Saturday, November 9, 2013

Increasing Brand-Value of with a Web Comic

[This is a guest post by Marketing/Growth-Hacking consultant Martha Andrews - contact her directly at  Follow Martha on Twitter @another_martha]

We have been doing some investigation in increasing brand awareness for

Mailinator has always been a useful site providing free, disposable email - but analysis of the usage patterns of Mailinator indicated that users tended to use it on a monthly or bi-weekly basis rather than weekly or daily. In some ways this makes sense – the site provides a utility, but the use case for the general public isn't necessarily needed on a daily basis. When it is needed however - our goal is to make sure you think of!

In order to raise all usage levels of the site, we focused on public awareness of the site, expecting that an increased DAU (and MAU) would/should be an expected side effect.  I’ve frequented many trainings in the last year, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Create interesting and useful content and people will flock to your site…Its all about providing content.” 

But what content could we give to our users?  We already give away the service – we have a useful tool, and want more folks to know about it and use it.

Before creating content, something to consider is who is in our user base?  Web analytics told us the primary user base is male, ages 18-40 – think of the average Reddit user.  So how do we engage 18-40 year old men, and potentially other demographic groups?  How do we get them to think of more often?  What could we provide that would be of use of them?  Getting folks to think of the site more often, and giving them content and reasons to visit the site would likely expand their current usage pattern.

We tried targeted ads through traditional web and social channels. Specifically - we experimented with Google Adwords,, Facebook, and Twitter.  The ads provided momentary increases in traffic to varying degrees but nothing long lasting.  We can get more users to Mailinator any day of the week by spending some money, but that cannot be sustained given that doesn not generate direct user revenue.

During a recent site redesign we incorporated a new mascot of sorts – an amiable looking caped crusader we dubbed “Mailinator Guy” - the Anti-Spam Superhero. 
The more we lived with Mailinator Guy, the more often we started asking: what if we launched a web comic based on Mailinator Guy?  Would a comic be appropriate content?  If you've ever read Mailinator's FAQ you know the tone of the site is already quite tongue-in-cheek - we at least amuse ourselves.  Frankly the thought of bringing Mailinator Guy to life was simply too fun an experiment not to try.

ComicRocket has over 35,000 web comics indexed on their site alone, so competition for user attention is stiff.  However we found Facebook ads for the comic to be highly successful in engaging a new audience.  We think it works well because they are demographically targetable, colorful, eye catching and fun.  A thumbnail or portion of the strip is always displayed in the posts and ads.

We also engage our existing audience through the Mailinator Facebook page (with >30000 likes). There is an announcement on the page when a new comic is published. Additionally, the colorful thumbnail version of the strip is shown on the landing page and on mailbox pages at  We have found as we release a comic each week, we are slowly habituating our audience to check on a weekly basis – and if they are following us on twitter or are a Facebook fan, we have an excuse to contact them.

The feedback loop of the two sites is strong. provides the free disposable email utility that brings new users by itself. The site's design reinforces the Mailinator Guy character and encourages our primary demographic, arguably also the primary demographic for web comics, to follow the comic.  The site provides a weekly enticement for a visit. That visit keeps the Mailinator brand fresh in our user's mind causing the loop.

Of course some users of Mailinator will never care about the comic. And some users of the comic will never care about  And that's just fine - both sites have inherent stand-alone value.

At the time of this writing we have published six episodes of The Adventures of Mailinator Guy. Our advertising efforts, both paid and direct referrals from, have driven traffic that averaged 1,500 unique weekly users the first three weeks, to over 3,000 unique weekly visitors the following three weeks.  The most traffic occurs on Mondays when we have usually posted and announced a new episode.  Along with an increase in users, producing the comic has become more efficient and economical, and still pretty darn fun.

Importantly - traffic to has increased 15% in the 6 weeks since the launch of the comic and continues to grow.

