Sunday, June 3, 2007

is Facebook really all that open?

There has been a lot of talk about Facebook's new platform and how it open it is. Yes, third-party developers can now build applications using Facebook, meaning they can be embedded and distributed within the Facebook website.

While I agree that's open, it's not as big of a deal as everyone is making. Facebook isn't opening their userbase, nor are they distributing relational data to third-party services. They are still a walled garden - if you want your application to integrate with Facebook, you need to build your service on the Facebook website.

What's a better solution? Let the services directly integrate the userbase and relationship data. Make it mutual. Allow a service like eBay to relate their users using the Facebook grid... when I sign up at eBay, they can analyze my e-mail address and get my unique user ID. Repeat this process for every registered user, and you now have a related userbase within the eBay platform - not some little widget on a Facebook profile.

How else could the grid really be open? Let third-parties attach/retrieve information to/from users. If a person uses a service such as 30Boxes, let 30Boxes attach the calendar data to that person. This would allow participating calendar services to mutually display scheduling information for friends - if I'm at Google Calendar and my friend is at 30Boxes, no worries - our data is still visible to one-another.

A company like eBay could attach listings to a user so that social search engines could organize results based on how many degrees away an item is. If I went to the Facebook platform, I could search for an item and have results sorted by the grid... or Flickr could attach photos to a user, again, resulting in a good social search solution. This isn't content aggregation, so it would actually drive more traffic to these services.

Facebook doesn't see it that way. They want you to be in their grid. They don't want to share their userbase outside of the Facebook domain. That's not open.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting closer...

We're getting farther and farther with Humansy. I uploaded the splash page, but there has also been some serious backend work going on. The road-map has been laid out, and the private alpha version is expected to be finished within the next 5-7 days. I'm going to begin conceptualizing some core features that will really enhance the way people communicate and share information.

We're trying to be as open as possible. Relationships will be exportable, we're going to make heavy use of the existing e-mail infrastructure, and probably more. We want to hit hard with a stunning UI that makes grouping and classification super easy, and super cool looking.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mining Relationships

There are multiple ways to mine relationships... some of which have been largely untapped. One of the big ones, as mentioned by Tim O'Reilly, is the phone network and e-mail. By analyzing incoming and outgoing communication, a user's true network can be mapped out. A recent company profile on TechCrunch discusses a plug-in that works with Outlook Express. The plug-in analyzes messages and message content and maps out a user's network; however this is an enterprise product.

An even larger network can be built upon phone communication - particularly cellular phones. Building a basic Java application that analyzes incoming and outgoing messages, in addition to reporting statistics (perhaps via SMS or text-to-email?), would help build one of the largest real networks in the world. The cellular phone market is huge, just like the e-mail and instant messaging market.

I'm a truly interested in building the largest database of user-to-user relationships and building kick ass products on top... The best part? I want it to be open... I want people to be able to pull their network information (in XML format) and take it somewhere else if they would like.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Social Map Project - Humansy

It's been a long time since the last update.

I've purchased the domain for the "social map project". Wantsy has fallen off the map since the lead developer dropped out, with Humansy replacing it. I'm pretty close to chalking up Wantsy as a failure; I think the idea could have worked, but finding the right people to execute it has been tough, especially if their level of interest isn't high.

Anyway, work has started on Humansy. As of right now, we have the UI outlined in PPT (and html) with some database work being done. The goal is still the same; build the largest grid of user-to-user relationships. By analyzing the structure, we can assign each user a level of trust based on various attributes. Given the UI, it's also possible for users to assign complex relationship and group types very easily. This brings up the secondary goal.

The secondary goal is to add a layer of efficient communication between nodes. Since nodes can be categorized into complex relationships and group types, it's possible to reach out to an entire subset of people within your first degree (i.e. your family, your co-workers, your golf buddies consisting of family AND co-workers). It's also important to note that these people do not actually have to be in the grid to be part of it. I can upload and classify my entire address book, and not a single person needs to hit the Humansy domain.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The new opportunity

It's official... We've changed positions and are focusing on the advertising market; particularly the non-traditional advertising market that isn't well covered online. There are a few reasons for this change;
  1. There really isn't a simple solution for people seeking ads in non-traditional media
  2. The buyer-driven market is much better for advertising, as it allows for more automation
  3. The advertising industry is huge; a lot of people don't even know where to begin or how to deal with ad-sales reps
The concept is still pretty simple. The idea is to make advertising more direct, and easier for both the distributor and the advertiser. Rather than advertisers trying to hunt down a sales representative and comparative pricing, they simply tag their information. The distributors can then easily see prospective buyers and create an offer specifically for them.

