Dopplr

I’m intrigued by Dopplr.

It launched a few years ago targeting the frequent-flier set - people who fly three times a week and might want to know that a friend from their MBA would be in Istanbul the same day as them. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more a science project than a product - crammed with modish new technologies but very little actual utility, and no attempt at all to make money.

I lost hope entirely when I attended the party to celebrate a seed round. It was held at the offices of Monocle, whose editor, Tyler Brule, was an investor: Monocle targets exactly the same people (or at any rate people aspiring to that lifestyle - the real ones read Bloomberg Businessweek and the HBR). The party, for loyal users of a service targeting business travellers, was held at 5 pm on a weekday. Clearly, I realised, these people had NO FUCKING IDEA who their customer was.

In the autumn of 2009 the company was bought by Nokia. There was a lot of talk about how this would be Nokia’s big move into social location. Actually, the CEO (Marko Ahtisaari) had a Nokia background and he became design director there. The CTO, Matt Biddulph, moved to (what looks like) a Nokia think-tank in Berlin. As for Dopplr, updates, which had never been exactly frequent, stopped dead on the day of the acquisition. It has been unchanged, frozen in time (Fire Eagle! OpenSocial!), ever since. The site works, the functionality functions, but ‘new stuff’, the lifeblood of a web service, never comes.

So, a startup meanders into a science project, corporates scratch backs, and Nokia screws up an acquisition: what is there to be intrigued by?

Well, the site is still THERE, and it still works. Marko still uses it. It’s like one of those windmills in abandoned western towns in a certain type of movie - it still spins when the people left decades ago. A traceroute says that the site is sitting in a server farm in London, so it was never moved to Nokia (maybe). This makes me wonder - how long can a properly-build web service keep working after the staff leave? How long will a LAMP stack just keep going, if no-one remembers to cancel the hosting account? I used to hear stories about old Netware servers that hadn’t been seen in years, and turned out to have been plastered into closets, forgotten completely, and yet were still running happily 5 or 10 years after the last time a human looked at them. WIll Dopplr still be up in 2020, the hosting bills dripping onto a long-forgotten Nokia corporate charge account, a web version of abandonware?