The Story of TrendGorilla
I've often been asked about the story of TrendGorilla, so here goes; I was building a data-analytics project for the company I was working for, and while Google Trends was not really a new thing, it was (in my opinion -- sorry Google!) lacking substance. I wanted the ability to expand on these trending topics. I wanted pictures, I wanted videos, I wanted news articles... and usually, I wanted to know what the heck that term actually meant. Was it a person? Did they play sports? Why was it trending in the first place? In November 2009, TrendGorilla was born. I had a collocated server already for personal use, so I setup the basic infrastructure, made an hourly crontab and began collecting data. At first it was really only a proof-of-concept, but it was really cool to see the current events of the world popping up on the 'alpha' project (it was actually called "Learn-a-thing" at first!).
After realizing there was much more potential to this simple proof-of-concept, I decided to invest some time in writing more code for the site, with some basic graphs, and very basic data information. It was very simple. Even though it was simple, I fell in love with it. It fed me with tons information about current events and I put together some of the puzzle pieces myself. At that point, technically the job was done. I proved my concept and the site sat unattended for a few months. I showed it to a few people that I thought would be interested in it, but it really was too simple for anybody other than myself to understand what the heck was going on. Oh well, I thought, back to work.
A few months later in April 2010, I was visiting Las Vegas with a good friend, attending the unveiling of the Mercedes-Benz SLS. What a trip! The unveiling of the SLS brought dealers, and pre-order purchasers together for information sessions, photo ops and test drives... and lots of drinks. This trip turned out being catalyst that TrendGorilla needed to become what it is today. After an explanation of the concept, future plans and general BS, the general consensus felt the project was worthy of building further and potentially being (at least) a really great advertising-revenue machine. So, once I got home I really went to work. Improving on the infrastructure and writing a better 'crawler' bot to scrape pages so I could index the content and perform analytics on the data.
This was the most fun I have had on a project in a long long time, so I was pretty happy to spend 8-hours at night working on it (after spending 8-hours at work during the day). Burn the midnight oil! Anyways, after a few weeks and some discussions with friends about potential methods to fund this project on a more permanent basis, I had setup a meeting with a small group of investors who injected enough cash into my small company to allow me to quit my day job and try my luck at a Dot-Com. I couldn't believe it. I was a pretty happy camper! It gave me about a year or so of liquidity, and allowed me to work on this full time. This was a HUGE risk. I had a good feeling about the project, and I had a lot of ambition. What the heck, right? It's not like I'm getting any younger. I started work right away.
The first version of TrendGorilla.com got released in early 2011. It took a lot of growing pains to get it even to its first 'beta' release. Bandwidth costs were threatening to bankrupt me. Failed hard-drives. Server problems. I needed more bandwidth, at cheaper costs... so I did the only thing I could come up with at the time. I moved operations to a cloud service in California. The only problem is I had to trade low-cost disk space & high-cost bandwidth with high-cost disk space & low-cost bandwidth. Ugh! With the database growing day-by-day, soon enough there was a looming issue of increasing disk-space while keeping cost down. I finally caved and purchased more cloud services which worked fine, but had its drawbacks... plus costs were now nearly the same as they were when I had it co-located in Edmonton. The site was growing with more visitors coming every day. My Alexa score was dropping rapidly and the cloud servers were doing exactly what they were supposed to do (thanks Joyent!). Life was good, except I wasn't earning much of anything from advertising revenue like I had anticipated, even with ~30k uniques to the site monthly. I found out this was due to the fact that Google had changed its search algorithm significantly (mid-2011 I believe). Basically, Google demoted TrendGorilla and others like it because they felt it was essentially, a scam/spam type site. They made this change to prevent sites from (basically) just copy+pasting hot keywords into a page, or 'fake' articles full of packed keywords and reaping the big profits from it, like they had in the past... fucking Google! Damn you.
I kept trying different strategies, but nothing really helped to increase traffic on Google. I wasn't setup at all yet to really take advantage of Twitter or Facebook (Facebook was a much different beast back then anyways), so I was relying on search traffic mostly and it was failing miserably. Now, lack of profits & investors don't mix well together and before I knew it I was on my own. No more investment. This was devastating for me. I worked really hard to get the infrastructure in place, and while the front-end GUI was certainly lacking (see archive.org lol), I had built a really great database of information about current events. This wasn't really the end, was it? I took a bit of a break to collect my thoughts and plan my next move.
I couldn't just give up on this. I still felt really good about the project. I saw so much potential with it, that I kept working. I had a little bit of savings that I used to pay bills, and once that was drying up I started to sell things, like my motorcycles, took less trips and generally lived like a frat-boy on Ramen noodles and salad. The site was growing still, and I had a new version I had worked on for a few months which I had hoped would increase traffic much more. I was determined to make it work! I launched the next version of TrendGorilla.com, even though I felt it wasn't at all ready to release. It had lots of really cool features which in the end I had to disable or delete because they were either incomplete or weren't very stable. It was very frustrating, but I did what I felt was right. An updated site looks better than an old derelict, right? Well, the new version garnered more in the revenue department but it still lacked quite a lot, and I knew exactly why. I needed much more high-quality content. There needed to be a much greater social presence. The site needed to be much faster. So, I began work on version 3.
Since the loss of investment, I have been taking as many odd-jobs as possible and investing most of everything back into the company. Everyone thinks I'm absolutely nuts (and some times I think I am), but I can't quit. Even though it hasn't reached the heights I had originally hoped for, it is still the most fun I have had working a project, ever. I learn something new every day because of TrendGorilla.
Fast forward to 2014 and I launched version 4 (technically it's version 6). It is a culmination of what I have learned in 4 years of working on this project. You might ask... what took so long?! Well, admittedly I am not exactly a graphic designer or artist, so I have a difficult time coming up with layouts that work well and also look great haha! The new TrendGorilla.com allows users to have conversations about the topics they care about most, follow topics, watch videos, look at pictures, search the entire database, share to Twitter & Facebook and more. TrendGorilla currently has indexed over a million news articles, a quarter-million videos and almost a half-million pictures. You might also notice that I'm not exactly a writer, with run-on sentences, potential for grammatical errors, I can't believe I wrote all of this. I hope it makes some sort of sense. If not, e-mail me and we can chat :)
Enjoy the ride! Visit often!