Pinspire vs. Pinterest

It doesn’t get more blatant than this. Pinspire is pretty much a pixel-for-pixel Pinterest clone, created by the serial digital ripoff artists at Rocket Internet. It’s a bit obscene just how much of a copycat Pinspire is — from concept to functionality to the cursive-style logo. Will it be as lucrative for the Rocket’s Sawmer Brothers as their other projects, an eBay clone they sold to the real auction site for $50 million or the European deals site that Groupon gobbled up? Or will someone finally serve them with a cease-and-desist letter? If that happens, someone please pin it.

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In the world of social media, discovering that worthwhile original idea for your app or website is by far the hardest thing to get right. It’s so hard, in fact — and the field so potentially lucrative — that many parties who jump into the field tend not to bother. Why should you create something original when there are so many successful sites and services that you can just rip off?

At least that appears to be the thinking behind many Internet companies whose concepts, web design or apps appear to owe a lot to other, more successful forebears. Once you start looking, it’s not hard to find digital ripoffs. At best, they’re quirky homages inspired by a successful digital brand. At worst, they’re ersatz imitators looking to cash in on someone else’s idea — just a step or two above malware.

Perhaps that’s a little harsh. After all, the humor writer Josh Billings once said, “About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.” If you substitute “web designer” for “writer,” he may have been talking about the state of digital design today. After all, it would be impossible to find a design that isn’t at least a little derivative.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 Web Design Mistakes Small Businesses Make

Still, there’s a difference between borrowing some core design ideas and wholesale imitating. In social media, where the essential premise of connecting and sharing with your friends provides a basic architecture, perhaps the line between the two is blurrier than in other fields. After all, Facebook was called a MySpace clone, which was called a Friendster clone before that. But they are (and were) nothing like each other.

While building on existing concepts will always be part of design, so too will mimics, where the cloning is so pervasive and total that the site is nothing more than a copy of the original, merely slipped into a different skin. Here are the 10 most flagrant design ripoffs in social media today, at least to Mashable‘s eye.

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Devs, if you participate in the hacker community and make significant contributions to open-source projects, startup Work for Pie has come up with a simple way to showcase your involvement.

The WFP team has developed a score similar in ways to a Klout score. But these scores take into account things like your contributions to Hacker News, StackOverflow, Github, Bitbucket and other dev-centric communities. And if you do a lot of open-source development, all the better for your own score.

On its website, WFP states it wants to “incentivize meaningful participation and contribution. Our scoring system does just that, and soon you’ll be able to see how you stack up against your friends and against the very best. It’s an indication of your participation and performance, but it’s also a challenge.”

Of course, the startup recognizes there are many ways to measure hacker greatness, and these types of community involvement are just one way. The scores are weighted to favor involvement in and contribution to open source projects. Right now, WFP is gathering data from Github and Bitbucket and may consider adding other sites, too.

SEE ALSO: HOW TO: Hire (or Be Hired as) a Team of Devs

Some dev-centric community sites have built-in scoring mechanisms of their own, and WFP uses these scores in developing their own. For example, the algorithm takes into account a user’s StackOverflow reputation and Hacker News karma, although the latter site gets less weight overall.

WFP scores range from 1 to 100. Currently, the highest score on the site is a 79.

In addition to calculating and displaying a developer’s score, a WFP profile can also show off his or her code projects, language and framework skills, general bio, work experience, and more.

WFP allows users to very simply enter usernames to grab publicly available data from the aforementioned developer sites. The profiles also link up nicely with existing social and personal accounts on Facebook and Google.

The more complete a WFP profile is, the more it looks and behaves as an interactive coder’s resume and showcase. Here’s an example from a top-scored WFP user:

The team will eventually allow users to customize profiles with their own colors, typefaces and background images with a WYSIWYG editor.

In an email to Mashable, WFP co-founder Cliff McKinney writes, “Our immediate plans are to get the latest version of our profiles rolled out within the next two weeks and then to consider adding additional code repositories to our algorithm.”

