Paper vs. Paper: How Facebook’s New App Could Crush a Startup

This is Paper, Facebook’s new app…

Imagine you build and launch a mobile app that quickly grows popular, with millions of downloads. Maybe you don’t earn enough money from your software to retire to the French Riviera, but you make a comfortable business out of it nonetheless—certainly enough to fund a team of developers and designers, as well as some funky office-space.

Now imagine a tech titan launches an app with the same name, and begins promoting it with the considerable tools at its disposal. It almost doesn’t matter if their app performs an entirely different function from yours; in the public’s mind, the name you so painstakingly chose is rapidly becoming synonymous with another company’s creation.

That’s exactly the issue confronting FiftyThree, creators of the popular Paper app. If you’ve never heard of FiftyThree, but the term “paper app” seems familiar, it’s probably because Facebook launched its own “Paper” app this week.

Paper—the FiftyThree product—started a few years back with three developers working in a New York City apartment. The resulting product, which allows users to draw, sketch, write, and color on a digital page, was listed among Apple’s best apps of 2012. Its creators claim that users have relied on Paper to draft 100 million pages.

…and this is Paper, FiftyThree’s app.

All this is to say, the original Paper wasn’t a tiny app launched without fanfare or sales into the iOS ecosystem; it was a significant product with a considerable user-base. “So it came as a surprise when we learned on January 30th with everyone else that Facebook was announcing an app with the same name—Paper,” FiftyThree co-founder and CEO Georg Petschnigg wrote in an official blog posting. “Not only were we confused but so were our customers (twitter) and press (1,2,3,4). Was this the same Paper? Nope. Had FiftyThree been acquired? Definitely not. Then, what’s going on?”

Petschnigg reached out to Facebook, which apologized for the overlap—but he’s very public about wanting a bit more than that. “There’s a simple fix here,” he wrote. “We think Facebook can apply the same degree of thought they put into the app into building a brand name of their own. An app about stories shouldn’t start with someone else’s story. Facebook should stop using our brand name.”

Complicating matters is the fact that one of Facebook’s board members has invested in FiftyThree, and Facebook currently serves as a development platform for Paper’s core product—the social network’s users have apparently shared 500,000 Paper pages over the past few years.

But with all the publicity and marketing it’s already dumped into pushing its own Paper app—which handsomely displays news from a user’s friends, as well as professional content sources—Facebook would be hard-pressed to switch the app’s name and save face. In addition, changing the name to Facebook (as Petschnigg insinuates) goes against the social network’s attempts to “fragment” its functionality among a collection of self-contained (and differently named) apps, the better to compete against popular startups such as Snapchat and… well… Paper.

 

Images: Paper, Facebook