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Ask HN: What are your failed projects / ideas?
86 points by npguy on Sept 3, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments

Shopwisely.org. This was a site that donated affiliate link revenue to charity when you shopped online. Absolutely zero people used this. This site made me lust for anything that at least one person would use.

Like.fm, the original version. The MVP was an applescript that published your iTunes play history to a web page. It got users by itself as soon as I put it online. There weren't many users, but greater than the zero from my last project. I took this, rather naively, as the sign of the next Facebook. My ultimate goal became to create a marginally superior version of Last.fm. To my surprise, I got accepted into YC with this idea, and from that high I ran with it.

However over time I lost confidence in and motivation towards the idea as no one saw it as novel enough (not necessarily users, but people I met in the Valley), and everyone told me to stop doing something related to music because it's too tough (personally I think all startups are tough). Because of all this I never polished or completed Like.fm enough to be even on par with Last.fm. I had slow to zero growth, and no clear exciting future for the site. Probably at least these factors left me unable to raise an additional seed round after Demo Day. Being a single founder didn't help with any of this either.

After these failures I've stopped focusing on raising money or even making money. My primary focus is on making something that people love to use that's also novel and innovative, retains users, and successfully delivers long-term value to peoples' lives.

I've never stopped experimenting on Like.fm after the failure though, and I've been gearing up for the next big launch!

All the best with next launch of like.fm and glad that your loss of confidence and motivation is temporary.

Can you turn like.fm into a dating site? Last thing I want to do is share my playback history with other humans.


Pivot time.

Actually they were a "dating" site in that they explicitly said that, but they seem to have pivoted (slightly, at least) as they describe themselves as "find people nearby" now.

I personally wouldn't make a dating site be explicit about that.

Chris, I mentioned another idea to you about 6 months ago.

socialvest.us is similar to shopwisely and i think has gotten funding so your idea definitely had merit.

good luck with the future of like.fm

I have many, but the one that I invested most time in was QuoteVault http://www.quotevault.org/ It's a website where you can save interesting quotes from other sites or even pages / books. There's also a browser bookmark that allows you to select text on a website and import it into quotevault right away. Finally, there's a small public stream (much like your twitter stream) where you can share interesting quotes.

Here's a public quote from my public stream: http://quotevault.appspot.com/public/terhechte/261221

I've used the tool a lot, but I never really advertised it, in fear of failure I guess, so there're very few other users except for me. I still have a huge database of assorted business and entrepeneurship quotes in there though.

this is a great idea, I had a similar idea.

I would have js bookmarklets and remove need for signups initially. Make it into a sort of pastebin. Also, make it a summary tool too (for oneself and for sharing.) Allow users to enter alternate headline, summary, quote/s, ranking, judgement.

Check out quote.fm and drop me a line if you want to see my screenshots, brainstorm or see my other research into this idea.

Hey, thanks, that looks really nice. I mostly gave up on QuoteVault since I'm busy with other projects now. However, one thing I still lack is a good solution for reading texts offline and highlighting quotes in there. There's instapaper, kippt, and many others, but they all just allow offline reading, but no offline highlighting. There's one solution, which does kinda work, but the offline support is wonky. I'm seriously considering building a small app that reads read-later lists from different services and saves the quote data somewhere else via an API. Would quote.fm allow something like that? I see there's a read-api, but I haven't seen a way to add an article or add a quote for an article. Or did I misunderstand something? You can also hit me by mail for further discussions if you're interested. terhechte AT gmail com

I made a website where you put sunglasses on a photo - seemewith.com. After face.com shut down its facial landmarking service I deleted it, but it was a failure anyway. I spent a ridiculous amount of time implementing various strategies for turning photos of sunglasses into 3d models (using bundle adjustment, advanced appearance models, and some symmetry specific photogrammetry) - in the end I did the simplest thing I could think of and it worked better than any complex option. The results were still a bit poor though.

Another side project was a flash based plugin to do teeth whitening on photos. End up implementing a decision tree approach that worked ok, but it didn't seem to really have legs as an idea.

What else... I spent an inordinate amount of time on the Netflix prize, that really amounted to nothing - although it was fun to try a lot of different approaches at a tricky scale.

