I don’t know the app, haven’t used it, and I’m not a lawyer, but I hate it when people complain about some big company stealing their ideas. Ideas get copied all the time. Have you seen the web? Have you seen books, movies, or TV?
Good ideas get copied. I don’t mean software piracy or plagiarism, which I hate, isn’t legal, but is also inevitable. I do mean reverse engineering and just plain copying good idea. Like movie and fiction formulas that work. Selling points, tag lines, icons, apps, functionality, features, packaging, design … copycats get around them easily without strictly violating the law. It’s a fact of life.
Think of the history of high tech in the last generation or so. DOS copied and improved CP/M which copied something else. The original Mac copied and improved Xerox and Windows copied Mac. Lotus 1-2-3 copied and improved Visicalc and Microsoft Excel copied and improved Lotus 1-2-3.
As a writer, I hate it when people just copy my work and pretend they wrote it. But it does happen constantly.
As a software developer and publisher, I hate it when people copy my product’s tag lines and positioning but it happens all the time.
Ethical? You be the judge. Legal? I’m not an attorney, I can’t say. But I will say this: It happens all the time.
I was happily reading Sramana Mitra’s The Other 99% of Entrepreneurs on Read/Write Web, agreeing with every detail, when I ran into a snag. It’s in italics in this quote from Sramana’s post.
Over 99% of entrepreneurs who seek funding get rejected. Yet, the entire world is focused on the 1% that is “fundable.”
The media, when pitched a startup story, is interested in who funded the venture. They seldom ask how much revenue the company has or if it is profitable. Incubators take pride in how exclusive they are and how many “deals” they “reject.” Angels and VCs, of course, discard most of their “deal flow.”And entrepreneurs? They seem to have confused the definition of entrepreneurship altogether. Entrepreneurship, they mistakenly believe, equals financing!
This is wrong.
I agree with her: It is wrong — except for that one extra detail. On the core of it, well, I posted something similar more than three years ago, in a respectful hats off to bootstrapping, on this same subject:
For years now, I’ve complained every so often about how we (in blogs, business plan contests, academia and entrepreneurship in general) tend to idealize the venture capital-financed startup, the SBA loan and the more formalized and carefully planned financial strategy. This is especially true in venture competitions.
This is the real world. Bootstrapping is often the only way to start, build and grow your business.
But don’t blame the investors. That’s like blaming up for down. Angel investors spent about $18 billion last year to fund more than 50,000 startups; of course they have to pick and choose. That’s the nature of investing in startups. And venture capitalists are investing other people’s money. They’re being paid to generate a return on investment. Their job is picking the best deals they can find. It’s for the rest of us to understand and respect bootstrapping.
Sramana Mitra is way too smart for that. I like her work and read her often, and included her in posts on this blog. I think she just got on a roll and added one detail too many. Because everything else in that post makes a lot of sense. And she’s one of the best writers/bloggers/thinkers you can find on startups and investment in general. I love her reengineering capitalism idea. So consider this a small correction for a really good post. On an important subject.
As blogger, former full-time journalist, and long-term entrepreneur, I’m offended from all three sides by journalists complaining that bloggers don’t get paid on the Huffington Post.
I’m offended by the envy. The money Arianna Huffington and her investors made on the sale of Huffington Post to AOL was classic entrepreneurship, earned by taking risks. They risked their time, money, health, and reputations. They established a business, hired people, rented offices, bought computers, bought server space, and all that. So when they make something happen, they deserve the dollars.
I’m also offended by the distortion. Huffington Post does have journalists on staff, and they get paid as journalists. If you don’t get it, you should probably read this explanation from one of them. And Huffington Post also publishes posts from thousands of bloggers, me included, who post there voluntarily, as self expression, mostly opinion, with no expectation of being paid for it. They want an audience. The distortion on the poster (in the illustration here) makes me angry. “You can’t eat prestige” is pure sensationalism, complete distortion.
Is Twitter exploiting people who tweet? Is Facebook exploiting its users?
The house painter gets paid. The landscape painter doesn’t.
The passport photographer gets paid. The news photographer gets paid. The art photographer doesn’t.
The journalist gets paid. The reporter gets paid. The investigative journalist gets paid. The author of the letter to the editor doesn’t.
Some bloggers are journalists, and should be paid. Reporters for Mashable, Engadget, TechCrunch and Read/Write Web, to cite some well-known examples, are journalists, and they get paid. Guest posters aren’t journalists usually, and they don’t usually get paid.
Summary: entrepreneurship is big risk, and big money if you make something that succeeds. Journalism is work and there is expectation of pay. Some blogging is work with expectation of pay, and some is self expression, which is its own reward.
(Disclosure: I blog on the Huffington Post and my son is CTO. I was also a member of the Newspaper Guild as a professional journalist, on salary with United Press International, a correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News, and a freelancer.)
I really like her vision of what makes a journalist, as opposed to “just” a blogger. In that journalist or blogger post she says journalists are trained in journalism (and she means they have a degree in it), they aim for objectivity and truth, they care about form, they’re skeptical, and they serve the people. She makes it sound like a profession; like the quality matters.
I loved this down-home real-world description of a critical difference between journalists and bloggers. I’m quoting her here, journalists, she says, get used to editing, which she calls “having your work get ripped to shreds.” This is good writing. I’ve been there myself:
As a result, you do not get offended when your editor tells you, and I quote, “Jolie, this sentence fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” (Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb) You begin to look at your writing the way a stranger would. You see the errors, the ugliness, the factual haziness, the sloppy turn of phrase. And you or your editor make repairs as needed without much fuss.
