Today is my birthday. Last year I wrote 42 admissions: things I feel uncomfortable about that are worth discussing. In the end, I posted it a little after my actual birthday, because it turns out there are more important things to talk about during an insurrection. It’s a piece of writing I’m proud of, and I don’t think I would do it justice by revisiting the format.
This year I want to talk about things. Specifically, things I or we could build, that probably don’t exist yet, but might be feasible to achieve. Some of them will be bad ideas; some of them good. I’ve been thinking about some of them for a very long time; others are brainstormed in the moment. Some are big and all-encompassing; some could be side projects. Some are software; some are not. You might like some and hate others. Some or all might not be viable; you’re free to use any of them, but do so at your own risk. I’m leaving them unnamed.
(Yes, the name of this post is a reference. If you get it, kudos, you’re old too. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.)
A website, and later book, interviewing the people who work on tech for good. Who is using the internet to make the world more equitable, to empower the underserved, and build a safer future?
I’m not talking about ex-Facebook executives trying to greenwash their careers, or people like me in startup land, but the activists and hackers who might not ordinarily get coverage. What drives them? How did they get started? What are they excited about? How can we help them?
LinkedIn but for things you’re proud of, your hopes, and your dreams: like a resumé for your emotions.
Like LinkedIn, anyone could make one and keep it public, as a de facto work profile. Unlike LinkedIn, the center of gravity is not your money-making potential, but rather your humanity.
A unified service that will take away most of the really annoying bureaucracies involved in American life that residents of other countries take for granted.
A single payment covers healthcare and disability insurance, saves for retirement, and - assuming you’re a normal wage worker - will file your taxes on your behalf. If you’ve been working for a certain amount of time, payments are free for a while if you lose your job, so you don’t need to mess with COBRA. And anyone can use it, whether your employer provides it as a benefit or not.
You interact with the product through the year instead of doing your taxes etc every twelve months, so all the decisions involved in filing your taxes and choosing healthcare become very low-friction.
Urban gardens as a service. Come together as a community, rent or buy space as a collective, and then either do what you will with it or go through a step by step introductory process to developing and running one. The service manages space, roles, rotations, and keeps track of what planting needs to be done when. You can even buy and sell seeds.
Coworking trains. Cross the country between LA, San Francisco, Seattle and the northeast corridor via Chicago in first class quality train cars that have satellite internet, onboard entertainment, great food, coworking areas, a bar, and unlimited coffee. Available as single tickets or as a travel pass; each traveler defaults to a room with a single bed and small desk area, but larger rooms are available.
21st century telehealth for seniors, including a dedicated video device to book a session and talk to a doctor, and optional medical alert wearables that also track health metrics.
Smart speakers / intelligent assistants for the Deaf. Embedded in hearing aids (perhaps in conjunction with smart glasses) and other devices around the home, the smart speakers can be activated by touch or voice, and can take input via signing or traditional speech.
Tiny house drones. Forget delivery drones; what about home robots that bring you stuff inside your own home? For example, what if they could find your glasses or car keys and bring them to you? Tired: tiles and AirTags that let you know where these things are. Wired: technology that brings them to you, which is what you really wanted to begin with.
GitHub for holistic software design. Rather than a code-centric environment, a software project tool that elevates points of view, research, and ethical considerations to the same importance as code, as well as ensuring that designers, writers, etc are not second class citizens in comparison to engineers.
Audio diaries to share with close friends and family. Leave long-form messages like voicemail that people you choose to can listen to. It’s not about social media likes or clout; it’s about hearing your friend’s voice, even if they’re far away and in another timezone.
Artfinder for radical outsider art.
An ad profiling fuzzer. Don’t want advertising networks to know too much about you? Me either. This tool will go out and pretend to be you, confusing the hell out of any advertising network that might seek to figure out who you are. You continue to use the services you know and love, while they know a great deal less about you.
A “link in bio” service for Instagrammers, TikTokers and other influencers that ramps up to literally a fully-featured personal website with HTML they can directly modify, import/export, and relocate.
A service that will have hard conversations over the phone on a customer’s behalf, using deepfake technology to simulate their voice. (Okay, this is terrible, but it’s at least a little bit tempting.)
A service that provides a searchable activity stream for all updates across an organization’s cloud activities: Google Drive, OneDrive, Figma, GitHub, etc. On managed devices, this can also include their local file activities in apps like Microsoft Word. As well as full-text search, activities can be segmented by team / user and categorized into folders. And the real magic happens with a “send to” button that will take files from one service (eg a Figma wireframe) and send it to another (eg Google Slides).
An easy, free way to report a company for bad business practices to local, state, and federal watchdogs.
An app that automatically takes a percentage of stock market or crypto returns and donates them to the charities / non-profits of your choice, and then provides an easy-to-use tax summary at the end of the year.
An easy-to-use app-based service to facilitate interest-based friendships for people in retirement, with zero condescension and first-class UX / UI sensibilities.
