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Cyclical tools  

Excellent essay by Sep Kamvar, via Fred Wilson. Highly relevant to startups that want to change the world:

But if I were to suggest one mission for all tools, it might be this:

Every tool should nourish the things upon which it depends.

We see this principle at varying levels in some of our tools today. I call them cyclical tools. The iPhone empowers the developer ecosystem that helps drive its adoption. A bike strengthens the person who pedals it. Open-source software educates its potential contributors. A hallmark of cyclical tools is that they create open loops: the bike strengthens its rider to do things other than just pedal the bike.

(...)

But you can’t measure the impact of tools on their own. You must measure them by the ecosystems that they co-create.

An interesting viewpoint to analyse how worthwhile a product is in the long term. Does it create a positive feedback cycle with open loops?

Interestingly, Sep dismisses the car as not cyclical:

It’s difficult to build cyclical tools because the alternative is so tempting. Cars are faster than bikes. FishVille reaches more people than Moby Dick. At first, cyclical tools appear to be lower-power, slower-growth, and more expensive than extractive tools.

I think that's an easy stance to take but not very defensible. Cars certainly do empower their users and create many open loops, just not in the context of personal health (unless you happen to drive to places where you then do sports like mountain climbing).

Perhaps a slightly more gradated classification is needed. The world is never black and white. Some products (like most computer games) are very close to one end of the scale, while others (like the iPhone) are very close to the other.

In any case, this, and other essays by Sep, are very much worth reading.

More from the library:
Hardware startups and quality
More on splitting equity 50/50 or not
Beginner's guide to landing pages