Catching Digital Lightning in a Bottle

11 November 2014AppleOpinionReading

I was thrilled when Apple announced the iMac with Retina 5K display. They fulfilled one of my ‘Hopes for WWDC 2014‘ in a big way, opting for a display resolution of 5,120-by-2,880 when something in the 4K-range was expected. Inspired by an image on Apple’s website and a tweet comparing the original iPhone display to that of the iPhone 6 Plus, I created a comparison showing the original Macintosh display overlaid on new iMac display. I posted the image along with a few statistics in an article titled ‘The Difference 30 Years Makes: iMac with Retina 5K display vs. the Original Apple Macintosh‘.

That article, first published on October 22, has since generated more than 140,000 page views, hundreds of tweets, and a handful of mentions on influential tech websites. For a tiny website like Things of Interest1 it’s been a very special and rewarding experience. The rest of this article is dedicated to providing a brief analysis of how we caught digital lightning in a bottle.

Getting the word out

For the most part, I don’t promote my articles beyond automated tweets to the Things of Interest twitter account and the occasional post to my personal Facebook account. But given the widespread coverage of the iMac with Retina 5K display and that it has been 30 years since the original Macintosh was announced, I decided to send a few emails and tweets to Apple-focused sites promoting my iMac vs. Macintosh article. Less than ten minutes after sending an email to Dave Mark, I received a friendly reply notifying me that he posted a link on The Loop:

The Loop Screenshot

The impact was immediate, with Things of Interest receiving several hundred concurrent visitors in the first few minutes and almost 2,000 page views within the hour after the link was posted. But more importantly, The Loop generated a level of awareness that I certainly couldn’t create on my own.

Picking up steam

Thanks to the initial coverage from The Loop, the article started being shared around Twitter and Facebook, somehow finding its way to both Shawn Blanc and Jason Snell. Around the same time, it was posted to Reddit and eventually topped both the /r/Apple and /r/Mac subreddits.

By this time, Things of Interest was sustaining about 500 visitors at any given time, and I started to worry about server capacity. However, thanks to some prior WordPress modifications2, the server actually stood up quite well. From what I can tell, everyone that tried to access the article was able to see it.

Daring Fireball

By mid-afternoon I was completely absorbed in checking Twitter notifications, making sure the site was still loading reliably, and reviewing visitor statistics. I happened to be watching the real-time overview in Google Analytics when I noticed a big jump in traffic – the ‘active users on site right now’ metric went from 500 to over 1,000 in just a few seconds. It didn’t take much effort to identify the cause of the surge because there was a new website listed atop the ‘top referrals’ table:

Daring Fireball Screenshot

As a daily reader of Daring Fireball and a subscriber of The Talk Show, it was thrilling and humbling to see my name referenced on John Gruber’s site. Within an hour of being linked on Daring Fireball, the article received almost 10,000 page views. This also started another round of mentions on social media and generated more links from other tech-focused blogs.

By the end of the day, Things of Interest received more than 70,000 page views, almost three times the traffic the site received in its 15 months of existence up to that point.

Other Mentions

While the bulk of the traffic generated by the article occurred in the first two days, there were a few interesting mentions in the week that followed.

Christina Warren, Senior Tech Analyst at Mashable, referenced the article in her review of the iMac with Retina 5K display:

With 14.7 million pixels on the panel, Apple says the Retina 5K iMac has seven times the resolution of full HD (1,920 x 1,080). Even more impressive, it has 67% more pixels than a 4K display.

Kent Akgungor put that in perspective when he figured out that you can fit 80 displays from the original Macintosh from 1984 into the resolution of the new Retina iMac. That’s a lot of display advancement over the last 30 years.

Ewan Spence, a contributor to Forbes, referenced the article in his weekly ‘Apple Loop‘ feature:

My favorite image of the week comes from Kent Akgungor on Things of Interest. He’s take the promotional image / wallpaper from Apple that is being used to demo the 5K Retina screen of the new iMac, and overlaid the original cutting-edge Macintosh desktop on a pixel for pixel basis.

For the record, over 80 Macintosh displays will fit into that 5K screen.

Statistics (October 22 to October 29)

Hourly users and page views:

Google Analytics Visitors

Traffic sources:

  1. Direct (42.3%)
  2. Referral (31.8%)
  3. Social (24.5%)
  4. Search (1.4%)

Top referral sources:

  1. (19,503)
  2. (15,837)
  3. (3,944)
  4. (3,474)
  5. (1,960)

Twitter Analytics:

Twitter Analytics

Facebook Insights:

Facebook Insights

Long-term Impact

As illustrated by the hourly traffic chart above, the surge in traffic was short-lived. However, I’m hopeful that this experience will result in a long-term increase to the viewership of Things of Interest. The site’s search engine ranking should benefit from all the links it received3; the site gained a few more followers on Twitter and Feedly4; and the site’s Alexa Traffic Rank improved by more than two million spots5.

  1. Things of Interest averaged 2,000 page views per month for the 12 months ended September 30, 2014. 
  2. Things of Interest is currently hosted on an inexpensive cloud hosting plan which is not designed for the kind of visitor volume this article generated. Luckily, I’d spent a lot of time optimizing the site’s WordPress installation, making the majority of the content static and pushing as many resources as possible to CloudFlare, a content delivery network with many free features. Of the 600+ gigabytes of data served between October 22 and October 29, only 5 gigabytes (0.8%) were delivered from my host; the rest were delivered from CloudFlare. I plan to write a more detailed explanation of the technical side of this experience in the future. 
  3. According to Google Webmaster Tools, the number of links to Things of Interest increased from 300 to 2,700. 
  4. Twitter followers went from 10 to 37; Feedly readers went from 1 to 36. 
  5. Alexa Traffic Rank improved from approximately 2,600,000 to 390,000.