This works really well with both local media and national media. If you're a local business, narrow your information down locally, and local distributors will be able to find you.

Automation is another important aspect. An advertisers selects their tags, sets their price, and uploads their media. Depending on the tags selected, distributors can automatically have offers and counter-offers setup... Once the advertiser selects a listing, their media is automatically pushed to the distributor.

Hopefully we can save non-traditional advertising.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Social Map Project

The Social Map Project is something I'm pursing along side Wantsy. Since this is really a blog about the life of an entrepreneur and techie, I'll also post information here.

After taking a look at Geni, it suddenly hit me that mapping out a user's known connections is very important. While services like Facebook and MySpace focus on the facilitation of "fake friends", I think it's very important to define a user's real social network.

How can this be done? With the use of existing data -- very primitive social networks like e-mail and IM "buddylists". The vast majority of people on the internet have an e-mail address and use it to communicate with their friends and family. For those that do not, they most likely use AIM. The data flow doesn't stop there, either. Most people are willing to trust someone that lives geographically close (i.e. a few doors down) than some random person 200 miles away.

I would really like to map out everyone's real social network using this primitive data. The barrier would have to be really low -- no user registration, very little information, and input as simple as possible. For example, I would simply input my e-mail address and name, and then input my mom's e-mail address and her name. That's it -- I'm mapped with my first connection - my mom. An e-mail then goes to her asking if she knows me... If she does, then it's a mutual connection. If she doesn't (or she doesn't respond), she's still listed as my connection, but it's a one-way.

In the future, it might be possible to mine user connections. For example, if I input my address, my geographical neighbors would be mapped in the database as "neighbors". Going a step further, if people begin to use meta-data as theorized for the "semantic web", you would be able to define connections by your interactions on other services or websites. For example, I interact with a ton of people in blogs... They would be more familiar to me than someone that I've never come across (although, the trust level would certainly be lower than immediate friends and family).

The concept isn't really a service at all, but rather a database of connections. I hate to use the term "social networking" because there really isn't any "working" going on at user level. Don't be fooled, however. There are many extremely valuable uses for such a database:
  1. User Trust Algorithm -- This could be used when no other metric is available. A user would simple input their e-mail address into the widget and see how they are connected with the user. Obviously a user in the 6th degree has more trust than someone in the 10th degree, but it doesn't stop there. If a user has lots of mutual connections several degrees out, then they are a trusted user. If they are simply an isolated node in shadowy corner, then they aren't that trusted.
  2. Intelligent E-mail -- This is pretty similar to the above. If people send you e-mail, it would get a rating dependent on how close a connection is. Spammers are very unlikely to be within your first several degrees (or have any meaningful mutual connections beyond on the second degree, for that matter).
  3. Data Sharing -- With a web built around trust, buying and selling would be safer, distributing information would be easier, etc..

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shifting Gears

After some concern over the market, I think it's time to change gears.

After doing some research, the general census of the initial wanted-ads market doesn't appear to be all that good. The response I get most often is "...why would I list a wanted-ad on your site when I can just find what I need on eBay?"

That's a good question, and I don't have a good answer. The problem with wanted-ads is that, while it's awesome for sellers, it simply won't attract buyers because they'll be too busy using other channels to satisfy their want(s). We need to apply the Wantsy concept to a market that doesn't have a lot of channels for the buyers, and a market that is really buyer-driven.

What is that market?
Advertising. While everyone is being blinded by text ads, the remaining 75% of the market is left untouched. Sure you have services like AdBrite, but are they catering to off-web media? Are they really catering to the buyers? As an ad distributor, I can honestly say it'd be much easier to sell my inventory if I can see the buyers. As an advertiser, I can also honestly say that listing my need and having it fulfilled by an ad distributor who can flex is about the best option that currently exists. Having ad distributors upload all of their inventory in hopes that they'll get a buyer is too time consuming. Advertising is really a buyer-driven model, and I think it's a nice niche.

Tony Wright and Steve Poland really opened my eyes to that market (Steve pushed me to do more research), as well as Fred Wilson, who noted that the wanted-ads market was serviced by Craigslist (although, I think he missed the fact that it wasn't just about wanted-ads).

Monday, February 26, 2007


From time-to-time I'll post ideas. I may decide to pursue them, or perhaps not... I think it's always better to throw an idea around regardless, since success is often found in the execution (not the idea).

