Change the World by Nate Westheimer

I used to think how you "changed the World" was the most important question for a startup venture looking for commercial success. Looking back, I don't think I was right.

Twitter, Wordpress, Blogger, Reddit... these Internet services have fundamentally changed the way the world works. None of these will make the most money in their class.

I believe the World is an incredibly different place now due to the freedom of blogs and speed of dissemination created by Twitter. I believe the World is also a different place because of a raucous, loosely organized network of Internet users hosted by Reddit and its cousins, like 4chan.

But ultimately, none of these services will be the most commercially successful of their genre or time. Tumblr, which I truly love, has not had near the cultural impact of Wordpress & Blogger; but, it will do far better commercially speaking. Pinterest will also do better (commercially) than Reddit, but it will never be center of a decentralized movement against Congress (SOPA) or define the next generation of cultural icons.

Twitter, we're finding out, may end up being the most significant example of this conundrum. I'm going to go out on a limb and say because of its seamless marriage with Big Media that Twitter has had an incredibly larger impact on the shape of the World than Facebook, but without going out on a limb I'm going to say it won't have near the commercial success.

Is World Change via Internet service at odds with massive commercial success?

There is at least one exception I can find: Google has has perhaps changed the World more than even blogging platforms, AND it has ended up as a massive commercial success.


One theory I've been working with is that as a people we are consumers of goods only second to being consumers of information. The Wordpresses and Twitters of the world are purely about information, and this is why the world is so fundamentally different with their presence. Google, on the other hand, realized that Search lives at this amazing junction where the flow of Information and the flow of Commerce cross each other quite naturally.

Naturally crossing Commerce and Information, however, is only two thirds of the recipe. The other ingredient is ability to reach World-scale.

The question for "change the world" companies like Kickstarter, which has clearly found some vein here, is whether or not they can achieve this World-scale. Esty and Groupon (a literal example of where Kickstarter could end up) seem to dance with the very same issue too, as both their products appear to get watered down the larger their core products grow.

So who cares, right? Well, I do. I want more "Change the World" companies to exist. I want more Googles who can use the Internet to both make the World a better place while also finding a way to be massively, massively profitable. Off the Internet, but still in the realm of technology, there's no doubt that Microsoft existed in this place as it created the proliferation of Personal Computers in the 80s and 90s (not to mention the bonus of creating a Bill Gates who is fundamentally changing the World again with his strategic donations of tens of billions of dollars he made from the company). Apple didn't produce a Bill Gates, but the iPhone started a new personal computing revolution whose effects we haven't even begun to see at its most scaled form (probably massive proliferation of Android in the developing world).

So I wonder: Who's next? Can the Internet produce another Google? With software produce another Microsoft? Can hardware make another Apple? Let's hope so, and let's work to make it happen.

Digests and Dashboards by Nate Westheimer

Every morning, as I clear out my inbox, I find, and read religiously daily digest emails from News.me, KnowAboutIt, Percolate, and Timehop. When I'm done, I head over to New Relic to see what the worst bugs and slowest queries were in my software app overnight. What similar about all of these services is that they present small amounts of well organized information that has been algorithmically compiled and designed based on my specific interest or needs. Gone are the days of generic real-time streams, feeds, and editor-driven digests. Data Dumps be gone!

Digests and Dashboards are not everything I could know, but everything I probably should know. Instead of being oppressive, like a feed or an inbox or a newspaper, the new smart digests and dashboards are here to help -- they tell you, "It's okay that you were't paying attention at every moment. Here's what you missed."

Right now, the best digests and dashboards are aggregators. They pull from multiple sources or if they don't, they use another service's API.

In the future I think more products will want to provide smart digests and dashboards to their readers. Every blog or newspaper has a "most read" tab. Some have a "most emailed" tab. None of these tabs tie into your social graph and in order to see these you have to be on their site in the first place.

For those services who decide to make this a feature, figure out how to deliver it is key.

