March 12, 2013

Sunday Night on Hacker News

A while back, I had the idea for an online interview site devoted to talking with people who build things on their own time. The hackers, designers, writers, and artists that can’t help but to use their free time working on projects they love. I got a quick page up with a proposal for what the site will be, a sign up form for an email newsletter, and a call to builders everywhere to hit me up to chat about their projects. Then I submitted it to Hacker News.

I was hoping to get a few emails and the opportunity to talk to some cool people. What I got instead blew my mind. Late on Sunday night, my submission started to get a few upvotes. It quickly hit the front page and I watched with excitement as it rose up to the #2 spot. I’m glad it never hit #1, as the story about a Donkey Kong hacking dad is way cooler than my humble little submission. It remained on the front page for 14 hours, much of that time at #2 (I’m looking at you, Bono). Here’s an overview of what I got in return.

Some Stats

Once it was off the front page, I figured it was an OK time to start looking at stats. I’d been watching Google Analytics Real-Time Overview, which was awesome, but wanted to see the totals as traffic died down. This morning I took a peak at my analytics and was stunned to see around 16,000 unique visitors, and over 18,000 page views. I couldn’t stop pestering my wife, I was so excited. I never expected to see that kind of response, and can’t even imagine what the stats must be like for some of the big hitters on HN.

The MailChimp newsletter was equally mind-blowing. Having spent a lot of time in the past doing HTML email marketing, I am always cynical about people actually signing up for newsletters. I expected to see maybe a dozen people sign up (not including my 4-5 test emails accounts). I currently have a little over 1,000 subscribers. Don’t worry guys, I won’t let you down. No spam and always quick shit that’s straight to the point.

The best part about all of this? The email response. I expected to see a few inquiries for interviews, but I ended up spending all of last night wading through over 200 emails from people interested in talking about their projects. I’m sure other people deal with inboxes like this all the time, but this is new to me, and it is amazing. I am astonished at all of the cool work that people are doing and excited that they want to share it with me.

The Feedback

An unexpected (although I suppose it shouldn’t have been) outcome of the attention from HN was the strong response to the design of the site itself. I intentionally chose to mimic a dark-themed coding environment with the color choices, similar to what I use in Sublime Text. I thought it was cheeky and fun and fit with the feel of the site. While there was some support in that view, there was a lot of criticism about the low contrast and negative impact on readability.

After getting so much feedback about that, I actually tend to agree. While I think the dark background was cute and a little on the witty side, I want to grow We Build At Night into something that is useful, inspiring, and fun to read. I hate causing users and readers pain, so with the launch of the first feature, I will be showing off a light color theme that addresses a lot of the issues with the low contrast text. It was something I never really considered when cooking up the idea, but I am very grateful that so many people pointed it out. I’d rather it be easy and enjoyable to read than cheeky and a shit experience.

The Best Part

The most enjoyable part of being on the front page of HN by far was the response from the community of people making things. It is amazing and humbling to see some of the projects that people are coming up with, even more so since they want to share them with me. I have seen tons of work from small little libraries to full-fledged products and potential future businesses, and it’s cool as hell.

I still have a ton of work to do, and a lot of emails to go through (they are still rolling in at about 5 an hour). There is no way I can respond to them all, but the ones I am most interested in will be getting some emails from me throughout the week. I already have a few emails out and (hopefully) the first feature interview in process. I plan on launching the first feature sometime next week (if all goes well), so keep tuned. After that my goal is to publish something once a week.

Obviously this is a side-project for me. I may not always hit my goals, but I will do everything I can with the time I have to meet them and keep this thing going. I think there is a lot of interest in smaller builders discussing their projects, processes, tools, and goals, and I want to foster that interest as much as I can.

I am happy that so many of you want to help me out in the process.