This is the story of Breakup Notifier: when I made it, what the inspiration was, how I handled it, and anything else that might be relevant. I’m writing this not only because a lot of people asked me to, but also for myself. The past month has been a little out of this world, and there’s a ton of stuff that’s been sitting in my head just waiting to be jotted down on paper (or in this case, Vim). On another note, I still can’t get over that Breakup Notifier was on Jay Leno (broken link as of 1/29/2016) a few nights ago (skip to 8:42 on the monologue). Insane.
So I’m going to go into as much detail as I possibly can. If I left out something that you’d like to see, shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’ll update the post.
Unique Visitors: 0
It was a pretty normal night. My fiancée, her mom and I spent a few hours earlier that evening watching the season finale of Spartacus. After the show ended, I got back to work. A few minutes after getting back on the computer (which is also in our TV room—noise canceling headphones FTW!), I started listening in on a conversation they were both having regarding my soon-to-be sister-in-law.
So there was this great guy who they thought was a great match for her. They were talking him up to each other, convincing themselves he was probably the perfect guy. Their hopes were dashed after checking his relationship status on Facebook (yep, he was “In a relationship”).
This was a problem just itching for a solution. Since programmers are kind of like real life superheroes, I decided to do my part. I proposed a system where they would get an email the instant said guy changed his relationship status. They absolutely loved it.
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Here’s the first chat I had where I talked about the idea.
|12:07 PM||me: i’m going to take an hour break|
|i want to make a joke website|
|12:08 PM||what’s the idea|
|12:09 PM||login through facebook and mark hot girls you’re interested in who
are in a relationship
|it will email you when they break up|
|Christopher: thats brilliant|
|im waiting out like 5 relationships|
|12:09 PM||i’m giving myself a time limit of one hour|
|Christopher: you got it|
|me: will let you know when its done|
Somewhere in the middle of this conversation I purchased the domain breakupnotifier.com (if you’re wondering why the confirmation email says 1:08pm, it’s because GoDaddy is located in Arizona). And no, I didn’t follow through with my initial time estimate :P.
I had enough feedback to actually build something. The git repo was started at 12:40pm with the intent to actually work on this thing the next day.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to get some more feedback from some other friends. I thought the idea was hilarious so I naturally wanted to tell as many people as possible.
|1:14 PM||me: http://breakupnotifier.com/|
|Richard: dude i think it can go even further than that – check out what im
about to send you
|1:15 PM||quick which icon set do you like better|
gives you more choice
|me: yeah agreed|
|i’m going with it|
I purchased $18.50 worth of credits on iStockphoto and downloaded the Valentine’s Day icon set. After it was downloaded, I spent about 30 minutes inside of Fireworks turning this
I went with the Facebook color scheme primarily because I figured it’s what people are accustomed to and comfortable with.
I think I spent the next few hours working on some other things. At 3 I started tinkering with the Facebook Graph API. Here’s a chat from around then.
|3:30 PM||are you up to anything?|
|me: making a silly web app|
|my break for the day|
|what is it?|
|3:31 PM||me: rachel (my fiancée) was talking with her mom last night about
her sister, and how they wanted to set her up with this guy
|they checked on facebook and he was in a relationship|
|so i was like, would you guys want to be notified when his relationship status
|they were like YESSS|
|and an idea was born|
|3:32 PM||so whenever your friends|
|relationship status changes|
|you get notified|
|me: well you can pick and choose|
|James: haha thats funny|
|me: so you can pick only the hot girls|
|James: i like it|
|it’ll be on hn in a few hours|
|James: did you start building yet?|
|me: i hope|
|James: the fbook api is pretty easy right|
|did you use a library|
|3:33 PM||me: yeah, it’s super simple|
|although it’s being annoying right now|
|with the permissions crap|
|me: i’m asking for certain permissions but the api isn’t giving me the info
i asked for
|3:34 PM||James: thats annoying|
|3:35 PM||me: i wonder if its because of my draconian privacy settings|
|3:39 PM||eff this|
|i give up|
Yep, believe it or not, Breakup Notifier almost never happened. I worked on Crate for the rest of the day.
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I decided to finish what I started. I knew there was something here and I was not going to give in so easily. I figured out what my issue was with the Facebook API pretty quickly (I was asking for the wrong permissions).
I finished the web application sometime around mid-afternoon Saturday, tweeted about it (here’s the one from the @BreakupNotifier account), and then submitted the post to Forrst. I knew this site had some major potential, so I was seriously pushing it to my friends and followers.
Despite all this, no one really cared.
Unique Visitors: 15
The next day, I wanted to give Breakup Notifier one last chance.
I submitted Breakup Notifier to HN at about 4:00pm (Show HN: Breakup Notifier). I distinctly recall that it almost fell off the new page and sat at around 2-3 upvotes for about an hour. I think by the time an hour passed, I’d given up on it and started watching Batman Begins with my fiancee. I checked on my computer halfway through the movie, and somehow it made it to the front page!
|6:35 PM||Carter: kudos on the hn post|
|6:40 PM||me: haha wow|
|it’s gotten on the front page?|
|me: oh wow|
|7:07 PM||James: dude!|
|is 3rd on hn|
On Sunday night at around 7:30pm PST, had reached the #1 spot; by 9:19pm, the site had over 12,000 unique visitors.
