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Startup Ideas We'd Like to Fund (ycombinator.com)
532 points by pg on July 19, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 380 comments

Some things I want:

1) A way to ensure that each person can only create one account on a website, without having to sacrifice anonymity.

2) A day planner that plans my day for me; based on my to-do list, what my friends are doing, and also what's going on in the local area. Also, populate the bulk of my to-do list automatically based on what my friends in the same classes are adding to theirs. Plan social dates for me based on when my friends and I are free. Introduce me to people I don't know but should know.

3) A way to get more people involved in Internet-mediated locally social stuff.

4) A semi-standardized way for people to build up a reputation without needing a college degree.

5) An IMDB for people who have won awards. I want to a quick way to find the professors with the most citations in any given subject, the chefs in the area with the best zagats reviews, the local high school football players with the most touchdowns, etc.

6) An academic search engine targeting people who are college educated but who don't necessarily have extensive experience with the inner workings of academia. Right now there are really good ways of accessing journal articles online, but really poor ways of learning what academic journals to look in. There's no way to know which journals are respected and which aren't. No easy way to translate plain English questions into the keywords that are used by academics.

7) A way to turn recipes on the web into peapod orders. A way to turn the customized diets that Weight Watchers or WebMD create into a peapod order.

For number (6), I've been thinking about something in a similar area but a different take. The whole journal system itself is broken. My university's Math & CS library dropped its subscriptions to several journals a few years ago because they cost too much. Even though they picked the least important/prestigious journals, at one of the top CS departments in the country, this should not happen. And this is to say nothing of a lone individual who wants to benefit from research and teach himself some of it. They can hardly pay to subscribe to any of these journals.

And think about what a journal provides: a forum for researchers to submit the results of their research and a mechanism for selecting which of the submissions are worthwhile for folks in the field to know about.

What I just described is essentially just a karma system, albeit you would have to find a way to take the credibility of the rater into serious consideration. Assuming you solved the chicken-and-egg problem of getting enough credible people from academia to be raters and to submit their best work to your site (quite a tough problem considering many large universities are much more like big companies, or worse government bureaucracies, than startups), you could totally replace the entire system of academic journals.

Think of all the other free extras you would get by having a web app host all journal articles: at minimum, the process of citing references and looking at the background of a paper could be improved: you could visually trace the findings of the paper you're looking at all the way back to the founding of the field by what each of it's references used as references. Search would be a lot better, as would recommendation engines (lots of professors have grad students waste time simply scanning journals for articles that are relevant for their work). If you're into NLP than you would have a much better dataset and a clear application for doing summarization. And think about the possibilities of social networking or productivity-app type features enabling all sorts of new possibilities for collaboration among people at different universities!

But the real big play is that once you do all this, you're well on your way to replacing universities themselves, which any undergraduate can tell you are bloated enterprises which spend large amounts of money and pass the costs onto their customers, who accept it because the university system has a monopoly on giving out credentials for people going into the working world.

One of universities main products is research, and in many fields (biology, physics) you need the big backing of university (and government) dollars to support research. In many other fields (math, Computer Science, philosophy) you don't. Researchers in these fields usually need to somehow pay their living expenses, and the actual equipment expenses are minimal. They mainly need: -a place to find like-minded collaborators -credibility for their work (ie, ability to publish in journals). You could give them both of those things. Now people in these fields wouldn't even need to choose the career path of grad school and then professorship (in other words, staying their entire life in the university monopoly) in order to contribute their research to humanity's body of knowledge.

So in other words, what you need is to build a HN/Reddit style voting/peer review system that weights the credibility of the voter heavily. Then you need to find some early adopters who are credible enough to lend your own site credibility. Then you could be well on your way to reinventing the academy in a way that is much more democratic and makes its results much more widely available and usable by the public.

Anyone want to build this? My email address is in my profile. Or just go ahead and use this idea yourself - I just really want to be able to use this service somehow, though probably more as a consumer than a producer of research. Maybe someone who actually went to grad school and had lots of papers published themselves would be in a better position to build this idea.

great comment, mlinsey. i've been thinking about this problem a bit too and your points essentially sum up what needs to be built - a HN for academia. citeseerx, though more of a search engine, kind of does this on an annual basis by tabulating citations; ditto for ssrn.com in the social sciences world. but i think one of the problems is that the conversations and feedback around these papers doesn't yet happen in a more public forum, and that alone would be a pretty useful feature.

btw, i don't think your email address is public, but my contact info should be listed; feel free to shoot me a message.

Great comment. One consideration is that the credibility isn't global or transferable across fields. It's constrained to each niche. So you really want a slinkset for academia more than an HN.

@ #7

You mention classes so I guess you are on a campus. I am working on a project with a large colledge cafeteria mgt company. Where we are building specific diets (weight loss, strength building etc) from their daily menu and then letting students access the diet/menu selection in a number of cool ways //Hard to explain in a comment

If you have ideas, my email is in my profile. Cheers/mike

Interesting concept. I actually interned briefly at CBORD a couple summers ago. One interesting thing I discovered was that small community colleges with cafeteria management systems took great pride in them. For example, several schools featured their systems on the school’s homepage. It's almost as if they believe that giving students a card to swipe to get into the dining halls is what makes one a real college. I don't really have any specific ideas, other than that you should play off the social status aspect at the lower end of the market. I know people selling software to colleges normally think first about the Ivies, but realize that your product is going to be one of the things that the smaller colleges get really excited about. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them actually started talking your product up on their campus tours.

What's a peapod order?

http://www.peapod.com Looks like an online grocery store.

i thought it was some sort of mathematical sorting mechanism

By now other people have answered the question of what it is.

I use peapod every other week. It probably saves me an hour and a half each time--it's pretty cool.

It was a very hot web start up back in the 90's it was since bought out by some brick and mortar grocery store.

The largest online grocery store.

I'm passionate about online learning. I like James Burke's knowledge web idea [http://www.k-web.org/], but I'm not terribly optimistic about their approach/implementation.

The idea is to make a network of knowledge which enables self-directed learning. Could incorporate tests/games, dependencies (to learn x, you need to learn y, or even complete a subgame), external references for further reading, and possibly a lot more. A great feature would be systems to allow collaboration or lightweight teaching among learners (chat/forums/etc).

With a bit of thought it may be possible to make a framework into which volunteers add a lot of the content, though editors/quality control would likely be necessary.

If I built it, I'd be inclined to ignore existing public educational systems and start from scratch, but if it hooked into them it may help growth.

A large and frequently overlooked part of what good teachers do: motivating. In my opinion, it's the true hard problem in online learning.

Related to that, I think one of the major problems is to motivate kids to do their damn homework, as one of the biggest hindrances to motivation is lack of comprehension. That sets in very quickly if kids only think about the material during class. Once a student drops behind, they are all but lost to you unless you're doing one on one tutoring where you can backtrack without wasting a whole lot of people's time.

I spent a while as a tutor, and I was always amazed that parents were more than happy to spend $100/hr for private tutoring, which most of the time just amounted to overpaying an over-educated person to babysit your kid while they do simple homework that they could very easily have worked through themselves, but just didn't. Yeah, I was also available to answer questions, and clarify things, and I was very good at it, but fundamentally, the most helpful thing was just that the kid was forced to be there mentally.

Crazy idea alert: why not save some money and pay your kid $10 or $20/hr to do their homework rather than paying me $100/hr to watch them do it? I'm sure dollar-for-dollar this would be far more effective. If need be, pay me the $100 a fifth as often - while I love the money, I honestly feel like most of the time I spend tutoring is wasted since the kids see it as a substitute for their own personal work, not as a supplement to it. I've often wondered if setting up an automated, pre-funded allowance system based on online homework time (or productivity, or some combination) might help this situation. I know that the idea of paying (bribing) kids to do what they "should" be doing anyways seems wrong philosophically, but I really think it might be more cost effective in the end. And if the old line that "school is your job" holds true, then perhaps kids _should_ receive a little money up front for work, especially if they won't do it otherwise. Yeah, rewards come later and all, but how many rational adults would really be willing to work at 100% effort for twelve years with only an assurance that they will be compensated for their labours with some unspecified and uncertain amount later? (no offense intended to anyone that took tech jobs for stock options during the dot-com bubble, of course :) )

This is a big part of why I like the idea of an interconnected web of knowledge - as opposed to the silos most students are forced into today.

As long as the learner is interested in one small area of knowledge, they can easily follow links to related areas they didn't know they cared about. Because the system shows how knowledge interrelates, motivation in one area can spread naturally around the system. This way, learners work with their interests, instead of being forced to think about things they don't know why they should care about.

Maths is a great example. A lot of kids dislike maths because it seems boring and irrelevent to them. But since maths underpins so much of knowledge, many learners would find themselves needing to understand a mathematical concept to advance in their primary interests - and because they can then see the benefit of learning maths they become self-motivated, and perhaps even gain an appreciation for maths in its own right.

So much of education today goes against the individual's grain - relying on a factory-mentality, where each child/product must move along a variety of production lines in a pre-ordained manner. With a system like the one I imagine, the learning process works with the learner's natural motivations, rather than against it.

That's why combining e-learning with games is such a good idea.

I think the open source textbook projects in the works might be something that could propel an idea like this forward.

Personally, I find the lack of high quality videos about physics, mathematics, and computer science quite irritating. When I do manage to have some free time, I like to watch videos, such as those from Nova. Unfortunately, one can't find many free versions on the internet.

Just in case you hadn't seen it: http://videolectures.net/

Part of the problem is that such videos are hard to find, and not usefully aggregated anywhere (a problem I am indirectly trying to solve ;).

Producing such videos is so much work.

Here's a concept: Make an online system that makes it easier to assemble a team of geographically and temporally separate volunteers to upload video clips, edit them into a sensible sequence, do voiceovers, and publish the result. Like a Wikipedia for techie videos, though perhaps with a slightly higher barrier to entry to prevent griefing. (Nobody wants to watch the James Burke video that suddenly becomes NSFW in minute three... I mean, show that to a kid accidentally and you could literally go to prison.)

UPDATE: Hey, wait a minute, have I just invented Youtube's "This video is a response to video X" discussion system?! Only with more geeks and fewer cats on pianos?

>With a bit of thought it may be possible to make a framework into which volunteers add a lot of the content, though editors/quality control would likely be necessary.

I like the idea of students up or downvoting stuff based on how clear it is. Even a diagram or a one-sentence description could have up and down votes associated with it.

I think that is a very good idea.

We would have to take two factors into account, I think, those are; (1) clarity (2) accuracy. An “entry” can be very easy to understand but completely inaccurate, or completely accurate and horribly difficult to understand, and so forth. So one could vote on clarity and/or accuracy, depending on whether you are competent or incompetent.

I envisage going onto this site and thinking “I want to learn something new about the Fibonacci sequence”, or: “how does Quicksort work?” and so: “show me results tagged ‘quicksort’”.

One could shrug this idea off as a “Wikipedia clone-- with voting”, but Wikipedia is just an encyclopaedia; it does not aim to teach you things. But, we can take some ideas from Wikipedia...

If entries -- which would essentially be factoids, as I am hypothesising -- contain a few paragraphs and cover one very narrow topic, that would necessitate cross-linking of entries. Just as you read Wikipedia and follow hundreds of links because you just “have to!” know more about this topic, this could be applied to entries. Perhaps even “related entries” or “series” (an ordered set of related entries) could be created.

