Learning Experiences from Going Viral (134k users in 1 day!)

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gone viral twice, most recently with a Reddit post that went way beyond my expectations. I had just wrapped up a months worth of work experimenting with some new data on savings rates, and I wanted to show off to /r/DataIsBeautiful. Data is Beautiful is a subreddit where analytical redditors post interesting graphs and charts. The nice thing about Data is Beautiful is that they allow original content, so that people like me (/u/shnugi_) can self post.  Most subreddits ban self posting, because it invites a deluge of spam.

I thought that I would get maybe a few hundred people to check out my data and give some constructive feedback. Well, this happened:

Went viral via reddit post.

134,752 sessions in a single day. My highest day ever.

The post I had made had attracted hundreds of comments and a Reddit score of 9898. Over ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE visited that day.

Dark Side of Going Viral – My Server Was Not Ready

Reddit #19 r/all

This is a screenshot my SO sent me of the post hitting #19 on r/All. It might have gone higher, but we were busy trying to fix the server.

I had a plan to be able to support a similar size of visitors as the Lifehacker feature (21k sessions in one day). My plan totally worked, until I completely blew past 21k sessions.  After that, my server was throttled for the next few hours.  My SO is much better than me at techy things, so I called in the reserves for help. We tried a bunch of things like resizing my Digital Ocean droplet, increasing PHP and MySQL memory limits, and then finally increasing the number of concurrent connections on Apache. The last one fixed the problem for me and my site resumed to normal speed, while also supporting over 1200 active users at the same time.

What I learned

  1. Have an even bigger plan next time.
  2. Load test my server to test the bigger plan, so that it isn’t like a fire drill every time it happens.
  3. Don’t be afraid of sharing. Typically, I shy away from self promoting, but it’s good to have some positive feedback when I do self promote that people like what I make.

Hopefully, someone finds this helpful.  For me, I know both the times that I’ve gone viral I’ve been highly under-prepared.  Good luck to all the other content creators out there!

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