ITP Thesis: Pool It
Pool It is the name of my ITP thesis. It's a service that makes advance group purchases among friends simple and fun. Pool it is my attempt to solve what I think is a very common but largely unaddressed ignored problem: buying something with friends and then not being paid back can be really, really awkward.
Let's say that you want to buy a special birthday cake for a friend. The cake is from a well-known bakery that your friend loves. You think this would be a nice birthday surprise but, sadly, the cake costs over a hundred dollars, which is a bit our of your reach. You really want to make this happen, so you ask your mutual friends to chip in.
In strict economic terms, the most difficult person to convince is also the first person to say yes. If you're going to make this cake happen, you need at least one other person willing to split the cake fifty-fifty; in the case of this particular cake, that amounts to about 50 dollars. Chances are you'll find that person easily, but chances also are that you might not. Once you do, finding the third person will be a lot easier because the cost per person has dropped drastically (from 100 dollars, to 50, to 33), and will continue to get easier as more friends jump on the bandwagon. When the cost of the thing you are trying to buy is fixed, the more people participate means a lower barrier to entry, which in turn motivates more people to participate, etc.
This may all sound really obvious, yet there are no good, real-life ways to kick these pools into motion. Think about it this: let's say you managed to enlist 9 friends to chip in equal parts for the bakery cake. After taxes, the cake comes out to $108. Each person is happy to dish out 12 bucks to help the cause, but when are you going to find the time to meet with 8 different people and collect 12 bucks from them? If both of you have to drive, or take the subway, or meet during your lunch hour, the idea of getting this cake all of a sudden starts becoming a little to difficult.
Yet some people, which I like to refer to as "power organizers", will go through tremendous effort to make events like these happen all around us, all the time. They like doing stuff like this and, as a power organizer myself, I think it's because we see the greater social benefit that comes from buying the cake. There is a sense of accomplishment, of social identity that is magnified greatly when people do things together.
So I asked myself, wouldn't it be nice if there was some tool out there that leveraged social media, the internet and online payments to make this happen just a little bit easier? And that's how Pool It was born.
The user experience is focused entirely on empowering the organizer and making the decision process as straightforward as possible. Organizers create a "pool", designate a price, and designate a minimum number of participants for the pool to kick in. Then they send an invitation to their friends, explaining the conditions of the pool and asking them to join. If, for example, we wanted to use Pool It to buy our friend's cake, I would send an email invitation explaining that I (we) want to buy a special $108 dollar cake and that, if 9 of us chip in, we can get it for $12 each.
People who accept must create a Pool It account and link a payment form for this account. When the minimum number of people accept, the pool kicks in and everyone gets charged the same amount automatically. If more people buy into the pool, the early adopters get some money back. The money is deposited directly into the organizers account, and now he or she can go buy the cake. Et voila!
Pool It is currently still under development. If you have more questions or want to collaborate, feel free to contact me.