First month of widget growth stats

On one Saturday in May (the 19th), we were in the car talking about kids baths or something, and my wife said “you know that widget you talked about writing — the one that tracks how many days since we did something? I want it. You should write it.” Well, when any of my kooky ideas get even a little bit of validation, it’s great. And a command from the wife is certainly over the top.

So the widget was roughly done by the next evening. On Monday night, I emailed lifehacker, not really expecting much. Here are some charts with the usage patterns over the first 30 days since then.

Days Since Pageviews Chart

This is a chart of pageviews for the widget. You can see the huge jump on Tuesday May 22nd, when I was luckly enough to have lifehacker post an article about the widget that morning. It basically set the level of use moving forward.

Days Since Statistics

This adds up to a lot of pageviews in a month. If these were hitting one of my servers, it would be enough load that I’d be worrying a bit about spikes of traffic and slowness. Fortunately, one of the design goals these widgets have is to use no server resources of my own: all code runs in the browser, and all data is stored in the settings of the widget itself — Google’s servers. So these could grow to 10 or 100 times the traffic, and I wouldn’t loose sleep at night. You can also see that for these iGoogle widgets, unique views tend to run about half the pageview rate.

This is a good rate of usage, but still not yet quite enough to qualify for Google’s new Gadget Ventures program, which offers seed funding for selected widgets with over 250,000 page views per week. With a little more press or an increase in organic growth, it’s possible it could hit that level.

One of the requests that came in early was “how about the same kind of thing for counting down the days until a future event?”. There were already many countdown timers, but not one that tracked several, with easy UI for add/remove and annual recurrence. Starting from the Days Since code, two weeks later the Days Until widget was written. But what would the conversion rate be, if this widget didn’t get the same level of press on a site like Lifehacker? Here is a 30-day graph over the same timeperiod as the one above.

Days Until Pageviews Chart
Around June 10th, I added a mini-message to Days Since, advertising the Days Until widget. I didn’t know what kind of conversion ratio would happen — but these are clearly related and complementary things, so it turned out to be surprisingly high — today, it appears that approx 25% of Days Since users became users of the Days Until widget.
Days Until Statistics

Between Days Since and Days Until, there has been about 13,000 unique users of the two widgets so far in this first month. Some startups would kill for that level of unique users, but it’s just getting interesting here for the widget world.

So where does this go from here? The level of usage so far makes me feel good that the relatively small investment of time is delivering value to the world — a few thousand people are finding it useful, and there’s been some really kind comments on the blog and in email.

From a business model perspective, there isn’t a direct one yet. By showing what’s possible, and what Leancode is capable of, it could generate some leads (particularly from companies which want to create a closer connection with customers by providing widgets that tie into their products or services). And you could imagine creating a portfolio of time management widgets, some of which are higher-value and could have premium versions.

But, for now, this is just a fun and interesting experiment.

Paul Dowman’s Rails image for EC2

Paul Dowman has created what looks to be a very promising Ubuntu+Rails image for Amazon’s EC2 platform. He has support for capistrano deployment, mongrel_cluster, mysql backup to Amazon’s S3 service, and a few other nifty features. When multiple server support is completed (said to be soon), this will be a great package. Definitely worth following.

An Amazon Machine Image is basically a filesystem image that then gets loaded in Amazon’s farm of Xen servers. Does anyone know of existing scripts that can create a Xen image from an AMI? It’d be nice have the ability to test and stage locally with the same image used for any of your EC2 hosted test, staging, or production instances.

Knowing when it’s been too many Days Since

[update: These ideas have evolved into the latest mainline version of Days Since. Here's an update.]

One of the early feature requests for the Days Since widget (which is getting over 400K page views/month now — more on that later) was the ability to get reminded when it’s been too long since one of your repetitive tasks was done. When you think about it, this kind of feature saves you a lot mental energy — instead of having to scan the whole list, you just look at those that have been flagged (or those turned red, etc.).

But does this mean there’s another field to enter (days until “overdue”)? Should you enter one number for days, or perhaps a full date upon which it’s due?

Every additional field and option is another bit of complexity which can turn people off. And one of the things good web apps have taught us is using the smarts of the machine to figure out some stuff for us humans is a big win. Things like a single search box that doesn’t ask lots of questions (what are you searching for? where? which category of stuff?) or a “quick add” button for a calendar that takes the whole event as a free-form string.

In the case of Days Since, we want to (1) Not add UI which might turn off current users (who don’t care about a concept of overdue) with clutter and extra complexity. (2) Try to have the widget do some of our work for us. (3) Not add much code & complexity to the widget itself.

One of the users of Days Since, Ping Zou, was looking for just this kind of functionality and decided to work with the Days Since code and add it. We’ve been tossing ideas and code and back forth, and have gotten Ping added as a first additional project member of the Days Since subversion repository on Google Code.

At the moment, Ping is a PHD student with the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department, University of Sheffield. He has a blog (in Chinese), which you can see at http://sg71cherub.spaces.live.com/.

Ping has also generously done a translation of the strings for the main Days Since widget to Simplified Chinese — which is great, as Days Since has been lacking non-English translations. And for the the new features, we’re doing on a very small scale what many large projects (like Linux) do — have a “development branch” where new features and ideas are played with, and a “stable branch” where all our regular users are and changes are done carefully.

If you’re interested in getting the development branch (possibly bugs and all), you can add and play with the version of days since here.

And for everyone else, please keep any requests you have coming (in comments or in email). In time, the ones that provide value without getting in the way of current users will make their way to the stable, production-version Days Since widget.

What’s behind “Lean”?

What’s behind the “lean” in Leancode?

I’m a believer in a set of thoughts and techniques that fall under the banner of “lean thinking”: finishing things in small batches, lots of feedback, a continuous improvement approach, and other related techniques.

Much of this comes from my experiences working at large companies, but I’m experimenting with applying it here at Leancode on a very small scale.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on this stuff from a theoretical perspective, check out the Lean Software Engineering blog.

And if you want a wider perspective, a new site and feed called Planet Lean aggregates together this writing with other great writing on Lean in general that I like. If you’re also interested in lean topics, and have any thoughts on making this better, please let me know. And perhaps I’ll see you over at Planet Lean.

New Widget: Days Until Countdown

When Days Since was released last week, one of the first pieces of feedback was that it’d be great to have the same thing, but as a countdown for future events on a specific date. There are existing widgets that do this, but none that I’ve seen where it’s easy to add/remove items and have a number of counters in one widget.

Building on Days Since, it took about 10 hours or so to create Days Until. Most of that was spent on trying UI alternatives for entering the date, and writing the docs. Hit the “add to Google” button below to give it a try.

screenshot
Add to Google

Please head over to the Days Until page for more information, and please feel free to leave any thoughts, suggestions, or comments there. Thanks!