These words aren’t your limbs, your children, your masterpieces. They’re simply another grouping of column inches or another few hundred words to fill up the “news hole.” You’re not married to them, because you’ll be on to a new collection of words within an hour or two. With any effort, the next article will be better written than the last as you quickly learn from your mistakes.
The blogger is an autonomous creature, not accustomed to being under the scrutiny of a professional editor. He hasn’t had his work and soul trampled quite as mercilessly — although commenters can be cruel bitches, it’s true — so he’s a bit more attached to his words. Also, his words are more frequently tied to his personal ideas. More on that in a bit.
This brings back my own fond memory of UPI overnight editor Norberto Swarzman, who managed the New York Latin America desk for United Press International (UPI) when I was on the night desk in Mexico City, back in the early 1970s. I was very young, and he wasn’t. He was a frequent caller.
“Berry,” he said, more than once, “you write like a god-damned literature major.”
I’d finished class work for an MA in Journalism to add to the lit degree by then, but the only way to soften the abuse, long term, was to write better. In his terms, not mine. Later, when I finished a thesis and actually got that MA in Journalism officially, the Dean of the J-school at University of Oregon told me his only complaint with my thesis was:
“Your writing style is not academic enough. You write like a wire-service journalist.”
You might guess, if you knew my background, that I was going to like Jolie O’Dell’s respect for journalism. I do have the degree, and I did spend nine years as foreign correspondent in Mexico before quitting to get the MBA. And I’m delighted to see a 20-something professional journalist come up with the same kind of respectful view of why journalism matters that I’d learned 40 years ago.
I’ve come full circle, from journalism to entrepreneurship and lately to blogging. And I have no problem at all with her saying blogging is easier. Her kind of journalist researches and interviews to generate actual information, not just good writing. And then cites sources and quotes people with their actual words. I used to do that. Back then, as a journalist, I couldn’t write anything ever just because I knew it was true. That was really hard. I couldn’t just write what was true, back then; I had to quote somebody. And we didn’t have the Web, not even cell phones, so I actually had to get that somebody on the phone, at least, and talk to them, I have no problem recognizing that blogging, which is basically me writing to you about whatever I can come up with as long as I don’t bore you, is a whole lot easier. Today, as a blogger, I get to be me. I can have opinions.
As you probably guessed, controversy followed Jolie O’Dell’s journalist vs. blogger piece. A lot of bloggers don’t like to be told they’re not journalists. And journalists without degrees don’t like to be told they need a degree. There’s a reference to “English-degree journalists” who don’t like to be told they’re not journalists unless they have a degree. And a lot of people think any hack getting paid to fill news space between ads is a journalist. I followed the controversy from the original post to some heated words (and a lot of praise) on Twitter, and a thoughtful follow-up post by journalism professor and journalist Kirk LaPointe, punctuated by some surprisingly emotional comments.
The “trained in journalism” mention is galling to many. and O’Dell distinguishes journalists from writers, casts some doubt on “English-degree journalists,” and accurately predicts the objections that followed. I loved her best-defense-is-a-good-offense conclusion:
If you’re a blogger and you’ve been offended somehow by my piece, ask yourself why — I highly suspect it’s because I called some behavior of yours out as not being “journalist-y” enough. While it’s true that we all hold ourselves to different professional standards, the above are pretty basic. If you feel threatened or attacked by what I’ve written, I suggest you get back at me by taking a couple journalism classes at a community college and doing an internship at a local newspaper; it’ll change your writing and your life.
So why do I care? Why does anybody care? It’s because we still need journalism and we’re starting to confuse blogging with journalism. But then it gets confusing when we have excellent journalism showing up on so-called blogs like Mashable, or the mix at Huffington Post, which gathers the news – including with its own reporters – but also indulges in lots of blogging opinion. Mashable is a blog. Jolie O’Dell, writing on Mashable, is a journalist. If you have any doubt, look at her work on Mashable.
There has always been an awkward gap between journalism as trade and journalism as profession. Doctors need med school and exams, CPAs have their boards of standards, and dentists, vets, psychologists, and other so-called professionals have their licensing and standards. And we do have schools of journalism and professors and degrees and journals and standards. But still, give any hack a few dollars for writing anything that gets published as news, and then we call that hack a journalist.
And then you add in the ease of entry in blogging – sign up at WordPress or Blogger or TypePad and start publishing – and I for one am glad to see the occasional reminder of what journalism is supposed to be.
On the other hand, do you know who H.L Mencken was? One of the best journalists ever, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, as famous a journalist as any in his time. Google “H.L. Mencken quotes.” He first wrote “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” And he didn’t have a degree in journalism.
Raise your hands now, how many remember that scene in City Slickers? And, just in case you don’t, I found it – only 32 seconds long – on YouTube (click here for YouTube source page):
The grizzled old cowboy (played by Jack Palace) tells the newbie character (Billy Crystal) the secret to life is …
Grizzled cowboy: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean sh*t.
Newbie: That’s great, but, what’s the one thing?
Grizzled cowboy: That’s what you gotta figure out.
Fast forward to startups and small business, and it’s called strategy and strategic focus. It calls up lots of related business buzzwords, like positioning, and differentiation. You can’t do everything well, so you have to do the right things well. And what’s the right thing? That’s what you have to figure out for your business. It’s different for every business. What is it for yours? Can you survive on focusing on that one thing? Can you grow that way? Or is that a failure to diversify? Good questions all, and, like the grizzled old cowboy says, that’s what you have to figure out.