Just released 'What animal?' on the App Store, that's pretty much doing nothing download wise - http://scottvallanceapps.com/app/what-animal-are-you/

I can understand that that app does not fly; recognizing faces and showing matching animals outsode the original photo just does not look too enticing.

I can think of various ways to, IMO, make this an interesting app:

- put the heads in the photo, and tween a movie between the two (probably fairly hard because you will have to reliably cut out the background)

- use the camera to record video, animate the animal head in sync with what the head does (ideally, adjust the voice sound; more bass for a bear, twitter for a duck, etc) (probably not too hard to do)

- make it a game: using the camera, "let's see who can make his face best like this elephant", with solo games for practice and for fun ("can you beat your record of ten faces in 30.34 seconds?) (technically simple, but it probably will be a lot of work to get the game 'right', collect funny animal photos that humans can learn to match, etc)

Such a small sampling of my many failures. I do try to celebrate them though.

Lessons learned? Well I did a full run down of all the projects I could think of (that got somewhere at least) a little while ago and I did have some interesting insights. Mostly I try to invent new categories of things and fail (both the idea and the newness thereof tend to fail in case you're wondering).

The promising direction that I hadn't followed was my first ever paper, and I think thats because it was a Human Computer Interaction project. At least for this project the focus was on new ways of doing tasks that people already do with computers - so it had some built in relevance. So now I'm trying work with my own psychology and find innovation in interaction - not in the entire category of product.

http://www.hackerbooks.com is a direct financial failure.

The income does not cover the hosting as is! Early on I expected it would be a small earner (maybe $50/mo) but we're not there even.

On the other hand, it had a fairly positive impact on the consulting/learning side of things (ETL, data processing etc).

Based on your stats & the size of your dataset, I'm guessing you could easily host this at AppFog on their free tier: http://appfog.com/products/appfog/pricing/

For now I'm happy to leave it where it is and keep my focus on shipping/growing my SaaS product (https://www.wisecashhq.com).

But thanks for the note that said! I have that migration marked in my TODO list :)

I use and appreciate your site. I've been meaning to pick up some of those books next time I get cash to buy books.

Thank you!

I think Your site has great value. Just keep it up and do marketing.

Thanks! The thing is that it got plenty of coverage but nonetheless it brings very few in commissions.

I'm currently focused on a SaaS product (profile for info), but who knows, maybe I'll get back to it a bit.

Wondering what is the "conversion" rate? Around how many unique visitors do you get monthly? Your site looks good and something seems off if the coverage is good...

I collected a few stats here:


The typical conversion rate (after removing SU visits which are basically bouncers) is at 0.43%.

The earnings is around $5 for 1000 pageviews (without SU) or $3 (with SU included).

Any thoughts on improving this?

Make it a tweetmeme.com for Amazon items. Can you also pick out ebay items?

Picking ebay items could be a bit of work.

But the tweetmeme idea is good, I'll keep that in mind, thanks!

That's a fantastic site. Bookmarked!

Thank you! People seem to really like it (I got plenty of emails etc).

Wonderful site!

An idea that seemed brilliant but fizzled spectacularly.

There are a lot of bookmakers around, like 60 decent ones and hundreds of trashy. I wrote a lot of scrapers collecting prices from them, invented an algorithm for automatic name matching (different bookies spell names of same players differently, like R. Federer is same as Roger Federer, or even Russian or Polish spelling of same name etc), so i can compare prices in different books.

Idea was that: betting on the line of one bookie using inverse prices of another bookie as a source of probabilities, run statistically over a long period of time (i.e. virtually betting on all events where price in one booke multiplied by inverse price from another one yields a profit, then recording which bets 'lost' or 'won' and aggeregating profit/loss, doing so for each vs each of the books), finding out as a result, which book 'knows' a particular sport best and worst of all (if i bet in the best of them using a line of worst for probabilities, i get maximum loss, and maximum profit vice versa). Then i wrote a script that does the execution, placing the bets.

Surprisingly, i found an investor willing to back all this in half a day, after pitching just a few of my former clients (i do custom development).

