- 16 Jan 08, 13:35 GMT
Oh no. I’d finally managed to kick the Scrabulous habit – at one stage I had eight games going simultaneously – when news came through that the Facebook application was under threat from the makers of Scrabble. After a couple of months in rehab, I had to start another game – just so that we could get some television pictures, you understand.
But the bust-up over a game which is currently enjoyed daily by nearly 600,000 users is not just of interest to the addicts. It tells us something about what happens when bright young internet brands start to grow up.
Remember when Youtube was young, all those years ago? It started life by maintaining that it was merely a playground for the video activities of its users – so if a teenager posted a happy-slapping video from a mobile phone or grabbed the latest episode of Lost and puts it up for friends to enjoy, that was not their fault. Then Google bought Youtube for an outlandish sum, and both regulators and litigators realised that here was a business worthy of litigation and regulation.
So last May Facebook threw open its doors to outside developers. Immediately, it entered a new golden age where all the work of making the network more compelling would be done by keen young kids from Bangalore to Berkeley –without payment, and with no comeback if they made a mess on the carpet.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. For one thing, a zillion messy and annoying applications have spread like bindweed across Facebook, making it a much less attractive place to hang out. For another, those who are unhappy about any aspect of those applications are more likely to target what is now a $15 billion company (on paper, at least) rather than the developers.
So the letters from Mattel and Hasbro accusing Scrabulous of stealing their intellectual property have winged their way to Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, rather than to Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, the two brothers who designed it. Mind you, they are rumoured to be making $25,000 a month from selling advertising on Scrabulous, so they too will be in the sights of Scrabble’s two owners. But my point is that, as Google has already found, the early dreams of being a happy-clappy, open-source, “do no evil” kind of business soon fade when the realisation dawns that you are worth suing.
Incidentally, some friends have suggested that the demise of Scrabulous (if this is not just a clever tactic to buy up the application) is what will finally see them departing Facebook. “The end is nigh!” was a message from one. But writing this post has reminded me of its usefulness. I spoke to several Facebook friends who are developing applications, and got a message through to Rajat Agarwalla, receiving this speedy reply:
At the moment we would not be able to talk to you. However, we'll be in touch with you very soon! :)
Oh well, in the meantime, back to more serious matters. Can anyone think of a seven letter word involving the letters N,O,Y C, E, I and W?
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