Monthly Archives: September 2008

Three Netflix API Apps You Can Build in 24 Hours or Less

200px-Wayne's_worldSpeaking of Netflix, I’m receiving word from my inside sources that Netflix is planning to roll out a developer API tomorrow, October 1!  I played around with a bit of the data from their Netflix Prize contest, and they’ve got some good stuff.  And the best part?  It’s licensed for commercial use!  You know what that means – the race is on to get your unofficial Netflix app up on your favorite platform.  Unfortunately I’ve got a couple of meetings tomorrow, so I’ll be a good blogger and throw out a few of my initial ideas.  Note to any devs with a little time on their hands – this is a great chance to be one of the first apps to take advantage of this bountiful gift from the API gods.

RST Video. 

The idea is to create a very basic app that can help people decide what movie to pick at the local video store.  Here are a few quick features:

  • Search on a movie title to get ratings and basic plot information
  • Lists of top-rated movies from various genres (Top 10 80’s flicks, Best Classic Movies, etc..)
  • Ability to scan the barcode of a video and see if it’s available via “Watch Now” (but if it’s an indie video store, at least buy some popcorn and candy)

Stick It In Your Queue.

This is a simple social network app where you can suggest movies for people to add to their Netflix queues.  Visitors could search and add movies to your virtual queue, and if you like any titles that your friends have added, you could click a button and add it to your real queue.  Thanks to Ralph and Ben for the inspiration on this one.


Forget filling out long profiles on traditional dating sites.  The MoviePhone dating app makes matches based on movies that you’ve watched recently and ratings that you’ve given to recent movies.  The site scans across all active users to find the most compatible matches within your area.  Users can choose which people they’d be interested in meeting, and if two people mutually decide they’re interested in each other, the site would show a phone number you could call to contact your match for a date.  Bonus feature – along with the number, the site could suggest a romantic movie that both users would be interested in.

Had a chance to try out the API?  Post your first impressions in the comments below.

Winners and What’s Next

Thanks to everyone for all the great comments on the final post of the Y Combinator Challenge.  As promised, I’ve put all the names of the commenters into a hat and the winner is…Joel!  I got a real prize for this one, courtesy of a great new Seattle startup called GreetQ.  Instead of explaining it myself and making it sound less cool than it actually is, here’s an explanation from Jen, one of the founders:

“My Seattle-based company, basically provides a service where our customers can personalize paper greetings cards online and queue them, Netflix-style, to be mailed on a scheduled date. Our Netflix-style queue model seems to appeal to people.They also love the convenience and simplicity of our site including the fact that in a flash they can send a memorable greeting for a friend’s birthday or for the holidays.”

As someone who forgot his 15-year-old sister’s birthday last week (sorry, Amy!) I decided not to take any chances and used the service to schedule a card to be delivered to my other sis for her birthday.  The selection is great, the site was easy to use and they’ve got a discount for first-time users – definitely go check ’em out if you get a chance.

Anyway, congrats Joel, I’ll shoot you a mail with a voucher code to get your free card.

All right, so what’s next?  Back when I started the challenge, one of the commentators over on Hacker News had a great suggestion.  After coming up with 30 ideas, pick out the best one and build it out.  So – why not?  Starting today, I’m going to give myself thirty more days to take one of the ideas and see if I can get a prototype up by Halloween.  I’ll still be posting new ideas here, and have another project starting up next week that I’m way excited about – should be a crazy month, but lots of fun.  Wish me luck – I haven’t coded in a while, so I’m definitely going to need it.

Y Combinator Challenge: Mission Accomplished!


I’d like to join myself in extending a very heartfelt congratulations to me for completing the Y Combinator Challenge.  Coming up with 30 startup ideas over the course of 30 days (with one little break) was not easy, but what worthwhile things are?  I had a blast working my way through the list and having a set of constraints to focus my random brainstorming efforts.  Plus, with a little help from my new friends over on Hacker News, I finally got a few visits from someone outside of my gene pool.  Not that it really matters, but it’s always fun to get some outside opinions in the mix to kick off a discussion around new ideas.

