I woke up this morning reading headlines on various sites about Curebit trying out a web design very similar to HighRise (37signals) and hotlinking to some resources on HighRise website itself.
An article at VentureBeat explained what happened and has links to the series of tweet-exchange that happened between 37signals co-founder and Curebit founder.
What caught my attention was this bit from Curebit founder’s tweet:
…with this response:
My opinions on a few aspects that I observed:
1. Who decides what is “Inspired”, “Copy-Pasted”, or “Ripped-Off”, and where are the fine-lines between them? Copyright laws embed subjectivity, and not everyone takes legal route to decide. Is every company proactively looking over the web on who’s drawing more than just a bit of inspiration from their design? They hardly have the time to even think about it. Unless they realize it’s costing them business, of course. There’s a legal side to it, and there’s a moral/ethical side to it. The legal side exists because there’s always a chance of someone overstepping the moral/ethical side. But with no objective boundaries defined, it all is a grey area in the shadows of creativity-land.
2. The end-result. We have seen similar examples in the music industry for long (my personal experience has been to notice that a non-ignorable number of Bollywood music hits in the last 15 years have been in one way or the other copied directly from existing Bollywood or western music.) People have cried foul in the music industry as well. The end-result in most such cases has been dead silence. The end-result in very few cases have been public apologies. The potential end-results of the row regarding Curebit-37signals would be:
- Curebit reverting the design
- 500startups and YC (investors in Curebit) cautioning Curebit and the rest of their existing future investees on how not to handle design changes (or “A/B testing”)
- Readers of the episode re-telling the tale to their colleagues and friends
- Overall, the tech community would remember this for another few days, before fresh ideas on how to take inspiration from another website would start seeping in in some office somewhere.
3. Why the row in the first place? Is this how every instance of “heavy inspiration” on the web will be dealt with? A comment on HN is worth reading. It makes sense on how most designers look at something, draw inspiration, and mock up a version of it for their purpose. Anyone copying an entire design as it is, is a no-no. But what about those who do copy? The current instance only sets a precedence for:
- If you copy from a high-profile/popular company, and you yourself belong to a group that is easily noticed (500startups/YC as investors), then your actions will be seen easily and shown to the world on Twitter / HN / elsewhere.
- If you are a relatively unknown company, or if you’re copying from a relatively unknown company, chances are rare that you’ll see a public row like this. At least not until they know about and decide to speak up.
4. What do consumers think? From a personal perspective, a recent example in point. I know RetailMeNot as one of the sites to search discount coupon codes at. Here is how they look today:
and a few weeks back, I chanced upon another coupon codes site, Coupon Dunia, that had what I thought was a pretty similar layout:
The first thoughts? “Oh, a rip-off! They even have the same graphics for copying coupon codes!”
The after-30-seconds thoughts? “Hmm..and how do I know who copied from whom? How do I know whether a third site I am unaware of, had the original design in place?”
The after-60-seconds thoughts? “Does it matter to me? The validity of the discount codes on their sites should matter to me as a user, not their design unless it’s visually annoying.”
I was not giving either of these sites any money from my pocket, and that could’ve directed the thought stream to halt beyond a point.
But do most consumers know which all sites look like yours? Do they care?
5. The startup defense points: This is what I had caught my attention in the first place. The points about “being a startup" or "being a small company" as excuses for having done something that was frowned upon is futile, and detrimental to the numerous small companies that walk on a tight rope making sure they still don’t resort to claiming "Oh, we’re just a startup" for the things that don’t go right.
In my opinion, regardless of the validity of the excuse, any founder using “we are a startup” as an *excuse* isn’t yet ready to start up.
Update (3 Feb 2012): Cleartrip has redesigned this feature. as of 3 Feb 2012. The blog post explaining the redesign is here. Thanks to readers everywhere (Twitter / Facebook / Y! News / Cleartrip blog) who let the discussion happen and contributed with their opinions. The discussion (regardless of the opinions shared) was the product feedback that made an impact. The original post, dated 26 Jan 2012, follows:
I am planning yet another trip. As usual, I opened Cleartrip (has been my favorite travel bookings portal; I prefer them because of their sleek interface), and searched for flights. I chanced upon what I now call the “Cleartrip Hurry Algorithm" - I think I’ve seen such fake scarcity tactics on other booking portals as well, but witnessed it in real-time action on Cleartrip now.
Here’s what I saw when I searched for 1 seat on the route on specific dates (for the record, these searches were done around 11.40 am IST on Thursday, 26 Jan 2012):
Did you notice the red “1 SEAT LEFT" sign in there?
Not being pedantic here, but most people will read that red-color sign as “LAST 1 SEAT LEFT”. (For the pedantically correct: Of course, there is 1 seat at least left, that’s why the portal is even showing me the flight in search results. Then this sign doesn’t make sense.)
I played with the search settings, and changed the number of passengers to 2.
Here’s what I saw:
Same flight. Nice. Now they have “2 SEATS LEFT”.
