Sunday, May 08, 2005

Lesson #6 - Picking an idea

At some point in the WebKEW process, you are going to arrive at the place where it is time to pick an idea and create a web site. In general, one of two things is going to happen when this time comes:
  • You will be struck by the idea for a new web site that is so compelling that you MUST create it.

  • Over a period of time you will accumulate a set of ideas in a blog, on a sheet of paper, in a Word document or whatever. From those ideas you will choose one and implement it.
The first case is easy. Inspiration strikes, and it gives you the energy to get started immediately. The second case is a slower burn. You will gather ideas from the time you spend looking at Alexa, from your normal Web surfing, from seeing needs that you have or that other people around you seem to have, and so on.

Let's say that you have created this sort of list, and you feel like it is time to get started. You have to pick one of the ideas out of the list, so how do you choose? I would look at several factors to make this choice:
  • Looking at the ideas in your list, which one seems to have the best chance of resonating? This, of course, is a guess on your part -- it is nearly impossible to predict resonance ahead of time. So think about it and take a guess.

  • Looking at the ideas on your list, which one seems the most exciting to you? It is going to take energy to create a web site -- picking the idea that excites you the most is a way of providing the most energy possible. There are many cases where I start writing something not because I think it will be a home run, or because I think there is incredible demand, but because, at that moment, it is what I want to write about. The blog I call SadTech is a good example of that. It does not matter to me if anyone reads it or not -- it is something that interests me, and I want to write down some of my ideas. This is also how HowStuffWorks got started.

  • Looking at the ideas in your list, which ones are easier to execute? If one of them is going to take 2,000 hours to execute and the other is going to take 20, and if they are about equal on other factors, I would probably choose the 20 hour project. You can always do the 2,000 hour one next month.
Having chosen one of the ideas, I would then plan to invest 100 to 200 hours in creating and building out the site. In those 100 to 200 hours you will get the site set up, create the template for the pages and add some number of articles or features to the site. In 100 to 200 hours you will be able to create a large enough site to see: a) if you like the idea as much now as you did when you started, and b) if anyone else cares -- if the idea has any resonance or not. You will be able to find that out by looking at the site's statistics.

For example, I started HowStuffWorks with an article about car engines. Then I added another article, and another. Figure that I spent about 6 hours creating a typical article. Somewhere around 15 articles (about 100 hours into it) the site started to resonate. I would look at the stats, and I could see the number of readers rising.

What if you have no ideas at all -- you have no clue where you should start. In that case, I would either start a blog or wait patiently for inspiration to strike.

To start a blog I would go to or someplace similar, set up a free blog, and I would try adding an entry to it every day. Why? I would do that to get in the habit. Either give the blog a theme based on one of your hobbies or interests (My Robot blog is a good example of that -- I add entries based on robots, which is something that interests me), or let it be a stream-of-consciousness thing ( is an excellent example, and one that became very popular in the community of knitters).

If even that is not working for you, then try this. Set up the blog and, as you are surfing, add the things you see that interest you. News items, other sites, whatever -- anything that is interesting, just add a line or two and a link to your blog. If nothing else, that list will have some benefit to you two months down the line when you want to get back to one of those interesting sites.

The key factor is getting started. The only way to learn about creating web sites is to create web sites. Learn by doing.


At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Marshall, I'm just wondering what, if anything, the "KEW" stands for? In case it's something illuminating... :)

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up til now this is abstract. Now you tell me to create a site. To update it every day. Fascinating. What will I create?

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you heard of" Site Build It"?

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Julbar said...

I am a newbie on blogs. How do I add a site to my blog ?


At 4:19 PM, Blogger Jason said...

So what's the best way to create a site? Would one use a program like Dreamweaver and create one from scratch? How about some of those CMS programs like Drupal or Mambo? Those you could install, get a basic site structure and tweak it to your fancy. I've often thought about this. I know basic html but to actually design a site and layout the structure... I think I'd spend more time doing that that working on my original idea. What's your opinion?


At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do i make money off of a blog? i am only 16 and need money NOW because i am moving out in a month and have a shitty part time job. i have a blog on livejournal that i update just about daily, sometimes even more. i am thinking google adsense but you must be 18 for that. do you have any suggestions? please e-mail me if you can at


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