On Sunday July 3 I started coding on a top 100 list for Google+. A few days before I was invited to this new and exciting social networking experiment by Google. As I was browsing around I noticed there was a public page with a few statistics. Like the number of people you have in Circles (your friends) and how many people have added you to their Circles (your followers).
That looked familiar.
You see, a few years ago (on June 7, 2008) I spent a weekend building TwitterCounter.com, a statistics service for Twitter. It has 4 full-time employees now and grew to become a very profitable business and the biggest statistics provider for Twitter since that one weekend in 2008.
When I noticed that Google+ might become popular and that I could build a script to get the following and followers numbers I didn’t think about it too long and started hacking away. On Monday morning the lead developer for TwitterCounter joined me and together we built a first version of a top 100 for Google+.
At 5pm Mathys van Abbe from Mobypicture dropped by the offices and watched me adding the first 30 profiles to the service. He said “That looks cool. Did you announce it yet?”. I hadn’t so he said “I guess you don’t mind me tweeting about it then?”
And he did:
@Mathys “the spider algoritm of http://socialstatistics.com #secretproject”
Within minutes people started adding their profiles and the profiles of others. Pretty soon we had more than 100 profiles in the database and the database was complete. Sort of.
Right away we noticed that Mark Zuckerberg had a lot of followers. Our first entry for him came in at 21,213 followers. Considerably more than Larry Page, at 14,798 followers. We thought that was pretty funny and happily continued coding and adding new features.
Then other sites started noticing. Most notably: CNN, Fox News, Time.com, LA Times,Techcrunch, Yahoo! News, The Washington Post, Business Insider, MSNBC, Forbes, PC Mag,Rolling Stone, The New York Times and our own The Next Web of course.
You can imagine this brought on a massive amount of visitors. In less than 7 days we generated more than 1 million page views for more than 300,000 unique visitors. Those visitors also added 20,000 accounts to SocialStatistics.com. Check the site for a live update on the amazing amounts of Like, +1 and retweets. It has been an amazing week.
An amazing week and not just for all those awesome numbers. We also generated some revenue. You see, at Twitter Counter one of the ways we generate revenue is by showing ‘featured users‘. So when we started seeing some traction for Social Statistics we decided to not reinvent the wheel and offer featured users there too. And it worked.
We sold 8 weeks of Featured User spots and are still working our way through hundreds of emails with requests for more featured user spots. It looks like we will be able to pay for hosting for the coming 6 months, and maybe even an extra developer.
So, the moral of this story? If you have an idea don’t spend weeks thinking about it. Take a few days to launch a working prototype and see if that works. Don’t wait for other people to steal your thunder.
Try to get to a ‘Positive feedback loop’ where new visitors lead to new visitors. We added general tweet, like and +1 buttons to every page but also added custom tweet links to several actions. So when you do a ‘Manual Update’ the link changes to a tweet button that says you just did a manual update.
The most important positive feedback loop is our widget. Within 3 days it has been installed on hundreds of websites and blogs all over the web generating more visitors who in turn all also adding the widget to their pages.
When people try it out listen to feedback and add features (we added search, personal profiles and a ‘Manual Update’ all within the first 4 days because people were asking about it) and keep innovating and iterating.
A big thank you to Sam for helping with the database and PHP code and building the API, to Mathys for breaking the news, to Jorg for his SEO advice, to Nico for coming up with a better crawler and to Roeland from Shoudio for writing the Google authentication script, and lastly to Google for not suing me for stealing their logo.