When I was in second grade, my teacher suggested we all keep journals. Do it every day, she said, and we’d appreciate it later in life. Coincidently, this is exactly the time in my life when I learned how to procrastinate. Meh, I thought, I’ll write something meaningful tomorrow. And so my marble composition books stayed empty, absent of all my brilliant 7-year-old musings.
While I have gotten (slightly) better about it these days, I wonder if long-form is really for me. I am decidedly part of the ADD generation, and believe that creativity is best served in mixed-media short spurts rather than marathons. I have also been following the “quantified self” movement, and while tracking what you’re thinking or doing or where you are at a particular moment is only peripherally relevant (lack of numbers), I believe it fits with the trend of using computers to learn and capture more about ourselves.
It took an awfully long time but I now realize that having thoughts to look back on, from 2 weeks or 2 years ago, is an incredibly magical thing. I always knew this, but it was never enough to get me to actually write or journal or collect or scrapbook or whatever.
Is this a “problem”? In my mind, absolutely. I deeply believe that “everyone is a creator” and until everyone really *is* a creator it’s a problem worth solving. There are lots of ways to blog but pretty much every blogging platform is driven by a very very small percentage of the users. The barriers, both technological and psychological, still have a long way to go.
I prefer blogging from my phone much better than trying to make the time to sit down and write something — the pressure of making the time and then on top of that trying to think of something interesting to say were incredibly discouraging.
This was the impetus for creating MessageParty. I wanted something I could easily do from my phone, that would tell me where I was and let me create a sort of record about what I was up to.
Making creators out of non-creators won’t be quick, but with devices like the iPhone I think it’s getting much easier.
I had this idea about 6 months ago and figured someone would have built it by now. No dice, and it’s kind of early tonight so figured I might as well detail it out.
Has anyone else noticed that eBay is absolutely killing it on mobile? Insanity. Take a few minutes, Google around on it, and then come back and tell me that no one wants to buy stuff on their phone/tablet. Simply not true. While it’s a teeny slice of a gigantic market, that slice is going to get huge over the next 5 years. With younger demographics especially, as they spend more and more time on their phones they’ll do more than just play Angry Birds and send scandalous text messages.
But the movement of ecommerce sites to mobile/tablets is a very different story. Some of the more forward-thinking sites have HTML-5 optimized web experiences, but how many really have amazing native apps? Gilt, eBay, maybe a few others, but honestly I don’t know of too many. As someone familiar with the numbers of your average ecommerce operation, avoiding native apps altogether makes strategic sense. There’s no way that Jennifer’s Jeans is going to shell out $30K or more to get a native app/tablet app made, and then have to go through the trouble of marketing the app and getting people to download it. We’re just at the point where it’s much, much easier to get someone to visit a website than it is to get them to download an app, so your average small ecommerce business is going to stick to SEO, SEM and social media marketing – none of which really work on driving app downloads.
This then seems like a market opening – more and more people want to shop on their phones/tablets but the vast majority of businesses are not rushing to support this demand because it’s not large enough and too hurdle-rich to make strategic sense, and the real tidal-wave is probably still about 2 years away (though maybe if you started in Japan…)
Here is what I propose: a marketplace like eBay, Etsy, Amazon Marketplace, etc. that is completely native to the mobile and tablet experience. There are so many different things to take advantage of – the touch capabilities alone are an incredible advantage in ecommerce. So you’d really need two things:
1. A very innovative user interface and payment system for both the tablet and the iPhone. This is an interesting discussion in itself because, although in-app purchases are amazing, any business that doesn’t make like 99% profit on each in-app purchase (yay, virtual goods) is just not going to want to take the 30% hit.
2. An extremely user-friendly web interface where shop owners could come and upload their merchandise information, photos, etc. Bonus for plugging in to existing ecommerce databases and just pulling directly.
Coming back to Jennifer’s Jeans, now the proprietor simply has to visit the website, upload his/her merchandise and agree to hand over a percentage of each sale to your marketplace. All of a sudden, many of the barriers are gone – the store doesn’t have to go through the trouble of making the application, and you as the marketplace would market the app, benefiting all the stores participating.
