Marie and Chris talk about CodePen Challenges, which have been going strong for many years now. The gist is that you pop in and make something along a theme. The “challenge” is doing the work (they aren’t meant to be tricky otherwise). We’ve seen people seriously level up their skills by participating, but of course, there is no obligation, and no prizes other than the satisfaction of a job well done.

One interesting twist is that Chris used to do a lot of the challenges while Marie was running the podcast, but we just up and switched jobs and we both prefer our new jobs much better (for now!).

Time Jumps

  • 00:51 Explaining how time works
  • 01:45 Having monthly themes
  • 06:33 Sponsor: Netlify
  • 08:08 How to be a part of challenges
  • 13:03 Putting together the challenge collections
  • 17:04 Makes sense from a business perspective
  • 19:28 Swapping roles and creating more joy for everyone
  • 25:47 Using better dashboards to build fun things

Sponsor: Netlify

Just look at the October 2021 changelog at Netlify. They are always building things and making the features they offer better. We know firsthand how difficult that is to pull off, so hats off! One feature (BETA) that is definitely worth a look is On-Demand Builders. What a great idea for making your builds and deploys fast and efficient.


[Radio channel adjustment]

Announcer: Today, on CodePen Radio.

Chris Coyier: Hey, everybody. Time for another CodePen Radio, 341, which I wrote on my notes here, "Challenges with Marie." Hey, Marie.

Marie Mosley: Hey, everybody.

Chris: And then I felt bad because I was like, the title seemed -- I probably won't title it that for real because it seems like, "Challenges with having an employee like Marie." You know?

Marie: Like me?

Chris: What do I face?

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: [Laughter]

Chris: Challenges with Marie. Ugh. So many challenges with you.

Marie: Well, I know. [Laughter]

Chris: Of course, we're talking about #CodePenChallenges. You know, the thing that we do. If you haven't heard of them, it's because, well, we haven't talked about them in this podcast for 100 episodes, apparently.

Marie: Almost. Yeah.

Chris: It's been a while. You know how many weekly challenges we've done in those 100 weeks? A hundred.

Marie: Thereabouts.

Chris: We do them every week - almost. Yeah, that's right.

Marie: Well, there are gap weeks. [Laughter]

Chris: There are gap weeks, but they're not like--

Marie: We'll talk about--

Chris: They're not because we're like, "Oops, we forgot to do the challenges." There are gap weeks because the calendar lays out in such a way.

Marie: Yeah. That's how time works, everyone.

Chris: Yes.

Marie: Sometimes there's a gap.

Chris: Sometimes there's a gap. We do four -- because what we try to have is some symmetry to them. We do four a month.

Marie: Yes. Yeah, it's four prompts every month, and we start them on the first Monday of the month. If your month starts the first day is like a Friday, just chill to Monday the 3rd or 4th. I'm not looking at a calendar. You know. [Laughter]

Chris: Yeah. It feels good to have a break anyway. We could structure it such that we just did it every single week, but then it's more difficult because we like to have a monthly theme.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: That's been really fun. I don't think that's changed since the very beginning of challenges. We think of some kind of way to tie four challenges together which - I don't know - feels more exciting - or something.

Marie: Well, yeah. I mean I think that it's fun to have an overarching theme because also when you start the month, you kind of have a general feel for what the vibe is going to be style-wise. For example, we just finished up, last month, the October challenge, which obviously you're going to go for a Halloween theme. It's just sitting right there, you know?

Chris: [Laughter]

Marie: That was Scary UX, which I have to say I had so much fun with what people did for that challenge. I felt like I was taking a risk with this one because, when you do something when you're deliberately saying, "Do bad UX here," you're kind of opening up the problems. But people got the joke and really did fun, hilarious stuff with the different elements that we gave them.

Yeah, I think it's really fun to have a theme that you know right from the start at the beginning of the month because then you can kind of start to mentally prepare what you're going to make through that month, even if you don't know what each week's prompt is, because we don't tell you right up front.

Chris: Yeah, you don't find out until the end.

Marie: We give a prompt once a week. Exactly. But you do have the idea of, like, "Okay, well, this is Halloween vibes, so let me start pulling up my scary fonts, picking out my favorite color palate, whatever." You do have a general feel for what you're going to be digging into for that month.

