Build Your Own Web 2.0 Application Using Fluff and Hot Air

Matthew Magain

Note: this article was published to generate a few April Fools’ Day laughs. The real author is SitePoint’s Matt Magain.

So you have a great idea that you want to turn into the Next Big Thing? Well, jump aboard the Web 2.0 bandwagon! The momentum that’s building behind web applications means there’s never been a better time to start reaping the rewards of your hard work.

Wait! Hard work? Not interested in hard work? Don’t have the time to put in all those late nights fixing bugs and adding killer features? Then this article is for you. We’ll show you how to go from idea to well-funded application without writing any code at all.

Thought that all you had to do was add "Beta" to your product for it to be successful? Not true! In today’s climate it’s possible to arrange first-round venture capital funding and get your flavour-of-the-month web app snapped up by Yahoo! before you even reach beta.

We call this Getting Rich.

What is Getting Rich?

Getting Rich is the faster, easier way to make a killing from your hot web app without even writing the darn thing.

Getting Rich is about putting in place a façade to lure in interested parties (like investors), then skipping that annoying business of coding and testing.

Getting Rich is less. Less meetings, less communication, less documentation, less features, less code, less bugs, less pesky customers, and less actual programming.

Getting Rich delivers nothing to your customers, and everything to your back pocket.

The Old Way

In the past, web entrepreneurs had to address a unique problem that needed solving, and carve out a niche for themselves by producing a usable, reliable, scalable application. Many a good web app made use of rich interactivity but failed to gain momentum at the turn of the century because either:

  • the app was too client-heavy for an era when client processors could not keep up, or
  • the development team members failed to deliver regular communication to customers because they were too busy fixing bugs

However, that was then. Today, the playing field is different from 5 years ago — the Web is entering a new era, and Getting Rich capitalizes on this.

Build Less

In fact, don’t build anything at all. There are just seven key things that you need to put in place to launch a successful Web 2.0 application, and none of them are the application itself.

The Seven Elements of a Successful Web 2.0 Application

For your app to be successful, you need to have the following seven elements in place.

1. A hot idea: While it doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem that you can actually solve (or, indeed, a problem that even needs solving), your idea does need to sound intriguing and utilize more than one technology buzz-word of the moment. At a bare minimum, you must, without exception, include AJAX — even if your app uses the technique inappropriately. Remember: your application will fail if AJAX doesn’t get a mention. There are plenty of other technologies that will also help your cause, including RSS, Microformats, SOAP and Ruby on Rails.

Luckily, there are several useful resources out there that might provide some inspiration to help you with this. Ideally, try to incorporate the buzz-word into the name of the app. This is an easy way to garner additional attention (and hence traffic), especially if the advocates of that technology get wind of the fact that you aren’t even using it.

2. A cool name: If the name of your app isn’t short and catchy, it won’t take off. Try recording yourself reading paragraphs from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, then play the audio backwards, slowly, for inspiration. If you’re still having difficulty deciding on a name, you could always choose from those of the Star Wars characters.

3. A trendy site design: This is a given. All Web 2.0 applications sport a front-end with rounded corners, gradients, plenty of white space and a stand-out colour scheme.

Don’t possess any design skills? No matter: you can follow step-by-step instructions or generate a layout that will suffice until you secure that first round of funding instead. Your layout will change anyway once the app is bought out and rebranded, so there’s no point in labouring over the finer points at this stage.

It’s particularly helpful to add further bling to your site using one of the many JavaScript libraries now appearing on the scene — take your pick from Prototype, DoJo, script.aculo.us, FACE, AjaxTK, Moo.fx, and the Yahoo! UI Library. This might seem like a lot of effort just to achieve a distraction that’s not dissimilar to the <blink> tag, but believe me, these libraries are worth it to give your site a real edge. And don’t forget to validate your site when you’re done!

4. A blog: Constant communication with your users is essential to distract them from your inability to deliver on the final product. The informal nature of a blog means that you can wander off on tangents, like talking about how your 3-month-old cocker spaniel buried your mobile phone under the tomato bushes in your backyard, and be forgiven instantly! This personal touch will help you identify with your users and show them a human side to an otherwise faceless (and feature-less) application.

If you want to bring things back on track after a tangent, there are plenty of resources to help you keep the buzzwords flying.

Even better, produce a podcast which contains similar personal content, postulates on the future of the Web and how your product is bridging the gap between what today’s users want and what your misguided competitors are delivering. Make sure you brush up on those buzzwords before recording your session, though — they can be quite a mouthful.

5. Syndication: Any web developer worth his or her salt will tell you that that the Web is moving from HTML to XML at a rapid pace. By providing RSS and Atom feeds for your application, you automatically increase the window through which you can convince your customers that your web app is actually doing something.

If you’re wondering what content you should include in these feeds, it doesn’t matter. Send a random flickr photo one day and a del.icio.us link the next, to create the illusion that multiple APIs are being aggregated in true Web 2.0 style. RSS hasn’t yet reached the point where users of the technology bother to unsubscribe from feeds that don’t generate quality content, so this is still an untapped channel to reinforce the façade. Plus, you’re in beta!

6. A community focus: In marketing copy, describe your app as being "social" software. Use the buzz-words folksonomies and tag cloud, and emphasise how your app empowers its users to take control of their content to help win over any nay-sayers.

7. An open API: Publish an API for your application to get developers interested in hooking into it. Implementation of specific methods isn’t important at this stage; just put a series of stub methods in place that return the value 42. Don’t worry, they’re geeks — they’ll have read Douglas Adams, so they’ll get the joke. Not only will they forgive you, they’ll like you even more for your subtle humour. And if anyone complains, remind them that your app is still in beta.

The Seven Facets of Highly Effective Promotion

There are lots of ways that you can create your own hype, but we’ve narrowed down the field. Here are the seven that we’ve found most useful.