I was trying to grasp what I saw, and changed the search to 4 passengers.
Same flight. No surprises here. I saw this:
“4 SEATS LEFT”. Sigh.
What makes things worse, is that I then searched at MakeMyTrip (I’ve hated their cluttered interface always; but was forced to search with them now after seeing the Cleartrip algorithm). MakeMyTrip showed me a seat selection preview of the same flight, with a lot many more seats still available:
I have a different favorite travel bookings portal now. It’s a matter of who exhibits honest behavior from the onset. No harm done.
As someone in a public chat (credit: reo on freenode) said “The only power consumer really has … ‘Don’t buy it.’ ”
Context: I am an Airtel subscriber (Delhi region), and I typically have more than average prepaid balance on my SIM (I subscribe to BlackBerry Internet Services as well, via prepaid).
This post is about how “Silent Charging" works in the Indian Telecom Operators scenario, and how services like "Live Arti" (in my case) are being chaepo-fied on to the Indian consumer.
I am aware of the 121 “LAST” service by Airtel, where sending the SMS “LAST” to 121 gives the Airtel prepaid users a list of last 5 deductions made on their account. I sent the SMS today, after around 3 weeks, to check if everything is alright.
I noticed 3 deductions of Rs. 5.00 each, on 16th, 19th, and 24th July 2011 for “Value Added Service”. What for? I had no idea.
I called up Airtel Customer Care, and the polite Customer Care Exec told me these deductions were for a service called “Live Arti" run by Airtel. Yeah? He also informed me that although I claim to have never subscribed to the service, he cannot register a complaint because the service was subsequently ‘unsubscribed’ as well, and Airtel cannot register complaints for unsubscribed services.
Wow. So I have no way of getting my Rs. 15.00 refunded now?
For those unfamiliar with how the Indian Telecom “VAS” (Value Added Services) industry works, this is an example of “Silent Charging”.
How does it work for the VAS Providers?
Step 1: Identify the ‘cream’ users. Users with a few hundred rupees in their SIM balance. These are the users who would otherwise not even notice deductions of Rs. 5 or Rs. 10. Involve the Operator’s Circle Manager (yes, how else would you get the list?)
Step 2: Automatically Subscribe these users en masse to the service (for example, “Live Arti” in my case). Since the Circle Manager is with you, there will be no prepaid balance deduction Flash SMS that will be sent to the user. No confirmation or intimation messages either.
Step 3: Charge the user a few more times.
Step 4: Again, silently, unsubscribe the user, lest you get caught for too much greed.
Step 5: Repeat the Steps 1-4 for hundreds of thousands of users. Mint Money!
So I have just been “silently charged” for Airtel ‘s Live Arti service. I do not know how many more people also have been, and how many even ever will raise their voice on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. The Great Indian Telecom Fraud continues to chaepofy. As of this writing, I am figuring out next steps.
Today I came to know about *yet another* person in my LinkedIn circle who “wiped" out certain parts of their job-changing history from their profile. The person moved from:
"Role 1" at "Company A"
to “Role 2” at “Company B”
to “Role 3” at “Company C”
and finally to “Role 4” back at “Company A” (who readily re-hired him) - within a span of 10 months.
What shows in his LinkedIn profile is that he got promoted from “Role 1” to “Role 4” at “Company A”. The rest of (probably bad experiences at) job changes have been wiped out.
This is the 5th person I’ve witnessed do this on LinkedIn in the last 2 months. The list includes C-level executives as well.
Just more than a week earlier at the NASSCOM Social Media Summit (good event, by the way), I heard several mentions of how “Hiring via Social Media" is on the rise and how LinkedIn profiles are a good way to scan for prospective hires.
So how many companies would go for a job-history / background-check for a prospective hire? Information on how and why the person moved through so many jobs in a relatively short span of time can give vital clues to the hiring company, and might be the difference between a hire and no-hire.
What do you do?
If you’re in India, and use any kind of phone device, you will continue to be annoyed by the unsolicited telemarketing calls and messages for more days to come. TRAI has once again (fourth time) extended the deadline for implementation of the new (stricter) regulations on commercial communication / telemarketing. The news item in Business Line is here. The new deadline date hasn’t yet been decided.
Many had seen this coming, when TRAI extended the deadline to 21st March 2011 in the last iteration of postponement. This time, Department of Telecom (DoT) has not been able to issue the landline number series beginning with the number ‘140’.
Another reason that might potentially delay the implementation more is (as per the Business Line article): how would security agencies identify the source of a number quickly if the STD code and initial digits are replaced by 140?
Well, you can’t do that with mobile numbers too, after Mobile Number Portability came into effect. Prior to MNP, the number number series allocation charts (which for some reason, are still up at COAI website) could be used to look up the originating circle and operator for a mobile number.
So how hard is it to create a look-up system that translates the originating ‘140’ number back to the telemarketing firm’s information?
Going by the history of postponements, this might involve a lengthy debate on the security measures (any discussion or debate on nation’s security is good; however, the Telecom lobby would want to lengthen it if they can influence it), followed by another extension of few weeks for the ‘implementation’, followed by one or the other department citing non-automated efforts which would lead to further delays, and so on.
