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Show HN: I asked an HN member for feedback and she blew my mind
453 points by kabuks on Oct 26, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments
A few days ago, I responded to a comment by bloggergirl offering to read anyone's web copy and help. I shot off an email hoping for a paragraph or two of feedback on my startup's copy.

Instead I received a professional, detailed deck of tons of invaluable well thought out feedback. It must have taken her an entire afternoon.

Here's a link to it: http://www.slideshare.net/shereefb/recommendations-for-bettermeans

To top it off, this isn't someone with a lot of free time on her hands, she's only days away from launching her own startup (page99test)

This community blows my mind!

HN is rapidly changing in to some real-life version of pay-it-forward. I'm going to have to think hard on a way in which I can contribute to this phenomenon, I think that some amazing stuff may grow out of it.

As a programmer I've been trying to think of a way to do my own Offer HN or the like. The problem is that most programming projects are much broader in scope and there's a learning curve to learning my code for someone else who follows up. I'd be open to suggestions for how I could lend my programming knowledge to this phenomenon.

Maybe something like Wil Shipley's "Pimp My Code" series where he gives feedback to Cocoa programmers, but for your area of expertise, of course.


I've thought about that. The problem is that I'm the first to admit I'm not a fantastic programmer. My strongest trait is just getting stuff done and getting code out the door.

Not for one thing or another but:

> The problem is that I'm the first to admit I'm not a fantastic programmer.

Is a trait unfortunately very few programmers actually have, most of them think they're aces (especially when they're not) and:

> My strongest trait is just getting stuff done and getting code out the door.

Is a very desirable property.

I think you're not half as bad as you may think you are. The mentality you display is more or less exactly what I'd be looking for in a new hire.

But not what you'd necessarily be looking for in someone who critiques code

No big ego: check. Ships: check.

I don't see a problem.

That's good personal insight - become a fantastic programmer.

I'm certainly trying. I am a CS dropout and feel like I'm lacking a good bit of theory (algorithms and math specifically). I gobble up what I can find that actually makes theory applicable/interesting.

I too am a CS dropout, and am grateful every single day for having dropped out. I learn more in a week of working at the startup I'm at than I did in a month of college. I'm only 3 months into doing real-world professional development, but I believe that this will still be true a year from today, and I hope that it will still be true 10 years down the line. I too am lacking in some of the theoretical stuff, and have found MIT's open courseware (their intro to algorithms course: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-comput... ) to be incredibly useful in supplementing what I missed while in school. I've also heard good things about Khan academy but haven't checked it out yet.

I'm a high school drop out and had a very similar reaction to yours for the first couple of years. Thing is this: industry teaches you process and refinement; not (or rarely) theory. You must obtain some sort of abstract theoretical foundation to be a "fantastic" programmer - whether you do that through self-education or a formal education doesn't matter.

I've personally taken the former route - rigorous self directed learning with a dash of discipline and love for the knowledge will turn you into something far greater than what could be elicited from you by "just going through the motions" at a college.

Granted. I'll probably be going to college soon anyways because I want to pursue Aerospace - but that's, again, self inspired (rather than "ZOMG I NEED TO GOTO SCHOOL OR MY PARENTS WON'T KEEP PAYING MY RENT" - not saying all people are like that, I know more likely than not most people are self-sufficient; I said that more in line with how parents tend to enforce college on their kids instead of letting them be inspired to the action).

Dsp for engineers is a fun read that makes a certain class of problems interesting, approachable and understood

Maybe you could offer to help solve bugs that someone has been having a hard time with. Sometimes all it takes is a pair of fresh eyes to spot the problem.

I appreciate the sentiment, but isn't that kinda in the StackOverflow space, where you'd get far more eyes on it (tho potentially of far more spread ability)

I thought SO was for more general questions. Do alot of people ask for help solving specific bugs there?

Maybe the best thing you can do is build that drive in others. Hell, I've got two web projects that have been meandering along for over a year, both not launch-ready - getting stuff out of the door is, for me (and I imagine many others), the biggest problem.

