Is it bad that when I hear ideas I often think of how they shouldn’t work? Tonight I hung out with some #sxswi folks and listened as they passionately discussed things they were working on. Initially, I was really excited. The idea was cool and spoke to part of my own beliefs that would be really exciting to expand upon. But then something happened. Amidst the flurry of interesting ideas and real world applications I started thinking about what could go wrong. The core issue, which I think could be the core issue with many tech start-ups, is that the eventual need to make money doesn’t align with the intent of the start-up.
Taking Twitter as an example, one thing they do right is the making the barrier to entry really low. On the other hand though, if they expect to make money via ads, how can they really captivate when people are only writing 140 characters? Sure, there are links, but how can you really support the massive amount of messaging bandwidth and traffic without charging for the service or getting revenue from ads? My understanding is that while Twitter is extremely popular, they still haven’t started making real money.
Facebook is another example. They actually have a ton of traffic and a platform that can support ads. The problem in my mind is how do they avoid getting beat? The like buttons and login are kind of nice but eventually won’t they just become AOL? At some point doesn’t the world that Facebook creates end up being some stripped down version of something better? Maybe they can hold on to their stature as a person’s profile for the internet, but I doubt it.
Throwing myself to my own crotchety devices, I’m really just whining.
Both Twitter and Facebook are successes. And the initial idea I heard tonight was really compelling, even if it feels like it can’t make money. I’m not going to speak negatively to someone trying to change the world. It still makes me think that there could be problems though.
Sometimes it feels like the world we live in just doesn’t make sense, and yet we all rely on these assumptions to make things work. One can simply look at the recent economic crisis to recognize that people relying on incorrect assumptions is a dangerous past time. In some ways I think my recent crotchety attitudes are really a sign of my own negativity. But at the same it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out that my own intuitions regarding the state of our society is a lot more correct than not. In either case though, I do believe that even though an idea may seem tough to execute as a commercial venture, it is worth trying. Cynicism is not very helpful. Even though I might be crotchety at times, it doesn’t change the fact that my presuppositions are really just untested theories. In this specific case, it is actually something I would love to be proven wrong about.
Tonight, instead of taking a crotchety attitude as negative, I’m going to take some time to enjoy the excitement of what could be. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to help in small ways to make a far-fetched idea one small step closer and wish new friends the best of luck in an excellent venture that really could make a difference to a lot of people.