Missoula Independent on Missoulian code theft
Entry updated April 2, 2008 at 6:50 a.m.
Update: It appears that Poynter's Romenesko has also gotten word of the Missoulian design theft. But like the first comment on that post, I wish he had posted something months ago when I first published this information.
I published a blog entry several months ago on the blatant design and code theft of roanoke.com by the Web site committed by the Web site of The Missoulian newspaper. The entry perked some brows of my Twitter followers, but it didn't receive much reaction from the media community until very recently.
The Missoula Independent, an alternative weekly in the same town as The Missioulian, published a story on the incident yesterday. And while it contains a few flubs in its technical explanations, it furthers what I published with some quotes from roanoke.com Online Editor John Jackson.
Unfortunately, the Independent's calls to The Missoulian for comment were not returned. I never received an e-mail from my initial correspondence to the online editor there either.
In the Independent's story comments, I explained the difference between stealing say, the source code for Facebook, as opposed to that of roanoke.com:
What the missoulian.com did is grab the HTML, CSS and images used for the design/layout from roanoke.com. This is normally referred to as front-end code, rather than the "source code" mentioned in the Facebook case. That is more than likely the back-end code, or the code that drives the core functionality of the site.
Unfortunately, it's somewhat easy for would-be designers to steal from each other in this manner. All it takes is knowledge of how the design comes together, and how to use the "view source" option in your browser. After that, it's simply a matter of cut and paste.
Another commenter tried to make the argument that taking another site's design (and underlying markup/CSS) is akin to painting your car the same as your neighbors:
Say I liked your car's paint decided to paint mine the exact same color using the same paint; that analogy fits better....In the context of web development, design is over-hyped and should be considered more ambiguous in my opinion. Like a car's paint, it may sell itself to a few easily-entertained souls, but it is the substance - the dynamic content - that makes for a good website.
To which I replied:
I would argue that a Web site's design and interface is becoming just as valuable as the application on which it is layered. Companies spend millions on their site design because it's what users remember more often than not.
Taking another site's markup, CSS, images and layout is wrong and illegal, period. Print newspaper designers wouldn't copy wholesale the fonts, layout and design of another newspaper. And their reporters wouldn't copy the stories of another reporter.
While The Missoulian has changes slightly the design and colors of their Web site recently, it still uses much of the same CSS and overall layout as their initial design theft. Even worse, they seem in denial that they were in the wrong.
I hope that more media outlets will take The Missoulian to task for their deed, at least to make them an example of what not to do in terms of Web design.