Idea 1: Social product review

This would be a service based around social product reviews. Essentially, users would register for the service and create reviews for products. Other users would be able to discuss the product, write their own review, or rate it's popularity. The user who posts the first review will receive a share of revenue generate from their review page. Other non-registered users would be able to browse what products are popular, what products are recommended, and what the overall rating of a product is.

Sociality begins when users connect with other's based on various interests. These socially connected users would be able to see their friends reviews, product recommendations, and perhaps items for sale.

Revenue would be generated by highly targeted ads linking to Amazon and eBay listings, perhaps eventually allowing users to upload their own listings.

Idea 2: Personal inventory

This would allow users to quickly create a personal inventory of items they have (perhaps items they don't want). Optionally, users would be able to tag and rate the items (or even review them); all of this information would go into a database indefinitely. Users could then connect with other users who have items in common to see what they might be interested in (as a sort of recommendation engine). These users could connect and discuss their interests and build a primitive network, perhaps buying, selling, or trading their items.

Other users could search through the database to find users with a specific item. They could then connect with the user and see if that user is interested in selling or trading the item.

Idea 3: E-mail based social network (objective unknown)

E-mail is the most primitive form of social networking. Many people have built at least a basic list of connections in their address book -- if they haven't, they generally know (or can find) the e-mail address of friends.

This service would allow people to upload their address book. As other users upload their address book, connections would be made. If user A has user B in their address book, and user B has user A in their address book, then a connection is made. If the A<-->B connection doesn't exist, it's left "open"; user B is made aware that user A is connected with them, allowing them to decide whether or not they want to "add" this person.

This would build a real-life social network with the people you know. The objective could be wide-ranging, from commerce to life tracking. Users could extend out by several degrees when looking for an item for sale or requesting some sort of information.

The virility of such a service could be pretty high, as users want to see who is or isn't connected with them.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Incubators - are they worth it?

I’m a man of statistics. How many huge companies have come from incubators? Not many (or any that I can think of). Given that the statistics are zero, why would someone want to join an incubator (provided they were accepted)?

Perhaps it’s because the concept is so new that there aren’t really any statistics for it. The concept is quite awesome – you have access to top-level executives and VC’s and you’re given a small amount of funding, all for a 5% stake! I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.

With that said, I’ve filled out an application… I found most of the questions easy – you just have to be honest. If a question is hard, then it could be your business, NOT the question! My only problem was answering questions related to myself. I’m more of a business geek than a programmer; is that acceptable? My education is only high-school; I haven't had the opportunity to go to college (although, I look forward to it!).

Even if we get accepted, I’m not sure that we’ll be able to attend. Again, I’m not sure if not going will hurt our statistical chances of success, but it might. I think as long as you build a good service, make others aware, and build traction that we’ll be able to secure funding – it (almost) always works that way.

So, are incubators worth it? Definitely… but not being a part of one won’t hurt you.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Understanding the Demographic

I'm having a hard time understanding the demographics that Wantsy will be catering to. There is an obviously visible market, but I just don't understand it. Several million listings per year -- it's a modest number, but still enough for a niche market.

BUT - what compels people to post a wanted ad rather than dig through the For Sale listings to find what they want? I see wanted ads for things like "GameCube" or "New notebook" or "Red Corvette". Why a wanted ad? Is it easier to simply post what you want, and then let the sellers come to you with their offering?

I think by applying more advanced (but not necessarily more complex) features, we might be able to increase the potential market size. I'm really interested in the tagging and RSS aspect of Wantsy. I'd like to think that this might be the first marketplace that really relies on RSS and notification; I'd like to get to the point where a user can simply select tags describing what they want, instantly notifying sellers.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Logo, again

So I screwed around with the logo, again... I just pushed the words together for a "friendlier" feel, and I unbalanced the "sy". I also thickened up the trails behind the ball.

I decided to make the changes when I made the master file 2048 x 1000 resolution (give or take some). I just want a fun feel to the logo...

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I was messing around in GIMP and tried my hand at making a logo... I think this one works out pretty well.

It emphasizes the "want" with a different shade, and carries over the "sy" with a nice bouncing "ball" (I suppose that's what it is). While I may be biased, I personally like it... I just can't justify the cost to have someone come in and develop something else.

I made sure the logo was pretty simple, so that it could be carried over to other objects. I also wanted to make sure the brand name was a significant part of the logo - it's easier for people to remember if your name is your logo :)

Overall, I like the color scheme and think it would work with the Wantsy site. Shades of blue are always easy on the eyes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Better UI Layouts

I'm working on some better UI layouts. My previous layouts were hand-drawn; the new ones are made using a combination of GIMP and MS Paint. They aren't what I would call "professional", and the color schemes don't portray the actual colors scheme that will be used, but I think they will make development a lot easier.

