Cigarettes are one of the most successful consumer products on earth. Inhaling a lungful of carcinogenic smoke several hundred times a day is undoubtedly a stupid idea. Tobacco has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity.
Personally, I think nearly all of these 'social' startups are bad news. Not as bad news as a lung cancer epidemic, but bad news nonetheless. I think they feed a culture of passivity and attention deficit. I think they fragment human interaction into the smallest possible dopamine-inducing units. I think they're essentially Skinner boxes in disguise - apps that dress up an intermittent schedule of reward as meaningful activity.
The startup culture talks the talk about "changing the world", but in truth most of us couldn't care less so long as we get our next funding round. For every Watsi, we have a hundred bullshit companies with bullshit products, providing yet another means of idle distraction for indolent westerners. We can hardly distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is popular or profitable. It has hardly occurred to Curtis or anyone in these comments that an idea could be both successful and stupid.
Is Pinterest really an innovative sharing tool, or is it merely a collaborative exercise in commodity fetishism? Is Vine really a radical new way to communicate, or is it merely the nadir of audiovisual culture, fragmenting the world into six-second shards of nothingness? Do we even care?
An example, i clicked on the above link and assumed i was on the website Medium, but then i saw that he was the creator of svbtle, so i decide to check it out, assuming it might be a fashion site, then i realized that svbtle is the site i was on. It seems like the only place seeing any real product differentiation and innovation is the hardware space right now.
Svbtle's announcement is dated March 22, 2012
So, I think Dustin deserves some credit for originality on this one.
I was right there with you until this. What do you mean "it's not a terrible thing"? Someone trying to change the world for the better, and they fail, that's not terrible? Someone giving up on their dreams, is that not terrible? Sure, sure, everyone has to pay the bills, and I'm not going to fault anyone who tries and fails, but it still (at a minimum) disappoints me every time I see someone with talent and/or skill waste it on something of no lasting value or meaning.
Tobacco was invented in 5000 BC according to wikipedia. At that point in time it had basically none of the bad side effects you mention due to shorter life spans. It probably had numerous positive side effects.
Now you don't like facebook??? Well, honestly, I do. I like it to keep in touch with people and it had real value to me when I moved to a city where I didn't know a single person as it made me feel less alone. I'm sure many others have benefited.
Judging a startup, company, etc. because you don't see the value shows you are overly judgmental and immature.
The product market has been very good at delivering value over the last 7,000+ years. Let it do its job and try to get off your high horse.
The companies mentioned are highly successful. If you think you can do it, feel free to do it, donate the cash you make to Watsi and sit in your recliner while enjoying how good of a person you are. Otherwise, make a comment that adds value like the OP did.
Full disclaimer: I couldn't care less about any of the companies mentioned, I'm just sick of reading comments like this.
 added an n't to could
Another reason that tobacco historically had "basically none of the bad side effects" is that people didn't smoke it nearly in the quantities they do today. Then a few startups (well, they weren't called that back then) came along and it "has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity".
> Now you don't like facebook??? Well, honestly, I do. I like it to keep in touch with people and it had real value to me when I moved to a city where I didn't know a single person as it made me feel less alone. I'm sure many others have benefited.
Strawman. Nowhere in his post jdietrich mentions Facebook.
> The companies mentioned are highly successful.
No one argues that these companies aren't successful. The argument is that the fact that they are highly successful does not mean that they are a good for society as a whole.
> I could care less about any of the companies mentioned
You mean, you couldn't care less, right? :P (Sorry, that particular Americanism is a pet peeve of mine.)
I find the phrase, "I could care less" charming. I'm not sure if it was originally intended as simple sarcasm (or more likely a misspoken phrase) but to me in its form it has a gentle subtlety. A slightly tongue-in-cheek, "typically when discussing the amount I care about a topic, it falls within an average range. However on this particular topic, I care for it so little that I must be explicit that it would actually be possible for me to care less. For a more meaningful topic, such a statement wouldn't be necessary."
also, I slur couldnt care less when I speak bc I have no idea the right way to say it!
"I think nearly all of these 'social' startups are bad news" (emphasis added).
This allows that some "social startups" might be a good idea, and is not (at least, not as I interpret it) an argument against social media in general. Besides, Facebook has long stopped being a "startup" so this comment does not apply to it.
As I understand it, jdietrich argues against the recent trend of "socialising" every aspect of our lives through increasingly frivolous apps that provide instant gratification but lead to shallow and superficial interactions.
This does not mean that you can't have meaningful interactions through social media. Your example of using Facebook to keep in touch with people when moving to a new city is an illustration of that. However it does not invalidate jdietrich's argument in any away.
