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Cover image for What the Hacker News Front Page did for my app

What the Hacker News Front Page did for my app

garysieling profile image Gary Sieling ・3 min read

On Sunday night, I posted a "Show HN", for a side project https://www.findlectures.com:

HN Submission

Luckily, I made it to the front page before WWDC coverage started. While the site was on the front page, I had roughly 50 concurrent users at any point.

HN Traffic

Previously the site was featured on TNW and Lifehacker, roughly concurrently, which was about double the traffic from HN:

TNW and LifeHacker Traffic

Side projects by their nature tend not to be polished - during this event, the folks on HN reported roughly fifteen issues, including a critical CSS issue on mobile, and an out of memory error on my Solr server.

During the previous traffic spike, I gained an appreciation for being able to quickly deploy changes (basically, use Heroku), so I was able to fix these quickly.

Since the last spike I have been instrumenting the site to get more feedback, which really paid off.

I have an email list of my "best of" talks, and on sign-up, it asks people if they have favorite speakers, or topics of interest.

Email Signups

Of email signups, 50% fill out the feedback form, which is about 100 times higher than I expected. From Hacker News, I got about 75 messages recommending speakers I should index.

Typeform Image

Most of these notes were positive. A few were less so, and it's important to remember that is difficult for commenters to be empathetic through a screen, so a few people will forget that there are real people behind a project.

Typeform Image of a piece of feedback

In the emails I send out, I also request feedback on the individual emails. On average 1% of recipients use this each week. I got an 3-4 notes from Hacker News readers who signed up, which is higher than normal (if you want to replicate this, use this awesome demo from codepen).

In Email Feedback

I recently added an functionality to get feedback on individual videos. There was no way to know if anyone would use this, but during this traffic spike, I was pleased to see several people make it through the different paths.

Video Feedback

In Email Feedback

Negative Video Feedback

I'm also logging how far people get into videos, in Google Analytics, hoping that I can eventually train a machine learning model to improve the ranking:

Google Analytics Events

In the end, the effect of the HN Front Page is over a hundred pieces of qualitative feedback, as well as several bits of data that I can use to improve the site for the future.

Discussion

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Sounds like people were very receptive to our app :)

it's important to remember that is difficult for commenters to be empathetic through a screen.

Really really good advice.

 

Yeah, I've been surprised how positive it's been, although it helps to have something free :)

 

Hey, not sure what your Solr index size is or what your user count is at now, but that Heroku Solr cost seems fairly large for this side project.

You might want to consider looking at Solr on Google Cloud. With a $300 credit from them, I've only paid cents for the past month or two, but I haven't launched to a lot of traffic yet.

Mostly just letting you know that Solr on GC is possible and maybe it could save you a little cash.

 

I'm not using the Heroku Solr, aside from the pricing they don't seem to let you use a custom data model, whereas I just wanted to zip the index and upload it.

I have a VM running at Linode, which is unfortunately a different datacenter, but it only added about 25ms to the result times. Google Cloud is an interesting option though!

 

Ah, gotcha, I was going off your Donation page on findlectures.com that mentioned Heroku Solr at $50/month.

So far so good with Google Cloud and Solr. There's a Bitnami Solr image that I used to get it all set up and with that credit I haven't paid anything yet (though I don't have your traffic of course).

Cool project by the way. :)

EDIT: Oh, looks like another article on dev.to talks about GC vs AWS so that might be handy for you: dev.to/bugfenderapp/google-cloud-p... if you haven't looked into it (not that you're using AWS for this, but insight anyway).

Good point, I should update the donation page!

Memory use has been the big issue, rather than traffic. It seems like solr uses RAM proportional to disk space to run well (1-2x maybe?), so I've hit limits as I grow the index, but I'm still figuring that out.

Once I made it so you can search closed captions, and see what time in the video matched, the index started getting bigger a lot faster (that is timings + caption, and a non-timed version of the transcript).

 

congrats and nice work. Did you time out your HN post strategically or was it mostly random?

 

I initially thought it would be good to be at the beginning of the week, but you can see the traffic dies off fast enough that it doesn't matter that much. I didn't do much timing, other than trying to avoid Memorial Day week.

When I write more, I try to spread it around (e.g. if I was targeting a particular subreddit, I don't want to have multiple posts there at once, or it starts to irritate people)

 

Right. I guess that PH's audience is international enough that it's not subject to any sort of time zone bias