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Ask HN: What is the highest trafficked website run by an individual?
53 points by dumbfounder on Nov 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments
I run Twicsy (twitter picture search) in my spare time by myself and receive over 5.5 million monthly unique visitors (current trailing month according to Google Analytics).

I am curious about what other large sites there are out there run by a single person? Is 4chan the biggest site run by one person?

Drudge Report


033,621,596 PAST 24 HOURS 1,218,005,142 PAST 31 DAYS 11,345,750,362 PAST YEAR

I remember working for The Jerusalem Post - every time we were featured on Drudge Report we got a huge traffic spike.

It was so much that we actually had one/two day campaigns ready to launch when we were featured..

I've heard of Drudge Report before, but never really understood it. Who / what does it cater to and what is its function, a sort of one-man curated news reddit?

I'd say his main demographic is your conservative / libertarian who has little to no faith in government. Socially drudge tends to be moderate; fiscally, very conservative. Sort of a "keep your government hands out of my pocket" type attitude.

He heavily influences a lot of conservative politics, as his reach is massive. Many people think he helped drum up Romney support with a specific narrative across his site in the 2012 Republican primary (whether or not he was paid is up to which conspiracy theorist you speak with).

A link on his site can result in millions of page views

During the Elian Gonzales affair, I sequenced some AP photos into an animation (giving a video effect to a series of photos of a kidnapping) and posted them on my website for a few friends to see. The link ended up on Drudge. AP called to object, and the traffic load was so high I couldn't log on to the server to remove the GIF. Had to call the ISP, told the receptionist "hi, I'm the reason your servers are melting down", and she cheerfully transferred me to the company president. He got a big chuckle out of it, the file was deleted, traffic subsided, and I learned what it meant to get linked to by Drudge.

As someone who shares many libertarian views, I don't really feel that they are part of his target audience. He bashed Ron Paul when he was campaigning and he posts articles that often seem to ridicule constitutionalism and libertarian-ism alike.

I started reading the Drudge Report a couple of years ago, but the more I read, the more I feel like he is catering to racists, homophobes, and the other extremists that have destroyed the republican party.

Disclaimer: I share many libertarian views, but I also believe in many things that would be considered "liberal." Dividing politics into clearly defined parties only inhibits honest self-assessment and productive conversation.

Drudge (and his site) got famous by breaking various news related to the Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton Presidency.

Some stats! Obvious fact: The numbers are roughly proportional. The same crowd come to drudge report on a daily basis without fail. Might look to be overly ambitious claim but the reality might not be far from it.

Drudge numbers are inflated now, and this year due to it being an election year and one where the very people they cater to were trying to knock out the President. It's going to grab a lot of traffic from that.

Wikipedia has their employees at 2, but wow, those are amazing stats.

That's not what their "please donate" campaign told me.

Wikipedia has two listed as the number of Drudge Report's employees. I mixed this up the first time I read it as well.

WikiMedia (which oversees WikiPedia) has 143 employees, according to CrunchBase.

That came to my mind too, but it's no longer just Markus and hasn't been for some time. They currently have 66 employees.


Hacker News is (was?) mostly run by one person and, about a year ago, was getting over 2.4 million uniques per month and 26 million page views.

Source: http://ycombinator.com/newsnews.html

Twicsy is sort of NSFW for anybody who make check it out. Some naked breasts just popped up on my screen in public. Not exactly an ideal outcome, though not unexpected for a "trending" section on a Twitter picture search engine.

Imgur until somewhat recently was run by an individual.

How does Twicsy do revenue wise? I would love to hear the story behind it and how you got to that many users.

Revenue is abysmal. No decent networks will advertise on Twicsy due to the adult content. Up until about 2 months ago I couldn't even cover server costs with the ad money.

As for the story:

I launched it back in 2009 as a last ditch effort to save my company (Searchles) and was featured on TechCrunch a few times that first week. But, since then, the coverage has been almost nonexistent. I have relied on organic growth, SEO, and old fashioned, bullheaded persistence since then. It has grown about 5x each of the past 3 years.

I have been running it in my spare time since March of 2010, and I am not the world's greatest web developer, so almost all improvements have been on the back end just trying to scale the site.

If you are interested in the tech: I run MySQL on a 2TB SSD RAID 5 array, but then I use data caching servers I developed myself to speed up serving the site (some data in memory, most on SSD). The near real time search was also developed by me. Only 4 total servers are used to run the site.

There must be a way around that. Imgur's advertising seems to be pretty standard, but they have gigabytes of nude and/or violent photos uploaded on a weekly basis.

Would it hurt your traffic too much to not have it displayed so prominently on the front page?

I would display a big picture of a nun on the homepage if it made advertisers happy about the rest of the site. I have been talking to ad people for a while now and I can't seem to get around it. But I will continue to try.

I tried some searches on imgur and nothing nasty comes up. On Twicsy it is very easy to get nasty stuff to appear.

Looks like imgur uses Google Adsense, they have cut me off several times.

