- By Katelyn FossettKatelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. A native of Kentucky, she has previously written for the Inter Press Service and Washington Monthly. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.
Twitter shares hit a high of $50 on Thursday in its first day of trading. It’s a sizable opening-day pop, given that the initial public offering price was initially marked at somewhere near half of that. The opening generated a lot of buzz among investors, in large part because, despite having yet to turn a profit, the micromessaging site has a staggering global reach. There are more than 230 million tweeters worldwide, and more than three-quarters of them are outside the United States. But perhaps the surest sign of Twitter’s worldwide popularity is the number of knockoffs — sometimes subtle, sometimes outrageous — that it has inspired across the globe. Below, we bring you some of the best that, unfortunately, never made it to their own public debut. Here are the top five foreign Twitter clone fails.
Futubra. There was considerable hype over "Russia’s Twitter," Futubra, which was launched in early 2012 by Mail.ru, the multibillion-dollar Russian company behind several successful Russian social networking sites. In a farewell note published on its website, the developers explained that their improvements weren’t enough for "sustained growth of the project" — a mere 11 months after its initial launch. The failure of a Twitter copycat might have been somewhat of a surprise given the comparative success of the Russian-language VKontakte, a Facebook rip-off that has a consistently top position among Russian networking sites. In an interview with Roem in December 2012, Mail.ru chairman and CEO Dmitriy Grishin conceded that the experiment, while "interesting," "went differently than planned."
Jiwai. This local Chinese variant of Twitter was "all the rage" a couple of years ago in China, according to the British IT news site the Register. Jiwai’s interface did not have the same soft blue color theme of Twitter; instead, it adopted a punchier orange that led bloggers to swear it was an entirely different micromessaging animal. But Jiwai did keep the basic "tweeting" theme by keeping a small bird in the corner. While Jiwai was shut down in 2009 after its use during uprisings in Urumqi, the popularity of micromessaging endures in China. The well-known Twitteresque site Weibo has 56 million daily users; in April, China’s eBay equivalent, Alibaba, bought an 18 percent stake in the company for $586 million. The popularity of the site might have major implications for China’s heavy-handed censorship, leading some observers to call Weibo a "democratizing force."
Frazr. The Samwer brothers, known for their investment in the German Facebook copycat StudiVZ, were also behind Frazr, the French and German Twitter knockoff. This imitation didn’t try to steal the aesthetic theme of Twitter, but it did steal the question at the top of the page from the original Twitter. "Everyone wants to know," the page says at the top in German or French, "Was machst Du?" or "Tu fai quoi?" ("What are you doing?")
Zuosa. Zuosa was one of the first sites in China’s fleet of Twitter clones. It was launched in 2007, two years before the better-known Weibo. TechNode reported in May 2012 that the site would be closing by the next month, citing inadequate resources. The site, which used the same light blue home page theme as Twitter, made pretty halfhearted attempts to mask its obvious riff, calling followers "fans" and asking the equivalent of "What’s up?" instead of Twitter’s initial "What are you doing?"
Turulcsirip. As Turulcsirip’s light blue background and bird in the upper corner of the site indicate, this Hungarian copycat was going for a full-on physical imitation of Twitter. The site “unexpectedly” announced its termination in February 2012. While there are obvious similarities with Twitter, a Hungarian Wikipedia page would like to remind you of the major differences: For instance, some of the content automatically refreshed itself, and it even had a default chat setting for instant messaging.
Apparently, a company doesn’t even have to be profitable to be the envy of the world.