Estimates indicated a lot of profit, but it took just a week to know that there is no such thing as a 'betting market'. All of my accounts have been suspended: they seemingly track events which come into arbitrage with other books, and show down people who bet on them, which i did (except i didn't bet on both sides of the arbitrage, only one that was more likely to win).

I was quite disappointed and depressed for a month.

Fortunately, the investor didn't lose anything: he needs the resulting code for a totally different thing (no execution of bets), and quite happy with what he got, so it ended up being just one more custom development project - very fun to do.

Yup betting is "for fun" unless you use A+ bookies like Pinnacle Sports. Also, some bookies have to have a particular price not because of their knowledge of the market, but because of the people that placed bets with them. In the end what you describe is basically playing an arbitrage (for which there are sites), but these kind of plays get you suspended, which they did. Nice fore trying it out and writing all the parsers. I know how time consuming it is to get all the synonyms, dates and times right to aggregate the information.

Sorry for not clarifying, i used opening lines. Sites - whole point was not arbitrage but picking only one side of arbitrage which is expected to be more profitable. Also, it was a cloud solution which resulted in very low scraping delays.

Anyways, it didn't work, and i learned it the hard way.

In chronological order.

1. Photagious (online photo sharing/management/slideshow site) 2004-2008. Raised angel funding @ $500k

2. Socialbib (peer to peer textbook exchange platform) 2008-2009. Side project.

3. Textbook Revolt (peer to peer textbook rental platform) 2009-2011. Side project, evolution of #2.

4. Melts My Heart (mobile photo app for mothers) 2011. Side project

5. OpenPhoto (open source photo service) 2011 - present. $25k on Kickstarter + funding from Shuttleworth Foundation. Success TBD. http://theopenphotoproject.org

I have several ideas I never started working on. I guess they don't count. Then I had some others that I never finished/validated.

http://gclimbing.com is not really a failed idea, more like a failed project. Some years ago, I administered a shared climbing blog in Austria. After some time, nobody was using it anymore (It was quite complicated to use). I wrote a new software and put it online, which is gclimbing.com - but it didn't really take off. Everybody was on facebook by that time.

Another idea I tried was http://scribblingspree.com - A player would draw a picture, the next would describe it, the next one draw something based on the description. This started as a project to practice wicket and javascript. It was just not that much fun to play after a couple of rounds. Note that I did not know DrawSomething when I wrote it.

I leave both projects online so I can link to them from my CV, but otherwise both are pretty much dead.

Edit: Oh, and I forgot: http://davidtanzer.net/node/82

I was pretty interested in scribblingspree.com, sounds fun! But got frustrated by how hard it was to draw (especially if you accidentally release your click off of the drawing space). In the short term you could listen for mouseup on the whole body/document instead of just the canvas, I think that would help.

Thanks for trying it! Yes, it is pretty much unusable with a mouse, but it was kind of fun on an iPad or with a Wacom Tablet. I remember that I had some problems with the touch events on the iPad - I eventually solved them (http://davidtanzer.net/canvas_ipad), but I'm not sure if I deployed the fixed version...

As I said, the project is pretty much dead now. But your idea (listening for mouse up on the document) would probably solve several problems, thanks!

Too many to remember/list, unfortunately - some of them before I even started, many when I was halfway through building sort of an minimum product, and some after I'd actually launched them.

The one that hurts the most is an advertising analytics service (one of the first of its kind) I built over a decade ago - I was young and stupid, so there were some technical things I did wrong, but I also failed spectacularly at marketing. Looking back on it, I can see a huge amount of potential, and if I'd just done a handful of things differently, it could have made me a bunch of money.

I ended up selling it for a few thousand dollars, and the new owners didn't do anything with it.

Perhaps somewhat more interesting - why my side projects have failed.

For the longest time, I didn't really mind - side projects were at least partially a way for me to learn new techniques/languages/frameworks, and the experience generally made the effort worthwhile, even if I didn't make any money directly in the process. For the most part, I think this was fine for a while - I'm in a decent spot career-wise, and I think part of it is due to all the knowledge and experience I've gained from working on side projects.

