Real-Time Wiki aka “The Qwiki”

speed

As you might have guessed, I love trying out new sites that pop up on the Internets.  The vast majority I check out once, and never return.  However, the one place that I’ve been going to more and more over the past few weeks has been the new Twitter search functionality that was built into Bing

Full disclosure for those who don’t know – I do work at Microsoft.  But putting silly religious search engine wars aside, it is a cool service and will likely be implemented in a similar way when it rolls out to the search engine of your choice in the near future.

Anyway, it’s a very useful service and got me thinking about real-time search.  Before checking out Bing’s Twitter search, I had assumed the problem that needed to be solved was something like this: now that we now have a ton of real-time content (tweets), how do we index, weigh importance, and filter the content to discover the most interesting tweets? 

However, after seeing how much more useful Bing’s Twitter search is compared to Twitter’s built-in search, I started to look at the problem differently.  The key is that the tweets themselves aren’t the content, they are simply indicators that can help determine what links to non-Twitter content are most important for a given topic, at a given time, in a given location. 

If you look at it from that perspective, the problem is now reversed.  Instead of trying to build a real-time search engine, what about creating a real-time content engine?  That’s the basis for today’s idea, Qwiki.

Here’s how it would work.  An algorithm would monitor Twitter to determine the newly-trending topics.  Once a topic hits a certain threshold, the Qwiki site generates a web page for that topic with as much information as it can automatically pull from both Twitter and the web.

Qwiki would then tweet out a link about that topic.  As people come to the Qwiki site, they could start to fill out information about the topic, and retweet the link out to others.  As more and more people come to the page and contribute information in real time, the wisdom of the crowds will take over and page will quickly become the best source of information about that topic.

As a result, just as Wikipedia is one of the top entries on most search engine queries, Qwiki results could rise to the top of real-time search requests.  And while I usually don’t like ad-based revenue models, it might actually make sense for this one – especially if location-based, real-time advertising begins to take hold.     

Speaking of real-time, I’m in Mountain View today and will be working out of Red Rock Cafe from about noon to 2:30.  If you’re in the area, swing by and I’d be happy to buy you a coffee.  I’ll be on Twitter, you can contact me there at @astartupaday

OMG! Ponies!

ponies

Each night before I go to bed, I check in on Hacker News to get a brain dump of  the latest Internet geekery.  The last story I read before drifting off was a fun post by John Skeet titled “OMG Ponies!!! (Aka Humanity: Epic Fail)”.  And when I woke up this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fully-formed startup idea in my head.

I’ve been really good lately about having concrete ideas based on solid business rationale.  So was it about a new idea in the financial services space, or a killer take on the mortgage sector?

Nope.  Unfortunately, it was this:  “OMG!  Ponies!”

Thanks, Jon.

Today’s idea is a social game called “OMG! Ponies!”.  The premise is as follows: A new Facebook poll indicated that ponies had dropped from first all the way down to eighth on the “World’s Cutest Stuff” list.  Understandably, the world pony population was pissed, and is now exacting revenge by seeking to eradicate each of the top seven cute items on the list.

Your job, as commander of an elite group of pony assassins, is to prep your squadron for an epic cute-on-cute battle for world domination.  Train your pony in mixed martial arts to take on the Fluffy Bunny in the Octagon.  Earn enough money to buy a blowtorch for your showdown against the Teddy Bear.  Gather your friends and level up your squad for the final fight: a wicked chainsaw melee against the Magical Crying Unicorn.

The game play would be  similar to other social games on Facebook, such as Farmville.  Players work to level up their character to unlock new challenges, and can earn (or buy) in-game currencies to purchase new weapons.  Users can team up with their friends to build bigger squads.  It’s sort of like Mafia Wars, except replace “violent gang banger” with “adorably precious pony”.

Despite the initial WTF element of this idea, I do actually think there is some merit here.  The game would have a mixture of humor and violence, which are two good elements of a successful viral social game.  Plus, the uniqueness of the idea would be enough to get an initial kick start of buzz.  Finally, now that Facebook is flooded with overly cheery, cute cartoony apps, this could capitalize on the counter-culture app backlash that is almost certain to materialize.

I’d definitely love to hear your comments on this one.  And if you’re not already, you should follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.

Orthodont-niche: Do I Need Braces?

braces

Like playing Skate or Die on a Commodore 64, redialing the modem to get connected to AOL’s perpetually busy servers, or writing a crappy RPG in QBasic, getting braces is a rite of passage in any young geek’s life. 

I hated it at the time, but looking back I’m so incredibly grateful that my mom scraped together the money to pay for three years of orthodontic work.  Man, those suckers are expensive!  But expensive, one-time purchases, as I noted in yesterday’s post, have great potential to be a solid niche in which to build a lucrative online business.

