It sounds simple. Probably too simple. A place on the web to rant about bad drivers, and terrible parkers. When it comes to conversation starters, they seemed to be second only to the weather… or at least in the top ten topics for small talk. For many, repressed road rage seemed a universal experience. Everyone rails against anarchy and abuse on public streets, but feels powerless to do anything about it.
I’d been imagining a website like Zapatag for years. I’d been imagining it for so long, in fact, that easily a dozen websites based on the same simple concept have sprouted up in the meantime.
In 2006, I was just stumbling my way around CGI scripts and thinking I might hack something together based on what I was using to upgrade the link directory I ran at Diarist.Net. Unbeknownst to me, however, Platewire had surfaced, and took off like a rocket. I distinctly remember catching creator Mark Buckman on CNN in the lunch room at the bank where I used to work, and it was as if he was reading my mind, live, on the air. Realizing my utter lack of originality, and dumbfounded by Platewire’s thousands of users, I was discouraged and humbled. I put Zapatag on a dusty shelf in my brain, only eyeing it wistfully now and then.
That was almost it.
Thankfully, I eventually accepted the fact that the “driver reporting” concept was incredibly common. After all, “How Am I Driving” call centers have thrived for decades. And I also realized that the idea could have a thousand variations. (See also: ycantpark, YouParkLikeAnAsshole.) There were several sites based on “virtual road rage” — numerous enough that Buckman proposed a data exchange last year) — but none worked exactly how I had envisioned Zapatag working. I knew there was a lot of room to innovate. I had to at least try and build a better mousetrap.
Except that I didn’t know how to build much of anything.
Fortunately, I was beginning to surround myself with brilliant people. There was a small but growing group of Web 2.0 enthusiasts and entrepreneurs in Honolulu, talking about a million ideas. We all loved Twitter and Flickr and social networks. I told them about Zapatag. They told me what they thought. I refined my vision. Not surprisingly, pieces of the site bore a striking resemblance to the web tools we all used. Simple. Social. Fun.
My good friend Aaron Dragushan was one of my key inspirations. He gave a lot of great ideas, while in the middle of launching his own brilliant site, Ask500People. My friend and coworker Beth Berry was also a great resource. She told me about her own Web 2.0 project, a fantastic online app that I can’t wait to see go live. She encouraged me to put together the first mock up of Zapatag. And while it was terrible in many ways, it was actually the first time I’d seen my site on screen. It was a turning point.
At the start of this year, I took my dream for Zapatag to the first Unconferenz. There, again, another group of creative, thoughtful types that gave me much food for thought. I told Burt Lum, the event’s organizer and a long-time friend, that I wanted to be able to actually demo Zapatag at the next one.
So I wrote out a spec. I created dozens of screen shots. And I got in touch with some developers to see what it would take to build. Though I dream of one day working with local talent or even doing development myself, I ended up working with a code house in India that Beth had been working with and recommended. I have a big plans, but a shoestring budget.
At this month’s Manoa Geeks meetup, I publicly showed off some of the screen shots for the first time. And the developers started coding in earnest. I don’t know how much will be done by the 2009 Unconferenz (scheduled for Feb. 7, 2009), but I’m proud of the fact that something is finally happening with my nearly abandoned idea.