Of all the business ideas that I’ve had bouncing around in my head, I think this is the #2 best idea (I’ll either finish this series with my best idea or keep it for myself. I don’t think this is the most popular “theme” we post on, so I’ll probably end it after the 20 ideas I originally mentioned).
Barcodes have become increasingly pervasive since their introduction in 1974 (the first item with a barcode purchased was a pack of chewing gum). They’ve been a boon for retailers, as it lets them easily tie in their inventory to their point-of-sale. Every time an item is sold, they can electronically remove it from inventory, instead of having the cashiers manually track it or doing inventory regularly (both would be very labour intensive).
My idea is to subvert a bit of the power of barcodes back to the consumer side of the equation. Imagine a website where it starts with a very simple interface, something like Google. You can type in a barcode off of any product that you purchase. After typing it in, there is extensive information about the produce, such as its manufacturer (and contact info for them), a forum for discussing it, similar products, nutritional info, or anything else people want to track. Inexpensive barcode scanners could be ordered from the site for people who are regularly using it.
Special interest groups could provide an “overlay” of the data, where people who join their group get information about the products. Vegetarians might flag products based on whether they’re Lacto-vegetarianism, ovo-vegetarianism, lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, Semi-vegetarianism or pescetarianism. This would help vegetarians who recently adopted a new philosophy about eating to determine which of their staples are safe to continue to consume (and perhaps find alternatives to favourites). A kosher overlay could help people who have recently adopted an orthodox Jewish diet to evaluate their diet (or maybe help young Jews leaving home stay kosher once they’re buying for themselves), if they were too lazy to look for the kosher symbol on foods they buy. It could even be used for groups who want to boycott companies that support particular causes the consumers are opposed to or who do business with sweatshops.
More sophisticated applications could be built on top of the barcode platform as it gets more data, such as a diet site that will import all the information about what you’ve eaten and track all your daily consumption (of calories, fat, vitamins and whatnot) for anything you input with a barcode and an amount.
Whenever a user looks for information that isn’t in the database, it would then encourage them to find out the information and enter it (and allow other people to fix incorrect information that had been entered).
In terms of a business model, money could either be made by advertising to users (whom the system would know very well once they’ve entered barcodes of what they regularly purchase), selling their user data (with their permission of course), or selling to a larger company (such as Google) once your user base was large enough.
Something that is a very, very early idea of this can be seen here (I was going to incorporate the data he freely provides when I was thinking about building this). I actually had a friend who got pretty excited about this idea and wanted to invest in it, but I could never get my act together to do more than make a few simple mock ups and fairly trivial versions of the site (similar in functionality to the site linked to). Money isn’t need to build something like this, just a developer who is willing to keep banging out code.
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