Copycats, Ideas and Execution

It’s been a week of copycat allegations, with Google accusing Microsoft of cribbing Google search engine results by monitoring and acting on the browsing habits of Bing toolbar users.

To my mind, it’s a fairly boring flareup, but one which, when combined with the Chatter tests that my fellow labsman Cameron Sturdevant has been conducting this week, perfectly set the stage for this copycat allegation video from enterprise social collaboration vendor Yammer, which CIO Insight’s Susan Nunziata called to my attention (via Chatter, no less):

Yammer is poking fun here are for copying its Twitter, but in an enterprise, idea–the situation is a bit different than the Google/Bing dustup, since Google is not claiming that Microsoft has copied the search engine idea, but rather its specific search engine index results.

What the two cases have in common, however, is the alleged copying can’t, in either case, be enough to win the day–ideas are cheap, it’s execution that’s important. I suppose I judge a search engine on the quality of its results–if the results were terrible, I guess I wouldn’t use it–but it wasn’t Google’s results that led me to start using that search engine back when Google was breaking into the business. I used Google because of its spartan interface, and its unobtrusive text advertising. Never have I been invited to punch the monkey over at, and I value that.

Of course, UI isn’t all that matters, particularly in case of a product like Chatter or Yammer, where the capacity for drawing a community of users is most important. Over the past few months, I’ve tried out three private Twitter clones:, Yammer, and Chatter. Right out of the box, has most appealed to me–it has great features and I value its open source licensing, but it’s also the service that drew the least sign-up interest from others in the company. For a communication tool, that’s a problem.

Yammer fared better, and offered a nice set of features, but the uptake edge so far goes to Chatter. It’s probable that the Salesforce brand name has a lot of do with this–Google, at this point, has a similar advantage–gravitating toward the big name seems like the way to go, and when a big network matters, that’s a powerful advantage.

You can argue that Salesforce has earned this advantage, even if, when it comes to Chatter, they’re a copycat. Salesforce has established itself as a bedrock enterprise cloud application vendor, and for a potential user base uninterested in signing up for yet another short-lived social network, the brand name matters.