This is a very exciting idea to me. Does anyone know of anything like it? I may implement it if I see nothing like it. Let me condense the criteria:

1) A web site for learning things, however popular or esoteric 2) Learning is done by reading entries, submitted anonymously or otherwise. 3) Entries are short, to the point, and very narrow. (“What is polymorphism?”, “How do I implement RAII in C++?”) 4) Entries are voted upon by two factors indicating overall quality; (1) clarity (2) accuray. 5) Cross-linking, like a wiki.

Damn you, Hacker News!

Heh, sorry that I'm late to reply.

Anyway, I got very excited about a very similar set of ideas. I'm not much for programming (yet) though. But go for it!

Here is an idea for dealing with prerequisite knowledge:

Let's say I want to learn about quicksort. For quicksort, let's say I need to know about arrays and recursion. For recursion, I need to know about functions.

If I search for quicksort, the program should analyze my user profile to see which prerequisites I need. Then it should generate a page with all the prerequisites and quicksort.

Now let's say I'm reading about recursion. At the end of the page it should ask me a few questions about recursion, for which I will type in the answers. Getting the questions correct should be a very good indication that I understand the section. If I get them wrong, the program should try to give me a hint. If this has not been implemented for a particular section, I should just get a generic extended explanation. Either way, I should have another question to answer.

Thinking about this is making me become mildly excited about my idea again. Maybe I will beef up my programming skillz and attempt an implementation.

Anyway, I emailed the author of <a href="http://eloquentjavascript.net/">Eloquent Javascript</a>, and here's what he had to say about computer-assisted learning:

>There is a lot of great stuff that can be done with 'hyper-text', but it is tricky. My initial plans for Eloquent JavaScript were way more extravagant, but going away from the old style of text turns out to be rather hard -- that form has been evolving for three thousand years, and is much enriched by the fact that we are all used to it and know its conventions. When a text is no longer continuous, you can not refer back, which somehow makes it a lot less personal -- I liked that fact that, in writing chapter 4, I could keep talking about stuff mentioned in chapter 2. A radically 'active' text is bound to be either a disconnedted cloud of snippets, or some carefully crafted non-linear experience that would take years to get right.

That's sort of what we're aiming to do at http://www.dojolearning.com/ - longer term anyway. We're starting off by hitting the business market first, which is more open to change and not as tied to the existing learning systems, but we do plan to branch out in lots of ways to make a better online learning experience for everyone.

Anyway, if you're passionate about online learning, I'd love to chat about it with you if you're interested...

Sure, email in profile. But I should stress that I use the word passionate to mean enthusiastic, not to indicate I have any special skills or expertise!

Hi I am interested - Please feel free to contact me at khurram@geniteam.com

I'm interested in online education too -- if interested, check out my blog at betterexplained.com.

One problem I see with education in general is that there's plenty of content (like Wikipedia), but not enough focus on the delta that takes you from "huh" to "aha!". Feel free to message me with ideas if you'd like to chat.

Hi These are really interesting ideas. Would you be interested in following up the idea in more details with me. Please contact me at khurram@geniteam.com

I totally agree with the outsourcing of IT. My father owns a minor distribution company. That deals with spa, pool, and bath parts. No piece of software has ever come to make their life easier. I have been involved with every major software purchase and I am constantly thinking to myself, I know these people I could probably make something that would work.

The biggest problem I see is that hosted apps are great, but these guys need the software to be up all the time. They may even have bad internet connections. So I was thinking the best model would be to have a hosted application, and then if the company wanted greater up time they could by a box and put it at their location and it would take care of syncing with the online counterpart. That way they could continue business while offline.

As long as you are taking care of integration, and migration you could probably open source the underlying software and still make money on support services. You could also make money selling monthly low cost licenses per user like 10 or 15 dollars per person.

"The biggest problem I see is that hosted apps are great, but these guys need the software to be up all the time."

I was the Director of IT for a $250mm startup, a little under 5 years old. We started, as almost all valley startups do, using quick books for our financials. Very quickly issues like Purchase Orders, Expense Reports, became more important so we looked to move to an online SAAS financials system - we chose Netsuite. Our internet connectivity grew as the number of our employees grew, until today, at 120 employees, we have a finance/procurement department of 10 people, and a 3 Mbit connection to the internet. Our Financial software has been on the Internet somewhere for the last 4+ years, and has never gone down. I used to be impressed that our DSL link was as reliable as our T1, until an ISP explained to me that they were probably both landing on the same equipment on the back end - just one of them was coming at me with T1 Framing.

This is just a long way of saying that Internet connectivity can be assumed now. Large (very large) companies don't think twice of oursourcing their business critical functions, and, in fact, as we transition from Netsuite to Oracle Financials, we didn't even consider hosting it ourselves - found a third party and paid them $5500/month to host it for us - access over a L2L IPSEC link.

Anybody want to form a YC company - don't worry about the Internet Part - unless you are building a real-time/nuclear/medical/navigation/flight safety product/etc..., hosted apps are the way of the future.

I've sometimes wondered whether IT isn't becoming the 'core' part of a business. I.e. the one that's most complex and drives the competitive edge and success of a business. I have worked in IT in many different industries and often enough found the 'business' part of the business to be easy to pick up while it sometimes took ages and a lot of brainpower to get on top of the technology. In other words, IT people can understand 'businesss' but business people can't understand IT. So, in the future, instead of having a bank with an IT department, we'd have an IT company with a bank department. They'd probably switch sooner from banking to insurance than from one IT infrastructure to another.

I think amazon is a good prototype for this. It's a tech company that also sells books. They later added all sorts of other crap like electronics, then stuff that they don't even deliver but where they just act as a front for other retailers and finally they are now offering their IT services purely by themselves (S3, EC2).

I don't think IT will ever become that important. IT will just take its rightful place next to Law Firms and Accounting Firms as a necessary part of the business but not the core.

It is kind of surprising that IT, with its self references as fast-paced and innovative has taken so long to realize its own inefficiencies. IT (in the sense of internal computer systems for businesses) was greatly over invested starting in the 90s because the executives of the time were so scared. I remember stories of Hollywood executives who would ask their assistants to surf websites they were going to invest in and videotape it. They would take these video tapes home for 'research' the same way they would research actors, directors and movies to invest in. They completely didn't get it. So what did they do? They did what most people do when they are scared, they try to buy insurance. This insurance came in over-investment in all things technology both externally and internally, leading to huge IT departments that then used their bulk to buy more technology and increase their internal political might until all this over investment corrected itself in the legendary bubble pop.

I think when all is said and done, IT will be just like Payroll. When was the last time you met a person who works 40 hours a week processing payroll? They used to exist at every company - now everyone's checks come from ADP or PayChex. IT will be done by an outside company and will part of the budget for each person on the payroll. But of course I am a little biased...

Hmm, payroll - There is an industry to be disrupted...

I have a vague idea what you mean by the 'inefficiencies'. I am wondering whether these would have manifested in the first place if IT had been given a more central role. It's a lot about motivation too, the 'central' people in a business are usually motivated by being shareholders as well as employees at the same time. If you treat IT as just another accountant they will find endless means and ways to drag their feet and just generally pursue their own interests which are generally opposed to that of the business. Being linked into the flow of information, i.e. high level senior management decisions, is important too for efficiency.


I totally agree that things could always be better and that incentives are the key to this. There is a business concept from the 80s called 'open book management' where everyone in the company sees where all the money goes. This is more transparency than even public companies have.

I think it could be a technique that would get everyone from accounting to IT more involved in the business. I also think there needs to be much shorter expectations of how long someone will work for a company. Hollywood is on to something with the way they bring together small teams to make a film that then disband and reform in a new configuration for the next film. I wonder what would happen if every person in the company had to choose each year whether they want to continue with the company. They would in effect have a one year job. This might make their sense of urgency and priority for the 52 weeks within that year much more focused. It might also form a company with much more dedicated people who really want to be there.

Help. Help. I feel like that guy in the Sandman comics who gets cursed to have nothing but original ideas, as rapidly as possible, day and night, forever.

Seriously, this list is exhausting to read. It's like the topic sentence for an entire century. I'm going to have to take it a little piece at a time.

There's no such thing as an original idea. Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.

There is such a thing as being the first to give a real physical (or commercial) form to an idea, though.

Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.

Even if this were true (which seems extremely unlikely) someone had to think of it first. So there would have been a point when it was possible to have new ideas. How can you be sure the present is not such a point, when we know there were such points in the past?

Well an idea (such as a flying car) can differ so marginally from its ancestor idea that the two are almost impossible to distinguish. But while the idea can have several thousand iterations, it's usually measured externally only by its popular implementations, discretizing the process and making ideas like Google search seem "new."

Sort of like looking at each generation from chimpanzees to humans.

No, I think you're misunderstanding my statement.

I did not say that people do not have new ideas. That is a blatantly ridiculous statement. I said that worthy ideas have already been had.

My argument comes from looking at literary and philosophical ideas, and my comment was a jest in response to another jest, but there's truth in it. There's a persistent quest for originality in literature, and after some years of chasing that particular ghost I came to the conclusion that it's an illusion. All the great subjects, all the great ideas, have been had already. That doesn't make a book written today less valuable, because what I would add to whichever idea I decide to write about is my own, unique perspective on it. But it means that trying to come up with some completely original idea for a book is pointless - if it's "completely original" it is probably worthless. If ten of thousand years of human civilisation have not yet produced that idea in any form, there's probably a good reason.

Hence my statement that ideas worth having have been had a thousand times already.

So, rather than chasing originality in writing, I think it's more worthwhile to enrich my perspective so that what I add to whatever ancient kernel I might pick is actually worth adding.

Now, extending this to start-up ideas, as you well know, if you have a brilliant idea for a start-up, chances are someone has already had that idea somewhere in the world. If no one has had it at all out of 6 billion people, chances are it's not brilliant, and probably not worth pursuing. Moreover, most great business ideas are not "original", but twists on existing ideas, putting an existing concept into a new perspective. So even the first person to come up with a new twist is still just coming up with a new twist. As with books, though, it doesn't matter whether your idea is original, what matters is what you put into it (the execution, basically). I think this is in agreement with your articles.

Businesses exist to fulfil human needs. The idea of fulfilling human needs is as old as human needs themselves. The ways of doing so are just as old. Social networking, for example, might be a new twist on the idea of helping people make and keep friends, but it's still fulfilling the human need for friendship, something which thousands of other businesses do too.

So, again, rather than striving to come up with a truly original start-up idea, I think it's more worthwhile to hone my ability to take whatever idea I do decide to run with and make it into a working business.

Chasing originality is a self-defeating thing to do, but not because all worthy ideas are unoriginal. It's because it points in the wrong direction, away from the wellsprings of creativity. It's like trying to be funny. The most striking thing about all those "persistent quest[s] for originality in literature" is how utterly samey they are. Ditto for music. But then someone like Bob Dylan or Kurt Cobain does do something original, and people wake up.

The way I hear what you're saying, you found a way out of a trap for yourself (the trap of trying to be original, which just leads round in circles) by deciding that nothing's really original. That sounds like a valuable insight under the circumstances. It doesn't mean that the generalization holds universally, though (which is why you're getting objections to it here). In fact the opposite generalization might be equally true: every great idea has never exactly occurred before.