Today’s idea is deceptively simple – a site where people can upload a picture of their teeth and get recommendations from local orthodontists on whether or not they need braces. 

The key to this idea is that it is a win for both sides.  People who think they may need braces get feedback from real professionals without having to leave the house.  You could take a quick photo from your webcam or phone, throw it up on the site, and specify the type of insurance you have.  Within minutes, you could be getting Emails or messages back directly from orthodontists that are covered under your health plan. 

From the other end, orthodontists receive very well qualified leads from potential patients.  Instead of a lead coming in as just an Email address or a click from an online ad, the orthodontist can tell at a glance whether or not the person in the photo is ready for braces along with the relative complexity of the situation.

Another niche idea – what do you guys think of these?  To stay up-to-date on my ideas, you should follow me on Twitter at @astartupaday.

Harvestimates: Zillow for Used Farm Equipment

cow

You wouldn’t know it based on the sissified city-boy that I’ve evolved into over the past 10 years, but I actually grew up on a small farm in the palm of Michigan.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the country, and I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can trade in traffic jams and lattes for unplowed dirt roads and warm milk from our old brahman Bessie.

For today’s idea, I’m taking a bit of a departure from my usual shtick.  Instead of coming up with some random idea and tacking a business model onto it, I’m starting by looking at a potentially profitable niche and thinking through ideas that could serve the target audience.  The niche I’m exploring today is Agricultural Equipment.  It’s a big business (John Deere alone rakes in over $25 billion in revenue), and with equipment costs that can easily exceed $100,000, there’s a nice business to be had for generating qualified leads for farm equipment retailers. 

In thinking about this market, I was reminded of a fantastic speech I heard recently by Rich Barton, founder of Expedia.com and CEO of Zillow.  In the speech, Rich said one of the secrets to his success was to empower the average user with information.  He then took on markets with high-cost purchases (flights, vacation packages, houses) and built a site to help the average consumer use the available data to make an informed decision.

So, for used farm equipment, my idea is a site called “Harvestimates” which allows farmers to enter in basic details about their equipment and get back an estimate of what it’s worth.  Each month, an Email would be sent to the farmer informing them of the updated value of all their equipment, provide options for users to sell their equipment online, and show options to upgrade their equipment or purchase new accessories.

What do you think of this one?  Would you bet the farm on this one, or am I counting my chickens before they hatch?  To stay updated on the latest posts, you should follow me on Twitter here.

A Startup A Day 2.0

OldTimeyHalloween

I wanted to post a nice Web 2.0 Halloween pic today, maybe a Fail Whale carved into a pumpkin or two people dressed up as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as conjoined twins.  But I just couldn’t find the right one, so I went with the old timey witch instead. If you know of a good one, shoot me a link in the comments.

Speaking of, have you seen the “GuyPhone” costumes?  Nice.

Yesterday I officially announced my return to blogging (thanks for the nice reception, btw – it’s on track to be my most viewed post ever!) and today I wanted to follow up with a quick meta-post about what I have planned for the new and (hopefully) improved ASAD.

First, I’m still going to pack in as many run-on sentences as humanly possible.

Second, I’m really going to try hard to stick to a more regular posting schedule.  I purposefully picked the name “A Startup A Day” for a reason – to put myself on the hook to post on a daily basis.  While life may interfere on occasion, I’m shooting to post every Monday – Thursday, set to auto-publish at noon.

Third, I’m going to alter the content a bit.  Historically, I’ve been pretty strict about only posting startup ideas, no commentary, navel-gazing, or other fluffy stuff like that.  The majority of posts will still be ideas, but I’ll probably put up a few essays or other thoughts from time to time.  Hopefully it will liven up the blog a bit, both for you and (more importantly) for me. 

And finally, the ideas themselves.  This economic shake-down has led a lot of people to rethink the old model of building a web-based startup, where “old model” =

1) Build a website

2) …

3) Profit!

Previously, a lot of my ideas were something that sounded vaguely cool or useful, with a business model duct-taped on as an afterthought.  Instead, I’ll be trying out a new ideation process of starting with the business model, and building the idea around it.

Oh yeah, and one last thing.  In the nearly three years since I’ve had this site, I’ve always resisted plastering my site with ads or anything like that.  No offense to anyone who runs ads, but I just fell it makes non-commercial sites like this feel kinda tacky, and my readership is so small that it’s just not worth it.  But, more for the sake of experimentation than anything else, I might start playing around with some tasteful ways of monetization.  I’ve got a few ideas, but if you’ve seen something work well for a small hobby blog like this, please let me know.

I’m pretty excited to start this thing back up again, and I sincerely hope you like the new approach.  Feedback is always, always, always welcome – post ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.

Sorry, Twitter. It’s Not You, It’s Me.