Also, I've kind of started to give little hints about what the prompts might be, but they're very light hints because I don't like to give away too much, and I definitely don't want people trying to work ahead. We always try to mix it up a little bit, so there's always something fresh and exciting every week.

Chris: You should see what the guy had to do on Squid Game to know what the next game was going to be.

Marie: I ain't gonna watch that show. It sounds depressing. [Laughter]

Chris: Just saying. He really had to go to some extremes just to find out what the next game was going to be.

That's awesome. This month, in particular, I feel like typified that perfectly in that the whole thing is about scary UX - awesome. And it was fun. There was some real master classes in bad UX in there. High-five to everybody.

Marie: Oh, boy, were there ever. So funny. Hilarious. Everyone, thank you so much for making October completely hilarious. I enjoyed it so much.

Chris: Yeah. Do these for everybody, but Marie especially because she enjoys--

Marie: Well, I'm the -- you know, I'm the one who picks them all and writes them all.

Chris: The game master!


Marie: I love to see them go well. I love to see people really pick up the theme and carry it and do something really exciting with it and surprise me, too, because I'll set the prompt. I'll provide the template sometimes. Although sometimes we make you just go 100% on your own.

When I'm setting these up, I have an idea in mind of what I'd like to see and then, oftentimes, I see not only what I was thinking I would like to see but things I would have never dreamed of that are just completely impressive, super cool, so it's a very exciting thing.

Chris: What I meant by typifying a perfect example of them is, so it's scary UX, and then you do buttons, you do text fields, and you do dropdowns. Then what do all those have in common? You get to use that last week to smash them all together so that if you were playing the game, you could almost grab week one, two, three, and smash them together. I'm not sure anybody did that, but that's kind of the idea is that week four, in this case, was a parent week.

Marie: Yes, we did frightful forms. Yeah, I referred back to the previous weeks to say, "Hey, check out the stuff that the rest of the community did for these same elements throughout the past three weeks, or also go back to your own from weeks one through three and see if you want to reuse anything from that and stuff it into this form." Some people did exactly that and it was really funny.

Chris: Yeah. That's great. You could stuff other people's Pen to them, especially if you're a total beginner and you're like, "Oh, I don't know how to do this. This is next-level stuff. I don't know how to do this." Grab somebody's and fork it and change some stuff.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: That's what we encourage on CodePen, overall, anyway. In a way, it's kind of a lesson of what front-end development can be. [Laughter]

How many people start with an absolute white screen that are developers these days? None.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: People work on existing things. They manipulate other things out there. They copy and paste code. We encourage all that, of course. But give credit where credit is due.

Marie: Yes, and the community is really great about that. In fact, people, I think, go out of their way to reference other people, to let them know, "Hey, I used your work in this piece. Check out what I did with it." I think that's super cool.


[Guitar music starts]

Chris: This episode of CodePen Radio is brought to you by Netlify. High-five. Thanks for the support, Netlify.

You know they're always chugging along, building things, and improving things at Netlify. They launched those on-demand builders, which is a cloud function that caches itself, so you can hit a URL once, get a response, and then it goes into cache. It's useful for all kinds of things like e-commerce sites where you don't want to prebuild 10,000 pages.

You want to prebuild none of them, or just a handful of the important ones. Then later, if somebody requests /product, /tv, /tv19, or whatever, you build that one page once, and then it's cached the next time somebody hits it. It's a really efficient way to deploy a site. That's happening and they've improved them in being that they're now available across all their edge nodes, which is cool.

It's just like, "We released the feature. It was a good feature. Now we're going to improve it a little bit."

Their deploy previews have Loom integration now, so there's an improvement there.

All their cloud functions, you can write them in JavaScript, TypeScript, or Go -- Go being a pretty cool option because it's just ridiculously fast. But the other language that's getting so much high-fives for being fast lately is Rust. Guess what. Now they have a beta for writing your edge functions in Rust.

Next 12 was released. Guess what. It works great on Netlify.

Nuxt 3 is released. Guess what. It works great on Netlify.

There are all these things that they're constantly improving. Almost all their features are ever-improving. High-five for that, Netlify. I know that's a tricky thing to pull off, and you're excellent at it. See you later.