At 11:12 PM that night, the impossible happened.
I knew what the problem was. Alexia wasn’t getting emails since I was only checking for relationship status changes once every 24 hours. As a test, Alexia broke up with herself, saw no email, and was very sad.
I promise, this was the closest I’ve probably ever gotten to having a psychological breakdown. I definitively remember my hands shaking as I wrote the code to increase the polling frequency. My adrenaline levels must have been through the roof. I knew the site had viral potential—I just couldn’t really believe it was actually happening.
Unique Visitors: 18,805
I pushed the new code and waited. And waited. Next morning, at around 11am, it happened…Breakup Notifier was crunched. On another note, this is the point where I was also given introduced to all the wonderful TechCrunch commenters.
I was blown away by the malice of some of these people. It’s really kind of depressing, but that’s the subject of another post. Moving on…
|10:06 AM||Matthew: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/02/21/facebook.relationship.status/index.html?iref=NS1|
|me: holy shit|
Shit got real right about now. Within a few hours, I was contacted by ABCNews.com, MSNBC, GlobeAndMail, Technorati, PC Magazine, The New York Daily News, Information Week, the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The NY Times Magazine, the International Business Times, and the list goes on.
Here’s the traffic graph for Monday.
Unique Visitors: 116,669
It may seem crazy, but by Tuesday I was in a state of immense denial. I truly could not believe what was going on. Every morning for the next few days, I felt like I was waking up to a dream. It was all too surreal and odd for me to really explain. It was kind of like a ton of eyes were on me and what I was going to do. Hell, a bunch of people thought Facebook would ban me (lulz).
I teased fate a little bit when I commented that I would feel honored if Facebook were to ban Breakup Notifier. Heh.
Unique Visitors: 164,309
I woke up to this email in my inbox (sent at 4:38AM).
I suppose I was overstepping my bounds ;). I would later learn that the reason the application was disabled was because of a little “Share” button. When a Facebook application uses the feed dialog to publish a story through an application, it’s actually a wrapper over the Facebook API. So when a user hides or blocks content from one of these posts, it can actually penalize the application that allowed the user to share.
Apparently, a lot of people were hiding these shares from friends, so the application was banned automatically. I didn’t have as large a problem with the reason it was banned as much as the amount of time it took for Facebook to communicate this to me.
I immediately sent an email to Alexia at TechCrunch letting her know what was going on. I figured this would be an interesting story and I was lucky enough that she decided to write about it.
I don’t like sitting around like a lame duck, so I did what any self respecting hacker would do. I decided to channel the traffic to Breakup Notifier to another website while all this Facebook stuff was being sorted out. I would call it Crush Notifier.
Amidst all the press craziness that was happening about now (and a packed inbox), I pumped out the site.
Unique Visitors: 197,999
Breakup Notifier traffic was really dying down by now, especially since the site hadn’t been able to do anything for about two days, per Facebook’s ban of the application.
With Crush Notifier, I planned to integrate Facebook Credits, write a revamped backend (to handle a lot more users), and basically make everything faster. It took a few hours, and by evening, I was ready to launch the site. I wrote a blog post, submitted it to HN, and braced myself.
TechCrunch soon posted about it. Nothing really prepared me for the sort of vitriol that I would soon be the target of. In the TechCrunch post, I was called things that I’d rather not repeat on this blog. There’s no need to repeat them here.
I went to bed feeling extremely depressed that night. Rachel told me not to worry—this is just how some people are, and there’s not really much one can do about it. It still just stuck with me. There isn’t really anything much worse than random people accusing you of being a cheat, liar, and fraud.
Unique Visitors: 203,171
I could never have predicted what would happen next.
A fellow HNer, jarin, wrote a post entitled Crush Notifier backlash: if Dan Lowenherz is a crook so is your favorite company. He spelled my last name wrong, but it really didn’t matter. I know this might sound bizarre, but I never felt more at home in any community of people. Everyone chimed in about how this happens to everyone; it’s just how the world works.
Main thing I learned from this experience is that you just have to ignore everyone who tries to put you down. It will happen. As Chad Etzel remarked: “Haters gonna hate.” Nothing you can do about it.
Unique Visitors: 237,851 and counting
You’re probably wondering how much money I made with all this attention. Short answer: nothing. Long answer: had I chosen to put ads on the site as it was exploding in popularity, I believe I would have probably made a few hundred dollars.
As for Facebook’s ban of the application, it was revoked on Sunday. On Monday morning, I relaunched the application (it goes without saying that I removed the ‘Share button’).
I also would like to add that I am so incredibly thankful for the HN community and the positive energy that it promotes. There is nothing quite like it. I love all of you.
My next post is going to be a bit more technical in nature. I’m going to write what the scaling/coding aspect of this entire experience was like, so if you’re at all interested in that, be sure to subscribe!
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