 

TwitterBreakup

Back in June, I made the decision to break up with WordPress and post all my new startup ideas to Twitter.  Six months later, I’m walking out on Twitter and returning home to my blog. 

Why?

Like any fling, at first it seemed like a match made in heaven.  To heck with all these “words” and “thinking” – with Twitter I could just dash off a few keystrokes and I was done.  Twitter fed my innate predisposition towards habitual laziness and instant gratification. And for a while, it was pure bliss.

But like taking a leggy blonde wearing three inch heels on a hiking trip, the practicalities of the situation soon begin to set in.

Shoehorning my ideas into that 140 character box required me to cut out features, water down the functionality, and strip out all of my color commentary (which may not be such a bad thing for many of you).

For example, take this one (from mid-July of this year):

Idea: OneClick – Mobile app, allows users to perform commonly-used, very specific actions in a single click.(i.e. get directions to address)

Now, in my head I was thinking of something like AppBox Pro, which released in September and has been comfortably perched in the top 50 paid apps list ever since.  If I had more room, maybe I would have gotten the chance to really sell this vision and possibly even given one of you the inspiration to build something like this yourself.  But, instead, I just dashed out the idea in a minute or so and went back to checking myself in the mirror to see if there was any lipstick on my teeth.

As I alluded to in the title, I don’t mean for this to be an indictment of Twitter.  I’m still going to be using it regularly for quick status updates or to notify followers when I have a new blog post ready.  Like most shiny new things on the Interwebs, it’s all about finding the right tools for the job at hand.

So, what’s next for the blog? 

First, I’ve got a handful of Twitter ideas that I’d like to flesh out a bit.  Also, my old buddy Paul Graham has posted a few more idea stubs that I want to tackle.  I’ll keep doing more of the same ol’ post-an-idea shtick, but I may try to experiment with more practical ideas along with the crazy ones.  

And finally…I know it’s against everything that is good and holy in my world, but I’ve actually taken a few trips outside of my ivory idea tower and started coding again. 

Thanks for reading, and, Twitter?  Keep your chin up, kid.  I know it hurts now, but I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine.

5 (New!) Ideas for Startup Weekend

Wow. I can’t believe that the last real idea post on this blog was five ideas for Startup Weekend that happened back in February! I’ve been throwing out little 140 character micro-ideas for a while (shameless plug: follow me! @astartupaday), but nothing with substance. So, in honor of the big event tomorrow, I’m going to go old-school up in here and throw out a few ideas to inspire all y’all startup weekend junkies.

Idea #1 – Social Media Certification

Problem: It seems like nowadays everyone is a self-proclaimed social media expert. How can you tell the difference between true social media experts and all the wannabees out there?

Solution: A site that allows users to take a validated, standardized test to determine the true depth of their social media knowledge. The test would be free, and users could post a badge on their site showing off their achievements. For a small fee, users who pass the test can order framed certificates or plaques to display in their office.

Idea #2 – FaceMeme

Problem: As more and more user-generated content is created via social networks, the amount of information becomes overwhelming.  Better filters are needed to pull out the best, most relevant information.

Solution: Create a site that pulls out the most popular links from all users who have set their Facebook profiles to “public”, and also allow users to log in to see the top links from their friends.  This site would be similar to TechMeme or TwitMeme, but for Facebook status updates.  Note: although most users have their profiles set to private now, as Facebook opens up more this app would be in a good opportunity to capitalize on the flood of data that will eventually be available from the Facebook public stream.

Idea #3 - Call 2 Compare

Problem:When people are out shopping for big-ticket items at brick-and-mortar stores, it is difficult to know if you are getting the best price or not.

Solution:Using the awesome Twilio service, build an app that allows users to call a phone number, enter the UPC code using your keypad, and hear a list of the best prices for that item. 

Idea #4 – Party Starter

Problem: You’re hanging out at a party where you don’t know anyone and are having a hard time making conversation with strangers

Solution: A mobile app that provides conversation starters, jokes, and other nuggets to make you the life of the party.

Idea #5 – Raising John Stamos

Problem: The problem is that this app needs to be made!  I pitched it at the last Startup Weekend, but it didn’t get enough interest.  Sooner or later…this will get made.  :)

Solution: It’s a mobile app that follows the basic format as the Tamagotchi or (fluff)Friends virtual pet – but with a twist. 

Instead of raising a cute little fuzzy animal, you would instead start off with an egg that hatches into a baby John Stamos.  Your job is to nurture your little Stamos from a fussy little baby into an international superstar.  Along the way, your Stamos would evolve from being an out-of-work waiter to landing his first TV commercial to getting cast in a pilot to becoming the uncle we all wished we had, Uncle Jessie in Full House.  

So which idea should I pitch on Friday?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below!