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In case you haven't seen it already, http://www.cnprog.com is a straight-up rip-off — in terms of style and functionality — of Stack Overflow, but in Chinese. This may or may not be right/legal; I am not sure what the Creative Commons license on this site covers.

As programmers, do you ever copy someone else's design and functionality like this?

Has someone ever copied your design and functionality like this? What did you do about it?

Is anyone else excited that they've released the source code for their site (which is powered by Django and jQuery)?

To obtain CNProg's source code (requires Subversion):

svn checkout http://cnprog.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ cnprog
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Oct 14 '09 at 21:05

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

19 Answers 19

In case you have seen cnprog.com is a straight up rip-off in terms of style on and functionality of StackOverflow but in Chinese. This may or may not be right/legal cause I am not sure what the creative commons license on this site covers.

I'm pretty sure it's legal because the CC license is pretty liberal, and in any case you can't copyright an idea.

As programmers do you ever copy someone design and functionality like this?

As TS Eliot said "Beginners copy. Mature artists steal." You bet; I don't know how many times I've coded a web site with a side menu, for example.

Has someone ever copied your design and functionality like this? What did you do about it?

Once or twice, and mostly I preen a little bit and add a line to my resume about how my innovation has been adopted elsewhere.

Is anyone else excited that they are going to release the source code for their site (which is powered by django and jquery)?

Probably.

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I like your response to the copying. Not only is it kinda flattering, it's a good resume booster. –  Jason Christa Mar 29 '09 at 17:11
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Good response. One gets angry pretty fast about copycats, but doesn't realise one also uses others ideas and takes them from granted as they are freely used all the time. –  Zka Mar 29 '09 at 20:57
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Between this response and <a href="stackoverflow.com/questions/692832/owning-up-bad-code/… response</a>, I think you have become my #1 hero. I wonder what Clint Eastwood is going to do w/out me :) –  Aaron Mar 30 '09 at 2:24

cnprog team did suggest to StackOverflow a collaboration effort before they came out with a clone. But unfortunately StackOverflow didn't have localization on their roadmap, so the cnprog had no choice but to go on their own.

I am very impressed, but apparently the guys who closed my question weren't. To those who are angry, maybe you should

  1. Think about those Chinese programmers who can't read English.
  2. Modify StackOverflow so that it supports multiple languages and local communities

That would be more useful than sitting there and complaining all day long.

http://www.cnprog.com/questions/59/请问cnprog跟stackoverflow的关系是什么?

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From the comments in the source good an english speaker wrote it and someone provided a translation. I wonder if .net mvc has good internationalization features like that? –  Jason Christa Mar 30 '09 at 1:40
    
Hey, I can't link to cnprog... is the domain banned here or what? –  Graviton Mar 30 '09 at 1:47
    
Nope, I added the link for you. –  alex Mar 30 '09 at 1:59
    
Ah, StackOverflow can't support chinese characters in url... –  Graviton Mar 30 '09 at 2:11
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Don't understand why this got a downvote... –  TM. Mar 30 '09 at 2:26
    
"cnprog had no choice but to go on their own" - I think this is beyond just doing it on your own! It's clearly infinging on SO's IP. –  John MacIntyre Mar 30 '09 at 3:04
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@JM: please elaborate on how they are "clearly infringing" on SO's IP, which, and I quote the CC license SO links, is "free: to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work" and "free: to Remix — to adapt the work". –  Andrew Medico Mar 30 '09 at 3:51
    
I don't think the design of the site is free to copy and distribute –  Click Upvote Apr 10 '09 at 13:28
    
It is, you may want to see the above answers –  Graviton Apr 11 '09 at 6:01
    
The guys at stackoverflow are not obligated to release or do anything they don't want to do. Just because the cnprog team wanted to get involved doesn't mean anyone has to work with them. Considering that they are not really building their own but cloneing the site down to the CSS shows they would not have been a trustworthy group to have partnered with in the first place. –  Stradas Apr 17 '09 at 14:16
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Hey, I can't read CNProg in english. Yet you say we're complaining when cnprog is creating the same issue. Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black? –  asp316 Apr 17 '09 at 14:52

Stackoverflow while nice is no massive technical achievement. What seems to make it so invaluable is the community based around it - which cannot be copied.

Also is this site loclised in Chinese? If not then nothing to complain about really.

