Hackers & The Canon of Consumer Facing Products

March 9, 2011 Posted 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?

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