A Hacker News-inspired aggregator built with Softr.io

A Hacker News-inspired aggregator built with Softr.io

Hacker News has been a fascination of mine since I discovered it several years ago, and today it has become part of my morning routine. Through the site, I discovered countless interesting articles and ideas, and the most read article on this site also owes its success to the millions of Hacker News readers.

On HN, as the site is known, people expect a certain level of articles. The idea is for one to post “anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity”, and although this definition is a little broad, this usually means technical articles about hacking and startups.

Malta is crowded with traditional newspapers and clickbaity online articles, which leave a space, however small, for platforms showcasing analytical long form articles, theses, papers, and interesting projects that have otherwise nowhere to be promoted. I thought of creating something similar to HN for articles and projects (as in the ‘Show HN’ section of Hacker News) that are related, or have an impact, on Malta and its nationals.

With this in mind, I wanted to replicate the same minimalist User Interface of Hacker News and build the whole thing as fast as possible with the lowest cost. In other words, I needed to build an MVP.

The first idea was to create an upvote-type listing on Bubble.io, my preferred platform when building more complicated stuff, however a paid version of Bubble costs around $25 per month, which is more than I was willing to bet, considering the small market size for such a site.

As a paid-up member of Carrd, the one-page website platform, I usually end up testing new ideas there despite the obvious limitations. I decided to try and build this link aggregator on Carrd, keeping the same minimalist look, while forgiving the lack of upvoting options. To keep the same minimalist look of Hacker News, I created a single blank white page that serves as the homepage. The links submitted feature next to each other but unlike Hacker News, there is no rank, upvote button, comment button, or the ability to see the URL options.

This is what it looked like

The only other two pages (which are built as sections, as Carrd does not have a proper CMS) of threefive6 were a short ‘about’ page and a submissions page.

For the latter, I first tried to create an online submission form using basic HTML, which would send the title and the URL of the submission directly to my email address. This did not look neat enough, so I decided to use the Typeform option to capture the title and URL, which I then connected to my email address with Zapier.

This, of course, represented a major flaw in my quest to make the link aggregator as standalone as possible – I had to manually insert the title and the URL every time someone submitted them, which meant logging in to Carrd, opening threefive6 from the dashboard and inserting the title and then the URL one by one. I kept this up for a few days, but it was obvious that this was not sustainable.

A few days later, I decided to try Softr.io, a nocode building tool based in Berlin, Germany. While Softr has similar pricing points to Bubble.io, which would then easily make Bubble the preferred option of the two, Softr allows free plan users to publish their websites on custom domains. As I already owned threefive6.com, I just needed to create a better link aggregator on Softr and point the domain to that website.

Softr has a handy upvoting template that I used, which made things easier. I added a ‘submit’ button, an about page and another page for new submissions while changing the general look of the website. The only downsides I found are the small banner on the lower right part of the screen, as can be seen in the picture below, and the very basic customisation options found on Softr. However, I felt that these downsides were worth it, considering that I managed to build a MVP of a link aggregator for a total cost of €6.50 (for the domain).

This is what threefive6 looks like right now: