What isn’t working – Sweeble and Bubblews

What I’m listening to as I type:Nebraska

 

So, this is where the story starts. I get this email from a bloke called Mike asking if I’m interested in selling my sweeble.com domain to a client he’s got. So I says “maybe” and “what are you offering?”. So he says “$500”. So I says “No”. So he comes back with “$2,000”.

At this point I google Mike, and his employers Domain Holdings and I start thinking: “Do I even want to sell it?”

I haven’t considered it before. This is sweeble we’re talking about – my sweeble. My sweeble! It isn’t just a domain, it’s who I’ve been for the past nine years.

But I’m sitting there, in a half-built house, with two jobs, no savings and my second grandchild on the way. So maybe it is time to stop with the start-up bug. Maybe it is time to sell my asset.

I tell Mike how much the domain means to me and that my interest in selling would “start at five figures”. He offers $10k – and I start to panic.

 

Will the real slim shady…

I’m going to go back a bit further. Because you need to understand why I was panicking, rather than popping corks.

Back in 2006, I was news editor at a Northern daily and I had this idea that news shouldn’t only be something written by a journalist: people should be helped to write their own stories; their own news.

Anyway, I started working on an idea for a user-generated news website: sheets of lining paper taped to the bedroom walls with scribbled ideas that made me excited to wake up every day.

Sweeble arrived one hot summer’s evening that turned to warm rain over a jug of pina colada in my Saltaire backyard.

I left newspapers and started the first Sweeble and six years of work that would leave me £100k out of pocket but really, truthfully be worth every penny. Because it is such, such a buzz starting up your own thing.

 

sweeblehp2Anyway, Sweeble 1 did ok but not great. This was 2006 – Facebook had only just opened its doors to all-comers; Twitter was newly-born and we just weren’t the social sharing folk then that we are now.

People wanted me to write their stories for them; they didn’t have the confidence to do it themselves. For a while I got around it by doing just that, and by paying expenses to volunteer writers to deliver stories. But it was like knitting with jelly – I just couldn’t get traction.

I got a dog.

Over long muddy walks I came up with a new idea. Rather than helping people to write their stories, what about helping them print them?

The lining paper was taped to the (by now different) walls and I planned out the self-publishing platform I would turn Sweeble into.

Sweeble the self-publishing platform launched in beta in 2009.

sweeblewebpage_chosenBut it proved to be an extraordinarily difficult build and four years later I had to shut it down as the tech failed further with each new browser iteration. As I wrote at the time: “Tying my tooth to a slamming door would hurt less.”

 

Please stand up…

So, back to Mike and his $10k and my mixed feelings.

I’d said five figures but $10k isn’t five figures: I’m in the UK, I think in pounds and $10k is only £6k-ish. So I tell Mike that and ask for £10k and chuck in the .net domain by way of apology for coming over all English on him.

Mike goes quiet.

A few days later, I get an email from a woman called Melanie who politely asks me what the link is between me and Bubblews’s new app called Sweeble?

Whoa, Nelly!! Where the salt fish did this come from??!!

Google, google…

It came from here

It came from here

 

Something called Bubblews was about to launch an app called Sweeble – but on the domain sweebleapp.com (bought five days before Domain Holdings first emailed me).

Bubblews co-founder Arvind Dixit was chattering about Sweeble online; there was a Twitter profile and other stuff…

DixitSweebleI confirmed with Mike that his buyer had dropped out; created a page on sweeble.com to mark out my territory; let Melanie know, and let Dixit know.

Dixit’s reply to my first dm to him basically side-stepped the issue. He may or may not have read my post; he may or may not have been behind the earlier bid to buy the domain – either way his response was friendly but.. “We came to this name [Sweeble] because it’s like Bubblews spelt backwards in a way.”

My ownership of the domains didn’t matter. My ownership of the UK trademark, and the UK Limited company didn’t matter. My very public history of creating, developing and working with the brand in relation to user-led content didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that the owners of Bubblews thought swelbbub sounded like sweeble. So bugger off me.

