Not another damn product idea!


Over breakfast with a Silicon Valley software guy the other day I heard this lament: “Everybody thinks they’re a product manager,” he said, holding up one arm. “I’ve got a list of product ideas this long.”


Perhaps its a regional thing. In Los Angeles everybody has a screenplay. In New York everybody has a novel. In the Valley everybody thinks they can build a product. And when the definition of product is applied to Web 2.0 communities, the result is one large and chaotic realm of ideas.


With that caveat, here’s one of my product ideas: to create an e-zine and community portal that would help people who express themselves through web pages, blogs or comment forums elevate the quality of their postings, and perhaps turn these passionate pastimes into self-sustaining organizations or income-earning hobbies.



The idea would be to create the Web 2.0 version of a trade publication, one aimed at what I call “mini media” – individuals or startups that could grow into organizations or small businesses



Here’s the gist of the idea.



Newspapers have spent decades becoming expert at news gathering, presentation, printing, sales and distribution. Local radio and television stations are similar in that they combine many skills behind their call letters. In theory local web publications can challenge incumbent media, offering words, pictures and sounds, without the need to throw a paper on the doorstep or use the public airwaves.



But how will mini media publishers acquire the varied business skills they need to become influential local players? Startups driven by tech-savvy publishers may be weak on journalism. Former mass media journalists may need to learn that, in the web publishing context, Ajax is not a scouring cleanser. And local publishers will have to learn how to sell advertising because Google ads won’t pay all the bills. Speaking of bills, do citizen startups know how to do the books, find group health insurance, and so on?



Here we are in an e-publishing gold rush and where is the trusted source that helps prospectors hit pay dirt? Where will wannabe publishers get advice from the more experienced? Where will open source media software developers disseminate their tools?


Right, the answer to all these questions is lots of places. So here’s a different question: is there a business to be made in aggregating the best new media “publishing” experience in one place and trying to create a community around it?


In December when I asked the Knight Foundation to support this idea through its 21st Century News Challenge, the answer was quick and negative (the contest was designed to fund startups or non-profits that were designed to foster local, geographic media).

Oh, well, the Foundation is giving away $5 million once again in a new contest that begins accepting applications in July. Does that give anyone any ideas?