Also, I want to give credit where it’s due – the esteemed Mr. Paul Graham.  This list of 30 app ideas was, for me, an amazing source of inspiration and I have a ton of respect for everything pg is doing to help young entrepreneurs in the Web 2.0 community.

To celebrate the end of the challenge, I’m going to try another contest.  It’s pretty simple – I’m going tol list my five favorite ideas, and you vote on which one you like the best in the comments section.  The winner will get a little something from a killer startup here in Seattle.  I’ll choose the winner randomly from everyone who commented before midnight (PST) on Monday, Sept 29.

  • New News – The basic idea of this one is pretty solid – recreate the fun and excitement of a real newsroom online.  I think I’d actually use it, which is a good litmus test since I actually don’t use most of the new sites I read about on a daily basis.
  • Dating – To be honest, I’m actually not that crazy about this idea.  I just put it in here so I’d have an excuse to post this fake Chuck Norris profile again:


  • Office Competitor – This idea got the most comments and traffic out of any of the posts.  I like the focus on the specific college market, but it’s such a difficult market, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to try and crack it.  On the other hand, this market has a ton of upside potential – so if you’re going to swing for the fences, this isn’t a bad pitch to hit.
  • Shopping Guides – OK, this was the only idea I posted over a weekend and it got almost no hits.  Quick hint to anyone who reads this: sometimes if I think an idea really has potential, I’ll intentionally gloss over details or try to obscure the “secret sauce” of the idea as best I can.  Is this one of those cases, or was I just messing around because I had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than research Hollywood gossip sites?  🙂 
  • Easy Site Builder – This one is all about the execution.  It would have to be incredibly easy-to-use and well-designed, or it would fall flat on its face.  Also, I’m not convinced that there’s that big of a market between the simple site builders and a fully-featured WYSIWYG tool like Dreamweaver or Visual Studio.  Still – I think it’s a unique idea and something that I really, really, really wish existed.

Vote now by posting your favorite site idea in the comments below.  And if you don’t like any of these, write-in nominations are always welcome!  Thank you all for taking part in the YC Challenge, and stay tuned for details about my next big project.

And Finally…Y Combinator Challenge #30 – Startups for Startups

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.  

30. Startups for startups. The increasing number of startups is itself an opportunity for startups. We’re one; TechCrunch is another. What other new things can you do?

Short description.  Even Paul was starting to lose steam at this point.  🙂

Since today is the final day of the challenge, let’s start with a story about another famous last day.  On Bill Gate’s last day at Microsoft, there was a town-hall style meeting where employees could ask him questions.  One of the questions was around how he and Steve Ballmer first met.  The story went something like this: 

During his freshman year, Gates was introduced to Ballmer by a friend.  Together, they went to the movies and watched a double-feature of “Singing in the Rain” and “A Clockwork Orange.”  On the way back to the dorm, they were dancing around like Gene Kelly from the movie, and some random guy came up and threw Steve to the ground.  Bill then stepped in and fought off the other student.

In other words, the most successful technology partnership in history started from what was basically a date.

My Idea – DevDate or HaxorsHookups

My idea is a twist on a typical dating site.  But instead of searching for your romantic soulmate, this site is focused on bringing together like-minded entrepreneurs who are looking to form a business partnership.  If you think about it, the basic site components wouldn’t be that different.  Users would fill out a profile about themselves and the type of business partner that they are looking for.  The system would then display a list of potential matches, and you could send messages to the people who might be a good match.

Also, instead of the focus being on the profile picture, users could post screenshots of previous projects that they’ve worked on.  You could even have a feature called (ready for this?) ScreensHot-or-Not, where you could rank screenshots submitted by other users or post yours to find out how it rates.

Any thoughts on this one?  As always, post ’em if you’ve got ’em. 

Y Combinator Challenge #29 – Easy Site Builders for Specific Markets

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.  

29. Easy site builders for specific markets. Weebly is a good, general-purpose site builder. But there are a lot of markets that could use more specialized tools. What’s the best way to make a web site if you’re a real estate agent, or a restaurant, or a lawyer? There still don’t seem to be canonical answers.

Obviously the way to build this is to write a flexible site builder, then write layers on top to produce different variants. Hint: The key to making a site builder for end-users is to make software that lets people with no design ability produce things that look good—or at least professional.

