Why being at the top of Hacker News doesn’t mean as much as I’d hoped

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It was 11:46 on a Thursday. A normal day at the office: bad posture despite the ergonomic chair, malfunctioning air conditioning, and me adding to a database on nanotechnology. I took a quick break to check an article I had submitted to Hacker News earlier see if anyone was talking about something interesting in the comments. I froze when I saw a very familiar, grayed out title at the top of the home page.

Why being at the top of hacker new doesn't matter

I had made it to the top of Hacker News with the article “How to convince your friends vertical farming is the next big thing.” Internet marketers and SEO whizz kids foam at the mouth over this sort of thing and I knew it meant a huge spike in traffic.

It had been 50 minutes since I submitted the article and it had almost 3000 views. I texted my girlfriend.


“How did you do that?”

Those are crazy numbers for me and she knew it. I told her I had submitted on Hacker News and gotten lucky. Usually vertical farming is a bit of a rarity-it doesn’t always mesh with the audience or the other submissions.

She was very happy for me but during that brief exchange, I checked my analytics again out of curiosity. I texted her back:

“In the time I’ve texted you, it’s now at 3855 views”

That was almost 1000 new views in the course of 5 minutes. That’s incredible. Hacker News pulls mad numbers, but I noticed something else.

Vertical Farming at the TOP OF HACKER NEWS

Sure, I’ll let you peak at my current favorites bar too.

I hadn’t gotten a single signup to my mailing list. No new likes or subscribes, and only two new comments.

I’ll be honest though; I’m on a free WordPress template writing about a super niche topic. And I don’t mean niche as in “this is a whole new market to corner!” I mean niche as in “There’s like 10 people who can define what this is!” Nothing is optimized, though I tried my best with the tools available to me.

But this is still weird. I have a few hundred people on my mailing list and it’s been growing steadily, usually getting a few signups whenever a new article brings in a traffic spike. Yet, no new article has gotten a spike like this (4313 views right now, about 2 hours after posting). Still no signups.

Page Views Over Time

When I say being at the top of Hacker News doesn’t mean anything, I need to explain why. First, it has nothing to do with sales. I’m not trying to make money off of my site. I’m trying to teach about a topic and grow its influence. Why? I care about the environmental implications of our broken food system and want people to learn about this solution. Second, I want to grow because…it’s fun. It’s like a game I play against myself. “Can I beat last weeks high view score?”

Email list signups are just one metric to judge growth by. Social interaction is another. A spike in views really isn’t.

It doesn’t do much for my SEO over the long term and it doesn’t mean people are going to engage with the site or community in a sustained way. Really, it just means they quickly clicked something on one of the most popular news aggregators out there just for curiousity.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m disappointed about this: if I ever want to take the site to the next level (offer a course, fund a farm, whatever), this was just a short term blip.

Then again, I’ve only been on Hacker News for 106 days. People have been on that site way longer than that without getting to the front page. There is a bright side to this. I’m glad 4486 (it keeps ticking up as I write this, though it’s no longer on top, or even on the front page) people got exposed to the idea of vertical farming. I’m glad I got 73 imaginary internet points. I also got a new like on the post itself by the time I got this far in writing. I’m glad my girlfriend was proud of me. I’m glad my headlines have improved enough to attract that kind of attention.

Even if it was just a quick blip, I really do think vertical farms are part of the path to a better food system. The more people exposed to that idea, the more that will talk about it. And it’s a powerful idea. The more people that talk about it, the more people will be convinced.

I finished the day with 5099 views on that one post.

Anyways, the mailing list I talked about is pretty cool, and a great way to get in touch with me. I send out behind the scenes information and some exclusive stuff (I actually sent out a rough draft of this post yesterday, apologies on the typos). If you enjoyed this article or any other, please sign up.

sign me up

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