My favorite form to get these digests and dashboards in is email, because emails end. On a website you can get lost clicking around and pretty soon you're down a time-suck rabbit hole of the web. With a digest email I can skim through it and when I'm done I'm done, and I can move on. Smart digests and dashboards make me feel like I've accomplished something and that I've been truly more productive, not just entertained in a new medium. Entertainment is not something I need more of; I just want to be productively informed.

I'm building something right now and feeling like I'm really missing a smart dashboard experience with it. This weekend, I may start banging on a weekly digest feature for it. Could be nice to have.

The Now Neighborhood by Nate Westheimer

One of the biggest privileges of running the NY Tech Meetup and programming its events has been the visibility it gives me on macro and micro-trends in web and personal technology. Next month's event, which I'm calling "The Now Neighborhood," is an example of where seeing the flow of companies looking to demo at the NY Tech Meetup has helped me see that trend. First some background: At the first Meetup I ever hosted (January 2009), I themed the event "Built on Twitter" because I saw an awesome pipeline of real stand-alone companies being built on the platform. That month I had Klout and CoTweet unveil their ground-breaking products, and StockTwits demoed for the first time in NYC (I think my man Howard Lindzon also graced us with some of his vintage standup comedy).

It's pretty cool to think about that time and how much has been defined by companies like those since.

The following month, February of 2009, I themed the event "Mobile Meets Social." Yes, it wasn't until the next month that Foursquare unveiled itself on the NY Tech Meetup stage, but that February we also had Peek, OMGICU, Xtify, Mobile Commons -- all companies innovating in serious ways around the mobile/social revolution that took place in the following 18 months.

Next month's NY Tech Meetup is another one of these moments. Among the demos, we'll have SnapGoods, Zaarly, Taap.it (formerly known as Social Listing), SkillSlate, Spontaneously and CityPockets making up a new macro-trend I'm calling the "Now Neighborhood."

While The Now Web made information instant at at our fingertips -- immediate, personalized, on-demand, and on our devices -- The Now Neighborhood is doing the same thing, but in our real life. Now Neighborhood technology is what I call "School of Heiferman," or technology companies that "Use the Internet to get people off the Internet."

Now, we've seen other School of Heiferman companies demo at the NY Tech Meetup recently, including SkillShare last month and my own Ohours a few months before. But, what's different about Now Neighborhood products vs other School of Heiferman products is that they accelerate and set the pace at which you experience the real world around you... something we started to truly feel in the flash-mob-filled early days of mobile/social platforms like Twitter and Foursquare.

Now Neighborhood products are meant for this kind of activity though, and so as they scale, the experience will persist, and the way we live in our local communities will forever be changed.

CityPockets, for example, represents the entire industry of daily deals sites, which will have you explore local businesses on their terms, not yours. In the Now Neighborhood, "discovering" new places is less about word-of-mouth, and more about the immediacy of the deals around you.

Zaarly, Taap.it, and SkillSlate are all real-time, local marketplaces for goods and services. In the Now Neighborhood, you don't call "your" plumber or have "your" cleaning service clean your house, you go with the highest rated person who responds the fastest with the lowest price to your needs. Having the same person do the same job for you in the future is a "coincidence."

SnapGoods tells you who around you already has the "stuff" you want, or who wants the stuff you may already have. In the Now Neighborhood, you know which neighbor's door to knock on for that cup of sugar: the one who has it in stock.

And Spontaeously represents what's happening to our most social lives. While today we write emails to each other saying "let's hang out"... and then we never hang out, in The Now Neighborhood our friends know our schedules and will just drop by when they see we're down to socialize. Plans-be-damned, our social lives are now "Now."

Let me be clear: many of these changes, trends, and product concepts have been around before. CraigsList itself perhaps covers every one of them. Certainly ZipCar has had this effect. But, it's when I've seen groups of companies like these all vying for spots at the NY Tech Meetup around the same few months that I believe something is starting to congeal. It's what I saw with Twitter-based companies and mobile/social companies in early 2008, and it's something I'm predicting will change the way we live over the next few years starting now.

