I'm developing software with the same purpose as Stack Exchange. I'm currently in the very early alpha stages; when I'm done I plan to release it as open source, localize it in Italian and open an Italian Stack Overflow-like website for programming question.

I really love Stack Overflow and I want my software to be very similar to it, so I intentionally took a lot of inspiration from its design and features. Before considering the main developing phase over I'm planning to implement all of SO's core features, like reputation, badges, close votes, community editing, etc. (Well, not exactly identical, for example the badges and their requirements will be different)

However I don't want to take it too far and make you guys mad (especially Jeff :P). So what I'm asking here is, are you fine with how I did things so far? Did I take "too much inspiration"?

I'm very open to make changes (as long as they are not unreasonable) if that's the community's or Jeff's wish.

Am I Allowed To Make a StackOverflow Clone?

  • 1
    It looks like the vote up, vote down, and favorite icons/graphics are copied... not sure if that's allowed? – Maxim Zaslavsky Jan 30 '10 at 5:01
  • @Maxim: I made them myself from scratch using inkshape – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 5:30
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    Yeah.... I'm pretty sure Jeff is about to set his lawyers on stun... – Jon Seigel Jan 30 '10 at 6:45
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    @Koper - doesn't really matter if you "did them yourself", if in the end it was only copying the original. – Gnoupi Jan 30 '10 at 7:16
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    @Gnoupi: iconarchive.com/show/sleek-xp-basic-icons-by-deleket/… .. This is copied as well? All images.google.com/… are copied as well? It's a green V (the universal symbol for ok) and a triangle, there aren't really any ways to do them radically differently. No jury will ever say that it's a copyright violation as long as they are not identical. – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 7:21
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    @Koper - to follow your example further, there are plenty of ways to do a "favorite" star: images.google.fr/… . And of course no jury will say it's the same as long you change 4 pixels. Why, are you already planning on a jury judging your "work"? – Gnoupi Jan 30 '10 at 7:29
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    @Gnoupi: sstatic.net/so/img/vote-favorite-on.png vs anacletus-s.wowpanda.net/img/favorited.png . Different size, different colors, different form, different border.. So I wouldn't say "changing 4 pixels". Your very own google search returned very similar icons: spark.uit.tufts.edu/media/favorite_star.gif, knol.google.com/k/knol/_/rsrc/1252618399551/system/knol/images/…, knol.google.com/k/knol/system/knol/images/icons/… (I would post more but I ran out of comment space) – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 7:38
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    @Gnoupi (part 2): ohh look, firefox copied SO's star as well: vivekp.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/firefox_bookmark.png – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 7:39
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    Google Chrome copied the little (x) mark for delete comment and use it to close tabs. SHAME ON THEM. – waffles Jan 30 '10 at 7:44
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    I am always amused at how vindictive the community are toward fellow programmers copying aspects/all of SO and how open and easy Jeff is with the whole thing. I guess people do not fully comprehend that what is here took a few man years to build. Nobody is able to build a halfway decent clone in a weekend hobby project. There is a ton hidden logic and UI touches that are far from trivial – waffles Jan 30 '10 at 7:52
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    @waffles -- yes. we all know that it would take 6-8 weeks to build a successful clone of SO. – tvanfosson Jan 30 '10 at 14:21
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    I'm +1 here. This is a good question, that needs a serious answer. The "possible duplicates" have crap for answers. – John Gietzen Jan 30 '10 at 14:42
  • @Koper make sure you have a look at some of the open source alternatives, it may make sense joining an existing project over building it all from scratch eg. gitorious.org/shapado and so on – waffles Feb 1 '10 at 2:04
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    You did only one thing well: admitting that you copied. You are showing us a shameless clone of the StackOverflow family. So, what do you expect? – Daniel Daranas Feb 1 '10 at 14:26
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    @Daniel: jeez I don't know. Jeff's answer maybe, which I got? – Thomas Bonini Feb 1 '10 at 15:10

There cannot be end user confusion about which site is which.

Copy all you want, but if two people look at the sites and can't immediately say "this one is different than this one", then we have a problem.

You must carve out your own style and "look".

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    I was hoping for a potential "bludgeon you to death with a giant S" if you do this type of answer. – Troggy Jan 30 '10 at 18:27
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    SUE HIM! BWAHAHAHAA! – Ladybug Killer Jan 30 '10 at 18:28
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    @Troggy: Now that you mention it: If the OP's site says "viewed 1 time", everybody will immediately know it's not SO. Problem solved. – balpha Jan 30 '10 at 19:16
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    @balpha: actually it does :D. Anyways Jeff thanks for the answer. – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 21:43

I would say that looks confusingly similar to a real Trilogy/Stack Exchange site. It has almost exactly the same notification drop-down. It has a very similar layout, uses diamonds to indicate moderators, and so on.

While I think that duplicating the same functionality is OK, I think making it look this close makes it confusing; you reach the "uncanny valley", where it's like a trilogy or Stack Exchange site, but not quite the same. I'd recommend spending some time coming up with a design that give you the same basic functionality, but doesn't look quite so similar.


And on an even more serious note. To quote Grace Hopper

It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission

Jeff is NEVER going to give you explicit permission to copy his baby. Nonetheless, many aspects of his baby were copied from many other sites and products (xbox, craigs list and so on)

If you get an email from him asking you to change your stylesheet or icons I would comply.


With regards to the questions posted....

Am I copying too much from the real stackoverflow?

So what I'm asking here is, are you fine with how I did things so far?
Kudos to you for being about the replicate the features and UI, I'm totally fine with it, but this question will have to be answered by Jeff and hs team.

Did I take "too much inspiration"?
Oh yes. Just ask yourself, without SO/trilogy sites, what would you have achieved? I bet it will be very different, might be better or worse, who knows? E.g. You might use timestamp instead of "nn hrs/days ago". You might use a dialog box instead of the dropping notification bar.


You would benefit from reading and actually trying to understand Code: It's Trivial.


Jeff has a crack legal team that has been known to inflict the suing on people.


Honestly, I would rearrange the elements some - maybe put the up/down votes on the right, something like that. I can look at it and know it's not a SOFU website, but I don't think I could tell the difference between it and a StackExchange site.

Also, you should change the background of the accepted answer to green, like SOFU used to do. I liked that.

  • Thanks for the suggestions. That uploaded version is old, I've already began working on making it obvious that the two websites are different following what Jeff said. – Thomas Bonini Feb 1 '10 at 2:21

You should be doing some innovation.

It's just a waste of time to do something that's already done, but you have the opportunity to take the basis and make it better.

What you can't copy is the users and leaders that make these sites a reality and full of life.

  • My goal, as stated, is to release it as open source as a free alternative to stackexchange. It would be up to the people using it for their websites to make it "full of life". I certainly won't be involved with that. – Thomas Bonini Jan 30 '10 at 21:41

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