“Eventually, of course, we want to use what we’ve built to connect companies to awesome developers and vice versa, but we’re definitely focusing on making the portfolios awesome first.”

Here’s a sneak peek at the next iteration of WFP profiles, which will also include a breakdown of the score for code, community and Q&A involvement:

Work for Pie

Work for Pie

Work for Pie

Work for Pie was part of Memphis-based incubator Seed Hatchery earlier this spring.

Top image courtesy of iStockphoto user nullplus

More About: developers, development, github, hacker news, pie, score, stack overflow, stackoverflow, web developers, work for pie

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Coding can be a solitary and frustrating enterprise, but the best thing about it is the community, which is generally waiting and wanting to help struggling programmers get past bugs and issues.

HackerBuddy is a clever, free application that capitalizes on the strength of that community. It allows web developers to find and give help in their areas of expertise — be those areas C++ or Python, SEO or marketing.

The app is simple to use, attractively designed, and with the right userbase, could be a real boon to programmers and startup types.

Hacker News and other developer-friendly forums are often littered with simple requests for help with coding or startup-related projects. These requests can fall on the wrong ears or appear at the wrong time, and giving or getting hacking help isn’t necessarily the purpose of these platforms, which are generally devoted to discussing the news of the day as it pertains to web developers.

On the site, we read that HackerBuddy will allow users to “help out fellow hackers, get the chance to beta test new apps and maybe even make friends with an awesome new startup. Tell HackerBuddy what you’re good at, and it’ll pair you up with a fellow hacker that could do with your friendly advice.”

The app matches you one-on-one with a fellow hacker and potential mentor/mentee in the subject area at hand. For example, I’m learning Java; if I choose the “Get Help” option from my HackerBuddy page, I can find a hacker to help me and chat with me about my Java challenges.

When the app matches up two compatible users, it swaps their email addresses, then “gets out of the way.” The users take over from there with an email exchange, which may evolve into phone or IM chats or even in-person meetings.

In addition to getting one-on-one help, you can also browse all users (there are currently around 1,200). We wish you could browse users by areas of expertise; for example, if I was building a Java app and needed early-stage startup and coding help, I would like the option to get both kinds of advice from the same person.

HackerBuddy was built by Dave Peiris, an iCrossing analyst, developer and SEO expert. He said the site is “a weekend project built using Ruby on Rails.” He built the app to learn RoR and writes, “There is a very large chance that this site will collapse under the weight of its own awkward code. If it does, sorry. I plan to improve it as I get better at coding in Ruby; please bear with me.”

We’re more than happy to bear with Dave; perhaps he could use a HackerBuddy of his own.

Give the app a shot, and in the comments, let us know how your experience with it worked out. Did you get the help you needed, or were you able to help out a fellow hacker?

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, pkline

More About: developers, hacker news, hackerbuddy, hackers, startups

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David Kadavy’s upcoming book concerns a topic of great interest to us and to many of our developer and entrepreneur friends: design for hackers.

His blog posts geared for folks building quick-and-dirty web apps have been hits with the Hacker News community; he dispenses sound advice for technically minded designers who need to do a good job and do it quickly.

He spoke with us via e-mail this week about the needs and pain points of would-be (or must-be) designers in the world of web development. Keep an eye on his blog for updates about his book, Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty, to be published by John Wiley & Sons.

What’s one fundamental principle of design that you think most hackers are wont to overlook?

I think many people, when consciously attempting to create a design, will worry too much about certain details that don’t matter that much.

For example, some people worry an awful lot about font choice, when really, you can get a wide variety of moods and feelings from just a few fonts. The fact that there are so many fonts available just confuses and distracts them.

The hard — and more important — part is differentiating chunks of information into a clear hierarchy, and mastering the use of proximity, size, and font weight in establishing this hierarchy is far more challenging and impactful than figuring out the exact font to use.