Perhaps you could be some sort of "entrepreneurial personal trainer" :)

I'm thinking of offering to help someone create a weekend project, if they can design but not program or whatever. I've been looking for a small project to do (no longer than a weekend) to familiarise myself with AppEngine, but I don't know what sort of uptake this would have, in a community of programmers.

How about startupweekend.org? If you haven't heard of it, you are missing out big time. If they don't have it in your city, contact them and see about helping to get one there. BTW, I don't have anything to do with them other than having participated in one near me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That sounds good, thank you. I already have a startup, though, so I just wanted to do something quickly over the weekend. I'll give startup weekend a try, it sounds like a good place to meet people!

Glad you are open to the idea. Even if you already have a startup, here's a few reasons to do it anyway:

1. SW attracts a lot of different types of people - BizDev/UIX-Designers/Coders/Legal/etc... You may help someone w/o the technical chops bring some traction to their vision/dream/idea.

2. You WILL meet people that might be useful to you down the road. So great, you have the technical chops, but lack bizdev - well, you are in luck b/c you have met people who have that skill that might be able to help your dream come true.

3. It's fun! It's intense, but very fun. Especially if you are a competitive individual.

4. It's not a bad recruiting ground for tech talent. These people go to these events because they have passion. What more could you ask for?

When I went to it, I wasn't sure what to expect. A bunch of unemployed novice programmers? A pure networking event? I never, in my wildest expectations, expected to meet such quality people at the top of their respective games.

I've never been to events like this (hackathons/etc...) so maybe this is a common thread. For me, it was a great experience that I would repeat again - regardless of my current status.

Hope this helps someone.

If you're looking for a weekend project - I am teaching myself to program, and decided that an interesting first web app could be a simple program that generates coupon codes for promotions, and then tracks which coupons are being redeemed (when the user records a redemption).

I only know a little programming myself, and have no real familiarity with working with databases or AppEngine, but Django + AppEngine should work (from what I understand about them) for this project.

I don't know if this is something you can do within a weekend, but if you are interested in helping a rookie get his feet wet, feel free to contact me. The info is in my profile.

Hmm, that does sound interesting. Is this something that other sites can use to create and track promotions, or something users can use to generate coupons? I'm not sure how these things work...

I thought it would be simpler to just have users (let's call them vendors to distinguish from customers) manually track their redeemed coupons by entering their active coupon codes in the site. The original intent was for brick and mortars (traditionally old fashioned when it comes to these things) to have some help with basic marketing ROI.

Of course to expand the functionality to websites, there would have to be an automatic way for the coupons to be 'redeemed'. The basic flow I have so far is:

1. User creates new coupon (give it a name and description)

1a. App generates unique code for coupon and stores the coupon information in a database

1b. (external to app) User uses coupon code to create coupons to be distributed through whatever channels are appropriate (mailings, website, emails, etc.)

2. User received coupon from customer and manually records a redemption (based on the unique code)

2a. App records redemption count to DB

3. App displays statistics of coupon redemption (how many, when, maybe other attributes)

That's very interesting and shouldn't be too hard to make, send me an email and we can discuss it further!

Ha, since you put it out there...

Want to finish an open source Techmeme on AppEngine? A buddy of mine got half-way there building it but had to bail. I want to get it finished so we can stick it in an iFrame and add it to WindyCitizen.com as an alternate view of the local news in Chicago, showing you what's hot in the local media right now.

Hmm, I'm not very familiar with Techmeme. Isn't it just a CMS? It doesn't sound very interesting, sadly :/

Techmeme takes feeds of news items and clusters them based on their timestamp, related keywords, and internal links to determine what the hottest stories are in Tech right now. It's an automated, super smart Tech news aggregator. It's not a CMS. It's a web app where you feed it RSS feeds, and it tells you what the hottest stories across all those sources are right now. It's awesome.

It's a crime that we don't have Techmeme-like sites for more verticals than Tech and Media news. That's what I'm interested in and have made progress on.

Oh, I see. That's potentially very interesting (and I have a masters in machine learning, so it shouldn't be too hard to pull off). Send me an email and let's see if we can whip something up quickly?

