Resurfacing Ideas

July 8, 2008

I often have ideas that other people go on and make successful. Most notably is the idea behind Twitter in which users post about "What am I do right now?" in 140 characters or less. Only, my version of it was not so refined, and never existed.

In my version, users posted their away messages from whatever instant messaging service they were using. It was more of a way to track what it is you had been doing and leaving the computer to do. A way to analyze how much I played Quake, when I went to eat and when it was that I went to sleep1.

But, the value of the idea at the time of it is often not seen, just as the value of Twitter is so often overlooked. Twitter is a horrible microblogging platform—its real beauty is as a messaging tool. I don't care if you bought eggs and bread. I do care, however, if you bought eggs and bread and instead said, @apgwoz I bought eggs and bread—french toast at my house in 10 minutes.2

Two years ago, a friend of mine and I applied to Y Combinator's Summer Founders Program. We had an idea3 that was only mildly interesting but were offered an interview.4 For a few reasons that do not matter, we choose to not fly to California for our interview. It was a tough decision, but I think we both agreed that it was the right one. I had vowed to keep the idea going, because I was generally interested in the problem it solved and built a limited working prototype.

But, as I played around with the prototype, I realized that it really wasn't worth much to me. There were enough services elsewhere that I could use to accomplish the same things. It didn't have a "killer" feature that set it apart from any other service, or combination of services and the lack of a "killer" feature made it tough to work on because other people weren't excited about it. You might say it didn't pass the "friend test."

That is, until about a week ago. It's three years later and I just realized the value of my original idea, and how it would be useful to both me and hopefully everyone else in the world. It needs some refining, a lot of code and another shot at the friend test, but it has potential—at least right now. We'll see in a couple of weeks.

  1. This would have been difficult since I had dial-up then. However, I would normally get kicked offline around 2am for some strange reason, which I never figured out.
  2. It's mildly interesting as a microblogging platform to find new links, see pictures, find out other things for stalking. FriendFeed solves this problem much cleaner by integrating with 41+ services that most of us already use anyway. There's no need to get Twitter involved anymore.
  3. It was basically a glorified del.icio.us that allowed you to share more than just bookmarks.
  4. Ideas For Startups addresses the idea that we would have most likely changed our idea and found something useful after working full-time for a while. In retrospect, I might have found this new version 2.5 years ago if I had taken the words in there as advice.