Oh, for sure, and to be fair, my response was not meant to be a rigorous logical statement, since it was in response to a jest about Sandman comics :-) However, I felt there was some truth to it so I defended it anyway.

I'm quite comfortable with the idea (original or not) that opposing concepts can both be true simultaneously. Your opposite generalisation does sound very interesting too. I'm going to write it down in my little idea notebook for further thought some day :-) Thanks!

(Thinking about it now, putting both these statements together appears like it could well need to a very interesting Borges-like story)

Are mathematical proofs worthy ideas?

Are you saying that all the proofs to be discovered have been?

Ok, replace "ideas" in my comment with "worthy ideas." Still applies.

Then I disagree. I don't think there are any new worthy ideas being come up with these days. I think pretty much everything we do is a refinement on existing ideas, and different approaches of implementation. All the really interesting ideas are already out there, and have been for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The process of their evolution has been one of evolution, variation and refinement - not of creation, not for a long time.

You fund many start-ups. How many have come up with a truly original idea? How many have, instead, taken an existing idea and given a new spin to it, or even just taken an existing idea and applied it to a new market? In fact, if you can't express your idea in a few words, is probably not a great start-up idea. And if you can, then it's probably fairly close to an existing idea. "Search engine for parts" (Octoparts). "Job site for start-ups" (Startuply). "Automatic time-management tracking" (RescueTime). "Configurable, hosted e-commerce platform" (Viaweb). "Social news for hackers" (YCNews). All potentially great businesses or worthwhile endeavours, but not because of any originality.

Obviously this doesn't apply to all intellectual fields equally well. It very much depends on your definition of "idea", too. But I think for a definition of idea that maps fairly closely to "start-up ideas" as well as "book/story ideas" or even "wise ideas" - all the good ones are out there for the picking, and have been for eons.

> it's an illusion. All the great subjects, all the great ideas, have been had already.

Arriving at this feeling is an unmistakable symptom of being physiologically incapable of creativity. My condolences. On the plus side, most of humanity is in the same boat as you.

Ah, the good old ad hominem. Always works as a backup when you don't have anything to say.

That's true, but I hear what mechanical_fish is saying, too. I suffer from much the same problem: many elements on the list are things which I have thought about to an extent that I've worked out every single step needed to make them work. The problem is, I haven't the time to pursue everything I would like to.

Let's take the "simplified browsing" problem, for example. I worked phone technical support for an internet service provider for a while, and it wasn't long before I saw the need for exactly such a thing. But, it runs deeper than just web browsing and email: there is a huge, absolutely massive number of people out there that need a simpler computer. They don't understand things like firewalls and security, and aren't inclined to ever understand them.

The solution? Take a Linux distribution and hack it heavily; simplify the desktop layout, hide all the settings, and set it up so that immediately after booting, a full-screen web browser appears. The web browser defaults to a very simplified portal page; the user logs in to their "computer" exactly once (on the portal page), and from there they have access to simplified email (which, for example, doesn't have things called "Reply to All"), chat, word processing, and other services.

Thing is, the previous services that have tried to create such a thing have done it wrong; they tried to release their own computer, hardware and all. That doesn't work, at least not now. This would work though because you could sell a CD which would make the installation process a breeze. You wouldn't have a huge initial development cost for the operating system; a good Linux hacker could probably make the necessary changes very quickly.

After, say, 6 months of development by a few people, and with the aid of a crack marketing team, you could start distributing copies of this thing for around $75. You'd be tapping in to an under-served market not just of senior citizens but of every average family that's frustrated at using their computer.

You could even build in a secure remote desktop protocol for the operating system, and make tech support -- if you wanted to offer it -- the easiest it's ever been.

So, there ya go. Probably a hundred-million-dollar idea, with most of the framework. Lots more details, too many to list here.

Got time to build it?

I wonder for how long the demand for simple browsers will exist. Today we still have old people and such who are afraid of computers. But they might go away and all the young ones that come after them might not have their problems.

Also, I wonder about the browsers that come with game consoles like the Wii, are they any good? They might be easier to use than full-fledged computers?

“Simple browsers” (#2), i think, has already been solved. Take http://Shiira.jp/en.php or Safari on the iPhone. The larger problem is how to make mass audiences aware without mass advertising, or to make it affordable to those without income. Seeing this problem under the lens of getting computer and media illiterates to open their minds, or employing the permanently unemployed, better reframes the challenge.

"there is a huge, absolutely massive number of people out there that need a simpler computer"

This is a good observation. Anyway, the issue here is, whether that massive number will have some common notion of what the simpler computer actually is.

I believe it is possible to start with a metaphor that everyone educated enough to want to use a computer understands: a book (my 1.5-year-old daughter qualifies: she would love to push the buttons on my laptop keyboard, were it allowed; she also loves to look at (picture) books). XO 2 is the right step in that direction: see http://blogs.pcworld.com/staffblog/archives/006986.html for details. Once the hardware is in place, the software is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to design and build.

I think the problem with 'simpler' computers is similar to the problem with WYSIWYG development and database platforms: they are too simple for anyone whose job or interest it is to create a webpage or database and too complex for the ocassional user. This is why MySpace took off where all the many DIY webpage creation tools did not. MySpace redefined the goal with tools that leveraged the hidden desires of people to have a webpage. In the case of MySpace is was to socialize. Most people don't think of MySpace and Facebook as a web development tool but if you look at what the end result is, you'll see that people are creating online content using these social networks.

So the problem of "simpler browsers" will likely only be solved by solutions that redefine the experience and goal and it will likely be very close to what we now call a smartphone.

They don't, nor do they have to. In fact, they generally don't have any idea of what to expect from a simpler computer, other than "it's not frustrating".

For those of us that are computer literate, it's hard to imagine that even basic abstract concepts like email are completely foreign to the majority of the population. I would guess that over half of people don't know how to answer the question, "what do you use for a web browser?".

So you have a blank slate, a free pass to design anything you can imagine. If you can deliver it to these people, and if they don't find it intimidating, or hard to learn, or unpredictable, then they'll like it.

How is different from America Online in the 90's? It wouldn't be exactly the same, and the execution might be better, but wouldn't it be much the same?

Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.

Perhaps, but not by me, and not all at the same time. ;)

No such thing as a new idea...

I would argue that this is true in one sense only--before anyone had invented the wheel, the wheel still existed. The idea of the wheel had existed the moment matter was created lending the possibility of the wheel to come about. Arguably even before this. However the idea of the wheel was not realized until someone captured that idea. This is the same with any idea, every idea already exists, out there, somewhere.

However, to rearrange the words of the proposed idea, that is to say that "no one has ever had an original", new idea, cannot be true mathematically simply because there are an infinite number of ideas.

The question now becomes two parts

1) Definition of "new ideas", and 2) Whether or not there are any new WORTHY ideas

Response to 1). Interpretation of a new idea greatly limits the concept of having a "new idea". For example, is a walkman the same idea as an iPod? Both are ways to carry music around with you portably and conveniently. Same with a horse and buggy and an automobile. HOWEVER, I would argue that both of these show that an iPod and a car are distinctly new ideas.

Response to 2) This idea greatly underestimates the intellectual power of people. Throughout history there have been worthy, new ideas (air travel, concept of the atom, big bang theory, the internet), how can it possibly be that there are none left?

Overall I really hope that what I believe is true, that there are new worthy ideas to be had. For example there has to be some brilliant man or woman somewhere that will come up with a new idea, or a dumb man or woman that will stumble across one, that will undoubtedly arise from a problem or crisis that arises (ie energy crisis...COME ON PEOPLE, PROVE ME RIGHT!!).

Not that one is the first to see something new, but that one sees as new what is old, long, familiar, seen and overlooked by everybody, is what distinguishes truly original minds. The first discoverer is ordinarily that wholly common creature, devoid of spirit and addicted to fantasy - accident. (Nietzsche)

See, even the idea that original ideas are not original is not original. If only Borges was around to help guide us, we'd probably found that Nietzsche got this idea, in slightly different form, from an 18th century academician, who in turn was able to lift it from the writings of a Russian monk, who in turn found it in a little-known greek play.

From André Maurois' preface to Borges' Labyrinths (about Borges):

His sources are innumerable and unexpected. Borges has read everything, and especially what nobody reads any more: the Cabalists, the Alexandrine Greeks, medieval philosophers. His erudition is not profound - he asks of it only flashes of lightning and ideas - but it is vast. For example, Pascal wrote: 'Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.' Borges sets out to hunt down this metaphor through the centuries. He finds it in Giordano Bruno (1584): 'We can assert with certainty that the universe is all centre, or that the centre of the universe is everywhere and its circumference nowhere.' But Giordano Bruno had been able to read in a twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille, a formulation borrowed from the Corpus Hermeticum (third century): 'God is an intelligible sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.'

tell that to einstein

Not putting down Einstein by any means, but many of the ideas he is famous for existed before him. His immense skill was to come up with a better way to arrange those ideas.

that's often pointed out regarding his Special theory of relativity, and in fact it seems like it's used as "proof" that original ideas can't exist. but while it may be true in the case of the Special theory, people conveniently stop short of the General, for which it isn't

e=mc^2 came out of special relativity; while Lorentz etc. essentially had most of the pieces, Einstein was the first to derive that beautiful little bit.

I'm a bit surprised. Some of the ideas - ok, two of the ideas, dating and "the next craigslist" - don't seem that far off from the proverbial pie-in-the-sky "Facebook killer": the hard part is getting the critical mass, and everyone wants to make one. [edit] #9 and 10, photo/video sharing and auctions, are arguably in this category as well.

I also still don't get WebOS. There must be something to it, because a lot of smart people are getting excited about the field, but I just can't see it myself... can anyone help me "see the light"?

What do you expect? Demand is demand: There's not all that much difference between what humans want in 2008 and what they wanted in 1908. They want to listen to music, look at art and theatre, visit with their families, impress their friends, find meaning in their lives, and get laid.

Naturally, these are the waters where everybody goes fishing, year after year.

I think part of the secret, though, is to stop designing (e.g.) "the next dating site" and start designing a way to get compatible, single people into the same room. Focus on the problem, not the old solution. For example, the very word "WebOS" encourages bad habits of thought: It encourages you to look for something shaped like Windows or Linux, or for apps with a UI that reminds you of the desktop.

One reason those are broad is that our own filters are. We're interested in any dating site that also includes a solution to the chicken and egg problem.

BTW, by "Craigslist competitor" I don't mean a new Craigslist. I mean take one thing Craigslist does, and do it better. When you later expand outward from that, you don't have to expand into the rest of the stuff Craigslist does.

I just can't help not to relate these two things: Make a better "erotic service" and "personals" than Craigslist is. But will YC fund such a startup?

Personals shouldn't be a problem for investors. If the "erotic service" section is what I think it is, it probably wouldn't be a problem if you had enough other stuff so it didn't seem that was your whole business. That seems to be the strategy of indy papers like the Boston Phoenix, for example.

Thanks, I think your answer to indie newspaper is correct even global-wise

When I was a kid, the biggest indie newspaper against government in Taiwan had to support itself with those ads.

