Pretty sure you know the story by now. Dustin launched Svbtle as an invite only blogging network that uses it's design as insignia of "guaranteed to be great" content by being open only to "vetted" bloggers.
The initial release was sadly filled with a lot of snob and arrogance. The Hacker News community in particular did not like it and Nate Wienert created something similar in a lot less time without the nifty animations. He cheekily called it Obtvse. It was not an attempt to benefit by copying the idea but just a response to the arrogance, I think. Also the idea of a minimalist blogging platform is not unique at all. None of this is unique but as a whole it is unique.
Based on the discussions on HN, a sad feeling I get is people honestly believe that copying code is different from copying design. It is not. It is as bad and is still copying. Just like every programmer loves their implmentation/logic more than the actual code, every designer loves the idea/implementation and how it all fits together over the actual assets/images. So if you are defending how you did not copy a design, do not tell you did not copy the assets or CSS or code to justify your stand.
At the same time, once you release something on the web, you at least partially lose control. In this case Dustin lost contol of his idea and also the design's minimalism. People who admired it or wanted something but were not invited, sought to build something for themselves. Hopefully over time Nate's product will find a voice and design that is rightfully unique shaped by the open source sommunity it aims to cater to. Frank Chimero has something great to talk about it:
I think once you publish something, you lose control of it. At worst, you inspire mockery and parody. At best, you become material for future work, because what you’ve made is successful, interesting, or relevant. Usually, it is both.
All work produces spill-over repercussions that usually go against the will of the work’s creator. The creator wishes to retain authorship and control the work, while those in the culture wish to use, transform, and remix it. If the work is truly successful, it will defy authorship and turn into a shared experience for everyone. Those works are the hardest to control, because they diffuse, and spread wide by permeating into the air. The become a shorthand for those who make or enjoy similar work, becoming a shared vocabulary.
The situation requires things from both those who create the work, and those who wish to use it.
For the initial creator, they must resign most control upon publication, especially on the internet. Their work will be used to say and do things they don’t intend. Ideas, in truth, go further when others carry them, and this usually means they will go in directions the original author did not intend or imagine. For instance, I’ve had a quote of mine (“People ignore design that ignores people.”) taken out of context and used to justify two completely contradictory design methods. So it goes.
For those that use the things made by others, they should credit where possible, and have their work be transformative in some way. They can carry the ideas of others, but they must to take it further or a new direction. Then, they are obliged share alike. To not do both is to go against the goodwill initiated by the work’s creator.
And for both, we should recognize that all creative processes use materials from those who came before us, and respect the meaningful influence of others. We’re part of a long line of people who make things. It is a privilege to get to use the work of others in our own.
Regardless, I honestly saw this coming the moment I read the HN discussions. If only Dustin had toned down the opinionated release, the backlash would not have been this bad. Something we all should note especially when doing side projects.
Be good and treat others like you would like to be treated.
Disclaimer: I had asked Dustin back in end Jan if he were planning to make his blogging platform public. He said he was looking for beta testers and got back to me showing screenshots of what is now Svbtle. I was looking for a simpler blogging platform so I said I yes. He never responded back and I have since, found something that works pretty well for me. As and when I find time, I will make a fork of Pelican (it is what I use for my blog) that makes the act of writing posts and keeping them in cloud more cohesive than just Markdown files being synced and also make the Dropbox setup simpler and release. It might not be Open source, but will be open. Let me know if you more people are interested in this.
Interesting Read: Svbtle vs Obtvse (and on copying)