[Guitar music ends]


Chris: If people are interested in this, this is not something you're opted into necessarily. You have to decide to be a part of it. You can decide to be a part of it in different levels. You can just go to, see what the vibe is that week, and just play the game and make a Pen. The way that you kind of let it be known that you've done something (as far as that) is just to use a tag, which is a concept on CodePen, built-in. Tag your thing, the thing that says to tag it. That way Marie will find it, and it'll just be a part of the vibe. Then, ultimately, Marie, I think you hand-pick stuff from the tag to make the official collection, which is a lot of stuff. It just gives you an opportunity if somebody clearly quit halfway through or something. Then you just don't put it in the collection, right?

Marie: Right. Yeah. When I go through and, actually, this is something I can talk a little bit because I've had to automate this in some ways because the participation in challenges has grown so much.

But yeah, when I go through to look for Pens to add to the collection, what I'm looking for is, of course, first off that it's tagged and then that there is something in there, that there has been some work put in. Also, putting a title on your challenge Pen also makes it more likely to get into the collection. If you're interested in making sure you get into the collection, just give it a title. Literally, any title makes it easier for us to find you.

Chris: Okay. Yeah, that's cool. Yeah, at some point that's the thing with scale.

Marie: Yeah. [Laughter]

Chris: Having to it with your fingers. Got to write code.

Marie: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely, and so that's a real big change from the earlier days of the challenges, first of all, because it was a brand new thing for a little while there and we weren't sure what to invest in it. Putting together things like the collection was an entirely manual process and it was tricky because I'd be going through, wanting to make sure that I was finding only original work. I didn't want to add stuff that was just a straight-out fork with no changes to it. The tag page itself is a firehose. It shows you everything.

Eventually, we did add in that toggle where you can hide forks, but that was not there in the early days. You're looking at a firehose of literally everything that's made.

I have built some tools using good old SQL to narrow it down a bit so that I can find stuff that's actually appropriate to go into the collection rather than having to page through literally everything and just do my best to find stuff. You know?

We do a better job of getting things into the collection now. The stuff that has actually had some work put into it gets into the collection, and that's something I'm really happy with.

Chris: Yeah, that's awesome. Check it out. At the end of the week, there's a collection that exists. Maybe even wait until Monday, sometimes, right, because there are some stragglers and stuff.


Marie: The collection exists at the beginning of the challenge. I'll usually have the collection beginning on Tuesday. Then probably around Wednesday or Thursday, it's got enough stuff in it to pick. But the collection is usually completed by the Tuesday of the next week because I pick up people who made stuff over the weekend or sometimes somebody finishes something and releases it on the Monday.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: I'll get them in there, but by Friday afternoon -- and when I say Friday afternoon, I mean East Coast Time -- I have made the decision of who is basically the favorite of the week, and that's the one that I put into the Spark.

Chris: Oh, nice.

Marie: Usually, I've already made that decision by Friday. Although, occasionally, [laughter] the crown has gotten snatched on a Monday morning if I come in and see something really cool.

Chris: Yeah. Oh, funny. It's not really -- we don't rate them. There are no winners, necessarily. But I guess that's something of a winner.

Marie: Yeah, there's no prize, but there is a bit of an honor there--

Chris: Absolutely.

Marie: --because that's the one that goes into the Spark and that's the one that gets -- I move it to the top of the collection. I specifically name-check the creator in the Spark. And so, that's the one people will see if they check it out through the Spark. After it goes out in the Spark, that's when the challenge collection gets the most views.

Chris: Right.

Marie: That's when people start coming through and checking it out, hearting it, and all that.

Chris: Nice. Yeah.

Marie: It's like a pick, you know? It's almost like a super pick because that one got picked and then it goes into the Spark, which brings it out to a whole new audience.

Chris: A bunch of stuff.

Marie: Yep.


Chris: I was talking about participation, in general. One way is just to go to the website and look and start that way. A lot of people do that because we can see if we're delayed on the email somehow, which happens once in a while. You'll start to see people participate in the challenge before even getting the email. That's a thing you can do when you're on the website at /challenges. You can just click this toggle, and then you get the challenge emails.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: We handwrite those every single week. That's part of the work involved. Marie has already talked about some of the work involved with making these collections and fleshing them out, but there's also a lot of writing. It's like I'm going to write about the month challenge. Then I've got to write some stuff about each week. Each week, we have three ideas and three resources that is handwritten stuff. That's probably most of the work. I mean I don't know about most, but it's certainly--

Marie: It's a big chunk of it.

