A year ago, Texts From Last Night, went viral. We weren’t expecting it, we weren’t expecting anyone to get our jokes or the meaning of the three digits before the message. We were two Detroit kids, with dreams of being lawyers.
We went from less than a thousand hits to over a million in a matter of days. Currently, we average five million pageviews a day.
I was studying for law school finals and all the attention we were getting was making me rock back and forth in my library chair with nervousness. One email after another piled in with business offers and suggestions. Over the next two weeks, things developed so quickly that I left school knowing I wouldn’t be back in the fall. I left behind one of the biggest aspirations of my life in order to chase down something that might be bigger than anything I could have dreamed for myself. I was scared.
At the time, we had launched ourselves on a custom template with Blogger as our back end. Our site was designed by @brandonbayer, I paid him for it with a pair of Wayfarers. Since then, we’ve redesigned the entire site with @metalab and added tons of features through our developer @tzusman.
We didn’t have any type of filter on the submissions, they went to an email that quickly became overloaded with texts. I’d look at my phone and see 200 new emails every hour. My phone could barely function. Now, you can submit texts via email, the submission box or through text. The texts come in at real time, so I see the text as quickly as you send it in – this has allowed us to post the most current events in the texts (it’s how I found out Michael Jackson and DJ AM died, it’s like my personal and anonymous Twitter feed).
Our friend and full-time medical student, @mfrenkie, was spending his spare time working on an iPhone application for us. We’d go through six or seven denials before Apple finally accepted us on August 7th, 2009. By then, we’d have collected well over a thousand emails from readers asking for the iPhone application. Now, he’s finished a BlackBerry and iPad application with an Android application soon to launch. He was recently quoted in a story on @pogue‘s blog (“Android Tries Harder“).
One time, @benbetter and I sat at Borders, staring at the Humor section. We talked about what it’d be like to someday get a book deal and the types of texts we’d include in the book. All the ways we’d make it worthwhile for people to buy the book. Not that we expected one, but maybe someday if we gathered any sort of cult following. After securing @erinmalone as our agent in less than a month from when we went viral, we chose Gotham books to publish the book under the skilled watch of @patrickmulligan. We’re confident the book is better than we could have imagined. Seven months after going viral, the book was released. Check it out in any bookstore.
More than anything, we’re thankful for the fans. They’ve kept us on our toes, thinking of the next new feature to add to the site to keep it enjoyable and fresh (whether it’s the favorites tool or the ability to moderate texts). Most people who love the site don’t remember how it looked on Blogspot, many don’t remember the previous custom design. All of you, those from the beginning and those discovering us today, are important to us.
If you would have asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be today, I would have said, “in my parent’s basement, studying for 2L exams with my brother”. Instead, I’m in New York City and Ben’s in Los Angeles, we just got done shooting a spot for the Carson Daly show and speaking at USC. We went to SXSW this year and we’re speaking on a panel with our agent and publisher (and friend @clander moderating) at ROFLCon in Boston next weekend. We’ve been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and CNN. We’ve been on countless radio shows and podcasts. I’m still nervous before each event. However, I’m confident. We work hard to make sure TFLN is an entertaining experience for every user, no matter how they access it - through the site, through their phone, in our book and (eventually) on television.
Thank you for laughing at TFLN with us.
Having people comment on your website SUCKS. Half of my job managing the content on TFLN is spent moderating comments. People are assholes and trolls. I think they’re crazy.
Today, Engadget decided to TURN OFF commentating. Wow, what a dick move. We all wish we could do that but none of us do, because we’re lucky we have sites with enough traffic to attract trolls, assholes and regular commentators.
I remember begging my friends to comment on TFLN. Now, we get thousands of comments a day. While it may be miserable at times to deal with the masses, you cannot turn your back on your readers.
Read the article and send them an email. Better yet, don’t read the article (don’t give them a pageview) and start reading a different site. Hello, Gizmodo.
Excuse me for this week while I work on my radio voice. We’re swamped with things to do.
Scroll down on this page. You can look inside, click on those little pages beneath the cover ad.