Guest Post: How we built secret London in a weekend

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This is a guest post by Tiffany Philippou who started the Secret London Facebook Group. Two weeks after launch the group had amassed over 180,000 members, propelling its 21 year old creator into her first startup – see our previous coverage.

The website build weekend drew to a close two days ago and it is only beginning to dawn on me that we might just have achieved the impossible. Building a website for £3,000 and in only 48 hours.

One week ago, secretlondon put the call out on its blog, Facebook wall and Twitter feed for volunteers to help us build a site for the rapidly growing ‘Secret London’ Facebook Group and migrate the existing content across to a new home. We had more than 100 responses from across the London tech community, and over 40 people committed their weekend to make it happen.

The challenge we were trying to solve was simple enough. The Facebook Group in just a few weeks had already attracted over 195,000 users, and completely outgrown its Facebook home. In particular the group features don’t allow people to search through the content. Insights and suggestions were getting buried in the discussion boards and wall. Members were telling me that there was too much information for them to possibly trawl through. We had to find somewhere for this restless and growing crowd to go before they lost interest, and quickly.

The problem was there were only really four of us (me, plus the guys at onefinestay), and we had almost no money.

What’s amazing, though, is how much you can do cheaply if you are working on a project that inspires people. As well as the incredible talent we got on board, we also got a printer from Freecycle.org, brought some equipment from home, and borrowed the rest. The folks at the Finsbury Centre in particular were really generous with their time and help.

Including the domain names for us and future secretcities, catering and all the other out of pocket costs, our total cost for the entire process have been less than £3,000.

When I went round the room on Sunday night and asked all the contributing designers, developers product managers and editors what motivated them to give up their weekend they said it was the feeling of being part of something amazing. They astonished us with their enthusiasm and talent.

secretlondon has shown the power of the community. The group has always been about engaging its members every step of the way. We ran a logo competition to get a logo design, and then asked members on our blog to vote for their favourite. We sought the opinions of the community on the functionality of the site and tried to incorporate as many of the ideas as possible into the launch site.

As with any new website, we may stumble across a few problems along the way (and should that happen, we have own answer to the fail whale!). There were also a couple of hairy moments. Tim had a particularly tough time on Friday night when we realised that Amazon’s RDS service was still only available in the East Coast.

But, with a little help from our friends, we did it. And that community spirit is one of secretlondon’s strongest features. Your browser may not support display of this image.

Since this is an ongoing project, anyone who wants to get involved to take the site to the next level – whether that’s helping Tim maintain the code, or making improvements and widgets – is extremely welcome. We’ll be building an API shortly, so if you’re an iPhone developer and want to work on an app to access the thousands of secrets then we want to hear from you. We also want to cluster data for better recommendations and make recommendations based on places your friends have liked. Get in touch if this is something you can help with.

Meantime, we hope you enjoy the new site: www.secretlondon.us.

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