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Getting Featured On Hacker News
Posted by Doug on Wed May 8, 2019
Long story short, I submitted Thoughter to Hacker News about a month ago and got the top spot on the front page for a few hours. It remained on the front page for about a day. It may sound strange but I actually don't know how many people visited this site as a result. Unfortunately I set some rather insane ground rules around privacy and now I can't break them. It's alright though, measuring things makes me anxious anyway. I estimate between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors[1] but that could be way off in either direction. 420 people pushed thoughts and 45 of them got matched. I also got 6 subscribers who are avidly reading this now and telling their friends and posting to social media. Nudge nudge. I whipped up a quick stats page using what little information I do collect in the event table. And here's further proof about the top spot front page thing:

That's right, I'm kind of a big deal now, so for my memoires let's go over how it happened: There I was on April 3rd after a long day of work and kids and house and stress and cold rain. I was feeling down in the dumps and wanted to revel in my misery a bit more by submitting Thoughter to Hacker News. HN is a very popular tech news site and one of its features is that you can submit personal projects for random internet people to frown down on. As you can see from my submission history, I have decent practice at this. I usually get a few comments and upvotes on my projects, some useful criticism. I give my thanks to the few people who comment, then move on.

This day was destined to be different though! I was honestly so jaded that I didn't even check for comments after submitting. I mean I would have checked later that night, sure, but I wasn't refreshing the comments section every few seconds like I usually did. In fact I had kind of forgotten about the whole thing for an hour or two when suddenly I get an email from Hacker News moderators themselves. Now keep in mind that I've been thoroughly conditioned by the red notification dots on my computer: red dot equals bad. Nothing ever good comes from red dots. So when I see this particular red dot I automatically assume I've done something shameful, banned from Hacker News for submitting such garbage. It's irrational I know but hey those shoulders tense up all by themselves, nothing I can do about it!

So I open up the email, wincing in anticipation. And what do I find but praise! Praise from the actual moderators behind the curtains at Hacker News. Those who have seen it all and are presumably even more jaded than I. I'm still frightened and confused at first, thinking it must be a trick, but as I read more of the email a strange warm feeling grows in my belly. This feeling frightens me also at first, but for just this moment I choose to let my guard down and continue reading. The moderators suggest adding a comment to my submission with some backstory, which I do right away. They finish the email by wishing me luck and I sit there with a dumb smile on my face.

Even after that email I can't imagine what's about to happen. As I refresh the page I see my submission racing to the top position, gathering comments and upvotes like fleas on fresh compost. I now experience a new kind of anxiety, but this is a nice feeling. What is this? It drives me to start replying to the flood of comments with enthusiasm. So weird! I got so much great feedback I don't know where to begin giving thanks. I made a big list of everything that I could take care of over the next few weeks and started thinking about the longer-term improvements like social media integration and mobile apps that were suggested a few times. I got nine emails from various people as well, not counting a surprising amount of a totally unexpected kind of email, but I'll get to that in a follow-on blog post. The emails either said what a cool idea it was, or offered help/partnership, or wanted me to submit Thoughter to their site, or were trying to sell me something, but nothing in a sleazy way. They were all positive emails.

Before submitting to HN I had no real plans for continuing Thoughter. I brought it to a rock solid MVP that I was proud of and hoped it got some attention here and there. But with so much feedback now, both positive and negative, I feel a drive to continue improving it. I plan to submit an update again when I get some integration going with Facebook, Twitter, etc. so that email addresses aren't required. Thank you to everyone who looked and commented and upvoted on HN, and to the HN moderators for taking the time to email me. If you're down in the dumps like I was, try getting minorly Internet famous like I did. If that doesn't work, try giving some love to people putting themselves out there, or even some hate. Anything is better than crickets. Everyone needs recognition as much as you. The universe will give it back to you eventually.

[1] There was a good amount of discussion on this point, e.g. here. A few people shared their stats that said they got 15,000-20,000 visitors from similar front-page exposure. However they were all using Google Analytics, which is blocked by HN visitors through ad blockers and such at a much higher ratio than the general population. I used a request/second metric over a day to come to my estimate of at least 50,000, which I actually believe more strongly in now after the HN discussion.
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