How HackerNews ruined my morning

Series: reflections February 22, 2011

Derek Sivers once wrote that “ideas are just a multiplier of execution”. It makes perfect sense – the observation that execution is more important than the idea is one of those why-didn't-I-think-of-that-and-write-a-book-about-it concepts that seems to be echoed by all of the software entrepreneur pundits. But until today it didn’t really sink in.

I was bummed out to see a post on HackerNews today for a web app that recommended and categorized technical books.

But that sounds like something useful and cool! Why are you bummed?

Well, because it is the same idea as a side project I have been working on for the past month. And worse, I counted at least five other commenters coming out of the woodwork with their own in-progress versions.

This has become par for the course with the ubiquity of the internet these days; you have a flash of inspiration, only to find out 2 minutes (and a Google search) later that six people already wrote the same library, there are three apps that offer the same functionality already or that a better way already exists that you didn’t even consider.

The sting is even worse when you have invested time and resources already. The idea may be “worthless”, but it sure doesn’t seem that way when its YOUR idea.

A few hours (and a pity party) later, I realized that this isn’t the end of the world. The concept has been validated; the fact it was popular on HackerNews (the target audience) and that other programmers were working on similar sites means that there was a need for improvement in this area. I also have over 100 comments of feedback that I can use and apply to my own site.

And most importantly, I think that my execution is better. Obviously I am biased, but most of the improvements brought up in the comments are already addressed by my project.

In Getting Real, I learned that having a rival or enemy can help you hone in on the problems you are trying to solve. In addition to Amazon book reviews and the perennial AskReddit/HackerNews book threads, I now have several direct competitors.

It is energizing and I hope it will push me to improve bibliotechnical and grow as a developer.

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