Please Build Me Something Useful: A Letter To Web 2.0 Developers


A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought.
Warren Buffett

I have a confession to make. I have tried out hundreds of Web 2.0 applications, and there is one and only one that I use almost every day. You see, the problem with Web 2.0 is that I'm not a social person. I never read reviews before I buy something on Amazon. I never read restaurant reviews, travel reviews, hotel reviews, or anything else written by the average person. Maybe they work for some people, but in my experience, they have zero correlation to what I like. If I want a review, I like to look at things like what a CNET expert said about a product. Whatever Jody in Boston, MA thinks is meaningless to me.

Case in point. For Christmas, I asked for a specific suitcase. Mrs. Businesspundit looked it up online and called me over. "It has one review," she said. "And it's really bad."

I responded with "for all I know that lady could be a crackpot, or a competitor trying to leave a bad message. I still want the suitcase." I got it. And I've loved it. It's perfect for me. The right size, the right features. I really just love it. Thank goodness I ignored that review. Otherwise I might have ended up with a suitcase that was popular, but very unsuited for me.

Here is what I don't understand. How does anyone but me know what I like? Why should I trust the judgement of others over my own? Most importantly… am I the only one out there who thinks this way? Web 2.0 has added almost zero value to my life. I don't need to connect and stay in touch. I don't need to hear what other people are saying. I don't care what news stories are the most read or emailed. I don't need other people to share and tag their… whatever it is they are sharing and tagging these days. I don't want what is popular, I want what is good, and in my experience, those two things only overlap a small percentage of the time.

I'm not knocking the people that want to spend all their time finding out about other people, it's just not for me. And that is why I am asking you, the Web 2.0 community, please please please build something for me. I want apps that make my life easier, not more complicated. I want apps that save time so I can spend fewer hours online and more time doing other things. I don't care about free. I'm willing to pay for things if it weeds out the noise and gives me a stronger signal. Am I the only one who thinks this way? Am I the only one that doesn't care about mash-ups? Am I the only one that wants function over form?

I have enough friends. And I think if I had to watch their every move on twitter all day, I probably need my head examined for some kind of insecurity issue. What I don't have enough of is time. Get me that, and I'll gladly pay for it.

(That one site I use most every day? I love it.)

  • COD

    OK Rob, now tell us what Web app you wish you had. I’m sort of looking around for a good idea for a site. However, I’m so damn cynical that I talk myself out of just about every idea I come up with.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. But why would someone prefer thinking over checking a poll? It’s easier and you don’t have to deal with your own insecurities–further amplified, by the way, by the web 2.0 dependence on fake friends and separation from reality.

    To me, 99% of “Web 2.0” represents a new form of entertainment, repackaged, resold, and intended to remove required thinking. And it has to be ad supported because it doesn’t provide any true utility. It seems that the exploding surplus of online venues for advertising will only commoditize pricing even more, helping to eliminate much of the frothy companies out there. We can only hope.

    Though there are plenty of web-based companies that bring true value, few proclaim themselves as Web 2.0. They don’t need the overhype. ;-)

    p.s. In my own life, I’ve found about 50% of reviews from friends/family (those that actually know me and my tastes) are actually valid. I’m better off flipping a coin. At least I’d have proper expectations.

  • Lord

    I agree most of it is of little value, but, for better or worse, blogs do have a place especially in networking, reviews have a place though it does take several to place them in context and the item must be expensive enough to make reading them worthwhile, free is valuable as the internet moves more towards advertiser support (which is why you won’t get off spending less time there), finding like minded people is useful in social situations (dating, politics, religion), entertainment in whiling away the time, education in learning about new things. Too much can be a problem, but that is one of self control.

  • Rob

    I’d pay for a nice bounceback email service. There are few out there, but they suck. If I get an email and I think it’s something I don’t want to deal with for a few days, I risk forgetting about it if I move it to a folder, so I’d like to send it to and have it automatically resent to me in 27 hours.

  • I actually find a lot of Web 2.0 services very useful:

    Skype – Free phone calls and much better sound quality than my cell phone. – much better job search than Monster – keeps files on my laptop and desktop synced perfectly.

    ZipCar – eliminates my need for a car, thus saving me thousands of dollars a year

    Craigslist – I found my roommates through it and it worked out great. We also find testers and employees this way. Very quick and efficient.

    CafePress – my mom’s favorite Christmas present in years came from here.

    VirtualPBX – sophisticated phone systems for $9 a month.

    Yugma – WebEx for free.

    Gmail / Google Docs – much faster than MS Office and better search.

    Google Maps – super fast and easy to use. Completely replaces yellow pages. The built-in reviews and links to business web sites is moderately useful. & – the key to making collaborative news work is to stay in a small community of smart, like-minded individuals.

    WordPress – personal publishing that rivals most newspapers for free. – must easier and quicker interface than expedia and orbitz

    Facebook – I never have to worry about not having the contact information of my college buddies. In net, definitely a time saver. ( Although I’m not normal – I don’t play around for hours on the site).

    A lot of these products do not have any sort of “Web 2.0” philosophy. But they all came out in the past few years. Most are just better and cheaper versions of existing solutions. But you can now run an entire business off of Web 2.0 applications for almost nothing. That’s pretty sweet.

    The one thing you are right about is that reviews are pretty useless. On Amazon, almost every book is between a 4 and a 5, and there does not seem to be any correlation with quality. People vote for what they like or agree with.

    You are also right that 90% of the services that are profiled in TechCrunch seem like complete crap. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a ton of services that make life better in ways that matter. All of the services above save me both money and time.

  • Rob

    Yes, I have no problem networking for business. It’s productive and useful. And I do want to clarify that I’m not complaining about web2.0 sucking up my time. I don’t use the sites so that doesn’t happen. I’m just saying I wish someone would build something that I like.

  • Simon Birch

    “I am asking you, the Web 2.0 community, please please please build something for me”

    Or, YOU could build something useful for you. Just a thought.

  • Dale

    Are you sure you know what Web 2.0 is? I don’t think anybody really knows, because it’s just a hype term, but I’m pretty sure that to say it’s just about reviews by average people is much more narrow than the reality of it. I expect you’re probably using Web 2.0 more than you know, and it is already making your web experience easier and more productive.

  • Building One. I’ll email you 9-1 to see if it’s something you like.

  • This is a brilliant post. Businesses that make your life easier and better are likely to be things you’d pay for. Web 2.0 businesses are built on being free. You might have to wait till Web 3.0 for some help.

  • Take a look at – it’s hotel reviews, sure, but they do them in such a fashion that they’re relevant to you – they use your social network, your friends of friends, and other ‘nearness’ factors about you, in some huge learning algorithm they had a PhD put together – could be pretty interesting.

  • You made a very good point here…

    Got me thinking

  • Rob,
    At the risk of falling flat on my face: I use juwo to record thoughts, skip to the important parts, replay the important parts. This is during meetings with unfamiliar stuff, classes, sermons, training sessions, conference calls etc.
    Why dont you try it?

  • Anil Philip

  • cjs

    If you truly want to understand what is happening, read Paul Fussell’s “CLASS: A Guide Through the American Status System.” Web 2.0 is ‘prole drift’; a free society reducing itself (slowly) to the lowest common denominator.