Ideas I follow very closely

My post earlier today made me want to post a general list of ideas I tend to follow.  They are things I’m interested in, and maybe there is a business in some of them for me.  Some of them produce a lot of business ideas, some are just personal interests.

  • Crowdsourcing
    • This one seems too simple to list, especially with how many places use it now.  I used to play an online game in the early 90s.  You telneted into it and roamed around (a MUD).  At first the game seemed extremely random to me, but later I found the reason why.  Once the players had been playing long enough and beat all of the challenges, they could design new areas.  So actually the game was designed by the players, rather than any one specific person or group.  It was just a giant digital commune.
  • AI/Collective Intelligence
    • I mentioned this one in an earlier post, but I’m fascinated by AI.  Mostly from a business sense, it seems like I should be able to find a way to automate lots of tasks and have an interesting idea grow organically.  Lots of places process tons of user data and pattern match it already, netflix and amazon most evidently.  There are a few other AI techniques that could go along these lines with business applications as well.
  • Cryptography/Privacy/Anonymity
    • Once again mentioned in a previous post, but I like to know what trails I’m leaving and I like the comfort that comes from knowing no one is going to go through my embarassing journal entries/photos.  Having this as a hobby means I go completely overboard with the details.  I was ecstatic to find that Ubuntu allows you to encrypt your home directory with a simple checkbox at user creation.  Something is comforting about having control over your own personal details.  How can I help other people get that level of comfort without hindering them as it becomes impossible to keep our data offline?
  • Business automation/business tools in general
    • I love anything that takes away all the administrative details of running a business and lets me focus on the core product itself.  I love online businesses because they can give one person the power of a huge shop.

I have no idea how I can fit all of these into one business idea, but man that would be interesting.

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Cypherpunks and nostalgia

In the early 90s there was a group called the cypherpunks.  The general idea was they were cryptographers and programmers.  They came up with a lot of great ideas, but the most important thing was they actually wrote programs to do what they talked about.  Rather than abstract ideas that may happen in the future, they made them happen then.  Thats  who we can thank for personal encryption as we know it today.  In the 90s crypto was a controlled export listed as a munition.  Once the cat was out of the bag and all the silly laws relaxed,  it became fairly widespread.

The focal point for their communication was a mailing list.  At first it was just the original members, but soon all kinds of people joined.  By the time I started participating it was full of libertarians, anarchists, and privacy activists.  Not everyone was a cryptographer or a programmer any more.  It was interesting to see anarchists with the resources to pull themselves off the grid because of the tools provided by the community, or libertarians able to ensure their liberty rather than hope other people respect it.  Julian Assange was one of the frequent contributers, and the ideas on the list are what spawned wikileaks.  This is also where the precursor to many technologies we use today such as VPNs and IPsec that will be included in IPv6.

Towards the end, once a lot of the laws had been relaxed, the philosophers and end users outnumbered the coders by far.  More ideas were being produced than coded, and a lot of the more esoteric ideas are still floating around.  The more privacy and less paranoia oriented stuff hit mainstream easier.

I’m a huge privacy buff, which is where my interest comes in.  I’d imagine the same sense of independence feeds my desire for privacy tools that are way over the top for my needs and my desire to run my own businesses.    It would be interesting if I could use them together to market a really helpful tool that makes one of those crazy ideas go mainstream.  Either as a business or just a personal hobby.

I’m not much of an early adopter or visionary, but when I know there are plenty of abandoned ideas left over here I get nostalgic and want to find one to run with.  Too bad it’s a community that just kind of faded away, or mostly.  I may disagree with the politics of wikileaks, but just that it exists show that cypherpunks are still out there taking the ideas and making them a reality.

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Warning: Nerd hobbies

I am interested in genetic algorithms and neural networks.  I admit it, I’m a super nerd.  I’m a fan of AI, ALife, cellular automation, and collective intelligence as well.  Even more nerd stuff.  My big problem is that I’m not too creative.  I always see great possibility in the latest thing, but it’s pretty rare I can think of a good use for it.  I can solve the traveling salesman problem a million ways.  If I was writing for orbitz that might help me, but how do I turn that into an online business I love as much as I like learning about it?

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Everyones question: How do I make money online?