Freedom, democracy and smut can go hand in hand.

If you can become the platform everybody is building their webapp on, you are going to be the new Microsoft.

That maybe true, but you would have to make something better than all the currently available free ones. The best platforms seem to be worked on by the smartest people that were just trying to solve their own problems, and then give the solution away for free.

I don't see the need for any "Facebook Killer" proverb. Facebook seems to be doing a pretty good job of killing itself without any external assistance.

Facebook is killing itself right now? Are you sure?

Yeah. Most people I know who were using it heavily last summer (including myself) only log on when they receive a personal message now - and they don't even know about the Beacon flop/privacy disaster. Facebook apps are for the most part spam.

I don't think they're going bankrupt yet, for sure - but they're a looong way down from that $15b valuation some months ago.

#3 New News: There has been a tendency to focus on mass audience news. This inevitably leads to incremental improvements on news delivery. Think about the news that matters most to someone running a household--it's inherently local. But newspapers can't scale to deliver this kind of news and aggregators can only aggregate what others can deliver. The real source of local news comes from the people who live there discussing what is happening around them. We're working on a neighborhood network that allows neighbors to share and discuss what is most important to them, whether it's a shop where they had great customer service, or the little league championship game, or traffic calming issues at a particular intersection, or an event going on at the local park this weekend. By putting neighbors in touch with neighbors to discuss key issues, we think that there is an opportunity to redefine what "news" means.


I think that sites like Everyblock are part of the equation. But the real question is how do you build relevancy? There are things neighborhoods talk about and things they don't. How do you bubble up the things they talk about? How do neighbors engage each other in discussion on local topics. That's what we're working on.

I tried to read through the comments on this page but just gave up after loosing track of the context and reply and reply-to-reply. Can someone as HN make these comments appear as collapsed thread like in Gmail AND with a title so if I am posting a comment I can add a title to it that defines the context of my comment. There's probably a lot of value hidden in the replies here but I am pretty sure there are others like me who find it tough to read through.

I can't believe you miss the biggest market in the world. Is everyone in your office under 30? It's HEALTH CARE, it dwarfs EVERY "INDUSTRY" in the USA right now. Even the defense industry pales in comparison.

Hey, I have a zillion health care ideas! Google saved my life. :-)

The health care market in the US is severely dysfunctional and will either collapse or be dramatically reformed within the next decade. If your product is dysfunctional enough to make money in today's market it'll be up against the wall when the revolution comes. If your product is sensible then you may be stuck waiting 10 years until incentives are aligned to direct money toward sensible things.

The health care market is a hard one to sell to, and while it is probably the most deserving area for research and development, there are many many many legal and organizational hurdles to overcome to get to a 'sell' or 'win'.

If you have a zillion ideas, that's real good, since there are a zillion different systems/formats/workflows/protocols in place in all the hospitals/laboratories/clinics in the USA alone. Unfortunately, you can only realistically work on one idea at a time...

I totally agree. But that fits under a good enterprise solution. But it may be smarter to aim at healthcare specifically.

At the root of many issues I think is interface design. I'm not just talking about software, I'm talking about hardware. Computers really haven't changed how we interact with them for a good, what, 30 years? Is the mouse and keyboard really the best ways to interact with a computing system? Why don't we have integrated HUDs in our glasses, all of our new cars (granted some like BMW have them optionally on expensive models), or even on clothes and/or accessories we wear?

It would seem to me first that maybe we should rethink human-computer interaction in the first place.

Yes. Here's one user interface that should exist but doesnt: marionettes.

An old-fashioned marionette lets the puppeteer control all four limbs, swivel the puppet, and move it in three dimensions - using only one hand.

Connect that to a console and you have a killer game interface.

Alternatively, pitch it at high-end CAD people, and all those little tech shops doing work for Hollywood.

I have no hardware background, so no idea how tricky this is technically. But, conceptually, it seem like a no-brainer.

there were a couple working builds of this at georgia tech while i was there. they had one that was, in fact, a marionette. and one of the other fuzzwich guys (devin) built a similar thing using computer vision and hand puppets. both were hooked up to control characters in the unreal engine (primarily for machinima, but you could sorta play the game with it too). it's fun, fast, and kids adore it. so yea, definitely work being done in this area, and what has been made thus far is certainly compelling. nothing commercial that i know of, though.

Fascinating, thanks. Here's a link I tracked down, in case anyone else is interested: http://synlab.gatech.edu/data/papers/mazalek_ace2007_tui3d.p...

cool, glad you found something. for the sake of completion, here are some details & videos on the puppet show i mentioned: http://hailpixel.com/puppetshow/

I've been thinking the same thing. Some of the ways I think we can change the way this happens is by integrating multi-touch and gesture technologies and having a "double screen clamshell" design. I've seen designs like that around the internet, but I think that would be the way to go as a gradual move towards more natural human-computer interfaces.

Reminds me of Hilbert's list (http://www.math.niu.edu/~rusin/known-math/95/hilb.list). I wish this list also has the same effect and influence as that one.

edit: wikilink - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilbert%27s_problems

Hilbert's list was a little harder :)

Regarding "23. More open alternatives to Wikipedia" - I investigated this myself a while back. A viable BUSINESS is much, much harder than it looks. To begin with, note Jimmy Wales's separate commercial company "Wikia" is already in that field, and both Wikia and Wikipedia people assist in moving some content from the noncommercial Wikipedia to the commercial Wikia. Let me be clear, I don't say what they do is illegal (even if does raise eyebrows sometimes). But it's a fact that there's already a very strong established competitor, one with a huge amount of insider access that another start-up would not have. Moreover, while it's obvious Wikipedia has a huge amount of Google-juice, few people realize how difficult that is, and how many other sites have floundered in the bottom of the search results. So what's likely to happen is the start-up ends up with a website full of junk, or even worse, gets penalized by Google for having content that's too similar to Wikipedia and/or Wikia sites.

I would like to have a place where you can have an intelligent discussion of wikipedia articles as well as being able to ask specific questions on the subject of the article. Currently, AFIK, the only discussion allowed is on how to improve the articles.

Regarding #22, "A web-based Excel/database hybrid," have you ever seen dabbledb.com? It's pretty much fits your description completely and I've really liked it the few times I've had a need for it.

Having used Dabble regularly for work, I'll note that there's still a lot of room for competitors there. It's had some serious performance problems in the past few months, to the point that I've seen people go out of their way to avoid opening it even when it's got data they want. I think there's also room for usability improvements, but I don't know if I have the ideas to back that up.

All that said, it's still a fantastic tool, and Seaside is an amazing framework.

See also http://www.blist.com, similar to dabbledb and pretty cool.

These tools are great and I love DabbleDB. But I think the powerful version of these same concepts is a 'Data Repository and Reporting' service. A service that lets you suck in data from many sources (csv, Web Feeds, Database Queries, Emailed Reports, SMS, mailing lists, etc). It would not be scared to hold all this data for me and keep it secure (and would charge me for usage so that people with lots of data pay their due). It would then give me a very flexible "Crystal Reports 2.0" meets DabbleDB interface to relate, dedupe, create conflict rules and schedule data refreshes. It would then let me create beautiful reports that can be embedded in a CMS, emailed, published like a Google Doc and versioned. If anyone is working on something like this, I have lots of ideas of how it should work that I would be happy to share.

1) Do you think this should be specific to a particular business process (like managing sales force performance, managing inventory, etc.) or open ended enough to just consume data in whatever form and let the user mold the application to their liking? I guess the short version of this question is: Will they know what they want?

2) You mention admin web interface to the app. Do you think this interface has a chance of being used by a non-IT people? Will business users have conceptual appreciation for data quality issues (great majority of problems with data analysis) like deduplication, incompleteness, errors, etc. Will creating clean data repositories (and therefore QA) be the core of this service or should the user be in charge at every point, allowing him/her to even get the "garbage in" and, what follows, "garbage out"?

3) Would the ability to create private data mashups with data provided by the service provider, other publishers, or publicly available be something of core importance or nice to have?

I have a lot of other questions, since I've started working on a web solution to this problem that would work in a way that is quite similar to what you've described. I would be great if you could share your responses/other thoughts further, either here or privately on my email (in the profile). Thx!

I'm working on something that is at least tangentially related to this. Email address is in my profile if you'd like to compare notes.

Weird. The problem we're tackling at Pikluk is exactly what #2 is about, yet we weren't even invited for an interview in 07 cycle. Something tells me we should have polished our application more.

I agree, what I offered up hit several points on the list. I think it more comes down to who you are. Like the people behind YouOS.com (http://www.youos.com/html/static/team.html) are from MIT, CalTech, Stanford. I can't compete with that, only they gave up and I haven't.

> are from MIT, CalTech, Stanford. I can't compete with that

It isn't hard to compete with pompous twits riding on pure cached prestige, when competing on merit. Though I understand that the YC application process may not be entirely merit-based.

Yeah, I think you guys have something good in that area, I was surprised you didn't get an interview. Also, an open source product has come out in the last free months that unintentionally solves #2.

My startup adresses several of the points in the article, and I didn't get invited to an interview either. Maybe it's the single founder issue? Or maybe my ideas just suck ;-)

Or maybe the problem is that it address "several of the points in the article".

Even one of those is a massive undertaking. Perhaps your start up idea requires more focus?

It is pretty focused - I've made the mistake of not focusing enough in a previous startup, and won't make the same mistake twice (hopefully...)

It just happens to cover several of the points in the article in a coherent manner. I'm looking forward to posting here in a few months when I'm ready for launch to see what this community thinks of it. That'll be a good test of whether I'm onto something.

Good luck to you!

Search engine that concentrates on design? What that supposed to mean?

I don't know. I was just saying that if you want to beat Google, that's their weak spot. Or at least a big one.

Most people who read that one will think "huh?" But if someone reads it and thinks "Damn, how did he hear about what we're working on?" that's someone we'd really love to hear from.

As much as it pains me to say this, I think Google's lack of design sense might be their strong point in search. There's no extra crap to get in the way of search results. (Although I should say that in their other non-search products, it is most certainly a weakness.)

There are of course new ways to view results, but with arguable advantage. A new startup I found recently, Viewzi (http://www.viewzi.com/) does a pretty good job. But it's not better at finding stuff than Google.

Great design is the difference between Apple's version of no extra crap, and Google's.

searchme.com has an amazing UI. Not only thats cool, but very useful. i believe the next gen of search engines will be directly answering your search query, rather than simply finding appropriate links.

For many noncontroversial, unambiguous queries(1), Google already directly answers the search query. For ambiguous or controversial queries, you're gonna want the references and context of the original source.

(1) http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&safe=off&client...

I feel like Google's user experience across many products is consistently good, and never great. The spartan ethic definitely puts a lower bound on it, but I feel like there's still some upside there.

I wonder, what % of their overall hits are the homepage? It must be low, considering almost every hit there lands on a results page, but there are lots of other ways to get to a results page (Firefox, the input box at the top of a results page, etc.)

If you think that Google has a minimalist UI, you should check http://www.trazhi.com :)

Or: the "weak spot" might simply be that people inherently differ in their display preferences. _I_ happen to like Google's clean design, but if even 5% of the population actively dislikes it, someone could make some money. Google's "weakness" then becomes the fact that they can only present one face to the world. The beauty of this approach is that it will be tricky for Google to counterattack since they won't want to confuse their brand.

