Business logic?

I just got MSN’ed by a friend who said the following after reading “The Gread Petition Dilemma” (For more background on that entry, check out this link from that post – “Why e-mail petitions don’t work“):

i am confused with your logic […] for posting such a blog entry. let me explain…
…i read this and i just wonder if you are not throwing out a great bussiness idea that you could have taken and put into practice. with this kind of company you could use set things up that 90% of it were self sufficient and then you or those doing the work would in fact have very little to do to keep the system going. other then the initual text and options for each petition or poll.
did you think of taking this idea and useing it as a bussiness

There are basically 3 things that we need to determine:
1. Is this a viable business opportunity?
2. Did I give away enough information for someone to take my idea and make their millions from it?
3. Do I care?

So lets start…

Is this a viable business opportunity?
Personally, I don’t think so… Who would want to pay someone to hold online petitions for them?  How much would it be worth?  I’m guessing I’d only charge the petition maker, not every person that signed the petition… (otherwise you’d never get people signing them – you’d be better off putting up a “donate money to us if you support our cause” type link on the cause’s website – that way they get the cash, AND they get a list of unique users that support whatever it is that they’re petitioning about)

Ok, so who’s likely to pay for having a petition hosted?  Well, lets just put it this way: The more the person knows about the net, the more likely they’ll be to make their own solution (it is after all just a glorified online survey) and the less they know about the web the more likely they’ll be to believe that the standard “e-mail petition” will work and they won’t see why they should spend money on it.  So there’s a small grouping of people inbetween who might use the service. 

The only petitions I’ve seen have not really been well documented… So I wonder how “legit” they are.  Does anybody actually know how these things really work?  Its all fine and well to have a petition signed by 500 000 people, but can you prove that its not just one person signing 500 000 times under different names?  Its kinda tough to fake lots of physical signatures (I’m guessing that a handwriting analyst could quickly say that only 1 person had done all 500 000 or at least decrease the number of “valid” signatures)  But its pretty easy to fake 500 000 web votes.  Anyway, lets just say you could have a credibility problem with a whole bunch of the people who might use the site.

Next, it is after all just a glorified “online survey” – so it will be EASY to copy the business idea, and easy to charge very little for… so you could quickly find yourself with lots of competition, and either very few customers or very low profit per sale. Either way you’d end up not making much money.

So on the whole you’d probably not make much cash out of this kind of business…

Did I give away enough information for someone to take my idea and make their millions from it?
I hope not…. 😀 From the previous point, I’ve been trying to say that its not likely that anyone would make their millions from this kind of service… so that kinda kills this question before we start answering. But let me go into how little info I actually did give away…

So basically I said it would be:
1. An online service
2. Which totals votes
3. Some how it verifies that they’re unique votes
4. Could possibly manage sending e-mails to friends of the people who have voted

Point 1 is fairly generic. Point 2 is kinda obvious as to a basic function. Point 3 is fairly obvious functionality of a petition and has been tackled by most Online Survey’s (since survey data is kinda useless if one person can submit 5000 responses).  In fact points 1, 2 and 3 are all covered by online surveys (to some degree) and I didn’t really get into any innovative details as to how you could ensure that users couldn’t “sign” more than once. (All that I mentioned was perhaps using an ID or Passport number – but then people could fake those, internationally there would be different standards as to what constitutes a valid ID number and because of that you could end up with duplicate ID’s… No innovative solutions were given to solve this problem, so no real “business secrets” were revealed) Point 4 is both good and bad – lots of online competitions have “mail this to your friends” functionality… which is basically what this is talking about… its nothing really new.  In fact online competitions usually try to ensure that you only enter them once, so they are probably a better “match” as a solution than an online survey.

The really BIG innovations that would draw users to the service would be in HOW you implemented each of those points, and if you implemented more features than I listed.

Do I care?
Well… yes, and no… If someone who never thought about offering this as a service, after reading my blog, decides to use my skimpy description and makes it big time I’ll be a bit disappointed.  (PS: I’ll be less disappointed if you choose to give me a portion of your profits :-D) But to be honest there’s no way I’m going to build such a system right now and in 5 years time, when I begin to think about doing it myself, someone else will probably already have done it… So I really wouldn’t be losing out on much, and in any case at least then I can prove to my kids that I’d thought of the idea before Mr Millionaire did. (Maybe I should submit it to LazyWeb – their wiki lists about 5 other sites that do the same thing as them – so clearly some good ideas just aren’t unique/great innovation)

I’d like to think that if Mr Millionaire was to read this blog and implement this idea, he’d be nice and let me know either out of courtesy or perhaps to see if I had any other ideas that could help…  But if he wasn’t so kind, it still wouldn’t be a big problem. 

Am I the only one that thinks this way?  I guess that’s the main reason for me posting this… I’m wondering if I’ve been “stupid” or not…  I didn’t think it was a stupid thing to post, but someone else did… to what extent would you have posted about this idea?

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