Pollground, a opinion poll site that operated in 2006, grew from our first attempt at a startup. When the site shut down in November 2006, anyone following Pollground must have asked “what went wrong?”
As the founders, we of all people wanted to have an answer. We came up with a laundry list of explanations then, pulling at any which reason. We didn’t dress well enough. We were too slow in programming. But having four years to think about the company, the list of explanations have focused down to a few key critical points.
Before explaining the points, first a little history. The company behind Pollground was conceived almost exactly four years ago, receiving funding on November 6th, 2005. In the months after this date, a whirlwind of activity surrounded the site. In February 2006, we went on a tour of other companies funded by our investor. It was exhilarating and inspired us onwards. In June 2006, development started in earnest, with two people, twelve hours a day.
The big launch date was July 1st. We saw a surge in traffic. We were excited — this was our product, and thousands of users were seeing it and signing in every hour. We returned the user’s volley with endless days of frenzied updating. Over the course of many days though, the number of visitors decreased.
There was disappointment, and then a loss for direction. We patched up all the holes visitors suggested. We added new features. But users were only still dripping in a few every hour. We presented to investors a month later, and followed up on lukewarm leads. One investor wanted us to port our application to a cell phone, which he would then buy. Another investor wanted to use our polling technology to help advertisements.
These leads would have let the company generate enough money to feed us, or even live well at programmer salary levels. But we began a startup for the chance to strike it big. The small probability of taking it public was the driving force, and that was gone. No reason continued to exist for us to work on it. Our time was valuable, and we went back to college.
That brings us to the top reasons we closed down in retrospect.
Reason 0: The Numbers Game. The median fish egg doesn’t grow into an adult. The median college dropout doesn’t have $58 billion. The median startup shuts down within a year.
At least stastically, closing Pollground was expected and an IPO wasn’t. So, asking why Pollground closed is a little like asking why an arbitrary object, like a rock, fails to sustain self-powered flight. The correct question instead isn’t “what went wrong” as much as “what could have gone much better”, “what are lessons for startups to take away.”
Reason 1: Eyes on the money.
We went into Pollground under the premise that all we had to do was make a site that people enjoyed. A site that had a high number of hits per day. “Make something people want,” said our investor, while handing out grey t-shirts with the same phrase.
We had days of moderately high hits, and our days of low hits. None of this translated to any money. And the reason was simple: we had no plan preconceived. Our implicit plan was to shoot the moon: if we get a million visitors a day, then making some amount of cash should be easy — we can figure it out later. Such was the recipe of the giants: Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter.
[... more later]
We would like to announce that Pollground is now back up! But by now, you’ve probably already noticed that.
Mostly we’d like to take this chance to provide some details about the situation of Pollground.
Short story: We believe in Pollground’s potential, but circumstances will permanently prevent us from developing Pollground beyond this point. If you have suggestions to how Pollground can be useful to the public let us know (read on!)
As many of you may know, we developed and released Pollground in the summer of 2006. During the summer, we felt that we did a fair job of adding requested features to Pollground: we revamped the “reward voting with the majority” system, and added a much-desired comments system. In general, we were able to keep up with development.
At the end of summer, we decided to return to college. We felt we could take some time out of courses to complete the next steps in advancing pollground: creating a new look and implementing an artificial intelligence system that can predict your vote. We ended up making quite a bit of progress on both ends, despite it being much more difficult to find spare time in college than we’d anticipated. We were in the testing phase of the AI system, and you can see the new design for yourself.
We ended up transferring our hosting during the start of November, and due to a technical error that took some time to resolve, our site has been down until now, when we finally found time to fix the problem. All through this time, we realized we could make Pollground really take off by developing it further and adding greater feature. This is why we’ve staunchly maintained the position that we would roll out new feature for so many months now.
While we still believe in Pollground’s potential, we sat down this winter break and realized that we both had quite a few new exciting and amazing opportunities arising at school. We would have to pay a very high opportunity cost to keep Pollground in development, especially if we were to dedicate another semester or summer to the project.
After careful and lengthy consideration, we’ve decided that in all likelihood we will not be able to continue maintaining Pollground any longer. For those of you who waited on Pollground’s development the last few months, we apologize for not being able to fully deliver those features as a result of our circumstance. For those of you who’ve supported us by visiting Pollground, contributing to Pollground, or even writing to us personally, we would like to extend a huge thanks. Starting any business is a challenge and you guys have made it that much easier and enjoyable.
An Open Offer:
While we know that we can have Pollground hosted with our current provider practically indefinitely, we can’t develop the site further and hence make maximal use of Pollground’ Since we had spent hundreds of hours of effort in creating Pollground, we would love to have our work put to better use.
