In development: nineideas

I’m working on a new personal project. nineideas is a project that encourages users to develop a regular practice of generating and sharing ideas.

Right now, I’m thinking about implementing this project as a social network.

The home page presents users with a list of topics from other users: “Creative date night ideas for couples on a budget.” “Ideas for investing $10,000 right now.” “Simple self-care practices for busy individuals.”

Once a user selects a topic, they are prompted to write nine ideas on that topic. The platform enforces a quid pro quo system: to read, you must write. In order to view the ideas of others, you must first contribute your own.

Although I enjoy reading blogs and forums, I don’t produce much writing, and I spend the majority of my time just reading content from other people. I want to improve the way I spend my time online, but simply commenting more feels unsatisfying. Instead of building a user experience that is characterized by endless scrolling and passive consumption, the nineideas site requires active participation as a prerequisite for consuming content from other users.

The Magic of Writing Idea Lists

Something really incredible happens when I do these idea lists. The first three ideas come almost immediately. These are the obvious ideas. But then I have to start really focusing to generate the next three ideas. I’ve taken all the obvious things off the table, so I have to really think about the topic and approach it from new angles. These ideas come after a few minutes of thought. And then something really incredible happens: my mind goes totally blank.

When asking someone to generate nine ideas on any topic, their mind often goes blank within a few minutes. Yet, if you ask the same person to meditate for 15 minutes with a clear mind, they are more likely to struggle the whole time with a racing and restless mind. Surprisingly, I’ve found that using idea prompts can be a more effective method for achieving stillness.

This stillness is beautiful. I want to spend some time in that space every day.

My mind is totally blank. Everything obvious is off the table. I’m in a state of simultaneous openness and focus.

This mental space reminds me of that After Dark Flying Toasters screen saver.

There is a totally blank void of space. Then, at totally random intervals, a flying toaster enters the screen from some point in the upper corner of the screen.

This is how the last three ideas tend to come for me. They are not necessarily even better ideas. They just seem to arrive differently. And for some reason I’m convinced that this is important.

But What About AI?

Why build a site that requires users to come up with ideas on a topic if this could be immediately outsourced to AI? Won’t users just use ChatGPT to circumvent the idea generation requirement, ultimately missing the point entirely and flooding the site with AI generated noise?

Of course, ChatGPT had a totally polite and supportive response to this concern:

While AI can certainly generate ideas quickly, it lacks the human touch and creativity that comes from personal experience and perspective. The purpose of nineideas is to encourage active participation and personal growth through the act of idea generation. By requiring users to contribute their own ideas before accessing the ideas of others, you hope to create a community of engaged and thoughtful individuals who are invested in the creative process. Outsourcing the idea generation to AI would defeat the purpose of the site and undermine the value of personal growth and development that comes from actively engaging with the creative process.

It’s possible that some people may try to use AI-generated content to bypass the idea generation requirement on a site like nineideas. However, there are ways to mitigate this possibility, such as using algorithms to detect and remove AI-generated content or implementing human moderation. Additionally, the value of the site lies not just in the content, but in the process of idea generation itself and the personal growth that can come from regular practice. So while AI-generated content may be a concern, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the site’s goals and purpose are entirely lost.

Okay. ChatGPT gets it. It’s about the journey, not the destination. And… the journey is going to involve a lot of content moderation and AI detection.

update 4/10/23:

Initially, this project was conceived of as a social network.

In the early stages of development, however, I made a significant pivot away from this use case and decided on an implementation that would simply focus on idea generation as a daily habit.

The site now comes with a database of a few hundred topic suggestions. Users can keep clicking the ‘new topic’ button until they see a topic that sparks their interest. Alternately, if a topic suggestion is close but not quite there, a user can click the topic and edit a few words until it is a good fit for them. This UX change will significantly reduce the barrier to starting an idea list. No need to scroll through other user suggestions or stare at a blank screen trying to come up with a topic to write on. The site provides the topics right out of the box.

Now the emphasis is simply on keeping a daily streak of writing idea lists. I want this to be a personal development tool that users can realistically fit into their schedule as a daily exercise. The social network implementation puts the focus on the user developing some sort of persona, chasing after cachet, trying to get noticed and come off in a certain way. These are not important.

I’ve narrowed the scope of the project to focus the user on adding ideas every day. Everything extraneous to that has been removed.

nineideas