Exactly a year ago was when gramfeed.com launched. Instagram had released developer APIs couple weeks prior and I started playing with the APIs and started creating a web interface for Instagram to pretty much do everything that the Instagram iPhone app did on the web. I put together a web interface for Instagram in couple hours over the weekend and launched it. Below are some of my key learnings.
Launch first and then iterate
At launch it was just a website to view popular photos, search photos, view user photos and view user feed. A couple days later I added features to like and commenting on photos, a week later I implemented user search, follow and unfollow capability. Eventually list/grid view, map visualization, lightbox photo loading were all implemented.
Below are photos of how the user interface has changed from minimum viable product at launch to a full feature Instagram web interface a year later:
Listen to your customers
Most of the features and UI changes were implemented based on user feedback. I had setup a Disqus comment box on the about page where people could leave feedback, report issues and request features.
Listening to your customers is the most important thing, they are the ones who use your site everyday and will have valuable feedback to make the product better. In gramfeed, everything from making grid view default, clustering markers, opening photos in lightbox were are changes done based on user feedback and proved very critical in getting more users to the site, not everybody takes time to give feedback, but it is very important to listen and consider feedback given by the few who take time to report issues and request features, chances are it is the same features others want too. Obviously watch for any product mentions on twitter and engage with users.
Gramfeed features at launch:
- Browse User Photos, User Feed
- Search Photos and view Popular Page
Gramfeed features a year layer:
- Browse User Photos, User Feed, User Likes
- Search Photos, Search Users, Search by location and view Popular Page
- Comment and like photos
- Follow and Unfollow users
- Grid and list views
- Visualize Photo location on map
- Share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+
- Make profile viewable to non-instagram users
- Pin Photos from Instagram to Pinterest
- Featured users and features tags
Analytics (Track every click, user event and API access)
Below is a screenshot from a custom Google Analytics dashboard for tracking events on gramfeed.com
Marketing and User Acquisition
So how do you get a side-project covered in blog when there are funded startups trying to get coverage? - The key is to select a few bloggers and tell them your personal story that led you to developing the website rather than describing how great your product is.
Ultimately if your product is simple, easy to use and solves a problem then people will notice it, they will tweet about it, recommend it to their friends, influencers will take notice and you will get covered eventually, no special marketing is necessary, focus on making things simple and listen to your customers.
gramfeed.com growth from launch to a year later captured from google analytics is shown below. You can make custom dashboards using Google Analytics to track different trends and monitor growth.
Maintenance cost and Monetization
Gramfeed started as a side-project and never intended to grow this big. When launched, it was expected to be a interim website until Instagram launches their own web presence. Gramfeed runs on Google App Engine, which is great since you dont have to worry about scaling, however Google App Engine pricing structure changed in December which increased cost by almost 30x, I wrote a blog post couple months ago describing how I reduced the cost by 75% by optimizing the code and implementation.
Millions of pageviews meant more app hosting costs, so I had to start advertising on the site to cover hosting costs. Aside from Google Adsense, gramfeed also has affiliate program with Instagram photo, book and sticker printing partners like Keepsy, Blurb and Stickygram.
Overall working on gramfeed on my spare time while working full time as an Engineer at Intel has helped me gain so much knowledge on building an app, launching, marketing and scaling to millions of pageviews. What’s priceless is to sign-in to Google Real-time Analytics and see that at any second there are hundreds of people from all over the world accessing a website I created. Hope this is helpful.
Thanks for Reading, feedback appreciated.
- Rakshith (@krisrak)
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