Online scrabble squabble.

One of my friends recently confessed he had been obsessively playing online scrabble. Hence this article caught my eye – about the version of Scrabble that’s been used by half a million people on facebook – and the implications thereof. The cartoon at the top is by Doug Savage, the article from the New York Times by Dan Mitchell.

S-q-u-a-b-b-l-e By DAN MITCHELL

THIRD-PARTY applications are supposedly the secret to Facebook’s success.

So far, though, the applications fall mainly into two categories: the silly and the annoying (and sometimes, both). Users can throw virtual sheep at each other or take part in zombie attacks on their friends. Recently, many users received a message entreating them to “click ‘forward’ to see what happens.” After clicking, users discovered that nothing happened except that they had annoyed their friends with a pointless message.

Many Facebook applications are “for toddlers,”writes Kara Swisher, the technology journalist and blogger for All Things Digital. The “kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children,” she wrote in October.

But there are some applications that levelheaded adults can enjoy, even if they are still just a waste of time. One example is matching knowledge of movie trivia with that of friends.

Another example is also one of the most popular, Scrabulous, which is clearly a knockoff of the board game Scrabble. It is a wonder that Hasbro, which owns Scrabble in the United States and Canada, and Mattel, which holds the rights for the rest of the world, took so long to take action. But this week, they finally sent a letter to Facebook asking that Scrabulous be removed from the site.

Scrabulous was developed by two brothers in India. Its popularity is a major driver of traffic to Facebook, where a reported 500,000 members log on to Scrabulous each day.

Dozens of Facebook groups have been created to “save Scrabulous.” The biggest had more than 23,000 members late this week, days after the letter from Hasbro and Mattel was made public. Most group members seem to understand that the companies are merely protecting their rights, and many think that the game makers will reach some sort of understanding with the developers of Scrabulous, allowing the game to stay. A Hasbro spokesman said as much in a statement, asserting that the companies are seeking an “amicable solution.”

Josh Quittner of Fortune magazine’s Techland blog thinks that is just what should happen. “If I were an evil genius running a board games company,” he wrote, “I might do this: Wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over. Let the best pirate site win!”

As for Facebook, Scott Nichols, a blogger for PC World, sees the dispute as the latest in a string of embarrassments for the company. “Another Facebook gaffe,” he called it.

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