Idea: IdeaFront - A Social Network Site for Inventors and Idea Sharing
The idea is to create a free-to-use website for users to share their ideas with a network of other inventors. Think of it like a Facebook or social network for inventors, except that most ideas will also be made public to the rest of the world! If you prefer, think of it as a youtube for ideas! The target market for this site will include the following groups:
- "Hobby inventors" - everyday people who have great ideas but never had a forum to share them until now! These "amateur inventors" are people who know they don't have the time and resources required to implement or patent their ideas, but are keen for feedback and feel their ideas may contribute to the greater good by helping others!
- "Professional inventors" - someone who has already patented ideas and is probably looking to use this forum to advertise these ideas - and they are welcome to do so! Note however, very few people patent inventions (we're talking well >$50,000 for a proper patent!), thus these users are expected to be the minority.
- Random (unregistered) visitors - web surfers who have stumbled across the site, probably by tying in words matching a (registered) inventor's idea. Many of these visitors won't be random at all they may represent business people or venture capitalists wanting to discover the next best thing. Others will be visitors who end up browsing a few ideas and then falling into the "enthusiast" category.
- "Enthusiasts" - a visitor who has registered and created a profile so they can access more advanced features of the site, but hasn't yet added an "idea" to his profile, and thus isn't an inventor!
For the rest of the document we will refer to this proposed site as "IdeaFront" but remember this name is just a suggestion! IdeaFront won't just be a searchable directory of ideas and inventors, but will also feature advice and articles on the topic of inventions, and the spirit of the site will be mostly one of "good will".
How it Will Work
Registering ideas under your profile
To upload an idea to IdeaFront, a user must first register and create his own profile complete with a photo (hence making him more "human" as an inventor), brief background information, a verified e-mail address (spam-protected or hidden if requested), and a home address (hidden from public). Once a profile is complete the user can add as many ideas under his profile as he wants, by using nicely formatted templates. Each idea must include a name (something unique, catchy and <40 characters), summary (<200 words), status (eg: "hoping for feedback", hoping someone will implement, already patented, and hoping for support), at least one picture for the profile (even if he has to draw it using a Flash tool!), explanation of how it will works, a category (eg: software, computer game, appliance, work tool, government initiative, etc... ) and several other optional fields. Each idea can be set as "visible by everyone" (public), "visible by other users only" (protected) or "hidden" (available to user only), and separate to that will be the option to "exclude this idea from Google searches" - although hopefully the user will want his idea found by as many people as possible and thus leave the defaults!
Once the user is happy with how the idea looks they can click "launch", and in addition to the idea becoming public (unless set to invisible) a snapshot will be time-stamped and archived to the server. The user can make changes at any point after this, but to keep the database requirements down there will only be one "original" archived version - mimicking a wiki and archiving every minor change seems like overkill. This time-stamp feature is a way the inventor can say he had this idea at this time - although this is more for boasting rights rather than anything else. If the idea is not patented the user will be warned about the possible consequence of sharing an idea which isn't protected. The site will have a "good will" request that anyone who financially or socially benefits from another person's idea contacts them and repays the favour in some way, however even if you track which users view which ideas there's no solid way to prove an idea was stolen - hence it is an honesty system whereby any good deeds are paid back in some way (yes, even if it's just to say thanks!). The other incentive here is that if one user runs with another user's idea, becomes successful and returns the favour, they can change the idea's status to "someone implemented this idea!" and jointly apply for a feature article - everyone loves a feel good story.
The design of IdeaFront should be simple, and bear resemblance to familiar sites such as Facebook and Wikipedia. In the designs I've drawn, the front page of IdeaFront should showcase some of the "latest ideas" (so that even the smallest inventions have a chance at limelight!) and "featured inventors" (a few pictures of inventors beside their best ranked invention) to be updated weekly. I think it's also important the front page has a prominent link to a video introducing and explaining IdeaFront and the values it stands for. Separate to the sections where visitors can browse ideas and/or inventors, I think IdeaFront should also have an entire section containing articles and other resources on the topic of inventing, patenting and marketing and so on! From any page of the website, people should be able to search ideas by keywords and/or categories, and then order these results by date or ranking.
