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  • Chas Bayfield

Ideas die in the dark

Back in the heady summer of 2000, everyone was on the make. The energy of a new millennium had fueled entrepreneurs to add a dotcom to pretty much any word in the dictionary and sell it for billions. At the same time, EMI music exec David Owen decided that he would buck the trend and launch a website of his own, dedicated to making absolutely no money at all. His plan was to give away a business idea of his own every day, for free. The countercultural nature of his future web empire appealed to me and, confident that David would soon run out of ideas, I threw in a few of my own.

David welcomed me onboard and soon we recruited Becky Clarke, a creative at Quiet Storm and Rupert Kaye, a primary school teacher from Lincolnshire. Rather than focus on our coursework at Birmingham Uni, Rupert and I had spent many nights throwing around ideas that we felt might one day change the world. We officially launched Idea a Day on 1 August 2000, somehow persuading the Daily Express to run a piece on us, and set about collecting some high profile followers. Seth Godin, VP of Yahoo wrote about us. Malcolm McLaren and Wayne Hemingway became followers. Suggs and Justin from the Darkness submitted ideas.

In giving away something perceived as precious for free at a time when so many were seeing the internet as a land grab, Idea a Day appealed to people, particularly those in advertising and media agencies. Our belief was that an idea that doesn’t get realized and which sits forever on a hard drive or scribbled in a notebook is a loss to the world. “Ideas die in the dark” David told the media and the ideas began pouring in. Soon we had around 10,000 subscribers from around the world which, in a time before social media, was a big number. We hosted the annual Idea of the Year awards, the first of which was won by copywriter Trevor Webb. This was post 9/11 and Trevor’s idea was to install parachutes in any tower over a certain height in case of terrorist attack. He was awarded his prize by Wayne Hemingway at a glittering party at Brick Lane’s 93 Feet East. carried no advertising, there was no sponsorship and no kick back if any of the ideas actually happened. We have no idea if any of the innovations which we saw companies and governments introducing could be traced back to our site. Our thinking was simple: if the world becomes a better place because of one of our ideas, who cares if we get the credit? David handed over editorial duties to me soon after the site launched and now runs the hugely successful publisher, Idea Books. A couple of years into Idea a Day’s story, Wiley published the 500 best ideas from the site and on our 10th birthday, I hosted a live phone-in for Radio 5 live, with listeners calling in with ideas of their own.

So, what happened? Back in 2000, I was working for myself, I was single and had no kids. By 2015, I was working full time for an agency, and married with a daughter. Sadly, Idea a Day fell off my radar and into oblivion. The hosting expired and the vast database of ideas that might have improved the world relocated to a hard drive. But time gives you the chance to reflect. And time has made me realise that Idea a Day was a good thing. It was simple, free and uplifting. It feels like something the world could do with now.

That’s why, as of last week, Idea a Day is back. For the time being, it’s only on Twitter because that makes it quick and cheap. At some point it may get its own site but there’s no rush (and no money). Many of you submitted ideas the first time around. Back then, many were about websites and mobile technology which were still in their infancy. I imagine many of today’s ideas will be looking forward to a more sustainable future. I’m only guessing, because I would love you to follow Idea a Day again, and to send your ideas my way so I can share them. Let’s face it, we’ve never needed good ideas more than we do now.

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