"I could care less" is an American idiom, and this is a US site. Ad hominem.
Also please go learn what "ad hominem" actually means. It does not simply mean "insult".
Then again, I'm not a knee-jerking grammarian prescriptivist.
Tobacco is a natural leaf that became a mass killer because it was packaged in small, easy to consume units that provided an instant dopamine hit, then relentlessly marketed. I feel it is an extremely good analogy to the current crop of 'social' startups.
Businesses exist in order to make profits for their shareholders; The benefit they provide for their customers or society is merely a happy coincidence. Until the Pure Food and Drug Act, most medicines did more harm than good. Asbestos was incredibly profitable for a great many businesses. I have every right to criticise a business if I believe their product is harmful, regardless of how popular or successful that business might be. To do so does not make me judgemental or immature, but simply an engaged citizen. The belief that all successful products are socially beneficial is clearly absurd.
>Success is not validation of an idea and we should be ashamed to think so.
To me, it is the very definition of success. If you think that a product is harmful you can state that, but belittling its success because you don't feel like it is best allocation of resources sounds very similar to what the governments of both China and Russia did prior to the cold war and some might even go as far as to say it is a somewhat communist view.
I admit, when I read your comment, I skipped over this by accident:
>It has hardly occurred to Curtis or anyone in these comments that an idea could be both successful and stupid.
There is probably an interesting debate here from a finance perspective on what should and shouldn't be invested in at the early stage. (or what should or shouldn't be worked on). I'm not smart enough to know what is stupid or not stupid, but it is still an interesting concept.
I think we can at least agree on that point.
Side note: I'll admit that there is no single objective interpretation as to what actually constitutes a "good idea," which further complicates the issue. I just figured "net positive contribution to society" was general enough to make my point.
Maybe after a lengthy analysis, you may come up with a good list of points and counter points, but to whimsically dismiss some of the fastest growing websites in the world without even making an attempt to show how they are not a good idea is not a worthwhile comment.
But none of this is what Dustin's post was about.
The post was about people asking him if he thought their product could be successful, and how he mistakenly dismissed them as being destined to fail.
Your views maybe valid, but your commentary is off topic.
On the other hand, you say, "This is the WORST type of comment on HN...I'm just sick of reading comments like this." Please try to be civil -- Hacker News normally has such a positive community.
I am willing to be a real asshole for the first time on HN because I just don't get this type of comment. This is constantly garbage and it makes me so frustrated to see people who think they are better than someone else because they decided to pursue what they think is right whether or not they are actually right.
Do you ever stop to think what the impact of technology on society, and human relations, is? It's not 'garbage' - it's not proven right either, as society hasn't disintegrated any further than the 17th or 18th century, but I do see an impact in how little people talk to each other, in the addiction to feel-good gratification (or instant gratification - why else am I reading HN?), and in attention span.
To my reading the OP doesn't think they are better than others. When you've had a chance to reflct I'd be interested to know the reasons behind your reaction.
I was recently at a startup event in Los Angeles, where the terms "Silicon Beach" and "change the world" were mentioned at least a dozen times. While I love that Los Angeles, for example, is trying to create companies and products/services in the technology space, making another photo sharing app or social network is most likely not "changing the world" in any way whatsoever. Not to mention the stupidity that is the "Silicon Beach" name simply because it "sounds cool" and "they're making stuff in Silicon Valley, let's call ourselves Silicon Beach."
I think the problem lies with the current culture and crop of young people who think success and innovation is attained by spending a few months making an app for iOS. They see success stories like FB, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., read TechCrunch about who raised what round, memorize the terminology and assume that a derivative product will be equally successful. Doesn't work that way, for 99.99% of people/products.
I also think this might be another trend, a sort of app-bubble so to speak where real technology will eventually take precedence over all these bullshit "companies" that are basically applications for an Apple built ecosystem riding a wave a VC money. I want to believe that because we are in a dire state of innovation. There are TONS of real world problems that need to be solved and if more people applied themselves to really "change the world" we would have some amazing companies sprouting up. Perhaps the app-cowboys will continue to battle each other in the Top Charts while seeking Series money to simply get acquired by an even bigger app-company. It's unfortunate we've reached this point of technology, something that wasn't as prevalent before the iOS/smartphone days. Let's see what happens.
These applications are toys, not the future. They may be well built, popular, amusing but they are still toys. When I think of someone who sees the future and tries to build it, the first name that comes up is Elon Musk with SpaceX. There are others.
Saying an iPhone exclusive application that lets you share 4 second videos is the future is simply insulting to my intelligence.
