“We’re going to launch a bathroom,” the tech entrepreneur Nhon Ma told The Transom when we called last week to ask about his latest venture, the virtual night club Rolling.fm, which was unveiled two weeks ago and is becoming moderately popular. “Rolling.fm will have a bathroom, and that bathroom will be deeply engaging. It’s going to be cool and people will be able to do things in this bathroom that they won’t be able to do anywhere else.”
The e-bathroom is essentially the same as all the other rooms on Rolling, as the Transom discovered after scouring in vain for virtual drugs, except it looks like a bathroom instead of a dance floor and users can graffiti on the walls. But the novelty factor was crucial for Rolling, which was launched to a chorus of complaints that it was simply a ripoff of the New York tech scene’s breakout hit of the summer, Turntable.fm, which debuted two months earlier.
Initially, Mr. Nhon, who worked at Google from March 2006 to June 2012—except for a nine-month break during which he opened the Korean taco cart Krave Truck—tried to spin the story of the site’s origin. “We were thinking about including something like this, like a D.J. stand, back in January,” he told the Transom on Friday. On Saturday, one of his co-founders, Tim Zhou, said they had started working on the idea in May. “At first we were distraught since someone was already occupying the space,” Mr. Zhou told the tech blog VentureBeat. “But ultimately we decided that, that shouldn’t deter us from jumping in anyways.”
To say the sites are similar would be a gross understatement. Like Turntable, Rolling is designed to look like a cartoon night club where users can join a rotating line-up of D.J.s and play songs for a crowd of tiny avatars. Turntable listeners rate songs as “lame” or “awesome,” while users on Rolling rate them “weak” or “hot.” On Turntable, users appear as ambiguous elf-animals that get bigger as they accrue more D.J. points; on Rolling, the characters look like Homies dolls that get more bling as they level up.
Turntable’s founders and an investor declined to comment. But at The Transom’s cajoling, and after accidentally forwarding an email from the third co-founder copping to the ploy, Mr. Zhou came clean. “I think it’s obvious that the initial version of Rolling is inspired by Turntable,” he said in an email. “To say otherwise is not accurate.”
To be fair, though, Turntable does not have a bathroom.
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