Google pulls real-time chat app

Google removed an application it created on its App Engine service after some people complained about its similarities to an offering from 37Signals.

The buzz around Google's App Engine hasn't died a day after its launch, although not for the reason that Google probably would like.

Late on Tuesday, the same day that Google launched the hosted Web applications service, it pulled a demonstration application designed to show how customers might use the service. HuddleChat was a real-time chat application that some said looked and worked remarkably like a similar service, Campfire, created by 37Signals.

"The App Engine team was looking for some sample apps to help kick the tires on their new system, so we invited Googlers to build some as side projects," Pete Kooman, product manager on Google's App Engine team wrote as a comment on a blog post about the controversy. But since Google began hearing complaints from the developer community, it decided to take the service down, he wrote.

The HuddleChat Web page now carries a similar explanation.

While 37Signals issued a statement after seeing HuddleChat, saying that it was disappointed that Google chose to essentially copy its product, it didn't ask Google to take down the application and hasn't had any contact with the company, said Jason Fried, 37Signals founder, in an e-mail. "As far as it being necessary for Google to pull it, that's something only Google can say. They did what they felt was right," he said.

Fried said he didn't know if there might be any copyright or legal issues related to software interface design that might be relevant to the situation.

The ensuing hubbub since Google pulled the application is "overblown," he said. "The story quickly incited passions on all sides and took on a life of its own. We just said a few words, the rest of the Web said a few thousand," he said.

Web users continue to debate whether Google should have pulled the service. A "Bring back Google HuddleChat" Facebook page has 367 members decrying the loss of the service.

"Since when have innovators become cry babies," Balaji TT, a member of the Facebook group, wrote. "If it took three (or even less) developers to build this in [their] spare time... what is 37Signals crying about?"

Another member seemed less concerned about HuddleChat in particular, and more about what kind of precedent the move sets. "I don't like the fact that Google is now in the business of censoring web applications developed on its services. Why would anyone use it to build an application when Google can take it down whenever they want?" Jay Turley wrote.

Some bloggers have taken a different stance. They are displeased about HuddleChat's similarities to Campfire. "Borrowing ideas is fair game, but copying an entire app is wrong," wrote Daring Fireball's John Gruber.

"Hmmm... Where have I seen HuddleChat before?" is the headline to a post by John Paczkowski on the All Things Digital blog.

The controversy around HuddleChat isn't quite the outcome Google apparently hoped for when it decided to pull the application. "Rather than divert attention from Google App Engine itself, we thought it better to just take HuddleChat down," Google's Kooman wrote in his comment.

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