Cool Idea #9: Tatoeba

Anybody who’s taken a language course in high school or college is familiar with the thick two-way dictionaries made for learners. For those of us who are native English speakers with some experience in our target languages, those are pretty useful. But too often, their entries are useless to new students. When I took my first Spanish class, for example, I had no clue how to conjugate ser (to be) in the preterite tense, let alone what the preterite tense was. The dictionary didn’t provide that, and because of this I had no way to express things other than in the present tense.

I could elaborate more, but I’ve got a ton of other work to do right now, so I’ll have to cut this a little short. What I’m trying to say is that traditional dictionaries are great tools for seasoned language learners who just can’t recall the right word. When it comes to helping the new students, though, they fall flat because the words exist on their own. Tatoeba takes a different approach by giving translations of sentences, not individual words. Because everything is generated by users who are for the most part accessible and because it teaches with actual examples as opposed to rules, I think Tatoeba could be a great way to pick up a language.

Here are all the versions of “My name is Jack.” And here’s a video explaining the idea behind Tatoeba.

This is a great idea, and I’ve already started translating some sentences in English, Spanish, and Ukrainian. But I also see a whole lot of untapped potential. As translation and language education become more open and more collaborative processes, this same concept of bit-by-bit translation across multiple languages can be exported. I’d like to see within the next few years a large-scale project focused on translating books in the public domain. A crowdsourced version of say, Moby-Dick in Esperanto would be a great read, if you ask me.

One issue: I can’t seem to get Arabic text (or anything else written from left to right) to type correctly. Maybe it’s just me, though.

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Cool Idea #4: Plinky

Plinky (plinky.com) is an idea that I truly wish I had thought of. Though frequent bloggers usually have some innate ability to write about almost anything they choose, they sometimes stumble and can’t think of anything good to discuss. This is the premise for Plinky’s existence. The concept remedies this by giving a blogger a sort of external source made for her to find writing inspiration. Each day, she can find a new thought-provoking prompt to write about.

Not only is Plinky a great idea, but it appears to be dead simple to use. Being run by Automattic, the site should work directly with your account here on WordPress.com, so any transitions will likely occur smoothly. The layout is free of clutter, contains everything that’s needed to post (I think…), and looks great. My guess is that for its simplicity and other factors, Plinky will become a fundamental part of several bloggers’ routines.

Before ending this post, I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the service. I don’t see Plinky being something to which a blogger will turn on a daily basis, and that’s actually a good thing. By stockpiling inspiration, compulsive bloggers will have something to write about when the ideas just won’t come. The only issue is that WordPress might get flooded with nearly identical posts, but the likelihood of that happening is negligible. I also would like to commend the team behind the questions for the quality of its work. The prompts are strangely reminiscent of the University of Chicago’s famously quirky (yet fun) admissions essay questions. Those questions are selected from hundreds of ideas submitted by just as many people over the course of a year, and to be able to match their quality on a daily basis is something that deserves great respect.


Idea #17: Create a database of neckties

As a guy with a mild tie obsession, I’ve often watched a movie or TV show, seen an interesting necktie, and been overcome by an extreme gotta-have-it-or-at-least-find-out-more-about-it feeling. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to have had this feeling before. If you’re not sure as to whether you’ve had this feeling before, I can say that it is similar to the curiosity we feel when we hear new songs on TV, in a movie, or on the radio. In cases with music, we have IMDbHeardOnTv, and YES. However, it pains me to report that I have found no such website for ties.
If such a site were to exist, it would not need to be very elaborate or time-consuming. It may even exist as a wiki, with some users requesting information on certain ties and some supplying that information, similar to the way that IMDb and HeardOnTV work. Another approach would be for a small team of experts and individuals willing to contact producers to take requests for information from the general tie-loving public. Fewer questions would be answered, but they would have a much higher chance of getting answered correctly. Once the site grows in popularity, TV and movie crews may take the initiative and begin posting information to the site on their own, eliminating almost any need to second-guess the facts on the site.

As always, feel free to leave feedback.