 

Please stand up.

And here’s where the story is today. I’ve replied to Dixit and formally asked Bubblews to stop using the name Sweeble. I gave them seven days to respond. Ten days later they haven’t and are still calling their app Sweeble.

All they needed to do was add a random letter or stick with Swelbbub! Or Swubble, or Bleeble, or Slobble!

Anyway. Calm. Let’s just put all that emotional stuff about me and Sweeble in a box for a while. Let’s just park it.

I said somewhere near the top of this post about the domain being my asset. And it is – mine to sell, use, barter or do what I like with. What on earth’s the point of intellectual property rights if, when it comes down it, you can’t actually stop anyone from just deciding to use that cool name you thought up, and used, and bought licenses for and did all the stuff you were told to do at Seedcamp?

What happens when I decide to use Sweeble for my next project? What if I launch my own Sweeble app? Or a third company does?

Someone asked me why I’m bothered – if their app takes off, my domains increase in value. Well, only to someone who might want to own it rather than just use the name with a different domain. Either way it makes it difficult for me to use it.

Someone else asked me why I don’t just sue Bubblews?

Because real life doesn’t work like that. I’ve been quoted upwards of £30k to take them to court. Even notifying the app stores if they try to launch Sweeble in the UK will cost me time and several hundred pounds in fees.

My trademark would stop them selling an app called Sweeble in the UK but wouldn’t stop them selling it on App stores in any other country, or stop them from offering it for download direct from their website.

I’m not McDonalds, realistically all I can do to try to protect my IP is to write stuff like this and make a fuss. And perhaps that’s what Bubblews’s bosses presumed.

(“Hey Joe, there’s this woman in England says she owns the name.” “Is she doing anything with it?” “Doesn’t look like it.” “Can she sue us over here?” “Doubt it.” “Forget her. Where are we with the launch budget?”)

But I am mightily pissed off. And I’m going to shout out my rage with the fury of a thousand grandmothers.

Do not ignore me: I own Sweeble.

This is my line in the sand.

Pic credit Dean Toh

Pic credit Dean Toh

 

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19 thoughts on “What isn’t working – Sweeble and Bubblews

  1. !!! Arvind & Jason have well and truly ripped people off around the world by now. Young men, full of hubris. Very bright. No notion of karma….

    They’ve been traced to Virginia. I am sending this link to my U.S. Congressman. Unfortunately I have no idea what he can do with it, either.

    (I earned $150+ on Bubblews. I received $50 and “wait’til we have the money ourselves, then we’ll pay writers” followed by “Unfortunately we don’t intend to make any of the remaining payments due from the year 2014.” So I e-mailed my Congressman in January that …there really ought to be a law about this kind of thing.)

    • Dixit has ripped off thousands of people. And he will do it again. He wants this name, and being a crook doesn’t care if he infringes your copyright…

      If you google Dixit you’ll find out more than you might even want to know.

  2. Please contact me. I have 2yrs experience with Bubblews and have a suggestion that may put you back on the map, not only with your Sweeble name / product but also earnings and I would like to help if I can. Arvind and his little clan have screwed thousands of people (I was one of them). I am also creating 2 of my own Social Networks. You can contact me through Facebook or through email (Facebook is much faster though).

  3. GOOD FOR YOU!!! Fight that * site Bubblews for they have regularly * so many things to launch their product. -Educate them!!
    *[edited]

  4. Oh hey, this too: -if money is what you need to do this, consider opening an account at “gofundme.com” and write about this, link to this, etc.
    Concerned readers just may come to your aid with donations. It has happened before, -sometimes magnificently!

  5. You are dealing with people who don’t care about others. Do you know they decided NOT to pay their writers – all the people who made money for them – for a period of nearly two months time? Members who had, maybe 250.00 in their “banks” woke up one day to find it had shrunk to – if they were lucky – a hundred dollars. Other members who cashed out fifty dollars received eight dollars – or a similar amount. Bubblews is full of sweet talk and promises – but the owners really only care about what they want to do.