Outsourced solar panels: pay for solar to be installed on sunny, clear land, in order to generate power to the grid and offset your power use in places where you can’t get panels installed directly. For example, if you rent your home, you probably can’t install renewable energy directly, but using this service, you could still own power generation elsewhere. Panels are fully managed, with maintenance and replacement included.
Communal living rooms that anyone can use, segmented into spaces that you pay for by the time you sit in them. Imagine a British pub without the booze (but you can bring your own booze): a place to gather with friends without someone waiting on you or urging you to move on so they can get another cover. Maybe (but not definitely) drinks and snacks would be available.
“Can I pick your brain” as a service. Yes you can; I’d love to have that conversation; and here’s my rate.
A way to manage pods of families. In quarantine, that means checking on safety, organizing playdates, and so on. Post-quarantine, it means sharing food and resources, helping each other with childcare, and becoming a kind of decentralized co-operative community.
A joint bank account for married partners, designed from the ground up with a UX to make it easy to share and navigate costs, payments, and expenses.
A proof of stake cryptocurrency where the transaction fees and a portion of staking rewards are automatically donated to progressive causes, including to fight climate change and its effects around the world.
Patreon for activists.
Science-based horoscopes. Instead of depending on astrology, you add a bunch of details about yourself to a system, and it builds a detailed projection that is used to power advice that can be delivered at scale. It’s still astrology in a way, and the content is written in a similar fashion (with a focus on coaching: here’s how to prepare yourself for the world), but now it’s based on some factual data points and real research.
Two words: cake subscription.
Upwork for apprenticeships. You fill out a profile and are able to take on work that also trains you to do that role in the future. In turn, employers are led through how to run and manage a good apprenticeship, and are rated on their performance. In contrast to internships, apprenticeships have a structured training plan, which the platform helps the employer to create.
People in chronic pain or with other certain kinds of disabilities often can’t work consistent hours and don’t have the ability to perform certain manual tasks, but are nonetheless very highly skilled. Let’s build a platform that allows them to take on work according to their ability, and allows employers to make use of their expertise.
ProductHunt for (progressive) political bills, organizations, and endeavors.
Affordable satellite internet for people in rural areas, bundled with a streaming box preloaded with subscriptions to news services.
A wearable device that detects cortisol levels in your sweat and then lets you work with a personal coach to reduce your stress levels, as well as providing automated suggestions. For example, if your stress levels always rise during a particular scheduled meeting, it may be helpful for the device to draw your attention to that fact, so you can mitigate the stress in the future.
Codeacademy for ethical product design.
A technology union for smaller newsrooms. In exchange for a membership fee, the union sits in standards organizations like the W3C and advocates on behalf of newsroom interests. It also funds open source and practical research work that all newsrooms can pragmatically benefit from, and helps with issues like infosec that all newsrooms need to be aware of.
Virtual meet and greets for celebrities. Sign up for a package and join a scheduled, intimate Zoom with one of your heroes. A lot like the meet and greets at fan conventions, but without any worries about covid, and in a way that’s far more convenient and accessible for both the celebrity and their fans. A moderator is on hand to filter out abuse.
A virtual scrum master for small teams, which provides automated prompts and structure for recurring ceremonies, in order to help them stay on track.
An automated smart pasta maker that puts together ravioli and other complicated filled pastas from scratch. Just pour in the ingredients.
A Jane Jacobs score for communities. A live and frequently-updated measure of not just walkability, but how severed and fragmented a community is, based on its topology and the amenities and community centers available within subdivisions. This data would then be available via a web interface and an API that could in turn be plugged into sites like Zillow.
Moderated community AMAs with people who lived through major historical events. For example: an AMA with a holocaust survivor, a firefighter who was there on 9/11, someone who was wrongly imprisoned through extraordinary rendition, and so on. Moderation is obviously key here, but allowing open conversation helps the history stay alive. An archive of the conversation stays open in perpetuity.
A way to apply for jobs through proactive take-home projects. Rather than sit through screening calls etc, spend an hour or two working on a project that the prospective employer defines. Each applicant does the same project, which is then made available to the employer in an anonymized way. The result is that applicants who might not look perfect on paper are able to show what they can do, and employers get a better idea of how applicants think and work straight from the beginning.
Big mouth billy bass: the inter-room intercom system.
A structured process to determine your mission in life, your vision for what you want your life to be like, and the concrete steps to get there, in a way that provides space for serendipity and joy. Knowing that visions and strategies change, but missions change less often, you can make better decisions by asking yourself if an opportunity furthers your mission or getting closer to your vision. A little bit of structure goes a long way.
Advisory as a service for any kind of startup. It’s like a mini accelerator, with payment either up-front or in equity, or a combination of the two (although payment in equity requires further evaluation and is discretionary). Sign up for a five month package and get a dedicated 1:1 session every two weeks, with email support and customized workshops for your team.