Rulebook.io Postmortem

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Finish a Damn Project

Camden Bickel
Jun 2, 2018 · 7 min read

After five months of work, my pet project was ready to be shared with the world. I wrote a description, added some fancy screenshots, and submitted Rulebook.io to Product Hunt.

A couple hours later, my post was removed.

Um… say what now?

It was time to do a little detective work. I donned my deerstalker, grabbed my magnifying glass, and… started a chat with Product Hunt support.

I got a response a few hours later:

Talk about an emotional rollercoaster!

Long story short, I reached #5 that day (Christmas! 🎅) with 171 upvotes. Pretty cool!

The rest of this post will mostly be a technical postmortem — feel free to skip to the end where I’ll share some statistics, interesting data, and final thoughts about Rulebook.io.


Postmortem

I started working on Rulebook.io on August 6, 2017. My most recent commit (a small bug-fix) was on December 29, 2017 — all-in-all, about five months of working part-time on this project.

It started as a neat idea: a community-driven website for board-game and sports rules.

Like most other projects of mine, Rulebook.io was born as a Bear note into which I dumped a slew of random ideas.

Bear is ❤️

Surprisingly, a quick Google search for similar projects yielded no results. Turns out, there weren’t any projects that quite aligned with my vision for Rulebook.io. I was off to the races!

One of the first things I did was to spend an afternoon transcribing my notes into a Trello board, and then adding some more concrete technical requirements that I hadn’t thought of initially.

Not exactly an enterprise-level workflow!

My guiding principles for building Rulebook.io:

  • First and foremost, it has to be easy to add a new rulebook. The barrier to contribution should be as low as possible.

And more concretely, my personal development goals:

  • Write my Webpack config completely from scratch — no starter kits, create-react-app, etc.

Finally, since I guess we’re doing lists now, here’s the tech stack I used:

Back-end

  • Docker + Dokku (deployment)

Front-end

Misc


Over the next five months, I probably spent about 5–10 hours per week on this project.

Here’s what went well, and what didn’t work out exactly as planned.

What went well?

  • I didn’t over-plan. Normally with projects like these, I’ll try to plan everything out and then run out of steam or get bored when I’m finally ready to start developing.

What would I do differently in the future?

  • Caching — this project was my first real, hands-on experience with caching, so I fumbled quite a bit along the way. Initially, my caching coverage was pretty low, so there wasn’t too much complexity. However, as soon as I started hitting GitHub’s rate limits, I had to scale up my caching to cover almost every part of the app. I should have done some heavy refactoring once I realized how much caching logic I had repeated throughout my code. That said, writing the caching code manually taught me a lot about using Express middleware.
  • Many people commented that having images / diagrams is essential for rulebooks. I do agree with the sentiment, but ripping images from rulebooks and re-hosting them is problematic. I would love to incorporate a way in a future update to easily add custom drawings to avoid the legal issue altogether.

Public response + stats

Now for the fun part!

The public reaction to Rulebook.io was mostly positive. And (spoiler alert!) Rulebook.io did not become a huge success, nor did it make waves in the board game community. I’m still immensely proud of the impact it did have!

For example:

HOW. COOL. IS. THIS??? CSS Tricks (the CSS Tricks!) tweeted about my project! So rad.

Contributors

I contributed the first 13 rulebooks.

As of writing this post, there were 4 rulebook contributors besides me:

@andrewmassengale — 13 rulebooks
@arnoudplantinga — 4 rulebooks
@rigard — 2 rulebooks
@cardflopper — 1 rulebook

I never could have imagined (although I certainly hoped) that so many rulebooks would be contributed. Feels good!

If you’re reading this, consider adding the rulebook to your favorite game! It’s easy!

More info: Contributors to camden/rulebooks · GitHub

Analytics Data

As of writing these post, Rulebook.io has roughly 50–100 users per month. Not exactly stellar, but I’m super proud that there are actual people out there using my site (probably).

Quick update: As of August 2019, Rulebook.io has ~2k unique users per month. Exciting!

Overview

3800+ individual people visited my site… pretty cool! I often wonder how I can encourage more repeat traffic.

Top Referring Pages

Search Traffic


Final thoughts

A few takeaways:

  • Turns out, knowing what people want in a product is important. There’s even a whole field dedicated to it! Had I spent more (read: any) time doing user research, I believe I would see a higher rate of repeat users. I hope to incorporate plenty of user research and prototyping in Rulebook.io v2.

Thank you for reading! I’m new to writing posts like this, so I would really appreciate some comments and criticism! ❤️

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