In short, Google may not have weaknesses, but their market does.

I think this merely shows a difference of opinion about what "design" means in this context. I'm absolutely certain that pg does not mean merely "appearance" when he says "design".

The way to approach the Google problem is to ask, when have I been dissatisfied with google search?

And you're right, there are very few weaknesses.

One of the startup approaches to the Google problem is to join forces with them instead of competing with them. Provide a page that wraps google search, but adds additional searchable items into the searchbar (search emails, todo lists, events, facebook, google all through one searchbar).

A slightly better question would be: when have I not found what I was looking for in a Google search? Or even, when was the thing I was looking for not the first search result?

If you use satisfaction as the test, you may be letting the present state of things influence your thinking too much. E.g. I bet a lot of people were satisfied with pre-Google search engines, and just took their limitations for granted.

To make a go of that kind of thing in a startup though, you'd have to make sure that it's something Google won't or can't execute on, something I'm not sure I would bet on.

Part of the idea of 'disruptive technologies' is that they aren't incremental improvements that the current leaders will just copy, but big changes that get ignored by the current leaders.

I certainly agree with that. The way to displace Google is to work on something they despise as inconsequential, the way the "portals" in the late 90s did search.

There are lots of things they despise as inconsequential: stupid consumerish stuff like celebrity gossip, cool design, things that aren't technically demanding, etc...

Sounds like you're suggesting tackling verticals that Google is ignoring.

The celebrity gossip industry is huge as anyone living in LA or who has bought a Star/People/Enquirer can attest. I think that might fall under the category of news, however.

I think that there might be a strength in ranking sites that have great design as opposed to crappy design. All things being equal, I'd rather read an article on a well designed page rather than on a page whose design is non-existent.

I have often searched google looking for recent articles, but the most highly ranked are always first which are often really old and outdated ... maybe there is something in the advanced search to tweak the ordering, I am not sure ...

www.google.com: Advanced search: Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more: Date

The fact that a user couldn't figure that out indicates a potential improvement: detecting whether a given search is time-sensitive and automatically choosing the correct search ordering.

The next big search engine will answer queries you wouldn't bother giving google. Things like "what mid-priced chinese restaurant near downtown SF would my mother like?" Its not about design, or about patching holes in google's relevance. It's a paradigm shift. Tough problem, btw ;)

One thing that has irked me about Google AdSense ads is when they present an ad based on faulty disamboguation: e.g., I'm reading an email from cello-dev(Cello is a Lisp package), and I get an ad for a re-hairing service[they put new hair on bows for stringed instruments].

I've been trying to do that. Kind of a Quicksilver on the Web. I'd be very happy if anyone from this site would check it out:


No, I think that Google's lack of crap is their strong spot. When I want to search, a text box to type stuff into is exactly the design that I need. Any more than that, and you're sliding into irrelevant fluff.

A good design means I get to the best possible search results with as little extra cruft as possible. Results are key. Google's design gives me just that -- no clutter, no confusion, no extraneous elements.

Seems like you're looking for something like Kosmix (http://www.kosmix.com/). The way they present results indicates that design is a major part of their users' experience.

I have thought before about judging the actual design of a web site (the way it renders, layout, fonts,...), I don't think it is impossible to do (with a learning system that learns from human users input), and might at least provide another factor for the final search result ranking.

Edit: is there already software for spotting fake art? That might be a starting point, as well as another market for that kind of image processing.

I am with Giorgi here. Design of what is a weakness of Google? Design of search results presentation?

A similar goal in mantra form: Make Google-fu obsolete.

Damn, how did you hear about what I'm working on?

Look for an email from me within the next two weeks. You'll know it from the subject line....

There is complete silence on one important topic: the reclamation of design space.

Every major technology that has been standardized upon has constrained the design decisions of future thinkers in some way. Nowhere has this been more true that the computing field. Certain problems (esp. re: the web) are architectural and cannot be fixed without major demolition work.

Who will fund me (or anyone) to replace TCP/IP? POSIX? Who will even entertain the thought of wiping the slate clean of the foul residues from a quarter-century of The Wrong Thing?

Laughing? Enjoy slaving away, wasting your creative juices, while standing on broken paradigms. Or start thinking forbidden thoughts.

The problem is not coming up with good ideas, it's coming up with the time (and thus money) necessary to bring them to fruition, and then create something that lasts.

Here's one I'd like to see:

Why not have a simple geolocation service that matched where you're going with people in cars that will be going your direction soon? Twitter that you want to go cross-town and in seconds you get a half dozen dynamically updated commuters that are going your way. Combine this with point-by-point gps instructions from point A to B, the commuter you select gets routing information that allows them to stop at an intersection and honk to let you know your ride is here. The service consists of three parts: (1) where you're going (and where you are via GPS) (2) a back end database that can figure out from all the real-time information who matches up (3) let you choose from the options - maybe based on the kind of car, their reputation/reliability, etc. Not too hard - in fact either Twitter or FriendFeed could be a big hunk of this business.

If geolocation and routing allowed people with cars to pick up people with minimum inconvenience, and if enough people with iPhone 3G-type phones could get streamed updated directions, and if there was a simple way to establish reputation, this could change how people commute and travel in cities, saving a tremendous amount of energy.

Posted on this at http://www.cartwrightreed.com/2008/07/off-topic.html

I don't know whether to be enthralled or appalled that my startup's idea isn't mentioned on "the list".

I'm going with enthralled!

Really a great list on what is broken and why it needs to be fixed. Pretty much everything on the internet is broken to a certain extent, that gives an opportunity for early and existing Entrepreneurs. I really want to do something with music and news, those two are totally broken which will eventually destroy the industry.

Regarding music, I've laid out a formula here:

"Using a solution of microformats, browser and OS media tracking, and direct-to-creator payments, a new Web model is quite possible."


Basically, the creator applies metadata to their media, and lets it circulate (P2P, fansites, internet radio - anything) wherever it needs to go from the outset. A Creative Commons Attribution license is used.

Browsers, media players, or a special app tracks whatever is played locally and a special app regularly prompts for voluntary payment at regular times. Only 5% may pay - but in a global world with low production costs, that might be enough.

http://Musicbrainz.org can be used to retag the files if the metadata is corrupted along the way.

News can also be 'solved' the same way - track what's being consumed and let the consumer voluntarily pay later. Few will pay, but in paying, other benefits can be obtained, like the content creator being able to give previews or special releases to their known audiences.

I don't want a nag screen on my MP3 player.

A monthly email with playback history would be better: and the option for a voluntary payment to be dispersed proportionally to whom you listened, with the option of being listed on artists' or creators' audience list.

To do that, one's web browser and media player would each have a plugin that updates the central website's playback repository. Maybe an OS level app that integrates with many possible playback apps without the user worrying about specific plugins. Spyware free of course.

See this: http://www.oddsock.org/tools/gen_fairtunes/

An idea for new news:

Start with the reddit concept: users submit and vote on links to articles, blog posts and so forth.

Then, allow users to tag each link (or otherwise add metadata), and vote on the relevence of the story to the tag. Also allow users to vote on the trustworthiness of each link and/or each source or author. Could also allow users to vote on other users, to get networks of trust.

Then you just take all that data and use it to generate personalised news, or whatever else you want.

I also like Adrian Holovaty's ideas about a data-oriented approach to news: [http://www.holovaty.com/blog/archive/2006/09/06/0307/] [http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/digitalcontent/2008/06/_future_o...]

All that voting could become tiresome, though.

True, it would need a nice interface which makes the benefit to the user very clear. Of course you wouldn't need all users to vote all the time, as long you have enough users voting occasionally.

I do agree, this sort of approach would require significantly more engagement/interaction from users than news readers are accustomed to. But there is a lot of people who want news, if some small fraction were convinced they benefit from a bit of input they could get much better news, and it would also help give better news to people who do little or no explicit inputting.

Already implemented a few times, we have an implementation that is below critical mass after months of running. Some key aspect of it is still missing :(

Jaanix isn't really what I have in mind, though it is hard to explain why. The problem I think may be a combination of interface, the basic conceptual decisions, and the chicken-and-egg problem. To get a site like this to work may require a big initial splash of publicity, as well as a very strong, subtle design.

This is one of the most intense links and discussions I've ever seen on HN/YC. I'm going to have to take an hour at least to sift through 185+ comments because I've already seen several valuable insights. Just incredible response.

Agreed! Here's hoping for more conversation-inspiring posts like this in the future.

Google is supposed to organize the world's information or something like that, but apart from their decent search engine I'm seriously not impressed by what they currently offer (I can't even use Google Maps to plan walking trips!) Are they really paying all those smart, elite hackers to play fussball and pool all day long, and write overlong, boring, pedantic essays about technology that no one really cares about?

I want a location-aware, mobile device (I don't really care whether it's an iPhone, Pocket PC, Eee PC or whatever; just something I can carry in my pocket or backpack, with good-enough battery-life, a screen, GPS and wireless link). I want to ask this device: "I want to drink this brand of beer; where is the nearest pub offering it? And please show me a map and instructions toward it. And pictures of the inside. And let me listen to the music they're currently playing, and let me know what kind of food they offer as well."

This kind of stuff (actually, it's mostly a software and "logistics" problem; all the hardware and infrastructure is ready).

Also, I have a lot more down-to-earth problems: e.g. I want to clean my bathtub/shower to a shine without using 10 different products and scrubbing for hours. It turns out that no chemical company was really able to solve this problem (seriously, I've tried everything). It looks like a stupid problem but the market is probably huge, and I expect a few smart chemical engineering students to be able to find a solution to this problem.

We took exactly what you said under "9. Photo/video sharing services" and put our own spin on photo/slideshow sharing. Presentation is key to us. We wanted people to be able to build clean, but custom, slideshows. Make a slideshow's presentation appeal to the users emotions on level apart from the photos themselves. We've still got a long way to go, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

http://www.photatobug.com if anyone's interested. :)

I really like your site. I'm not sure about that name though..

I really like your site too. I would like to see a slider so I can navigate the show and like the poster above, I'm not sure about the name.

I'm sure I'm not that rare in my dreams. They might be unusual but I'm certain others share similar hopes. I have an idea for an internet based service and a faith that in its originality and focus that it could have real value, especially within organizations, corporate or otherwise.

The plea comes from a sense of helplessness. I haven't programmed seriously in 30 years. My old skills with 360 assembler mock my ambitions. I have only a general idea of what frameworks and binding types do and couldn't tell a block or singleton method from a hole in the head. I'm not involved in the industry and am as unconnected as they come.

I follow with desperate hope TechCrunch reviews of companies offering "anyone can build" tool sets for web development only to lose hope at the limitations of rich media presentation tools and form/database creators. I need rule/logic driven input, association, display and export functionality along with the identity, security and database functionality that frameworks might provide (i.e. the equivalent complexity of a Digg 1.0).

I have a life with family, job and community responsibilities that make the learning curve of modern internet development beyond what I alone can achieve. I need a place to go with my concept that, accepting its value and in exchange for a fair part of its potential, might work with me to fulfill my vision.

I need Y Combinator Plus. Help!

Can you come up with a a one page description of the service/software that you want to build; describing in detail what it does so that someone else can implement it?

