Startup Weekend Pitch – goal widgets

Here’s my pitch for startupweekend. It’s tonight at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, building 33.  Not overly ambitious, but not too difficult either.

People are more open with strangers about themselves.

I don’t know why…

Some people feel a need to express to the world:

  • what they had for dinner last night
  • their relationship status
  • how much they adore their favorite celebrity
  • how they really feel about vi, or Emacs, or national health care

Even if no one else is listening.  There is that tantalizing glimmer of hope that maybe someone is listening, that maybe someone agrees with us, is like us, will like us.

* * *

I blog about software testing.

I voice my opinions, with the full knowledge that potential employers, clients, and associates may see my blog and either disagree with me and be offended, or that I might sound like an idiot and be discredited.

I admit that that’s a real possibility – not only am I not a great writer, but I also don’t know that much, and tend to talk about what I don’t know well.

* * *

Social Networking is all rage.  MySpace superceded by Facebook, by Twitter.  Before that, Friendster, LiveJournal, even GeoCities and AOL.

Someone once said “They’re not selling community, they’re selling identity. MySpace is full of lonely, lonely people with 537 friends.”

Someone else said “The web itself is the biggest social network.”

But what is it about walled gardens?

Can’t you get everything on Facebook — a home page, email, a blog, and a photo gallery?  What brings people to these sites?  There must be something.

* * *

I’m not going to talk about that tonight.  (sighs of relief?)  Instead, I am going to pretend what we all know isn’t true.

That there is nothing special about that; that the walled garden social network adds no value and can be duplicated on the open internet.

That “the time has come”.  Just as people gave up AOL for the whole internet, they are ready to give up their social network walled gardens too.

They just need the apps.

We’re one “talk like a pirate” widget or vampire game away from breaking the monopoly (and flying cars and cold fusion.)

Let’s make that widget.

* * *

Here’s my idea:

Mommy blogging is all the rage.  My wife is a mommy blogger.  There are a lot of women out there blogging about their families, showing pictures of their kids to relatives, and linking to all their friends.

And they’re doing it without any hand holding.  Sure, they use Blogger and Picasa (or WordPress and Flickr) instead of editing HTML and coding a script to display their photo albums.  But so do I.

  • How many of you use blogging or gallery software?
  • How many of you have written blogging or gallery software?  (hmm…same people)
  • How many of you are still stuck in the walled garden?
  • What’s keeping you there?  (my friends who only know how to use facebook)

If a bunch of non-geek mommy-bloggers can do it, so can you.  (I’m not disparaging mommy bloggers.)

* * *

(Okay, I said a minute ago I was going to say what my idea is.  Here it is – again:)

There’s this mommy blogger who wanted to lose weight.

She blogged about it.  She posted her picture.  Told the whole world her weight.  And she wrote down every day what her weight was.  What she did about it.

Perhaps a bit unhealthy?  A bit obsessive?  A bit exhibitionist?

Well, it worked.

You’ve all seen (or heard of) the Nike training widget?  Same thing.  For exercise.  Hugely popular.

* * *

I was reading a book the other day called Predictably Irrational.  It talked about a lady who had a problem with debt.  She woke up one day and realized she had some insane amount of credit card debt, negative assets, and quite honestly, things didn’t look good.

So she posted about her debt on her blog.  She tracked her expenditures.  Nothing fancy, no tricks.  Her debt went down.  There are tons of websites where people do this – confess their debt.

Or their pack rat tendencies.  Oprah has a show about one of these subjects every other day  (not that I watch.)

* * *

Why do these things work?  Is it encouragement?  Is it shame?  Is it having to record boring metrics that forces you to be aware?

There’s something about the exhibitionist behavior that helps people get better.  It’s a feature of communities.  It’s part of what makes communities work.

It’s stepping out of anonymity – although being a part of the larger community, being exhibitionist, grants (a different sort of) anonymity.

(But enough gobbledygook.)

* * *

Here’s what I propose (finally – and for real this time):

A widget for blogs (or social networks) that allows you to track your goals.

  • The first part is admitting you have a problem
    (12 step program?)
  • The next part is telling others about it.
  • The third part is tracking your behavior
  • Then you set some goals
  • And watch the progress-o-meter

(Step 3 … profit!)

* * *

There could be multiple widgets, or a single application because there is a common pattern, but I think specially targeted apps would be better.

They could be built around a common core that might be refactored out of it.  But to the user they would be individual apps.

* * *

So I think this weekend, we could pick one vice (or virtue) and make a blog widget for tracking progress on a goal to overcome (or achieve) it.

It could be for:

  • weight loss or exercise
  • debt or savings
  • quitting smoking
  • or anything else you can think of

An interesting idea about savings (also from the Predictably Irrational book) would be a kind of layaway program.  You want to get a new bike or car or iPod.  You cut out lattés and movies and watch the savings grow until the price is met, and boom!

You get your reward.

I don’t know about collecting money and then paying it back, but that could be an option for the future.

* * *

The widget could be written in Flash (or Silverlight), with a web (or RIA) interface for tracking and entering data.

With something like a community, a weekly newsletter, and forums for encouragement, and maybe advertisers – though I am not suggesting advertising as a way of monetizing.

The community could potentially drive visitors – well wishers (or voyeurs) – to your blog, so that has value too.

The goal at first would be to build a reputation, to show there is a market.  Then it could be white-labeled, tied in with a product or promotion (for instance Nike – or “Race for the Cure”.)  There could even be a potential for “March of Dimes” style commitments for people wanting to do fundraisers and take pledges.  But that’s another avenue.

The nice thing is that it is small, simple to implement, and could grow into a platform – but a proof of concept could be built in a weekend.  We could explore different markets (goals), different platforms – maybe I am wrong about walled gardens and it’ll be big on Facebook.

Anyway, that’s my idea.  Thanks for listening.

2 thoughts on “Startup Weekend Pitch – goal widgets

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