That said, earlier this year I realized I needed to get more serious about making money directly off of these things - one of my long-term goals is having enough passive income to live semi-comfortably off of, and building websites or software seems like the best way to do this for me. Part of rectifying this situation has been identifying why I've failed so many times. Here are some reasons I came up with:

1) Not thinking an idea all the way through

2) Getting hung up on petty things, like choosing a domain name

3) Getting hung up on the design (I'm unbelievably bad at design)

4) Getting hung up on the technology choice (I've built something in probably just about every semi-common language/framework over the past few years)

5) Not being very good at marketing and not taking the time to learn or employ the services of someone who is

6) Not committing to one idea/project at a time

So, my goal for the next little bit is to sift through my ideas and find one that can hold my interest and has long-term profit potential, use technology that I'm already comfortable with, set aside money to pay for things I'm not good at (design and marketing, for example) and devote some time to building it.

As a student I built a website to manage rentals in GWT, My goal was basically to make a leaving out of a product I built. Cost: 300€ Gain: 20€ (not so great) State: open-sourced: https://github.com/simon-watiau/simplelocation

- Later I built a Storify client on iPhone. By that time I had no iOS open-sourced project and I was trying to stay in the valley and get hired by Storify (failed). State: open-sourced: https://github.com/simon-watiau/Story-Browser http://simon-watiau.github.com/2011/09/08/side-project-story...

Then I built a dating app based mostly for fun and to learn a bit of Android development. I bet @adrienmagnus still remember this one :D State: open-sourced: https://github.com/simon-watiau/On-the-menu

My latest project was an iPad app to help me clean my Gmail Inbox: state: free on the App-Store http://simon-watiau.github.com/2012/08/21/side-project-inbox...

1. Before the craziness with Netflix I had created an iPhone app called 'Flickscan' which let you go into Target/BestBuy and scan the barcodes of movies and have them automatically added to your queue.

2. I used to run Fabjectory, which created 3d printed statuettes of figures for SecondLife and Nintendo Wii characters, but shut it down with the demise of people who considered themselves Secondlife consultants (who were the main source of business).

The fabjectory idea still seems pretty interesting, imo... Was it too time consuming/expensive to keep it up?

I'll start with one from my side: I started this project which was essentially a social networking site, but focused on Indian parents. Signed up some 500 plus users, but then realized that I had to keep getting content up, to keep the site interesting - I had some 5 users out of the 500 that contributed any content whatsoever. which did not make a lot of sense. The site is now offline.

My greatest failed project was http://appsmerge.com

The idea was that you could combine all your social media news streams (fb, twitter usw..) into one stream (just like a rss reader). It never got above a few users, and i did not have any ads or anything in place. Still use it myself though...

If this project was to scratch your own itch, then I would say that this project is a huge success if you are still using it.

You could look at it like that :-)

Instead of having a "How it Works" button (which doesn't work on Chrome 22) you should do the graphical explanation of the service on the homepage.

My biggest failures have been:

1. A sms polling site that I ended up selling flippa for less than I'd like to admit.

2. A component that made authorize.net easy for .net developers. Over the years, I made quite a bit of money off of it, but stripe released, I decided to sell the site and component off to someone for about one month's revenue.

Your two biggest failures were acquisitions? Must really suck to be you :)

Very very small $ for the time I put in. Like a few hours of work at my std rate.

I was building a micro blogging platform similar to a reddit or HN for singer/songwriters but the developer lost interest and the script broke so the sites were never launched.

Was going to launch: http://lyricpost.net http://haikufriday.com

Users can could create editable drafts of their works, publish to the lyricpost/haikufriday online communities and pre-schedule posts to post to their facebook accounts. Bloggers could also visit the communities and schedule lyrics/haiku they wanted to post to their facebook page. I still use lyricpost as a tool to work on and save my lyrics/songs in progress but I can't publish anything to the community. I thought starting with the lyrics would be an interesting way to discover music.

The first version of http://jobstractor.com was meant to be an alternative to advertising revenue for bloggers. I worked on it for about 3 or 4 months, built a huge amount of functionality (which no one ever saw) then finally did some market research. I discovered to similar offerings which had gone and failed before me. Contacting the bloggers involved in those generally turned up people who had not made any money from those efforts.

Ultimately I learned the value of doing the research before writing ALL the code. My subsequent project on the same domain was thrown together in a few weekends and evenings, was buggy as hell and put out with the intention of killing it if people didn't like it.

