Slightly over two months ago, I attended the 2014 HackMKE Civic Hackathon. I had attended one other hackathon in the past and I figured that it was time to attend another one. I tried to put together a Starkmedia team but the majority of my coworkers are “9 to 5 programmers” and had no interest.
I decided that I would show up by myself, without a plan for what I would create. I would simply dedicate myself to helping wherever I could. I ended up working on building an FAQ database, based upon a site called Honolulu Answers. The idea was that you could post questions about life in Milwaukee and people would offer answers.
The team consisted of myself and Ben Haos, a student at Carroll University. Ben was enthusiastic and eager to learn but had very limited coding experience. This was our real limiting factor. In order to ensure that we would generate something, I made the early decision to using pre-made components for the core product. I spun up a DigitalOcean machine and installed WordPress. I achieved the end-result by installing DW WallPress, DW Question Answer, and WordPress Social Login. After the core site was up, I taught Ben about Kimono, Git, PhoneGap Build, and HTML and he managed to crank out a respectable, basic cross-platform mobile app.
At the end of the hackathon, we had a finished product. So, what happened next? I attempted to drum up some attention via twitter (including limited twitter ads) and Reddit. Except for a few bumps, it has seen little traffic, though.
Why aren’t people using the site? There is already a popular place to post questions about life in Milwaukee. I believe that there are benefits to Milwaukee I/O over the subreddit but they are not big enough to pull the 6,275 subreddit users over to the service. If the benefits were big enough, they would be there.
So, what’s next? I am paying $5/mo for the server and I am glad to do that if there is a benefit to the community but there does not appear to be one. There is no new, interesting code that came out of the project. There is content but there is no unique content. I am going to give the service another month to live and then I am going to kill it.
What are the takeaways from the experience? Not everything that you write will succeed. The most difficult projects are the ones that are dependent upon attracting a vibrant community. A solution really needs to be unique enough that it will naturally attract an audience. An audience can be purchased but with a project like this, you will not get a good ROI on your marketing buy.