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Google lights a Campfire...

This week Google launched their App Engine Platform to add their hand to the collection of products and services provided by large and small providers of web frameworks. As a developer of just such a framework still in steath, the announcement is not a surprise (if it is to any of the other guys they may have a few things more to worry about) but with this announcement Google also announced a few "proof of concept" applications built using their App Engine. To demonstrate the ability to build apps quickly, three of their developers are said to have worked on their "spare time" to create a free web group chat application called HuddleChat very much like the service provided by 37Signals Campfire product. I am quite familiar with Campfire as in my initial research for developing a collaboration API in my framework 2 years ago I came across their website. The product serves a simple purpose of allowing a team of individuals to come together and converse in a chat room while sharing files collaboratively. It is precisely this simplicity that has made the product vulnerable, the technology needed to create such an app makes it simple to reproduce with other technologies. There is very little in the way of innovative distinction in the Campfire product that can prevent others from copying the functionality. Also, as far as I know the product implementation may not have any patents behind its technology. True enough, Google's Huddle chat is inspring some controversy in the blogosphere for how closely it mirrors both the look of Campfire and its functionality.

Having designed a collaboration tool that encompasses all the functionality provided by Campfire and Huddle Chat but includes a patent pending set of technologies critical to the scalability of the implementation I wonder why 37signals felt entitled to complain. It is clear from looking at the interfaces that they are layed out similarly but I wouldnt call one a clone of the other, Google could have used a different layout (say like parachat, meebo or userplanes for example) but the main fact that they are all using the same simple implementation method to make the chat work is common regardless of the interface. The machine behind is what needs to be unique and protected. If it is novel and efficient, it will allow a company to compete with established players and gain traction without fear of strong competition for a period of time that will allow them to hopefully thrive. This is what I hope to do with my product which will soon be coming out of stealth. I look forward to seeing if Google can "throw together" a scalable competitor to my service when I do...just so long as it takes them about a year or two to get it out there;).

Bring on the competition I say!

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