Are Good Ideas and Big Business Mutually Exclusive Concepts?

I knew when Intuit purchased the up and coming personal finance site Mint, it was only a matter of time before Mint lost its freshness and became another stale online business.  What I didn’t know was that the transformation would begin so quickly.  Let’s be honest, trying to up-sell a “free credit report” is one more bad decision away from urging folks to yank out their gold teeth and send them to Cash4Gold.  Or, even better, to Cats4Gold.

It just sounds desperate, doesn’t it?  I mean, if this is what Intuit brings to the table, why did it even bother?  Seriously.

As we talked about yesterday, News Corp, perhaps trying to prove that it can do something even dumber than buying MySpace, is thinking about yanking its books out of the Google card catalog.  Microsoft, trying to put the world back in order after a rare PR success with the launch of Windows 7, seems to be willing to pay News Corp to do so.  Someone up in that cloud of arrogance and wealth has to know this won’t work.  Which means that they are really just using consumers as fodder in a jealousy-induced feud with Google.  No thanks.  I’ll pass.

imageElsewhere, the web is littered with the corpses of abandoned projects and services that were acquired by big companies, only to die on the balance sheet.  Over and over, ideas are hatched, nurtured until some bigger fish takes the bait, sold. . . and die.  Leaving all the users that created all that alleged value out in the cold.

There seem to be a couple of repeating patterns.

One, someone creates a service that is some combination of really cool or really hyped.  Lots of traffic results, and some big company with lots of money gets fooled (again) into thinking all those eyeballs can be monetized.  The big company buys the cool/hyped service, tries without success to stuff the free-formed service into a dollar-sized hole, and ends up shuttering it or selling it at a huge discount.

Two, companies realize that they can’t beat the competition on the field by creating and promoting a good product, so they conspire to change the rules.  This is kindergarten politics, engaged in by the super-rich, at the expense of the rest of us.  Yep, it’s the man getting one over on us.  Again.

Even so, none of this is good for the purchasing company.  Certainly, none of this is good for the consumer, who gets dragged all over the place and then abandoned.  The only ones making any money on these deals are the serial service creators and the early investors who invest a little money in order to get a big chunk of the purchase price.  Numbers being what they are, a few hits can finance a lot of misses.  And, again, consumers get taken for a ride.

At the end of the day, I don’t see how this does anything other than discourage innovation.  With everything being based on either ads, which no one likes, or getting bought by Google, which is becoming more and more of a long shot, there is little incentive to try to create the sort of value that people would- hold your ears- pay for.  When did paying for value become so out of fashion?

Or is it that many of these services aren’t as value-producing as some would have us believe?

One thing is for sure- if the developers don’t believe in their product enough to charge for it, then why should users believe in it?  This is the root of the problem, because lots of people would happily pay for a good, reliable service that isn’t likely to disappear or get sold to a big, clueless mega-company.

Want an example?

I pay for a premium account at Remember the Milk, solely because it integrates so well with Gmail and Google Calendar.

I would gladly pay for Disqus comments, if they could make the “Reactions” feature work reliably (it doesn’t presently).

There are plenty of others.

We just need to figure out how to make good ideas and big business compatible.