It is no secret that Renren started as a copycat of Facebook. It was six years ago when Wang Xing imitated facebook and created Xiaonei (Renren’s original name) in the dream of “making a better place of the world”, as Wang Xing said so. Six years later, when we look at what renren has become along the way, we find that nearly every step it took is just another imitation. The picture below is a creative wall in facebook for its employees to write anything that come to their mind. Right in the left bottom corner, our old familiar friend shows up.
I once chatted with a friend who works in facebook. I asked him,”Do you know that there is a Chinese facebook here?” He chuckled,”yeah, sure. We not only know about it, but also do some little experiments to test their imitation rate. For example, one time we changed the color of css to a very small extent that no human eye can recognize it, and then we examine the time takes for renren to follow this change”.
Does it sound ridiculous to you? Why does renren keep imitating? Let us first think about the reasons why imitation started at the first place. When a good creation invented, the society can gain the maximum benefits if everyone has the ability to enjoy the conveniece of the invention, and that gives rise to imitation. Soon, there will appear numbers of the copies, which will be eliminated to only limited number by natural competition if no government protection exists. Moreover, we should take note that “inaccessibility” here is the most important factor that contributes to the popularization of certain creation. It is the inaccessibility of facebook in China that contributes a lot to the large scale of renren nowadays.
It seems like we have deviated from the topic; however, what I am trying to say is that renren’ first imitation is natural, but the latter ones are of no point. They do not have to do exactly what facebook did. It seems like imitation has already been a habit for it.
Have you ever heard of a famous case in China, the battle of geniune and sham kaixin website, which has lasted for years? Renren and the fake kaixin (kaixin.com) are both subsidiaries of a company called Qianxiang. The real kaixin (kaixin001.com) is another social networking site started by a very small start-up, and it were well recerived for its little games. It has attracted thousands of adults in the workplace compared to renren’s user—college student. Kaixin has since grown into a strong competitor of renren. Surprisinly, the strategy renren took to fight back is to buy the ownership of kaixin.com and create an totally identical website as kaixin001.com. Because of the trick, many new customers are attracted to the fake kaixin and never knew about it. Qianxiang then combines the fake kaxin and renren’s accounts in sync. It only took months to for renren to allure the customers back. As the geniune kaixin sued in court, it was 30,000,000 number of users that renren has stolen from it. The real kaixin has won the case, but the loss is grievious. It was no longer a strong rival of renren.
Some people rebuked renren for being so cruel to a start-up, others are indifferent because ”it is business”, but is it right for renren to do so? Let us evaluate on an ethical ground.
The stakeholders involved in this case are users, real kaixin, sham kaixin and other companies in the social networking industry. For the majority of users, it may seem no different to use the real or the fake one. However, in the long run, the creativity may be restricted if new start-ups are in disadvantage. Thus, users might have fewer interesting websites to enjoy. (a harm). Nevertheless, the value of a website increases as more people use it. Once the demand takes off, in other words, reached a tipping point, it will grow exponentially. As a result, if renren has more users, the users will enjoy more when networking (a benefit ). Looking from the industry’s point of view, creativity may be discouraged for small start-ups (a harm), but it is not necessary. The real kaixin has won the case, thus it may stimulate some legislation regarding imitation (a benefit). Then start-ups can grow in a more protected environment (a benefit). Last but not least, the benefit of real and sham kaixin has balanced themselves.
Hence, we conclude that it is ethical for the fake kaixin to do so.
The fake kaixin was treating the real one as a means to an end (attract more uses), so it was using the real kaixin for its own benefit, which disobeys the Kantian rule. Hence, it is not eithical.
We have reached opposite conclusion using the two theories. That is often the case when evaluation an action in reality. Here, I decide that despite the legal aspects, the fake kaixin is ethical although the action is not morally right in itself.
In conclusion, imitation is good way to learn and grow, but I hope renren can come up with something that truly original, and that is the real engine for a website that has the ambition of “making the world a better place.”