What Brief Hacker News Fame Looks Like

Some graphs and stats about a post that made it to the Hacker News front page |

The most traffic this site has ever received in one hour is precisely 1,814 pageviews, at 11:00 AM on January 15th, 2016, when A ‘Brief’ History of Neural Nets and Deep Learning’ hit the front page on Hacker News (a site very popular among programmers, researchers and basically all manner of technical people who can slack off at work by browsing the internet). As an extremely humble person (and fan of wry ironic wording), I debated whether to write about this for a while due to it perhaps seeming self congratulatory. But there are some fun graphs to share and it would be nice to write something short for a change, so why not.

Let’s start back when I first released this ‘Brief’ history writeup.

Traffic 1

I finally finished an acceptable draft of the history on December 24th, after roughly a month and a half of working on it. Being quite ready to be done with this prolonged writing project and go on vacation, I went ahead and posted it, and shared the result on Facebook. As you can see, 7 people actually took a look at it on Christmas, surprisingly. But, as was typical then, the highest session counts per day did not crack the double digits. Fast forward two weeks, and the picture looks quite different:

Traffic 2

The reason for the views uptick? Reddit. On January 5th the good people over at /r/machinelearning graced my little history with 13 upvotes and a good deal of traffic, which for me was very exciting. I’ve never shared the writing outside of Facebook and LinkedIn before, but since this one was by far my largest writing effort I figured it was worth seeing if others would like it. And worth it it was - the sessions were now in the triple digits. Not only that, but I was getting a bit of positive feedback, which was very exciting - I mostly worked on the history for my own gratification, so seeing others read and compliment it felt great. And, well, can you guess what happened next?

Traffic 3

Yep, on Friday, January the 15th, my history made it to the front page of Hacker News after I resubmitted it (it having failed to make much of a splash on my first submission). Knowing the sort of traffic the site receives, I was admittedly a bit stunned - I even took a screenshot to commemorate the event:

Traffic 4
This still sits in my Pictures folder, and is named famous.png

The traffic spike was huge. For a better perspective, have a look at the hourly breakdown of the sessions:

Traffic 5 Traffic 6

Suffice it to say, I was happy. Predictabely the pageviews diminished very quickly, but not as quickly as I expected - the views to this day exceed my expectations. To be fair, I had to go back and clean up tons of typos and things, but i’d say that’s a fair deal. And for once, I actually had some reason to dig into the Google Analytics of the traffic. Especially neat is the behavior flow graph:

Traffic 7

Understandably, most people start at Part 1 and drop off there - only 12% make it to part 2. Still, hundreds if not more than a thousand people have made it all the way through the whole thing - exciting! It is a fairly long read at ~15000 words, so it’s good to see a fair deal of people enjoy these sorts of mini-treatises.

Who knows if I’ll ever write something so ambitious, or so widely read, again. Either way, I expect to keep on writing, and I’ll always have famous.png.