Awareness through popular propagation
As I understand it, quite a number of now popular Web sites gained their widespread awareness and popularity simply through of voluntary word of mouth or, rather, word of keyboard and fingers. By way of Web logs, chat rooms, instant messaging and forums, the Internet makes this process especially effective. Web site addresses can be spread rapidly through the variety of communication methods available. Instead of trying to force a new site down everyone’s throats whether they like it or not, you let people be the judge of what is and is not valuable and they will make sure their friends know about it.
So why am I immune to this phenomenon? Take for example ThinkNerd. ThinkNerd was born on Firetrack (my old home server box) and I told various Internet acquaintances about it while it was under development; acquaintances who I felt would enjoy it, and generally did indeed enjoy it. But the number of unique visitors to ThinkNerd whilst it was on Firetrack was less than the amount of people I told about it. Not counting all the people who ignored me flat out – seemingly very common on instant messaging even among “friends” – clearly people were not telling their friends about it and spreading the fun. (The only good explanation I can imagine is that they all thought it was private and not to be spread around. It wasn’t.)
It is the way it always goes for me. Gorillas Deluxe achieved its popularity back when it was on Firetrack solely through being found by Google searches. I didn’t spread the message about it and was surprised to find that it had been discovered by quite a few people. It is still a popular hit with Google, but strangely it rarely receives a link from another site. It’s quite common for people to steal my bandwidth by using one of the screenshots that looks like classical Gorillas to illustrate Gorillas on a forum or Web log (including Slashdot), but none of them ever mention Gorillas Deluxe on that same page nor do they generally link back to my page. Gorillas Deluxe is over a year’s work and a lot of new code, and deserves independent recognition.
Other projects formed on Firetrack (which was sometimes my development ground) also never got spread around, including the OS specifications project, even after it was posted on the community site TheTED where it could be seen by technical folk. When I finally posted my screenshots archive at the beginning of the year (2005) and told people about it, I also found that no-one passed word of that around, as it received virtually no hits at all. It does receive hits now, but I imagine (without running my log through Excel) that these originate also from search engine hits, such as all the people who found the Sad iPod photo of Strider’s that I put up.
The vast majority of page hits on my site seem to originate from search engine results; I guess this is a good thing in itself as many people seem to have trouble with that stage alone. But it is much more encouraging as a developer and content creator to see personal recommendations of your work on community sites, Web logs, and personal homepages. You then get a better feeling of how people view your work, than when you observe that the number of exit page results for a suddenly popular page on your site matches the number of entry page results for the same page.
ThinkNerd did get a shout out by Alice Taylor in a limited context of two shirt designs. There was clear interest in the designs but after some effort on virtually my part alone, nothing came of the attempts to get those two shirts printed by parties recommended by Alice.
Overall, I guess that I am simply too uncool to be popular on the Net. I find this surprising in one sense (the Internet is a huge place with room for everyone and is hardly short of fellow nerds), but in another sense it makes sense really. Certainly with my software it figures, as I am very much a niche programmer and it is not reasonable to expect most people to be particularly interested in what I produce. That, and I don’t use barrel-loads of eye candy. The one program that did generate a lot of feature requests was Quick Calendar; I did entertain one or two requests but the majority were simply out of scope for the intent of the program and would set a precedent that would have led it to become bloated and overcomplicated. It is frustrating that the only program that received anything close to a decent level of interest was the only one that had no room to grow, and left me feeling bad for not giving people what they really wanted. With a worthwhile develoment environment I could have easily managed two parallel builds but REALbasic 3 makes it a nightmare to even localise software as it is, let alone conditionally compile or support plugins.
I certainly do get links to my apps from other sites but they are predominantly bare-bones Japanese software directories that appear to say very little if anything (I can’t read Japanese) about the huge amounts of applications of the same category that they fit onto a single page.
I guess I shall have to remain content with search engine hits but it feels nice every now and then to discover that someone has personally recommended a visit to my site or a page therein. Do I expect too much of the Internet?