A bunch of interpreters for various esoteric languages, together with a framework for interpreter development. In fact, also a bunch of esoteric languages from myself.

I mostly lost interest, because a surprising amount of esoteric languages just doesn't do anything interesting. Uhh, so you are using a stack for values. Oh, and your stack manipulation words a bit different from other stack manipulation words. Big deal. Oh, you are just encoding your program pointer in a weird fashion. Also a big deal.

Those which are actually different then just end up batshit insane, and impossible to capture in one bag. Also this set of esoteric languages is plagued by woeful underspecification, or ambiguous specifications, which make an implementation even more impossible.

Killed several months on CertTime - a digital time-stamping service for graphic and logo designers. Got very enthusiastic support for the idea, but then got zero interest in actually using the service.

[1] http://certtime.com

My failed chrome extension that acts as a hub for all news. Basically an rss aggregator but included some video and social features as well. The USP and reAson I created it was I didn't like the way google reader was later out and being a designer thought everyone should be able to customize the layout of their reader to their tastes. So I built MESH ( http://www.digi-dil.com/MESH ) which let you design it yourself..

Learned how to code JavaScript doing the project and also helped me a bit landing my current job but nobody except my girlfriend and my mom have it installed only one of which knows how to use it...

I was working on a book social site where users earn badges after reading books. (Basically Foursquare for books. There would be badges for reading the top 10 books of a genre/author, milestones, etc.)

Gave up on getting a good book database.

Sounds like an interesting idea - I love reading, and a lot of ideas I've had have been book-related.

Just curious - why not utilize Amazon's book database, since that is likely how you'd make your money anyway (via referral fees)?

Thanks. I was relying on book lovers' desire to "show-off" about how well read they (we) are.

I started using Amazon, but when I started thinking about adding badges and it would need the book database to be very specific about authors/genres/titles, (which Amazon's wasn't) I realized it was way out of my league.

sounds like a solid idea to me.


Built as a dating site for redditors...got off to a bad start because it required reddit credentials..never bothered taking time to fix it. Maybe one of these days..

A site about ideas, where people share business ideas and discuss them. It would allow you to find other people interested in their development. It would also you to see if your idea has already been implemented (if it were like a database of existing business ideas), and it would show you the progress of the idea's implementation, who's building it, etc.

Didn't end up building this since it would be hard to make money off of it (as far as i can tell)...and i already have other projects on my spare time ><. I still think the concept is cool

I guess it's not specifically or business and unfortunately doesn't attract a ton of content but I think http://ideeeas.com is great.


No. Kickstarter is to start a project. This is more like a database of ideas. Multiple projects could be attempting to implement an idea.

The slide machine [1] to make latex/beamer slides out of mind map. See also [2].

The core is an xslt that we use almost daily, we did a quite old-style web site which is still running with almost no users, but unfortunately we have absolutely no time to redesign/maintain it.

If anyone wish to contribute, we'll be happy to release code and share ideas.

[1] http://www.sli-m.com

[2] http://security.polito.it/doc/public/torsec_didamatica2011_s...

This weekend I implemented an idea inspired by the feeling that the articles I'm reading are all coming from the same viewpoint: A reddit aggregate that interleaves articles of different political opinions. It turns out reading ideas from different political viewpoints without someone to put it in context gives you a lot more misinformation and heresay than actual facts.

The site is here, although my webhost seems to be acting up at the moment. http://grainofsalt.info/

Like most in the HN community, I've had my fair share of failed projects, each of which I learned a lot from:

1. Happy21stBirthday.com - I thought it would be a great gifting site for fun & light-hearted gifts for 21st birthdays, but couldn't get enough traction. If any1 has better ideas to utilize this domain, plz share.

2. Rebutl.com - a video debate site (similar to ESPN's 'Around the Horn') where users could debate about various subject matters and get prizes/rewards after viewers voted for the winner.

AppointmentReminder for doctors. The idea was to build an appointment reminder system that was also an insurance eligibility checker(eligible API has actually made me want to reboot the project). The end goal was to be a Yelp for physicians.

It turns out selling to doctors is fucking hard. Their attitude towards salespeople is to treat them like pharm reps and make them buy you lunch and then wait 2+ hours. No thanks.

