December 14, 2009
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but blatant theft of code, design, and UI elements is just not cool, especially when the infringing party is the biggest software company in the world. Yes, we’re talking about Microsoft. Blerg.
Here’s the short of what we think has happened:
- Microsoft China officially launched its own microblogging service, MSN Juku/Hompy/Mclub, some time in November, 2009.
- The service’s design and UI is by and large an EXACT copy of Plurk’s innovative left-right timeline scrolling navigation system. (see screen captures below)
- Some 80% of the client and product codebase appears to be stolen directly from Plurk! (see evidence below).
- Plurk was never approached nor collaborated in any capacity with MS on this service.
- As a young startup, we’re stunned, shocked, and unsure what to do next and need your support and suggestions.
We were first tipped off by high profile bloggers and Taiwanese users of our community that Microsoft had just launched a new Chinese microblogging service that looked eerily similar to Plurk. Needless to say we were absolutely shocked and outraged when we first saw with our own eyes the cosmetic similarities Microsoft’s new offering had with Plurk. From the filter tabs, emoticons, qualifier/verb placement, Karma scoring system, media support, new user walkthroughs to pretty much everything else that gives Plurk its trademark appeal, Microsoft China’s offering ripped off our service. See for yourself: (Microsoft MClub on top, Plurk on bottom).
A little overly inspired, wouldn’t you agree? Of course, we understand others will always be motivated to emulate and take bits and pieces of visual and functional elements from widely successful services and carve out localized versions. Plurk was already Taiwan’s biggest microblogging service, 10x bigger than Twitter in that market alone, and emerging as Asia’s answer to Twitter in many of the biggest countries in East Asian, so naturally Microsoft probably saw some potential in piggybacking off the success of our unique service and launching something similar in a related market like China. Ultimately if something works, others will copy it and try to adapt it to another market, be it another vertical or another locale. It’s the nature of the web. And for the most part, we don’t get bothered by clones. Of course, there will always be exceptional circumstances where we feel wholly wronged, both legally and more important, morally, and this one just happens to be one of those rare cases. That it is Microsoft doing the copying in broad daylight makes it even more incredulous.
Let me explain. If this was just a case of visual inspiration gone too far, we could probably have lived with it. We would have taken the time to reach out to Microsoft, get colour on the matter and try to amicably resolve it. That’s not the case here. This is something far more sinister. On closer inspection, we found that MUCH of the codebase and data structures that Microsoft’s MClub uses are identical snapshots of our code. Microsoft has taken Plurk’s custom developed libraries, css files and client code and just ported them directly over to their service without any attempt to even mask this! Here are just 3 small examples of literally hundreds we have found. Any developer will be able to see that this is basically copied and stolen code.
Some users in the blogosphere even speculated that Microsoft Mclub/Juku was some sort of official partnership we’d struck with Microsoft to clear a re-entry into China after our earlier censorship in the region behind the Great Firewall of China, prior to which we were the #1 microblogging service in the country. Let’s clear the air around this. While many reputable internet companies have forged solid partnerships with Plurk, valuing our innovation and market leadership in Asia, Microsoft was absolutely not one of them. We were never contacted by any party at MS to collaborate on such a venture nor did we give any prior written or verbal permission to anyone on their side to take our code, take our CSS, and copy the essence and ethos of our service.
We’re still in shock asking why Microsoft would even stoop to this level of wilfully plagiarising a young and innovative upstart’s work rather than reach out to us or innovate on their own terms. Of course, it just hits that much closer to home when all your years of hard work and effort to create something unique are stolen so brazenly. All the more ironic considering Microsoft has often been leading the charge on fighting for stronger IP laws and combating software piracy in China.
So what next? We’re not entirely sure but we are exploring our options. We have been seeking advice from respected colleagues, responding to press inquiries and gathering facts on the timeline of events and parties involved here to understand why and how this took place.
To our millions of loyal users: We also need your sincere help. We need your loud and emphatic voices. We need you to help us get out this important story to anyone and everyone you know who can raise awareness on what has taken place. Please translate this story into your respective languages, share it with local media, bloggers and friends, and help us fight the good fight for your beloved Plurk.
Press contact: Dave Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Plurk Asia Pacific Press Contact, +64 9 889 0610