Alias was our weekend project to allow people to manage and share their bash aliases online and source their aliases to any computer from Alias. We started on Saturday with nothing other than a domain and come Monday, the site was far from polished but we knew if we didn't get it out the door it would probably never happen.
Our big idea to kick start the site included posting the site on Hacker News and hoping that a few other techy's would take a liking to it. I've been an avid reader on Hacker News for more than a year but never a contributor. When I went to login to my account I couldn't remember my password so I just created a new account. We were all standing around in anticipation hoping deep down that maybe we had a chance to reach page one. I posted the link and it went straight to spam, not what we expected.
Not wanting to give in so easy, we waited a few hours and asked a friend with a little more Karama than ourselves if he would kindly post it. This time we dodged the spam filter and we eagerly watched hoping to get at least one up-vote. We ended up with quite a few and spent a good many hours on page one. The traffic HN sends it quite astonishing and we had plenty of great feedback.
Reception for Alias
I mentioned the traffic was astonishing but we wanted to share some figures back to the community. Since our post on Monday lunch time (Perth time), GA has tracked a total of 18,500 unique visitors, not including the brief period of time the tracking script was accidently dropped off the site. 22% of the total traffic came from HN, while the rest came, unexpectedly from twitter and various blogs. Being tweeted by Smashing Magazine, to their 600,000+ followers really kicked off a storm of (re)tweets. For about 6 or 7 hours we were sustaining 100 concurrent users, which was a pretty good feeling after putting in long hours over the weekend. Below is the GA heat map showing traffic coming from across the globe.
(Trust the French to love something that enables them to do less work)
We did manage to somehow miss the mark on Proggit (the programmers sub-reddit), either we were caught in the agressive spam filter, or there was little interest. Despite getting good feedback, there was also little interest from /r/linux.
We didn't much want to test the site in IE and our stats show we probably will need have to (Thank You!). Less than 1% of our traffic came from a version of IE. Chrome was the outright leader with over 55%, Firefox around 25% and the rest pretty much filled up with Safari.
Feedback from the HN Community
Low Contrast Design
A few people really didn't take to the design. We kind of expected something along those lines as a friend had mentioned it and it was also my first impression of the design but after a long weekend of building the site it had grown on us and we pretty much came oblivious to it.
Acting on that feedback we've made quite a few subtle changes.
- The menu text is now much lighter and no text shadow.
- Headings are now closer to black than grey to bring them out of the background.
- Code boxes now have a much lighter background.
- The homepage featured boxes are much lighter.
Users Did Not Understand the Service
The main reason we saw the need for this site stemmed from the frustration of writing a cracking new aliases at home on the weekend, getting to work Monday and realising you can't access it. We really just wanted the convenience of all our aliases been managed from one location. Many people seemed to think that the site was simply for sharing your cool aliases and nothing more.
In an attempt to express the sites motives further we added three feature blocks onto the homepage which clearly explain what the site let's you do.
And in case you're still not sure. You can wget aliases from our site straight into your Linux / OSX shell aliases.
Add User Details to Aliases
When someone posts a really cool alias you obviously want to go and view other aliases by that person. We've added author information alongside aliases so you can view that users profile. It will only currently show you the aliases they're using, not the aliases they've posted but that's coming soon.
Remove "Your Password" From Confirmation Email
"Heart almost skipped a beat when first glanced at the welcome email, last two lines: username: thomseddon password: Your password. With the actual text 'Your password',"
One of our fellow HN readers claims to nearly having heart failure when seeing what he thought was his password in a plain text email. We kindly removed that just for him.
OpenID and GitHub Logins
Yeah we agree that both of these are great features so we went ahead and added them. Go to the login page to use OpenID or GitHub logins.
Another easy one for us but not something we thought we needed straight away. You can now get all our latest aliases from the RSS feed.
Mistakes We Made
We had a user login box in one of the most prominent places on the homepage. We didn't realise for over a day but that was crazy. We didn't even have any users, why the hell is the login box front and square on the homepage.
Social and Contact Details
We really didn't expect anything like what happend on Twitter. When we launched the site we had no social media accounts or even an email address to contact us. We've since created a Twitter account and added our email address on the homepage.
What Else We've Done
- Added Gravatar support.
- Added private aliases.
- Added some spam detection for aliases.
- Search, we're working on implementing decent search functionality throughout the site.
- View all posted aliases by a user.
- Hacker News (Without you no one would know we exist)
- Smashing Magazine (You guys really helped spread the word on Twitter)
- Korben (Partially the reason we now tell our friends "we're big in Europe")
- jeoffrey54.com (Thanks for the feedback and the backlink)
- aptgetupdate.de (A big German tech blog, and the first time we've been called "Hipster")
- lafermeduweb.net (Another big French site which kindly featured us)
- cpujoe.com (We're all set for stripper dollars, but your feedback was great)
- ...and everyone who tweeted, blogged and told their friends.
Thanks again guys, we'll keep you posted.