I've made sure to include just about every aspect of the service, mapping out various features and buttons. I've also made sure not to neglect potential future features, making it easier to implement them if needed. In an attempt to show the functions of various buttons, I'm going to create an animation for those features.

As I said, I think the better UI layouts will help in terms of designing the system and setting up the database by knowing how the user interacts with specific fields or queries.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Registration Optional?

While I haven't heard from Steven (co-founder and chief developer) in a while, I'm pretty sure we're going to go with the "registration optional" route. Our goal is speed, and registration diminishes speed. While I'm not sure if registration is a huge barrier, it could reduce our userbase more so than other services given our content.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I'm no Developer

I'm not a developer, I'm more on the business and innovation (UI) side of things (with some IT experience). That worries me, because I have no idea how long certain development tasks should take or what is or isn't possible. I'm the type of person that wants things to be done within a few weeks (depending on the project). Any longer than that without efficient communication, and I feel like things are falling apart. That doesn't mean things are going wrong, it just means that I have a personal shortfall :)

I'm sure this is a problem that plagues many startups... Most telecommute via the internet, so it's hard to gauge what exactly is being done on the other end of the line. We use Basecamp to keep each other up-to-date and track possible features, functionality, and things on the business side. Even with the most efficient communication possible, the waiting game is something that every startup has to go through -- it's just harder on some people (hint: me)

Service-based analysis on Alexa

Here's a comparison of eBay, Craigslist, Edgeio, Etsy, and iOffer.

eBay obviously leads the pack, with Craigslist in second place, followed by iOffer and Etsy, then Edgeio sneaking in towards the bottom. The growth rate of Etsy is phenomenal, breaking the 10K rank in as little as 18 months. I was really stunned to see that Edgeio comes in last place and leveled off significantly compared to Etsy. Edgeio probably has the most buzz surrounding it, while I imagine Etsy caters to quite a vocal niche group (although, they might be a hard demographic because most people into Arts/Crafts aren't similarly interested in technology).

This was my guess as to how the chart would look, rank-wise:
  1. eBay
  2. Craigslist
  3. Edgeio
  4. Etsy
  5. iOffer
I typically analyze other similar services to gauge potential success. It's quite clear that the marketplace industry isn't dead... Simply reviving a business model or changing the way something is done seems to be sufficient in driving traffic.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Registration (cont)

My registration woes have subsided after seeing "Useless Account". It seems +5,400 users have no problem creating an account for the sake of simply creating an account. That's right, "Useless Account" is pointless... All you do is create an account and modify it. It's obviously a hoax website, and pretty funny at that (given the number of people who actually signed up).

When I think of Wantsy, the registration process is really simple; an e-mail address and password. That's it... It can even be a part of the listing process, so it's not a big deal. On the seller side, if you see someone that wants your item, why wouldn't you create an account?

Sunday, February 4, 2007


The most complex part of a web-based service startup is the development process. You have to figure out the UI, among other things... While most people believe the UI will "make or break" a service, that simply isn't true most of the time. Craigslist is ugly, no question about that... But it's successful because it services a real need. On the other hand, a site with an overly complex UI can scare users away. I really like to consider the UI to be a form of art (and as we all know, forms of art can be ugly yet in demand). I like a service that has both a simple and good looking UI, while meeting a real consumer demand - Hopefully we are doing just that.

The development period is also like the "quiet period"... You build, you test, you build, you test, you tweak, you build. The "testing" and the "tweaking" are the vocal aspects where other members input their thoughts. The rest of the time, it's just keyboards punching in code.

A little stressful? Yes... But that's what a startup is all about.

Confidence is building...

I must say that my confidence is building... Writing these blog posts really helps get everything off my mind so that I'm not trying to think about too much stuff at once. I consider this blog my "brain cache"... If there's something important, I put it on this blog so that I can "forget" about it. If I need to recall something, I can find it here, in my brain cache.

My confidence is getting higher that this startup can become successful. I'm excited about the fact that I would enjoy the service and look forward to using it; I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who would feel this way. The UI layout looks pretty good, at least IMO, and there really isn't anything that would throw a user into "feature shock".

My other fear (a much bigger fear) was that it would be hard to capture a market. I'm not really afraid anymore - I know that I will use the service, and if I find it useful, so will others. There is already a proven market, so we're not creating anything from scratch; we're simply exploring an area that others have neglected.

