Developer Interview: Samuel Clay Of NewsBlur, a Google Reader Alternative

TB: How many developers contribute to NewsBlur?
SC: I’m the only developer, designer, administrator, and marketer. A few folks have kindly contributed code — a Python API library, a few bookmarklets, and the Android app. I fully support anybody who wants to contribute, since they can either charge for their own product, or piggy-back on NewsBlur’s success.

TB: How long was NewsBlur in development before you launched it?
SC: About a year. I am now exactly two years into the five year plan.

TB: As an “indie” developer, what are some tips you can offer others on how to launch (getting the word out, following up, traffic spikes, etc.)?
SC: I never advertised and the only word I spread was at meetups, when explaining what I do with all of my free time. A post on Hacker News a year ago was enough to generate a massive press cycle that brought me into this year and coder to the public’s consciousness.

As for handling traffic spikes, I have moved from hosting provider to hosting provider, starting with a $20/month server at Slicehost, expanding to 3 servers (app, db, and task), moving to Linode and working up to $80/month for 3-4 servers there, and finally ending up with bare metal servers that I rent out for $420/month. This will give me a few months of leeway before I end up having to shard my non-relational data store (in MongoDB) and have to pay upwards of $800/month. User accounts are more than covering that cost.

I would highly recommend staying off Amazon’s servers, since they are older machines, littered with network and I/O contention, unexplained slow-downs, occasional outages, and a huge cost. When I need to provision a new server, it takes a few hours, but I never let my servers run over 10% capacity (save for my task servers, which are workhorses that could use some love right about now).

I also treat customer service as the highest priority ticket. I write down all of monthly priorities and then cross them off the list as I accomplish tasks. However, emails and fixing bugs for users  are always top of the list.

TB: Finally, any thoughts on what’s in store for NewsBlur in 2012 and beyond?
SC: Search, launching the iPhone app with training and a River of News, and then building the many social features that I’ve had in mind since the beginning. There will undoubtedly be a major spike in traffic due to the network effect, so I’m battening down the hatches and making sure the foundation is strong before I attempt to build in the most complicated features I’ve ever had the pleasure of designing.

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Romit Mehta

Romit writes about mobile news and gadgets, and is currently a Windows Phone owner (Nokia Lumia 920). Find him on twitter @TheRomit. Personal site is