  6. You are dealing with people who cheated thousand of users to make money. They need this application if they want to continue to earn money through Google ads. You can get much more than the amount they proposed. Or you can keep your site and fight them,

  7. With all the people that Arvind Dixit and Jason Zuccari ripped off / scammed by using other peoples work to earn advertising dollars, I would think there would be thousands of people that might donate a few pounds for the satisfaction of seeing them suffer.

    Just my .02!

  8. Thank you all for the comments – I really do appreciate you taking the time to not only read my post but to write a comment and offer help.
    I don’t know anything about bubblews, having never used it, nor its founders, so I can’t support accusations about what they have or haven’t done in relation to bubblews’ users.
    Right now I’m still pursuing them, via their lawyer, and asking them to pick a different name for their beta-stage product.

  9. Hi, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet
    Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

  10. I really feel for you and all i can say is i’m with you if you want to fight against and not only me there are thousands of pissed off bubblews users that will fight with you to bring them down

  11. I figured it was too good to be true. I am just a writer at the big B. I like it there but was told to get an android and download the free sweeble app only to find out it is not compatible with my latest tablet, that is, Amazon Fire HD8 using the Fire OS instead of the Android one.

    If they could only start fresh with some other name so you could keep your pride and they could get it together for us writers. It’s been slow to nothing lately at the big B but I still love it there, but think they have abandoned us and moved on to bigger and better whatever works for them.

  12. I really feel angry at Bubblews over this app. Not only did they steal your domain, they used suckers like me from all over the world to advertise a product they knew they would not be able to use. I got ripped off by them less than most but ripping off aa person from my own country made me maddest. I suggest you create a UK platform. I want an app and a website we can post and make money on here. Add in something they don’t have and use the domain. Lots of people want to write and publish short stories and articles and sell them. We used to do it on Bubblews. Most do not do it there now and we do not have many UK based places. Give us the app we want that let’s us write on our phones and a place to chat. I think AD will not be able to stop you because it is UK copyright. (Check this, but I think that is why he knew he could get away with things in the US. ) I think using the name and not checking was supreme arrogance.

  13. Rather than worry about the dispute, what I found amazing about this article, was the fact you were behind a user generated news website, =). I knew nothing about this – it sounds so cool. I too, pretty much dreamt of the same thing.

    Anyway, I stopped by while researching Staffordshire Uni staff, as I wanted to speak to someone about your Games Journalism BA course. I’ve just visited your twitter also, and seen it mention: “Award leader Games Journalism.” – v.cool. Does this mean you’re involved in the Games Journalism degree?

    Hope the Facebook study is going well, =).

    Yours,
    Andrew.

  14. No wonder!
    Bubblews and its founders were cheats who knew nothing but to fool people with rosy words. They wouldn’t respect your feelings or words.. It’s not their way! They are a rude bunch of guys..

  15. Pingback: Bubblews - It's Not About Business Model - Being Blunt

  16. I was one of the lucky ones at Bubblews who lost less than fifty dollars. I saw their fall coming and stopped writing for them in January 2015. I can pretty well guarantee that hardly anyone who was part of Bubblews will sign up for the Sweeble app. It may fail even faster than Bubblews did. I wish you well in your fight. I won’t join any site unless I know that Arvind and Jason aren’t behind it.

  17. I was a member of Bubblews for about 2 years and I am going to give my fair opinion of Bubblews. Firstly I have to say I always got paid, I was making quite good money until around March 2015 (may have been earlier) they cut the amount we were earning, I stopped writing them because they took away the money for views from outside of Bubblews, then a little later they cut everything to say a quarter penny per views,like and comment. People still wrote there, which was unbelievable really, then one day they just closed it, without warning, people lost everything they ever wrote there….. So basically they were fair to me HOWEVER many others especially the Philippines and places like that were not paid. I am English too and as an Englishman I speak my mind, many times I confronted Arvind about not paying people but he would ignore my comments, I also confronted other workers and they always fobbed me off

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