Beta List is a blog which hopes to allow you to "be the first to discover and get access to the latest internet startups". I can't remember where I came across it, but I’ve been following via RSS for a little while now. It’s kind of fun because not only do they occasionally throw you a new service that’s actually potentially useful but also it’s a little insight into what start-ups are out there and what they're doing.

For me personally I find it a fascinating window into a certain type of web design. Obviously these sites tend to be very much single page affairs. They're asking you to sign up for a beta testing phase or they're at a kind "invite only" stage of development so you tend to get a little teaser of information and a sign-up box. What’s interesting is the way that for a lot of these there seems now to have emerged a standard for pages of this type which look almost identical. You might not always notice this if you happened to come across these sites randomly or via some other method but having them presented in a list like this just makes those similarities pop out.

There's clearly some kind of method to this. If a standard emerges for start-up home pages then people immediately know what is happening, what to expect and what not to expect. The thing that amuses me is that you'd expect that sites like this are attempting to grab your interest and attention and yet on the whole very few do a lot to stand out from the crowd. Also due to this and the frequent lack of much more information I can't stop myself from mentally constructing little back-stories for them and making sweeping judgements based on the tiniest difference (e.g. use stock photography and too many buzz-words and I'm immediately imagining a load of marketing wonks with nothing but and idea and a homepage - probably entirely unfairly!).

Occasionally you get something a little different. I love the <canvas> animating rain clouds on the left of the dropr page.

Speaking of buzz-words that’s another wonderful thing about having all these sites march past you in a constant stream. You get a real sense for what the buzz-words of the moment really are. Or at least I think you do. I constantly find myself thinking "haven't I already seen 3 others offering this?" but I rarely go back and check.

I got a sort of job offer the other day from someone with an idea for a service. They weren't able to tell me much but they happened to mention Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Now, I'm sure their idea was great, it may well have been completely original and revolutionary (I was only getting the briefest of summaries) but the mention of those three services and a couple of other things reminded me of and made me wonder whether I was right to feel like I'd been hearing this kind of thing a lot lately.

So I knocked up a quick PHP script. Grabbed all the links from Betalist’s helpful archive page (~350 sites). Then, using regex skills I probably hadn't put into use since working with the Ananova news spider in 2000, I managed to scrape all the short descriptions from the pages of Betalist. I took all that text and fed it into Wordle. The results are below:

So... if you're working on a New Online Service / Platform to Allow People a Way to Create and Share Information / Content with Friends, if you're going to deploy it to Web and Mobile, if you're thinking it'll be a bit like Facebook or Twitter and, more than anything else, if you're thinking it’s going to be Social maybe it’s worth baring in mind that there's a few other people who might have the same idea.

On the other hand: how much would "search" have dominated the picture above before Google entered the market? There's always room for improvement! ;-)