A few weeks back, I shared a story dubbed Power Of Press in my daily email. In an attempt to balance how much of the story supported the lesson—much of which felt like a giant humblebrag—the post became a 2,419 word behemoth. For those brave enough to read it through to the very bottom, I made an offer.
If you send me a screenshot of your review, I will give thirty minutes of my time. During that time, I will learn (more) about you and do something to move you forward in a quantifiable way.
Bill Broughton was one of the people to take me up on that offer and the day of our call, he told me about this “silly project” he had created. His app—detailed at length below—followed a simple formula:
We spent the majority of our time talking about how he could most effectively submit the project to Reddit and convert the interest to profitable business (in some form). We talked about the need for a sturdy server, timely submission to a relevant subreddit, passive prompts to follow or subscribe, etc.
Bill was largely prepared, but immensly frightened. While the “silly project” concept is a great way to attract massive traffic and showcase your skills, I could tell he was timid to move forward. It’s easy to get lost in the lie that “business needs to be treated professionally” so I shared it with a few programmers to get him feedback from outside of his social circle. The first of which was the infamous Ms. Button Nose:
After sharing these with Bill he responded:
This is amazing! I seriously cannot thank you enough for sharing that with some people. This ties back perfectly to Disqualification of Praise since I have a hard time accepting praise, particularly from people I know. I got similar responses from the friends that I shared this with, but my knee-jerk reaction was to say “well, they’re my friends, so of course they’ll say nice things.” I have been getting better about saying thank you and not playing down the praise though, it’s something that I have been consciously working on for a while.
He ultimately submitted the project to Reddit and discovered firsthand what happens when you wrap your skills in a blanket of humor that your peers are more than happy to promote. Take it away Bill…
tl;dr – Frustration with selecting a programming language turned into a goofy ass website. That goofy ass website got a ton of traffic and is (totally unexpectedly) bringing in paying work.
I’d been endlessly drifting and unable to find direction on what programming language to learn next. Reading documentation, wikipedia pages, and blogger rants wasn’t getting me anywhere. The selection of a programming language is as much of a subjective decision as it was objective. With the information gathered growing equivalently to my frustration, I decided to throw together a tongue-in-cheek decision tree for others facing the same problem.
It took 4 hours to put together the site. Most of that time was spent writing the content and not code, which you can see pretty clearly if you take a look at the app.js file. I worked on it over one weekend in the mornings while my kids were still asleep and there was a little time to do some focused work.
The final product was mildly humorous so I shared it with a few friends and got a surprisingly positive response. Honestly, I thought some of the writing was shit, but then again they’re my friends so no one was going to tear me apart. Based on the response from those friends I thought some other people in the dev community would get a kick out of it so I decided to put it up on reddit.
I posted the link on /r/InternetIsBeautiful figuring that was probably the best audience for the site. The link was posted around noon (EST) and went back to work not expecting much to come of it. I looked at Google Analytics an hour later and there were around 3,500 active users on the site!!! My first thought was “Holy shit, this is awesome!” followed quickly by “Holy shit, hopefully the site doesn’t crash!” Fortunately, the site never crashed. A big thanks goes out to CloudFlare (not an affiliate link) for keeping things running.
The post hit the front page at 5:50PM EST. At that point there were around 6,000 active users on the site and traffic held steady at over 5,000 active users until just before 8:00 pm when a mod took down the post claiming “Not unique” content. I tried a soft appeal, but it didn’t go anywhere. Even after they took it down, the site was still seeing around 3,000 active users based on shares on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. All told, the original post got 4069 upvotes and had 1187 comments. I tried to reply to as many comments as possible, but I got totally overwhelmed by the volume.
I only posted the one link on r/InternetIsBeautiful, but the site got a ton of social shares. It was cross posted in r/programmerhumor, r/programmingcirclejerk, r/hackernews, and r/momsbox. The post in r/programmerhumor has 2,234 upvotes and 291 comments. The site also got 1,083 shares on Facebook, 55 +1s on Google+, 103 shares on LinkedIn, and 1 lonely share on Pinterest (thank you sharedcount.com!). The exact number of Twitter shares isn’t available because of their API changes, but I counted over 300.
On the day of the post, the site had 324,074 sessions and 310,454 unique visitors. Average session duration was 0:35 and 95.8% were new sessions. Around half the traffic came from reddit and the rest came from social shares and direct links. The cryptic email form that you filled out got 364 submissions, of which around 220 were valid emails. Most of the rest were some variation of [email protected] It was shocking to see any emails come in based on the anti-value proposition on the capture site. It was even more shocking to see emails from people at some serious businesses.
In the days following, some updates were made to the site based on user requests. By far the most popular request was a “Back” button to go back one step so they weren’t required to start from the beginning every time. That was the first update. Permalinks and social sharing were added later.
The site has received another 50,000+ visitors since the day of the original post, which feels more impressive than the initial burst. It’s still averaging around 500 users a day.
I didn’t have a portfolio page or anything set up to take advantage of the traffic. I was just out to make a couple of people laugh and it totally blew up. Within a week, my portfolio site was up but I had missed most of the traffic by that point. Despite my complete lack of preparation or motive to profit from making the site, some cool stuff has come directly as a result of the project.
- Met someone that knew of me through the site, no financial benefit, but a totally surreal experience
- Introduction to Chris Stoikos of Dollar Beard Club fame, currently talking about a project
- Contacted by a company building a SaaS project with some potential project work
- Contacted by a local company about a full-time job
All of that from a dumb idea that was unnecessarily over-executed.
Tech specs for the nerds
- Twitter Bootstrap (CSS only)
- Data is stored as a simple JSON object in app.js
- Site hosted on Nginx running on a small gear on OpenShift by RedHat
- CloudFlare CDN (thank you baby Jesus)
- Mautic for email collection
- Google Analytics
Bill Broughton is now a Co-Teacher within Ghost Influence where he teaches members how to strategize, build, and launch projects that attract new clients. Stop wasting time and money forcing an agenda, create messages designed to be carried. Let your brand, business, and profits become bigger than your voice, join Ghost Influence.