In the meantime, the common citizen would continue to be bombarded daily with several messages and calls trying to sell him/her anything from a lottery ticket to horoscope predictions to lottery freebies to an insurance policy. The Telecom businesses would continue to chaepofy more ‘value-added-services’ to the dear customer.
Has there been any citizen demand to block completely the telemarketing communication until the implementation is ready? It would impact certain business completely relying on telemarketing for their bread, but will help increase the nation’s productivity if you save the citizens few minutes of calls and messages, and the annoyance that results afterwards. Any takers?
First things first - ‘chaepofy' is 'chaepo' + 'fy', and 'chaepna' is a Hindi (Indian language) slang for 'forcibly tag along' (it also means 'to paste with glue' in the same context).
The rumor (and reality to a big extent) has been that a substantial part of typical Indian Telecom Operators’ revenue is constituted by forcibly subscribing users to VAS (“Value Added Services”, the term used for everything provided by a Telecom Operator that is not a voice call) - think paid content for celebrity wallpaper downloads, ringtones, music, devotional messages, and a lot more.
The chaepofy business model works like this:
- Silently subscribe the customer to a value-added-service that recurs a charge every week or month. Ensure that the customer does not come to know about it, at least immediately. The money gets deducted from the customer’s account.
- Since an overwhelming majority of Indian Telecom customers have prepaid mobile connections, there is no written receipt or record of the deduction. The only ways the customer would get to know about it are: (a) if the customer keeps a close watch on his/her prepaid balance. For a lot of urban users, a deduction of Rs. 5 is less than their daily expense on voice calls, so they might not even notice it. (b) if the customer notices the actual deliverable of the subscribed service being delivered to his/her SMS Inbox (typical case).
- Whoever calls back Customer Care complaining about the ‘unjust’ deduction from their accounts, apologize politely, and refund their money. The number of people calling back, however, would be a small percentage. The rest, as it goes, would simply live with it.
- Assuming 40% people call back for refund, still retain 60% of the money you deducted. And what’s more - you get to milk these 60% again next month or next week! (along with a fresh batch of customers).
Though Telecom Operators have mechanisms for customers to check the list of deductions from their account (Airtel customers can text ‘LAST' to 121 to get a list of last 5 deductions for value-added-services), the reality is that most customers are unaware of these. One of our team members found to his surprise the deductions done for two of Airtel’s services - “Mitti Ke Rang" (text messages about city’s history) and "Friendz Chat" (more on this service in another upcoming post) - when he called up the Customer Care to enquire about non-deliverable of a service he wanted to subscribe to. The Customer Care operator on the other side of phone insisted "Why would you *not* want to use Friendz Chat? You can talk to a lot of new friends.”, though had to proceed with the refund as he stood to his stance that he did not request for these subscriptions nor did he intend to use them.
Apparently, there is a whole bunch of such customers, who have been charged on pretext of various value-added-services they have never requested, and do not intend to use. There are complaints dating back a couple of years and more, but hey, who’s listening?
This ‘business model’ violates TRAI regulations, but apart from the apathetic standard replies posted by the ‘social media’ teams at Telecom Operators (posting “Please e-mail us at … @ … to get your issue resolved" at all such complaints posted on the Internet), the businesses responsible for the ongoing fraud in the Indian Telecom space has largely gone unheeded to.
We received an e-mail today morning. The subject line said
“BlackBerry App World Report March 2011 available / Performance of [xyz] and your other Apps”
(We have replaced the name of one of our published apps with [xyz]”). Curious (always about statistics), when we opened the mail, there was the offer:
"AppWorldReport.com provides free sales and download analyses based on your downloaded reports from BlackBerry® App World™. Just upload the App World™ .csv file and you get a detailed report that you can view online or download as PDF"
For a few seconds, confusion reigned in our minds - our first impression was that this was somehow sent by the App World team itself. But then, why would the site ask us to upload the data? Scrolled down to the bottom, and found “AppWorldReport.com is not related with Research In Motion Limited in any way." Aha! Then why would we get a free analysis report / chart (screenshots were there in the e-mail)?
After a few seconds of Google, we found a post at BlackBerryInsight.com with the title “BlackBerry AppWorld Report Release – All You Need To Know To Succeed In The BlackBerry Market/Industry”, with a link to buy the overall App World report at $99.
That completes the circle. Steps to business:
- Spider App World pages and send e-mails to developers (the support e-mail of the developer is available on the App World).
- "Free" reports would entice many. Give them their free reports.
- Use the data to publish overall reports, sell for $99.
- Potentially, take customized research report orders from other developers as well, who would otherwise not get access to the download numbers (this is not apparent from their website yet, but hey, this is the logical next step!)
It would be interesting to know how many App Developers have freely shared their data CSVs. The CSVs contain detailed download statistics including the user’s country, and ISP as well, which can be used for targeting similar apps.