Conflict arises over new SFU-based sites

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WEB-social media-mark burnham

Shortly after the launch of Skalefree — an SFU-specific social networking site — a similar site called Shrumlist has been released, with the same format and target audience.

Skalefree, released on Sept. 10, markets itself as a “social discovery tool designed to connect people” in the SFU community. The site’s tools include limited user profiles and posts for finding people for various purposes, such as buying textbooks and organizing study groups.

Shrumlist, released in early October, similarly targets SFU students exclusively, calling itself “your #1 social ad listing site for university.” It allows users to post ads for similar social purposes, but without user profiles.

Skalefree creator Brian Park, an SFU software engineering student, says he is frustrated by the idea of a similar site being released directly after his, and not just because he spent his “whole summer” working on it.

“I put, like, ten-thousand hours into thinking about this and experimenting with this,” Park said, emphasizing that his website idea came from a personal drive to enact positive social change. He is upset by the idea of others taking the idea who are concerned less with solving a problem and more with getting in on “a piece of the cake.”

“I’m not [in] a position to know what really happened, but I . . . feel like the timing of their launch was a reaction to Skalefree,” Park said. “It’s just way too coincidental the way it played out . . . Why didn’t they launch earlier?”

Evan James, an SFU education student, responded on behalf of Shrumlist, saying that Shrumlist’s team began creating the site “in August and it was launched about a month later . . . it just happens to be that both websites came out around a similar time.”

Shrumlist was not created in response to Skalefree, James insists, but rather to connect SFU students. The group had been planning the site for a year prior to its release, and, he continued, “We aren’t some third-party company. We’ve put our own money up to try [and] help provide a service for SFU students.”

 

quotes1It’s just way too coincidental the way it played out . . . Why didn’t they launch earlier?” 

– Brian Park, Skalefree creator

 

According to James, the sites are very different. “Shrumlist.com is organized like a classifieds website (with a feature that allows users to leave comments) whereas Skalefree has more of a forum format,” he explained. “Shrumlist also provides an easy to use format for organizations looking for volunteers and workers . . . something that wouldn’t work as nicely on a site like Skalefree.”

But the similarities are too glaring for Park. He admitted, “If I legitimately want to innovate, then I have to accept that there might be competition.” Nevertheless, he feels that copying innovation, as he believes Shrumlist to have done, is “unethical,” and it discourages creativity.

Shrumlist’s “end goal,” said James, “is actually to transfer control of the site (transfer, not sell) to SFU administration” to provide one central information site for SFU. “I’m definitely interested in working with others, including Skalefree,” he added. However Park explained, “for collaboration, there needs to be trust and value added. I’m not sure how a collaboration is going to work in this context.”

Concerning the sites having two “very similar concepts,” said Terry Beech, an SFU adjunct professor of business administration, “there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.”

“I kind of think of the internet more and more kind of like coffee houses,” said Beech. “There’s all these niches where you can face new products that are very similar to products that already exist. It’s just a matter of whether or not you can serve an individual audience . . . outside of what currently exists.”

Competition is good, Beech suggested. He says that the groups need to embrace it, while asking themselves how they are “different from what’s currently available” and “what value are [they] providing the SFU community that keeps [them] ahead of the competition.”

“The fact that more than one person is doing this means the customers will choose their cliques and their needs. . . . Over time, one will either emerge as the dominant one, or they will both have a big enough market independently to support themselves.”