Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cloning Web 2.0: A Look at Copycat Applications

I know I recently railed against copycat sites
-- I assure you that the irony of this post isn't lost on me. But as
they say, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." As I said in
my post 3 weeks ago, "if you do feel the need to borrow an idea, you
should definitely make changes and try to innovate and push the concept
in new directions." That's what Kevin Rose and his team did with Pownce,
which seems likely inspired by Twitter. Pownce has pushed the idea in
new and exciting directions, however, and added to the concept in
positive ways for users (read our review). Some copycat sites, on the other hand, are more shameless in their theft.

The services below have not only spawned copycats, but software
projects designed to make copying them easier, which may be proof that
there is really something to their idea.


Twitter » Folkster



Twitter,
the micro-blogging app from Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Jack Dorsey,
has been one of the most buzz-worthy web apps of the past year. After a
demo at SXSW in March, Twitter exploded in popularity to become a top
1000 site (according to Alexa). So it's no wonder people want to copy
it. Folkstr
is a soon-to-launch micro-blogging platform from development house
Combtail. Folkstr mimics Twitter in appearance, though it seems to lack
SMS features.



Digg » Pligg



We recently pegged Digg as a major acquisition target.
Digg is the web's top social news web site, and has spawned an
incredible number of niche copycat sites. Many of them run or were
initially launched using the open source Digg-clone Pligg.
Pligg is a faithful reproduction of Digg (though it hasn't caught up in
terms of threaded comments), and even adds some features, such as
tagging and the ability to automatically share links on other popular
social news and bookmarking sites.





del.icio.us » Scuttle



Speaking of bookmarking... many have tried but no one has yet
succeeded in dethroning the king social bookmarking websites: Yahoo!'s del.icio.us. If you think you're up to it, the open source Scuttle
is a good way to start. Unfortunately, Scuttle's main web site is down
right now, and a new version hasn't been released in over a year.



YouTube » AlstraSoft Video Share



YouTube
was one of the first big success stories of web 2.0, cashing in for
over $1.65 billion last fall when it was acquired by Google.
AlstraSoft's Video Share Enterprise
is a PHP/MySQL script that clones YouTube. Video Share duplicates most
of YouTube's features pretty well, and powers a number of
small-to-medium sized sites, such as the paintball video sharing web
site Xhaled. Also check out another YouTube clone script vShare.
It seems unlikely that either of these scripts could scale out of the
box to support anywhere near the traffic of YouTube, though.





Yahoo! Answers » Askeet



Yahoo! Answers
has been one of Yahoo!'s greatest success stories. It was not the first
question and answer site, but has grown into the largest, and is one of
Yahoo!'s largest social networking sites. The team behind the Symfony
PHP framework decided to clone Yahoo! Answers as a demo application to
show off their framework. They came up with askeet!,
a no frills Answers clone that uses Digg-style voting to determine the
most interesting questions and thumbs up/down voting to determine the
best answers. Not only is askeet!'s source code available under the MIT
license, the developers also put out a 24-part tutorial series detailing exactly how it was built.



MySpace » PHPFox



Facebook might get all the hype, but MySpace
is still by far the largest social network. As such, it is also the
most often copied. One of the most popular and well-developed MySpace
clone scripts out there is phpFoX. phpFoX is behind some fairly large niche MySpace clones, like the punk-rock centric Punx.
The script supports all the features MySpacers love, such as groups,
polls, forums, blogs, messaging, and profiles replete with ugly
backgrounds and annoying auto-playing music.





Netvibes, Pageflakes » AlstraSoft StartPage



Just a few days ago Richard MacManus wrote about how AJAX start pages like PageFlakes and Netvibes
are aiming to take on social networks. The barrier for entry in getting
into this hot area has never been lower than now thanks to Alstrasoft's
AJAX DeskTop StartPage Enterprise,
a PHP and MySQL based AJAX start page script that mimics the sites I
just mentioned. I was actually pleasantly surprised by this product.
The demo at MeVou.com is impressive, and offers a number of built in widgets and the ability to add custom RSS feeds from any source.



Wikipedia » MediaWiki



Unlike any other of the products in this round up, MediaWiki isn't really a copycat. It's the actual open source software that powers Wikipedia.
MediaWikia can, of course, be used for other applications than simply
creating a clone of Wikipedia -- and it often is. As one of the most
powerful and well-developed wiki applications on the market, MediaWiki
is deployed the web over by people wishing to create wikis for a number
of reasons.



Conclusion



While I'm still not too keen on straight clones of other services,
what the above scripts and applications prove is that the cost of entry
for web 2.0 sites is extremely low. Development of a site like YouTube
might have cost in the tens of thousands a couple of years ago, but now
a clone script can be had for $10. Many of these clone applications are
free or open source. Granted these scripts might not scale very well,
and they might not be as securely coded as something you have custom
made, but the point is that, as Guy Kawasaki says, "things are a whole lot cheaper and easier these days."


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