New, more principled, hammers

So, do you remember Hammer Principle? That thing Mike and I did about two years ago?

Well, it’s still around. It even gets a fair bit of traffic. It averages about 100 unique visitors a day, which isn’t nothing, and every now and then reddit or hacker news remember it exists and the world briefly descends on it.

Which makes it pretty embarrassing how much we’ve been neglecting it. It’s largely just been trucking along, doing its thing, and we’ve been cheerfully ignoring it. It had a few bugs, but it basically worked and people liked it so we weren’t that worried.

We briefly tried to do a relaunch last year when the one year anniversary came up, but we got trapped into a “REDESIGN ALL THE THINGS” plan and it ended up floundering. Too much work to get back to where we started.

But not this time! Mike has been getting very excited about The Lean Startup recently, so when we got interested in doing some more work on Hammer Principle we decided to do it that way. We’ve not been terribly strict about it, but we’ve started measuring some things and making little tweaks in response to that.

To be honest the main benefit for me has been the instant feedback. Not even from the measuring so much (though it’s surprisingly addictive), just the fact that we’re iterating in small changes and features. It’s nice to see rapid progress on it again, and it motivates us to do more and to make yet more rapid progress.

Here are some of the things we’ve done:

  • Tweaked the URL schema. Not exciting for you, but google analytics and subdomain based grouping were not friends which made it hard to tell what’s going on (all old URLs should now redirect to new ones. Tell me if they don’t or you find broken links we’ve missed
  • New navigation bar between nails. It was a little hard to tell due to the aforementioned issues with old URL schema, but as far as we could tell basically no one navigated between nails. If you came for the programming languages you were unlikely to stay for the databases. This is an attempt to fix that, and it seems to be helping
  • Redesigned the colour scheme. The old one was a bit garish – it kinda made sense at the time, but as we added different colours for different nails it made much less
  • Added random assertions to the home page, giving people examples of the sort of fact the system throws out
  • Complete redesign of the comparison pages. More on this in a moment

The comparison page is the one that excites me the most. Partly because it’s the biggest change, partly because I thought the old ones were a bit shit, but mostly because I think the new ones are really quite cool.

The old comparison pages were basically a list: The top 10 statements people thought each item was better at than another. This lead to a lot of conclusion because they looked like they were suggesting these statements were empirically good for that language when that often wasn’t the case (when you’re comparing assembler and C for “this language would be good for a web project” you know you’re in trouble). It also wasn’t very informative.

The new ones however give you much more information about the breakdown between the two sides, and with less of an implication that either are good for it. It also gives you more data about what’s going on in a reasonably easy to digest way. I think the overall result is a much clearer picture of the differences between the things you’re comparing. Try comparing Ruby and Python, Git and Mercurial or Judo and Aikido.

Hopefully this is just the start. We’re building up a list of things to try and experiments to run and the result should be a variety of changes coming in the near future.

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