Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Scrabulous Hangs On for Now (But It Should Be Hung Out to Dry by Facebook)

Apparently, rumors of Scrabulous‘s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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So far.

Although the popular Facebook widget was supposed to be taken down two weeks ago and then last week–pretty much because it obviously infringed on the rights of the owners of the popular word game Scrabble–it is still up and working on the service and allowing new downloads (I did it last night, for example).

And sources with knowledge of the situation say that it is not likely to go–for now at least–as the parties involved attempt to come to some sort of agreement about its ownership and future. In fact, those sources expect a settlement soon between the many sides involved.

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There are many sides, including its developers, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla (pictured here) of Calcutta, India; Hasbro and Mattel, the toy and game giants who co-own the rights to Scrabble; and even Electronic Arts, which has the online rights to Scrabble.

Oh, yes, and Facebook, which hosts the offending application, and which has been curiously silent despite its important role here.

Hasbro and Mattel had asked the hot social-networking site to pull it, and had also sent a cease-and-desist order to the Scrabulous creators.

Cue the quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiating.

Of course, there has been a lot of noisier wrangling with “Save Scrabulous” groups going up on Facebook created by its loyal users–there are more than 600,000 active daily ones on Facebook.

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And, of course, they love Scrabulous (a game is pictured above). Why not? It’s fun, interactive and there is a real community that has been formed around it that is passionate.

That’s exactly what social networking should be about.

But, while I might sound like a skunk at a garden party, it’s also pretty amazing that Scrabulous’s creators had the audacity to just steal the famous concept and trademark and run with it. Worse still, its proponents think that’s just great.

It’s not, because it is out-and-out stealing of a well-known brand and that shoplifting should not be the way businesses are formed in the Web 2.0 economy.

Moreover, Facebook should be among the first to crack down on this kind of juvenile behavior (curiously, Scrabulous is an actually useful app, unlike others I have derided on Facebook as more suited for toddlers) all over the service, whether it relates to music, videos or anything else its third-party developers take without asking.

Can you imagine the hue and cry if The Wall Street Journal suddenly debuted a widget called “Monopolicious!”–a rip-off of Monopoly, complete with Park Place–on Facebook?

We’ll see if Facebook will truly do the kind of house-cleaning it needs. I hope so, because it would show a real step in the growth of its corporate culture and would go a long way in creating the kind of mature platform it has the potential to be.


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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post