I read something on Twitter shortly after publishing the previous post that neatly sums up the position that I’m currently in with 100DB, and I’ve been thinking on it for the past week. The tweet in question posits that every product needs a promise that it’s fulfilling, or else you don’t really have a product. You could certainly frame a promise (especially a ‘product promise’) in many ways, but I might boil it down to the statement that animates the entire company. For Spotify, it’s “Music for everyone”. Lyft’s is “A ride when you need one.” – and so on.
I don’t (currently) know what promise 100DB is trying to make – my current best effort is “Listening is a narrative“ – more of a position than a promise. I also think you can uncover a promise if you are opinionated enough about what a product isn’t, on which point I’m on firmer ground. 100DB isn’t Spotify, it’s not music production, it’s not journalistic. Or: not inherently journalistic – to my mind journalism requires a stance on what’s ‘good’, which is not my intent.
What’s helped to frame my exploration has been two recent conversations with informal advisors (that’s the mailing list – y’all rule). The first included a question which hopefully the person in question won’t mind me posting verbatim: “What would be an incredible tool or experience, if I don’t limit myself by today’s technology or typical approaches?” This is an especially good reminder for me, as I tend to be a pragmatic designer – i.e., “how might we solve this specific problem quickly and efficiently” vs. “how might we solve a category of problems by thinking more broadly and deeply”. (My experience in startups is that you need both kinds of people.)
The second discussion was on what music means to people. Everybody has their own methods of organization and curation, their own web of personal meaning and history intertwined with specific songs, albums, and artists. The perfect example (again, lifting an example directly from the convo in question, apologies/thank you) is a playlist, perhaps called “High School”. This playlist would not contain music that came out when I was in high school – but rather music that I listened to in high school, music that has meaning because it’s indelibly tied to that time in my life. This isn’t music as journalism, but music as chronicle, as self-history.
Referring back to “Discovery and Value”, I wrote about solving microproblems – that is: building very, very small things to validate small pieces of ’the promise’ of 100DB. Taking very small steps is not incompatible with either of the above directional inputs – quite the opposite: it allows me to dial in very quickly on the pieces of those two points that matter most. I gain more clarity on what I should build as a “Minimum Viable Interestingness” output if I have guard rails. “Don’t worry about tech” and “have a firm opinion on why music is important” are good ones.
Finally, while we’re talking about figuring out how to set goals: I think I’m reaching a point in this project where I have enough directional confidence to actually start building something. The genesis of this project was really about capturing an idiosyncratic personal moment about something that I love – the only way I can tell if it means anything to anybody else is to build. Unfortunately, that’s something I can’t do by myself. If you are a developer with a little bit of time on your hands and a willingness to come to some kind of arrangement, let’s chat.