About putting out new ideas

I had coffee the other day with John S. James, a very interesting person who has come to a couple of Net Tuesday Philly events.  We met primarily to discuss his idea of “smart accounts” – a sort of alternative compensation scheme for enabling online consumers to get something for free – while simultaneously compensating the creator (or whoever).  It’s hard to describe in one line.  In fact, it’s hard to understand from the web page – even though John takes pains to write clearly.  It’s easiest to grasp by example, and John’s example of a musician receiving micropayments of 25 cents/download was very helpful to me.  To my amateur ear, the idea sounds interesting, and technically quite feasible.  If it worked, it could be a big deal – i.e., used by millions of people for gazillions of micropayments and other transactions.  But would it work?  Would “the dogs eat the dog food”?  I can’t say.

Actually, though, I’ve been thinking more about the idea of the idea (the “meta-idea”?).  In other words, the generalized situation I see is this:

An intelligent person (“originator”) has an idea that is:

  • personally meaningful
  • potentially “big” – in the sense of finding wide acceptance and/or making the world a better place
  • not immediately intuitive (it’s complex enough that it probably requires more than an “elevator speech” to adequately convey it to most people)
  • at a point at which the originator needs perspectives and expertise from other people in order to validate the idea and move it forward (or, alternatively, to become convinced that it should be abandoned).

I believe that this accurately describes John’s situation with smart accounts.  It also describes my own situation with a couple of ideas, but especially an idea for which I’ve been using the name “Dissemination Station”.  And, I’m sure it applies to many other people and ideas as well.

It seems to me that the challenge for John, me and other such originators is to:

  • articulate the idea
    • in sufficient detail and clarity that it conveys its essence
    • briefly and simply enough so that people will bother to read it (or view it, listen to it…)
  • attract people to learn about the idea, including those who would:
    • have valuable and needed perspectives and expertise
    • be willing to share their insights with the originator

John has articulated his idea on his website, as well as by submitting the project to the NetSquared conference.  He’s out there and pushing it.  I, on the other hand, have yet to articulate my Dissemination Station idea publicly – even though I first articulated the original version of it as a confidential product proposal to Telebase in 1995!  I suppose my own reticence to “out” this idea is rooted in a long-learned, hard-to-shake sentiment for proprietary knowledge (“It’s ‘my’ idea”), combined with the insecurity that it may not really be as good an idea as I’ve thought.  But a lot of good that silence has done – for me, for the idea (meme) itself or for the world.  Well, fuck that.  I’m gonna out the idea, starting on this website, and risk the embarrassment of imperfect description, the pain of discovering it’s really a dumb idea, or the frustration of losing “credit” to somebody with more ambition and fewer scruples.

Heads up.

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