While all of the other markets that I previously discussed are good, I don't really know them all that well. I haven't personally experienced the problem that I would like to solve within each of those markets. Those other markets aren't really traction gainers, either - although they might be able to bring in much higher RPU (revenue per user), I would rather make more people happy and take less revenue.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


What will we do when it comes to funding? For starters, a web-based business doesn't take all that much capital. It's my belief that startups should shy away from VC money as long as possible. If needed, fund internally through friends and family. If you still need more capital, get in touch with some angel investors. As a last resort, head for the VC's.

I think VC's introduce a level of unneeded complexity, especially at the seed stage level. Not only do you have to meet expectations, but you also give up a lot of control - your "solution" is no longer your solution... It's a solution determined to be satisfiable by the VC's.

This opinion is largely shared with the founders of 37Signals. Don't take funding unless you need it. In the "web 2.0" world, I see many companies doing just that. I may be alone on this, but I don't think an unproven blog widget requires $5 million in VC funding after the first week of operation.

Do you have a good idea?

How do you know when you have a good idea? There are two methods (that I personally know of) that might turn on the light-bulb above an entrepreneur's head.
  1. You think of a solution to a problem that (potentially) plagues many people. You may not necessarily be one of those affected people, but you believe strongly that people will find your service or product useful.
  2. You run across a problem and think to yourself "there has to be a better way". You create a service or product to fulfill your desire... In the process, you realize that your product or service will benefit many other people who share a similar problem.
If you take a look at the majority of the 800 pound gorillas in the tech industry, the founders started with one thing in mind - fix a problem that they have run across. Rarely does a huge success come from someone trying to monetize a market that they know nothing about. Only those who experience a problem can create a successful solution.

So, if you run across a problem, identify it as potentially common, and figure out a solution, you could very well have the next million dollar idea. If you're simply seeking a market to monetize, and create a solution to a problem that you have never experienced, you're probably setting yourself up for a failure. Make solutions for the problems which you know... When you're doing math, always find and read the problem before writing the solution.

Here are some examples;

Problem 1: I keep losing my bookmarks when I upgrade my PC, and my bookmarks are only available on my PC.

Solution 1: Delicious

Problem 2: It's hard to find stuff on the web, so I'm going to organize all of my findings.

Solution 2: Yahoo!

Problem 3: Current search engines are corrupt and I can't find 90% of the information I'm seeking (plus I'm need a thesis)

Solution 3: Google

Thursday, February 1, 2007


Since the rise of the internet, marketing has become easier. Since the rise of blogs, marketing has become much easier. You can now throw hundreds of thousands of people at your service in a matter of hours by getting good coverage in the blogosphere (as a best case scenario). Obviously the majority of those people won't become your customer, but your name will be etched in their mind... It could either be a good "etching", or a bad "etching". If it's the latter, you might be screwed.

That begins the WOM (word of mouth) campaign... As long as you can keep your service innovative and useful, you can maintain a level of growth for years to come. Your selling point is that you always have innovative features and you solve a real problem, so people often refer you to others - that's what I define as basic virility. Under this definition is MySpace - they didn't rely on external widgets to draw the user in - they were just so "cool" that friends bugged friends to sign up. Their features keep people coming to the site.

On the other hand, I define widget virility as something that draws the user in externally using widgets (who would have thought?). For example, YouTube's success was probably a direct result of their embedded video player... Delicious' or FeedBurner's success could be attributed to their chicklet widgets.

I guess the hardest part is getting your service in front of someone. Even if your startup solves everyone's problem, it's worthless if nobody knows about it. It just simply isn't a case of "build it, and they will come". Who are "they"? How will you capture their attention?

The way I imagine Wantsy succeeding is by drawing in users who are interested in purchasing an item - i.e. the existing wanted-ad market. As a previous high-revenue seller on eBay, this would clearly be a driving force for other sellers. If I have an item that I'm getting ready to post on eBay, why not do a quick search on Wantsy first to see if there is an immediate demand? If I'm a buyer, why not create a quick listing of the item that I will be seeking? Even if I plan on using eBay, I can still create a wanted ad and get the best of both worlds.

We aren't competing with eBay, Craigslist, Edgeio, or Etsy - we're simply supplementing them.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

So far from the Valley (Silicon, that is)

Being so far away from Silicon Valley makes it hard to network out. It's a shame that some people won't network with someone solely based on the fact that they aren't in the "Valley" and can't make it to every tech conference for a face-to-face conversation... I've met some really cool people over the internet that I would consider to be "friends", even without ever meeting them. Talking via e-mail, AIM, or the phone is simply enough for me... In the age of telecommunication, does face-to-face conversations really matter all that much?