Chris: It's a big chunk of work to help people think about the idea and give them -- you know because these are prompts, right? I should say that upfront.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: This isn't a challenge like, "Solve this algorithm." It's never that.

Marie: No.

Chris: It's more like, "Here's just an idea. Please build things around this idea." Whatever. Perhaps poorly named, but it's too late now. It's been years.

Marie: I mean it is what it is. [Laughter] I think of it in the terms of challenges like how things like the Daily UI, 100 Days of CSS, and even things like Codevember.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: Or stuff outside of the development world.

Chris: Divtober.

Marie: National Novel Writing Month, things like that where it is a challenge, but you're not in competition. It's more of a challenge to get yourself to do something.

Chris: Yeah, there you go.

Marie: It's about challenging yourself to make these things, to do this work because it is work. You're having to build something.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: To a prompt.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: Yeah.


Chris: You're not getting paid for it, but what's the advantage then? Well, you're part of the community. It's fun. You're practicing. You're getting better at what you do. If for any reason you don't want to do it, then don't.

Marie: Yeah, just don't.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: It's 100% just for fun. But I have seen people really build their skills through participating in challenges. I've seen people massively increase their following by consistently participating in the challenges and doing really cool work.

It has its own little micro-community within the CodePen community. There is a whole group of people that participate in every challenge, either by creating things or just going through and checking everything out and leaving comments when they see things that are cool or just hearting things.

There is the challenges fam. [Laughter] They are always there for the challenges. It's really nice to see that little micro-community grow within the larger CodePen community.

Chris: It's so pleasing to me that we are doing this. If you like the idea of these challenges, even if you're not going to do it every week, just come to, flip that little toggle, and then you'll get our little handcrafted email every week that just tells you what the new challenge is going to be. It gives you some ideas and resources and stuff, which might just be interesting anyway, even if you're not going to do the challenge. It just kind of reminds you of what's going on. Pretty low impact, I'd say.

Marie: Yeah. Yeah, and it's fun. I love to surface older Pens that are useful to the current prompt or even sometimes I'll have a situation where it's like, "Okay, a Pen that I just picked last week is going to fit this challenge," and I will include that as a resource.

What's really cool there is that we're able to expose the community to content that's already on CodePen. We also share a lot of educational content that helps you brush up on obscure CSS selectors or things like that.

It's me that writes it, so it's difficult here. I'm tooting my own horn quite a bit, but you know they're good. [Laughter] They're useful resources and they're fun.


Chris: From a business perspective, that's another thing that's pleasing to me. The more content on CodePen the better and having a thing that we built in that's fun that the community likes, that there are all these positive attributes to, and has the side effect of encouraging people to build things on CodePen because that's the thing. It's this build happy place. That's just good. It's good for us. It makes sense for a company whose bet on content to be encouraging the creation of that content.

Marie: Mm-hmm. [Laughter] Yeah.

Chris: It was at risk for a minute. If we change gears for a minute, I think that's an interesting aspect to this is that this is a bunch of work and it's not immediately obvious that it generates more money than it doesn't. That's just real talk about business.

For example, the Spark definitely does. Marie, you also work on the Spark. The Spark is different in scale because it's just huge how many people get that email, and it's just full of interesting stuff.

You get that thing and you get it every week. You're just like, "Holy crap. Look at the cool things people are doing that week."

We sell ads in that and because it's so big and goes to so many people, the amount of money that it generates is so obviously worth it from a business perspective.

Marie: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Chris: You don't have to have a meeting convincing anybody of the value. That's harder to do with challenges because there's no immediate cash impact. There are sponsors for the challenge, but the email doesn't go out to as many people. It's hard to convince sponsors to spend as much as they do on the Spark.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: Which means that sometimes stuff like that (in meetings and such) become precarious. Historically, you did them and then we would share them - whatever. But at some point, I did most of them.

