File this entry under "prior art" in case anyone ever gets the idea of infringing the copyright of my half-baked schemes. People (and by "people," I mean the voices in my head) have occasionally asked what I would do if I ever had to give up the glamorous life as TechRepublic's resident Trivia Geek.
Well, I've always wanted to be a professional novelist, but I don't think my writing skill is quite there yet. Give it a decade or so. In the mean, I've got an idea for a trivia Website that I think could fly, but I don't have the financial, technical, or intestinal fortitude to get it off the ground.
This is where the prior art kicks in. I think trivia is all about showing off, and I think a successful trivia Web site would have to capitalize on that. Thus, I'd build a site with an even more robust and diverse member profile system than TechRepublic uses, and I'd combine it regular Trivia quizzes to create the ultimate bragging rights system. Every item in your profile would create a subgroup of users with the same attributes, and members would be able to see how their trivia quiz scores stack up against the other members you share common traits with. For example, are you smarter than all the other sysadmins? Star Trek fans? Ex-Air Force careerists? Canadians? High school students?
I'd also pretty tightly categorize the Trivia quizzes, both by broad subjects (Science & Tech, History & Politics, Pop Culture, Sports) and tightly defined subcategories (astronomy, U.S. civil war, 1980s hair metal, baseball). Members would be able to see how they stack up in both the broad and the tight categories, creating even more opportunities for bragging rights.
The hard part is google-proofing the quizzes. I'd figure on a flash application that's crawler-proof, and though the questions would be multiple choice, I'd install a very quick time limit, to keep people from surfing for answers during the quiz. I'd also keep a rolling archive of the quizzes, so newcomers could take the old-school stuff whenever they became members, and there'd be a common set of standards by which to keep score. High-ranking members would get some extra privileges, like the right to build their own quizzes. And everybody would get to tag quizzes flickr-style, so the list of possible subgroups is always growing and evolving.
How would I make money? Merchandising, for one. Everybody likes t-shirts, but I'd take it a step further. I want "instant awards" so if you found a data set that you were the highest scorer within—I'm the smartest sysadmin in Arkansas!—you could instantly order a custom CafePress-style t-shirt or mug with that statement, and an authenticity code to back it up. Somebody could enter your code and find a "I can prove it" page marking the date and time you earned that little personalized championship. My Web site would be the arbiter of smart.
Other revenue? Targeted ads, of course, since I'd have a very well-profiled audience that has declared their interests and who probably skew towards the affluent and educated demographics, given the subject matter. And, of course, a pay version of the site with extended privileges and an ad-free/hyperprivate view of the features.
How would I promote it? Newsletters and RSS feeds, of course. Maybe some live, in-person tournaments, both offline and on. The hard part would be building the initial list of members and getting the word out. I figure the burn rate would be pretty steep during intial development, which is why this little dream will probably never get realized.
Until then, I have my column. Oh, and WikiTrivia, which I'd dearly like to steal.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.