If you have any ideas how we could maintain the site in a way that’s more beneficial to the community, we would love to hear about it. Ideally, the suggestion wouldn’t require too much time.
If you feel you could do something interesting or valuable with part of the site (e.g. create an embeddable voting script, run regressions on survey data), let us know.
If you instead are ambitious enough to want to take over Pollground or have exclusive control over Pollground’s intellectual property, also let us know!
In each case, please contact us at uzlabs /at/ gmail.com, and let us know how your idea may be beneficial to the public at large. While we do not have plans to sell our site, monetary offers will be considered, but certainly are not necessary.
This message has also been posted on our main site, but we thought we’d put it in the blog just for your reference.
Visitors and Pollground Users:
Due to server migration issues, we expect Pollground to be unavailable for the upcoming weeks.
We’re in the process of putting in a much cleaner visual interface and a much more powerful backend that can predict your opinions and personality.
We hope that these new features will be worth the wait, and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We can be contacted at uzlabs /at/ gmail.com
–The PollGround.Com Team
We want to thank all our users for helping Pollground’s development. We’ve been up for only little over a month, and yet we have already accomplished:
- 6,000 voters
- 1,000 questions
- 80,000 votes
As some of you may know we are working on a new Pollground release, which will enjoy a cool redesign, additional intelligent features, and perhaps a different, sparkier name.
Thanks to everyone for their contribution to the Pollground community. Please continue to send us any suggestions or questions about our site.
- Pollground Team
The new, much requested, threaded comments system and expertise system are in! No more one-comment-per-user, no more expertise points based on majority voting. As you, the users, have pointed out, such a system will
1) improve the integrity of the votes since users will not try to “guess the majority”, and
2) improve the quality of comments and questions since they are user moderated through a points system.
As Pollground grows, these are likely changes crucial to ensuring content quality. The old system rotated through every question asked with almost equal probability, whereas the new system will show questions and comments based on their points, a number determined by the users. Certainly, we’ll refine the user-moderation system in the future, but we feel the basic structure is much better now.
Further, there is a new user system!
You no longer need an email address (or activation) to register. You also may post anonymously or attach your usernames to your posts, whereas before all posts were mandatorally anonymous. This, we hope, will allow for a sense of community. The identity of the author of every poll/comment is no longer necesarily a vague question mark. At the same time, we know that anonymity is necesary to ask the most sensitive questions or to give the most honest comments, so opt-in anonymity is here to stay.
Besides the above changes, the keen eye will notice a large number of minor details here and there we’ve improved, including graphical tweaks, a improved help page, the elimination of pop-up comments, an about us page (look to the right of this page!), and so on.
For those of you who frequent this site (or even for first-time users), we haven’t released much site data before, but thought you may be interested in some numbers for Pollground. Since launching on July 10th 2006, we have:
- Over 70,000 votes
- Over 600 polls
- Over 5,000 comments
- Over 9,000 people (unique visitors) who have seen the site
- Over 500 people average who visit the site every day
- Over 100 people who have answered every single poll
And finally, we’re glad to report that we’ve received 13,000 visits with a happy average of 10 pages per visit.
Since launching Pollground.com last Monday (Jul. 10), we’ve gotten loads of really helpful feedback from users like you. In the coming weeks or so, we’ll be making large numbers of changes based on your suggestions!
The largest change coming up next week will affect comments and expertise points. Currently, you may only leave comments when you’re voting — you can’t respond to other user’s comments. Also, when you view comments, you see inane comments mixed in with the insightful ones, there’s no method to bury the bad comments and reward the good ones.
For expertise points, the current system gives you points for voting with the majority, a flawed indicator of expertise. Rewarding you for voting with the majority also discourages you from speaking your own mind, not an environment we want to create on Poll ground.
Our new system of comments and expertise points will hopefully fix all of these problems. The new comment system will let you rate other comments, and respond to other comments at any time, in a system similar to Reddit or Slashdot. Those comments rated sufficiently low will not appear by default, and the best-rated comments will float to the top.
Voting with the majority no longer will give you any expertise points. Rather, you’ll get expertise points by writing comments that are rated highly by other users. You can also earn expertise points by asking interesting questions that draw people to comment (instead of being skipped or buried).
Look forward to this overhaul sometime in the middle of next week! In the meantime, keep on sending us feedback on what you like and what you don’t like, and check out the changes we’ve made for today:
- This Blog (!!!)
- Search Functionality
- Larger Fonts / Simpler Layout
- Removal of the pointer phrases “somebody asks…” and “what’s your advice”, and moving the category selector from the top to the bottom
- Persistent Logins
- Many many more minor bugfixes and usability improvements based on your comments.