You may know ketchup can shine copper, but did you know toothpaste can help heal bruises, old mouse pads are great for opening jars, and olive oil promotes healthy cuticles? All of these smart tips and many more were submitted by users on AltUse, a new website now in soft launch.
AltUse is more than just a repository of folk wisdom, however. The site hopes to take advantage of an evolving algorithm (think mini version of Google search) to rate and classify the content.
AltUse points out that the U.S. generates approximately 230 million tons of trash annually, which equates to 4.6 lbs per person every day. However, according to the company, more than 70% of land-filled-waste may be recycled or reused -- or AltUsed in their own lingo. People save money, divert waste, and in some cases stretch their creativity.
I spoke with AltUse's Sherman Oaks, California-based founders, Michael Wheeler and Benjamin Goldfarb, about their project. Ben, the company's president of technology, has launched more than 100 product websites, and holds a degree in environmental studies from Pitzer College in Pomona. His first business was installing solar heaters for swimming pools. Mike, the president for products, served as a brand and Internet marketing manager at Nestle, and comes from a long line of alternative users.
Benjamin Goldfarb: At AltUse we are looking into new ways of doing things, and will hopefully be tapping into this zeitgeist, which started with Obama, and comes from all these exciting progressive and green things happening. We have the AltUse domain registered in the G20 countries and others, and we filed a patent pending on our user ratings. We think downstream we will be able to license that rating system. So one day a consumer will go into a store, and they will be able to see the AltUse rating of products, and see what other consumers really think about them.
Our values are in line with what we're doing politically and spirituality. Mike and I met back at Nestle, when we were working in the CPG [consumer packaged goods] industry. That industry is always looking for ways of extending usability of products.
Michael Wheeler: Studies show that 20-30% of what consumers buy they either use only partially or not at all. If we can help people use things in other ways we can add additional value to things.
Ben: The other thing we're excited about is tapping into the collective wisdom of the world. In other countries, especially in the developing world, alternative uses for things are more common. We have to change the approach here of using things once and throwing them away. We think we have an interesting value proposition that may take a little time for Americans to get with. When we explain things to people they usually understand it pretty quickly.
There are sites out there in this space that are vertical, like "1000 uses for salt," or whatever. Ours is totally horizontal, it can be about anything. We have topics organized by items [such as vinegar, toothpaste or aspirin] and by solutions [such as cleaning or healing]. We built this patent pending rating system that assigns everything 0 to 5 stars. We hired a Caltech statistician to help us come up with that. We have to have more data for the ratings to be more valuable, you know we just have a few hundred to start. We want to tap into the power of consumers to help us, it will be self policing, and we think the best ones will percolate to the top, especially when there are millions of entries. I mean you could put anything in there.
Mike: Remember that many of these alternative uses are inherently green, because you're using something you already had on your shelf, which you probably weren't going to use, instead of buying something new.
TDG: How does this build on social news sites like Digg and other crowdsourcing movements?
Mike: There are some similarities. With Digg you have people vote, but here we have a rating system that includes not just votes. We look at a number of variables, including ease of transformation [how easy is it to modify the object for another use], value savings (by using it in a different way there are certain savings), whether the alternative use works, etc. Our algorithm comes up with a score. Certain variables may have more importance. You have to have an email account to vote.
Ben: We're also working on a Facebook app, to be able to rate how "alt use" individuals are...When Mike and I were sitting in a Starbucks on Ventura Blvd, which we were using as an office you know, we were thinking about this and what to call it. When we saw that the AltUse domain was available we couldn't believe it, and thought it was almost spiritual, how it encapsulated everything so perfectly.
So here's a selection from AltUse so far. Log on and add your own!
Star rating: 3
Apply toothpaste at night and in the morning the discoloration will be minimized.
Star rating: 2.5
Use a mouse pad (the underside) to open tight jars.
Star rating: 2.5
Rub olive oil daily on notoriously dry areas, such as your feet or elbows, especially after a shower, shaving, or waxing.
Star rating: 5
Place the CD on an end table or a coffee table to add a touch of music to your drink experience.
Star rating: 5
Wipe the lenses with a soft, clean cloth dampened with vodka. The alcohol in the vodka cleans the glass and kills germs.
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