Beautiful Dingbats is a collection of Unicode tools to help you stand out on the internet.

Why I made Beautiful Dingbats

Hi I'm John. I made this site because I was tired of getting so little traction for my online projects.

I used to make something, release it to the world, and then…nothing.

I have dreams, and a dog to feed. If I’m going to be a professional internet tinkerer, I need to prove I can make a really popular website.

A lot of my projects have been really bad and there was no mystery why they were unpopular, but here's one I'm really proud of:


A thoughtful to-do list for google chrome

Blocks addictive websites until you've finished your to-do list.

~ 2000 users — not too shabby.

These aren't terrible numbers — but not great either. There are 7 billion people on the planet, and Prod only has 2000 users.

It's frustrating and it got me asking questions:

Prod is good; people like it. So why do so few people use it?

No one likes eating Tide Pods. So how did that become a thing?

My useful and free product is less popular than eating detergent. What have I been doing wrong?

After doing a lot of research I came up with Beautiful Dingbats. It's just launched and already had more visits than any of my past projects.

How does a website become popular?

The most obvious way to answer this question is to google it. Whoever comes up first must have it worked out.

Oddly this doesn't work. The results are usually too vague to be useful. “Be passionate.” “Create value.” “Work hard.”

I spent a very long time trying to game the system, I did seo courses, optimized landing pages, growth hacks, and spent more time on social media than anyone ever should.

Eventually—luckily—an algorithm decided I should read this book:

by Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing and an expert on word-of-mouth and virality.

His book Contagious is full of practical advice for creating viral products or ideas. He boils his advice down to six stepps:

Social Currency

People share ideas that make them look cool, smart, in-the-know, morally superior.


What triggers people to think about the idea? The more people think about it, the more they'll share it.


People share emotionally provocative ideas. If it sparks rage or jubilation, it'll be shared.


Does the idea advertise itself? People will share an idea if they can see other people sharing it.

Practical Value

Ideas with pracitcal value are more likely to be shared—people like to help people.


Ideas embedded in a broader narrative are easier to share. Can the idea be shared in the form of a story?

Convinced, I decided to come up with 100 ideas and run them through the stepps—then do whichever idea held up best.

100 is quite a lot, but there were no other rules. They just had to be ideas for websites and I'd already come up with a bunch.

…a directory for escape rooms ✰ an ethical party supplies store ✰ a UFO reporting site ✰ a vacation packing list generator ✰ a shared bird watching checklist ✰ a site that shames companies for excessive packaging…

It's hard to come up with a doable idea that scores an A+ on all the stepps—so after considering the time and effort required,I decided to make a collection of Unicode tools to help people stand out online.

I built the first tool in a few days and hastily launched it on Product Hunt and Hacker News.

The site had ~ 20,000 visitors in the first 24 hours, ~ 60,000 in the first week—more than any of my other sites combined. 🎉

I do very little outreach for this site, and more people come to it every day. Success.

Yay! What next?

Well, I've built a Chrome Extension that you can purchase with real money, and I'm adding more tools to this site.

Other than that I'm not sure yet—I've promised myself that 2019 is the year I'll get stuff done—so definitely something.

If you're a maker, I hope reading this will help you come up with your next idea. If there's anything else you'd like to know, don't hesitate to contact me:

Also, you've read this far, so you might also be interested in signing up to the mailing list. I'll let you know whenever I've made something new.

The signup is somewhere down there ☟