Turning ideas into a popping success!

What started as a bit of a joke between three friends has turned a meme into a furious competition to get to the top of a leader board! The rules are simple, the stakes are high. Welcome to Popcat.click.

An image of a cat. One with his mouth closed and the other with his mouth open

Ed, Josh and Freddy, three friends all studying for a degree in Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, told Andy Stratton in the Department, that they often come up with ideas for different web applications which they develop and launch with varying levels of success - this was until they came up with the idea of Popcat.click at 2am one December morning.

If you are unfamiliar with Popcat here he is (links out to Youtube). The cat is called Oatmeal and probably never expected to find himself the subject of such a popular meme and international fame. 

When asked what inspired the three students to create Popcat.click, it was apparently developed on a whim. They all liked the meme, realised there wasn’t anywhere you could click on it to make it pop so decided to make it a reality. 

Popcat.click has been resoundingly successful - so successful, in fact, that it has been banned by some schools in Finland! Popcat himself has been clicked over 20 billion times and in the last 30 days the site has seen 3.2 million unique users who have made over 3 billion requests to the server which amounts to 13TB of traffic. 

All three students agreed that what they have learned at university, so far, helped them develop Popcat.click. In particular they highlighted learning about project management skills and how to use Kanban boards to their best advantage. They also worked with external people, including one who found a vulnerability in the site, and said good communication skills and the knowledge of how to work with people in a virtual environment are all skills they developed while studying. 

They all felt they have learned valuable skills developing Popcat.click which they would be able to apply to the rest of their degree. 

They also candidly stated that they had a new level of respect for anyone working in DevOps and SysOps. Making changes while there are lots of requests coming in is pretty high stakes. There is lots of risk involved with every change and if you push a change that goes wrong it could break things for a while. They have all learned the value of testing and have got much better at SysOps - their latest addition is a live feed of requests and errors. 

They learned about the importance of technical debt. Something our academic staff try to teach our students but maybe isn't always appreciated as to why it’s important. (I am learning lots of new things while writing this blog post. Having never come across the term technical debt before I did an online search. According to Wikipedia Technical debt is "a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy (limited) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.")

To display the leaderboard information Popcat.click counts a number and then uses a geolocation service to determine the country that number is coming from. To start with they held the location on the server which used up lots of memory. This caused the response times to slow down and you can’t just restart a server with thousands of requests in the queue. Now they use JWTs to address this problem. 

Would they have done anything differently if they did this project again? Yes! They all agreed they spent a lot of time trying to optimise the server so making it scalable from day 1 or if they have done it in a stateless way from the beginning so they could spin up three servers instead of one would have made a huge difference.

Do they have any advice for students who may want to develop their own applications? Don’t spend too much time on it - you don’t want to spend too much time on something people might not use.  Throw as many projects as you can out there as you can - Popcat.click became popular by chance.

So there you have it, the story of how three friends created a highly enjoyable web application and in the process gained skills which they will be able to apply to the rest of their degree programmes. 

Now I urge you to all do your duty and get clicking. 

The students were interviewed by Andy Stratton and this blog post was written by Kathryn Roden

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