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Also, if SO ever does localize to Chinese ... cnprog.com will probably be abandoned. +1 –  John MacIntyre Mar 30 '09 at 3:09
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Doubtful. Chinese culture is very difficult to appeal. –  Alex. S. Apr 17 '09 at 14:59
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@John you can't localize a forum easily. You can localize the structure, menus, etc. But what will you do with the questions, answers and comments? All SO could strive to create is a parallel page in Chinese, which would add little or no value to the page mentioned in the OP. –  Daniel Daranas Apr 23 '09 at 8:58

Here's a very interesting article about "Why Does China Copy Designs".

While I agree that it is at the very least irritating to have a website copied icon by icon, in Chinese culture, its really about the fact that “copying is the greatest form of flattery”. Trust me, they do not waste their time copying the market failures.

And in that spirit I copied the last part from the article ;)

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That is a fascinating article –  bvmou Apr 2 '09 at 22:54
    
Interesting article, but I'm also interested in what Chinese opinions are of the western idea that copying is (to a varying degree) bad form and can even be offensive. How do we respond to disregard? –  Derek E Apr 17 '09 at 15:17

Very nice.

Though they may need to watch what they stick in svn... settings.py (that is, if those are actually the db connection details. if it were me, they'd be faked when stuck in svn)

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I disagree with most of the posts. This is no imitation, it is copying.
Ask your math teacher what she or he would have thought if you were flattering a better student by imitating his/her test answers. CNPROG are test cheats. Yes, they are showing their work, but they are still stealing the answers.

I like to share ideas but I don't want all of my work taken from me. While the patent system has been abused, the reason we have patents is to protect the inventor from people making copies of the idea and muscling someone right out of the market with their own idea. People should be allowed to have ideas that do not belong to the world as soon as it exists.
What if it was an English version that looked identical instead of Chinese? Is it still ok? What if Oracle built a clone and pushed StackO into irrelevancy before it had a chance to reach critical mass. Not everything has to be open source. It is not a sin to make money. I believe it is ok to get credit for your work and benefit from it. We are members of the community, the community does not own us. (That may be a philosophical difference from some mainland Chinese beliefs and is not meant in a derogatory way.)

Stack overflow is not a clone of Expert's Exchange, it is an innovation of the Q and A concept. That is the spirit of why many of us innovate. I don't want to innovate if everything I do gets taken from me.

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You cannot patent ideas, nor can you copyright them. An English clone of SO would be perfectly legal as long as it did not outright copy the source code. Honestly, ideas are a dime a dozen. And if you work hard to make that idea come alive and continually improve it, you don't have to fear clones. –  Michael Borgwardt Apr 23 '09 at 9:54
    
Should the design for the Ipod be open source? China has made a lot of clones of it and they sell them on the black market here. You can too patent ideas. Techniques and designs are what gets patented. You don't need to build a device to get a patent unless the claim is outrageous like propetual motion. –  Stradas Jun 24 '09 at 14:01
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Then Slashdot should sue SO for them copying the karma points idea. Usenet should sue for the idea of questions and answers, –  Martin Beckett Aug 9 '09 at 2:56
    
MGB, Are you implying that those ideas were patented? I don't think anyone would take the extreme stance that all ideas are patentable or should be. Patents are intented to allow people to profit from there own ideas to encourage people to take the risk to create something. Sure it is abused, but the intention is to protect the inventor not abuse the public. –  Stradas Aug 17 '09 at 13:33

Yes, I'm impressed. Not every Chinese programmer can understand English. In fact, most can't. So why aren't they allowed to enjoy the power of information and knowledge like those in SO?

It's not as if SO is going to launch a Chinese version tomorrow anyway, so morally I don't see any problem with that.

As for it's legality, I'm not too sure because I don't know what license is the CSS under. But according to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/ they are free to share and to remix, and I believe that they did comply with the 5 conditions.

Their decision to release their source is a plus.

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SO is a very good concept, its UI is very intuitive and it serves a very useful purpose. SO is also available only in English. SO will be duplicated many, many times. How many sites now duplicate Myspace, twitter, ebay or more almost to a T?

I am hoping that the new Linux.com web site has something similar to SO, it would be so useful.