Yea, this is along the lines of what I'm thinking. Hand me a design and I'll HTML/CSS/JS it up for you, maybe throw in some PHP love.

I'd love to team up with a designer and crank out some websites for people!

offtopic: how did your price experiment work out? Mail me, I'm super curious!

Unfortunately, with our current sales volume, it would be nearly impossible to extract any sort of meaningful conclusion from that experiment, so I haven't been able to run it :/ It's a shame, because I think about it every time I look at our pricing page, and wait for the time our sales will be reliable enough to extract any sort of result.

I've written a few thoughts on pricing here:


Basically, we're looking to launch some not-so-pleasant changes to the account system soon :/

Write useful modules and let HN members use them for free? Actually, just open source them and post links?

What kind of modules would you be looking for? Open to suggestions :)

I personally don't need anything right now, actually, but thanks anyway. :)


Without thinking about it, her generosity inspires me to spend more time here looking for an excuse to help someone in return.

You have already done so much.

Countless are spending time doing their best to share authentic valuable knowledge. They are not thanked enough.

Thank you!

It would be great to see "Ask HN" featured more prominently on the site--it gets to the heart of why many of us are here and most of the other stuff can be found elsewhere.

The ask HN posts have their own section now where they remain visible far longer than before. The price of that is that they're gone even quicker from the homepage.

SHEREEF, thank you! I really didn't expect you to say anything about this little PPT. Much appreciated. :) blush Honestly, how nice of you!

I really hope your site does well because BETTERMEANS.COM is a super-smart idea. It was a total privilege to get involved with your website at all. I hope everyone checks it out.

BTW, I received an email from you and will get back to you pronto privately. In the meantime, much appreciated. And to everyone else who wrote to me re: help on copy, I'm happy to get back to you over the coming days: joanna AT page99test DOT com.

Go, Hacker News community!

Least I could do Joanna.

btw, you should use your bloggergirl account, instead of a new one so folks start recognizing you in this community.

I forgot my password the other day (restarted computer and couldn't retrieve it), so I had to login as fireitup. Anyway, good call --- I didn't even think about my username when I commented.

https://twitter.com/joannawiebe Is this you? Would love to stay up to date with what you're doing!

Great deck by the way. Pretty epic goodwill.

No, I don't actually have a personal twitter account. I tweet @page99test, if you'd like to follow.

Clickable link: http://www.slideshare.net/shereefb/recommendations-for-bette...

Poster is not kidding about how complete and professional this slide deck is. I'm impressed!

I'm impressed too. What gets me most is the clarity of thought that's so evident in the analysis. Like a lot of things in life; seeing someone who truly has mastery over their craft makes difficult things look so easy.

There is some pretty good advice in there that would apply to just about any website.

I feel like I just completed a mini-course in writing web copy.

Definitely. That is a grad school worthy slide-deck without a doubt.

I came here to say the same thing. As an MBA student, this is better than what 75% of my peers could have produced.

Very, very nice work. You should be charging for this kind of quality :)

This isn't an advertisement, but anyone interested in doing this sort of thing for a living or benefiting from it should definitely attend the Web Content conference (2011: http://webcontent2011.com , 2010: http://webcontent2010.com). It's full of great speakers who do this for a living and seriously helped our group of 8-12 get our content mojo back.

It's quite amazing. I learned a lot !

Any chance of a .PDF or .PPT link?

Wow, that's amazing.

bloggergirl, you need to write and sell an ebook on web copy. Marketed correctly (and I have no doubts that you'd be able to), you'd make tens of thousands of dollars at the least. I mean, a $20 or even $25 ebook on web copy that will increase my conversion rate? Incredible value prop. I'd buy it.

I would buy that book, too, but I would feel remiss if I didn't point out that she could charge at least high four figures for a week of consulting and get it. The deck she produced here is worth north of $2,000.

Hire me, then! LOL! :) ~joanna

Please check your email at your convenience.

Well played. One of my favorite things about HN is that people act on opportunities.

Sounds like a smart move for both of you.