Marie: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Chris: Then, for lack of a better word, I got sick of it. Not that I don't love seeing what people create and stuff, but when you do it week after week, there was an element of just like, "Oh, dang it. I need to get to that, but I have these five other meetings, and I have all these other things to do," like, believe it or not, I'm a busy man!

Marie: [Laughter] I'll say.

Chris: I was like, "If something has got to give, maybe this will be the thing that gives," as sad as that might be. You know?

Marie: Meanwhile--

Chris: Meanwhile--

Marie: While that was going on, I was running the podcast and saying, "I'm so bad at this! I cannot manage the podcast. I don't like being on the air all the time." [Laughter]

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: And thinking, man, if we could cut the podcast, I would. You know? [Laughter]

Chris: Right.

Marie: And so, we just talked about that. We both said to each other, "I don't like what I'm doing. Can I cut it?" [Laughter] And so, we decided to just swap.

Chris: Yeah. The swap was definitely interesting. I'm sure you proposed it at some point.

Marie: Probably.

Chris: It was kind of, "Wow! Clever!" You know? One of those ideas that you don't even necessarily think of. It's like, "Well, maybe we'll chop both of them. Wait! What about a swap?" You know?

Marie: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Chris: What an interesting idea. I wonder, for all of you out there listening, is there a version of that that could happen at your work where somebody is doing something they don't like and you're doing something you don't like, but if you swapped you'd both love it? What a cool moment. That was a year ago or more?

Marie: Yeah, it had to be. Yeah. Well, you know what? It was. It was at the end of last year. It was at the end of 2020 because that's when I started setting up the dashboards and figuring out the more data-driven approach to choosing the prompts. It was because I was taking over the challenges.

Yeah, I think part of that just comes from you and I have been working together for a really long time, and we know each other, and we know each other's strengths. We were both--

I knew you're way better at podcasting than I am. To me, it was a no-brainer. Because we're comfortable working together, I felt comfortable saying, "Hey, let's swap."

It's worked out really well. I'm very happy with how the challenge's participation has improved. Obviously, we've built tools to make it easier to do, also, which has been really great. Honestly, I think the podcast is better too. [Laughter]

Chris: Hmm. Well, thanks. Yeah, I definitely think there is really no downsides to that situation.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: I might reach out to Zuck to see if he wants to switch. We'll switch.

Marie: Switch what? [Laughter]

Chris: I'll be the CEO of Meta.

Marie: Oh, you'll be -- oh, you'll be Meta. Yeah, that's right. They're Meta.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: Um, well--

Chris: You'll have to deal with him over on CodePen for a little while, but maybe we'll switch back.

Marie: This could be difficult. I don't know, man. [Laughter]


Chris: [Loud long exhale] It's funny how these things kind of morph into each other a little bit, too. We talked about making collections and all that stuff. Now that this is almost surely years ago. It's funny; I don't have a cheat sheet of when we released what. We've been building CodePen for so long; it's hard to remember what we did.

There was a time when we were so stoked about collections because they were okay for so long but had lots of rough edges. Then we did a little sprint on them and, ever since then, they've just been amazing.

Marie: Oh, yeah.

Chris: We love them, and everybody loves them. They existed. Then we found out the worst aspects of them. Fixed the worst aspects of them. Now it's like, wow! You know? The worst aspects being that you'd put stuff in a collection and everybody would want to arrange them.

Marie: Yes.

Chris: Because, duh, right?

Marie: Well, yeah.

Chris: I want you to see the first one - or whatever. We released that. Now it's like not only can you do it, but it's brainless to do it.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: If you're looking at a collection, you just move it. [Laughter] You just drag it to the first one. Now it's the first one.

Marie: Yeah. It's a piece of cake now. Total drag and drop. Or you can actually manually key in a number that you want to move it to, which is something that I do all the time.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, if you had a massive -- if you have one of 200 Pens or something like that. It would be a little ridiculous to have to drag something that far.

Marie: Right. Yeah, so you just fire it down to the bottom. You just change the number.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: You don't have to know the exact number of the last one. You can just put, you know, 99999 [laughter] and it'll shoot it down to the bottom. You know?


Chris: Mm-hmm. Little cheesy ones -- not cheesy, but what's the last collection you added something to.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: Well, then it's at the top of the list.

Marie: Yeah. Yeah.

