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Let me see if I can explain how "Internet Startups" work. They make these apparati that draw a box on somebody's computer screen. That person then types words into that box on their screen. Then, the Internet Startup uses some computer codes to copy those words onto somebody else's computer screen, so that other person can then read them.

It's as easy as that. Now, different Internet Startups have different rules governing which screens the words are copied to. The "email companies" require you to type, separately, a list of which people's screens you want your words copied to. The "twitter" internet startup company lets the recipients of the words decide whose words they want copied onto their screens, but in exchange the typers of the words are only given a very tiny box in which they can only squeeze a few words. On The Facebook, the words are copied from one screen to another by mutual agreement of both parties who have a pre-arranged agreement, that can be terminated at any time and by either party, that all of party A's typed words can be copied onto party B's computer screen.

The rules can get kind of esoteric but when you see people using "Internet Startups" what they're inevitably doing is typing some words into a box on their screen, or, more likely, reading words that were typed into such a box by someone else previously.
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42 comments
 
This explains "Social Media Internet Startups", which granted, is most of them.
 
Oooo, Mr. Fancy Pants, works at an Internet Startup that does all that AND makes phone calls.
 
We're a telecom startup that happens to use the internet. :)
 
One correction: some startups do the same thing not for words, but for pictures.
 
+John Sheehan you make these robots that can make and take phone calls. So that other people can copy words from one phone to another using different rules governing how and under what circumstances those spoken words are copies from one phone to another...
 
Shouldn't you have patented this before you posted? I know this is self-evident and there is plenty of prior art, but still you never know what you can patent these days.
 
+Joel Spolsky it's more like copying the audio of your words from one set of people to another. Same idea that the whole concept of the internet and human society is based on: people connecting. What's wrong with the internet version of that?
 
And then, Steve Jobs, the father of all Internet Startups put a camera in his devices, allowing people to photograph and videograph themselves, and copy those into that box on their screen. This begat about half of all new Internet Startups.
 
Others like +Dhamesh Shah then decided all this putting words into boxes was an interesting phenomenom to optimize so that the correct words would get to the correct screens of people willing to transfer their credit card number and associated cash to his customers in exchange of various goods and services thereof provided
 
ok, ok, pictures, moving pictures, sounds and voices, and the result of a satellite-based triangulation that determines the person's location on the surface of the planet to some degree of accuracy can also be, you know, copied from screen to screen according to various rules. And also some startups make it possible to turn on a very bright light on the back of your phone so that you can make your phone into a flashlight. Am I missing anything?
 
Don't forget about birds with tempers...
 
You could go a step further and say that all Internet companies modify the voltage in a series of memory units in someone else's computer.
 
+Josh Metcalfe Ad absurdum, you go take it to the logic extreme of saying that one set of synapses in a frontal lobe is modifying the synapses in one or more other frontal lobes.
 
Isn't the Substantial Business activity, and, otherwise, purpose of the internet, to allow people to communicate, and, specifically, at times to communicate a desire, and potentially offer to exchange for services?

I think you're mocking the internet. Also, I know an internet startup that copies words from 3 little boxes onto paper, and delivers them to other users, who aren't on the internet.
 
You forget about the internet startups that aggregate all the little things people type into boxes and sell them to other companies.

Do we get to remove the quotes on "Internet Startup" if we take what people type into those little boxes, compute something, and put different text in a different box for that person?
 
The devil is in the details :-) Abstract it enough and all you have is people doing stuff for other people in return for money. Yes it is true but it doesn't really help you in practice :D
 
Actually...the more details the more money. The more convoluted and detailed the contract is, the more expensive the lawyers dealing with it. Same with code. Hey! It is no longer "Time is money". It is "Details is Money" :-)
 
You should definitely apply for a patent on the process and donate it to the public domain!
 
Nothing new, we are information (DNA in every cell), transfering information between every organisms on Earth is basic of evolution. You can easily predict future of next evolution with this.
 
So does the Stack exchange network require that party A is confused and party B knowledgeable ?
 
A long-winded version of Eric Schmidt's analysis: “Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man's email systems.”
 
Everything is a 32 or 64 bit word anyway. :)
 
+Morten Brodersen "Abstract it enough and all you have is people doing stuff for other people in return for money (...) it doesn't really help you in practice". Actually, it does. IMO People seem to be often forgetting that the reason they get money is because they're supposed to create value for other people, and concentrate too much on 'getting the money for the sake of money' part.
 