Emulation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I would (as a Dad) be delighted to see and use a site like SO devoted to parenting topics. Once that happened, surely German, Russian and Chinese centric sites would spring up.

Unless someone can show me a pond that does not ripple?

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I don't condone the blatant ripping off of the Stackoverflow design.

However, I do like that they released the source and I'm interested in seeing how they implemented some of the things with Django + jQuery. These things don't cancel each other out but I do appreciate them sharing the work they have put into re-writing SO.

I do hope that Stackoverflow is officially open sourced one day. I also hope that database dumps are provided of the questions/answers. Being able to take a database dump of the questions/answers and make an "offline" Stackoverflow for when internet connection isn't feasible would be great.

I often go on multi-week trips and am often on boats and land locations where internet connection is spotty at best. It would be nice to fire up SO to look for answers in a downloaded version. I mean we technically are already allowed to do this ourselves, but I'd rather not scrape SO for both their and my own sake.

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I think "offline programming information" is called "books". At least that's what we used to call it. I wore an onion on my belt, as that was the style at the time. :) –  Bill the Lizard Mar 30 '09 at 2:20
    
@Bill the Lizard, aye, I bring relevant books. But it would be hard to beat the SO q/a's. 95% of the time my question has been asked before . –  Simucal Mar 30 '09 at 2:48
    
@BilltheLizard: you can't ctrl+f a book, offline != non-electronic. –  Lie Ryan Jan 20 '12 at 7:30

Somewhat impressed. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

They've obviously had to reimplement all the code (interestingly, they chose quite a different platform in Django). Given that I'm typing this on a computer which important parts of derive from this kind of thing (the BIOS being reverse engineered from IBM's, for example, which one could argue is not totally dissimilar), it would arguably seem a little hypocritical to condemn them :-)

My assumption is that Joel, Jeff and their minions aren't so bothered since SO is English-only. If they'd localised a Chinese version I'm sure CNProg wouldn't even exist.

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We had a site almost completely copied - even to the date on which it was launched (which was clearly nonsense on the imitators site).

We didn't really care. Imitation is the best form of flattery - and the only way, as a smallish company, to stay ahead is to continually come up with new stuff that our customers want to buy. Unless you are Microsoft et al., you can't really get bent out of shape about it as pursuing a legal solution would use up too much time/resources.

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I tend to agree with Techdirt on there matters: Protecting Copyright Often Seems To Fly In The Face Of Good Business.

Good imitations increase the value of SO. Bad imitations won't even get noticed.

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The most valuable part of SO are the questions and answers. Did they copy all the questions and answers and have them all translated into Chinese?

I doubt so. ;)

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Theres not really much of an option. Either take it gracefully ("imitation == flattery") or get angry and be a bit of an ass. What good can come of being angered by this? Your "best" outcome is just closing down a programming site in the chinese language and what exactly is the benefit in that (aside from the satisifcation of legal dick waving)?

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As programmers do you ever copy someone design and functionality like this?

Sometimes I do copy bits and pieces from here and there. This is not a bad thing, you can't possibly recreate all the knowledge of the human kind since the beginning of time.

You always build on other people's knowledge and ideas.

e.g. Is it a bad thing for linux to have a desktop with applications running inside "windows"? Windows itself copied the idea from Mac, I heard.

Has someone ever copied your design and functionality like this? What did you do about it?

If that happened I'd be happy and proud of my self, that people copy me is a testimony to my achievement. Might even put it on my resume or something.

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However.. there is a English version of this site : http://pantofla.webfactional.com/

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Now the people are going to say the most Forums are illegal copies of the first Forum ever coded. This does not sound appropriate. Instead of appreciating their efforts, we are discouraging it even when their technology is totally different... It's like if a forum has been designed in asp.net first, it can not be developed in any other language or any other developer.

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I disagree with completely ripping off every element of a site. People being able to build a similar site is good for competition, but they should at least contribute some innovation by designing their own layout. I think what this shows is that current copyright law is a failure - allowing big companies to copyright ideas and block everyone else from using a single feature (such as Amazon's 1-click), while allowing other companies to completely rip off a site without consequence.

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I think that it is not the first rip-off and i believe that there will be more.

What will make stackoverflow.com special is the quality and "level" of the users posting and answering questions on it.

I believe that it is the users that will make the difference in these type of sites. So to answer your question I am neither angry or impressed.

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