Time to drop Rails consulting and take up content... :)

I've banged this drum a few times, but if both of those are in your bag of tricks, your economic value to the right company is Very High Indeed. (Plus you can e.g. instrument the site to prove how much copy changes actually mattered. This decreases the risk of hiring you and allows you to charge higher prices because you are not also having the client self insure against the project being worthless.)

Even scale the review down and offer a templated lite version as a $79-129 service for web sites. Set it up so that each review takes 30-60 minutes, do 2-3 a day (evenings if already otherwise employed) and use it to pay the mortgage.

Perhaps the $79 pricepoint came with the proviso that the customer documented it and their follow-up changes on their company blog.

Could stay afloat using just HN as a source of customers, I suspect.

Ebook has the advantage of being a possible passive earner, but I've never bought an ebook personally whereas I could see myself using a service like this.

Consider at least two copies sold then.

What a neat idea, please, yes, do this.

Count me in as well. This is truly amazing stuff bloggergirl.

Wow, the amount of time and effort that she must have dedicated in completing her feedback is astounding.

The least we can do is bump up a post about her startup the day it launches.

Bloggergirl, get ready for the voluminous amount of web traffic on launch day!

It launched yesterday I think http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1833027

Hm, you've just given me an idea: A HN based traffic exchange, where HN members with large websites would donate excess inventory to pull new starter-uppers off the ground.

Does that have merit?

Feedback Roulette is already doing great work in this area.

You review random sites, get karma points then your site gets reviewed by other users in proportion to your karma. Brilliant. Symbiosis at its best


Interesting. When did this launch?

It was on HN frontpage last weekend I believe

I had an idea for ths exact thing 83 days ago. Glad somebody did it. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1574127

I think this is the type of thing where formulating & formalizing is a mistake. It would be better if this sort of just culturally "evolved."

jacquesm posts 'I'll promote one startup on launch day that helps another HNer in a meaningful way.'

bloggergirl offer help accepted by kabuks resulting in this post.

I wonder if HN isn't a little big for this though.

Just like attempting to formalize it may be a mistake, thinking HN might be too big is an equally limiting mistake. Ideally the pay-it-forward concept would encompass every individual globally and as such it has no upper limit.

When in doubt, just concentrate on what you can do :)

Maybe that should be maybe HN is too big considering that this isn't its main purpose.

> jacquesm posts 'I'll promote one startup on launch day that helps another HNer in a meaningful way.'

I've already been doing that for a while, I was just wondering if it might be useful to give that some bigger shoes.

I'm sure that any of the sites here that are large enough to be selling ads would have some unsold inventory or inventory that they could miss without any pain whatsoever.

If you have to set that up on a per-instance basis it is a lot of work (it is for me) so that might take the sting out of it and make it more practical.

No ... companies that have merit tend to get the attention they deserve. If not immediately, eventually. As for the community, anybody who contributes is much more likely to get attention in the long-run.

Also, what is the "excess inventory" that you are referring to?

A submission to hacker news is a pitch to the community ... the community will vote up anything that has merit ... that was the point of the community in the first place!

Would anyone actually use this,, and do people actually have excess inventory? I have various bits of code that together would go most of the way to building this.

(Specifically I have a Python/AppEngine link exchange app that I never launched, as well as a Java/AppEngine context sensitive ad-serving engine with clickthough tracking & optimization etc that I built for fun)

Most people selling advertising have some amount of excess inventory... Even Google doesn't always fill all the ad spots with paying adwords.

Clickable link to bloggergirl's startup: http://page99test.com/

I know it's standard internet stuff, but if I click on a big button saying "Start reading", I want to start reading. I do not want a big form asking me to register. If I like the service, yes, I will want to register, but give me a chance to form an opinion first.

Yes. There's a strategy of "gradual engagement": http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1128 (HN: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1774007) gives some specific ideas on implementing it - and some impressive results.

Basically, don't require more info from the user than you need right now. An example is you can read HN/reddit without an account - but if you want to vote/submit/comment, you need an account (and that's all: email etc is optional).