Can you afford to pay someone skilled to develop it for you?

If you are going to play the role of the idea guy, you had better be able to bring more resources than the idea itself if you want to be successful.

I could provide a one page combination business objectives statement and high level requirement specification, but a detailed spec would necessarily be longer and more complex in format.

No, I can't fund the development effort. If I could I wouldn't need a Y Combinator Plus.

I appreciate your observation about the seemingly limited value of just "the idea itself", but that's just the issue I was raising. The clear vision of why, what and how is indeed all I have to bring to the table.

Here's the deal, if you can come up with a document that has sufficient detail for someone else to implement the idea, then you could potentially implement it yourself.

Modern web development is not a mysterious form of magic, it's most comparable to a genre of theatre that relies on some very literal actors who will stick to the script exactly.

I've seen people with no more than a community college class in web design build profitable businesses online. That's one of the great things about the current state of the art, you don't need to be a graduate of the right school, or have the right background, you just need to be willing to put in a lot of work and skull sweat.

Given your faith in the current state of the art, what tools would you use/recommend to build either a simple Digg-like service or a threaded discussion board.

This week; I'd just grab the reddit download and start from there.

If I wanted to do something that was a bit more complex I'd start with Django and use the comments application that comes bundled with as a base for the functionality i actually needed.

But if all you need is a threaded forum you're better off with a hosted solution like http://slinkset.com/

If you're starting from zero, pick up a programming language, and go to it. Make mistakes now so that you can put them behind you.

Hire a developer. It's what Kevin Rose did and he's just about to sell out to Goog for $200m.

This is a very good summary. I especially like the points on enterprise software 2.0 and CRM, and the fact that they are mentioned separately as CRM, in itself, represents a huge untapped opportunity. Right now there is nothing other than Salesforce.com and a whole range of email marketers. These are good technical applications but there are a lot of varied CRM business processes that need to be addresses with a "solution" that is not just a one-size-fits-all application.

There is pipelinedeals.com and leads360.com as well.

26. Better video chat. Skype and Tokbox are just the beginning. There's going to be a lot of evolution in this area, especially on mobile devices.

It's called "meeting people face to face". Oh, you didn't laugh...

But seriously, if you really want to take video/online interaction further, why not put electrodes on your skin, and use a USB port to feed the data into your conversation window, and the other folks can see how you are feeling in real time? OK, that might be a bad joke, too...

We're working on a combination of 5 and 7. It's a good place to be, I reckon. A lot of existing enterprise software is indeed simply appalling - both internally developed and external products bought from companies that supposedly have evolved in the free market. Most of it seems to be stuck in the late 90's, when it was ok to have an awful unfriendly interface that makes user endure pain for every minute they have to use it.

The idea I submitted and worked on for three years when I applied in 2007 had three of those in one... I don't think anybody has executed on it yet, if you want to read my Spring 2007 application again. (Though if I apply again, it would be with another, more time-sensitive idea, which can also be split up into several of your categories.) I'm not trying to brag, but I did outline the exact way to beat eBay.

>I'm not trying to brag, but I did outline the exact way to beat eBay.

And somehow missing out on a $20,000 investment stopped you?!? That is total bullshit; you would have just taken out $20,000 on a credit card, because beating ebay is literally worth billions of dollars.

Thanks for your feedback. From being rejected as a single founder, I decided instead it would be better to get some work experience in order to save money while continuing my college education in order to meet cofounders at work or school for another idea that wouldn't compete against eBay, and apply to YCombinator with a new idea, as stated (and with multiple founders). I think that is an excellent plan, and far more realistic than putting myself $20,000 into debt at credit card interest levels. I would highly advise others against doing what you describe.

If you know how to beat ebay, why are you not doing it? I You could become a millionaire. I take it the thing you are working on right now could make you even more money than ebay?

Care to share about your thoughts on eBay? Can you reveal your email address?

One, there's already plenty of competition: Etsy and Amazon are just the tip of the iceberg. There's a whole ecosystem of blogs out there on this. Start with Randy Smythe and AuctionBytes.

I'm not going to outline our strategy to expand beyond gaming, but I think our plan is one (of many possible) that will work.

This is an excellent article and I'm glad you had the gumption to post it. I started KangarooBox specifically because of #7 and #4, #5, & #27 came along for the ride.

While working at a large restaurant company I realized that our issue tracking solution was very poor and/or expensive and that Corporate America would pay for a simple, effective solution. Hence I had the idea to combine commodity hardware with FOSS and sell it with service (maintenance, disaster recovery, updates, etc.) This allows everyone, large & small, to use "Enterprise" solutions at a reasonable cost by outsourcing part of the IT department (or at least the maintenance part :).

Anyway, my list is topped by something that would help me organize and manage the many things in my life. These are really just different themes on the same idea. There are quite a few websites that do some of these things, but none do it really well. For instance, I still haven't been able to find a decent site that allows me to track my automobile usage, maintenance, & info. Throw in a useful, tightly focused user forum and I think you have a winner.

a) A pet/animal web site - reminds me to order their medicine/food - sends birthday notifications - genealogy builder (for professional breeders) - stores current info (pictures, ID #, name, etc.)

b) Household things - Major appliance info (warranty, serial #, model, etc.) - living room paint color - types of plants in the front garden - insurance info - videos of a home walkthrough

c) Automotive things - make & model - info (color, VIN, etc.) - insurance info - maintenance notification (time for an oil change) - mileage, MPG calculator

Later... Richard http://www.kangaroobox.com

2. Simplified browsing. There are a lot of cases where you'd trade some of the power of a web browser for greater simplicity. Grandparents and small children don't want the full web; they want to communicate and share pictures and look things up. What viable ideas lie undiscovered in the space between a digital photo frame and a computer running Firefox? If you built one now, who else would use it besides grandparents and small children?

We have built one! our website, samfind - http://samfind.com just launched and we fill the gap for those who are less technically savvy. we concentrate on making your homepage easy to navigate and create and give you access to the websites that you use. The web can just be too darn big sometimes - and you don't need it all - all the time.

We think those who are more technically savvy can get into samfind as well. We have built widgets and gadgets for the firefox set who would like to place their samfind homepage onto the start page of their choice.

sam http://samfind.com

It's likely that the biggest startup ideas won't be on this list. But, it's still a great list.

I also think the idea of measuring and comparing complexity should be included. Even though this is arguably a pure math problem... A software startup will likely be involved because 1) any useful implementation will likely be software based 2) It'll be useful to most businesses in the world 3) most hackers know math.

[edit: wording]

Re 27 (hardware/software hybrids) there is a good example: The Free Telephony Project: http://rowetel.com/ucasterisk

A community has been working on Open Hardware designs for IP telephony - embedded Asterisk boxes. The technology is now in mass production, and several commercial products are being spun out of the original, community based work.

Start by writing Basic for the Altair.


On "new news:"

I'm not concerned about how the newspapers and producers like MSNBC and Washington Post create the story. The main problem is how do the search engine or whatever can search that news. The problem with Google News is that google is crawling and indexing all the webpage news like it was a webpage and it is not very up to date. If there was a fire right now, you won't see that in google right now. On the other hand, RSS is a different topic. First of all not all news producers have RSS. My main question is, if there is a flooding happening right now, what is the best way to find that information. You can't use google now, because they haven't crawled and indexed it. I'm thinking of news search/aggregator realtime. Another nice thing would be if I search "flooding" it should display many news sources so that I can get some perspective. What is the best way to approach this problem. Crawling and indexing is not the way to go I think if it is needed to be instant.

This is dead on. But it looks like, to some degree, Twitter Search is solving this problem. Twitter is able to do this because, luckily, Twitter has a base of users that are willing to supply the instantaneous news.

As a real-life example, a couple of weeks ago there was a minor earthquake. It was my first time experiencing one so I searched on Google to see what the deal was. I couldn't find anything. Then I turned to Twitter and saw tons of posts coming in about the earthquake.

To me you've forgotten the most important thing to achieve: true SSO and true web of data where you own your own (I mean data portability). Just imagine a true synchronizable address book on all the devices you own, with all your friends and family. Maybe the semantic web will help, but the industry must play the game, too...

About two years ago I wanted tot make a craigslist competitor for my area... But it was just me alone so I never kicked it off. I've been wanting to revive it though. I made some preliminary designs. (the design tests are oooold and in spanish though).

http://nsovocal.com/lalista/ http://nsovocal.com/lalista/login.htm http://nsovocal.com/lalista/registro.htm http://nsovocal.com/lalista/list.htm http://nsovocal.com/lalista/ad.htm

Maybe it's good time to pick up the project again with a proper business plan and design :P

I'm not sure I buy the SWOT that Graham's proposing for Craigslist or EBay. There are ways that both suck, but there's an absolutely enormous network effect they're riding on.

I agree, although when you're funding 20 startups at a time, I bet you start thinking about throwing some scratch-ticket ideas into the mix. It's unlikely they can pull it off, but with a basket of longshot, astronomical payoff startups, if one pays off, you're in great shape.

If you're young enough to try several times, this also pays off for individual founders. I think one reason Sam Altman had no second thoughts about taking on such an ambitious project was that he was only 19.

Had Sam Altman done other projects before Loopt?

Not that I know of. He wouldn't have had much time; he was a sophomore when he started Loopt.

Well then I guess I'm at a good age to think about a proper startup. I just finished sophomore year :P

Good for YC. Terrible for the startups. Isn't there something clever you can do with Craigslist?

Contact me at gavin.schulz [at] gmail cause I'm interested in your design, and possibly developing it.

As a science undergrad, I would like to see science-based video games. Though I appreciate being able to rotate computer animations for clarity, or placing electrons in their orbital, I have to imagine a video game that required the upkeep of biochemical/physiological systems would be more effective than rote memorization. I am sure that some of us remember the movie "Innerspace"; why not start young gamers on inner-body adventures based on real science. I hope this idea is already being pursued. It has been a dream of mine to author some anthropomorphic children's books about a whole range of biological topics. However, I hope in the not-so-distant-future parents will be telling there teenagers, "you can't go out with your friends until you pass the influenza level of 'Innerspace Invaders.'"

I just found a game called "Immune Attack" about obviously the immune system. I haven't played yet, but from what I can tell, players control a nanobot/artificial immune cell that is fighting off parasitic invaders. The Federation of American Scientist are working to push the development of more games. I also discovered that some hospitals have an E.R. game that prepares Doctors and Nurses for...you guessed it emergencies. I think this is a start, however I imagine that entities creating for profit are likely to consistently produce the better products.

Motivation re:dating site - the very simple (and quite ugly) dating site, Plenty of Fish, earns $10M a year.

If anything, that's demotivation, at least for real hackers. Plenty of Fish is popular because of marketing/SEO techniques and throwing successively larger iron at traffic, not because Markus Frind was a technical genius with a clever idea. Very different path to profitability than most of us want to take, I think.

Speak for yourself.

If you want to be a technical genius get a grant and grow a beard. I want to use the skills I have to support my family and enjoy life at the same time.

I'm torn...It's nice to have that much money because then you can take it and create other better things. But you first have to build something sleazy :-/

The last confirmation was $5 million a year in July of 2007.

