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What Being on the Front Page of Hacker News Does to Your Indie App (hackernewslater.com)
124 points by burritofanatic 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Wow, 17000 visitors and only 100 installs.

With a web app, and a link directly to it, all 17000 visitors would have tried it. That's 170 times more. Staggering.

One of the reasons I prefer web apps and recently started adding the benefits of progressive web apps to my sites.

Doubtful. For many types of apps, the moment I catch wind that it’s a web app, I close the window. I have no need for anything that adds to my already sky high pile of tabs.

Yes, I've been prompted by Reddit to download the app many, many times (to the point that it's basically brainwashing), yet I've closed it every single time. It's annoying actually.

The web app is great, I don't know why they want me to fill up my phone's hard drive with another useless app.

You can collect more data with an app.

What useful data can you collect with the app that you can’t from visiting a website?

The Reddit app happily sucks all kinds of content from your phone. It demands access to your location, storage, and full network access, unsupervised.

It won’t work on Android if you deny permission for location and storage? There is an explicit per app setting on iOS that can stop most apps from running in the background.

This is partially why Android users have to be as careful about downloading apps as Windows users.

The Reddit app for iOS is 55.8MB. Not exactly a bloated app.

For perspective, imagine installing such a low-utility program spanning 39 high-density 1.44MB diskettes... and considering that not bloated.

(Isn't that more than the entire original Linux distributions from the copyfest era?)

That reminds me, imagine installing it on my first Mac with an 80MB hard drive. My entire SoftPC install with a disk image was only about 10MB.

And Windows 95 was only 55MB install.


55.8 mg is bloated. A news reader should be under 30 ideally 20 or less

(I beta-tested it) it started out at around 5mb. It slowly increased to around 20-30mb, and around that time I lost interest.

That's massive. My phone hard drive is pretty full so I often have to delete stuff to make room for other stuff.

And this is the generation gap. I have <10 apps installed on my iPhone and I rarely install new apps. It's a pain in the ass and generally annoying, especially for something like this that should be a mobile-friendly website at best.

Give me a website though? I'll check it out. I also don't keep random tabs open either. Inbox zero applies to tabs too.

To add to this, I trust the sandbox of a browser much more than that of an app.

Browser sandboxing is great but I’d be much more trustful of browsers if they required user permission for more things. As it is they give away far too much implicitly.

Yeah, with web apps and webassembly really gaining traction, browsers should have a per-domain control of permissions.

This. I've been using the webapps for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a few other sites too. They're functional, and takes 0 space of my crowded launcher.

This is ridiculous. Any app that's in use is going to take up space in a tabstrip or other context-switching ui. If you want it to be its own window that's exceedingly easy to accomplish.

In the app centric macOS workspace, a window is better than a tab but not as good as an app. I have far fewer apps in my cmd-tab app switcher than I have both tabs and windows, so if I can elevate most commonly used things to the app level that’s far preferable to a window. This can be done with a wrapper app, but I’d rather not have to do that.

Under a window centric workspace like Windows and most Linux DEs, a window is good enough, but under macOS it’s not.

FWIW, a PWA added to your homescreen doesn't impact # of tabs.

True for mobile, but there’s a good chance that if I want to use it on my phone, I’ll also want to use it on my desktop and in the latter case a tab is unavoidable.

> I’ll also want to use it on my desktop and in the latter case a tab is unavoidable.

False. Chrome Shortcuts[1] turn websites into web apps on desktop. Something similar should be available on other browsers, too.

[1] https://www.lifewire.com/create-shortcuts-in-google-chrome-f...

So what do you expect? A desktop app?

BTW, you can make shortcuts to web apps from Chrome that open in their own window, and works like an app. Basically a single page, but with all browser controls removed. So it's a separate app on your window list, with the site's fav icon used as it's icon.

I do this with Whatsapp.

Just bookmark it. Or use Google to find it when you need it.

Personally, something has to be really really valuable to me if you want me to install an app instead of trying a webapp. So I am one of those who usually exits if there is only an app for it (yes it makes sense in some cases but mostly I prefer web apps that are responsive). I am too lazy.