Although you might really want signups, and so it seems to makes sense to get them ASAP, the counter-productive result is that people don't go further. I didn't; the GP didn't - and that's even after the wonderful publicity here on HN. You've got to make it as adoptable as possible.

My test with gradual engagement was an epic, epic failure for my business, for what it is worth. I got vanishingly few customers and they caused hugely disproportionate support issues. (Exacerbated by one poor implementation choice.)

yep. i wanted to explore the site, the idea sounded interesting, and i was kindly-disposed towards bloggergirl due to the impressive website review she did, but when the registration form came up i just closed it and moved on. maybe i'll check it out later when i haven't spent the last fifteen hours at work, but right now the cognitive load and annoyance cost of registration is more than i'm willing to subject myself to.

Er, I just signed up to page99test.com, and two "page 99's" in I think I'm hooked. This site isn't launched? Perhaps bloggergirl should do a "Review my startup" here on HN, because I already have feedback: I already want to read more than one page, and possible even buy the book, but can't...

Perhaps page99test should offer discounts or early access to books.

Check out my side project, http://www.onepageperday.com

Well, here it goes:

1) White text on brown background is very difficult to read for many people.

2) Horizontal scrolling is bad.

3) The main headline is far too big. You should be able to take in a headline in a single glance.

4) The placement of the gigantic green button seems somewhat arbitrary. In general, those buttons always look as if they've been designed for a baby toy.

5) I'm forced to create an account to read a sample.

6) The "written about by" references are not clickable.

The general impression is that the site looks cluttered, trying to spread out a modest amount of actual information over as large an area as possible.

Bloggergirl's website is nicely designed and I like the idea as well. 3.1MB of background image is going to cause her grief in the long run though.

You're right about the page load times. We're working with our designer to get that down to something more manageable. In the meantime, sorry. :(

I would be happy to do that for you :)

Bloggergirl, you inspired me to create an account here! Love reading about people sharing their passion and helping others along the way.

I would also like to help review copy and provide feedback if anyone needs it.

I do brand management marketing at my day job and have a near-obsession with clear messaging. It's a shame if you have a great product/service but your customer doesn't understand the benefit.

Welcome to HN! It might be helpful to include an email address in your profile blurb :)

I launched a "toolbar" (it's actually a bookmarklet) two weeks ago and although anybody I show it to in person thinks it's great, everyone else just gets confused. I put a lot of work into it, an unhealthy amount really, and as a result have found its lack of adoption frustrating to the point of just giving up. I use this thing every day, to bookmark and to search, yet I cannot adequately explain it much less motivate people to understand what it does. It feels awful.

At any rate, the URL is http://dashler.com/toolbar if you want to take a look. I'm not even sure the idea is a good one, anymore. Of about 1000 visitors, only about 2 use it regularly. I'm ready to scrap the whole thing. I would very much appreciate any advice you could offer pass along. I'm looking to ditch the video and use a slideshow of screenshots, but I'm not even sure where to begin.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1783632. Is the HN submission of it.

I'd be grateful for any advice! Thank you.

First of all, don't give up yet!

I was watching the video tutorial and it helped explain the concept. I think videos are overdone these days, but this is a case where a live demo helps clarify how much time you save by not typing or clicking on different browser pages to search.

I want to play with the site and features to fully understand the benefit of the bookmarklet before providing feedback.

In the meantime, here are a couple questions for you:

What made you create this bookmarklet?

What type of person would most benefit from this tool? (Target market)

When you explain the concept to people, at what point do they start getting confused? (Maybe you just need to improve a certain part of the message, not the whole thing.)

Where are these 1000 visitors from and why don't they use the tool? (You could be attracting the wrong people, or finding the right people but talking to them in the wrong way.)

Of the 2 people who use the tool regularly, what made them decide to use it and why do they like it? (Analyzing successes provides insight for what to continue/repeat in the future.)

Why do you think screenshots would be more effective than a video?

It's going to be very interesting to see what happens when HN continue to grow. I don't know how big HN is right now, and I don't know where the breaking points for an online community are, but growth does mean change. I remember some years ago I'd go to slashdot to read the comments...