I'm not talking about an A-list celebrity or even a well known individual... It's usually the people who flaunt their LinkedIn profile with +500 connections but can't add someone because they haven't sat down and had coffee at the local Startbucks. I'm sorry, but I would never meet a random person without at least connecting with them at some level, be it phone, e-mail, or blogs.

I guess the world will remain small for some people... It really is a shame.

EDIT: I just want to add that this isn't directed towards anyone in particular... This is a general rant about the problems of connecting to people far away. If you live outside the Valley, you know what I mean.

Traction Gainers

Success takes a while. While we haven't exactly launched yet, I can already tell that it will take at least 12 months to get decent traction. In the case of, it took nearly three years... did it much faster, in as little as 12 to 18 months. So why was a good acquisition candidate for eBay? Perhaps StubHub's lifespan was a deciding factor - they've been around for a while and have proven that they're not going to disappear anytime soon. If I recall correctly, StubHub's revenue numbers are less than impressive... So I doubt that's a deciding factor.

However, Etsy's traffic is quite solid and their growth is what I consider to be borderline explosive. Is this a result of VC funding? Is this a result of the tight-knit community surrounding Arts & Crafts? It's no secret that is catering to a rather niche market with a hard demographic to appeal to on the internet, especially when going up against eBay. In my opinion, is clearly more valuable than StubHub in terms of growth and community; I can't say much for their revenue numbers, but I'm sure they are making out pretty good.

It's quite ignorant to expect your startup to open it's doors and sustain a topped out spike on the Alexa charts - it's just not going to happen. The big questions are - how does a startup maintain that growth? How does a startup market their service on a shoestring budget? Virility is one answer (ex: YouTube, MySpace), but there are tons of businesses that won't or can't get the virility that those services have seen (ex: 37Signals, Zoho). I'm going to think about this more and post another blog entry on how I believe marketing could be done on a shoestring.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Slashdotters show Compassion (at least some of them do)

Jim Cray of Microsoft has gone missing... See Slashdotters respond.

The story broke (for me anyway) over on Robert Scoble's blog

It really irritates me that people can't set aside their differences when it comes to someone in trouble. Seriously, is it a joke that someone's friend or family member is missing or possibly dead? I don't think it is, but it seems like several Slashdotters do. Even among the mountains of bad apples, there are still some awesome users on Slashdot that can show compassion. Slashdot is an awesome service, but I sometimes wonder about a few of their readers...

Monday, January 29, 2007

User Registration

Guy Kawasaki blogged about the top ten barriers to user adoption... The number one barrier? User registration. Hopefully this isn't too much of an issue. Users will most likely need to register with our service in order to use it, but it's going to be simple - an e-mail address and password. It will be part of the listing creation process, and hopefully take only a few seconds.

I don't really see simple registration as a barrier... In fact, it would help greatly to weed out the users that aren't really interested in the system, or those who like to spam. If someone really wants to use the service, taking 3-5 seconds to enter an e-mail address and password really isn't that big of a deal IMO. If users can't do that, then perhaps the service is never meant to be.

Why a niche market?

If the UI is awesome, why choose a niche market when you can go for the whole cake? Because niche markets can grow into large markets... And why would you want to start out in direct competition with someone? Our whole premise is that wanted ads can be applied to a market in order to create a more efficient marketplace.

If we break down the current "wanted-ads" niche, there are roughly 1-2 million listings per year. That may be from individual people, or dedicated users - it's simply hard to gauge with the lack of dedicated services. I think the market potential is much larger than that.

For starters, I think the existing wanted-ad-solutions are rather obscure and under-explored, so the numbers could already be on the low end. The people that are most likely to post a wanted ad are those who 1) know what they want and don't feel like searching, 2) are seeking items that are hard to find, and 3) want sellers to compete on price and cater to the them.

Doing a quick survey, half of the people I surveyed fit any combination of those three stereotypes above. Even if the numbers aren't that good, you're still probably talking about a solid 5% of the buyers that use eBay. That doesn't really translate into revenue amounts, but I'm sure it would be at or below eBay's revenue-per-listing, since we'll likely be going with a CPA type of model.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Simplicity is the Key

When it comes to new services, simplicity is one of the major keys to success. People switched to Google because it was easier - it shaped itself around the search bar; not banner ads, media content, or hidden sponsored URL links. Part of the success that 37Signals has is a direct result of their service being so simple. What would their initial growth look like if they came out with all of the features they have now? Most people wouldn't have known how to react to all the tools - it would have overwhelmed them.

