Silly ideas

Startup “ideas”

Repeat after me: “ideas are worthless”. Having ideas, good or bad, will bring you nowhere. It’s execution that counts, simply put: doing, not thinking, makes a difference. Over the years I’ve had many ideas, and failed to execute many of them. Now that I have a more steady job, and still no shortage of ideas, I’ve decided to release some to the world. In public domain. Some may exist already, but that should not stop anybody from executing them, as there are also many grocery stores. Soft skill determine success more than hard skills, too. And after all, competition is some source of magic sauce in tech. Note that I do not claim that these ideas are any good. Just that I came up with them at some point in life, and did not act. Also, these are more or less “startup” ideas, not academic, philosophical ideas or actionable insights. So without further ado, a short list of some (crappy) ideas.

iPhone staring game

I wanted to make an iPhone game (as did everyone at some point, I’m sure). So what’s the simplest game you can think of? For me it was a staring contest. Two people, looking each other in their eyes; and the first who blinks or gazes away loses. To port this to the mobile world I envisioned the following:

  • You open the app
  • You bump your phone against your challenger, or get randomly paired with a stranger somewhere in the world
  • Count down
  • You and your challenger put a finger, any finger on the screen
  • The first who releases the finger looses the game
  • For visual appeal the location of the finger of your challenger is relayed to you, with some fancy visualization
  • A leader board is maintained for the longest “stare”

When I pitched this idea, I got a lot of positive comments. Mostly people coming up with how to “game” it by putting a stylus on the phone or something. That is not a bug, it is a feature. If the game would be able to persuade users to keep their fingers or anything on their phone for hours on end, I win. It’s a critique of modern society; eyes glazed over staring at their beacon of joy and despair for hours.

Distributed file storage redux

Sharing and saving files is still annoying. It’s mind boggling annoying, even. There’s Dropbox, AeroFS, Bitorrent Sync, good old FTP/WebDav … and yet none of them work. They limit file size uploads, are capped by your local HDD storage, take time to set-up, or are god awfully slow. So what about the following:

  • You reserve a tiny fraction of your hard drives for the cloud
  • This reserved fraction becomes unavailable to you
  • The reserved fraction serves as a node in a distributed file system, like Bitorrent
  • In return you get that same fraction back as cloud storage
  • Whenever you upload a file to the cloud storage it’s encrypted and distributed among all the users (to their reserved fractions)
  • The more you reserve, the more you get back (or even more if you pay for server backed storage)

The idea is to split up your files into parts that can be safely put on other peoples laptops and work stations. In essence it becomes a big torrent network. To ensure that your files are always available some redundancy must be build in (e.g. if a node in the network closes their laptop, you should still be able to access your files). You can heuristically calculate the needed redundancy by monitoring node uptime, geo location, and bandwidth. Unfortunately, I still do not have the programming chops to pull this off. Block chains, maybe?

E-readers as a wireless printer

God I hate E-book readers. DRM infused, proprietary messes of devices they are. But the displays are still great for reading text. So what I really want is an E-book reader (Kindle or something) that acts as a wireless printer on the network. Then, when I’m looking at some document; be it PDF, Word or whatever I simply hit “print” and select the E-book reader. With Apple AirPrint (or whatever it’s called) I can even print vouchers or documents directly from my phone or tablet to the E-book reader (some barcode scanners don’t work with LCD). The file gets transfered to the E-book reader and is displayed directly, or stored in some printer spool. Is this too much to ask for?

Micropayment sex toys

There may have been alcohol and/or drugs involved when coming up with this. Basic idea, you have a sex toy (for him or her) and your “friends” (or contacts) can do micropayments to control the toy. Pairs great with cameras, I assume.

Peer pressure calendar app

This is an idea I had in college. I had the biggest trouble keeping up with routines and changing habits. Still do. So the idea derived from the concept of “streaks”. Every day you get to check a box that you did something (“turven”, Tally Marks). There is some psychology involved for the completionists among us to not break the tally. So what you do is:

  • You set a goal (something like “do yoga” or “write a page in your report”) with a predefined time of day
  • You invite friends (via some social network, or via SMS) to monitor your goal
  • If they accept to monitor your goal, the following happens:
    • If you check your goal before the set-time nothing happens to your monitors, you made your goal
    • If you do not check your goal, a message goes out to your monitors that you didn’t do it “Joel did not do his daily walk before 8PM!”, the monitors then get the option to respond directly by message or a call.

Note that the latter is not the “happy flow”. The idea is that having people be bugged if you don't do something acts as peer pressure.

Solar power “Hotel bookers”

Buying solar panels is such a convoluted mess. IKEA is doing some great work, but it still involves screw drivers and weird screws (I assume). However, there are a lot of service providers that are willing to do it for you. So simple screen

  • You enter your location, it heuristically determines the expected output and ROI (based on sun days, type of home, etc)
  • You get the option to buy it
  • A local registry of all the electricians and providers is queried, returning the most available and cheapest one
  • The order is placed with them, you get confirmation
  • The site skims off some percentage of the purchase as profit

This similar to the hotel booking sites. Service providers register themselves and put up their offerings. Whenever you want a hotel, the system is queried and the entire flow is processed by the booking gateway. Unifying the flow of buying solar panels, making it as simple as booking a hotel, could radically change the uptake of this technology (one hopes).

Offline bookmarks

The web is in a constant state of flux. Bookmarks from just a couple of days old sometimes won’t work anymore. And, within months or years, it is almost guaranteed that you won’t be able to access your bookmarked pages again. This is annoying, since it prevents building a corpus of ideas and notes. Sites like the Internet Archive/“Way back machine” remedy this somewhat, but are slow and incomplete. Social bookmarking options like Pocket also help, but are cloud based, and thus provide no stability or privacy guarantees. I propose a simple replacement for the build-in browser bookmarks, with the same one-click interface to create a bookmark. But instead of just saving the address (URL) it copies the entire page (current DOM, assets, images) and a screenshot for offline use. This offline snapshot of the website gets stored somewhere on your hard drive, so you can use the standard Cloud Sync and back-up options if desired. In addition, because we have an offline snapshot, the full text can be indexed and be made available for search. So instead of searching just for the title, you can also search for any snippet of text from the page itself. Clever clustering tools like Scatter Gather can make the potentially large set of snapshots easy to browse.