Getting the people back on local networks as a zero waste strategy

The zero waste approach seeks to eradicate the heavy-polluting processes and habits around the consumption of goods in general. Relying on local supplies and production is key to minimize the local communities’ reliance on external industrial systems. Developing tools to favor communication within local communities is key to helping the zero waste movement reach its goal. No local communication vehicle = no local shares, no local trades.

A few websites/apps already exist to fulfill that need. Most of them are apps for neighbors, enabling members of a neighborhood to interact through online networks. While they all bring some value to this seeding sector, they’re all replicas of Facebook in their own ways, and they all fail to invent a dominant geocentric paradigm to social networking. Other location-based social networks cater to social events. There’s a lot of apps in that arena, all being really creative to become the next game breaker for public venues. But when it’s last call and venues close for the night, so does those apps that only enable local networking during ephemeral gatherings.

In my life experience, I’ve often been drawn to the issue of zero waste and local communication tools. Moving from country to country teaches you that you don’t need that much “stuff” to live. It teaches you it is way cleaner to consume locally than to import all of your favorite products. It makes you realize that you don’t need to personally own something to use it, that it is clever if most home appliances belong and remain within the community (and not just in your garage or kitchen). But to integrate local processes, I need a tool to get in touch with the local community I live in. From experience, living in a neighborhood doesn’t mean that you feel like a member of a community. I rarely befriend my neighbors, not that I don’t want to, but geographical vicinity doesn’t mean social vicinity, and that’s particularly true if you are a shy foreigner in the country. There needs to be a medium for locals to be connected and share information on a practical level, otherwise sustainable local communities will remain an utopia forever.

Empowering local communities with a dedicated communication vehicle is key to unleash the advent of a global location-based economy. Since no such tool dominates the market, and since the global economy crushed local economies as a whole, everything has to be built from the start. That means the first versions of the product need to provide a very simple yet friendly service to get the people back on local networks.

The million dollar homepage model

The million dollar homepage was one of the brighest ideas for making cash in the early days of the web. Created by a student to fund his education, the million dollar homepage’s concept is simple: on a 1000×1000 pixel page, he sold pixels at $1 a piece. It worked and the student made a comfortable $1 million out of this simple idea.

The student, Alex Tew, is the first to admit that his idea can only be applied once : the page got PR traction because of its novelty, but novelty is the only reason for attention. Any other attempt to build a 1 million dollar homepage should fail because the novelty traction has already been used.

A few updates on the million dollar homepage since launch in 2005 : Sales of pixels stopped January 2006 (thus $1 million gathered in 138 days), the last thousands pixels were sold through eBay, and 22% of the pixels’ links were rot as of 2014. A few links also redirect to spammy websites. Alex Tew said he had to hire help to process all the orders for ad buys during the time of operation. Alex Tew is now heading a personal health tech company. He tried a Nothing For 2 Minutes concept, the OneMillionPeople concept, he created the humor website Popjam that got closed and acquired… One can tell that Alex Tew would himself love to reiterate his one-million dollar stunt.

Alex Tew was right to explore other forms of iterations of the one million dollar homepage. By picking another type of support and another way to pay, maybe the idea can be duplicated in other forms.

Content is Go(l)d

Google Search, Amazon, Wikipedia, what do these companies have in common ? They’re web giants, they were created at least 15 years ago, and they’ve all showed a very conservative approach to web design.

While social-related services such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter have greatly evolved in terms of design in the past ten years, Google, Amazon and Wikipedia have showed little aesthetic improvement. Obviously though, their services have greatly involved:

  • Google Search’s algorithm became so sophisticated that the smartest engineers are not able to fully understand it, and Google is now a global web player that dominates the online industry way beyond search;
  • Amazon enriched its online sales power through new features and developped a winning online retailing strategy;
  • Wikipedia developped a great, vibrant community, it now exists in almost all the languages used by humankind, and it contains tens of millions of well-documented pages, all-the-while maintaining its free and open policy.

But that stuff lies under the hood for the most part. What the user see hasn’t changed much in the past 15 years. Which brings the question : Is a plain, generic design the key to a stronger brand on the web ? If an entrepreneur had big ambitions with a new kind of online service, should he try to make his design as groundbreaking as possible, or should he stick to the Craigslist-like list of links and plain text ?

A Google engineer would remind me at this point that Google spends a whole bunch of money testing its design on user groups to ensure it gets it right. And while you can hardly argue with scientifically-proven facts, it seems that web design has made lenghty progresses in the past 15 years (HTML5 held the promise of a greater, more interactive web for example), thus it would seem logical that those big companies should have followed this lead to remain attractive. They haven’t, and yet they keep prospering.

Content is king; Design doesn’t matter, content does; Build great content and they will come. You better believe those statements are true as Google, Amazon and Wikipedia are proving it right. These companies are showing that users are attracted and retained through simple interfaces and easy to understand ergonomies. So if you think you have a great idea for a new web service, try to design it as plain as Google, Amazon or Wikipedia. If it looks useless and leaves you clueless, then there’s a great chance that your idea is not that great after all.

Buffer+Ifttt=the new Ping.fm

Buffer is a new type of social app that caught my attention and that I am testing. Buffer is a simple app that collects the messages you wish to tweet (or post to Facebook), and posts them at a time when there are the greatest chances for your friends/followers to see it. You just stack tweets in your Buffer (by sharing items with Buffer) and the service tweets them out at targeted hours.

How does it know when’s the best time to tweet? I don’t know for Buffer, but other apps that analyses best tweeting times often base their analysis on two metrics:
– activity: the app crawls your followers’ tweets, records the time of each tweet sent, analyzes this data, and suggests to tweet at approximately the same time your followers tweet, because their tweets is a signal that they are online and connected to Twitter.
– Engagement: the app looks for all tweets that engage with yours, such as replies and retweets. It records the time of those tweets and suggests to tweet at these hours when engagement seems to be peaking.

Both approaches have their flaws, but each have the merit to look for ways to enhance our online social experiences: They turn the online status of the receptor of the message into the trigger that publishes that very same message.

Back to Buffer. Buffer fixes a huge problem of mine: I only tweet when I am in the subway, waiting in line, or when I go wandering the streets of Paris. If most of my followers are not checking their timeline when I am active, chances are they won’t see my tweets. However, I cannot tweet while I work, take care of my son, cook, have a drink with friends, take a shower or sleep. This is what Buffer aims to fix: to dispatch your tweets publishing times according to your followers’ peaks of attention.

Again, Buffer is not the first player focused on identifying best tweeting hours, but the followers-based tweet-triggering part makes it pretty unique.

This post on Techcrunch explains how you can connect your Buffer account to a service called If This Then That. If This Then That is a service that sorts your social feeds in a smart way by filtering your content based on pre-defined criteria, and distribute it to the right channel. The good example that Techcrunch gives is, say you are Techcrunch, you publish 40 posts a day, you’d like to send your posts about Facebook only on your Facebook page, and you’re publishing them all from 7 to 9 pm. If This Then That will first analyze Techcrunch’s feed and single out all posts about Facebook. Instead of posting them all at once, it sends it to Buffer, who then top them up and publish them throughout the day, when fans are connected. In short, Buffer+Ifttt=the new Ping.fm.

This combination of technology is not just clever, it perfectly fits the “statuspocalypse” dilemma that the Web is facing today: too many status updates, not enough time to sort it all. Buffer and Ifttt help reducing the noise by offering more astute social features.