Two of the most important features of the sites sill the idea of ranking ideas, and the idea of a point system for registered users. Whenever an idea/invention is clicked on, visitors will be able to give the idea a rank out of 10... in fact you could even encourage them to do so if the they spends a long time on that page via a non-modal pop-up saying "looks like you've spent a while reading this idea, let the inventor know what you think!". People love point/levelling/ranking systems - it's one of the reasons computer games are so addictive. An idea for IdeaFront is that each registered user starts on level 1 (in fact prior to completing their profile properly they are on level 0), but can get point and slowly advance in level by: (1) receiving positive rankings on their ideas, (2) adding new ideas, (3) spending time ranking and adding feedback to other user's ideas or (4) connecting with other inventors as friends or "collaborators". Allowing jointly authored idea, or indicating that another user contributed to your idea, might be a feature worth considering.
While any visitors can rank ideas, users who have registered and logged in will get extra perks such as the ability to search inventors/inventions by location: pins of different colors sizes (representing users of different levels) will be approximately placed over a Google map. Someone who has registered will be considered an "enthusiast" not an "inventor" (as previously mentioned) - these people can get still points but will be shown in a different color. Taking this idea of categorising users further you could have "venture capitalist" - users who claim to belong to money and list a website to prove it and also "experts" - users who have very high rank and who are trusted with certain administrative "privileges" such as the ability to change poorly categorised ideas, ban flagged users, etc. If someone identifies two ideas which are very similar, it would be very nice if they could be linked together by someone administrative, and ultimately the person with the earliest timestamp will sit at the top!
I agree wholeheartedly with the philosophy that great start-ups aim to make meaning ahead of making money (see: The Art of the Start (book)), but since hosting this website will require time and servers you will want a method to generate money.
Every time a user click "launch" on an idea, and "extra protection" option appears offering to "sign, seal and post me a time-stamped document as proof of intellectual property". For just $5 or $6 for two (the user may want to open and frame a copy) you offer to print the idea nicely formatted, employ a Justice of the Peace (JP) to sign it, seal it well, and post it to them. This represents a cheap way an inventor can prove they had an idea at a particular date and since the letter is sealed and stamped via federal post, this method is recognised upon the letter's opening by most courts of law. Since few people can afford to ever patent their inventions (the average cost is >$100,000 plus >2 years of blood sweat and tears) this is a terrific little option (see: for more info)! People who pay the $5 will also get a little "protected" icon next to their idea which helps discourage others to plagiarise and/or claim the idea as their own - if for no other reason because of the bad publicity it might one day generate. Keep in mind I've done exactly this (signed by JP and other copies self-addressed) to this very document - just in case! Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but I want you to see that this is a very unique opportunity to make money. Despite making an idea public, the inventors will still want some tangible proof it's their idea, and since finding a JP and mailing yourself a letter is a pain, I'm sure many of them will be very happy to pay $5!
The other way to make some money is much less unique - and that is by selling Google AdWords, which will most likely feature patenting attorneys, copywriting agencies and the like. Who knows - if the website becomes popular enough it might even be taken up by google - something like this would be right up their ally I think! Also, if an inventor (especially one with patented inventions) really wants to stand out from the pack, they could "subscribe" for maybe $50 a year. As a "privileged member" they would listed at the top of any search and perhaps receive other perks too such as receiving some kind of bi-annual newsletter and/or discounts on the "extra security" option. It all depends how far you want to take it, but I would advise against EVER getting greedy though - charging your average backyard inventor for basic services is not only a bad idea: it goes against the whole principle of IdeaFront.
Name and Marketing
When it comes to a name: most of the biggest websites have catchy two-syllable name (case in point: facebook, youtube, myspace, yahoo, ebay), but since most two-syllable names are taken I came up with:
- ideafront - my favourite. "ideasfront.com" was actually available at the time of writing but I think the plural ruins it.
