Tech Notes — Online Library of Diversity

Building a scalable social media platform using low-code

First of all, I would like to thank Harshad Fad for building the community and providing me with the opportunity to volunteer for the MVP efforts of a rather cool concept, particularly given that our social lives have taken a hit during the pandemic.

The idea is simple — “ a space for meaningful conversations that connects people across the globe through video-conference to share stories that promote diversity and inclusion”. For a much better pitch, do check out the ProductHunt page.

The first version of Online Library of Diversity with instructions

One can schedule a session with a person to learn about their experiences from a catalogue. In addition, every person was also eligible to not just be a spectator but also talk about their own story.

The first step was to systematically break down the pieces required to build such a solution. And most of all, during the MVP phase, time is of the essence and the emphasis is always on using an existing solution if available rather than reinventing the wheel. To find out the building blocks, it is enough to just focus on that one sentence used to pitch the idea and identify key pieces in it.

  1. Landing page — Every product needs one
  2. Scheduler — To integrate with various calendars out there and even provide a clean interface for booking and creating slots, we went with Calendly.
  3. Video-Conferencing — The above service also provided direct integration with one of today’s favourite video conferencing platforms — Zoom.
  4. Authentication — The landing page needs to go behind a login screen to allow for control of features. Reinventing the entire flow is not required and can open security vulnerabilities as well. Firebase-Auth was the most convenient solution for us that was free, secure and provided tracking mechanisms.
  5. User Analytics — as mentioned in the previous point, we got Firebase Analytics right out of the box. Also, for the page, we went with its cousin, Google Analytics, which provides several metrics through a simple copy-paste in the webpage header.
  6. Payments — The initial approach was a tipping mechanism and we went with BuyMeACoffee. There are alternatives such as Gumroad, but the decision was mostly based on available integrations to multiple payment methods such as Credit Cards and even UPI, along with preference to payment screen customizations.

The next steps were to design, build and host our solution in a scalable fashion with minimal downtime irrespective of the traffic. Modern advances in software development have given rise to the low-code/no-code movements and wanted to give it a shot owing to their

  1. rapid build times
  2. simplicity in maintenance and more importantly,
  3. taking a design-centric approach.

The developer can visually build the interface and functionalities and not worry about scalability as well. Given our budget and requirement for basic features that are dynamic — such as a list of users open to sessions, we decided to go with Webflow. And words cannot express how good this decision was. I would not hesitate to say it has some of the best tutorials out there. Heck, it should have its own TV series.

Some Webflow humour

Most of all, sites built using Webflow can be converted to React using tools such as Appfairy, should you require to eject from their platform at a later date.

We now required a solution for hosting the entire website, and surprisingly, even that can be done by the same! The only additional service we required was procuring a domain name and went with GoDaddy. Configuring custom domain names for the site and any email notifications was quite straightforward using it as the settings page was clean and all-inclusive. Once we were done, we listed out all the bottlenecks and tabulated the maximum traffic each of them could handle, which I believe, should be done before release for any platform. Some of our features that we kept an eye on include

  1. Login requests, User Creations and Verifications
  2. Simultaneous Platform Users
  3. Calendars
  4. Zoom Calls and Duration
  5. Form Submissions

And once we were confident that we are not likely to hit a roadblock, we launched! We got decent traffic over time and did not receive even a single complaint regarding downtime at all. Google Analytics also provided impressive stats without costing a single dime.

Data Flex courtesy of Google Analytics

The alarming thing now is that building tech is becoming easier by the day. The focus is shifting towards creating the right products and ensuring growth, marketing and operations are running smoothly rather than breaking a sweat to produce better software. However, tech is a moving target and there would always be a requirement for developers, albeit for more advanced solutions.

This was definitely among the most meaningful experiences for me in building software, where the oft-repeated phrase of “changing the world” was directly visible through changed opinions and transformed personalities of users on the platform. Wishing it success in the years to come!

Do check out the full site and on social media — Instagram and Facebook.

Blogging about data, systems and ML