It doesn't matter what your business is - keep it simple, stupid. Whether you're a search engine, an enterprise software startup, or someone focusing on a niche market - keep it simple. The faster your users can get in, do what they need, and leave - the better. In fact, I think I'm going to make speed our number one priority. If a user can't do X action in Y amount of time, something needs to change.

Another killer of simplicity is feature creep... That is, when a service adds too many features too quickly, complicating the user interface AND development. We're picking an easy solution for that problem - we're only going to focus on the core niche and create a site with one feature. Think of eBay - they started with the simple auction listing - nothing more. More advanced features can be integrated if the service gains popularity - otherwise, who needs advanced features without users?

E-mail is Broken

In my opinion, e-mail is a broken method of contact. Most people claim to receive hundreds (or even thousands) of e-mail messages per day. There's no reason to doubt that claim, and that volume of e-mail is certainly inefficient. However, I believe e-mail can be fixed... Throw in some tagging, build priorities based on your network of people, and you now have a way to quickly sort through the noise. Is that too much to ask? It sure seems like it - most e-mail is categorized by the time received with no regards as to who sent it, what the e-mail contains, or any other important attributes. Here's how my hypothetical system would work;

Receiving e-mail:
  1. Upload my e-mail address book (or LinkedIn connections list)
  2. Assign those individuals a priority
  3. Create a list of tag priorities
  4. Received e-mail is categorized by tag(priority) + sender(priority)
Sending e-mail:
  1. Compose an e-mail and tag it
  2. When the user receives the e-mail, it is prioritized by tag(priority) + sender(priority)
  3. If I'm a high priority person, and the tags I used are high priority, then I'll be at the top
Will future versions of Outlook Express or GMail solve these issues? It's unlikely - and until then, it will be a pain in the ass to try and network for us non-Siliconites.

How does this affect me personally? I'm the one who wants to try and get in touch with people and network myself outward. It's kind of hard to do that when you're under a thousand other messages. So far, I have a pretty good network; it's still hard to get in touch with some of the people, but not impossible. I look forward to expanding my network over the coming months, and hopefully longer. I have family near Silicon Valley, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that I could make an appearance.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Consumer-driven Commerce

As a seller on eBay, what always gets me is that the market is driven by the sellers. That's a good channel of distribution for new products that consumers might not otherwise know about; On the other hand, there are also sellers trying to sell products that nobody wants, or products that have a very low demand. That's bad for both sellers AND buyers; sellers lose money, and buyers have to push through a ton of noise to find their signal.

What's the solution? A marketplace driven by buyers. This ensures that the amount of products never exceeds the consumer demand - less noise and a lot more signal (or perhaps ALL signal). It ensures that sellers find their target audience and don't waste money on distribution channels that won't work. Everyone gets what they want.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Isn't market X already serviced by company Y?

I like this question, especially when it comes to defining niche markets. The answer is almost always "yes" - there isn't a market uncovered:
  1. When eBay started back in the mid 1990's, their market was covered by garage sales and flea markets.
  2. When Google started, their market was covered by many competitors.
  3. The online advertising market existed before Google - why did they choose that business model?
  4. When MySpace entered the picture, their market was already covered by Friendster.
  5. When Amazon opened it's virtual doors, their market was already covered by retailers
  6. StubHub is in the market of P2P ticket sales - eBay has that category and covers that market.
And my favorite example is Etsy. Their market (Arts and Crafts) is definitely covered (and extensively) by eBay. Even with Arts and Crafts being extensively covered, eBay still has a hard time doing it well. A service that focuses on one niche is always better than a service that does it all. The one good thing that eBay does well is that it does a little bit of everything - On the flip side, niche companies do a whole lot of one thing and can be pretty damn successful at it.

The only time I would be afraid is if a market isn't serviced by anyone. There's a reason it's not being served.

How does this apply to Wantsy?

Craigslist (and a few others) already service the wanted ads market. But what good is it to the users when the majority of the traffic isn't going to those wanted ads? Wanted ads, like all other listings, need to be sub-divided into categories themselves; something not done on ANY other site at this time. Instead, wanted ads are their own category with nothing below. There is so much potential with wanted ads, and I definitely don't want to see it wasted.

UI Layout (and market woes)

I've got the majority of the hand-drawn UI layouts uploaded to Basecamp. The usability seems pretty simple - speed is the key. The good news is that if we need to switch markets for some reason, it could be done rather easily. Depending on the market, the categorization system would need to be modified.

