WTFLevel - Unexpected Success
A couple of weeks ago, I launched WTFLevel. It was an idea that I originally conceived several years ago, but it took a long time before I got around to building it. Other things came first. A huge chunk of my life is filled with parenting, working for Bandzoogle, taking care of our house, etc. But I always try to push myself to have a creative project of some sort that I can work on in my spare time. And I have a huge list of ridiculous things I'd like to work on someday. Lucky for me, I have an awesome partner who supports my projects, even when they drive her crazy.
When it comes to personal projects, I work on things that will make me happy. Broad appeal is never a big factor for me – if it was, I wouldn't devote time to reviews of books not worth reviewing, and things like random name generators. The Twitter bots I've written are all bots that I wanted to see, and in the past when people have asked me to write one for them, I have always turned them down.
My biggest problem with personal projects is knowing when to let go. I started coding WTFLevel a couple months ago, and tinkered with it endlessly. I probably didn't spend more than 12 hours actually working on it, spread over a couple of evenings, before it was a fully functional website - basically what it looks like now. But then I spent forever fiddling with the layout, colors, etc, and convincing myself that no one would like it and that the concept was lame.
Eventually I gave myself the goal of launching the site in time for Election Night. The day before the election, I forced myself to stop tinkering and I published the site. I posted about it on Twitter and Facebook, and let my friends know the URL.
I was pretty happy with the response. I got a few hundred visits in the first week, and a lot of positive feedback, which was more than I expected. I was glad to have launched it in time for the election - the swearing levels that night were insanely high - only the shitstorm that was Hurricane Sandy has even gotten close. Traffic dropped off a day or two after the election, and I was satisfied that it had been an interesting project that would probably not get too much more interest.
At the end of that week, when the craze had worn off, I was fiddling with some data, and checking the logs to make sure that a change I had made was working properly, and I noticed that the site was getting traffic. A lot of traffic. After a little poking around I discovered that someone had posted the site to metafilter. That was pretty exciting! It turns out that a friend of mine told another friend, who posted it to metafilter, and after that, things got crazy.
Within a couple of days, WTFLevel was posted on theverge, reddit, a bunch of design-related sites, and the NBC News technology blog. In all, the site has gotten around 20,000 visitors, and a lot of mentions on Twitter. @wtflevel currently has well over 200 followers. The traffic has calmed down again, but I've still been getting hundreds of visits a day.
One of the things that has made me happiest is that someone used the public API I wrote up to make an Android App - not bad!
For some people, this wouldn't be a big deal, but it makes it one of the biggest random projects I've ever worked on. Anyway, I'll continue to fiddle with the site, especially once there's a couple months of data to analyze, but so far I've been really happy with how things have worked out. It feels really good to have something take off like this.