Yeah, imgur must have all the NSFW content hidden from their own search. Anyone who knows how to use Reddit will know where to find the NSFW stuff they've swept under the rug though, so I'm surprised that's enough for Adsense to give it the OK -- Reddit users are probably 90%+ of imgur's audience.

Maybe you need to do the same thing: set up an "un-affiliated" website that allows you find all the 18+ content on Twicsy, haha

I have thought about it a lot, but the quantity makes it unmanageable. I have over 1.6 billion pics indexed, about 5 million added each day.

I believe Imgur gets around it by flagging the NSFW content and then doesn't load the ad display code on it. Not sure how that gels with the AdSense guidelines however but if they're still using AdSense then it can't be that much of a problem.

I am trying that route but not enough people flag content on Twicsy to make it work well.

Are you subscribing to the paid Twitter firehose, or how do you get the data?

If you could find any feature at all to charge for, you might be surprised to find people signing up. For example you could have "featured tweets" with a retweet button underneath on the right side instead of (or in addition to) the ad block and charge for placement there for people who want their content to be more popular.

I'm flabbergasted that that much traffic doesn't yield any returns. Do you think it's the same with most one man bands?

Do you think it's your user?

It has mostly to do with the fact that decent ad networks won't touch Twicsy. But I also do have a lot of international traffic which is harder to monetize.

How hard was it to scale the growth? Did you get jumped or were you prepared?

Also what are your thoughts on twitters changes to their rules of the road? I'm launching my own 3rd party service and have been warned by some mates. What advice can you give?

My answer is 4chan FYI. Although IMO janitors count as staff...

The growth was pretty steady, but I was always extracting the maximum from the hardware I had to save money, so for a long time I had intermittent issues. I also had my own server colo'd for a while, which I do not recommend for a one man shop. It nearly broke me a few times having a server go down and spending all day trying to fix it. I had a sever go down hard 2 days before I got married, but I had to let it go until 2 days after the wedding. I didn't think the site would recover from that.

The hardest part was to scale it economically. I have always been a big fan of SSD's, which are instrumental in scaling a site that doesn't have the resources to put data they need fast access to in RAM. For example, a site with more money might use redis to cache all the pics for each user (sorted, unique lists), plus all the tweets that point to a pic, but there is too much for me to do that in RAM without selling organs. Also, redis is not very memory efficient. But the advantage is that technologies like that are easy to use and easy to scale. If you have money.

The Twitter rule changes freak me out every day but I have not seen any specific moves that make me think they are after me. It is probably a matter of time, but then you need to think about what form that will take. Will they just cut off the Streaming API? That would be a big move. Will they remove pics from the streaming API? I doubt it. Will they make moves to single me out? That would be weird. Will they come after me with lawyers for caching tweets? I don't see that either. But, while I don't see anything specific, there are a lot of what ifs.

My advice is to use Twitter to get off the ground and then move away from Twitter altogether if at all humanly possible. That's the strategy they are forcing with their stupid rules, so maybe they will see the light at some point and rethink their strategy.

I had similar issues with my service. It's hard to keep the service up with no money.

Some suggestions:

1) Improving the quality of the site

2) Remove the adult content to attract better ad providers.

3) Look at adding a paid service (for power users) to hedge ad revenue. Be careful not to alienate current users.

4) Focus on a few key things and do them very well.

>No decent networks will advertise on Twicsy due to the adult content.

does the "possibly_sensitive" attribute in the Twitter API help at all? I ask because I'm looking into using it on a project, but I don't have enough source data to be able to tell how accurate it is.

This is the first I have heard of it. I am going to check it out.

Thats the tricky part. On the twitter photosharing site (separate project) that I built and maintain, its a constant battle to flag content so that it stays family friendly for advertisers. For flagged media, I show house ads.

I think Matthew Inman from TheOatmeal.com does pretty well. According to Wiki (not the best source, I know) : "As of 2010, the website got an average of 4.6 million unique visitors and more than 20 million page views a month."

That is a good one, does anyone have recent stats for them?

Gets 12 million pageviews on Comscore. That's really good.

I run a site that generates 300m pvs on mobile web, 100m pvs on desktop with 2.7m uniques every month (I believe this is actually substantially higher but not fully tracked in Google Analytics for some reason).

What is the site? Are those pageview numbers monthly?

The numbers are monthly and its based on twitter

I am curious about your site, if you want to share via email you can reach me at chris at twicsy.youknowhat

I block google analytics, and I think many others too do so(yay! for ghostery).

You probably are getting a little(lot?) more visitors than what ga says.

I run W3Counter which tracks over 100 million page views a month. Every load involves both reading from and writing to a database, and about 50% of the time, dynamic image generation... so no CDNs or response caching.

I started a message board service for a few years back. The service had 35-40M pv/mo, 10-12M unique/mo, and more than 1.2M users. Also, the site was in the Alexa 1000 for a few months before it was sold.

