Sometime in February Interactive 8ball was discovered by what I’m guessing is a group of high school kids from Steven’s Point Wisconsin. Since then the site has spread around the US a bit and is currently getting about 200-400 visits a day and about 3x as many pageviews. More recently, the number of visits has been staying level while the pageviews have been ramping up. That shows me that the people who have installed the widget are using it more.

One of the biggest issues with Interactive 8ball is that it requires an installed base of users to work properly. If there is no user to answer your question, you’ll get an automatically generated recycled answer after a 1-minute wait. Even worse, if there is no one asking questions, you’ll be waiting for ever on the answer screen. So this current run up of users is pretty exciting for me. We’re at the point where I would guess that you have at least a 50% chance of getting a response from a real person, depending on the time of day you’re asking your question.

I also coded up a page to search through old questions and even a quick digg-like voting system. This page hasn’t been getting much traffic, but I just put a link to it from the widget’s homepage that should help out. And while it’s not yet as popular as the 8ball itself, it is a ton of fun to search through to see what people are asking about.

It’s been a ton of fun asking and answering questions with the folks “in the ball”. I haven’t done any rigorous research yet, but here are a few observations I’ve made based on the use so far:

– People are mean. Mean and/or negative answers seem to outnumber nice/positive answers 2-to-1. I suppose answering in a sarcastic way, or generally being a downer, is more fun for people that saying something nice. This could be an issue going forward as I’m not exactly sure that the people asking the questions enjoy the rough responses so much and may be turned away from using the 8ball again. Perhaps there is some way we can encourage an even number of positive and negative responses or at least responses that are well though out.

– The most commonly asked questions are of the form “Does ____ like me?”. Makes sense. I’m thinking of picking the petals off of daiseys singing, “She loves me. She loves me not…”

– A close second is any form of the question “Will I have sex?”: “Will I have sex tonight?”, “Will _____ has sex with ____?” There are a few “am I pregnants”, which is alarming. I hope people aren’t using the 8ball as a method of pregnancy detection. Maybe we should have and advertisement for pregnancy tests on the homepage instead of a link to buy an 8ball toy.

– The next most common questions are of the form “Is ______ gay?”. I’m surprised that so many people have questions about the sexual preference of their friends. I wonder how many of these are serious questions vs. a way for people to poke fun at their friends. I remember being a kid and can see how young boys especially would think it’s funny to use the word “gay” and one of your friends’ names in the same sentence.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to monetize the widget. I thought that it would be kind of fun to put a small AdSense ad below the answer you get, but I couldn’t find any conversations online around whether or not it is okay to place AdSense ads into Google gadgets. In any case, there seems to be no way to make the AdSense links open up in a new window rather than inside the gadget’s iframe. So that plan is out anyway.

Other types of advertising might work, including direct sales to interested parties. Based on the typical questions, some sort of dating service might be appropriate. Although it seems like a majority of users are teenagers, so ads targeted to that group might be most successful.

I have one person who already approached me about such a deal, but I think I’ll wait until usage has grown more or at least reached a consistent level. It’s always fun to think about how these projects can make money, but I’m also a firm believer in the idea of “get people using your site first, then worry about making money later”. We’re arguably still in the “get people to use the site” phase.
Overall I’m pretty excited that people are using, and seemingly enjoying, the Interactive 8ball. Hopefully this surge in traffic won’t die away. I like the fact that I can have a random interactive with an anonymous party any time I want. It’s an awesome time killer.