is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
Every serious adult should have an inventory of the possessions in his or her home in case of fire, flood or alien attack, but I don’t. This is one of the things that I’ve been meaning to do forever, and I’ve always thought that software should be able to help me do it. But home inventory software has always struck me as being unrealistically data entry-oriented. That is, most of the packages I’ve seen are predicated on the idea that the user is going to be very thorough and record every data point around each possession: not just the make, model and serial number, but also date of purchase, price, a scan of the receipt, notes on any servicing that might have happened, even a photograph of it… I mean come on. Who’s going to do that?
Part of the problem is that almost all of the home inventory software I’ve seen is intended to live on my hard drive. It’s packaged software (or, now, downloadable from the Mac App Store) that resides locally, tied to a specific computer, with little or no awareness or acknowledgment of the network. In reality, it should live on the cloud where it would make much more sense as a service, and not just because keeping this data physically off-premises is in keeping with the whole point of tracking it in the first place.
All Your Stuff in the Cloud
More than that even, creating a home inventory on the cloud can transform the process from just one of data entry into something more social and less chore-like. When I inventory my HDTV, simply entering its make, model number and serial number could return a complete profile of that product: technical specifications, manufacturer contact information, updates and recalls, etc., all aggregated from the many other users who have also inventoried that same television set. Going further, aggregate knowledge could transform the home inventory process from what basically amounts to compiling a spreadsheet into joining micro-communities built around each product: if I need warranty service on a refrigerator, this theoretical home inventory service could connect me with other owners of that same fridge to see who’s had similar experiences.
Is there something out there already that does this? I find it hard to believe there isn’t, but even more so, I find it hard to believe that this isn’t a major social network of some kind already. So much of our lives concern products, from appliances to furniture to electronics, and yet most of us, as consumers, are alone in maintaining and engaging with the things we own — social software seems like the perfect remedy for this situation. A startup that could put together this kind of audience and this kind of data would have a wealth of consumer information to act upon. But more importantly I think socializing the consumer experience in this way would actually improve things for everyone: it could help us buy, repair and trade products more effectively: it could even help us communicate with manufacturers more effectively too, and get them to produce the kinds of goods that we really need and that will last. If nothing else, it could get more of us to compile our own home inventories before disaster strikes.+