Are the World’s Best Ideas Hidden in PDFs?

The World Bank spends many millions of dollars on sophisticated policy analysis resulting in well-researched policy recommendations. Most of the information — data, analysis, recommendations — end up in PDF documents which are posted on the Bank’s site. Does anyone read the PDF documents? In a recent analytics review, the Bank found that nearly one-third of documents have zero downloads. Another 40% have been downloaded less than a paltry 100 times. Only 13% had more than a modest 250 downloads.


Congratulations to the Bank for analyzing these data and publicly questioning the value of PDF documents. Bank blog and Twitter accounts likely get more attention — but even there, the attention is fleeting. The good ideas have a moment in the sun, and then disappear.

More information is available on the Washington Post Wonkblog.

We need a better way to capture, archive, categorize, tag, rank, and share good ideas!

Is There a Content Type “Good Idea”?

In consulting projects at Forum One, we often work with clients in defining the twenty or so “content types” present on their websites (press releases, research reports, video, photos, blog posts, events, etc.). Each content type is managed differentially by the content management system (CMS), and in many case also ported to third party services (documents to Scribd, videos to YouTube, etc.)

Good Ideas is a web database of good ideas. But is there such a thing as a content type “good idea”?

Interestingly, feedback I’ve received to date is very split. Many people instantly say “of course” and easily contribute ideas. Other very savvy people say “sorry, not working for me”.

So the question remains: is “good idea” a content type? Will it ever be identified in a CMS or XML markup? What do you think?

What Happens to the Best Ideas?

We have received a lot of constructive feedback from the launch of Good Ideas. Thanks so much!

Probably the most common question we’ve received is “What happens to the best ideas?” This is a key question. If the answer were “nothing”, then what’s the point?

The goal of Good Ideas is to shine light on best ideas. At this point we plan to build an active community to submit and rank ideas, interview thought leaders in different categories, and launch several ideas competitions. We believe all of these will draw attention to useful ideas. We also know that as the site matures we will be able to tie idea generation to more specific problems and outcomes.

The most important uses of the best ideas, however, will come from users. Just as Flickr doesn’t dictate what happens to highest ranked photos, or Google doesn’t dictate what happens to highest ranked search results, Good Ideas won’t dictate what happens to highest ranked ideas. Good Ideas is a tool, an archive, a community — and users will have the best ideas how to use it creatively and usefully.

Do We Really Need More “Good Ideas”?

One issue I’ve wrestled with (and have received feedback about) goes something like this: “The last thing we need are more good ideas – what we really need is smart implementation”.

This is certainly partially true: success depends on good ideas + smart implementation (or as the adage goes, “10% inspiration, 90% persperation”).

That said, there is a great deal of energy wasted pursuing bad (or at least sub-optimal) ideas. Before you start climbing a mountain, don’t you want to be pretty sure you are on the right one? I believe Good Ideas, if successful, can help make sure we are climbing the right mountains.

I remember an early complaint about the Internet: “the last thing I need is more information”. Then Google came along, with its uncanny ability to provide the right information, and that complaint about the Internet went away.

Navigating Good Ideas

What is the best way to find good ideas? There are five ways to navigate the Good Ideas web site:

  • Browse: You can choose a category on the left side of each page. Each category can be sorted by “Top Rated” or “Recent”.
  • Search: There is a search box provided at the top of each page.
  • Tags: Most ideas have keyword tags. A navigation list (“tag cloud”) is provided in the left column of most pages.
  • Related Ideas: Each idea detail page lists related ideas at the bottom.
  • Contributor: Each idea is attributed to a contributor. Clicking on the contributor’s name show a list of all ideas submitted by that person.

We hope to add other search modalities in the future.

Plans for Good Ideas

I work by day as a web strategy consultant, so I am subsumed by the world of business plans and tactics. So when it comes to the business strategy for Good Ideas, I have a confession:

I’m not really sure.

At this point I’m launching the site out of love for the topic. I do have a few nascent thoughts which I’d love to get feedback on:

  • I’m much more interested at this point in quality than quantity. I want the site to be interesting, smart and fun. It’s not so important if a lot of folks find the site at this stage. I think that one reason that some sites are successful, like Flickr or Wikipedia, is there was a lot of focus early on the challenge of building something of quality.
  • There is as of yet no revenue model for Good Ideas. There may never be – it may remain a labor of love. That said, I’m aware of the fact that a number of ideas sites generate value and revenue from competitions, others attract sponsorships and grants, and others have success with donation tie-ins. The important thing at this stage is to try to build something interesting.
  • If it does grow, I have some wacky ideas about complementing “” with a more refined “”, and next an even more refined “”. But that puts the cart before the horse (although I’m always happy to brainstorm wacky ideas if anyone is interested).

Anyway, thanks for any guidance you might provide the initiative in the comments below.

Why Good Ideas?

Hi: This is an early post from Jim — the person who launched Good Ideas.

There is a pretty simple reason why I started Good Ideas: because I love good ideas. I love to examine them, hold them to the light, and imagine their possibilities. Call me idiosyncratic, but I much rather collect good ideas than, say, stamps.

There are two more specific reasons as well:

  • The web ushers in unprecedented collaboration, including around “idea management”. A number of corporations have excelled in this field, including Dell, Starbucks, and Salesforce, which generate enormous value from their ideas communities. Many other topics – education, environment, health, and others – could benefit from similarly successful initiatives.
  • Ideas are evanescent: I see lots of great ideas everyday on blogs, web pages and Twitter. They typically, however, come today and are gone tomorrow, with no real system in place to capture, tag, rank, and distribute the best ideas. Even the very best “winning ideas” from large competitions tend to fall into oblivion.

So that’s why I started this thing. Would you like to help? There are several reasons why it may be worth your while:

  • Good Ideas is a place to learn – check out innovative ideas in your sector or others.
  • Good Ideas is a place to store any great ideas you have (like storing your photos on Flickr or videos on YouTube)
  • Good Ideas will shine light on the best ideas (and early ideas probably have an advantage in this)
  • Good Ideas, we hope, will let you meet others with similar interests.

Let me know if you’d like to help out!

About Good Ideas

Good Ideas is a web site which gathers, tags, ranks and distributes good ideas. Any good ideas can be included, although original contributors have focused on education, environment, global development, health, and other issues of importance. Your collaboration is warmly encouraged: feel free to rank ideas, comment, or post new ideas — and tell your professional colleagues about Good Ideas.

The site was started by Jim Cashel, who is Chairman of Forum One, a DC-based web strategy and development group. A bit more detail about the site is offered in the subsequent “Why Good Ideas?” post.

Return to Good Ideas.