Working on 750 Words V2

10 years later, a chance to give this little side project the love it deserves.

Buster Benson
Dec 9, 2019 · 8 min read
A 1-month streak on 750 Words.

750words.com was originally launched on December 15th, 2009. The blog post I wrote a few days after launching it accidentally got deleted many years ago, but I found it on the WaY bAcK mAcHiNe. I launched it 4 days after thinking of the idea:

I thought of building this little tool (let me check my wiki) on December 11th. I was still thinking (and writing) about it on December 12th, so I bought the domain. On December 13th I used one of my stub Rails site bundles to get the basics up and running (Facebook Connect, jQuery, Compass) on my shared server, created a few models, and looked up a few jQuery plugins I’d need. Tested it on December 14th, launched on December 15th. When the idea’s there, and the tools are there, things can happen fast. But having those 1.5 days to brainstorm about it before taking action were what really made it happen and made me confident that I could build it without distracting too much from my other work.

Anyway, I’m going to use it. If anyone else finds it useful, that’s great! I’d love to hear any feedback that people have, too.

It looked something like this at the time.

10 years later, it still feels a bit like I randomly selected colors and fonts and mashed them all together (because that’s exactly what I did):

Ugly fonts and colors aside, something about this little private journaling product has struck a chord and resulted in a whole lotta love (and forgiveness for downtime and weird bugs) over the years. I’ve launched probably 20–30 different websites over the years, and I can tell you that the usual course of events is that the ideas reach some form of plateau and then fizzle out if neglected and eventually fade out. Peabrain is another site I built around that same time, with similar ideas, that has played out that more common timeline. Most of the others exist in memory alone.

The surprising thing about 750 Words is that the site has never stopped growing. Every month, more people are writing words every day than were doing so the previous month. In 2013, we almost shut the site down because we had been struggling to scale the site with the growth. We had a newborn and a new job that required relocating to the Bay Area, Kellianne and I didn’t see how we could ever find the time to keep up with the site’s growing pains and the increasing influx of support requests. After putting it to a vote, we opted to make it a pay site ($5/month) for new users, while granting all existing users a lifetime membership as a thank you for putting up with all the bugs and trouble. Even after this, the site kept growing at the same rate. Luckily, though, with the added income, we could afford bigger, faster servers and also Kellianne was able to dedicate a good chunk of her time to responding to everyone’s requests. This was the magic formula we needed to survive the next 6 years as we had another child, I changed jobs a few times, and eventually wrote a book.

Finally, a week before the 10-year anniversary of the site, we’re finally able to say that both of us will be working on it pretty much full-time from now and through 2020. We are VERY EXCITED about this.

What’s the plan?

We have made many plans over the years on how to address all the many feature requests and bug fixes that have built up over the years. To get a taste, take a look through the over 8,000 notes left by members over the years.

  • A mobile app. In 2009 I thought it was laughable that anyone would ever want to write 750 words from their phone. Now it seems obvious. This has to happen.
  • More badges. One of the more fun parts of the site is that you get various badges for writing lots of days in a row, or writing exclusively in the morning, or writing without distractions, or doing your entire NaNoWriMo novel on 750. I have had to add a couple badges over the years… for example the 2000 DAYS IN A ROW badge, and the 2 MILLION WORDS badge. The ability to “reset” badges and to earn them again is also a huge request that we’ll be finding a way to support.
  • Writing groups and community. This is a site about private journaling, but all kinds of group and community activity has sprouted around it. Classrooms have used 750 words with their students. Friends have wanted to share their stats about writing and use each other for accountability. Monthly challenges to write every day of the month are highly motivating. The words stay private, but the habits and insights and excitement are public. This is a use case I hadn’t considered when the site was originally built, but I love the idea of a community of private journal writers, and want to make sure this is a big part of the future of 750.
  • Internationalization. Right now the site only supports English, and even the linguistic analysis is limited to English words. Despite this, people still use the site all over the world. We’re committed to having the most common languages supported so that the site is welcoming to as many people as we are able to reach.
  • Writing prompts. This is one of the top requested features, and a feature that I was originally hesitant to add. Almost everything in the world is leading us to think about things that don’t come from our own curiosity and introspection… I wanted this to be a different kind of space that was entirely your own. But I’ve recently had a shift in thinking about this (related to an obsession with tarot art, strangely enough) and now I think we can create a prompt system without an agenda that is all about helping you reach parts of your internal thinking processes that might not be easy to reach. So we’ll be exploring this. If it works out, we’re build it out fully. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll share what we learned during that process.
  • Pricing improvements. We want the site to be affordable to anyone that can benefit from it. This means evolving our “one-size-fits-all” $5/month pricing structure and getting a bit more creative. It also means accepting more forms of payment than just PayPal. Lots of ideas here, but specifics haven’t been figured out. Our goal is to make it more affordable, not less.
  • Privacy and backups. From the beginning, the inspiration for 750 has been in making it a safe place to write. That’s why I made this site in the first place — I’m paranoid about people finding notebooks and files on computers and am unable to write my deep-down truest thoughts unless I can put that worry aside. At the same time, people want access to their journals and want to back them up in different places to make sure they’re safe in case of problems with this site. These two goals are of course in tension, and unsolvable, but we want to do more to give the knobs between security and reassurance to you and let you find the balance that allows you to be as open with your inner thoughts as you want to be.

And much more! We have a giant Trello board of feature requests, bugs, and other ideas that’s been growing for years. But as a product manager and engineer, I know that it’s most important to get the basics right, and to focus on making the experience as delightful and useful as possible.

  1. No VC. We will not be ramping this up to be a VC-funded business. It is a family-business through and through and will remain that way. This is how we protect against losing sight of the true mission of helping all people know themselves better without having to segment them into revenue-generating people and non-revenue-generating people. That’s not who we are or who we want to be.
  2. Wabi-sabi. It will always be a bit rough around the edges. Part of what I love about the site, and the people who use it, is that we’re encouraging each other to explore the rough spots, the blemishes, the flaws, and to learn to appreciate them rather than cut them out. I want everything we do to also reflect that appreciation for the blemishes and flaws.
  3. It’s about people. This isn’t all about making money, or about building a business, for us. It’s about helping ourselves contribute something back to our broader community, and helping people gain the insight and confidence they need to do the same. We won’t make any decisions that prioritize money or business growth that require us to compromise our community and the people in it. You can hold us accountable to this.
  4. Share the process. We try to make this whole thing as transparent as we can, and to share as much information as is interesting or useful to people. Here’s a recent interview I did with IndieHackers where I talk about the business side of 750 as transparently as I can, and a Hacker News comment thread with lots of questions and answers about specifics. We have nothing to hide, and want to help others, so feel free to ask questions any time.

What’s the timeline?

I’ll be sharing more posts in the 750 Words Medium publication over the coming weeks and months. Subscribe if you’re interested in following along.

People who join the site before the new version is launched will be getting a very special badge. If 2020 is a year that you want to start (or level up) a journaling habit, now’s the time to join!

750 Words

The 750words.com blog. Write every day.