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Let’s continue to build Product Hunt, together (medium.com)
94 points by csmajorfive on Dec 22, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments

This is mostly a disappointing response that tries to deflect with "hey, we do good stuff too!" which is a PR move, not an argument against the events which caused the accusations against Product Hunt.

The highlighted quote and central thesis of "Everyone’s upvote is equal — my upvote counts the same as yours" misses the point that the product selection process is opaque, and the updated FAQ of "we receive so may products per day!" does not absolve PH of that. (it's a 2 year old startup. They no longer get a pass on scalability issues).

Speaking of the FAQ, here's the update discussing conflicts of interest:

> "Do I need to disclose that I’m invested or advising a company I post to Product Hunt? Product Hunt is a place for authentic, honest conversation and we highly encourage people to disclose any potential conflict of interest in the comment thread."

...which misses the point entirely. The conflicts-of-interest are with the moderators themselves, and friends-of-friends of the submitters. And given the culture of PH, very few people will disclose a conflict of interest willingly if it hurts them.

I'm not reassured that anything will change in the near future.

EDIT: Added my comment to the comments on the Medium article.

> the events which caused the accusations against Product Hunt.

can you tell me more about this? I do have a PH account, I have hardly used it, so I don't know much.

He's referring to the Medium post from earlier this week:

How Product Hunt really works by Ben Wheeler https://medium.com/@benjiwheeler/how-product-hunt-really-wor...

I have another post in the comments here that explains the context a bit more as well.

Some context for those who haven't followed this in the past week:

1. There was a controversial Medium post 6 days ago accusing Product Hunt's ranking system of being unfair amongst other things.

> How Product Hunt really works (medium.com)

687 points by brw12 6 days ago | 222 comments


2. Then the same day someone started a signup sheet to build an open version.

> Let's Create a Better Product Hunt (docs.google.com)

222 points by BetterLaunch 6 days ago | 98 comments


3. Then someone built and launched it.

> Show HN: Open Hunt – an open and community-run alternative to Product Hunt (openhunt.co)

1072 points by mhurwi 3 days ago | 176 comments


For most of the day on Friday, Open Hunt sat at the #1 spot on Product Hunt, and Ryan Hoover was a good sport about it.


Ryan Hoover's response to "How Product Hunt really works" article on Twitter:

  <person1>: Seems bad for @ProductHunt. Changes my perception of them. <link to article>
  Ryan Hoover: sad to hear, <person1> :(
  <person2>: That's all you have to say, really? Jerk.

Someone pointed to this conversation in the OpenHunt discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10759879 -> https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10760462

I also wrote an article [1] about PH, prompted by Ben Wheeler's original, noting that I was afraid to speak out earlier because I believed it would hurt my chances of getting funded. That's probably true, but whatever.

Hoover's response is weak. He's basically saying that they have improved their FAQ. Woo, that's really reassuring. Anyway, I'll take my chances with Open Hunt, or anywhere else that values an open community for that matter.


What struck me from the HN thread on the article this is responding to was the vitriol directed towards Ryan. The general consensus seemed to be that he was a terrible person who was using Product Hunt to perpetuate the "Old Boys Club" in tech. From my experience dealing with him, that seems like the polar opposite from the truth. I don't know him well, but he appears to be a genuinely nice guy who loves discovering new technology and wants to enable people to share their creations with a wider audience. I do believe the OC made a number of valid points, and Product Hunt needs to evolve so that insiders have less influence. Still, it saddens me that HN's reaction was to make personal attacks and accusations. (most of the evidence given was anecdotal, too) I think Ryan's response clears up the reasoning behind why Product Hunt is structured the way it is. I hope that in the future members of the HN community stop and think before they make personal attacks based on a one-sided Medium article.

I hope you weren't reading my comment that I feel less inclined to visit a site where only the old boys club get to comment as vitriol or a personal attack of all things. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10762260

Just as a matter of taste I don't want to spend time on the outside looking in on an invite-only community. I'd simply go elsewhere. I'm not a huge fan of elitism and exclusivity in general.

One situation where it's not quite as bad if there are very transparent, specific criteria. E.g. "you can't comment unless you've built a product >10,000 people use" is much better than "you can't comment unless you're on our social graph".

I knew Ryan pretty well when we worked together several years ago and I can honestly say he is a really nice guy that is passionate about technology. I am not totally conversant about the issues happening here but I'm sure about that.

There does seem to be an air of schadenfreude/witch hunt going on.

I don't care how nice he is in person, just as I don't care how mean Steve Jobs was. I judge people by the products they put out. If his product perpetuates the power structures of Silicon Valley and gives insiders special access then he's actually not a very nice guy.

This reply makes me think of Craigslist and how it was really meant to be a community based platform for people to do or sell whatever they wanted. Add that they have/had a pretty active forum which was also a quasi-democracy in which the community decided what was good or bad.

I think this is what was intended for Product Hunt, but somewhere along the line something happened and this became a bit skewed.

I've never met Ryan, but I know many that have. It sounds like this was not a product meant to build on the "boys club" but to let people know about cool shit people were building. Eventually it became THE place to find new products and services to a point where, if you were launching a product, posting and having it upvoted on Product Hunt was/is a must.