My Idea – MixNMatch Site Builder

This idea is one that I’ve had for a while, but it fits so well into this category (and I can’t think of anything else and it’s getting way late) that I’m going to go ahead and post it.  It’s pretty simple, really.  This site is a basic site builder that allows you to mix and match the best features of your favorite sites from across the web and insert them into your site.  For example, I love the light-blue-and-black color scheme from Vimeo.  The login bar that fades in along the top nav bar of Digg is epic. I really like the 2-column, soft shadow outlines of the body copy from the Jaiku home page.  I want to use the same fonts as Facebook, the footer from Plaxo, the terms of use from Pownce, and the tabs from Innovate On (come on, gotta throw in a plug every once in a while!). 

Anyway, I think you get the idea.  As far as execution goes, the user would start with a blank homepage at the bottom of the screen, and a wizard-like series of steps across the top.  Users would go through the various steps (e.x. Choose the number of columns, choose the color scheme, choose the font, etc..) and as they went along, the blank homepage would begin to get populated.  After the shell of the site was created, users could drag-and-drop in basic html elements like text blocks, images, bulleted lists, etc..  You could also create links to other pages, which would inherit the basics of the home page, but could be tweaked as needed. 

One of the key features I’d like to see is the ability for users to take the entire site they’ve created and download the source code (html + css + javascript) to their local machines.  That way, developers could use this site as a way to quickly mock up some ideas that they have around the interface, and then wire it up to their backend code in the language of their choice.  Non-tech savvy users could have the option to host their pages directly on the MixNMatch servers, and purchase custom domain names for their new sites.

What do you guys think about this one?  Only one more idea left – stay tuned for tomorrow’s grand finale…along with a special surprise…  🙂

Y Combinator Challenge #28 – Fixing Email Overload

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first

28. Fixing email overload. A lot of people, including me, feel they get too much email. A solution would find a ready market. But the best solution may not be anything as obvious as a new mail reader.

Related problem: Using your inbox as a to-do list. The solution is probably to acknowledge this rather than prevent it.

To say that I get a lot of Email is an understatement.  Thanks to my bff Xobni, I have some statistics to back that up.  Boy, do I love statistics.

In the past 24 hours I’ve received 67 Emails and sent 27.  This is after filtering out 29 Emails from a newsgroup I belong to (although I did read the majority of them) and does not include the 15 messages in my personal Email inbox, the 23 junk mails I received, and the 2 messages I received through Facebook.

So far in 2008 I’ve received 15,067 work Emails from 1,446 different people.  I’ve written 4,268 work Emails. If you assume that on average each mail I’ve written takes up 1/4 of a printed page, that’s the equivalent of writing War and Peace (thanks, Powerset).

My Idea – OutToDo

This idea is a Xobni-like Outlook plug-in that allows you to still work within a familiar environment, but provides a ton of features to help power Email users deal with overloaded inboxes.  Instead of the main interface focusing on an incoming stream of Email with a to-do list attached to it, the focus would be a simple to-do list with Email attached to it. Here are ten additional features to really set this apart.

  1. Have an option to only check for new mail a few times a day.  This is a key tenant of Merlin Mann’s fabulous Inbox Zero approach.
  2. Ability to attach a note to any item.  This will create a link between a traditional to-do app and Email, and will allow users to better organize the action items attached to complex Emails.
  3. Create a flag to resend important mails the next day.  With this approach, any critical Emails that cannot be ignored automatically get sent to the next day, so you can always focus your attention on the items that have been sent within the past 24 hours.  Added bonus: automatically move any items that are in the inbox for more than 48 hours into a “saved mail” folder.
  4. Ability to apply themes.  Ever since the dawn of the cubicle, people have been customizing their workspaces with hee-larious Cathy cartoons or pictures of wet cats hanging from clotheslines.  Having fun themes for people who are into that sort of thing will increase the “water cooler buzz” around this app and create a nice viral effect within the office.  Added bonus: Make fun animations or sounds tied to actions (e.x. Every time you delete an Email, a cat can swoop in and hit the Email with its paw until it explodes into a ball of flames, with accompanying gunshot noises)
  5. Create customized versions to work with the top time management techniques (such as GTD, Inbox Zero, etc..)
  6. Ability to tie into Facebook Connect.  Have an option to send Facebook messages or make wall posts directly from your inbox. 
  7. I think TechCrunch would agree with this one.

