Could one redo any useful app, for that matter, that now fills the start-up cemetery?

I was reminded of this as Peter mentioned Dopplr, a useful and beautifully designed service in the years 2007-2010. The Dopplr service died because it was acquired by Nokia and left to rot. Its demise had nothing to do with the use value of the service, but everything with it being a VC funded start-up that exited to a big corporation in an identity crisis which proved unequipped to do something useful with it.

Some years ago I kept track of hundreds of examples of open data re-use in applications, websites and services. These included many that at some point stopped to exist. I had them categorised by the various phases of when they stalled. This because it was not just of interest which examples were brought to market, but also to keep track of the ideas that materialised in the many hackathons, yet never turned into an app or service, Things that stalled during any stage between idea and market. An idea that came up in France but found no traction, might however prove to be the right idea for someone in Lithuania a year later. An app that failed to get to market because it had a one-sided tech oriented team, might have succeeded with another team, meaning the original idea and application still had intrinsic use value.

Similarly Dopplr did not cease to exist because its intrinsic value as a service was lost, but because everything around it was hollowed out. Hollowed out on purpose, as a consequence of its funding model.

I bet many of such now-lost valuable services could lead a healthy live if not tied to the ‘exit-or-bust’ cycle. If they can be big enough in the words of Lee Lefever, if they can be a Zebra, not aiming to become a unicorn.

So, what are the actual impediments to bring a service like Dopplr back. IP? If you would try to replicate it, perhaps yes, or if you use technology that was originally created for the service you’re emulating. But not the ideas, which aren’t protected. In the case of Dopplr it seems there may have been an attempt at resurrection in 2018 (but it looked like a copy, not a redo of the underlying idea).

Of course you would have to rethink such a service-redo for a changed world, with new realities concerning platforms and commonly used hardware. But are there actual barriers preventing you to repeat something or create variations?

Or is it that we silently assume that if a single thing has failed at some point, there’s no point in trying something similar in new circumstances? Or that there can ever only be one of something?



Repetitions and Variations, a beautiful Matisse exhibit we saw in 2012 in the Danish national art gallery in Copenhagen. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA


12 stages, 1 painting. I’m thinking the reverse, 1 sketch, 12 paintings. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA


Normandy Cliff with fish, times 3. Matisse ‘Repetitions and Variations’ exhibit. Image by Ton Zijlstra, license CC BY-NC-SA

A question I have is whether the pandemic will mean a slow-down or pause in tech-innovation?
Innovation in part is based on serendipity, on the pseudo-random meeting and interaction of people, ideas, skills, capital etc. Those meetings take place in cities for instance, as they are serendipity hubs.
Yet this year I noticed how online interaction tends to stick just to the topic and agenda at hand, and there’s much less place for riffing off eachother’s ideas and suggestions for instance.

Apart from innovation driven by necessity (e.g. vaccin development), would a slow-down be visible in tech start-up founding, start-up funding (maybe not yet, as funding emerges some time after founding so it might be a delayed effect)?

Would there be a discernable impact on a city level?

Are there compensating effects? I’ve noticed that the pandemic in our company and for me personnaly led to more introspection, and meant more focus on developing things, also because there was less activity around us. A reduction of movement, a reduction of social dynamics, but the stillness enabling more action as a consequence.

How would one go about trying to see such effects, and in which data?

The key insight I find I gained in the past months is that SDGs can be used to add a macroscope to most issues and challenges. So I think Peter Bihr definitely is on a useful track:

Peter Bihr posts about using the UN Human Right Charter, and more specifically the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a framing for responsible IoT and Smart Cities.

Image Peter Bihr, license CC BY NC SA

I find using the SDGs a valuable notion to help balance any of your activities. A while ago I listened to a conversation with Taiwanese Minister Audrey Tang (唐凤), who explicitly formulates her entire job description in terms of SDGs, and that was a very useful nudge for me. I know my friend Henriette also formulates her activities in a similar way.

I currently work quite a bit with one client on policy monitoring, indicators and measurements. One of the elements I stress is that you need to be aware how indicators can create perverse impulses if used singularly, and that you need to look at any proposed set of measurements to see what they overlook and ignore. Unexpected consequences if they impact visible stakeholders probably will get incorporated over time, but externalised costs and effects (impacting people, places and systems outside your view) usually won’t. SDGs, because they cover a wide range of topics, and acknowledge the deep interconnectness and interdependencies between those varied topics, are a helpful starting point to find a balanced and nuanced approach. So that (taking a randomly imagined example) climate, poverty and equality related elements can be meaningfully incorporated into a mobility dashboard that would otherwise maybe just stick to zoomed in things like traffic density and average speed on a highway. It’s the type of zooming in and out, around a specific challenge, out to the surrounding system(s), and in to the constituent building blocks, that is a common approach in TRIZ innovation efforts, with in this case the SDGs providing a macroscope for the zooming out while maintaining local / zoomed in context.

Good catching up with you after too long Boris. Excited to hear about Fission. Later on was wondering how IPFS as starting point plays out with highly dynamic material (e.g. real time data sets), versus dat for such data sets. Pleasing to note our thinking since our joined session at BarCamp Brussels in 2006 has evolved along similar lines in the current timeframe, except you more on the tech side of things, and me on the change management side of it.

We had a very pleasant day at Dutch Design Week today. Some interesting things, but it did seem less inspiring than other editions. Maybe because we could roam and linger less this year. Our 3 yr old shared the experience with us, and that means my attention was with her a lot of the time. But some exhibits simply weren’t all that. Like reinventing the cellar to store fresh produce?

Read Disruption Theory is Real, but Wrong
Disruption is happening, and the tech industry is having a dynamic and revolutionary impact on industries around the world for precisely the reasons that Christensen articulates in his work. But the units of resolution aren’t right; maybe not everywhere, but that certainly feels to be the case in today’s tech world.

This, it seems to me, is why looking at a system, sub-system and supra-system is a key dimension of TRIZ innovation methods. And it takes having an overview of all three, regardless of where you will apply yourself. (ht Alper)