This is and has been a fantastic site (I'm personally fairly recently a registered user, before that I was just reading), and I hope it will continue to be. But I do also know that if it continues to grow, it will mean there will have to be changes (more people = more trolls, etc). Dealing with change is always hard, I hope the spirit of HN will remain.

EDIT: actually meant to be a follow-up to jacquesm's post. It appears I failed :-/

> EDIT: actually meant to be a follow-up to jacquesm's post. It appears I failed :-/

That's happened to me too. I think it's a bug.

It's the curse of the Eternal September. The only forums I've seen that managed to grow large while still keeping the posts on topic are ones with strong moderation that don't hesitate to quickly ban trolls, rather than just relying on the community to downvote them.

As of last update, HN has 30 [1] moderators composed of YC alumni.

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html scroll to "Who are the editors?"

This is a real bar-raiser in terms of community help. Seeing a submission to someone of this quality at no cost is inspiration to participate - to both keep the ball rolling, and also to compete for "coolest free help" spot number one.

Very positive outcome.

It's posts like these that make me scratch my head when people say HN is going downhill.

page99test.com is gorgeous; who designed it?

Someone who thought using a 3 megabyte png of wood-grain texture with a pointless alpha-transparency gradient was a good idea.

Just composite it with the body background to obviate the transparency, make it a jpeg, and halve your page load time.

Was just reading about it here:


Ahhh; I see that client list and leap to the assumption: "hellaciously expensive".

I thought the same thing, but not having a lot of experience hiring designers, I am curious what type of numbers we are actually talking.

1-5k? 5-10k? More?

With MailChimp in your portfolio? Substantially north of $10k, just on design work (no CSS, no implementation), if I'm guessing right.

WorryFreeLabs was surprisingly affordable. My partner Lance and I 'bootstrapped' these design costs with our bonuses from our day jobs (and didn't exhaust our bonuses with it). Without question, I'd recommend WorryFreeLabs if you're looking for a group to take your idea and bring it to life in design. We're continuing to work with them as we build out page99test.com, and they're as fantastic as ever.

If anyone's got a designer who can do that caliber of work for $5k, let me know.

screenshot/blurb/feature boxes is becoming far too common

Isn't that a good thing?

better than rounded corners, drop-shadows, over-sized fonts and large buttons with shadows, I guess.

But I am noticing this new design style (more a layout) - and I am not one to really focus on that.

This is why I love the age I live in, the internet & HN.

Someone takes the time to invest a few hours into helping a fellow entrepreneur with a particular strength they have.

Word gets out, and it turns out that the specific help they gave is directly related to the purpose of their recently launched startup.

This could be either a brilliant PR coup, or just genuine good-neighbourliness coming home to roost.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Why can't it be both?

Well...because it's not really 'genuine' if it was a PR stunt.

Or rather, the motives wouldn't have been 'pure', as in strictly from the point of view of, I-want-to-help-out-another-guy-type-of-pure.

Well, I had no idea Shereef would post this. But I'm very grateful. I think it's a very pay-it-forward sort of mentality that sits well with everyone in the HN community, everyone who believes information should be free and wants to see others with great ideas do really well. Honestly, if you check out BetterMeans.com, you'll want to help them out, too - without question.

This sounds like a business idea: Let people upload an image, URL, or copy, and charge for reviewing: $n for a five minute lookover, $m for an hour. Editors reply with an updated draft and visual diff of changes.

A few days ago I ran into a similar service. It's free, though you have to review others sites: http://feedbackroulette.com/

Not quite what I mean, but that's ok :)

With Feedback Roulette, every submitter is also a reviewer. "Communal review."

With the paid editorial service, submitters only pay pre-authorized editors.

Bloggergirl did a fantastic job on these slides. It is amazing that she took the time to go through the site in so much detail. Thanks for sharing the slides as this is good advice for anyone.

I would pay for someone to review http://readness.com and produce slides with feedback on the messaging, how awesome.

I think the review serves as a great guideline for all currently yet-to-launch sites and items to address/review for launch ones.

I read it ! thank you for your efforts in helping the original posts ! says a lot about you.

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