  8. Have a separate folder that collects all attachments.  I like the way that Xobni shows me all the files that were sent by a someone, but what I’d really like is a consolidated view that showed all attachments that I’ve received in a single screen, organized by sender.
  9. Create a section to list the top 3-5 things you want to accomplish that day. This is a great technique that allows users to really focus in on the things that are most important to get done.  By recording them at the beginning of the day, it always creates a history of all the important tasks that were done over the past week, month, year, etc..  Added bonus: Option to require users to enter their top tasks prior to their first time opening the inbox for the day.
  10. Add in a Twitter-like status update page.  The status updates could be shared with all other people who have the app installed and are using the same company Email domain (i.e. all users).  Added bonus: allow users to create custom groups for their teams, friends, etc..
  11. Option to display the plug-in on a separate monitor.  This will allow you to have your normal inbox open on one screen, and the enhanced inbox open on the other.

Any thoughts on this one?  In honor of today’s post, skip the comments and shoot me an Email instead:

Y Combinator Challenge #27 – Hardware/software hybrids

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.

27. Hardware/software hybrids. Most hackers find hardware projects alarming. You have to deal with messy, expensive physical stuff. But Meraki shows what you can do if you’re willing to venture even a little way into hardware. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in hardware; you can often do dramatically new things by making comparatively small tweaks to existing stuff.

Hardware is already mostly software. What I mean by a hardware/software hybrid is one in which software plays a very visible role. If you work on an idea of this type you’ll tend to have the field to yourself, because most hackers are afraid of hardware, and most hardware companies can’t write good software. (One reason your iPod isn’t made by Sony is that Sony can’t write iTunes.)

This one is fun.  Most of my ideas are small-scale, things that could potentially be up-and-running on the Interwebs within a few weeks.  But hardware, that takes a long time.  And you need lots of up-front cash.  And the ability to deal with complicated things like supply chains and faulty heat sinks and all that.  Or, a blog where I can just throw out some crazy hardware ideas and then quickly move on to some crackpot idea about how to fix Email (reminder to self – insert link to future post here).

Instead of doing one long idea, I’ve gonna throw out two quick ones instead.  Let me know which one you like best in the comments below.  As an added bonus, I’ll choose one comment as the grand prize winner.  I can’t tell you what the prize will be, but I guarantee it will be something cool.  Like a pony.

Idea #1 – Internet-Controlled Switches

The idea is to have a set of inexpensive toggle switches that each have a wireless adaptor and a unique IP address assigned to them.  The switches can come in various forms, such as a wall plug, light switch, or battery pack.  Each switch you purchase comes with a code – users can go to a site, enter the code, and get access to an API that can remotely activate the switches via the web.  The key is to keep the switches cheap enough and flexible enough to allow hackers to come up with their own uses and applications that can use the switches in unique and fun ways.

Idea #2iBear

Remember this?  My idea is actually somewhat similar.  It’s a soft, cuddly teddy bear with basic phone components buried inside it.  Each bear comes with a phone number that parents can call when they are at work to check in with their children.  Kids could use the bear to talk to their parents, and potentially even twist the paw in a certain way that would allow the children to call their parents.  In other words, it’s baby’s first cell phone.  Harry Harlow would have been so proud.

What do you guys think?  A, B, or C (none of the above)?  Be the change that you aspire to and vote today in the comments below!  Unless you already have a pony.  Then you should probably put down the Internet and go feed it or something.

Y Combinator Challenge #26 – Better Video Chat

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.

26. Better video chat. Skype and Tokbox are just the beginning. There’s going to be a lot of evolution in this area, especially on mobile devices.

When this one first came at me, the first thing I did was start to think of features.  I cycled through feature after feature, and had a nice long post all ready to go.  But then those guys over at 37 Signals had to come along and give a speech (based on the write-up I read) that made me reconsider the whole approach. 

