Posted on Mar 6, 2009 | 9 Comments

(photo of Natalie Villalobos and I at SXSW 2008 via Tantek)

With many creator-types unemployed or between clients, trendhunters expect a new sprouting of startups, echoing the creation of web 2.0 companies from the post-dot-com unemployed. I don’t believe that will happen in the same way. Peoples’ piggy banks are squealing and while web 2.0 companies got started with minimal money, most individuals now don’t even have enough to take the startup step forward.

Rather, I am witnessing a high tide of what I’m dubbing “pico projects” (terminology partially influenced by the recent launch of Picocool). Small projects developed by an individual with input from nearby friends as a makeshift advisory council, with little to no concern for monetization (at least at launch), just the desire to see an idea through to fruition.

Within my immediate circle, the launches of pico projects such as Huffduffer, Baconfile, Picocool and (my own) Spacehack are examples of this new wave. Projects that are more than single-serving sites, but less than a pitched business plan or even what Jason Calacanis has dubbed the $5-10k “microstartup“.

My friend and sometimes advisor to Spacehack, Ben Ward, points out that the shift from startup to pico project is not only due to a downturn (as some of these pico projects are more mini moonlighting outside of day jobs), but to the pervasiveness of tools readily available today as compared to just a few years ago. As a non-developer, this rings clear – my project in its current state uses about the limits of what I can “hack” together on my own without dependency on a developer. But this is also true for developers, as frameworks like Django have more easily allowed for the development of endeavors like Baconfile.

In mentioning this slight shift, Jeremy Keith pointed me to £5 App, a meetup for individual or two creators to showcase simple software that they decided to just go ahead and execute. I particularly enjoy this line from the meetup description:

“The discussion will range from technical (what tools/languages were used during development) to business (building communities, spreading the word, costs and rewards).”

…calling attention to the fact that these projects care more about building communities than how to talk to angel investors.

What are some pico projects you’ve come across or built in the last few months? I’ll link any I find to be interesting from the comments at the bottom of this post.

Other interesting pico projects:
• Not in the comments, but Jeremy Keith pointed me to Readernaut
• Josh McKenty, a colleague from NASA, reminded me of the TinyApps project
• Emily Chang introduced me to 4am Project
• Blaine Cook recently created TinyArchive


  1. Lisa
    March 6, 2009

    Great post! A friend of mine just completed using django and feedback from roommates and friends. I would definitely call it a “pico project.”

  2. joebarone
    March 6, 2009

    Fascinating stuff! I have a couple ideas that could be called pico projects, i guess :) thanks for posting!

  3. Benson
    March 6, 2009

    I’ve had an idea or two that I’ve considered developing into something that would fit in this category. Unfortunately, my contract has some nasty clauses about what I can do in my spare time and who owns my ideas. If I did build something like this, they could technically sue me.

  4. Ian Gilman
    March 6, 2009

    True indeed! Here’s mine:

  5. freegabe
    March 6, 2009

    Great article!
    xoxo, gabe

  6. Matt
    March 9, 2009

    It would be really cool if there was a way to link all of these together. It would be like having actually useful facebook apps without having to deal with facebook messing it up. Is there an API or some kind of framework that would allow interaction across sites?

  7. Tarek
    April 13, 2009

    I think the rise of Pico Projects is due to the introduction of new easy to use web development frameworks like Django, CherryPy, Rails etc. Also most of Web services have their own API’s and Widgets, so for me to give people the ability to have Avatars on my service, I can rely on Gravatar, on to let them upload files, I can use Amazon Services (like Baconfile), and to grab their location from their mobile phones, I can rely on FireEagle and its mobile clients. So it is really easy now to focus on your main idea and outsource the other fancy features to external services.

    The cool thing about Pico Project (beside the terminoligy itself) that they are dynamic, the one or two developers there are always ready to add new features to their projects upon request. But their main problem is that are lack the marketing experience, and sometimes if the only developer is more into Coding than UX, the interface and usability are not that clean.

  8. Jeff Lindsay
    April 13, 2009

    Matt, this is sort of what web hooks are about. Web hooks + API + pico apps = composable web.

    Ariel, this is really cool. I’ve been thinking about this genre of applications from an infrastructure standpoint. I’d been calling them micro web services. Maybe pico apps?

  9. BCNMediaLab » Nos gusta demasiado el periodismo
    February 27, 2012

    […] y asumamos desde el principio que se tratan de proyectos como los que Ariel Waldman denominó picoprojects hace ya tres años: Small projects developed by an individual with input from nearby friends as a […]