Back in the salad days of ecommerce, I worked for a website that sold cars. Sounds a little odd but it worked, though not well enough to best its competitors, one of whom absorbed it. As the only marcom guy there, I was approached often for the inevitable side-projects my co-workers were launching. One gentleman was leaving in order to start his own company and wanted to hire me to edit his web copy. To this day, I am proud that I was able to master my expression as I looked over his draft. His company was an online dry-cleaning service. Go ahead and re-read that last sentence. It was the dumbest idea I had ever heard and it remains my hallmark for dumb ideas to this day.

Now we are in a new era, that of the Social Web. But just as we take our positive qualities with us through time - intellect, compassion, inventiveness - we also take our dumbness. Today I came across two ideas - one a process, the other a product - that shot me back in time to the moment I first read about online dry-cleaning. Both, horribly enough, are food-related; and both are profoundly dumb.

Photo by Ed Schipul

The Answer to a Question No One's Asking

A design engineering student at the Royal College of Art in London named Hannes Harms has decided that we need radio frequency identification tags in our food. Technology Review quotes him asking, "What if there were a way to embed data directly into food?"

"What if" Hannes? Nothing, that's what! No one on God's green earth wants to crap out RFID tags.

Hannes, bless his glue-sniffing soul, believes, "RFID-tagged food would...enable a whole new food system, which he terms 'NutriSmart.' Bar codes on food packaging would become obsolete...and refrigerators...would be able to warn us when our food is about to spoil."

Sniff it. You only have to sniff it.

Even if this were not the very definition of The Answer to a Question No One's Asking, the term "NutriSmart" alone would make me cringe.

A Solution that Doesn't Work to a Problem that Doesn't Exist

Seattle recipe software company BigOven has introduced RecipeScan. Initially, it sounds like magic (or very advanced science). You use your mobile phone to snap a photo of a dish and you get the recipe!

Sort of.

Well, not at all actually.

After you take your photo and upload it via the app, BigOven eventually sends you a recipe for something. No, not for that particular bowl of phad thai or that kind of cheesecake, just for a phad thai or a cheesecake. (And here's me thinking its some kind of groundbreaking mobile spectrometry.)

It seems that a company full of grown-ass men and women thought that you needed an app that would allow you to take a photo and then wait while someone else found you a recipe for something else.

This time it was GeekWire asking the completely unnecessary question.

"Have you ever wanted a copy of your best friend's chocolate chip cookie recipe, but don't have the patience to copy down all of the ingredients?"

No. Of course I haven't. No one has.

Let me be uncharacteristically blunt

To quote H.L. Mencken, each of these is an idea "so bad a sort of grandeur creeps into it." We're fair enough here at ReadWriteWeb, I think. But sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade.

That said, if you think I've missed something here, some essential genius in the products, some implication only a mind of great subtly could detect, by all means (to quote Mencken again) administer me "a harsh corrective" in the comments. On the other hand, if you believe you've encountered an idea even dumber, then you just know I want to hear about that as well.