I don't think it makes sense to assume a 100% conversion rate for a web app.

I don't know exactly what the demographics of Hacker News are. But anything that's Android-only is likely to get a look from me and no install-- because I am an iOS user.

Same here.

OP, please share the OS of those 17,000 users, if possible.

To be fair, I find the linked writeup (the original one that talks about the app launch) to be a pretty poor 'advertisement' or 'announcement' of the app. You have to scroll all the way to the near-bottom before the app is even mentioned, and even then it is hidden behind a very non-obvious link. And even after reading the entire post, I'm still not even sure what exactly this app does differently than the other HN apps out there, and thus I'm pretty unconvinced that it's worth trying it out.

If the intention of the writeup was to discuss the process behind building the app, it apparently was successful in getting attention and generating discussion. If the intention was to get app installs, then this is a case that really could've benefited from a TLDR at the top, or at least a more direct, more obvious link to the app.

And I'm not convinced that it being a web app would have solved the issue, either. A writeup like this that linked to the webapp would face the same issues as described above. A direct link to the webapp would probably have me open it, spend 3-5 seconds looking at the splash page, and unless that splash page gives me a TLDR hook and a reason to actually stick around, I'd probably close it. In that case, your user engagement metric might include that as me having "tried" the app, but in reality all I did was open the splash page and then close it.

As a class we are notoriously bad about burying the lede.

I’m not sure where that comes from, but I have to fight it constantly. My key piece of advice on wiki page design, for instance, is that the first question the person has is “am I even in the right place?”. The first or second sentence has to tell someone why they should care about (or not!) the rest of the page.

And I find myself violating that advice at least once a week. It’s hard but then most important things are.

    all I did was open the splash page and then close it
I would not link to a splash page but to the actual app where your next step would be to mark posts for later. (As that seems to be the main function of the app in question).

I would expect over 50% of users to take that first step. That is what I saw in similar scenarios.

If you linked me directly to such a page without any explanation of why I should use your app, or even how I'm supposed to use your app, I would close it immediately. I think most people would probably do the same, and I'm almost positive that your "over 50%" number is vastly overestimating. It also disagrees with your original statement that "all 17000 visitors would have tried it".

That's why splash pages (and writeups, like the original) are important. But as mentioned in my previous comment, those splash pages/writeups also have to be effective advertisements.

    without any explanation of why I should use your app,
    or even how I'm supposed to use your app, I would
    close it immediately.
Seeing you write this on HN, which has no splash screen either, contradicts this statement.

The first several times I opened HN, I closed it immediately because I wasn't sure how to use it.

It wasn't until many months later, after experience with other sites with similar interfaces, that I actually started using HN because I then understood how and why to use it. The HN interface is intuitive enough and similar enough to other website to understand that you're being shown comments and a reply box when you click on a link.

That's not the case with this [1]. If you linked me directly to a page that looked like this, without any explanation of what these boxes of text are telling me, where they are coming from, or what they are, I would not use it. The button next to them (a grey box with a plus symbol on it) doesn't explain to me at all what it does, and is not something you see enough in other apps to make a good enough guess as to what it does. After reading the blog post, my assumption is that clicking that button is supposed to send me an email, I think? But I would have absolutely no way of knowing that if you just linked me directly to the app.

1: https://hackernewslater.com/images/hacker_news_later_screen_...

edit: if you download the actual app, the first page it shows you actually is a splash screen that gives a brief explanation of what the app does and why. If that same splash screen content had just been shown and linked to at the top of the original writeup, I suspect he would've gotten a lot more installs.

    The button next to them (a grey box with a plus symbol
    on it) doesn't explain to me at all what it does
If so, maybe they should use a 'read later' button instead. Or put a sentence on top 'Click + to read a story later'. The more people bounce the stronger the inclination to try that and see if engagement increases. That's why all 17000 visitors would be valuable testers, no matter how they behave.

I had a similar experience getting Dependabot onto the front page of HN as a "Show HN"[1], all be it with less attention than this post (congrats on that!).