Chris: You don't have to scroll down because you called it zebra's favorite. [Laughter]

Marie: Right. [Laughter]

Chris: It sits at the bottom all the time.

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: The last one you added to is at the top of the list. You can search for them. You can create a collection on the fly and all this. It's like all this little UX stuff is in there, so now collections management is just better. That's just a free feature for everybody.

Marie: Yeah, and just adding that, the pop-out preview, adding the ability to add things to the collection directly from there also speeds things up. It used to be you had to go into the Pen editor to add something to the collection.

Chris: Oh, right.

Marie: In those days, that's over.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: We have lots more ways to make making a collection and managing a collection faster and a whole lot easier. The growth in collections since we put those changes out is phenomenal.

Chris: It's so interesting to see. In the early days of CodePen, all those pages were built basically in Rails.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: There's kind of a reason sometimes stuff was like that because you hand create these little Rails partials and they just live on particular pages much easier. It's more practical.

I had Rachel on a couple of weeks ago on the show, and we were talking about Apollo GraphQL, and we always talk about React on this show. Now that the whole page is built in those technologies, some of that stuff, the payoff, you can really feel. I think it's worth thinking about stuff like this, too, because sometimes you just pick new technologies, and you just pick them, and then they just become your old shoes. That's just what you wear.

Marie: mm-hmm.

Chris: You don't think about the why so much, but the why here is really obvious to me in that we can build this nice component that queries for all its own data and has isolated component styles and is just a React component that could be imported anywhere. That powers what is in the Pen editor. We were like, "Oh, yeah. We should put it over here, too, in the grids."

It's in the grids. "Oh, let's put it in the pop-out preview." Okay, it's in there now. That required none work.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: It wasn't like, "Oh, no. How are we going to pull that off." You're like, "Import collection machine. Put in collection machine."

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: So good.

Chris: Yeah. You've got to make sure your tech is working for you.

Marie: That's true. That's what these computers are supposed to be doing, and I think we forget that pretty often.

Chris: [Laughter] Yeah, for sure.

Marie: [Laughter]


Chris: You're always making stuff work, though. You already talked about SQL a little bit, but sometimes, beyond just running one query and looking at the results of that query, we have tooling around that. Do you want to end by talking about some of that stuff?

Marie: Oh, sure. Yeah. Part of what makes this possible for us to do now and makes it a manageable task is that we've built -- well, I always say we. It's me. [Laughter]

Chris: [Laughter]

Marie: I built a dashboard with Redash, which is basically a visualization tool for SQL that you can share with your team. I would elevator pitch it in that way.

I'm tracking participation in the challenges, which is to say that I'm looking at how often people are creating pens that are tagged for the challenge. Then I'm also ranking these challenges. I'm looking at the ones that have the most original participation. I take that into account when I make decisions about new challenges.

If I see a challenge has lots and lots of individual people making unique work for it, that tells me that it's something that was interesting to a lot of people. But also, when I see that a challenge has a bunch of forks being made from Pens that were created in that challenge, then also learn that they're valuable to the community at large because people see the Pens that were made for that challenge and say, "I want this for myself, so I will fork it. I will make my own version of this." It's really cool to be able to see those two different aspects.

Chris: Yeah. I really like that. I think that's an interesting metric that wouldn't necessarily be obvious until you've been doing it for a long time. Is it just engagement? In fact, if you had an advertiser reach out, that's the kind of basic questions they're going to ask, like, how many people do it? You're like, okay, well that's a little bit interesting. But there's a longer view here from our perspective, which is if that challenge had medium engagement but the things that were created from it were highly used by lots of other people.

Marie: Exactly.

Chris: Massive amounts of forks, for example, is one metric that you could look at. Wow. That's great.

Marie: Yeah. That tells us, okay, this is useful to the community at large, even if it wasn't necessarily the biggest challenge. Yeah, people liked what was made, and so we can kind of get a picture of what's useful to everyone and also what's fun for a challenge.

Also, I've been able to see, okay, I made this challenge too hard. [Laughter]

Chris: [Laughter]

Marie: Or this one was super easy and lots of people jumped in and did a bunch of really cool stuff and this is really exciting.

I also have gotten some insight into what people like to work with, literally down to what elements people are into. That's cool. I'm using that to inform future challenge prompts and future themes.