There would need to be a theme or angle to the marketplace (“homemade goods” “high fashion” “gadgets” etc.) and you’d need to get 10 forward-thinking small ecommerce businesses on board in the beginning. My guess is that business would be sort of flat for a year or two because marketing within iOS devices is pretty nascent and not the best (though getting better), but given the fast pace at which things change there will be a mobile commerce explosion very soon, maybe sooner than we think. And bonus, you are in the lucky position of not having to deal with inventory or shipping.
Maybe I am missing something, but can someone please explain to me why this hasn’t been built yet? It’s technically non-trivial (my guess is it would take a team of 5 people probably 6 months to get a barely-working alpha ready), but the upside is compelling enough that I would think there would at least be more attempts. Perhaps it’s that the risk of marketplace #FAIL (not the right match of buyers and sellers) mixed with the technical hurdles.
But think about it: this is just like the early web. People wondered if anyone would ever buy anything through the interwebs, and making an ecommerce site was a gigantic pain in the ass and then an even bigger one to get people to actually come to your site. And it happened then, so what’s preventing it from happening now within the iOS and Android ecosystems?
I say almost nothing. And for that reason, I’m excited.
I put together a little re-design of my personal homepage. Am pumped about it – I wanted something that presented my love for New York City alongside a useful collection of links for where I “hang out” around the web.
Here’s the final design:
In putting this project together I realized that all of the social services I use and love most vehemently are all deeply tied to either New York City or the Northeast, no matter where they are currently located. More on that below.
First – the site was influenced by this map of Manhattan (which, if you live here, you’ve likely seen at some point), originally produced by Ork Posters.
The placement of each web service on the map was deliberate and aimed at visually connecting the personality of a neighborhood to the personality of the service. And for the 7 people who think about NYC neighborhoods and web services in the same way I do – would love to hear your thoughts.
For everyone else, here’s the thinking behind each placement:
Twitter + Wall Street: Frenetic, Jumbled, Terse, but incredibly powerful
Foursquare + East Village: The roots of the service were in the EV and the best foursquare tips are still found here; bar-hopping, hypersocial, where-you-at mentality
Tumblr + West Village and Meatpacking: Coolness to a fault
Blog + Gramercy: I currently live in this neighborhood, so it was most fitting to place it there
Email + Chelsea and Times Square: Large, unmanageable, swelling, but ultimately the pulse of everything
Bnter + West Chelsea + Hell’s Kitchen: West Chelsea is the biggest up-and-comer neighborhood in lower Manhattan
Delicious + Midtown: Incredibly useful, but somewhat soulless (post-Yahoo) and unchanging
Facebook + Upper East Side: The center of the “establishment”
Quora + Upper West Side: Hyper-academic, hyper-artistic, hyper-self-reflective
Hacker News + Spanish Harlem: Steadfast, growing like a weed though few people notice, culture-rich but somewhat insulated
MessageParty + Washington Heights: Scrappy, and how could I miss an opportunity to post this video on my blog?
Putting aside the services that were started and headquartered in New York (Foursquare, Delicious, Bnter, Tumblr), Facebook was founded at Harvard and Mark Zuckerberg is from the NYC suburbs. At least one of the Quora founders went to prep school on the East Coast. Y Combinator/PG used to spend half the year in Boston. Most interviews with Jack Dorsey talk about bike messengers in Manhattan as being the main influence behind the idea for Twitter. While I am not saying that all these companies are east-coast through and through, there is certainly elements of east-coast-ness that flow through all of them.
I wonder about this – is there something about NYC/the Northeast that facilitates this sort of idea generation? Sure, we talk ad naseum about venture dollars and startups in New York, but I’d more be interested in theories around specific products. Is it the density and awful winters that somehow push us to want to communicate digitally?
Or is it just that there’s less fear of failure in New York because general survival is such a feat on its own and originality is paramount?
Thoughts for a Sunday.
P.S. If you’d like your own NYC map, hit up AthenaBelle on 99Designs. I submitted the idea and the design was all her. The whole project took me a few hours total – writing the brief, linking up the image, etc.