Web imitation isn't just flattery

Whoever said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery never had chunks of his website copied word for word by an upstart competitor.

          Whoever said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery never had chunks of his website copied word for word by an upstart competitor.

          They are anything but flattered at AlertSite, a small website monitoring business in Boca Raton, Florida. Two weeks ago an eagle-eyed AlertSite employee stumbled upon a press release on the site of WebSitePulse.com, a previously unknown rival. Here are the first three sentences:

          "ORLANDO, FLA. - May 2001 - Do you know if your Web site is up? WebSitePulse.com does. WebSitePulse.com, a division of Image Project, Inc., announced a free innovative Web-based service that monitors Web sites around the clock. Site owners receive instant notification when problems are detected."

          The AlertSite employee sent a copy to public relations professional Andrea Milrad, along with a note that read, "Recognise this?"

          She sure did. Milrad wrote those exact words - save for the dateline and the company name - back in September 1999 at the launch of AlertSite's service. The rest of the release is Milrad's work as well.

          There's more. WebSitePulse.com's FAQ section is riddled with the type of ham-handed plagiarism that will land a high school student in hot water faster than you can say cut-and-paste.

          So does WebSitePulse.com have an explanation? Buzz decided to start to search for an answer by calling Linda Burton, the contact name on the pilfered press release.

          "I have no idea," Burton said. "I just answer the phones here."

          A freelance marketing guy, Nick Nichols, wasn't any more helpful, insisting that he just started working with WebSitePulse.com and would never be party to such shenanigans. (He is party to other shenanigans involving customer testimonials on the site, but we digress.)

          "If you've been on the internet for any length of time," Nichols added, "you know this kind of thing goes on all the time."

          Do tell.

          Finally, I heard from George Tudor, vice president of technology development, and - surprise of surprises - he didn't know about the rip-offs either. Nor did he act overly concerned, noting more than once that websites for similar services are likely to feature similar verbiage.

          The next day Tudor sent me an e-ail in which he promised to make sure that a new press release was posted with "wording . . . dissimilar to their release to the extent possible."

          To the extent possible? Could the man sound any more put out?

          Oh, and they'll clean up the FAQs, too.

          "Though we do not consider these similarities vital for us or for AlertSite," Tudor said, "our FAQ page is being reworked for the peace of mind of our friends at AlertSite."

          While Tudor consults his thesaurus, his "friends" at AlertSite say they are consulting their lawyers.

          Earlier this month, Disappearing Inc had in its possession a promising email management product and a clever name that gave the company a leg up in the all-important branding game.

          Now they've got only the promising product.

          The "disappearing" part of the clever name was a reference to the software's ability to set "expiration dates" on email. Reach that date and the message, in essence, disappears.

          However, Disappearing, recently began doing business under the moniker Omniva Policy Systems.

          "They needed a name that was more descriptive of what they really do: provide policy management software that enables companies to more effectively control their email and other electronic assets," says a spokeswoman. "Omniva Policy Systems reflects a broader definition of the company."

          That's called thinking too much.

          We embrace change more cautiously here. The address is still buzz@nww.com.

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