Isn't this basically what FogBugz does as well :-) Maybe that's why some people say that we live in the 'information era'.
 
+Joel Spolsky "When you go too far up, abstraction-wise, you run out of oxygen. Sometimes smart thinkers just don't know when to stop, and they create these absurd, all-encompassing, high-level pictures of the universe that are all good and fine, but don't actually mean anything at all. " - Joel Spolsky, 2001
 
Eventually, when you extract the prepositions and extraneous words, you end up with exactly 42 words which explain everything.
 
It's all just ones and zeros. But just like these basic components make up our software, atoms make up a big and diverse universe for us to live in and enjoy.
 
Zawinski's Law/Law of Software Envelopment: “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.”
 
Don't forget the beauty of the graphics, though. The joy of clicking on a large button that changes color over a button a button that stays pale and gray makes a difference.
 
A Grand Unified Theory of Grand Unified Theories - all Grand Unified Theories take as input a complex set of phenomena and reduce them to elegant simplicity by means of abstraction until these complex phenomena are barely recognizable. ;^)
 
They could always be providing some redeeming value to the world... What exactly does FogCreek do again?
 
Don't forget the dinosaurs!
 
此言得之! Rules were set by programmers, users has less flexibility to control our data.
 
Joel,
What about when the people running creating these boxes on screen meet with local - old style businesses (mom and pops) and exploit their businesses by promising them boat loads of customers for only 25% of what they normally sell their product for. (social buying sites) Then, on the other end - you have customers clicking/typing inside on those boxes which furthers the exploit.

Main point. We now have these boxes affecting people who don't even use the boxes.
 
Sometimes we also put photos in the boxes. 
 
I agree if you replace Internet Startup by Social Networking or something like that. There are startups that aren't based on users commutication, and other social sites that should not be considered as startups.
 
And we even put info about ourselves into the boxes
 
Little Boxes:

Little boxes on the website,
Little boxes made of templates,
Little boxes on the website,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a blue site and a red site
And a brown site and an orange site,
And they're all made out of templates
And they all look just the same.

And the people making websites
All quit the university,
Where'd they learned to make the boxes
So they'd come out all the same.
No more doctors or lawyers,
Just startup entrepreneurs,
And they're all made out of templates
And they all look just the same.

And the boys go into business
And partner and hire developers
For the boxes made of templates
So they all look just the same.
There's a blue site and a red site
And a brown site and an orange site,
And they're all made out of templates
And they all look just the same.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Boxes

In honor of Leaky.com's launch this week, and their footer referencing SquareUp:

http://leaky.com/
http://squareup.com/
 
Besides the question "Who can read what I've typed in my box", there are several other criteria that differenciate Internet startups (and other entities that fit into the "message in a box" concept):

- What can I put into my box ? Only text ? Images ? Text and images mixed together in a "document" ? Videos ? Life video feed ? Music ? Life audio feed ? (The latter two stretching somewhat the notion of "putting into a box".)

- Where can the reader reply to what I typed into my box ? In a new, separate box (email) ? At the bottom inside the box (chat) ? In a similar box attached below, recursively (forum) ? In a smaller "comment" box attached below (G+, FB, blogs, ...) ? By providing a one-bit information (like/+1) ? Nowhere (Web 1.0) ? Or can he even edit the text inside the box (Google wave) ?

- Are there any third parties invited to put their boxes on the border of the screen in order to convince people to fill out (or look at) boxes using their services (Advertizing) ?

- Does the content of the boxes focus on any particular aspect of real or imaginary human or nonhuman life ? (Felines with poor spelling, barely dressed female humans, unfortunate events in the writer's life, premature death of third parties caused by lack of intelligence, finding someone to share sofa, bed and box-drawing-apparatus with - whatever.)

I think with some effort one could systemize those criteria and create some sort of "startup template", and then... errr... what ? Create a bunch of random startup concepts, pick out the most interesting one, and get rich ? Create a "meta-startup" allowing people to create their own startup just by filling out some forms, and get even richer ? Or develop a "Startup Tycoon" video game and get rich selling it ? (Being a game developer, I'm particularly interested in the latter possibility.)

Anyway, great article!
 
Of course, the truly canny internet startup sells apparati (apparati? is that really what we're going with?) to those other internet startups, which give them a box into which they can type a description of what they want their box to do, or how their box isn't working right, and then that appears on the screens of other people, who fix the internet startup's box and make it work better. If they don't know how to make the box work, you provide them with another box where they can type things and it appears on the screen of people who hopefully do know how to make the box work.
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