FriendsRoll and TopLinks Case Study Part 1

FriendsRollLast Friday, we launched FriendsRoll and TopLinks, two WordPress plug ins that the development team at 76design and I hope will give new life to the blogroll concept.

This is the first in a series of posts in which I plan to write about our experience launching these plug-ins and what we learn through this experience.TopLinks (If you are looking for background, you may want to check out my two previous posts about the launch and about our objectives and how we will measure success.

What we did in the first three days since launch

Monitoring and Analysis

We intended to promote FriendsRoll and TopLinks exclusively through social media. So, our first step was to set up the analytics and tracking tools that would help us monitor conversation and traffic.

  • Installed Google Analytics to provide us with insight into how the FriendsRoll and TopLinks site is performing and where our traffic is coming from.
  • Set up Technorati and Google Blog searches for FriendsRoll and TopLinks and subscribed to the RSS feeds for these searches so that we would be alerted to conversation relating to the plug ins.
  • Set up a profile on Radian6 to provide us with the ability to conduct additional analysis of the conversation taking place through social media.


We set up the FriendsRoll and TopLinks Website the week prior to the launch, testing it and refining the copy.

On Friday, March 7, I wrote an initial post on ProPR about the plug ins and how we hoped they’d help bloggers to effortlessly show up to date information on the blogs they link to most often and also enable readers of their blogs to join their FriendsRoll.

I also sent out a Twitter message pointing to the post.

Then I hopped on a plane to SXSW. And that explains a question you’re probably asking. Why would we launch something on a Friday? I had hoped that we’d be able to launch at least a week earlier. However, the code just wasn’t ready until Friday. And because I was going to be seeing so many blogger friends at SXSW, I wanted to be able to tell them about something that had passed the vapourware state. So, a Friday launch it was.

(I’m not really upset about this because I never expected we’d make a big splash. We’re expecting a very gradual take up rate on the plug ins. Like other things in social media, word must spread and people will want to try it out. That can take time.)

Social Media Conversation

In the first few days, we received positive posts from Jevon MacDonald at StartupNorth, Parker Mason at Blog Campaigning and MartinHoffman, pick up in Sarah Wurrey’s PRBlogJots, and a link from Mark Evans. (Mark even installed the plug-in; more about that below.)

So far, nothing from my blogging friends attending SXSW. But I hope that’s because they all have moved onto Twitter or Utterz which seem to have become the preferred means for reporting on SXSW this year.

Site Statistics

Some noteworthy stats:

  • 30 unique visitors to the FriendsRoll site on the Friday launch day, 18 on Saturday, 9 on Sunday and 21 on Monday;
  • 67% of the traffic to the site was attributable to referrals from other sites, 31% was direct and 2% came from search engines. 47% of the visits to the site came by way of my posts on ProPR;
  • The TopLinks plugin was downloaded 7 times and the FriendsRoll plugin was downloaded 4 times.

User Feedback

Two people who installed the TopLinks plugin on their blogs – Sandy Kemsley and Mark Evans – contacted us to offer comments, ask questions and report problems. Their feedback was particularly valuable because they spotted problems with the initial implementation of the FavIcons feature and the anomalies in the look and appearance of the plugins when installed. Sandy was a particularly thorough tester and gave us several rounds of feedback.

Observation: The culture of generosity really does prevail in social media. The feedback offered by Sandy and Mark was invaluable and even more appreciated because of the positive way it was offered.

Others who didn’t install the plugins left comments on my post or sent us emails. Their feedback included:

  • When will we make the plugins available for other platforms? (Answer: we’d like to. But first, we want to see how this works out on WordPress.)
  • Can the colour and dimensions be varied to fit custom templates? (Answer: Not yet. But we’re planning to introduce this in a subsequent release.)

Release 1.1

As a result of Sandy’s and Mark’s user feedback, Steve Lounsbury and Julie Haché, crunched through the weekend and were able to produce release 1.1, which addressed the issues reported to us. This was posted for download late Monday.

We’re still not 100% happy with the way we’ve solved the FavIcon problem and we’re discussion other approaches that may be taken in the next release.

Summary Thoughts (for today)

We’re happy with the early reaction to these plugins.

In a way the small numbers of visitors and downloads have been a blessing. The people who tried it out proved to be generous and helpful – ideal Beta Testers. As a result of their feedback, we were able to fix problems before they became a problem for others.

Yes, we have very small numbers and limited attention so far. But we weren’t expecting the world to issue a collective gasp. What counts to us is the experience of those who find these plugins useful. And we’ll also learn from people’s reactions whether we are addressing a real pain point.

Your Turn

What do you think of FriendsRoll? Of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it?

This is an opportunity for us all to learn together. So, please leave your thoughts, suggestions and questions as comments on this post.