts Google in a wrong corner, not because of choosing imitation but not putting enough innovation in their first Enterprise showcase.

  6. This dismissive position is consistent with the industry prevalent thinking. One can not imagine that academic world will tolerate non-attributing culture. Chat may have been there before. Supposing they were indeed inspired by 37 Signals’ UI. Many people seem to agree that they are not patentable. But it would have been a nice gesture to openly recognize that. Especially when you are a big banana.

    Supposing you are talking about turning the concept of address book on its head when there is an implementation of it already. Isn’t it fair to recognize that implementation? Such a misstep will not be tolerated in the publishing world. For sure it has happened before in the business world. But Internet is supposed to be different. Google is to be commended that they punished themselves to the extreme for a “small” misstep. I only wish GigaOm follows that lead.

  7. @ Aswath,

    Clearly you missed the point. The point is that they should have acknowledged the work of 37Signals. Did you miss that bit before jumping to conclusions.

    What the folks from Google should have done was acknowledge 37signals for the design and UI, and thanked them for their vision. End of story. Why? Because 37signals is a company that adheres to the spirit of sharing and thanking folks who inspire them.

    The big issue here is not that Google built a copy cat and then pulled it. The big problem for all little companies is that their ideas are so easily rippable. This wasn’t the case in non-consumer web tech start-ups where there was something to defend. In this case, why shouldn’t Google offer something and let the market decide. In my opinion, the market always does decide.

    YouTube won over Google Video and Google had to pay $1.6 billion to buy simplicity.

  8. Om, your first and second paragraphs contradict one another. I am a huge fan of 37Signals, but what “work’ are we acknowledging exactly? How would one visually distinguish a web-based chat application. 37Signals would do better to focus their attention on the multiple Ruby-based look-alike task managers out there competing against Backpack.

  9. Om, I agree that this is the canary in the mine for web 2.0 companies to wake up and realize that a business must have some real barriers to entry in order to succeed in the long term and you rightly point out that one of those is a large community base.

    This web 2.0 era is too similar to the dot-com boom in the 90’s where common business sense was thrown out the door for so many ventures. That is the real moral of the story but too many people are focusing on the smaller picture.

  10. I agree that imitation is commonplace and I don’t really have a problem with Google making a Campfire knock-off.

    However, I think everyone is missing the point of why Google took down HuddleChat. Google said it themselves: “…rather than divert attention from Google App Engine itself, we thought it better to just take HuddleChat down.”

    What makes a juicier story — a new webapp platform, or “Google steals ideas from small companies!!!”? With the media’s love of sensationalism, they’d be squeezing the HuddleChat story for weeks, instead of reporting on App Engine.

  11. Om:

    I might have jumped to a conclusion, but I didn’t miss the point of your story. I have no basis to know that 37Signal would have been satisfied with open acknowledgement. I took your word for it. I was suggesting that having recognized their mistake, Google took a self punitive action, which tacitly recognized 37 Signal’s contribution.

    I am personally aware that how easy it is for an idea to be ripped. That was my point as evidenced by a recent post in GigaOm. I want you to recognize, even if you fail to recall, the idea was shared with the principals during Nov/Dec 2005, a prototype was shown a few months later, invitation based trial was rolled out a year later and the site is operational under open registration since last October. But the post talked as if a new idea is under development. Given the nature of technology, I am willing to settle for mere recognition. Even that is not forthcoming. For me that is the irony of this post. It is not clear whether you recognize this or not.

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