- ideatube - love this too
- brightideas - taken by something else
- innovatenow - not bad
- ithink - trying to be sexy
- myideas - bit lame
- inventionhive - four syllables
- ideasnetwork - yep, too long
- inventornetwork - nice title, but too long sadly
I'm sure there are lots of other good ones, but IdeaFront is my favourite as it's a bit unique. Keep in mind almost all of these URLs ending in .com are already taken (test here)! I have, however, registered and parked ideafront.net and would happily hand it over to anyone who shows big interest in this idea.
In terms of marketing: hopefully the website will become popular by word-of-mouth/web-forum based purely on its merits and a handful of great inventions to help get it kick started. However, one way to help really bolster its popularity would be integration as a Facebook application! I've seen other web services do this (actually I've seen a new but very successful onling dating site called Zoosk do this!)' and you'd program it such that after adding the "IdeaFront" facebook application people who visit your facebook profile will see picture of inventions you've added to ideafront.net site down the left side of your main page, plus perhaps also an "Ideas" tab at the top (next to the Wall, Info and Photos tabs). It's my belief that most aspiring inventors and creative types don't just want unknown users to chance across their ideas on "IdeaFront.net" - they want their friends to be able to see their great ideas thank to Facebook too - and so they'll probably love this feature! Becoming a fan of the IdeaFront wiki page, or suggesting other users add your application will (incidentally) give you extra points so you can level up. The best advertising is free advertising! The other thing you'd want to do as free advertising is take the best ideas and "success stories" from the ideafront and turn them into youtube videos. Sometimes you will see an idea and just think "wow, that's brilliant, why didn't I think of that!"... videos such as these are good candidates as videos which might go viral!
Much of the inspiration for this idea came via my great friend Matthew Walker, the inventor of PassWindow - a simple, affordable invention for two factor authentication (and yes, you should definitely visit the website!). It's an idea which was on national television in 2009 and is a good position to make it huge any day now, but the back-story of PassWindow is Matt investing over four years of sweat and all his money into this idea. In the case of this unique invention I think the sweat will pay off big time, but Matt and I have also enjoyed discussing many smaller ideas and during those discussion is when I realized there should be a website where people can publically discussing ideas about anything - wether it's an idea for the house, the backyard, the computer, the government, of the environment! The ideas won't all be "inventions" they could be anything from a list of "household tips" to an idea for music clip video (like this one by OK GO) which you hope a musical artist might read create - everything will be categorized and ranked by one or more factors like originality, scope etc! You're greatest chance of improving your idea and/or seeing it become reality is not to sit on it until the idea dies in your head, but to talk about it, and what greater means than an active community of other inventors. As you can see at the top of this page I came up with the idea of an idea-sharing website back around 2005, but even now (2011) I can't seem to find any such site.... and if there is such a site it may not have been done particularly well or I would have found it. That said please let me know if you find anything similar!
What I really love about this idea is its unique potential to form the breeding ground and create a storm of new ideas - encouraging millions of would-be-inventors to actually share their inventions with people who can provide valuable feedback and, in many cases, make these ideas reality. In this respect IdeaFront could almost literally become a "mother of all good inventions"! In fact that's not a bad slogan:
IdeaFront - the mother of new inventions!
If I had the money and time to make this idea a reality by myself I think I probably would - its one my favourite ideas! Unfortunately I'm starting a new job and although it's not a monolithic a task to setup such a website (many college students have setup more complex sites) to do it properly won't be a one-man job! What I'm really hoping for is for someone to read this page and feel inspired. What would be particularly good is someone or a group of young people with great confidence and experience with database, web servers and redundancy systems (these are my weak points). If you know such people or feel inspired don't hesitate to contact me - I would really love this one to happen! :-)
For more inspiration see: Ideas
- The New Inventors TV Show - the best thing (and most helpful resource) that's ever happened for inventors in Australia.