How One Blog Led to $18m of Funding & The World's Largest Online Q&A Community
There are a few names in the web community which pop up time and time again in the historical records. People who have been responsible for great change in the technological, the business and the social aspects of the web. One name that many (if not most) will recognise, is Jeff Atwood; co-founder of Stack Overflow, and now - his new project - Discourse.
What is perhaps a little less known, however, is that it all began with a single blog.
A decade ago, in 2005, Jeff Atwood was a full time computer programmer for a small Microsoft consulting firm called Vertigo Software. He had gotten the job, in part, due to the growing popularity of his new blog - a little website called Coding Horror. The CEO loved his blog, and Jeff enjoyed writing it, so he was able to continue to do that on an ongoing basis.
Back in 2005 there were significantly less programming blogs in the world than there are today. It didn't take Coding Horror very long to go from a readership of a few people to a readership of a few thousand people. Jeff describes it as incredibly motivating, and something which he really wanted to find a productive way of engaging with.
For the next 4 years, Coding Horror went from strength to strength until one day in 2008 when Jeff met one of his readers for the first time. His name was Joel Spolsky. Coding Horror had now gotten to the point where the blog had grown so large and so fast, that Jeff was looking for an opportunity to put his ever-growing audience to positive use.
In his own words...
I'd reached the point where I was thinking that this is the most significant thing I've ever done. I can go to work and talk to 20 people in a day, or I can post on my blog and reach a hundred thousand people every day. Which makes more sense? So the question becomes what do you want to do? What do you do with this big ball of energy which has the potential to change the world in some way?
So Jeff started reaching out to people for ideas for what to do. He talked to several people who he thought were interesting, but Joel Spolsky, who he'd met just the once, had the best idea. He had seen a website called Experts Exchange and he believed it could be improved and specifically targeted towards programmers.
As the pair set to work on their idea for a new Q&A site which would really work, Jeff took to his blog to ask his readers for help with naming it. In April of 2008, Coding Horror readers voted, by overwhelming majority, that 'Stack Overflow' was by far the strongest candidate. A few weeks later, the new site was announced.
They described the difference between StackOverflow and its competitors as simply taking existing ideas and combing them to create something new that really worked.
For a long time it was just Jeff and 2 developers working away quietly and talking to Joel once a week on the phone. Jeff continued to blog on Coding Horror, and they set up a new blog on Stack Overflow took the format of a podcast of their weekly phonecalls. In episode 1, Jeff and Joel sit down to discuss everything they wanted (and hoped) StackOverflow would be. It's an amazing throwback to listen to now.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2010 Joel moved into the official role of CEO and the company took a Series A of $6M followed by a $12M Series B just two years later. Today, Stack Overflow receives an average of 18million page views per day and has become the destination of just about every programmer in the world, the second there's a problem which they need some help with.
It's incredible to read stories like this which all began with just a blog. A ball of energy and potential which, when harnessed, really can go on to do large and incredible things.
Nowadays Jeff has moved on to his new project: Discourse, which is the Ghost of online forum software, if you will. (In fact the Discourse project was where the "Free. Open. Simple." tagline originated, which Ghost has also adopted.) And Jeff still looks back fondly on the humble blog:
I think the blog is still very relevant. It's this way to connect with a very large audience, these people who are listening and paying attention to you. That's a privilege. I believe very strongly that you shouldn't squander that.
Today, we're very proud and excited to welcome Jeff Atwood to the family, as the Coding Horror blog begins its next decade of existence and influence, now published with Ghost.