Kiko’s calendar auction and the old “incremental change” song

Kiko is an Ajax-style Web-based calendar service. (It’s also the title of a fantastic album by Los Lobos.) Kiko’s developers, only a few months after unveiling it, have put it up for sale on Ebay for $50,000. So far, despite wide linkage, no takers.

Robert Scoble says this presages a Web 2.0 shakeout: “There are simply too many companies chasing too few users…. Getting the cool kids to try your technology isn’t the same thing as having a long-term business proposition.”

Could be. With Google’s new calendar gobbling up mindshare in an already crowded space (haven’t you heard that “Google is the New Microsoft“?), Kiko didn’t seem to have much chance.

The problem is that, unlike photo-sharing or video-staring or link-listing or news-rating, activities that have provided grist for successful Web 2.0 mills, calendaring doesn’t easily lend itself to large-scale social interaction and wisdom-of-crowds behavior. Calendars are either personal or apply to small, well-defined workgroups or personal circles. The piece of calendaring that’s most amenable to wide Web networking — the listing and sharing of information about public events — is already being pursued by several ambitious companies (Eventful, Zvents, etc.).

But even if calendars aren’t going to fuel the next Web 2.0 wunder-company, we still need them. The future for calendar software, as Scott Mace keeps reminding us, is more about interoperability than about snazzy Ajax features. Making sophisticated calendar-sharing work, and multi-authoring possible, and import-export painless — these are the things that will matter in this category (as the folks working on Chandler whose work I followed for Dreaming in Code understand so well).

Meanwhile, Justin Kan, a Kiko founder, lists his own set of lessons from the experience. They include the following: “Build incrementally. We tried to build the ultimate AJAX calendar all at once. It took a long time. We could have done it piece by piece. Nuff said.”

But it’s not nuff said, it’s never said ’nuff, it needs to be said over and over until you’re blue in the face and all your coworkers hate you and think you’re a monomaniac who has gotten this word “incremental” implanted in his neurons like some sort of development-process idee fixe. It is an important but counter-intuitive insight. It’s not how businesspeople want things to be. It’s not how developers are used to thinking. So if you actually understand that an incremental process for building an ambitious program or Web site is the best approach, you will have to be insufferable about it.

My friend Josh Kornbluth (who recently recounted some ancient tales from our collaboration 20 years ago on a low-rent radio drama show in the Boston area) once wrote a song titled “Incremental Change.” It was a cappella, it lasted all of 25 seconds and its entire lyric consisted of the following:

I think incremental change is a good thing
I think incremental change is a good thing
Incremental change: good thing!

Software development was almost certainly not on his mind at the time of writing. But the sentiment holds across a surprisingly broad range of fields.

POSTSCRIPT: Paul Graham, whose Y Combinator funded Kiko, says the company spent so little money the failure’s no big deal: “This is not an expensive, acrimonious flameout like used to happen during the Bubble. They tried hard; they made something good; they just happened to get hit by a stray bullet.”
[tags]web 2.0, calendars, software development[/tags]

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  1. Scott

    Been ages. Love your blog as always. I happen to be working on a project at Duke that is exploring ways to tackle effective public event calendaring using much of the social networking solutions as models. Silver bullet is to combine event, personal and “resource” scheduling or at least make each solution able to share data. Working on event first. Your post had several solutions I hadn’t heard of and was very helpful. All the best. –ben

  2. You seem a little downtrodden in your report on Kiko. I believe if you would “maybe” do a little oddball research on eBay you might find that $50K is peanuts compared to what people in the “Right” category may actually pay. Remember, we are talking about a medium that took a + or – $75 Tickleme Elmo and offered it for $21 million with “personal” delivery anywhere in the world. Once people become involved in the ebay auction frenzy, they often lose sight of the true value of items and in order to be the “winning bidder” will often bid an item up to MANY times more than it’s actual value. That is precisely why so many people have claimed to have made fortunes on ebay. Check it out. You may only be a tweek or two away from total success with the “Kiko” offering.


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