I'm not going to lie - I'm still somewhat worried about the market. Why would a user post a wanted ad when they can just as easily go to eBay and find the item there? Even while asking that question, there are millions of wanted ads posted each year on other non-exclusive sites. I know the market is there - I just don't understand it. Here are a few reasons why a buyer might want to post a wanted ad:
  1. Item customized exactly to the buyers wants
  2. A "set it and forget it" mentality - don't worry about someone outbidding you
  3. Sellers bidding to give you the lowest price
Here are some reasons why a seller would enjoy wanted ads (no question there):
  1. Ability to immediately find people interested in your item (perhaps even automatically)
  2. Ability to undercut the competition
  3. Cost per acquisition - no sale means no cost

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Market Focus

This is an area that I'm still having trouble with. It's pretty difficult when you have an idea that is workable in more than one market - which one do you choose?

The "Wantsy" concept is similar to "wanted ads". A user posts what they "want" and someone else provides it. If you have a system where the seller's offers are visible, it creates a reverse-auction setup with sellers trying to bid lower than the other. That's it - it's a simple concept, yet it seems so unexplored. Sure you can find it on a classifieds site, but the concept is really underdeveloped with little focus. There isn't a dedicated solution for users "wanting" things.

Which market should this be applied to? The existing wanted ads market? The real-estate market? The advertising market?

Existing wanted ads market:

There are over 1 million wanted ads posted to Craigslist each year. The focus on Craigslist simply isn't there - you're stuck locally, categories are non-existent, and there's not attempt at a reverse-auction setting. If you make wanted ads the "meat" of the site and focus only on that aspect, I think you could win over a lot of wanted-ad-users.

Real-estate market:

A decent percentage of wanted ads are comprised of people seeking "real-estate". This is technically included in the above market, but I'm not sure whether it should be the sole focus. Servicing a clear niche market like real-estate (on it's own) would make marketing a lot easier.

The advertising market:

The advertising market is covered well by services like AdBrite, but what if the model is flipped? What if it's the advertisers that list their need, and the advertising distributors that seek out the advertisers? It's typically the other way around. As a website owner, I would love to see who's interested in advertising on my site. As an advertiser, I would love to have distributors bid down on my costs - besides, advertising isn't an "impulse" item.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

YouTube for Music

Just a personal blog entry - I might mix these in time from time.

I'm a pretty big fan of YouTube. My belief is that they wouldn't be where they are now if it wasn't for all of the copyrighted content. Since the acquisition, I'm not so sure that the copyrighted content is a big deal now - Google has been making it a point to pay the major studios in order to show their work.

What do I use YouTube for? Music. My "favorites" list is over 5 pages long, filled with music videos of my favorite songs. In fact, I hardly open my iTunes or Media Player anymore - I just log in to YouTube and startup the songs that I like. I'm going to continue working through my playlists and in an attempt to find even more music on YouTube.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


How can a service make "categories" successful while giving the user complete control?

Tagging is one possibility, but it has to be done right. Tags have the ability to make or break a service - too much tagging without boundaries leads to mass disorganization. Tagging with too many boundaries, on the other hand, is essentially the same as having hard-coded categories.

Why give the users the power to create their own categories? So that they can take the service in any direction they want - a niche market decided by the people. Instead of forcing the users to a specific niche, we will let them decide what's best for themselves. Hopefully we can do this without making things too complicated, and hopefully users will understand that democracy of a service means they truly can do anything.

Let's think of eBay - what would happen if their system had revolved around the use of tags instead of hard-coded categories? Well, it's pretty hard to say because they are so successful at this point. I'm willing to bet that they would have achieved the same success, but perhaps more user satisfaction? Perhaps they would have been able to cater to sub-markets like Arts & Crafts much faster?

Who knows, but one thing is for sure - If tagging is done right, it can completely replace the search query and make sure only the most active topics flourish. Too many categories and not enough action can really make a service look drab.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What have we accomplished?

So far, we have settled on the business model, market sector, secured the domain, and defined a few basic features.

What do we need to do? Continue defining more features while avoiding feature creep. We could then move on to the actual UI and layout, including a logo. After that, we would need to define a clear marketing strategy.

Am I worried? Not much. The service fills an existing need while having the potential of tapping into a much larger market - if you can make people happy, you're going to win. So, what's that little bit of worry left? Marketing. I don't care if a business has the answer to a "need" shared by the entire United States - if people don't know about it, they can't use it.

This is my first post

I figured I would start this blog to outline what's happening with the latest venture - Wantsy. I'll try my best to outline everything from features to what's going on internally, while trying not to give too much away ;-)