I was simultaneously thrilled and emotionally crushed to find out about the web site BillMonk.com this morning. For years, I have wanted to build a web site that lets friends or roommates track expenses that they share. I have been thinking about it ever since I went on a trip to Hawaii with a group of people in 1994. Each of us would take turns paying for things on the trip. We wrote down each transaction and at the end of the trip, I had to figure out how we could pay each other back with the least number of payments.
Since then, I have worked on some software algorithms that determine just that. In the past few months, I designed a database schema and wrote a middle tier in Java to support a web site that would let anyone keep track of such shared explenses. I was just about to start working on the user interface when a co-worker of mine told me about BillMonk, which just launched in Jan 2006.
BillMonk turns out to be an awesome implementation of the same web site I was trying to build. They even made it possible to interact with their application via cell phones - something I was planning to do eventually. Their user interface is clean and simple and they do a good job of communicating the purpose of the site to new users. Reading about their company, which is only 2 people, I saw that they built the site using open source technologies like Ruby on Rails, PostgreSQL, and Linux. I was planning on using many open source frameworks as well, except that I was going to use Java rather than Ruby.
Seeing that some other people built almost the same exact web site that I was going to build and did a great job at it really took the wind out of my sails. I was kind of sad today, as I thought that I was going to build something new and cool that hasn't been done before. Oh well. I'm going to start looking for some other project to work on and sign up for BillMonk.