Ok, this is my question sure, but not this time around.    This time I’m merely passing on a question from a friend of mine, and my observations.  My friend runs an upstanding political blog.  In the current climate, how does one break even and become “ramen profitable” on something like that without using google adwords?  There are plenty of scammy/blackhat ways to do that, but whats a good way to do it and still treat your readers right?

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Why don’t you start a business?

A friend of mine recently sent me a message letting me know he was looking for folks to work for him at his staffing firm.  You all know me, and know that led me down the line of asking him how he got started down that path and what the catalyst was for making it take off.  I wonder why more people don’t start businesses.  You should, right now.  If you don’t though, check out http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Executive-IT-Solutions/133295930077128

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Hitting the wall

I hate the point in coding where your changes transition from major features to tidying up the existing code. It’s hard to get motivation to keep going at that point if you haven’t released yet and aren’t getting constant feedback from others about the progress you’re making. I need to release asap to get into a feedback loop, but I can’t do that before the app is at least minimally operational.

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Reigning your idea in

I’m a big fan of the “idea” of minimum viable product.  I say I like the idea, because the things I really get into full throttle tend to be things I want to program for myself, and allow others to use it as well.  I keep thinking about all these great things I want in it, and often I use the app before there is even an interface.  At some point I have to reign myself in though.  Right now I have an app that I use almost exclusively through the database instead of through an interface.  phpmyadmin is my interface 🙂  I need to reign myself in, realise that I’m writing for others and not myself, and get the apps released to find out if others want the same things that I want.

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Designer in a bottle

I code in PHP, with Smarty as my template engine. Separating the two allows me to just focus on the PHP while deluding myself into believing the look will just magically work itself out. I wish good designers came in a bottle. I’m not a good designer, and don’t really know what to look for when trying to team up or hire one. So the bottles need FDA approved labels. I am a perfectionist and hate knowing that if I code the templates myself, they will likely look amateurish.

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How do I learn best practices as a solo-coder?

I’m a decent coder, and have been coding for a long time. It’s never been my primary job though. When I DID code as a job, it was part of being well rounded. In those times I always thought of myself as a web developer. I’m not a graphics person, so I don’t consider myself a web designer. I’m also not a professional programmer, so I don’t consider myself a web programmer. The best coding I’ve always done has been for myself, hacking various random projects or even the ocassional business. As far effectiveness is concerned, I’m pretty good. I code in a structured manner and can do anything I need to do in a structured, efficient and readable way.

My main concern though, is how do I know someone wouldn’t look at my code and hurl? It is all done according to a structure that makes sense to me, and is well organized, but that structure is made up by my personal style developed over a decade of hacker coding. I don’t work on coding teams of any kind, and I get input on what my code does, but never the code itself. How do other solo-coders in this situation solve this problem, or at least reassure themselves they’re doing fine? Better still, does it matter that I made up my own coding style versus a standard, or is the fact that my standard is refined through personal experience a plus?

As I take a few ideas from hobby to web product, professionalism concerns me more and more.

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A Resolution

This year I made a resolution.  Well really, I made it in December of last year, but that’s beside the point. My goal this year is to start 3 businesses.  That sounds like a dumb idea to most people.  The conventional wisdom is to work on one good idea until it’s complete, rather than spread your attention out.  I agree, but the goal of this is less about starting a successful business, and more about learning how to start one.  I have run a business before, and I did it wrong.  I programmed it wrong, managed it wrong, and screwed just about everything up.  I wish I had learned my lessons quick and tailored future actions to that, but I didn’t.  I let it drag on forever.  I learned a lot from that failure.  I hope that by starting more of them I’ll learn new things each time.  Maybe a few will stick, most wont.  The important thing is to just do it instead of continuously thinking about doing something eventually.

Jonathan Coulton did something that really inspired me.  Thing a week.  And I think he did a few of them.  He wrote a song every week.  Not all of them were good, none of them would be break out hits, but quite a few are what I consider niche classics.  By just writing one song a week he came out with almost 5 albums worth of songs in a year.  Thats impressive to me.

What am I waiting for?  It’s not like I need to start 52 businesses.  I just need to start 3.  And no, this blog doesn’t count 🙂

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