How I created Poland's largest online science forum 15 years ago.
A personal story filled with nostalgia for my school years, indiehacking, and early days of web 2.0.
In 2004-2007 as a teenager, I accidentally created Poland's largest online science forum. A few months ago I posted a twitter thread where I reflected on the roots of how it happened - my distribution channels, growth tactics, and why the internet was an entirely different beast back then.
It’s a personal story filled with nostalgia for my school years, indiehacking, and early days of web 2.0.
Pardon screenshots in polish. We have had no plans to go international back then :)
It was the golden era of phpBB forums.
As surprising as it may seem, it was really easy to set up a website like this 16 years ago. You would just buy a domain with hosting, download a free phpBB script and upload it to the server. Very similar to WP installation.
In 2004 I bought http://scientist.pl domain (pretty neat, right?), downloaded a free template (probably from here https://phpbb.com/showcase/) I also told my two classmates about what I was about to do. They joined me right away. We didn't have any goals, all just for fun.
In the next couple of weeks, we would organically spread the word.
In our class, in school. Two months later, we had around 30 users.
It became sort of cool to post stuff on scientist.pl- we started noticing sign-ups from schoolmates we didn't know.
15 y.o discussing black holes, popular science articles and posting their math homeworks.
Wow, we got traction (of course, this word was alien to us back then)
We spent $0 on marketing.
Of course, where would we get that money from? But we had precisely two online growth hacks. We were active on adjacent forums, and advertised in the post footer signature. Nobody would say it's spammy.
Another growth hack was Gadu Gadu status.
GG has been a polish online instant messaging communicator (read more https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadu-Gadu)
You could set your custom status (similar to bio on Twitter). Mine, of course, was http://scientist.pl
Three years later, we had:
It looks really humble compared to current standards. But we were the largest polish general science online forum.
Around that time, we were slowly becoming less interested in the forum.
We grew up - my interests gravitated towards girls, skateboarding, parties etc. http://scientist.pl was burning out and died in 2011.
Someone just forgot to pay for hosting.
We haven't made any money out of it because we were too young to have that mindset. We had no idea such things can make money.
But that's ok. I had been immature to understand the opportunity, but eventually I ended up where I am today.
I've been thinking about how this experience framed the mental models I have today.
I haven't arrived at the answer yet, but I realized the internet was a completely different place back then.
If you build it, they will come was definitely a thing those days in the Polish internet.
The internet was scarce.
Only genuinely interested people used it.
You didn't have to fight for attention. Almost everything was treated as signal.
There was no mob, no trolls, no people posting shit/abusive content.
Moderators were busy adding new interesting posts - giving bans or deleting posts were super rare.
Most users were content-hungry and willing to contribute to the discussion.
Since we had no financial incentives, we had no expectations either. Pure joy.
I know nowadays I wouldn't be so patient and chilled. I'd expect growth, revenue, etc. When I was 15, I was passionate, enthusiastic, yet careless.
If only I could emulate this approach today.
School, the physical community of people I was surrounded by all day, was responsible for the initial traction. I realized how I miss such a sense of belonging.
If I could give a piece of advice to my younger self, I'd tell him to keep working and become an indiehacker at a young age. I'm really happy of where I am today, but I'd probably be way further in terms of career if only I hadn't given up on this project back then.
Or maybe it all should have happened this way in order to revisit it years later and reflect on it like I'm doing it now.
I will always be proud of scientis.pl.
Thanks for reading!