Clever Internet ideas aren't what they used to be

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 20, 2022, 10:48 PM | comments: 0

I'm getting closer to finishing the next forum version, and I'm excited to get it out to the user and open source folks. This really is the most that I've visibly improved it in years by adding user-facing features. I still ask myself why I'm still maintaining that thing, but I imagine it's some combination of inertia and wanting to be an expert in at least one thing. As I get closer to getting it out there, I'm already thinking, now what?

I often think about how I want to work on something that satisfies me by being technically interesting and financially rewarding. I suppose I'm describing tech entrepreneurship, but really what I'm thinking of is repeating what started around the turn of the century. Things were much different then. Because the Internet was still kind of the wild west, you could get away with doing almost anything and make a little coin, and have fun doing it. CoasterBuzz started as a fun follow up to PointBuzz (then called Guide to The Point), but I knew I could ramp it up and make money with it. I bought ads the first year on a search result service called GoTo, which was renamed to Overture. I was bidding on the term "roller coaster" for a few cents, and just one cent for all of the most popular coasters. Meanwhile, the advertising from a number of ad companies were making $50 a day on my $5 ad spend. I was up to thousands of visits a day in just a few months.

The World Wide Web was a tiny fraction of what it is today, so being an early adopter made all of this easy. You didn't have to game search engines or be "viral," you just needed to make something useful and humans would spread the word. That ride lasted a surprisingly long time. When 9/11 hit, I made enough to make up for getting laid-off. The same was true in the 2008 implosion. In between, in my divorce era, I was able to comfortably coach high school volleyball and do my thing. This simple business that I accidentally fell into started to crash in 2015, as Google stamped out the last of any meaningful ad competition. These days, I don't have a lot left over after paying for the hosting, my Adobe subscription and a few other related expenses. I didn't start any of it for the money, but it sure was nice to have it as a safety net.

I have a number of ideas about what I could do next, and some of them are kind of neat. The technical side would be relatively easy, but more difficult is the reality that I would need to spend money to market them, and I don't know how much or where to spend those dollars. Actually, for as long as I've been working professionally, I've been able to understand most of these concepts, and the real fear is having to spend money to make money. I do not subscribe to the dotcom theory that you need to burn through insane amounts of cash to launch a business, but you do have to spend something. This is why I've only had one customer for my hosted forums, because I've done nothing to market the product. (And I was admittedly not comfortable doing so given the missing features that I'm finishing up on now.)

But if I'm really, really being honest with myself, I just don't think that I could go deep with anything that I wasn't really into. My private music cloud didn't get done because I thought I could sell it, it got done because I really wanted to use it. And while I'm being self-aware, the only reason I want to bank something extra is so I'm not behind on retirement.

While I'm slightly nostalgic for how easy it was to win back in the day, I'm just as excited about today because you can get anything that you build on the air with relative ease and little expense. I mean, the two big sites run on multiple nodes and communicate across a cache layer and queues and serverless instances and databases and Elasticsearch and it's all ridiculously fast. You sure couldn't do all of that for cheap in 2000!


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