Chris: That's the big one, isn't it?

Marie: Yeah.

Chris: Kind of that, what are you going to do next week? There's also some false -- I don't know. Is false the right word? Ideas. If you just looked at engagement only, you could say, "Make something purple." We've talked about that before.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: Great. You're going to get killer engagement on that, but was it that fun and interesting for people? Is it interesting to be a voyeur of that challenge, because there might be a couple of interesting Pens, but it's probably not going to bring out the best in people. You might be lured into thinking that, "Oh, the easier I make this--" I should just always make "easy challenges" because--


Marie: Right. There is a sweet spot, which I am discovering, with a lot of experimentation and a lot of iterations on the theme. If someone were to look back through all the challenges, you can see there's a variation and a broad range of difficulty and structure that's placed here. There is a balance of how much structure do you give people. How much free rein do you give people to get people making cool things, having a good time participating, and wanting to continue participating, too, like to keep going, to show up the next month also?

Chris: Yeah.

Marie: It's an interesting balance. We haven't nailed it 100%, but I will say we're getting there, and we're getting there a lot faster than if we didn't have these tools to observe.

Chris: We could do a level thing, like here are some beginner ideas, intermediate ideas, and advanced. But it's kind of like if you're like, "Here's an advanced idea. Hit these three APIs," and you made it actually the task of the challenge difficult.

Marie: Mm-hmm.

Chris: You don't want it to feel like work.

Marie: Yeah, that's the thing. All of us here are professionals on the computer (in one way or another). Yeah, you don't want it to feel like work. Although, you want to put people into the state where they feel like they are improving, that they're doing something worthwhile. That's the tricky thing and the sweet spot that I'm always aiming for.

When you see what goes into the challenges, what the prompts are, what the ideas and the resources are, I am trying to help people get into a situation where no matter what their skill level is, they can push themselves a little bit and just maybe get a little bit better this week than they were last week because they challenged themselves. The same as if you were lifting heavier weights at the gym or something.

Chris: Mm-hmm.

Marie: That's why I make these open-ended to any skill level. I don't want to say, "This is the advanced challenge, and this is champions only." You know?

Chris: Mm-hmm. Yeah, sure.

Marie: I want to make sure that we can bring in our very newest members and S! also bring in our long-term community superstars. We do see a lot of that, too. People like Cobra Winfrey will come in and drop just incredible stuff on a challenge. Cobra doesn't need to learn how to do front-end. He knows what he's doing. But he also takes advantage of the challenge prompts to make something really cool, and I think he's having a good time with them.

Chris: I guess it is like going to the gym, right? Just because you learned how to do back squats doesn't mean that now I'm done with back squats. There's a literal infinite amount of weight you can put on a back squat bar. [Laughter]

Marie: Yes. [Laughter] Yes.

Chris: As hard as you want it to be.

Marie: Yeah. Yeah, and that's the thing. This gives you the opportunity to make this as hard as you want it to be for yourself. If you're new, it gives you an opportunity to check out what other people are doing, learn from them, and also just try something.

A lot of the time, for someone like me especially, I'm not going to learn anything unless I have something to directly apply it to. I learned how to cook because I wanted to eat the meal. I would grab a recipe and make the thing, even if I wasn't good at it, even when I didn't really know how to chop. I would just follow along, do my best, and sometimes I came out with a real disaster, but then I also learned stuff.

That's kind of the approach that I'm hoping that people are taking here, which is just like, "All right. Here's a recipe. Let me try to find the ingredients and cook it up." You know?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, fantastic. I hope you all enjoy Marie's challenges. She does a tremendous job with them. Sometimes it's a little collaborative, so if you have ideas for challenges, of course, we'd love to hear them. If you have thoughts on what could make challenges better, we'd like to hear those too. Otherwise, just enjoy challenges and go subscribe and get that email, too. It's one to look forward to every week, I'd say.

Marie: Yeah. Take a look through the challenge collections. Check out what people are doing. Give them a heart. Give them a comment. It always makes people feel good about what they're doing to get some feedback from the community.

Chris: Yeah. Cheers, everybody. Bye-bye.

Marie: All right. Thanks for listening, everybody. Bye-bye.

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