1. Jump straight to Private Beta stage: Make access to the app invite-only, but don’t actually invite anyone. Nothing creates more desire for a product than its exclusivity. If no-one has it, everyone will want it. Simple!

2. Talk about it on forums: Start some threads on notable forums, posting screenshots and raving about the app and how it has become your number one must-have productivity booster. Register multiple usernames and have discussions with yourself in your thread post. Include dissenting points of view from people who then "receive their invite" and come around. If you don’t have the time to do this, pay someone to do it for you.

3. Graffiti: Stencil art is currently a popular form of graffiti in larger cities that for some reason is viewed as being creative and insightful rather than an eyesore, and has therefore gained acceptance as a form of public artwork. Take advantage of this! Spend your evenings spray-painting the walls of your local train station with the domain name of your app below a picture of a man in a gas mask. It doesn’t matter that the image has no correlation to your application — you’re not writing the thing, anyway!

4. Manual blog comment spam: Spam notable blogs with links to your web app (tip: try to tie your response into an intelligent response to the article you’re spamming). When the site owner sees that your domain does not contain any reference to teen sex or Viagra, they’re likely to follow your link, just to see what all the fuss is about. And when they arrive at your site and realize that they can’t login because it’s in private beta, they’ll start crawling the Web for more information about your app and forget all about how they found your site in the first place. Utilize computers at public libraries if your home and work IP addresses get blocked as a result of this practice.

5. Submit articles: Write an article about the new ground your app breaks, and submit it to a technology magazine such as SitePoint. The editors at sites like these are too busy editing print publications and attending big-name technology conferences to pay much attention to articles that are submitted to their online presences. Often, you can slip any old content through to their front page without them even noticing!

6. Create a "Web 2.0 app review site": Scrape content from TechCrunch (paraphrased accordingly) and subtly review your own application on the site. Make it the third or fourth app that you review, so as to not attract too much attention.

7. Enlist the help of a blogebrity: Ask an A-list blogger to review your app (linking to your own "review", so that you drive traffic to both your web app and the site that reviews it). While it’s unlikely that they’ll do so without actually logging in and trying out your app for real, they might change their tune if you offer them some kind of incentive. Send them some Photoshopped screenshots showing tag clouds and images of your app in use, and blame your data centre for the server being down — the perfect excuse for why they can’t login just now. Then promise them 20% of your profit when you sell the app to Yahoo! Negotiate as required — everyone has their price.

The Organisation

Meetings are Toxic

There are loads of reasons why meetings are a hurdle to Getting Rich, especially if they involve your venture capital investors. The more time you have to look them in the eye, the greater the chance that they are going to want to see some actual results.

Instead, take a leaf out of George Costanza’s philosophy on productivity. Give your investors every reason to think you’re flat out — send them lots of email informing them of your hectic travel schedule, which involves meeting clients who are interested in deploying your app in their corporate intranet. Reply to every one of their questions with three questions of your own. Automate tasks on your computer to send investors an email with updates at 3:00 a.m. reporting on an obscure bug that you’ve just found and fixed. Constantly mail them links to — and faked quotes from — fictitious press releases containing glowing reviews on news sites that require the user to take out a paid subscription in order to view the article. Sounds risky? Don’t worry! When the investors realize they have to pay to read the entire article, they won’t bother. After all, they’ve already sunk wads of cash into your "business" for absolutely no result. They’re not prepared to pony up another dime until they see a return. Instead, they’ll take the quote you provided as gospel, and spend the time they should have dedicated to researching your "organisation" praying for any kind of profit to result from this sham media coverage before the quarter’s end.

Hire Less, Hire Later

In order to minimize cost, hesitate before bringing on any staff. If you absolutely must bring someone on board, outsource the work to India. There’s certain to be someone there who will complete the task for less than the cost of your monthly broadband connection fee.

Be Agile in your Company Vision

In fact, there’s no need to even have a vision. If you’ve executed your promotion strategy correctly, people won’t care what your application does — they’ll be so dazzled by the flashy site and use of cutting-edge technologies that they’ll forget that they’ve never actually used the thing.

Not having a vision makes you more adaptable. If you want to take your application in a different direction, you’ll find it much easier to do so if you haven’t committed yourself to any particular path.

Document Nothing

When soliciting first-round funding, don’t capture any paper trail of your dealings. Also be sure to purge your email correspondence and your Recycle Bin regularly (at least every few hours). If things go belly-up, you want to be able to claim total ignorance.

(Don’t) Build It And They Will Come

Once everything is set up and you’ve initiated your promotion strategy, lick your lips and wait for the VC offers to start rolling in! At this point, it may be wise to set up an account with one of the more (dis)reputable Swiss banks. Successful entrepreneurs often find it beneficial to take out residency in Bermuda, to minimize the large amounts of tax they might otherwise pay on forthcoming cash injections.

Rinse and Repeat

Of course it’s possible that your first attempt at Getting Rich may fail. Take heart in the knowledge that while these principles are sound, not every entrepreneur possesses the business acumen to execute them successfully. All that’s left to do in such cases is start over — source a new idea, reinvent your web presence and, if necessary, your own identity in order to distance yourself from unhappy investors.

This shouldn’t be a problem assuming you have followed the advice in this article about never meeting them in the first place.

Conclusion

You, too, can be on the short-track to Web 2.0 billions without writing a shred of code.

In this article, we’ve covered a foolproof strategy for constructing a façade to secure the investment funds for failing to build a successful web application, which we call Getting Rich. We explored how to put in place the Seven Elements of Highly Successful Web 2.0 Applications, and combine them with the Seven Facets of Highly Effective Promotion to drive traffic to your application.

In summary: Set it up and sell it off — implementation is for losers!

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