start ups and new ideas

A few people get together and create a new product or service, in secrecy. The product or service gets a ambiguous name like Jiffr or Remebo, is then previewed with venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs, and is launched, sold to a large company, or (most often) fails.
The most valuable products are those utilitarian ideas that almost anyone would need and are engineered to be able to serve millions of people without too much added cost (and thus are very profitable if successful). Throughout this process, the bulk of the product design is done by the engineers or business owners, who mostly trust their own instincts about what the right experience is. Sometimes a design firm or designer is brought in to add some visual polish or create a logo.
So what’s so great about this model? It hasn’t produced any truly new products in a long time (Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft were created publicly at schools, MySpace, Flickr and Blogger were created right out in the open as businesses). Despite the extremely hot focus on start-ups and the possible wealth to be had from a successful one, as ways of creating new ideas they are functioning pretty badly. Each new product is somewhat interesting, but after a pretty solid year of trying a lot of these, there isn’t a single one that I still use (in particular, I am still wishing for a good Web-based RSS reader).
I think Om Malik may be right about what “Web 2.0” really is: a collection of exciting new enhancements for Web sites that will be integrated into the offerings of big companies like Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo!, rather than a hothouse for new companies. This would be fine if we had mature Web products that just needed refinement, but none of the major pieces of the Web work too well yet (search is “5% solved,” Linux is a ten-year old, social networks are in their very awkward pre-teen days, email is choking, Windows has chronic illnesses, even my iPod crashes a lot).
What’s the answer? Stay in school. Don’t read eHub. Assume that your ideas have occurred to other people. Don’t take the venture capital money for the first idea. Don’t be secretive about ideas. Think past the semantic Web, Web 2.0, social media, etc., the implications of which are pretty clear to everyone, already being executed on and will be fairly played out in five years. What will come after that?

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