What are some examples you can think of for The Now Neighborhood? I'd be curious to hear what products are changing your life.

(PS: Hope you see you at the next NY Tech Meetup. More tickets will be available June 27 and July 1.)

The End of An Era by Nate Westheimer

Last week, my friend Dan Frommer announced he'll be leaving Silicon Alley Insider after nearly 4 years of being its most consistent and informed voice about Internet technology and new media. Last last month, my friend Caroline McCarthy announced she'd be leaving CNET after covering The Social part of our industry better than any of her peers for nearly 5 years.

With Dan and Caroline both leaving their respective posts at around the same time, I feel like I've experienced a major marker and the end of an era of the the Internet industry, at least in the way I've experienced things.

For as long as I've been involved in web/tech startups -- literally, for nearly exactly as long as I've been involved -- Caroline and Dan were the voices I most listened to. They are more or less my age, they grew up experiencing Personal Technology and then the Internet more or less the same way I experienced these technologies. They were in Teen Chats in AOL when I was there, got high speed Internet in college, saw Facebook and YouTube emerge as they were leaving or just left college.

As I started my first startup, they were getting their first bylines.

Seeing them move on has made me incredibly nostalgic, and I don't think I'm alone.

For other entrepreneurs I've talked to, also born in 1982/1983 (for some reason there are a ton of them) Dan and Caroline were the voices you could relate to and the voices you cared most about. From what I've gathered from my friends, they weren't just voices I listened too as I built my career, they were the voices of an entire generation of entrepreneurs. I hope they know the positive impact they've had.

As I said, this feels like a mile-marker, not a a goodbye. Both Dan and Caroline will still be around, contributing in new ways to the tech/media ecosystems. I really can't wait to see what they do.

But, it does feel like an end of an era. And so I tip my hat to these to fine journalists. Bravo for the first chapter, and Godspeed on the next.

Hackers & The Canon of Consumer Facing Products by Nate Westheimer

I have a hypothesis I'd like you to help me either prove or disprove based on your comments on this blog post. The hypothesis: "The first version of every consumer-facing software product that's ever been widely-adopted and consistently used was primarily built (e.g. coded, designed), by the person who most wanted the product in the first place (i.e. the builders did not build from the direction or idea from upon high)."

Said differently, in the canon of consumer-facing products, you will only find products for which the inspiration and the perspiration came from the same person.

When I look at my web browser history and my iPhone screen, and analyze the applications that I used on a daily basis, this is true for me:

  • Google Search - The core innovation of this company was made my the original founders.
  • Gmail - Built as a Google Labs product by the people who wanted it.
  • Google Maps - Also built by developers at Google who wanted the tool, not from management.
  • Facebook - Built by Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Foursquare - Built by Naveen and Dennis.
  • Twitter - Built by Jack Dorsey.
  • Wordpress - Built by Matt Mullenweg.
  • Skype - Underlying technology and user-base built by founders.
  • Tumblr - Built by David Karp.
  • Forrst - Built by Kyle Bragger
  • Apple Products - Even the lineage of this great company, along with the other great computer company (Microsoft) was born from the products developed by two hackers, vs the dozens of other corporate computer companies whose products died out.

I should be clear: my hypothesis is not that startups are the only people who can or will make successful, disruptive products, it's that hackers are the only people who will make successful, disruptive products.

The origins of this thinking date back to my decision to learn to code and conversations I had on the general idea of me learning to code with my friend Sam Lessin.

Since that time, I've thought long and hard about the thesis, and finally my father suggested I put it to the ultimate test by sharing it here.

Can you disprove this or add to it? What are the consumer-facing software products you use on a daily basis and were the inspiration and the perspiration done by the same or different people?