Lists

For as long as the web has been around, there have been entrepreneurs trying to build businesses around lists. And I’m having a tough time thinking of any company that has really nailed it in this category.

For one thing, there are two modes of listmaking; making lists for yourself (task management) and making lists for others (publishing). It would seem that by focusing on the single user case (making lists for yourself) a startup could bootstrap itself into a network (making lists for others). But to my knowledge, no startup has successfully done that. I wonder if nailing the single user case forces a company to build features that are orthogonal to the publishing use case.

It is certainly true that there have been some decent exits in this category. This past summer, Wunderlist was bought by Microsoft. Wunderlist is a great product, but to my mind focused more on the single user case and it never really broke out into a network.

Listmaking is the kind of thing that really lends itself to the internet architecture. There are a relatively small number of people who are obsessed with listmaking. But most people are into consuming lists. So, it would seem that, if you can get the obsessed listmakers on your platform, you can build a publishing network that millions will use without having to create any of the content. That’s a recipe for success.

Entrepreneurs continue to explore this area. Recently Expa launched Kit which is listmaking for products. This is an idea that has been tried a lot without any obvious breakout successes. So it is still vacant whitespace as far as I can tell.

I wonder if listmaking is really a vertical thing instead of a horizontal thing. That would suggest that there will be successes in verticals like food, travel, shopping, reading, film, music, etc but that each will be its own thing and not part of some meta listmaking community.

I frequently use the Foursquare app to make lists while I am traveling or doing something new and interesting. Yesterday the Gotham Gal and I went on an art gallery walking tour in the lower east side of NYC. I made this list of art galleries below Houston Street while we were doing that. It is simple to build a list on the go in Foursquare if you know how to do it. I would love to see Foursquare invest more energy in helping users make lists and consume lists. Using a geolocated and geosorted list on your phone while you are exploring a new area is a powerful and magical experience on a smartphone.

I am somewhat perplexed by the lack of breakout success to date in listmaking. It’s an obvious category. And it is certainly not for lack of trying. The commercial internet is 20+ years old now. So you’d think someone would have cracked the code by now. But I don’t think anyone has.