End of an era

This week I sold my prized creation of six years, iUnfollow.com, to an anonymous user on the internet through an auction on Flippa. My reasons were varied, but ultimately I decided to move on after accepting an offer for a full-time software engineer position. While I am happy to move on, I still have fond memories of creating, maintaining, and troubleshooting problems on iUnfollow.com.

iUnfollow logo — Jan 2nd, 2017

I was a very young programmer when I first created iUnfollow. My learning curve was steep, but I was determined to figure it out and stick with it. I had started in Visual Basic the year earlier, which was an absolutely horrid programming language looking back at it. I had no experience with the web “ecosystem” (PHP, MySQL, Apache, JavaScript, AJAX, HTML, CSS) so my main method was StackOverflow and a great series on YouTube called PHPAcademy. It since has been renamed to Codecourse, but the original creator Alex taught me everything I needed to create a robust backend in PHP 5. Luckily, my father was a database guru, so alongside Alex’s tutorials I had someone to fall back on for table structure, indexes, and general database design.

Not only was I clueless about backend technologies, but my frontend skills were minimal at best. The resources I used for learning HTML, CSS, and JS were W3Schools and PHPAcademy. In addition to the standard web stack, I wanted to use AJAX after stumbling upon the technology in a PHPAcademy tutorial. Shortly after watching the video, I was hooked on it and enrolled in a local community college course that discussed AJAX in greater detail. To clarify, this AJAX was the ancient method of creating a XMLHttpRequest in pure JavaScript rather than the minimal $.post function in jQuery.

After learning the basics, I bought a cheap HTML theme from ThemeForest and purchased web hosting and my domain from HostGator. With all of my assets in hand, I started weaving all of the things I learned over the past few months. It was a challenge but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The feeling of creating something that was completely my own and to have it accessible to everyone around the world, was absolutely incredible and so fulfilling.

As I look back, it was a great that I tried creating a web app with no prior experience because I got really good at debugging. Debugging is a skill that most developers don’t hone in until much later. Everyone can debug, but debugging efficiently is a very important skill that saves a ton of time.

Once I started creating, I knew this was my passion. During high school I dreaded home work, school, and all things related to it, but coding was such a fun and interesting activity to me. It was an activity that I didn’t talk much about during high school to anyone, but it was my favorite thing to do during my free time over summers and on the weekends.

After a few months I put something together that I was okay with and moved onto the next step, how do I get users to my website? I learned the importance of SEO (search engine optimization) to rank for keywords in search engines which would generate organic traffic to my site. As I learned SEO techniques and best practices, I stumbled upon GTmetrix a tool that I have used ever since. It helps to optimize website speed by finding and classifying bottlenecks in terms of network activity. After optimizing my site from the recommendations from GTMetrix and applying a thick layer of SEO, I was ready to release iUnfollow into the public! I was a little nervous to move onto the next step, but my standards are very high for my own creations and I believed iUnfollow met those standards.

I first released it in March of 2011 (crazy how long ago that was and that I’m now graduating college this year!!). Here is a screenshot from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine of the website. It looks outdated now, but the interface was quite clean for its time and it was first ever website.

Initial release of iUnfollow.com — March 9th, 2011

My family was very happy for me and I was super excited to have something to show that I created by myself. Shortly after it was launched, I got an influx of users from Twitter that actually used my site! Some stranger trusted me enough to use their Twitter account on my website, I couldn’t believe it!

It became such a useful tool in the Twitter community that my server crashed four months later because of too much CPU usage. I was paying money to keep the server up, but not making any money from users, so I decided to pivot the site to from free to a freemium model which included a base free tier for all users but a user can upgrade to a “limitless” plan for $2.99 a year. I implemented the automatic payment upgrade system through PayPal’s IPN service.

The same day I finished implementing the payment code, I received my first premium purchase through PayPal. I remember running to my parents and telling them I received $2.63 (PayPal took a cut) from a stranger on the internet. They were happy, but I was ecstatic! Earlier, I was content just creating, but now making money from my work just made it even better. It was never about the money for me to begin with, I just wanted to do what I loved and programming/creating consumer products is my passion.

New redesign for iUnfollow before sale —Jan 2nd, 2017

That’s all for now, but I plan on writing about a few of my favorite stories over the past six years like my first production server database error, refactoring/redesigning the website, and finalizing the sale. Stay tuned!