I was the only engineer on the project. We had 5-10 volunteers to help support our service (general help, technical support, etc). So, to say I ran the service myself would be a lie.

If you have built such a strong community that people are willing to help out for free I think that is much more impressive than being able to claim you did it all by yourself.

Under what definition. Do they need to just run the content, does having [significant] UGC count as being self-run (I'd warrant not [+ what is significant]). Do they have to run it all down to the bare metal or is a managed server environment allowed. What about regular colo'? Does the site have to run it's own DNS.

No man['s website] is an island.

Interesting post by Markus Frind on just that, "Digital 100, most valuable boot strapped company" - http://plentyoffish.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/digital-100-mos...

The post seems to be the exact opposite of "just that".

e.g. the 3rd sentence...

>I also dont see any that had just a single founder.

Right, most aren't, but his story shows how far a solo founder can go.

They just posted this notice:

Google Play is currently experiencing very high traffic. Nexus 4 is not sold out and will still be available for purchase. Please try again shortly. Thank you for your patience.

There is hope yet

Important info but I think you have the wrong topic.

Shit, I did. No clue how that happened...

Drudge report?

I have a site that get 1.5 million monthly uniques according to GA as well.

okcupid.com was for a long time.

    OkCupid’s founders (Chris Coyne, Christian Rudder, 
    Sam Yagan and Max Krohn)
From wikipedia, seems it was never just one person.


You are mistaken, but it's a fair mistake. You were probably thinking of Plenty of Fish which was run by one guy for a long time.

I thought that was founded by several people?


Created by Chris Coyne, Sam Yagan, Christian Rudder and Max Krohn


My gut reaction was 4chan as well and I feel like that's probably true; well, for the English speaking world anyway.

While Poole may be the only one (or one of the few) people getting checks from 4chan.org, he doesn't have full responsibility for the operation of the site. The site is managed by many volunteer members; "janitors." I think there is something to be said here about the power of an authentic internet community whose participants are willing to work for no compensation, to further its dictator's interests. And that discussion probably involves entertainment value, as well as an apparent sense of equality.

The question is always to what degree others are contributing to a website so it is still run by a "single" person. In most cases there might be a person checking in on the servers on a regular basis that is paid through the hosting fee, etc.

Plus there are not dictatorships on the internet. People vote with their feet and are, especially on an anonymous site such as 4chan not locked in, like they are with Facebook profile/networks.

If there were something describable as dictatorships on the internet, I would argue that it is those sites that try to impose their own values and judgments on their members, and not 4chan (and to a minor degree reddit), which (in most parts) only rule is to avoid completely illegal themes.

I see your point, however, unlike a platform such as Reddit, the available categories under which you may post content are decided upon or terminated by Poole. There is an implicit democracy, where contributing content constitutes endorsement of the platform, but I think you will find that many decisions Poole has made on behalf of 4chan were unpopular. I'm not suggesting that truly democratic internet communities even exist, but 4chan is much farther from that ideal than Reddit. But what 4chan has is _privacy_.

> I'm not suggesting that truly democratic internet communities even exist, but 4chan is much farther from that ideal than Reddit.

I disagree. 4chan is if anything more democratic than most sites even if it is a sort of semi-anarchic mob rule version of democracy.

The first thing I'd like to counter is the idea that the available categories are determined by the 4chan admins and by moot in particular. It is true that he's the one who makes new boards to talk about specific subjects but that doesn't mean that if there isn't a board it doesn't get talked about, generally it'll happen in whatever board has the most users interested in that subject, and if it becomes a problem or starts taking over the board there will be a general purpose board spun off for that subject in particular. Examples of this (in the positive "lots of people are talking about this and need a space) are /tg/ which spun off from warhammer wednesday on /b/ and /lit/ and /toy/ were both spun off from recurring topics on /tg/. Less positive examples include /soc/ and /adv/ which were supposed to clean up /r9k/ and /mlp/ because pony threads were a huge problem on /co/.

I think the problem here is that Reddit's (and HN's for that matter) "democracy" function is explicitly part of the site whilst 4chan's is hidden and based on the whims of the audience.

IIRC the janitors have very few powers, similar to forum moderators on most forums. I suppose you could claim the admins are helping, but personally, I'd only consider people who directly work on the site's backend/frontend management and development, not unpaid community managers.

Janitors do have very few powers. Yet it turns out to be an awful lot of work to moderate a site as open and popular as 4chan.org. Without janitors, you can be sure that the site would consist of predominantly spam & child porn, and probably couldn't continue to exist, for reasons legal or otherwise. But you're right; creatively speaking, the entity is "run" by Poole and probably a handful of contractors.

Well, you could say the same of any forum. I volunteer as a moderator on a rather large forum, it's not quite as large as 4chan but it's among the largest on the internet... It's a lot of work, but we're not the ones running the site itself, we're just volunteers who help out with community moderation. And the work is spread among a lot of volunteers.

Absolutely, that makes it all the more impressive to me.

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