As the operator of 250 Labs, I read Techdirt’s post entitled Internet Economics: Making Stupid Ideas Cheaper To Bring To Market and immediately thought “hey—how did Techdirt get access to my super-secret business plan?”
Alas, the Techdirt post is actually focused on Guy Kawasaki’s Truemors venture as an example of how the ever-decreasing costs of starting up a Web venture mean that people can throw pretty much anything online just to see whether it sticks. If you have an idea and can write a little code (or have a few grand to hire someone to do it), you’ve got yourself a Web Venture. No angels or VC required, no irritating questions about whether the idea is worth the bits and bandwidth it will consume, you just slap it up there and let the Internet decide.
As Techdirt’s Carlo notes, the low cost won’t change a bad idea into a good idea, but (though I may be misreading his tone in the post) I’m less grumpy about that fact than Carlo seems to be. To me the central issue is that people can convert ideas into real, functioning code quickly, easily, and at low cost; sure, that means you get a lot of crap, but it also means that in amongst that crap are a few gems that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.
Matt Terenzio also posted about Truemors recently, at a point when the site was having some WordPress issues, with the lament:
All kidding aside, I wonder if web development is dead. Just hack WordPress.
No. Web development is certainly not dead, but it’s no longer a required skill for those who just want to get a simple service live on the Web. Between the various blogging, content management, forum, and what-have-you packages available (to say nothing of Ning and dozens of APIs for those who know enough about code to start digging holes for themselves), many ideas can be implemented by the semi-technical hoi polloi.
Will they be implemented well in this manner? Sometimes yes, sometimes no…but the same could be said of Web Ventures that are coded from scratch. If I want some specific functionality and can take advantage of the code that the WordPress folks have already written, isn’t it a little silly of me to rewrite that functionality (investing an increased amount of time and/or money) just because it wasn’t invented here in my laptop?
Even if my idea is good, getting a prototype out there fast, so that I can see what really works in the wild and what doesn’t has huge benefits: when and if I write the code from scratch, I’m focusing on the parts that matter to users, rather than the parts that I personally am obsessed with.
My arguments in favor of putting bad ideas on the Web are pretty similar to those that I presented a couple of days ago in Twitter has a Halo:
It’s not just that you get a lot of people working on Twitter-related things, it’s that you get a lot of different people working. The fractional horsepower approach breeds strange and interesting results from its many inputs.
As with Twitter, so with ideas: getting a lot of different people putting their “hey, this could be cool…” ideas out there for evaluation just means that there’s more input to play with. Hell, I never see about five nines worth of the Internet, anyway, so why should I complain about what people are putting up there? If somebody creates something interesting, it’ll bubble up to my attention eventually. If they never create it…?
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes: even with the very low-profile approach to generating revenue that I’ve currently got, 250 Labs is at least breaking even this year. God bless low expectations. God bless the Internet.