8. Dating. Current dating sites are not the last word. Better ones will appear.

This problem falls under the classification of "critical mass" problems. I think any solution that works for one of these types of problems, is likely to work for the others. "Critical mass" is when the problem is not in coming up with a good alternative, the problem is that having a critical mass of users for your solution is going to be an important part of the value you offer to your customers.

I've never been able to flesh this out enough to the point where I was sure I had a solution that would definitely work. But here's what I came up with so far: make a website, and a company, whose focus is solely on building critical masses of users for those "new alternatives". It would consist entirely of methods and social software that could be used to build critical mass.

For example, users could state how many other users would need to be using a new service, before they would try it. Or how many of their friends were doing it. Then, you inform them when those numbers are reached- when the 100th user is there, the 1000th user, etc. (whatever they named), the third user after they posted, etc. Ideally, you would have enough people who've registered their herd-desire, that you could set off a chain reaction from 0 to the number needed for viability.

Unfortunately, that probably wouldn't work for anything but what attracts the most savvy users. I think you might have to pay people to form flash mobs. I.e. people go hang out on the website, and they get a notice of "if you're interested, go to this dating site and fill out a profile, and earn $5. Each other new user you find earns $1 for you". Especially the more social it is, the more it would work to have a flash mob thing going on, where there's only one opportunity at a time. Then you hope that a temporary critical mass sustains itself- that if it's good enough, people will stick around and the rest of the nuclear reaction can complete itself.

To some extent, what I'm proposing is the Mechanical Turk thing Amazon does, but for user bases. And you'd probably have to do a lot of user verification.

So 1000 poor quality users are 'better' and more valuable to a customer than 10 potentially great matches? You are right that a site must have a certain critical mass to attract other users. The exact number is unclear though; is 50 enough? 100? 200? At what point do people just start flipping through profiles to guage the quality of the potential matches as opposed to worrying about whether there's enough people on the site to justify their registration?

I think viral ideas are the way to in terms of low-cost and high impact ways to attract users. The smart entrepreneur will always experiment with different ideas and use metrics to guage their effectiveness. The name of the game is new users for $0 if possible. It has been said that creativity is what happens when one removes a zero from the budget, so let the brainstorming begin!

I am working on a few niche dating sites right now, and I plan to put a fresh spin on dating using the internet.

Thanks for posting on this topic.

Is the critical mass really a problem for dating sites? In Germany, the big dating sites simply spend a lot of money on advertising, which seems to work well enough. Also, I would expect that people frequently switch dating sites, so new sites should have relatively good odds of attracting new members.

I was just going off of what Graham wrote- "But no one wants to use a dating site with only 20 users—which of course becomes a self-perpetuating problem. So if you want to do a dating startup, don't focus on the novel take on dating that you're going to offer. That's the easy half. Focus on novel ways to get around the chicken and egg problem."

Since I have no specific familiarity with dating sites, all I could suggest was a vague, general approach. Of course a big dating site might have a lot of money to advertise, but a small one probably can't afford it. But that's obviously one possible way to get some users.

may be i'm asking a stupid question but can someone clarify what is the chicken and egg problem with dating sites?

It's difficult to attract people to a dating site that has very few members. You have to implement a non-tech solution, such as a huge mass-media advertising campaign (e.g. Dating Direct have ads in the breaks in Gray's Anatomy), which is hugely expensive. Or you have to have a viral idea, like OkCupid offering quizzes to LJers and getting them to create profiles as an aside.

I don't think dating sites and "critical mass" are bound together forever. Change the game with a new approach. Dating sites are walled-off surroundings. That has to change.

28. Fixing email overload.

I have an integrated solution which might also fight spam, and which would relate to contact lists / social websites. I.e. if someone is in the contact list of one of your contacts, their email gets treated as not-spam, and if you had an automated ranking algorithm for email (emails with frequent correspondents go towards the top, email from contacts is second tier, newsletters go towards the bottom, etc.), it could go towards the top. Or, the email comes from the friend of a friend of a friend, it's considered to not be spam, and put in the middle.

I'm not suggesting you be able to see your contacts' contacts, but something akin to the six degrees of separation application in Facebook. This could get computationally intensive if you were checking for enough degrees of separation. But it's obviously doable, if the Facebook application can do it- and if it were too CPU intensive, maybe some people would choose to pay for the service.

This would also fight spam even if it were only applied in a small number of email inboxes. Because, if it sees that emails from an email address aren't in the first six degrees of contacts of any of, say, the first 10 receivers, it could inform ISPs that all future emails from that address are suspected spam.

This is the idea which is most off the top of my head, so be wary of it :).

Another idea- add a reddit-like button next to emails which lets you move stuff up and down in your inbox. This would serve dual functions- letting you sort emails and to-do items by priority (a right click on the button would let you move stuff up or down by 10, 50 places, etc.), and it would also tell your filter what you prioritize (which contacts, which key words, etc.- like, PG's filter might notice he likes emails with the SIP "Lisp" in it).

That wraps up my ideas that are relevant to PG's list, as far as I can recall. If anyone has any questions about any of them, let me know. I've fleshed out most of these much further than you see, I just don't feel like doing a 50,000 word writeup as a comment. If you want to contact me privately, my email address is ben dott seeley att gmail dott com.

I've been thinking about a better Wikipedia. It is silly for them to keep that style and decide what's worthy when they are not dealing with dead trees and limited shelf space.

I think something like a PGPedia, where articles are signed by the author and ranked much like this comment system would be great. There would be no editing of articles, just re-submissions. And nothing need ever be deleted, just down moderated.

You could search PGPedia by what's top rated, or by what famous uses have highly rated, what does Stephen Hawking think of articles on gravity, etc.

I expect encyclopedia style article to be top ranked but they would also link to longer more in depth articles, and those to even longer articles.

I just don't see any way to make money from that?

Microsoft Office will eventually lose its throne, but I'm not sure I agree when you say that a startup can do better at making an online version of Office than Microsoft can. Microsoft has built-in advantages: they have an existing codebase for Office, they've been moving towards putting Office online with products like Sharepoint and Groove, and they have a lot of experience and knowledge in selling to enterprise clients. Maybe a well-executed startup can win in the consumer market, but it will take something special to beat Office in the enterprise. For all their convenience, Google Docs and Zoho are nowhere close to Office-killers for enterprise customers.

A decent client-server model of office could definitely take it down. Sharepoint is ridiculously heavy for what's needed. It has too many features and doesn't present the key ones easily. Document production is conceptually simple in people's minds. Even I have found it awkward to adjust to appropriate use of sharepoint (and I still hate it).

Office users need something that places a genuinely excellent wordprocessing frontend as a frontend to a repository. Within this you'd have to facilitate good search, allow for data flexibility. Generally at the moment you need to be able to produce views of word processed documents as PDF, single-page HTML, multi-page HTML (oh - there's a style need I missed in my other comment), XML and IP-based API. The frontend needs to effortlessly handle massive documents without compromising the frontend and it needs to be possible to edit all of a document at once, or sectors of it. All this can be coordinated with a smart approach to use of the existing filesystem model.

The storage format needs to be textual to facilitate source-control and version diffing.

With the office space it's important to separate the things that users care about from what they don't. They care about the lovely frontend and a small subset of features. They don't really care if it backs on to a powerful custom engine. They care about features in the big-picture sense, but would not necessarily demand that they be offered in the frontend if they could be better achieved through another mechinism. Fortunately Microsoft have provided stunning tools for third party developers who want to extend Word and Excel and there are masses of good docs around on it.

Office can be done, but the people doing it need to look at the problem itself rather than trying to beat Microsoft at their own game by producing yet another crap monolithic arbitrary-format grinder. Think wiki but with a fantastic frontend (and by that I don't mean some horrid javascript GUI in a browser that is unresponsive and chooses to sometimes lose your data).

Ok, one of the things I am working on is a music startup so I'd like to challenge this:

"The answer for the music industry, for example, is probably to give up insisting on payment for recorded music and focus on licensing and live shows."

This is almost blogosphere orthodoxy now. If anything the wild success of allofmp3 shows that people will pay if the price is right. The price point is wrong, not the model. High volume + lower price = Increased total revenue. This is the point we make when we meet with the labels.

"But what happens to movies? Do they morph into games?"

No they don't. Which is more popular the new Batman film or the new Batman game? There’s plenty of room for both.

17. New payment methods

I've been studying problem #17 since 2002. I've got some great ideas that I want to implement, but I don't know if they generate revenue quickly enough to make a successful startup. There's a big chicken-and-egg problem in this area.

Most of my effort so far has been on how to facilitate micropayments using only existing widely-deployed crypto such as TLS & SHA. I have a solution that should work for transfers involving two online banks. Transfers involving three or more banks are significantly more difficult to do while maintaining safety and liveliness.

Please contact me if you're interested in this area.

My companies have a solution for #1, both videos and the music insustry in one bold move. This will not be made public until Fall of 2008. Go to www.archivemovienetwork.com to get a sense. Our demo under NDAs is more impressive than you ever thought was possible on the technolgy end. The business model this Fall will immediately prove movitization of a highbreed PGC/UGC model with the potential for completely revitalizing the music industry IF they partner with us. We will be attempting this throuth our lawyers at K&L Gates.

In the fall you will be able to contact us. Come build the future.

This should give everyone a boost in coming up with good products. Thanks guys.

#25 - A craigslist competitor.... used to be http://expo.live.com, but it seems like even Microsoft couldn't compete against them! If you log in today, you will see the following message:

Windows Live Expo will discontinue service on 31 July 2008. In preparation, the following features are no longer available:

    * Create a new account.
    * Post a new listing.
    * Extend a listing.
    * Upgrade a listing to a premium listing.

All current listings will remain on expo.live.com until they expire.

I would take issue with point 16 (on Google and design).

I don't work for Google, but I do have a lot of respect for the company. I've never perceieved any 'design' problem.

In terms of their interfaces, I think they've probably spent a huge amount of time on design, and got it exactly right. Simple, sparse and functional.

From everything I've heard, the 'design' of their software and system architecture is also top notch.

I can't see exactly where you're going with the whole design dependency thing. Search and design seem like very different things that shouldn't 'depend' on each other.

Google's products succeed because they're technically brilliant and well executed, not because their design is massively better (see: iPod, iPhone).

Google avoids bad design by the simple expedient of making everything sparse and functional, which is the way to go if you're not a great designer.

I think it is not about the design of the search engine, but about judging the design of the pages that are being indexed. Could kill a lot of nasty, spammy pages on the spot.

13. Online learning.

Well, if educational materials were either cheap because of my idea for #17, or the government were putting educational materials in the public domain (that would be a good place to start, in my opinion, before branching out), that would help.

I'm in the middle of an article about reforming the education system (how the institution could be restructured). It will be posted to anamazingmind.com/blog (a friend's blog) when I'm done. It would definitely create new educational markets, and online education would be a big winner.

I think all of these are great ideas for startups to pursue. The wide range of ideas presented in this write up show how diverse the problems on the web are, which presents plenty of opportunities for startups to fix them. #12 particularly stood out to me. I think that with the direction a lot of the resulting startups will take, new ways of advertising should follow. This one of the areas where theres room to innovate the most, because theres more to advertising on the web than "ads by goooooooogle".

