Instagram for webpages

18.14, Tuesday 22 May 2012

Companies I would start if only I had the time, #2 in a series. (Previously, FuelBand for alpha waves.)

Instagram for webpages.

Hear me out:

Instagram has proven there is a mass appetite for creativity and personal expression. Look at the popular photos on Instagram: girls, pets, and sunsets; well-shot and quirky. Facebook, by comparison, is a desert – a gridded Excel spreadsheet of relationship changes and status updates. When at last they added the possibility of creativity - of beauty and of ugliness - in the shape of Facebook Timeline banners, people leapt at it.

(Note: I’m obsessed with Instagram. I think it’s brilliant. A demonstration that people in a social group when left together and given the right tools develop deep skills and a rich culture.)

The mass creativity is what I really miss about MySpace. Check out Ze Frank talking about MySpace in 2006: sure the ugly pages were a joke, but ugliness was also a sign of a huge amount of experimentation, of personal expression, of wit and one-upmanship, of tribes and remixing. Culture in action!

The granddaddy of mass creative expression online was GeoCities, started in 1994 and now dead but archived. A giant metropolis of people speaking in HTML - the bricks and cement of the Web - learning from one-another, improving their skills to speak better – having conversations by creating and sharing. GeoCities is the roots of present-day maker culture. And it was enabled by the very thing that makers are right now injecting into the manufacturing world with open source hardware: view source. View source! See how any webpage is constructed, then copy-and-paste parts of HTML and use it yourself! What a great way to learn.

There’s no “view source” on the iPad.

That smells like a gap in the market.

Productizing “view source”

We’ll start with an Instagram clone for the iPhone and iPad. Instead of photos, users would share webpages written in the app itself. There’s view source, of course.

What we’ll do…

  • All webpages are hosted in the app, there’s no separate browser. Users make them, and you see what your friends have published recently in a big list of square pages. Webpages can be viewed outside the app too
  • No links, no browsing. It’s a reverse chronological list of new, fixed size webpages made by your friends
  • Built-in HTML editor, with a deliberately limited feature set (e.g., XHTML, no sound and no music)
  • Draft mode: Before a you publish a page, you can show the source to your friends to ask for hints
  • Turn the phone sideways to read the source for any page
  • CSS animations and 3D (but no Javascript)
  • Lots of fonts and glyphs
  • Ability to upload small pictures, and filters to apply to them

Pages would be a fixed width and height, and there would be a file-size limit.

We’ll also have a few features to invite expression:

  • A visual editor: when you view source from anyone, you can copy a “style” and keep it in your toolbox for later. Applying the style to text is a drag-and-drop operation (although you’re still using the HTML text editor so you see how it happens). Likewise you can save snippets from pages for later, ditto glyphs, ditto little pictures
  • Tagging, so a user can make a blog by tagging all their posts “blog” (then you can link to all your pages tagged blog from your profile)
  • No credits – this is an environment where copying is okay, so nobody should get care too much about credits. It’s all share-and-share-alike.
  • Templating: users would be encouraged to make a default set of templates for showing off quotes, pictures, word art, links, and chat. It’d be like Tumblr with post-by-post variety.

There’s Facebook integration for sharing. The hope is that people make little webpages with poems or aphorisms in place of writing status updates, and share those each day instead.

While I was writing this, Panic launched Coda 2, their code, HTML and CSS editor. It’s remarkable for its UI – do watch the tour, and look out for the smart styling menus: it doesn’t just help you type the syntax to specify a colour, it presents you with a colour picker. So yeah, we’d try and license some of the Coda technology.

Instagram for webpages

This is Instagram meets GeoCities meets Diet Coda meets Twitter art meets meets Tumblr meets social scrapbooking.

We’ll know we’re doing it right when half of the pages are ugly.

Money: Initially we’ll find revenue from brands because people follow the brands they like.

The long-term plan is that this service invents, popularises and owns a new media type, in the same way that Twitter “owns” 140 character updates and Instagram “owns” square photos. You end up with a generation of people highly literate in HTML authorship and this new media type, and they associate this literacy - this superpower - with this particular service.

A year down the road we’ll add form inputs, a super simple programming language for back-end processing only (not mixed with the HTML), and a custom micropayments widget. This is possible because it’s a controlled viewing/authoring system. Bingo, we have an economy. I’m sure we can think of something to do with that.

Follow-up posts: