Copying Leads To Competition, Competition Leads To Innovation

from the the-spirit-of-progress dept

Marco Arment, the creator of the popular read-it-later tool Instapaper, has an excellent blog post discussing copying, innovation, and the best ways to react to competition. Arment discusses a new Instapaper competitor called Readability, which launched last week and received a lot of praise for including custom fonts, something Instapaper lacks:

I could have interpreted this defensively and complacently: “Georgia and Verdana are great, versatile, highly screen-readable fonts! I don’t need to do what competitors do! Newer isn’t always better! My crusty old fonts have some technical advantage that you don’t care about!” And so on.

That would have just made me look stubborn and out of touch, failing to understand (in fact, trying very hard not to understand) why newer fonts could be attractive to customers, and failing to admit that I should have done it first.

Instead, I’m taking this misstep as a wake-up call: I missed an important opportunity that’s necessary for the long-term competitiveness of my product. So I’ve spent most of the last week testing tons of reading fonts, getting feedback from designers I respect, narrowing it down to a handful of great choices, and negotiating with their foundries for inclusion into the next version of Instapaper. And the results in testing so far are awesome. I wish someone had kicked my complacent ass about fonts sooner.

Reacting well to competition requires critical analysis of your own product and its shortcomings, and a complete, open-minded understanding of why people might choose your competitors.

This is someone who understands how innovation and iteration really work. Interestingly, when Readability was announced last year, it had a different focus and was actually going to work in conjunction with Instapaper, but then it morphed into a direct competitor. At the time, other developers tried to shame them for that, but Arment himself was unsurprised and untroubled, saying “this is a very big and increasingly crowded market, and there’s no reason why we can’t respectfully share it.”

He never tried to claim that copying was wrong or even unneighborly—not then, and not today. Arment clearly respects his competitors, recognizing what they bring to the table and using it as motivation to improve his own product. That’s the mark of a true innovator.

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Comments on “Copying Leads To Competition, Competition Leads To Innovation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In this case, it’s copy to another medium, and display it out of context. An interactive webpage loses it’s value when it’s captured and viewed without the interactivity.

Basically, this guy is in the business of copying stuff, so yeah, he likes copying. The sun rises in the East too, Mike might have to write about that stunning news tomorrow too!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

An interactive webpage loses it’s value when it’s captured and viewed without the interactivity.

Actually, an interactive webpage quite often gains value when it’s captured and viewed without the interactivity. Interactivity is not always desirable, depending on usage context, and more importantly, it’s often very badly done so that it actually degrades the usefulness of the page.

Anonymous Coward says:


Yet, Apple is incredibly innovative. Is that to say that innovation occurs without copying, that actual advances can come without slavishly copying other people’s stuff, and then putting your own logo and paint color on it?

Someone better call Masnick… he missed the boat again!

Anonymous Coward says:


You are absolutely right. Apple never copies anything. The Xerox PARC UI that Jobs saw and inspired the Mac OS UI? That’s just an Urban Legend. Jobs was apparently amused by with spreading the legend too since HE PERSONALLY TOLD THE STORY OF HOW THAT HAPPENED. Oh and the Diamond Rio? Apparently Apple must have asked them to give mp3 players a test run for them in the market before they bothered to start building iPods since they didn’t copy that either?

Really? What alternate reality did you come from?

Not an Electronic Rodent says:


It’s funny and ironic because Apple is literally the modern posterchild for exactly the opposite of the point you’re making.

Actually I’m not sure you’re completely correct there. I have a suspicion that in troll-speak “innovative” actually means “vastly profitable and litigious” or possibly “prettier and shinier than everyone elses version of the same thing”.

Anonymous Coward says:


he said “ideas” no implementation, huge difference.

A great idea is to put an accounting spreading sheet on computers, the implimentation of that idea is Access, or whatever the freetards use as their version.

A great idea is sending mail over the internet, (Email), the implementation is the method of how you achieve that.

Making a copy of how someone else implements an idea is theft… implementing your own product on an idea is how the world works.

it’s why we have patents, and copyrights and the like, it is to protect the implementation of the idea, but not the idea itself.

It’s really quite simple, unless you OD’ed on the Masnick coolaid.

Anonymous Coward says:


why do you think I would be either happy or sad about someone being sued for copying an idea ?

what they are really doing is copying the implementation of that idea not the idea itself.

Im sure you are able to show me at least one example of what you are saying, then possibly explain why someone (anyone) or me would be happy or not about that example ?

nasch (profile) says:


A great idea is to put an accounting spreading sheet on computers, the implimentation of that idea is Access, or whatever the freetards use as their version.

A side point, but I believe you’re thinking of Excel, since Access is not a spreadsheet program (also not a spreading sheet, whatever that is). Oh, and Excel is not the implementation of the idea, but just one of them, and not the first.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


The first spreadsheet was VisiCalc which everyone pretty much copied and improved on since then, even Microsoft.

And we freetards may use LibreOffice or OpenOffice.

And in the coding world, by the way, the code is protected by copyright. The idea, as you say isn’t. Which is why there are is a small flock of spreadsheets about these days.

So you get to code yourself a spreadsheet if it’s not a direct steal of the code of what you’re basing it on.

Access was a communications program and a dog at that. Now, if I remember correctly, it’s a database included in Office.

Anyway, it would be nice if you knew about copyright and how it affects programming.

As for software patents, far, far too often the DO protect the idea (i.e. One Click patent) rather than the implementation of that idea.

I’d go on but you’re stuck in a mindset glued together with SuperGlue so I don’t think I can pry it apart.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

The man is insane!!!

and a complete, open-minded understanding of why people might choose your competitors.

But all you need to know is that all people who buy or use your products are filthy sneaky freetard thieves and there can’t possibly be ANY other reason at all why ANY other product than what you, in your infinite wisdom and graciousness, choose to grudgingly give them should even be allowed to exist never mind being allowed to exist un-sued!!!!


OOooooo that was wierd I suddendly came over all AAlternative reality…..

darryl says:

copying REMOVES competition and innovation

Copying Leads To Competition, Competition Leads To Innovation


lets think about his for a second (first time for you)..

So you copy a popular movie (for example), how does that lead to increased competition ?

You have not created a competing product, how does making a copy of “star wars” create something that competes with star wars ?

you’ve created nothing, (and certainly no innovation), and you have not CREATED ANYTHING that could possibly considered as a competing product.

but if you were to create a product (another movie) called “top gun”, then you have created a competing product.

Copying does NOT increase the number of (different) products, therefore does not increase competition.

how is making a copy of a movie, from a limited selection of movies (that have allready been made) going to increase innovation ? (except innovation to stop the theft of product).

copying REMOVES competition, and restricts innovation, you should know that, and so should masnick, you will NEVER admit it though.. Just shows how little thought you have given these subjects, I guess.

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