Posts Tagged ‘Sarahsoft’

In April revenue dropped to $618.01, and there was a 1.8% growth in users. Less than expected, but not alarmingly so given that we’ll be heading into the summer months soon which tend to be a time of slow down. My Alexa rank continues to climb which could be an indication that my piece of the global audience pie is still growing.

Bit by bit I’ve been able to carve out more time for Sarahsoft.

Last month I lamented not having smoke tests. I ran into a problem a few years ago when my host updated the PHP server. A function I was depending on was deprecated. As a result, one of my apps began to fail silently. Two years ago I lost 2 days after an updating a dependency changed the way the apps displayed. I’ve learned to test often, even when not updating my code. Smoke tests can automated some of that, freeing up more time for development.

At present the primary thing I’m looking for in my smoke tests is development code that slipped into production, such as code that references individual source files rather than stable build files, or specify a build file other than the current one. Although it shouldn’t effect functionality, I’m looking for code with TODOs and debugging output. Such conditions could be a sign that I wasn’t ready to launch the new code, and did by mistake.

I haven’t gotten any more warnings about memory issues which takes some of the time pressure off. My primary goal is still moving Datayze to it’s own user account, and it’s own VM. I probably should have done this after pushing all the pending changes from the winter so that I was only working on one thing at a time. I’ve needlessly complicated things a bit for myself. Ah well, live and learn.

I have been bit by the coding bug. After last month I had the itch to get cracking again and I desperately wanted to cross stuff off my todo list. Time is still my biggest challenge, but I’m finding a little more time to carve out each week.

First, let’s dive into the numbers. March saw a 16.7% increase in users and topped out at $727.75. My goal of $1000/month feels so close! Time Until Countdown continues to be not only my most popular app, but one of my fastest growing apps as well with a 25% increase in users.

Since I have a number of new features to roll out at once I decided to go ahead and set up a new user account on my server to host Datayze, walling it off from my personal stuff.

My current focus is on upgrading the admin panel so it functions more like a panel and less like a collection of scripts. There’s a work flow to the admin panel now. There’s a section for shepherding new apps from implementation to launch. I already had an analysis framework for better understanding site usage, but it was old and slow, written for a time when I had far fewer users. That’s been spruced up a bit. The biggest thing I’d like to add next is smoke tests, code that’s designed to look for issues before they arise. I check my apps periodically for speed and mobile usability issues, but it would be nice to have to be more proactive.

One potential issue I may have this month: I’m getting warnings about memory usage again. I strongly suspect a memory leak, but tech support thinks it’s this blog (sktyler.com)’s instance of WordPress. By separating Datayze to its own user account I can seamlessly push it to a separate VM. Then, assuming tech support is right, this personal blog with a handful of readers won’t negatively impact my business. Even if tech support is wrong, it’s still worth doing, especially since my goal is to build multiple Datayze-scaled sites.

My goal is to launch Datayze on the new account with all the changes in a few months. I can’t decide yet if that’s a stretch goal or not.

This past month Datayze saw a paltry 1.5% growth in users and a whopping 23% growth in revenue. I’m now up to $627.76 per month, and it was a shorter month! It’s not the $1000/month goal I had set for myself, but I am headed in the right direction.

I intended to focus on emails again this month, however I was contacted about a nasty bug in one of my web developer apps. Given the symptoms it sounded like something that could be effecting all of those apps. I have long since wondered why those apps weren’t more popular, and now I might have an explanation. Even better, the person reporting the bug appeared eager in trying the tool again when it was fixed. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. The issue was a logic mistake with an easy fix. From initial investigation and final testing of the patch was no more than an hour. I will monitor the web development section of datayze in the coming months to see how users respond.

The amount of spam I get is starting to get out of control, and I’m the biggest culprit. Whenever someone encounters a 404: file not found error on datayze, I get an email notification. If the automated script can determine what URL the visitor likely intended, I get an email notification. A corollary to getting a lot of visitors is getting a lot of notifications. Some are for meta data files I’m not currently hosting (e.g. apple-touch-icon.png). Some of those errors are for specifications I’m not using (humans.txt, ads.txt, etc). Some are probing (e.g. wp-admin.php to see if my site uses wordpress). This information is useful, but it can wait until I’m ready to sift through the logs and plan out my next update. No need to send myself a daily notification, or fifty. Instead, I’d like to only be notified in situations that are actionable and time sensitive, such as a misspelled forum referral that can’t be auto addressed.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I want to solve problems, and the direction I want to take certain apps. I hope to find the time this coming month to start putting plans into actions.

January saw a 10% rise in audience size and a 13% drop in revenue. All total I earned $508.95, which is not to shabby given the shopping season has ended and ad clicks are typically worth less. Time Until continues to be the most popular app, and has a higher growth rate than the miscarriage apps which continues to surprise me. Overall growth was pretty uniform across all apps. The only top visited app that had a measurable (1.8%) decrease in users was the Passive Voice Detector.

There isn’t much progress to report. I had decided to stay the decision on maternity leave until Dana was born so I would have a better idea what expectations are reasonable. Now that she’s here it’s clear I need to be on a reduced work schedule while I heal. For now my work load is primarily responding to emails (January was a surprisingly busy month in that regard), fixing minor bugs, and possibly addressing critical issues if they rise to the level of interfering with revenue.

Something I need to give some thought to is how best to silo my sites. I recently was contacted by someone with a serious offer to acquire Datayze. I declined (I doubt I’d ever be interested in selling Datayze.) I do want to branch out into multiple sites and it may be worth selling off some off those other properties in the future. For that to be feasible, I need to give serious consideration to how I operate.

Currently I reuse code across my personal and professional sites. Why reinvent the wheel? The purchase agreement would need to address ownership of shared code to avoid ambiguity. A cleaner approach would be to create each site as an independent silo, with it’s own version of a wheel. I’ve already been considering moving Datayze to its own VM/instance so I don’t risk its uptime when working on my other sites. I think I may make it a policy of each website being completely self contained and running separately once they get big enough.

Last month followed the predictable pattern laid out from the previous December: strong first half of the month, abysmal second half. The majority of my December income, $588.04, was earned in the first three weeks, then everything slowed to a crawl through the holiday. Users were up 13.5%, again due to a strong first half of the month performance. This time I knew what to expect, and didn’t let my dropping numbers discourage me too much.

Overall this puts my total income for 2017 at $3,456.27. Not where it needs to be, but not to shabby, especially compared to last year. That’s about a 7x year-over-year growth. Another 7x growth would put me at ~$24,000 for the year, equivalent to minimum wage in California.

One of the neat things was watching my stats around midnight new years eve. I just happened to have my analytics page open around 9 PM PST (midnight for East Coasters) and I watched the the hits to my Time Until app climb sharply until they reached 4X normal traffic volume. I had initially designed my app to be more of a long range count down over multiple days, so I was surprised by the interest, but I’ll gladly take it! I couldn’t resist staying up to see how my apps did as midnight approached Central time, Mountain Time and Pacific time. I was sure the west coast numbers would be equally strong, but to my surprise I had far more users in the Central Time Zone.

Time Until is one of the apps that’s going to get a serious redesign in the new year. I hope my audience likes it!

Moving forward, January was the month I intended to start pushing updates again, however I’m running into challenges with my webhost. They recently made changes to their text editing tool, and now I can’t save files. I have a walk around, but I want them to fix their issue first since their editing tool has become a part of my standard work flow. There are also two other pending potential issues with the host that could throw a hiccup into any update I push, and with the pending arrival I’m wearing of doing anything that might leave the site in a bad state while I’m out of commission for a few days. We’ll see what January brings, but as of now I’m expecting minimal updates to trickle out.

November was another strong growth month, but income still fell short of projections. Datayze saw a user growth of 19.2% and earned $569.45.

I won’t meet the $1000/month target by the end of the year, but I can’t be dissappointed with the growth I’ve seen this year. Average monthly revenue has increased by a factor of 4 and will likely continue to increase. I’ve hit all the targets I set for myself just under two years ago.

Next goals include:
– $1000/month (I consider this the point of viability)
– Covering the kids’ daycare/afterschool costs
– Replacing my previous full time salary

One of the differences I noticed right away between this year and last was in the impact of Thanksgiving on audience size. Last year Thanksgiving didn’t seem to have much of an effect on audience size. There was a markable dip on the day off, and a small dip the day before, but audience size recovered quickly over the weekend. This year my user stats started to drop on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and remained slightly lower than expected the following week. It’s further evidence that my demographics may have shifted with the change in relative App popularity.

One of the nice things about increased traffic is I’m starting to see a non trivial number of Amazon affiliate links. Over a year ago I implemented a backup ad system that served Amazon affiliate links for users who use ad blockers. (It’s against my terms of service to use an ad blocker on my site, but I realize some corporate networks don’t give users a choice.) Clicks is the first step to conversions, which is the next step before creating a steady revenue stream. I spent a lot of time designing the system to be unintrusive, fast and light weight, but not a lot of time selecting products so there’s at least that potential avenue for improvement.

I’m setting my expectations low for December. Last year my audience size decreased in the middle of the month and it took about a month to recover. I noticed a similar winter dip the year before. The January lull will give me a chance to launch a whole bunch of new content and site improvements I’ve been holding off from (assuming a little miss doesn’t make an early appearance.)

November 19, 2017

Small World

You know what’s really cool? When your worlds collide in a way that reinforces you’re impacting the world.

I got some good news about datayze.com, and couldn’t resist sharing on facebook. A friend I hadn’t chatted with in years sent me a private message. She had been relying datayze for months and hadn’t realize it was my site. (Not surprising, my name is only on the about page. I try to keep it more professional and less personal.) Small world.

This is actually the second time my social world has collided with my solo business adventure. A few years back, before datayze’s launch, when I was still hosting the tools on my resume website, another friend was googling labor statistics and found my Labor Probability Calculator. Of course she instantly recognized my site since it was personally branded.

One of the things I loved most about working for Google or Microsoft was that my work literally impacted millions of people. The drawback, though, I never got to hear from the users directly. The level of impact was always measured through experiments. With datayze I impact fewer people, but the impact is greater and I get to hear from those who use my tools directly.

I have always been a feedback junky. I save (and respond to) each an every email I get from my users. I follow my back links and smile with the glowing reviews (and make adjustments based off of the criticisms.) I monitor my stats closely, so I know how the tools are growing in popularity, but it’s always cool to learn they’re helping another person I know personally.

I love having that kind of impact I have now, and having yet another face to associate that with just reinforces that this was the right path for me.

October was an exhilarating month. Each week saw substantial growth over the past. First 5%, then 8%, then 10%. Overall October had a 50% increase in users compared to September! That’s the second biggest growth month I’ve encountered since starting my business! With an amazing month my projection model now shows Datayze reaching $1000/month by December! Holy smokes.

So where do I stand now? In October I made $512.07.

My time series prediction takes into consideration the past several months, so it’s estimating a reasonable 30% growth in November and December. The revenue component may be a little less reliable. It’s also a time series, with a seasonal component, but it’s assuming a similar demographic. This year is proving to be a little less profitable on a per user basis than last year, possibly because my demographics have been changing with the increased popularity of non maternity apps. Advertising rates may also be different. I noticed in the summer per user profits appeared to be lower. At any rate, I think my estimation may prove to be a little optimistic, but it’s nice to be back on track in theory. A more realistic expectation may be hitting $1000/month in January or February.

The switch in hosting was indeed seamless and not too costly. For the last couple of years I’ve been worried that my hosting costs will raise at the same rate as revenue, leaving Datayze (and, by extension, me) basically unprofitable. Now I can definitively say that is not the case which is a nice weight off my shoulders. I have quite a bit of room to grow on my current hosting plan before needing to step up once again, and the costs are well below earnings.

I’m still on managed hosting, but no longer shared hosting. This may help isolate me from future DDoS attacks. If nothing else, in theory I may be a priority since I pay more per month. That’s my hope at any rate. For now I’m not going to worry too much about it since they haven’t been a common problem so far.

In September I had a 25% growth in users, and nearly doubled income to $391.21. While all the apps appear to be doing well in general, Time Until saw a 108% increase in users, which is fueling the overall growth. I’m really surprised by that apps growth, as there’s a lot of competition for countdown timers. I plan to do some investigating to see why my countdown timer may be outperforming others. Perhaps it’s just a collateral benefit of Datayze doing well in general?

Now that I’m growing substantially again, I think I’m going to adopt a more mature-company stance on updates in the fourth quarter. The October-December time frame is my most profitable, thanks, of course, to the shopping season. Last year, nearly half my income came from those three months online. That makes changes during this time risky from a financial stand point. Although rare, even minor changes can sometimes have unintended consequences. Now is not a good time to risk a stupid bug that breaks my website for even a fraction of my user base.

From now until the new year I plan to keep my website fixed. If something critical comes up, I will of course address it. This doesn’t mean I won’t be working on datayze. I have two apps in progress right now (the same too I’ve been working on for a while). My plan is to push their proposed launch date back until January at the earliest.

One critical issue I need to address in the next few days: I’ve running into the limits of my shared hosting. During high activity peaks my hosting company will sometimes run our of resources, and kill some of my processes. From a user standpoint it’s an occasional 503 error. That’s clearly not ideal so I’ll be moving from a shared host to a dedicated server. I’ve been assured by the hosting company that this will be a seamless transitions, but I’m going to do it as quickly as reasonably possible so the change is in place before the holiday season really kicks off.

The good news is the past couple of months of growth have improved my projections somewhat. I’m now projecting to reach $1000/month in early 2018. Possibly February, but more likely March. Here’s hoping.

September 12, 2017

Going Private

The bigger the growth I have with datayze.com, the more I start thinking about privacy, and my current lack thereof. ICANN rules require domain contact information be public and accurate. Failure to abide by these rules could result in forfeiture of your domain which is not ideal for someone whose sole revenue is ad dollars generated from their website! But the bigger an audience my site draws, the greater the probability that it will draw someone who is a little too interested in me, personally, or my family. Do I really want my address and all my contact information public?

To combat this problem most registrars provide a proxy service for registration*, usually referred to as whois protection. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s a nominal fee. Basically, the proxy acts as an intermediary. Instead of listing your personal contact information, you list the proxy service and they forward any communications they receive on your behalf to you. The contact information is still considered accurate, because inquires can reach you, but your specific details are never listed.

(*Side note, some top-level domains disallow the use of whois proxy services.)

There’s a bit of an online debate about whether whois protection is worth it.

A corporate address in the contact information is often viewed as more legitimate than a non-corporate address. For some, a proxy address is the least legitimate of all. A P.O. box could substitute for a corporate address, but then I’d have to remember and exert the physical energy to check it. There are some online services that will convert a physical address to an email one by scanning mail into PDFs and mailing it to you. That would be a preferred option, but the price is currently a bit high for me.

I use a google voice to hide my phone number, which is like a proxy, but does nothing to help obscure my physical address which I’m most concerned about. Datayze has used the services of a whois proxy since it was first registered. If it’s negatively affecting me, it’s not enough to prohibit growth. I decided I’m earning enough now that the nominal price of the whois protection across all my sites is a reasonable price to pay for the peace of mind it brings.

Maybe someday I’ll grow large enough to warrant an actual office space. Until then, this will do.

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