Today 101in365 reached its 10,000th completed goal, which I think is a pretty big deal. The site that I kind of pieced together with my limited PHP skills and some help from friends has helped people complete 10,000 of the goals they set out to accomplish this year. There are just about 35,000 locked goals on the entire site which means that the average user is about 1/3 of the way through with their list. Pretty amazing.
Getting to 10,000 was not easy. It’s been a lot of trial and error and thankfully our ever-patient users have stuck with me as I used them as my guinea pigs for experiments in motivation, community, and social design. I thought I’d take a step back to really think about what I’ve learned getting to goal #10,000 and perhaps ponder some possible changes to the site to hopefully get that next 10,000. Or even better: 100,000. Here goes:
101 goals is a LOT to come up with
Yes. So I’ve heard. Over and over again. 101 goals is a lot. I totally get that. It even takes me a few days to come up with my own list. I’ve been very stubborn on this point up until now, but reaching this milestone has also made me realize that isn’t just MY site anymore. There are real people out there using this and they’re not all as obsessive about lists as I am. Who am I to prescribe the number of goals a person should have in a given year? Not saying I’m ready to ditch the 101 concept just yet, but I’m certainly more open to exploring other possibilities. Dare I say pivot? Perhaps.
Lesson learned: Know when to let go and let your users help define the future of the product rather than imposing your ideas. (But know when to stand your ground!) Everyone will be much happer in the long run.
101in365 is not the easiest name to remember
I’ve gotten mixed feedback on this one. Some say to keep it. It describes the site perfectly and is different from all of the startup-y types of names. The flip side of that is that when I’m out and about talking to new people they say “oh you made that 1 oh..? 3 sixty…? thing right?” Not exactly good branding. Personally, I’m not too attached to the name. The numbers thing is tough and if I DO in fact pivot as I mentioned above, the 101 piece of it may not even be true for much longer. So I guess that means it’s time to start exploring a rebrand!
Lesson learned: If they can’t say it they probably won’t remember it. Or they’ll remember it for the wrong reasons. Branding, Branding, Branding!
People will use your tools in ways you never anticipated
This one is kind of a “duh” point, but it’s just one of those things that you have to experience to really understand. When I added comments to 101in365 they were slow to pick up. They weren’t integrated very well (and they still aren’t, to be truthful), but after a lot of prodding on my end and personally leaving a lot of comments around the site, they picked up and took on a life of their own. List owners now generally use the comments to keep track of their progress with their own goals and leave a note to explain when they check off a goal. This isn’t something I’d considered when I added comments, but our users have given comments a whole different life. Awesome! Now it’s time to figure out if there’s a better way for everyone to leave notes on their own goals or if they’re perfectly happy leaving notes in their comments.
Lesson learned: You can’t always predict what your users want but they’ll show you what they need. You’d better be ready to listen.
Designing for an always-morphing site is tough!
When I look back at the original design for 101in365 I shake my head in shame. That thing was pretty terrible. I’m not really sure what I was thinking there. This new design, while better aesthetically, is not at all better in terms of scaling. When I designed it the site was basically a list for each user, a goal page, and a list of most recently completed goals called Explore. It’s since grown to include various filters on Explore, a Dashboard, a Goodies section, and more to come. It’s not just the main pages that have pushed the design to the limits, but the new functionality such as the ability to Like goals or Pics Or It Didn’t Happen have pointed out design flaw upon design flaw.
Lesson learned: Keep scaling in mind when you’re designing a quickly-growing site and get it right the first (or second) time. Measure twice, cut once. Or something like that.
Beware the hazards of building in a vacuum
Right now I’m flying completely solo. Building, designing, marketing, maintaining, failing, succeeding – it’s all me. I don’t mind because I love it, but I do find that without someone to be a check and balance I end up in a situation like I mentioned up in #1: I’m stubborn about building it the way I would use it instead of the way people demand. It’s also lonely and tougher to recover from issues like not designing for scale the first time. Since I’m essentially a one gal show, time spent in Photoshop is time NOT spent interacting with the community or promoting the site or building a new feature. Everything is a tradeoff and mistakes are especially costly because it means something else has to be put on hold while you address it. Like the night I almost lost all of the data because I was trying to finish a feature and truncated the live database instead of the dev. Checks and balances and a second set of eyes are always helpful. User feedback is fantastic, but sometimes it’s nice to have feedback BEFORE you send something out into the world.
Not to mention the fact that working solo means that I’m limited to my knowledge set and a few other things I pick up along the way. Let’s face it, I’m nowhere near awesome at algorithms but goal suggestions and some clever people-connecting things are at the top of my to do list right now. I could probably teach myself how to do that sort of data analysis, but again, time spent reading a book on algorithms and data processing is time not spent doing more tangible work.
Lesson learned: It’s totally OK to build things by yourself. You get to learn every aspect of the process. But, it also means that you’re always focusing on one or two things at a time and the other things are likely suffering. If I had the opportunity, I’d love to bring some other people into the project to spread the load and to have the luxury of diverse perspectives.
At the end of the day, even with all of the tougher bits, building 101in365 and watching it grow has been an amazing experience. It’s been a crash course in many areas for me and I’m looking forward learning more, growing more, building more, and helping people accomplish more. There’s still a LOT of work to be done, but when I take a step back and look at what I’ve built over these last months, I’m pretty proud of how far it’s come! If you haven’t already, sign up and check it out! I’d love your feedback!