My Idea – ZeroChat

Why ZeroChat?  Because it has absolutely no features.  None.  Zero.  It’s like the days when the phone came out and it was just a big dial with a horn strapped to it, and it did only one thing – make calls.  Same thing here, just a ridiculously simple, yet extremely fast and robust, application that takes a live video signal and and audio signal from one person and broadcasts it to another person (and vice versa). 

The other added bonus of this approach is that it frees up the team to focus on the really important stuff like compatibility across a huge range of devices and platforms, and better speed and reliability than any of the competition.  And if you can do it all while still managing to only work 30 hours a week – more power to you.  🙂

Happy Friday to all – any thoughts on this one? 

Y Combinator Challenge #25 – Craigslist Competitor

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.

25. A Craigslist competitor. Craiglist is ambivalent about being a business. This is both a strength and a weakness. If you focus on the areas where it’s a weakness, you may find there are better ways to solve some of the problems Craigslist solves.

OK, I’ll admit it.  This one had me stumped – and that lame jet lag excuse wasn’t going to work two days in a row.  Lucky for me, I happened to meet a professional idea incubator today on campus, and she was gracious enough to help me out with this one.  So if any of you guys take this idea and make millions from it, you owe both Anne and I a drink the next time you’re in Seattle.  🙂

Beating Craig at his own game is not an easy task.  However, there are few things that could potentially give him a run for his money (or lack thereof).  One issue with Craigslist is the lack of trust.  I mean, there’s really no way of knowing when you go to pick up your slightly-used George Foreman grill from the guy across town if he’s going to answer the door showing off his brand new chainsaw and hockey mask.  Given the choice, I’d rather spend a few extra bucks and buy it from my friend’s co-worker’s sister’s uncle instead.  Or at the very least, from someone who may have the online handle “JasonFri13”, but has a decent rating and several positive reviews from past buyers. 

However, just slapping a social network onto a Craigslist clone and wrapping it with some pretty boxes with rounded corners isn’t going to keep the esteemed Mr. Newmark up at night.  Classified sites, like dating or job sites, face the classic chicken-and-egg problem.  Buyers need sellers, and vice versa.  Luckily, in this market, you’ve actually got a number of well-funded allies with a critical mass of potential users who are desperately trying to solve this exact same problem – the major daily newspaper conglomerates.  To seed this thing, all you’d have to do is partner with the tree killers to offer their customers simultaneous publishing to both the trusted, online site and to the declining-but-still-popular print classifieds.  Slap a social network on that, and now you’re getting somewhere.

Thanks to everyone for the nice welcome back, I kinda thought that maybe y’all would forget about me.  🙂  Any thoughts on this on?  As always, post ’em in the comments below!

Y Combinator Challenge #24 – A Buffer Against Bad Customer Service

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first.

24. A buffer against bad customer service. A lot of companies (to say nothing of government agencies) have appalling customer service. “Please stay on the line. Your call is important to us.” Doesn’t it make you cringe just to read that? Sometimes the UIs presented to customers are even deliberately difficult; some airlines deliberately make it hard to buy tickets using miles, for example. Maybe if you built a more user-friendly wrapper around common bad customer service experiences, people would pay to use it. Passport expediters are an encouraging example.

KevinBeerI’m back!  The trip was amazing, thanks for asking.  Now, back to business.  Only seven more ideas to go.

For today’s idea, I’m again taking inspiration from my lovely and talented wife.  Personally, I’m horrible at dealing with customer service people, but my wife is ridiculously great at it.  I don’t know how she does it, but she’ll get on the phone and within minutes we’ll have crazy discounts on our cable or phone bills, instant returns with no extra fees, etc, etc.. 

So today’s idea, my thought is to use a model similar to the insurance industry, where people can delegate their problems to a trusted agent who can deal with problems on their behalf.  Users could purchase a customer service policy (i.e. up to 5 incidents for $25/month) and would be assigned a person who they could contact in case of any customer service needs.  Users would then have the option to call or Email their agent whenever they needed something taken care of, provide any necessary details, and the agent would take care of it on their behalf. 

Not the best idea in the world, I’ll admit it – but cut me a little slack today, I’m jetlagged!  I love that excuse.  If you have any thoughts on this one, post ’em in the comments below.