Kara Visits studiVZ in Berlin! (Yes, the Facebook of Germany–Lawsuit Pending!)
A few months ago BoomTown was in Berlin and visited a number of Internet companies there, including studiVZ, which I called “the Facebook of Germany” in the video posted below of my visit there.
As it turns out, that is apparently the illegal way to describe it, at least according to Facebook itself, which sued the German company in a California court last Friday, accusing it of making a “knock-off” of the popular social networking site.
That includes having a German version of Facebook’s popular Wall and other similar features. At least studiVZ is red, while Facebook is blue!
The name studiVZ is an abbreviation of the German word for students’ directory. Its tagline is “Bist Du schon drin?,” which translates to “Are you already there?”
Facebook has been trying to break into the German market for months now, as part of an aggressive international expansion.
But its efforts have been dwarfed by studiVZ, which was founded in 2005 and has been expanding throughout Europe. studiVZ now has 10 million users, mostly in German-speaking countries.
It also has a site for high-school students called schülerVZ and another for nonstudents called meinVZ.
Thus, a lawsuit from Facebook, which just settled a lawsuit with another startup called ConnectU (Winklevoss!) that accused Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg of stealing its original idea for a social networking site!
This just drips with irony, doesn’t it?
In any case, in its lawsuit, Facebook said it is “seeking to end studiVZ’s illegal activity to ensure that users are not confused and that Facebook’s reputation remains unharmed.”
Oh, German users aren’t confused–they just seem to like studiVZ better.
So much so that the company was bought last year by an investor, the large German publisher Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, for $112 million.
In response to the Facebook lawsuit, studiVZ said it had not yet been served with the California lawsuit and could not comment in detail.
Except it did manage to issue a statement that the “claims are without merit.”
Apparently, studiVZ is also trying to block the suit in German court too, creating what amounts to an international SuperPoking incident (called a gruscheln on studiVZ).
“Now that Facebook, despite trying hard, has not been successful in the German market, the company seeks to obstruct studiVZ through court action,” said Marcus Riecke, CEO of studiVZ. “Their strategy appears to be: If you can’t beat them, sue them.”
Added Riecke: “There are numerous social networks. Facebook was not the first and certainly isn’t the only one. By attempting to harm studiVZ through a meritless California lawsuit, Facebook is arrogantly laying claim to an international monopoly over social networking sites that the facts show it does not deserve.”
In the video below, I talk to Dennis Bemmann, one of two founders of studiVZ, as well Michael Brehm. They run the company together in a troika with Riecke.
Notice how they try not to cringe when I call their site the Facebook of Germany, and also when Bemmann takes pains at the end to say that there are a lot of things alike all over the Web.
Like studiVZ and Facebook, say?
Here’s the video (sorry about calling it studio so much and not just studi–but my German stinks!):