Mar 19, 2015

Wordnik Raises Money, Shares Love With Email

With 8 million words and counting, Wordnik is the internet’s biggest dictionary. According to founder Erin McKean, "Wordnik’s mission is to collect all the words of English and share them as widely as possible." They share the words on their website and through an open API, which allows developers to use data about words in their own products and websites. Users can leave comments, tag words, and create lists. Wordnik also includes fun stats about each word, like its Scrabble score and how many times it’s been looked up.

Every weekday, Wordnik uses MailChimp to send a Word of the Day email to about 7,000 subscribers. They use MailChimp’s RSS-to-email feature for the newsletter, so it updates automatically. "Before we switched to MailChimp a few years ago I was literally sending the word of the day email by hand, every night," Erin says. "Yes, that was terrible, thank you very much."

This is a great way for Wordnik to reach word lovers every day, and it’s practically effortless since they’re using content they already have.

Shortly after Wordnik became a nonprofit, they launched an Adopt a Word fundraiser. "We were inspired by other programs, such as ‘adopt-a-highway’ and the zoo programs that let you adopt an animal," Erin says. For $50, you can "own" a word on Wordnik’s website. You get a fun digital certificate, and your name appears along with a link to your Twitter page next to the word on the site. The fundraiser will help keep Wordnik ad-free, and it will help them add new words and share more data about words going forward.

I adopted the word "taco" because I truly love tacos. Here’s my certificate, which was delivered by MailChimp:


Learning from survey feedback

Once people signed up for the alpha version of Adopt a Word, Erin’s team sent them updates using MailChimp. The emails included a few different surveys to help Wordnik tailor the program. In the first email, they included a link to SurveyMonkey to get some quick feedback about pricing options. They got a range of numbers, and ended up going with the median price people suggested.

In another email to early adopters, Wordnik used MailChimp’s built-in survey tool to find out if people would like certificates to commemorate their adoption, and if so, what kind of certificates they wanted: physical, digital, downloadable and printable, limited-edition by an artist, or some combination.

Finally, Wordnik used MailChimp’s embedded surveys to follow up with people who signed up to adopt a word but didn’t follow through with a payment. This information helped them make improvements to the word registration process. The surveys were a breeze to put together, and all the feedback has helped Erin’s team make more informed decisions about the fundraiser. It also made early adopters feel more personally invested in the program.

To be continued…

Erin says people have all kinds of reasons for adopting words. Some pick their all-time favorite word (hers is erinaceous) or a word they think is funny. Some pick words they coined themselves, and others adopt words related to their work (the American Library Association adopted library and librarian). The fundraiser is still open, and there are millions of words available for adoption.

Erin’s team is starting to experiment with MailChimp’s API, and they’re always adding new words and pulling in new data about words.

"At Wordnik, we think people can make up their own minds about whether a word is right for them if they are given enough data," Erin says. "So as soon as we have any data about a word, we share it…even if the only data we have is that 5 other people have looked up the same thing."