I sell products now. I will never go back to selling anything that isn't a product.

What do you sell now?

Thanks for saying we make you want to reboot project :)

Hmmm, let's see. Note: Most of these domains are now dead or squatted.

2005: Fo.gg: Calendar and scheduling tool with a focus on time-zone usability, aimed at international travellers.

2009: Enjoble.com: SaaS for embedding job postings by topics to any site.

2010: Stellient.com: P2P real-time networking platform.

2011: Seenery.com: AirBnB for sightseeing tours.

Most of these failed because I couldn't build a good team, or the one I had fell apart. I'm working on another project now with a great partner, hopefully this will work out this time.

http://affililink.com Started as a way to earn affiliate commission from a forum I manage after spotting a lot of eBay links appearing, and didn't want to spam the site with ads. Made a hosted version, didn't really gain traction, so I decided to create a self hosted open source version and upload to github. Haven't had much time to get the word out there, but I wouldn't consider it a success just yet.

I had an idea that never reached conception, maybe someone can take it and succeed.

A while back I had to go into the city and didn't know how many coins I needed for parking. I thought I took enough until I saw it was $4.5 an hour. I considered creating a website/app package where users could see where they're going and the parking details associated i.e. ticket parking, free until 8pm, clearway zone etc.

I sadly lack the time and more importantly the technical know how to do it though.

Parking is a clean opportunity space for such small, useful apps. I remember the app that helps you get back to yor car in large parking areas, for example.

What about an airbnb for parking spaces?

I created a way to make a cheat sheet of any how-to video, then print it. So I created Vidinotes app in Flex. Some people used it for a while, and the paid version ($1.99) per use did well for the amount of traffic. Site is down but a user did a nice video review of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-7JCg5fGho

Only one project, my first: http://releasification.frapp.it Sends a weekly digest of new albums by your most listened to artists on Last.FM.

It failed when it comes to user adaptation, conversion, monetization etc but is definitely a success when you only look at churn. 1.75% unsubscribed over the course of about six months.

StackOverflow for Fashion: http://www.idthisitem.com

Basically Q&A to find out where to buy stuff. It's coasting along without much traction and I can't get enough people to answer without having to reward them with coupons and such.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I'm not so convinced this is a big enough of a problem to solve.

what indicators did you have that there was a problem to be solved here? am just trying to understand your thought process -

Twitter. We were monitoring certain things like "I wish I could *" and we happened to type in something like "find this dress". You can see some results: https://twitter.com/#!/search/%22find%20this%20dress%22

Thanks. Am thinking, this is one way Twitter could identify intents and make money.


What is the app store average? I imagine the median might be a more useful metric, given that there are a few ubiquitous apps that take the lions share of the income.

May be useful to add a secondary question to that about why you think the projects/ideas failed.


It's a head to head NFC game. Proof of concept. Had some initial interest, but didn't take it to the next level.


Just a side project, that I thought some people would find useful.

Judging by the stats, no one finds it useful (or not enough to come back)

Still, it's served as a decent tech demo to demonstrate what I can do.

Nice app. It's like iWitness.

Probably www.tagmark.org A Chrome and Firefox extension for - Tagging (i.e Bookmarks), Tasks, Notes. I still use it everyday but I never really followed through with marketing or getting feedback on it. One day maybe.

It was a programming language called TSL built in python. It failed because I didn't learn parsing and I just used simple string processing and then regex but yet I couldn't write the right parser.

I took a pitch video of a startup called Triple Point Robotics which had a recent project that failed called Synchroboard.

See the video at: http//:www.heystartup.com


It's a site that I thought would be very useful to find things to do based on the events your Facebook friends were attending. I still use it myself from time to time, but I've moved on to businesses I can outright charge to customers.

my dating site http://www.likeapub.com

didn't make much money as I would like it to be

If you answer to yourself "none of them", there are two possibilities. No, three.

Third one first: you're young enough to not feel guilty about not taking enough risk. First one: you're not taking enough risk. Second one: you know who you are.

I can choose option 4? I don't have the time and/or financial support to even give it a real shot.

Or is that the same as not taking enough risks?

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