"When the only sources of news were the wire services and a few big papers, it was enough to keep writing stories about how the president met with someone" -- Wire services produce thousands of articles everyday from all over the world but sadly only 20% of the content that moves on the wire is ever published. Papers have a believe that their audience is only interested in who the President met with. I don't think its new news that we need we just need better methods for getting the interesting stuff out

Great post. I feel that we may be trying to answer 2-3 of these items at once. Would this discourage an incubator such as YC to steer clear simply based on the complexity of the product? Can a project be too big for a 3 month incubator? Our company is further along than we can properly indicate and we will be able to get far in 3 months but I am wondering if people think that this is a negative mark on incubator programs. Thoughts?


I read this post with interest. I'm working with a company that has a new payment system that you may be interested in. Their technology can turn any mobile phone into a secure point of sale. In addition, we've found that their backbone allows us to send any type of content to any cell phone without the need for an agreement with the carrier.

I'm also working with a couple of other companies that have some of the ideas you mentioned you are interested in.

If you are interested talking, please contact me at jim@iBuyTechPatents.com.

Best regards,

Jim Malmberg

2. Simplified browsing.

I got nothing on this, since I'm not in the target market. Btw, my pet theory is that smart people will have the best luck inventing commercially successful solutions, if they focus on jobs and activities that hardly any smart people do. Like, bagging groceries, and data entry. I've done both of those, and I had plenty of germinal ideas on how they could be improved or automated.

The corollary to this would be that it's hard to be a big new success in Web 2.0. Tons of smart people are avid Internet users, and they're interested in that. Unless you're towards the apex of that group, coming up with a market-shaking new Web 2.0 idea will be tough. This is also the reason I left quant finance- given how many smart people were competing with me, I could much more easily invent something useful for other people (which feels better and is less stressful), and make a fortune that way.

But here's the browsing idea I'd like (I don't know if this has been proposed already- I hope it's technically feasible): cluster links. This is where you click on a link, and it opens a whole lot of links at the same time. Like, a link to open all the links on the front page of Hacker News in new tabs or new windows. Or all the links in one of PG's articles. Or a link which opens all the links from the bibliography of an article. Or a link which opens Google's top 20 search results.

For someone with a lot of bandwidth, and not listening to music online, and browsing from home, automatically opening 30 windows at once is not going to cause any problems- just close whichever ones look uninteresting. I open an awful lot of links every day, and my fingers get tired. Make it easy for me.

If there was some sort of a risk (like a spam link that has 200 links), make it so a warning window opens if, say, more than 40 windows would open (or a number chosen by the user)- allowing the user to individually decline or accept links, or give a batch OK/reject to all of them.

Corollary: this might be a useful idea in, like, software help searches. A lot of times it's hard to tell which help page would be useful when I do a keyword search- why not be able to open all the results at once? I hate wasting time making a decision about "is this worth opening or not?" when usually it would be easier to make that decision when it's already open. If the summary is so great, put it at the top of each opened page.

I like it :). Good luck!

<blockquote>If we say we're looking for x, we'll get applications proposing x, certainly. But then it actually becomes harder to judge them: is this group proposing x because they were already thinking about it, or because they know that's what we want to hear?</blockquote>

Why is this important? I don't recall reading anywhere that Y Combinator takes on responsibility for a persons motives when starting up a company...

Paul: Great ideas all. Might I suggest you look at a hybrid spawned from 13/14; that is online learning and performance measurement. This issues are both synergistic and antagonistic. Having spent half my career in schools and the rest in corporate education, I have some insights I'd like to share with an eye towards creating an initiative worth considering.

Contact me directly at rshadrin@thinktopia.us and 845 788 4180.

Good lord, that was insightful. And damn fun to read. Exactly the sort of thing I'd want to see in MIT's Tech Review magazine, or similar venues.

Hey people. Number 22, "a web-based Excel/db hybrid", was my previous pet project before openphotovr.org. I built a couple versions, showed them to some people, got some good responses, didn't put it online because of laziness and overwork. I'm willing to give free advice to anybody willing to tackle this problem. Also Kragen Sitaker used to work on this, you could try to contact him.

Most of these seem really hard to do.

I'd rather make a small little application that tries to do something far less ambitious than decapitate Microsoft or Ebay.

About half of them are hilarious. "Solve the chicken and egg problem". He should have added "solve the teenage angst problem". You don't solve it - you endure it.

Ah youth. I wish I had known about YC when I was more idealistic.

I would love to read each and every comment, internalize them, check out related websites, build out my mental models, and reach out to you but I just can't right now as a new week begins. Therefore I have to save this for digest on my phone during transitions. Anyone use a cool tool that helps deliver content like comments based on your schedule and attention capacity?

mindmapping tools? :)

30. Startups for startups.

I think Y Combinator doesn't take its model far enough. What I'd like to see could be called "Human Resource Investment"- investing in people, not startups per se. This would be structured as a debt and/or equity deal. You find a talented person, and invest in them using money, technology, education, and social resources. Then you charge a high interest rate (for the reliable people), or make money off of a % of all their future income (for the high risk types) for the next 30 years or whatever (in addition to the principle).

The advantage to the investee that this has over credit card debt and other forms of debt is that you don't require anyone to make debt payments until they are making over a certain $ figure per year. This way nobody has to worry about going bankrupt, becoming poor, or social shame. They also get access to major institutional support, which is difficult for people to get (and social/institutional support is one of the few things people are generally missing in their lives, if they don't go to church). No longer do the poor, inexperienced, young- but energetic and talented- types need to scrap for everything.

The advantage to Human Resource Investment, Inc., is that even if there is a high rate of delinquency, just a few Zuckerbergs and Grahams and you make a fortune. You also can make money off of them, even if they fail a few times, since it's a long-term contract, rather than a project contract. This way other VC firms don't make money off of Y Combinator having educated someone with a failed venture, and then they do another, successful startup with Sequoia or whomever.

You also have access to a large pool of talented people with whom you have a good relationship, and you've already evaluated, who would make good potential hires for startups or whatever other companies you are affiliated with. If HRI were savvy enough, you could lock up most of the available talent the VC world relies on, before anyone is taking a percentage of the money they're going to eventually make.

Think of it as government for profit- you choose the people to invest in, helping them enormously (as government services are supposed to do) and you make a profit with "taxes". Given that governments have to invest in everyone, and are inefficient to boot, yet still roughly break even, I see no reason why a private company couldn't do the same thing, but focus on talented people, do a good job of it, and make a nice profit.

I've done the math before, and the conservative estimates I used worked out to a very handsome profit. But it gets complicated, and it depends very much on the assumptions that are made. If anyone wants an example, I'll be happy to provide it.

> "Human Resource Investment"

Oh yeah, humans just love to be called 'resources'.

Ok, objection noted. The name isn't important- you can call it "Pie Love" if you want.

In case you couldn't tell from the post, I was talking about investing in the talent people have. I'm not talking about slave labor, I'm talking about doing the kind of stuff Y Combinator does, and making it even more personal and supportive over the long haul. A real partnership, so that people are even more likely to succeed in the long run.

No I couldn't tell, because I stopped reading at "human resources". But since you stand corrected I'll stand corrected too and wrote a thoughtful reply above.

This is pretty much what universities do, especially the more elitist kind. Alumni don't have a contractual obligation to pay x% of their income, but in practice they end up making donations to their alma mater for the rest of their life.

However I don't like this idea at all, it's what creates elitism and closed circles in the first place. Our society already is institutionalized to the hilt, I wished people again found their natural ability to create trust relationships, from scratch.

"I wished people again found their natural ability to create trust relationships, from scratch."

I completely agree with this. I don't honestly feel people of good faith need to deal with complicated rules or institutions. But not everyone is willing to go that route, so this is an idea which might serve the other 99%.

First off, it might be the case that anyone could be worth investing in (in time, money, energy, expertise, caring). I think if done right, it's true for everyone. I don't really have it as a goal that just the "talented" people are invested in. Just that that is the obvious place to start.

And I think that if someone who is talented is already well-connected or has a rich family, this would probably have little use for them. But, for someone who is ambitious and hard-working but starting out from a low place, this would be a boon- they need some kind of support, more than anyone else. If they could find others willing to create "trust relationships", presumably they would do it, since that is obviously a better deal. But few seem to manage it :/.

> I completely agree with this. I don't honestly feel people of good faith need to deal with complicated rules or institutions. But not everyone is willing to go that route, so this is an idea which might serve the other 99%.

I sometimes wonder whether it isn't that 1% that carries the weight of society. And the Internet lowers the barrier to creating new trust relationships from scratch. If you were interested in that sort of thing, be my friend.

Yes, let's be friends :). I'm grateful somebody mentioned "trust relationships". That's a good start. My email address is ben dott seeley att gmail dott com. Email me some contact info, and I'll mail you mine.

I disagree with you and I want to say most elite universities have done a bad job except Standford. Elite universities just can't give what market wants because of politics. But unfortunately the only thing matter for a startup to survive is demand and supply of market.

While a startup for startup has to meet what market wants, instead of protecting alumni, professors and students.

Well go read above-linked article and tell me whether Yale does a good job in the "Human Resources Investment" idea posited by the parent comment.

A bad job in my own ideology. It just creates a system for elites and let them inbreed. While I prefer a system for anyone has a chance to beat the house or lose their pants fairly based on his/her contribution to market.

If a startup for startups to serve their needs will be successful, it will not be like an elite club (because as a young startup, it wants all old businesses out and be replaced by it and it will be there until it will be replaced by other startups). But a new business that requires much lower fee like recruiters/VCs but provide better benefit/cost for startups to acquire resources.

Also see this quote from this [http://www.theamericanscholar.org/su08/elite-deresiewicz.htm...] article: "the purpose of Yale College is to manufacture Yale alumni"

Paul: You may not see this, but I thought this was one of the best articles on HN in a long while, perhaps ever.

Thanks for sharing you insight with us.

pg, we are a startup company with patents which address personalized search and semantic advertising. We are also a music startup www.yooglimusic.com with many tools to support independent artists (emotion sensing tool, commerce engine, and promotion). All no cost to the artist.

Perhaps you can give us some advice on a raise - $20K doesn't cover two weeks burn rate.

I see three red flags just in this brief message: high burn, lack of focus, and overemphasis on patents. The high burn is the most urgent problem. That will severely constrain your options.

We have 11 people working with us (5 of which are compensated),and expenses related to music data contribute to the burn rate. The search company and the music company are separate corporations and operate accordingly. Our CEO is Rich Marino (former President of CNet Networks) and he feels the patents provide value to IP as an asset. Still interested in options.

I think your best option under the circumstances is to raise money from a VC fund.

Based on his golf-derived username they should get along well.

#13. http://www.edmodo.com Microblogging for Teachers & Students :)


How one can submit the Proposal and the ideas? I think I have something that I am working and would like to see if you guys are interested in to it? So I need a rough-guideline and procedure to submit my idea to you guys (by the way, we are in the process to Patent our idea as well).


Mudassir Azeemi 408-644-7054 mmudassir@gmail.com

9. Photo/video sharing services 13. Online learning


Would you fund start ups for operation in the Caribbean? Im from Guyana which is located on South America and is culturally, politically etc. a Caribbean state. Right now Jamaica is the tech hub in the Caribbean so I've been planning on moving there but I'm currently working on a few ideas by myself.

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