Perhaps it is our moral obligation, as the market is primed and ready to pay for Skinner boxes, to take as much of that money as possible and, say, give it to the Gates Foundation or somesuch?
If we don't, someone will use that opportunity to build Farmville.
> Is Pinterest really an innovative sharing tool, or is it merely a collaborative exercise in commodity fetishism? Is Vine really a radical new way to communicate, or is it merely the nadir of audiovisual culture, fragmenting the world into six-second shards of nothingness?
How about both? Framing and "meaning" are individual, subjective concepts. If we want objective benefit to society, our goal must be to make as much money as possible in the most efficient way we can find, and then use that money to effect change.
Case-in-point: Tesla's use of an immediately viable business model (sell luxury electric cars to rich people) to gain a bunch of money/experience to make mass-market electric cars to sell to everyone (which will then presumably benefit society).
I guess there is a subtle difference between changing the world and making the world better.
Did Pinterest change the world? I bet it did - it has heaps of users. Those people would spend some of their time in a different way if there was no Pinterest, hence - world would be different.
Now, did Pinterest make the world better?
And, to answer your final question, no, I don't really care. I grew up being lectured on how TV was the "idiot tube", so the idea of of society being full of people wasting their time is something I've gotten quite used to.
They're not strongly correlated. Cigarettes are commercially smart and morally stupid. Charities, in some sense, are morally smart and commercially stupid, assuming they do good for the world and don't make a profit. As entrepreneurs, ideally we'd like to find something both morally and commercially smart.
A lot of things we now take for granted started out as terribly stupid ideas. What use was a radio when there was only one radio station in town that operated a few hours a day? Why would I want an automobile that uses expensive gasoline and requires a mechanic when a horse is nearly free? Who, other than a Fortune 500 CEO, would want a phone in their car?
Yes, there's a lot of vapid ideas out there that are worthless, maybe too stupid to amount to anything, but a few crack through and are just the right kind of stupid they catch on in the hugest possible way.
It's like how a movie can be so bad it's good. Sometimes an idea is so stupid it's brilliant.
But what's the point of life if you don't have art, joy, entertainment?
If you love art, what makes enjoying beautiful fashion, destinations, decor, creations somehow lessened and put into a bucket of fetishism.
My girlfriend loves Pinterest as a way to take a few minutes from her busy working schedule and relax and appreciate the beauty of the images and participate in a community.
I'd suggest countless millions of women around the world feel the same way.
I can refute that directly. My wife uses Pinterest to learn about recipes, craft projects for her and our kids, cleaning tips. Sharing this information with your community is the definition of culture.
Social media is a huge value to a transplant family living in a far off city from their family all so the husband can work in his chosen field.
How do you define 'meaningful'? Pinterest has millions of users. It's contributing something to the culture, but whether or not it's 'meaningful' kinda gets into No True Scotsman territory.
I quietly dispair at the shortened attention spans and clamour for 'likes' and 'follows' that have resulted... Whilst I browse Instagram and refresh Facebook. I am a walking contradiction...
Unfortunate, but true. Everything is suddenly an app. Is there a difference between 'social' startup and 'tech' startup? I think the culture, particularly the media, is making those synonymous for the worst...
But my own approach is to think that actually getting the energy to make anything in our culture that generally tries to separate the content creators from the content consumers is an amazing achievement, and I try to avoid diminishing peoples enthusiasm to make stuff even if I think it's dumb.
"Tobacco has made a small number of people incomprehensibly rich, to the great detriment of humanity."
incredible isn't it how we still allow manufacturers to sells products (at considerable profit) like this that have been proven to make people ill, or at worse, die.
Maybe they do. Cigarettes are solving the problem of easy nicotine intake to release stress.
I think (not sure) a lot of successful new-media companies are solving the "low self-esteem" problem a lot of people cope with these days. They act like a drug.
But ofcourse a better way is to solve the source of the problems: remove stress from society, change culture in a way that we can become who we are (whole).
I'd agree that some good ideas (i.e. ideas that survive) are solving problems. But "solving problems" is only a (decent) heuristic for good ideas, not something that causes them to be good. Satellites stay in orbit by tricking laws of physics into not crashing them on the ground, and not because they're useful for us. In the same way, ideas survive by tricking social dynamics, not because they're solving some problems.
(someone currently giving up)
But at the same time, I personally love smoking tobacco when I go to a park for camping. Recommend you to try it smoking tobacco from a pipe with properly steeped ceylon tea in the middle of a forest where you can only hear the the nature and enjoy good tobacco.
We shouldn't be dismissing every company that is not a Watsi!