Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Space Avalanche – A year in review part 2

http://www.spaceavalanche.com/2009/11/16/technology-fail/

This is the second part of a review on the first year of Space Avalanche.

What have we learned?

Some lessons we think are useful, but are possibly just common sense.

  1. Content matters – If it’s not interesting or just doesn’t vibe with their own view of the world, people won’t give you the time of day. We’ve deliberately stuck to a schedule of one comic a week because there are only so many good ideas that you can come up with.  Our basic goal is to make people laugh out loud – tricking the brain down a side street between two seemingly unrelated concepts and then quickly pulling the veil away. I think we’re doing a good job. We also believe that the art looking just right is important, and we’ll leave drawing stick figures to XKCD or Abstruse goose.   We’d possibly get a larger audience by having a comic a few times a week, or every day – but I think that’s more suited to your character-driven soap opera type of comic like questionable content, or something focused on a specific niche like what penny arcade is for gaming news.  This aim for quality content is aided by the fact that not only is Eoin an award-winning artist with a great sense of humor, he’s a total perfectionist. He’s been known to revise and re-revise some of the strips to the point where I have to sedate him but it definitely shows in the end result.
  2. Promotion matters – You can have fantastic content, but if the only way you promote it is to hit “publish” you’re probably limiting your audience to a few friends. This was a hard lesson for me to learn – there’s some part of my brain that hasn’t recovered from the idea of an utopian meritocracy where you can drop something amazing onto the internet and it’ll take on a life of it’s own without help.  I think you might be left waiting for a while – In general “If you build it, they will come” is just for the movies and even while deliberately doing your best to spread the word things happen slowly.
  3. Measure everything – We’re keeping track of just about everything of interest that a user will do on the site. What’s important to us is that a viewer thinks the comic is interesting enough to follow our RSS feed, or follow us on facebook or twitter.  Some real eye-opening thing happened that we couldn’t possibly measure but which pointed to the fact that we were getting something of a following such as people spontaneously deciding to translate the comic into own language. Fantastic!

So where to promote it?

Here’s where I do my best to whore out Eoin’s masterpieces, your mileage may vary:

  1. Stumbleupon – We get a lot of traffic from Stumbleupon, but usually about a two-week interval after it’s been submitted. Something will sit on the site and get a bit of nice traffic on the day it’s posted, then start to fade. Two or three weeks later it’ll reach some sort of critical mass on Stumbleupon and our servers start shaking. Awesome. There are guides to using stumbleupon which suggest creating lots of accounts and then up-voting your submitted links. I’m going to go right ahead to call those people asshats. The line between benevolently pushing your ideas for quiet consideratoin and spamming will be clearly marked by your conscience screaming “Nooooo… you suck!”.
    • Pros: Long lasting traffic that keeps delivering
    • Cons: Flighty – the majority of visitors will stay just for that one page and then head on to the next stumble
  2. Reddit – We post to the reddit comic section as it’s a group of people who are usually interested in the type of geeky nonsense we come up with. They like comics, they’re computer-savvy, and they’ll give you very honest feedback on what they like and what they don’t. I’m sure this translates into a similar audience for other sections of reddit. That said, my latest posts have been buried (probably because I’m posting about Space Avalanche every week), but luckily it’s achieved a following from some nice people who post it to reddit on their own.
    • Pros: A ‘targeted’ audience who will give you great feedback, and probably look through your archives and click a few ads.
    • Cons: The traffic doesn’t last long, but then again you should be getting subscribers to your RSS feed etc as a true sign of interest.
  3. Digg – Digg doesn’t really love us too much. We got on the front page one time, but that was completely attributable to a very nice power-digger posting our comic. If you post something as some random Joe Soap, it’s pretty much pot luck. If someone with a better reputation re-posts the exact same link? -  you’ll get noticed. Maybe the lesson is that you can’t expect to turn up to a community you don’t interact with and expect them to lavish praise on you?
    • Pros: All the traffic in the world
    • Cons: None of it is for you, unless you’ve spent time getting into the gang
  4. Other (surprising) sites – There are plenty of niche sites in non-English speaking countries that deliver plenty of adoring eyeballs. For example there’s a Spanish-language version of reddit / digg called Meneame.net, and a Polish version called Wykop.pl. There’s got to be dozens of similar sites out there – We’re lucky in that we have a lot of comics that depend solely on the artwork with no text involved so there’s universal appeal. We also have some really fantastic fans who occasionally translate comics for us.
  5. Facebook / Twitter – We promote the latest comics and have a bit of a chat with people who like the comic on both twitter and facebook, and also try to post any funny stuff we find on the web. It’s great to put a more personal face on the people who like the comic and it’s a real buzz to get see people recommending various comics to their friends or when they give us some nice feedback. (I’m using ‘us’ as more of a vicarious version of ‘Eoin’ as let’s be honest – he’s doing the real work, I’m mostly just manning the boiler room).

The next post on this will recount how we’re making several million dollars a month from all of this*, a little bit on the size of our traffic, some mistakes we’ve made, and some amazing people that we want to thank for their support.

* = Seriously, buy some t-shirts. I’ve been eating nothing but baked beans for three months.

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