Do you think it’s more necessary now than it was 5 or 10 years ago for hackers to know about and be able to do their own design work?

Absolutely, and I think that’s why there seems to be an explosion of interest in design within the hacker community.

Hackers are becoming more business savvy and recognizing that good design is an important part of running a successful business. …Many hackers are finding that teams as small as one can start a startup. Everything goes faster, with less friction and with more clear vision if different skills can be consolidated into one individual.

Design is a critical tool in getting customers to trust your business, but when you’re starting with little or no money, you need to get decent design for next to nothing. So what are you to do?

Good designers are hard to find, expensive and one more person in your development process is just added friction. If you’re a single founder/hacker, you’ve taught yourself everything else about running your business, so why not learn how to design and take care of that until you can afford someone more specialized?

The problem with that is you can’t solve design issues with a couple of Google searches like you can with programming issues.

I strongly believe that the overarching trend is toward everyone learning how to design… Now that everyone can publish, everyone needs to learn to design in order to communicate clearly.

What’s one example of great hacker-created design — perhaps something that works better than its maker intended?

The first thing that comes to mind is Craigslist. It has been cleaned up a small amount, but in many ways it’s really hideous. It’s been wildly successful because it addresses a huge pain point. Additionally, the unpolished aesthetic expresses the fact that its a community-driven site that’s extremely modest, commercially.

I think many designers overlook the economics of design: that perfect design just isn’t economically feasible or necessary in every situation. I know when I was in design school, myself and my fellow self-righteous design students would rip on the poor design of something as simple as a lost dog poster, without even thinking about the economics of it. It all depends upon where the product lies within its landscape.

With Craigslist, the power of the democratization of information transfer superceded the need for beautiful design. As design savvy spreads throughout the population, however, the standard will be raised.

Is there anything that you like or that you find refreshing or amusing about how the typical hacker approaches design?

The thing I like most about working with technically minded people is that they understand the medium of the web: the whole concept of structured information, the practical limitations of CSS-based layout, SEO best-practices, etc.

The lack of this knowledge always frustrated me when working in advertising or the print design world. You still see it today, designers who were trained on print, trying to cram their design vision without regard for the spirit of the medium.

Design is — and always will be — about the transfer of information, and I haven’t met many designers whom that really excites: the fact that if you design something in harmony with the medium and use SEO best practices, your message will reach more of the people who are looking for it. Aldus Manutius rolls over in his grave every time a designer throws up a web page straight from Photoshop’s “Save for Web….”

Another thing I like about working with hackers is that they tend not to obsess over inconsequential details… If you’re just launching a product and don’t have huge distribution, it won’t make any difference to your business whether that photograph is half an inch to the left or not. You have bigger, more mission-critical things to worry about.

What’s a common mistake hackers make when throwing together UIs for their applications?

The biggest oversight I see amongst hackers and designers alike is lack of consideration for the relationship between the chunks of information and the white space around it.

If I have a header that is 16px, and below it is a subhead that is 9px, there should be some rationality to the amount of white space I have between them — maybe there should be 9px since that’s the height of the subhead. There should also be some rationality in the margin to the left of that information.

A lot of times, information is just haphazardly set on the page — lots of things that are just too close together, and it just doesn’t look right. As a result, people start using crutches like color shifts and ornamentation (such as a horizontal rule) when consideration for geometric relationships between elements and white space can go a long way in making things look nice and clean.

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More Dev & Design Resources from Mashable:

5 Better Ways to Read “Hacker News”
A Beginner’s Guide to Integrated Development Environments
10 Chrome Web Apps to Check Out
HOW TO: Make Your WordPress Blog More Like Tumblr
10 Tools for Getting Web Design Feedback

Image courtesy of Flickr, localcelebrity.

Reviews: Craigslist, Flickr, Google, Hacker News

More About: david kadavy, design, design for hackers, developers, hacker news, hackers, web design, Web Development, web development series

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