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.

Filed under: WTF, projects