CodeHive year one: Part 2 - lessons and insight

Written by Michael Lee on November 19, 2015

This post is the second part to CodeHive year one — a look into the first year of running CodeHive. Part one which could be found here, was a look at some numbers during our first year. In part two, I wanted to highlight some things I’ve learned and some insight into what it has been like running CodeHive this past year.

Building a community is hard work

I’ll admit, building a community is freaking hard. My naïve self thought, I could just toss up a website, put up a link to a few existing social media outlets and then boom! Reap the benefits. But in reality it is far from the truth.

Garnering and nurturing a community is hard work.

I’ve done my best to post a couple of times a week with tips about things I’m learning while working on the various projects for work. From there I’ll usually queue up the new posts to Buffer to send out to both my personal and CodeHive’s Twitter account. This has definitely helped in terms of user sign ups and SEO but it hasn’t done much in terms of getting more folks to contribute and interact with CodeHive.

On CodeHive we’ve setup some automatic emails that get sent out. One gets sent out the moment you sign up with CodeHive and the others are for when someone leaves you feedback or mentions you in a Board. I also personally email new members to thank them for joining and ask if there’s anything I can help with. This is because I know behind every sign up, is a real human being with real desires to get better at programming. If there is anything I personally could do to help them get there than I want to make myself available.

I’ve found that sending out personal emails tend to have a better yield of returning interaction with CodeHive. I’d say about 20% of the time, the person I email will email me back and we’ll start a dialogue or they’ll post something up to CodeHive.

This has been a good lesson in that online communities are made up of real people and I should treat them in the way I would want to be treated in real life.

The last thing I’ve been trying to do is simply be helpful in other existing communities. Places like CSS-Tricks’ forum, Codecademy’s forum and other tech specific forums. Simply doing this, I’ve had people click through my profile to eventually find CodeHive but again it doesn’t yield much interaction.

Which leaves me to wonder, if folks aren’t sure what exactly to do with CodeHive. Or are the UI elements not self-explanatory. Do we need a FAQ section that would help folks better get oriented with CodeHive? I’ve been thinking of running some A/B tests on some of the UI elements to see if it helps any. For example the New Board button at the top, would it be more helpful to break it into two buttons. One that said Ask Question and Share Tip since those are the two main purposes for Boards.

I’m still learning how to do this online community thing. Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to help more folks and help more folks help other folks with their programming journey at CodeHive.

Building CodeHive is hard

There are a ton of features and things we’ve wanted to build for and into CodeHive. But the reality we face is, if we build or make any of those things will folks use it? Both Christopher and I work full-time jobs. I’ve got a wife and kids, meaning our time is super limited. Building features and coming up with cool projects for CodeHive takes time.

We would love to invest our time and energy into those things, but the truth is, there is no incentive as of right now. As it currently stands, CodeHive serves the initial purpose for which it was built for. Which is to ask questions and share programming knowledge.

And when I say incentive, I don’t mean the dollar bills ya’ll. I truly mean that. We’ve been eating the cost of running CodeHive since day one and have not earned a single penny since that day.

What I mean by incentive is folks interacting and actually participating in CodeHive. You see, when folks participate in the community it acts as accountability/feedback loop. As we see the behavior of users with our site, we could make tweaks and adjustments. Plus, the more peeps that use the site, the more feedback we’d get be it negative or positive both would motivate us in making CodeHive even better.

It ain’t about the dollar bills ya’ll

Actually it is and isn’t. It is about the dollar bills in the sense, Christopher and I would love if CodeHive paid it’s own bills. As of right now the bills are paid from our pockets and our other web products we’ve built through our company, Herelde. Christopher and I would love to make a living out of things that we’ve built and others have found useful or meaningful. That would allow us to pour more time and energy into our products.

It isn’t in the fact that we would never toss up ugly ads to just make a penny. We care about the experience too much of our users. No one wants to look at visual barf and neither do we. So no ads.

There are 3 ideas we’ve thought about that I’m interested in exploring more: building CodeHive branded products, sponsorship and job board.

What a CodeHive product could look like are either tutorial videos for things like building web applications with Rails or Ember.js. Or running in person workshops for a fee. We’ve also thought about doing a pro level account that would provide access to exclusive pro level features like virtual office hours or a private Slack channel to get live help/feedback on programming.

What a sponsorship could look like is having a spot on CodeHive, where a sponsor could place an ad for their product or service for a fee. We also have a our Twitter account and a newsletter to also share about our sponsors. This option would allow us to circumvent the requirements of joining an existing ad networks and allow us to filter what ads get served up on CodeHive. If you’re reading this and have a product or service that CodeHive users could potentially benefit from, hit me up and we can discuss a potential sponsorship.

The job board idea, is something we thought about since day one. Where we’d offer companies the ability to post programming jobs up for our users to apply for. This idea may be a good example of an MVP. We could setup a form for companies to submit to us and use something like an embedded Stripe widget to take care of the payment process. Once payment is received, put up the posting to a static page. Obviously we could build this out into our system but an MVP in this sense may be good to validate the idea.

CodeHive has made me a better person

Even though there isn’t many Boards that I’ve posted up where folks have left feedback, I’ve actually become a better programmer because of CodeHive. When CodeHive first launched I had to learn Ember.js for a project that I was working on. If you go through my Boards, you can see my understanding of the technology grow.

CodeHive has also served as a reference for me. Anytime I’ve been able to find a solution to a problem, I stop and think through why it worked and then document it on CodeHive. This has helped me hone my communication and documentation skills.

With CodeHive, I’ve also learned to be patient. As mentioned above, community building isn’t easy and it takes time. In the past Christopher and I would have probably shut CodeHive down by now, but we’re learning that if our product achieves its goal with even a single person. That should be enough to warrant its existence.

I am so darn thankful for anyone who has ever visited or used CodeHive

Truly I mean this. Your time could have been better spent elsewhere, but you’ve given it to CodeHive. And while you’re at CodeHive and you learned something new about a programming language or technology, even better.

Even now, if you’ve read through this whole post thanks. I hope you gain value out of it as much as I have from reflecting and writing about the past year with CodeHive. If you ever have any questions, suggestions or feedback regarding CodeHive shoot me an email! I would love to hear them.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I'd love to stay in touch and share more tips on programming and design, side projects and working remotely. Sign up and I'll send you my articles straight to your email.

:wave: Hey hey, I'm Michael Lee! I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article.

Be sure to check out my other articles.