It’s an absolute pleasure to have been given the opportunity to interview Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz fame (@randfish), about his new side-project: Inbound.org.
Inbound.org is a joint collaboration between Rand and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot (@dharmesh), which has been going since February – so about 4 months now. Although Rand has already been interviewed about Inbound.org over at Mixergy (around the time the site was launched), I wanted to catch up with Rand about how it was going 4 months in and also ask him some questions about the site, relating to technical details, UX aspects, the site’s own promotion, etc. – mainly out of curiosity as a daily user and fan of the site.
Let’s get started…
Steve Morgan: Inbound.org is a “fun for,” not-for-profit project. What inspired its creation? What encouraged you to create a site of its type in the first place?
Rand Fishkin: Dharmesh and I had long wanted to create something like Hacker News for folks in the marketing world, and Inbound.org is the result of that. We both read Hacker News regularly and love the variety and value of articles submitted there.
Steve: What were the biggest challenges in creating Inbound.org?
Rand: Finding the time to manage the product – both Dharmesh and I are insanely overwhelmed by our jobs and lives already, so this was an exercise in patience and in delegation.
Steve: I heard there was lots of downtime in the beginning. What happened? How did you handle it?
Rand: When we first launched, the Twitter signup system failed, hence folks couldn’t register, submit or vote (making the site largely useless). It was particularly sad because at launch, it got a bunch of press and visits that never returned (due to the broken-ness).
Steve: I know that @caseyhen is the main developer involved on the site. But who else is involved? I see that you have moderators as well.
Rand: We’ve got about a dozen volunteers who help with spam, submissions and moderation. Two of the most active are Dan Shure and Lauren Hall-Stigerts. The design was done by the great folks over at We Are Fixel.
Steve: How does the site’s algorithm work? Obviously there’s a voting system, with an element of time factored in (with old posts eventually drifting of the main page as they become obsolete and less popular), but is there more to it than that?
Rand: It’s very similar to the Hacker News algorithm, with a time decay factor on votes and a feature that props up items that get consistent upvotes. It’s not tremendously complicated, but we have tweaked it a few times to get to something that feels appropriate.
Steve: Do you find that the algo constantly needs tweaking and tinkering? How’s that going?
Rand: In the first month after launch, I think we changed it 4-5 times, but since finding a sweet spot, it’s been fairly solid.
Steve: Posts can only be upvoted, and not downvoted as well. Was this implemented on purpose?
Rand: Yes. We didn’t want folks burying stuff they didn’t like. There’s been more than a few articles on the site that I’d have voted down, but removing that makes the overall experience far more positive.
Steve: It’s interesting you say that, because over on SEOmoz, users can downvote posts and comments as well, which is why I was curious.
Rand: I think if we were starting the Moz blogging system anew, we’d probably go with the thumbs-up only. It’ll likely stay due to legacy, but in general, my experience has been that positive votes only are the way to go.
Steve: What’s your view on self-promotion? Should people be afraid to submit their own posts (even if they are really good, ideal for the audience), or would you much rather see people only sharing other people’s content instead?
Rand: If you’re submitting 1/100 things you produce, that’s fine. If it’s closer to 1/10, that’s probably crossing a line. We don’t currently ban/remove for self-promotion or self-submissions, but we will ban accounts that consistently submit low-quality stuff (from anywhere).
Steve: How are you coping with spam? Has there been more/less than you were expecting? Have you found that the Guidelines and ”I Solemnly Swear…” button have helped at all?
Rand: There’s been less than I expected, though still more than we’d hope for. Since Twitter is the login mechanism, pure spam accounts get banned by Twitter before we need to worry about them (which is awesome). Folks are also conscientious that all their activity on the site is tied back to Twitter. I’ve tweeted at more than a few who’ve submitted spam asking them to stop or we’ll ban their account. It works like a charm.
Steve: I’ve actually contacted Casey a couple of times pointing out spam submission spam and comment spam. Have you found a lot of people doing this – trying to help police the site and reporting those who are causing a bad experience – even though they’re not official Inbound.org moderators?
Rand: Yeah, we’ve had a few good Samaritans like yourself helping out, which is awesome. Thank you!
Steve: Any funny/odd spam submissions you’ve received that you’d be happy to share?
Rand: Sadly, nothing particularly fun. A few e-commerce retailers from Turkey, but that’s about the only memorable one. Spam’s getting pretty boring these days. Honestly, if something truly fun came through, we’d probably keep it on the site, just for kicks.
Steve: I’ve noticed on your Twitter that you regularly tweet Analytics info, even recently. How’s the site fared overall?
Rand: Good, though not great. It gets solid traffic – a few thousand visits a day, lots of new folks checking it out, but overall the traffic has been growing very mildly since launch. I think we’re ~50K visits/month. The best part of the site for now is that it can expose many prominent influencers in the marketing world to great content/sites/tools they otherwise wouldn’t have found.
Steve: It’s a shame that you say “good, though not great.” Do you have any plans to push it more in the future via any PR/marketing efforts? Or are you happy to see how it goes?
Rand: We’ll probably let it continue to grow organically for the next few months, but may do something to promote/boost externally thereafter.
Steve: How many submissions do you receive nowadays, roughly?
Rand: We’ve had 10,649 submissions in 133 days, so ~80/day.
Steve: Do you have any plans to make changes to the site in the near future? If so, what should we expect to see?
Rand: No big ones right now. We’re hoping to grow engagement in submissions, voting and comments, but given it’s a side project, it’s tough to devote a lot of resources right now. Thankfully, a great community of folks are helping out.
Steve: Overall, what have you learnt from creating and launching Inbound.org?
Rand: People in the marketing world are generally awesome, rarely buttholes and love discovering useful content. I’d also say that personally, I wondered whether something like this could organically sustain and grow without much engagement from Dharmesh and I. The answer is yes, at least a little, but clearly we could/should be doing more.
Steve: Lastly, what’s your advice to someone hoping to do something similar, perhaps a community-curated news site in their particular niche or industry? Do you think it works better with inbound marketing than it would with other industries/niches? If so, why is that?
Rand: It definitely helps to have a community that’s comfortable and familiar with portals like these (and with interacting socially on the web). I think it also helped tremendously to have the boosts from many already-existing communities and individuals (like SEOmoz/Hubspot and Rand/Dharmesh). Without that, it would have been tough to get off the ground.
And that’s it! Once again, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Rand for answering my questions!