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Is Facebook copying Google? September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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For a long time now, Facebook has offered users a way of sharing content selectively. You can construct lists of your friends, to divide them up into friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for example, allowing the possibility to share personal information only with your family.

But it was always clunky and took a lot of time to sort users into the correct lists, very few people ever actually used it, preferring instead to just trim their friends. Not any more.

Facebook has just launched an improved system called smart lists, helping to automate the process of grouping your friends together, but Google is not happy. Google launched their Google+ social network in June and one of the key features of the network was called ‘circles’ – easy to define social circles that allow you to group your contacts by how you know them.

Google is crying foul and suggesting their idea has been copied and Facebook is responding by saying that they have just improved existing functionality. Who is right and how can intellectual ideas be protected?

There are laws around intellectual property, most people know about copyright, patents, and trademarks, but it feels as if our current raft of laws are archaic and out of step with the online world.

If there really was a legal challenge over the concept of grouping your friends separately to your colleagues then it is likely that a legal battle could rumble on for years and be entirely irrelevant by the time any judgement is passed. And if that’s the case then there really is very little to protect ideas – any company that wants to succeed will ride the wave and take a chance – or face failure because of a desire to comply with pre-Internet laws.
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