- Made it to #10 or thereabouts, and hung around on the front page for ~2 hours

- Got around 10 (free) signups directly from it on the day. At the time we were averaging 10 signups a day, so it doubled that day's attention

- Lots of encouraging feedback, which was great, and a good gauge of what (very) prospective customers might be interested in. No substitute for the learning from direct "sales", though (even when giving the product away for free)

- Harder to measure the long-term awareness effect, but people very rarely mention they saw Dependabot on HN (they're much more likely to have seen it working on an open source repo)

- Getting onto the front page was hard work! You can see from my submissions[2] how many times I tried!

Overall my advice to anyone with an indie app would be to do the hard work of selling / building word-of-mouth referrals. Working on marketing-style blog posts looks easy and effective when you see others doing it, but very few people talk about the numbers that come out of it, and all of the "misses" where your content isn't picked up at all.


[1] Original post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15953694

[2] My submissions: https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=greysteil

I like sharing what I’ve learned from building Cronitor with the HN community and have been fortunate to be on the front page a few times but honestly I think this website has generated more clones than customers. I’m sticking with it though and plan to make up my losses on volume.

Hacker News is in a big part responsible for the success of my Open Source project.

I posted a screenshot with a one line caption on Reddit one evening then went to bed. The next morning, I noticed that my project had a lot of stars (it went from like 10 to 500 overnight) and I noticed that the numbers kept going up every time I refreshed the page. Then I found out that all the traffic was coming from news.ycombinator.com (not Reddit as I was thinking).

When I got to work that morning, I asked my colleague what Hacker News was and I told him about my GitHub stars. He was shocked when he saw my project on the front page on HN. By his face I understood that it was like winning the lottery.

My open source project is still doing well almost 5 years later so I can say that it was a really big deal in my case. Getting all those GitHub stars helped to create trust at the beginning and gain adoption.

A rule of thumb for Hacker News submissions used to be that when getting to the front page, every score point translates to about 100 sessions/pageviews. In this case (17000 sessions for a 315 point submission), it was only about half that ratio.

That new ratio has been the case for a few of my recent submissions as well. I wonder if something changed in the HN demo?

If I had to guess I would say that the changes a while back that made submissions linger on the front page have made the site less addictive. So there are less users constantly checking to make sure they don't miss out on something.

Hmm, 100 installs for 17,000 sessions. Seems kinda low, though it maps pretty well to the old 1% rule, with 0.5% of those who visited seemingly installing the app.

Still, I do wonder how it compares to other apps/sites advertised here. Personally, I'd guess that targeting Hacker News users in particular will get you more traffic/points/signups than advertising a normal app or startup here might. That seems to be the rule with 'companion' sites and apps these days.

I'd love to see that in the context of mobile/desktop visitors. My hunch is that HN has a disproportionately high number of desktop users (when compared to other "news" sites) and that there is a very high bar for a desktop user to pull out their phone and download a mobile app as opposed to a web app that incorporates an oauth based registration option.

The mobile app experience of a) downloading the app and b) going through a potentially lengthy registration process using a mobile keyboard - is a big turnoff imo.

I might be an anomaly, but I only read HN on mobile, usually when I am waiting for something. If I am at my desktop, I have real work to do while on mobile, I am usually passing time waiting on something or another.

Related: I wrote this post showing the number of stars that GitHub projects get after being featured on the HN front page:

- https://medium.com/google-cloud/big-data-stories-in-seconds-...

Here were my results from being on the top of HackerNews for a day: https://imgur.com/a/CeOJ974

8% of visitors signed up (goal 1). Numbers before were fewer than 5 visitors a day with ~0 signups.

why not just use a text file?? or... paper

I gave up trying to land the front page on HN. It just doesn't have the same quality of traffic or discussions from 5~6 years ago when HN was at it's peak.

What's more there are a lot of false positives in the comment sections from a demographic that isn't 100% representative of your target market.

That's quite a claim without numbers.

It looks like part of the point of this post is to illuminate/explore that hypothesis. Or, is that how you're interpreting his findings?

100 installs from 10,000 visitors for starters.

I think most visitors, like myself, visit a lot of these posted links to read up on the project/end-result, out of curiosity and for expanding my knowledge on various subjects.

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