These numbers are very encouraging but honestly the most important outcome is the increase in Mailinator brand recognition. The site's brand value will continue to grow and that's the real goal of this exercise.  

At the end of the day - everyone is happy.  More people know about the Mailinator brand - this makes us happy - and have either avoided some spam by using our free disposable email service, have had a laugh at the expense of Mailinator Guy - and his sidekick (you'll have to read the strip to find out about him), or both.

If you're up for following the adventures of Mailinator Guy yourself - here's the link to get you started:

The Adventures of Mailinator Guy! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Introducing .... Mailinator Guy

Let me tell you a secret - if you want a positively sure way to get unfettered love and hate mail at the same time - just go redesign a website.

If you've used Mailinator for any length of time you see we changed the website design a few years back. We brought it from probably somewhere in Web 1.0 to current day.

The redesign was more than simply a redesign however - it changed how Mailinator worked. A great deal of internal code was added to prevent abuse of third-party sites using Mailinator.

Overall the redesign was a huge upgrade and success - and I promise you the lovers far outweigh the haters  :)  (site traffic got a significant and sustained increase too).

Our redesign this summer also served to introduce's anti-spam superhero - Mailinator Guy !

He's here to save your inbox from spam. He can fly, has a magic envelope he carries with him everywhere, and of course has a neato secret lair.

Now - Mailinator Guy has his own webcomic !   So if you're a fan of Mailinator and like to read webcomics - what are you waiting for !

Check it out here:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Code Review for a String Lock Map

I recently needed a mechanism to lock on given Strings in a particular piece of code. As maybe a weak example, say I was doing disk file updates to files each with unique filenames (i.e. read, update, write-back). I could have synchronized the methods that modified the files, but I preferred to not lock at that level - in other words, only one file update could occur at a time then.

I'd prefer to simply lock on that file - or more specifically, that filename. Its a dubious proposition to lock on String objects in Java as different objects can represent the same set of characters. You can intern() all your strings (which makes sure the objects you have are the "one" system-wide representation of that String) but that is rather global. I wanted to do things locally - where I can control the scoping of the lock.

(The filename example is just an example, I've needed this structure in many different scenarios - so don't look to just solve that problem).

I might have missed it, but I didn't find any facilities in java.util.concurrent to help me (and to be fair, I haven't kept up with the happenings there. Long story short, I wrote my own.

Of course the best advice when writing concurrent locking datastructures is - DON'T.

But I did. And I probably plan on using it eventually, so I put it here for review. I'll update it as comments come in (so if you see a comment below that makes little sense it's probably because I heeded it and changed the code).

The use case I want:

public static final StringLock stringLock = new StringLock();


try {

     // load disk file
     // change its contents a bit
     // rewrite it
} finally {

So.. find below the code I've come with so far. Its a bit heavy under contention but the normal case (no contention) it syncs 3 times (writes on ConcurrentHashMap being a sync). I could also use Cliff Click's NonBlockingHashMap to remove two of the syncs but and I'd be happy to be convinced that'd be superior for some reason.

public class StringLock {

 private final ConcurrentHashMap lockedStrings = new ConcurrentHashMap();

 public void lock(String s) { 
   Object lockObject = null; 
   while (true) { 
     lockObject = lockedStrings.get(s); 

     if (lockObject != null) { 
       synchronized (lockObject) { 
          Object lockObject2 = lockedStrings.get(s); 
          if (lockObject2 == lockObject) { 
            try { lockObject2.wait(); } catch (Exception e) { } 
     } else { 
        lockObject = new Object(); 
        Object lockObject1 = lockedStrings.putIfAbsent(s, lockObject); 
        if (lockObject1 == null) { 

 public void unlock(String s) { 
    Object lockObject = lockedStrings.get(s); 
    synchronized (lockObject) { 
} : Anatomy of a Spammy Campaign

Mailinator is a popular disposable email service. It's also become a great tool for QA Teams to test email receipt, acknowledgment, au...