Idea #11: A database of how items are originally packaged

Premise:

A few years back, my brother got a gift he didn’t like. He opened it, realized that he already had the same thing, tried repackaging it to return it, failed, and walked away. As far as I know, it’s sitting somewhere in my family’s basement with the packaging open so that it gathers dust on the inside. This is laughably inefficient, and it could have been fixed if he had simply been able to figure out how to repackage it. The thing is, it’s also common.

The Concept:

To remedy this, create an index of products, similar to the indexes of foods at sites like StillTasty and DailyBurn. Instead of expiration dates and nutritional information, though, this should walk users through the process of packaging items so that they fit into their boxes as they did when they were first bought. It’s a simple process: rely on the all-too-common unboxing videos to reverse the process, diagram how to repackage electronics and similar items, then upload instructions for every product out there.

Another topic for this type of site to cover might be shipped items. Though online merchants such as Amazon are starting to move towards simpler packaging, quite a bit of stuff still gets shipped in difficult-to-restore boxes.

The Pros:

  • We live in an age when people value time and frugality. The ability to return items without the hassle of figuring out how to put them back in their boxes is appealing to many everyday consumers.
  • There is also a benefit for neat freaks who like keeping items in their boxes except when they use them. Though the ones I know seem to have this figured out, dilettante OCD sufferers can achieve their dreams if they have the instructions this tool can lay out.
  • eBayers and those seeking to sell items without making a bad impression on buyers (shabby-looking packaging is a turn-off)  may benefit greatly from figuring out how to restore products to their original packaging. This site would fill a niche of people like them.

The Cons:

  • Unscrupulous sellers may try using this to sell used items at a markup, pretending that they’re new. The same thing applies for customers who damage items–they might try returning them by pretending they never opened the packaging.
  • Though this idea can help a lot, there are some things that it can’t help with. For example, there is no way that I know of to repackage items in that clamshell packaging that’s melted together around the edges. This may frustrate several users. (Just a note: though they can’t be closed, there is a pretty cool solution for opening those.)

Names:

This section is a new addition to my usual format. If I have any ideas for product names, I will include them here. They’re just suggestions, though, so feel free to like them or dislike them, use them or avoid them.

  • BoxBase
  • Perfect Packaging
  • ReWrap
    • Accompanying that is ReBox

Idea #8: Blog the vocabulary of TV

Premise:

We’ve all watched a movie or a TV show and heard one of the characters mention something mind-bogglingly erudite. Sometimes, we decide that it’s worth looking up. Those of us with TiVo (or Hulu) pause, mozy on over to a search engine, and type in, “What does disingenuous mean?” However, we usually just let the question fester in the back of our minds, waiting for the next big word to come in and replace it. Personally, I hate that practice. It’s simply letting knowledge pass us by.

The Concept:

Start a blog that makes that knowledge accessible by posting explanations of terms and ideas brought up on TV. It’s like Heard On TV, except instead of music, one sees terminology.

Once you find a clip like the excerpt from The Office, linked  here (sorry, I can’t embed it), post it if possible, name the term (Lachrymose, in this case) find the definition, and teach your readers about the term. If it’s a scientific concept, go over the background information as well.

Create a viewing schedule of what you will be watching live, and post as soon as difficult subjects come up. It’s liveblogging, applied to broadcasts.

The Pros:

  • For both the blogger and readers, this is a great way to learn new words and become more articulate.
  • If you look hard enough, there’s no shortage of terms like this, even on fictional television.
  • This is a fun way to go beyond dumbly watching some of the more complex TV series such as House, Numb3rs, and so on. Over time, you recognize terms and processes before even looking them up.

The Cons:

  • It will take time and intelligence to figure out and post the meanings of certain ideas.
  • Having looked up several terms in my illustrious career as a couch potato, I’ve sometimes experienced the need to correct my friends in the middle of conversations. Don’t do it. In real life, you’ll quickly become that pedantic guy nobody likes talking to, and that’s hard to bounce back from.
  • Unless you use Twitter as a platform for this, the response is not as immediate as one would like. This means that users might simply go to a dictionary website, missing out on your explanation of the term(s) in context.

Bonus:
David Matsumoto is the Director of Humintell, a company focused mainly on facial expressions, lie detection, and body language. He has his own blog at Humintell, in which he analyzes several scandals and the lies involved. Additionally, he posts his scientific commentary on the show Lie To Me after every episode airs. His posts were one of the inspirations for this idea. Here’s his commentary on the last episode of 2009.


Idea #7: Start a temporary blog for school subjects

Premise:

Whether for the SAT, AP Exams, finals, or other tough tests in our academic lives, we all know the feeling of not having studied enough. We put things off until the end, then we cram the day before the big exam. That night, we have trouble sleeping, often laying in bed for about an hour. We wake up a couple of times in the night, then try desperately to fall back asleep. We finally quit when we wake up about an hour before usual. Test day greets us with a small adrenaline rush followed by a huge crash, sometimes during the exam. All in all, not studying is not a good feeling.

The Concept:

Prevent that feeling by starting a blog dedicated to studying a topic you will have a big test in. Set up a blog in about an hour, then kick things off with your first post two or three weeks before the big event, whatever it is (a totally-not-tiny test, a due date for a prodigious project, an enormous essay, and so on). Before class one day, get permission from your teacher or professor to make an announcement. In that announcement, share the URL with your classmates as well as a brief explanation of what you’re doing. It’s important to make sure your classmates understand what you’re doing.

Once people know about it, keep updating the blog with information relevant to your topic. Blogging for your Biology class? Inundate your blog with your take on adaptation, Linnaean taxonomy, Mendel, and interesting phenomena. Include the occasional TED Talk. Continue posts of a similar nature until a few days after the event occurs, then quit. Either remove everything or leave the site up for others to study from.

The Pros:

  • Depending on the quality and success of what you create, this may (or may not) floor colleges/employers.
  • By means of “Internet Immersion,” maintaining a blog about a topic does wonders for your knowledge on it. This translates to a better grade.
    • Because of said immersion, you might begin to draw metaphors between your real-life experiences and your classroom education, which is kind of cool.
  • The experience gained is both fun and valuable, as it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about web publishing.
  • Your writing skills may improve, as will your connection with your peers.
  • This makes it clear to your instructor that you’re serious about his or her subject. In case you ever need it, you’ll probably be given some slack.
  • You’re filling a very specific niche in doing this, so you will likely get more views than you would with your average blog. If you’d like to start a website or blog about something else, the momentum from this can help accelerate your site’s growth.
  • There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling you get from helping your classmates study.

The Cons:

  • This should take time, which you may not have.
  • There’s a huge amount of accountability if you throw out false information and your peers believe it’s true.
  • For the few weeks that you operate the blog, you will become a geek. To cope, just remind yourself that the geeks shall inherit the Earth.
  • From the experience I’ve had so far, things will start out slow. To bring your view count up, include a means for your classmates to share what they’ve learned.
  • The big idea is building enthusiasm for the subject you cover, so be prepared to dive headfirst into a strange clan of nerds discussing Economics, Calculus, World History, Psychology, or whatever your subject is. (On the other hand, the blog could be considered a nice bit of in-depth journalism.)
  • For some, staying on-topic may be difficult.
  • This hasn’t happened to me so far, but you may be tempted to post a MySpace-style rant about something completely unrelated to your topic. Do not do it. Even if your best friend dies, post nothing more than a short note, if that, on the blog. Regardless of what happens, don’t lash out, reminisce, or do anything else that equates to making a scene on the Internet. That sounds cold, but stuff like that is better done on a site like Facebook anyway.

Bonus:

As stated in a previous post, I’m currently doing exactly this with a blog. It’s called Study for Econ. Check out one of my more popular posts here.


Check this idea out #1: Shaming distracted drivers

I don’t think I’ve heard about The Hannibal Blog or Andreas Kluth before, but he has a pretty good idea. It aims to shame distracted drivers into adopting safer habits by creating a blog about them. The concept is simple: if you see a distracted driver, take a picture of him/her or the car’s plate numbers, then upload it to the site.

BONUS: I was curious, so I looked this up. There are a few websites that are based on similar ideas, but none are exactly the same. They don’t add the element of possibly having the person’s face in the description. Regardless, check  out Platester and Platewire. Beware, though. I imagine quite a few people post when they’re angry, so there may be some foul language.