Back in May, I had an idea for a killer web application. It would revolutionize the world and bring me fame. If you don't remember, Facebook was getting a lot of heat about privacy concerns at the time and many users were starting to feel the need to leave. I wanted to leave to, but I didn't like the alternatives, mostly because my friends were simply not using them, rendering them useless.

The big idea

My idea was to build an open distributed social network that anyone could host. Each hosted version of the app would be referred to as a node and would be able to communicate with all the other nodes. You would have been able to install it like Wordpress, but you would be hosting a social network instead. The nodes would only need to share a common API, other than that each node could be programmed in any language.

Reality check

In the following days, I was refining my idea, thinking about the kind of work it would need, which features had to be built first, what to name the project (I actually had a great name), etc. I was getting pretty excited about the project and wanted to start talking about it publicly when I heard about Diaspora via Kickstarter. That was pretty much the exact same project, they had already started and were being backed by other people like me who were tired of being Facebook's toys.

Then I saw Wired's article that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the author also wanted an open alternative to Facebook. In shock, I kept searching the Web for "open social network" and "distributed social network" and found out about OpenSocial (a common API for social networks proposed by Google) and OneSocialWeb (a direct competitor to Diaspora).

How much is an idea worth

There I was with my big idea and already dozens of people had been at work on similar projects. That got me thinking about a quote from Derek Sivers I had read in the excellent book Getting Real by 37signals (which you can read for free online).

It's so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas.  (People who want me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.)

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

[...]

The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.

The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.

That's why I don't want to hear people's ideas.

I'm not interested until I see their execution.

source

The birth of an idea

I like to think of myself as a perpetual thinking machine, constantly juggling ideas about new projects. Each time, someone else had the same idea. The more I have ideas, the more I find out that no matter how good the idea is, someone else had the same idea too and for every person trying to bring an idea to life, I'd bet there are dozens of other people that just didn't put the effort or didn't have the capabilities to do so.

Ideas are worthless unless you execute them well enough.

More on this topic: