Startup explorations #25 / Building, slowly

March 24, 2021

I'm very thrilled to say this project has entered the building phase. This process will be very slow at first, but it's off to a meaningful start. Actually, barely anything has been built: I wrote down a series of steps as to how I was finding tweets to recommend to my users, and had a back-end developer turn it into a simple program, which sits on top of the Twitter API.

The program takes a Twitter username, a list of keywords, and a desired maximum number of results; then it returns a list of recommended tweets for that particular user. Each tweet returned has some kind of visible engagement (at least 1 like, reply, or retweet), some relevance based on predefined keywords, or an invitation to respond, i.e., a question.

There isn't a user interface yet; I simply use Postman to make a request. Yet this is a significant step forward because what used to take me 20 or 30 minutes for each user (without taking various distractions into account) now only takes a few seconds. This will enable me to run the next experiment much more efficiently, leaving room for more users, not to mention more room to experiment with various aspects of the project (see one of my previous posts about ideas for future improvement).

From here, apart from getting more users into our community, the main development task is to figure out how to keep improving this automation tool. It will still take a human mind to look through the results of each request and determine whether they are actually appropriate. There are still many other areas too that can be automated, such as finding keywords, determining the challenges to give each day, etc.

I've enjoyed this essay from Paul Graham about doing "things that don't scale" and have been keeping it mind at all times. While the building process at this stage is slow, gradual, and iterative, it's actually a great opportunity to engage all the more intently with my early users, include them in the process, and focus on meaningfully making a difference toward meeting their needs. I'm looking forward to running a third experiment very soon.

ADDENDUM: I've decided to conclude this blog series with this post. I've greatly enjoyed "learning in public" and intend to continue and ramp it up in other ways. As for the project itself, the way forward is still long and unclear, with different possible directions to take, but I will look back to all I've learned and have written here as a guide.

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