Developments in virtual visualization have seemingly accelerated at an unprecedented pace within the last several weeks, with virtual reality (VR) and

What web products should be built?

I have personally kept a list of web products companies which I would like to see or which I think would be viable given the current market environment (if executed correctly):

  • Niche PayPal disruptor
    PayPal is by now an ossified and slow company that will not respond quickly enough to competitors aimed at gaining a payments foothold in some developing niche.  It also does not have the market inertia to make up for the slowness of movement.  There are numerous niches opening up that where a startup could create value and carve out a profitable business without fear of realistic threat from PayPal.
  • Crappy eBay disruptor
    eBay (the core company) is even worse than PayPal, and has a track record of consistently losing every single toe-to-toe market battle against any competitor, large or small.  It has also, in its MBA-driven quest to optimize solely for short-term revenue, whittled away considerable portions of its seller base in order to concentrate on the most profitable segments.  There is considerable opportunity for a “crappy” version to take pare away large numbers of sellers and ex-sellers with a Craigslist-grade competitor: no fancy features or interfaces, just enough UI to facilitate the core transaction and feedback necessary.  The business would rely on (1) running a very low-cost operation (eBay spends way too much “overbuilding” its product in an attempt to add diminishing marginal “value”) with very few staff and (2) not trying to optimize for revenue but rather just to disrupt eBay’s own business the way Craigslist has destroyed newspaper classifieds as a revenue stream.  I would also be interested in this as an experiment in running large-scale web operations using modern monitoring and deployment technology and far fewer personnel.
  • Personal Bet-Settling System
    I want a site where people can go to record bets they make with their friends (e.g. “I’ll bet you can’t eat 10 soft tacos in under 2 minutes”), you keep your credit cards on file, and provide an easy interface with which to record and settle bets.  There can be some sort of arbitration interface (maybe you agree on a friend to arbitrate) if both parties agree.  I suspect that the business model would require taking a cut of the transactions and this might run afoul of gambling laws, but maybe there is a way around this.  My wife is actually the main person who wants this, since we make casual bets all the time.
  • Personal eBay-ing Service
    This one is perfect for a recession.  I want a service that organizes someone to come to your house and take all the junk you want to sell on eBay but haven’t had time to sell and go and sell it, and they take a cut of the profits.  This wouldn’t actually be that person, but the startup would be (1) a set of tools designed to streamline and process of listing, selling, and organizing and accounting for stuff on behalf of the “clients,” and (2) a set of tools designed to employ and organize the “sellers” (typically: students or other people looking for part-time jobs) and put them in touch with clients who want to get the clutter in their homes cleared out and sold.  There actually was a service like this a few years ago (I forget the name, but they were looking for a VP-Eng and it came across my desk) but they failed; however, I think it’s still a viable business if you could scale the operation properly.
  • Augmented Reality Camera/Display Overlay Headset
    I think augmented reality is the next big thing, and the individual technological components are all available at cost.  A really easy way to avoid having to “track where you’re looking and project images onto the retina” (which has always been a little ridiculous) is to just have a front-facing camera directly in front of a small display showing the content from the camera, and then overlay the augmented data onto that display (the best example I’ve seen of this is Yelp’s “Monocle” feature in their iPhone app) based on GPS, compass, and accelerometer data piped in over a 3G connection.  The components are now light enough to be made into a headset that doesn’t look ridiculous – in fact, Apple is known to have submitted a patent for a device along these lines some time ago so either way, it’s coming.
  • P2P DRM
    This is nerd heresy, but I don’t think DRM is an evil thing.  I think we believe it is evil because it’s being used for evil by big conglomerates who are attempting to maintain control over distribution channels and reap profits from artists when they themselves aren’t artists.  In reality, the argument that artists, writers, and other creative individuals need to maintain ownership over copies of their work so that they can be fairly compensated (and this includes allowing them to prevent/dictate distribution on their terms) is very compelling one.  Artists today are very conflicted about supporting/opposing DRM because on the one hand they don’t like being stolen from, but they’re simultaneously being exploited by these big labels.

    What I think we need is a personal “P2P” DRM system that individuals can use to “lock” their digital creations, distribute them, and then easy interfaces for consumers to pay (using any of the emerging micropayments technologies) the artist directly and be immediately authorized to use the digital content via a variety of licenses.  Artists would very likely be more generous with their licenses because they are, you know, real people, so they would likely allow you to make copies to put on your iPod or give to friends, etc, and at the same time consumers would be more likely to pay for the music because they know that they are compensating the artists and not a middleman.  Also, people are relatively willing to make sub-$3 purchases.  The system would need to rely on a set of intermediary servers, but these could be “centralized but open-source” services to route the payments.

    There would still be piracy, but (1) it would be much less because it makes the patron-to-artist relationship more personal (and creative content is a more emotional, intrinsic transaction rather than a pure extrinsic exchange) and (2) pirates would be readily identifiable if the system became widespread but would face peer approbation rather than ridiculous lawsuits – again, helping to re-personalize the relationship between artist and patron – and (3) I suspect it would just be largely due to poorer students who would eventually progress into paying the micropayments as they became people with real jobs (many people seem to be willing to stop pirating voluntarily once they can pay, if it’s easy to do so).

    I haven’t worked out all the technical details of such a system, mostly because I don’t have a nuanced enough grasp of encryption technology, but I am pretty sure it could be done.  It also needs super-easy-to-use (and probably somehow viral) interface; this is the sort of product that I would like to work with User on.

“If you are a VC or an entrepreneur and would like to get behind any of these,” let me know.  I’m not necessarily interested in making all of them myself (I’m so sick of payments), but we could have an interesting conversation.