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Almost 7 days ago one of the most exciting things in my life happened, ShareLaTeX.com got to the front page of HackerNews (HN). Although this was fantastic, it went far from swimmingly. Within a few hours my site went from 60 visitors a day to almost 9,000, and I wasn’t ready.

Big bump in number of visitors day site hit hacker news

The site had been live for about a month, but I didn’t feel it was ready for showing off yet…others disagreed and up on HN it went. At Midnight on Friday I arrived home from the pub, a little worse for wear, and opened up my browser to find ShareLaTeX at number 3. Thankfully the site was coping, just, but it was battle stations.

Although coping, the server was at capacity and could have easily been pushed over the edge. I could have upgraded my 512 Linode, this would have resulted in around 15 minutes down time, proper down time with no holding page. I went for worse case scenario in my head, if the upgrade doesn’t work and the site goes down for 3 hours it would be devastating. I would rather be up 100% of the time and a little slower than run the risk of going down. The site wasn’t going to cope without a little TLC; so one sleepless night later with a few well-timed kill commands and Node.JS process restarts, the site stayed up, wave ridden.

During the entire process, feedback was flying in; via the feedback form, direct emails from people who had found me directly and as comments on HackerNews. This was a really valuable resource I needed to mine, responding to each piece of feedback as it hit my Inbox was vital.

The HN wave was always going to hit hard and fast, 24 hours later the number of visitors dropped to just over 1,000. What has been wonderful to see is the stabilisation of visitors over the last 3 days, hopefully a sign that ShareLaTeX has legs. number of users stops to fall acording to google analytics and climbs slighlty

If you have a site you want to see on HN:

  • Put the site up yourself and be in a position to deal with a potential spike in traffic.
  • Be aware that most HackerNews readers are in the USA, if you are in Europe (like me) then the site will get busy in the middle of the night.
  • Be mentally prepared for the drop in visitors afterwards.
  • Be sober when the wave hits.

Posted by Henry Oswald on 10 Feb 2012