At Input Factory, "The New Tech Mullet" Puts Big Data In The Back

Introducing a startup where the thesis is more important than the product.

Instead of building a company around a product, Luke Wroblewski and Jeff Cole got together last March and founded a thesis. It's called The New Tech Mullet.

"Small mobile interactions up front and big data in the back," Wroblewski explains.

Both cofounders believe millions of little mobile interactions can create something revolutionary—if there's complicated, heavy-lifting on the backend to turn them into something new. They've used this belief as a filter for their product ideas.

The New Tech Mullet's first of several planned tests is an iPhone app called Polar that makes it easy to create and take micro-surveys. Amazon or Target? Subtitles or Dubbed? Legoland or Disneyland? Other apps have also asked questions with this lack of depth. But Polar does so with a particular sensitivity to the time it takes to participate. All of the surveys are located on the same screen, like Instagram photos, so that you can vote as quickly as you can "heart" a photo. Results are revealed within the same panel. Wroblewski says Input Factory timed how long it took someone to create a new quiz "using only their thumb and half their attention." Anything less than a minute was unacceptable.

Voting on Polar is the definition of a low-investment maneuver. But the more real-time information that Input Factory takes in, the more it can create. It has already, for instance, worked out a "recommended follower" list based on how your voting behavior compares to others'. Eventually it plans to run paid surveys by brands looking for consumer insight.

Turning micro interactions into something bigger isn't a new idea. Google, for instance, turns the micro-action of typing words in a box and clicking the most relevant link into a relevancy engine that generates billions. Nor is it a particularly complex idea. But the persistence of mobile apps with multiple text fields suggests it's not necessarily easy to execute.

"The screens are small. Your fingers are fat. Typing is a pain in the butt. And all those things are true. But at the same time you’ve got like four billion text messages in the U.S. alone," Wroblewski says. "I don’t think these things are passive consumption devices. I think you can actually create things and contribute, elaborate and do all the stuff that people say you can only do on large screens and keyboards."

This isn't the first time he's turned an idea like the New Tech Mullet into a company. He cofounded Bagcheck, a company that Twitter acquired in August, with the thesis of "collaborative effort."

In a world of digital opportunity, having a thesis helps illuminate which projects are worth pursuing.

"Today it's much harder deciding what not to do, than what to do," he says. "You can do anything with software these days. And you can do it pretty quickly. The much harder thing is having some filter."

[Image: Flickr user Valarie Apperson]

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2 Comments

  • Stephen Cunliffe

    was this mis-typed? "Anything less than a minute was unacceptable." shouldn't that be "Anything more than a minute was unacceptable."?