LinkPeelr: A side project to the side project

LinkPeelr is a URL expander that takes a URL and peels it to show you the URL that you will actually be taken to. It took me a Friday to design the logo (I am a complete Adobe Illustrator noob, so be charitable) and the weekend to layout the one page, test the app and deploy it on Google App engine.

The next two weekends were spent polishing Google Chrome extension that makes peeling possible for any link on any page (shows the resulting URL in a nice-looking tooltip). Altogether I ended up being a rather nice-looking, compact project.

Why LinkPeelr?

It seems like I should be spending all of my time on just❤liked. The reason I decided to shift gears is that just❤liked has been getting a bit depressing lately. Grossly behind schedule (thankfully not overbudget, since there isn’t one) and with the launch date as uncertain as ever, I needed a bit of distraction, and I wanted to do something that I could actually finish.

Doubling as a confidence booster, a URL expander was an idea I’ve been nursing for a while. I studied the competition and I found it to be quite good, but not good enough to stop me since the goal was not to compete with them – it was to compete with myself. The project was intended primarily as a personal exercise meant to test if I could execute.

How I Did It

I recently wrote about “stacking” your skills as a way to get ahead. It didn’t make sense to jump the stack and do something entirely new, say learn Ruby. I went with tried and true Google App Engine which I’ve been working with since early this year. So walking the walk paid off handsomely here.

I struggled a bit with the new stuff, namely page layout, jQuery and Illustrator (with a hearty endorsement of ColourLovers, which saved me hours), but I purposefully made LinkPeelr really tiny. So tiny, in fact, that I had some free time on Sunday night to rest on my laurels. Certainly, there was more work to do in the coming weekend(s), but somehow this work had a different quality about it because the first version of LinkPeelr was already live.

Even for a tiny project like LinkPeelr you definitely feel less pressure making progress after you have something up online, e.g. when you’ve launched the site but not the companion extension. It’s a form of motivation because you can see it out there and incomplete, and you know that you need to do more work before you can tell the whole wide world about the app that’s sitting out online waiting for users. Moreover, it’s harder to give up and stop working when you have an online presence.

After the page was up and looking more or less decent I could focus on the extension — a bigger challenge because I’ve never played with this technology before. Thankfully, the extension bits turned out more straightforward than expected. I still lost time on UI due to some poorly documented CSS tooltip implementations (I discarded two options before I found something that works), but the two weeks was all it took to get the Chrome extension running. Then last night things started to come together.

Learn More

You can peruse my creation in all of its glory on GitHub. Images and artwork are under Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0. You are welcome to use them as long as you give me credit. Code is under BSD License.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the project or if you want to collaborate on something. I already have the next side project lined up, and I could really use a strong (stronger than myself) designer on it.

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3 responses to “LinkPeelr: A side project to the side project

  1. Doing such little (weekend) projects are really cool!

    I have one “big” side project that I’m working on, as well as tring to find idea for “small” one for quick launch :)

  2. Ilya

    Is it common to have multiple redirects via shorteners? i.e.

    short URL -> URL 1 -> URL 2 etc.?

    If that is the case, it would be good for LinkPeelr to show all of them via one click.

    Just a thought.

    • Saeed,

      Excellent point. I thought about it a bit when I started the project, but then I ended up not implementing that because I was pressed for time. Now that I can actually see a pretty good sample of what people are “peeling” I can tell that several levels of indirection are very uncommon.

      Still some links don’t peel correctly, e.g. links from Quora’s URL shortener. I will fix that soon.

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