Thursday, June 11, 2009

The speed size and dependability of a reddit traffic spike

Humm.. It looks like my blog posting on progress bars has taken off on reddit. I actually posted the article to reddit after a friend's blog posting had hit the big time on that site as well. although it didn't work.. yeah..

He had just written a blog posting comparing the speed, size and dependability of almost all programming languages using a novel graphing technique. He is a computer languages guy and ever since reading tufte he's been into using graphs to represent data in new and enlightening ways. I thought the blog posting was impressive. Apparently somebody else did too and posted it to reddit. From there it took on a life of its own and found its way to multiple sites including the venerable Slashdot.

I've always loved how that happens. I used to write a peer-to-peer application called Myster. When introducing Myster to the world, we didn't do much advertising. The only thing we did was to post it to one or two Macintosh oriented websites. One of which was the venerable MacInTouch. Oh wow. I woke up the morning that it was posted to a set of crashed computers. Apparently my p2p network wasn't as scalable as I thought.

After frantically fixing the accidental thread bomb (and about a dozen scalability issues for which the application's new found fame turned out to be very useful) I started to track where Myster was being mentioned. The answer, it turned out, was everywhere. It was showing up on news sites I'd never heard of. It was in application repositories I'd never added it to. Myster had been available for about a year and had never really gotten anywhere. Then, one morning we posted it to the right place and it explodes.

I quickly realized that in order to have any control over how my application was going to be presented I needed to move quickly or else somebody would do it for me. This, being an important task, was delegated to a neighbor of mine who turned out to be very good at it. :-) He is now a bike courier. Completely wasted talent if you ask me. He did the website for Myster as well is all the graphics. Just look at the logo. It's gorgeous! I mean argh! irk! egh! Anyway, enough of that.

The speed that news travels on the Internet is impressive. It's scary how fast you can go from "Oh, someone has posted my article on reddit " to "Oh crap, how much is all this bandwidth going to cost me?".

My friend had gotten his page to the financial-panic level of Internet popularity and I was curious to know if I could do the same with my article on progress bars. So, I dutifully signed up for a brand, spanking new account on reddit and tried submitting my article. It didn't get much love.

Actually, it didn't get any love. It got exactly zero votes. This was not the reception I was hoping for but I figured it was probably just the content. I mean who would want to read a 5000 ish word article on the intricacies of progress bars anyway?

My friend said I was completely wrong.

In his opinion my reddit submission title completely sucked. He was sure he could do better. No, that doesn't accurately reflect his scorn for my reddit abilities. He was sure he could do better with one hand tied behind his back and a family of monkeys beating his head with old IBM clickety keyboards. But first he had to wait a few days because reddit doesn't like duplicate submissions...

Well, today he took a stab at it and last time I checked it was top of the heap.. so I guess he's right. I have my doubts as to whether the monkeys were using real, genuine, old-school IBM clickety keyboards but I must admit it's still impressive.

Just for the record, I'm also still glad I delegated Myster's PR fanfare to that neighbor-friend of mine. Perhaps he should start a blog? I'd read it and I promise not to submit it to reddit. :-)