From my perspective, that's not being a horrible person. That's creating something that people trust. Sounds like innovation to me.

> If his product perpetuates the power structures

All successful social software is going to perpetuate the existing power structures at the expense of outgroups in some areas, and empower outgroups at the expense of the mainstream and the insiders in other areas. As it should.

Social software can perpetuate existing power structures, but it can also create new structures. Software can also evolve to eliminate power concentrations. That's why it is important to always recognize that inequalities can arise in social software, and to devolve power in the system as much as possible.

> devolve power in the system as much as possible

Can you think of good examples where this has actually happened? In most cases you have situations like where everyone has access to the sum of all human knowledge for free, but where high-SES kids have more time and ability to benefit. Part of the issue is that social software is built on networks, and networks naturally concentrate power because of Zipf's Law.

Most design elements are also really just double edged swords. E.g. lots of people argue that Facebook's real names policy is bad for the LGBTQ community or whatever. But at the same time, Xbox Live isn't exactly the world's most LGBTQ friendly community either.

One of my favorite quotes on social software is still this old one from Joi Ito, "You're not a leader, you're a place. You're like a park or a garden. If it's comfortable and cool, people are attracted." It's important to be cognizant of power structures when designing structures, but at the same time what really makes good social software is seeking out and accentuating the interstitial. But this usually eventually results in the creation of new power structures, and the best we can do is try to give a wide variety of folks the opportunity to benefit.

Wikipedia is actually a good example of where devolution has not happened. It's long been known that Wikipedia has a gender gap, where less than 10% of active users are women. Many reasons have been given for this, most of which are along the lines of "women don't have time" or "they're not interested". I would probably have thought the same, until I started my own site, creating broadly similar crowdsourced content, and ended up with 80% female participation. That meant women are interested, and do have time. I realized that the software choices I had made on my site resulted in more inclusion than Wikipedia. Therefore, the only way to change wikipedia to include more women (and to include more men also) is to change the software so that power is taken away from those who hold it now, and distribute it more widely. In fact I'd go as far as saying Wikipedia is a system that rewards the accumulation of power, more than the creation of quality content. You can read my essay on this here: http://newslines.org/blog/the-sexists-at-the-top-of-wikipedi...

If you're an engineer, Steve Jobs worked to illegally and systematically suppress your wages. Yeah, the iPhone is great, but I'll judge him on that instead.

Good point.

> ...The problem is not so much the money itself as what comes with it. As one VC who spoke at Y Combinator said, "Once you take several million dollars of my money, the clock is ticking." If VCs fund you, they're not going to let you just put the money in the bank and keep operating as two guys living on ramen. They want that money to go to work.


This is an example of A16Z killing a startup. They only care about about the big hits, so they'll happily dump too-many-millions into small products like ProductHunt and RapGenius, trying to force them to Get Big Fast.

ProductHunt should've been operated by two people for 5+ years but they raised too much money. Communities can't really be bought with money. You have to grow them organically and authentically over many years. Hacker News and reddit are perfect examples to emulate.

Digg is an example of the VC way of doing things.

To be fair, Rap Genius did grow a community organically over time.

Google Trends "rap genius": https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=%22rap%20genius%22&c... [2]

Remember at Demo Day in their W11 batch, they had both: more traffic than every other startup in the batch combined, and more than any other YC startup at any demo day in history [1].

1: Source: The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator

2: I think the fall off in the last year is due to rebranding to just Genius.

Blaming it all on the VCs may not be the complete picture. There are companies raising millions and not spending most of it and still doing good. Do VCs force people to take money even if they don't want to?

Yeah it reminds me of that one episode of "Silicon Valley":

"No one told me that I didn't have to take the money!"

I just wanted to suggest to everyone here who is building a product this thought: product hunt didn't launch on product hunt. It was a simple email test which found an audience and grew from there. That's the opposite of hoping to launch on some list of top products and grab an audience.

It's not a bad thing, but you don't need it. And if you're counting on it having a major impact on your traction, you probably shouldn't be.

I wish every single person that is upset about ProductHunt's ethics internalizes this comment.

The only people that should really care about PH's ethics are makers. But if you're a maker, you shouldn't care at all about PH. You should be busy talking to users and building product. If you're not seeing traction by doing those two things, then it is nigh impossible that getting on PH will do anything for you. And if you do have traction then getting on PH won't matter!

From the founder's perspective, ProductHunt is mainly good for developing your internal quality benchmarks. Build an MVP you know is good enough to get highly upvoted if it were promoted in the right way, and then try not to care whether or not it actually gets any upvotes when it gets submitted.

Product Hunt's rigged system affects everyone in the startup community. Some of those insider's products had ZERO traction before being on Product Hunt. The insider relationship gave them the boost they needed to get attention from the media and VCs, while denying other startups who were spending their time doing what you say: "talking to users and building product".

I honestly recommend you don't worry about it. If your users love your product then you'll be fine, and the only way I know how to do that is talking to users, iterating and just trying to figure things out. If you get those things right you won't have problems with press, VCs, etc.

I know this is a gross simplification, but it's really worth trying to focus on what matters because there's so many ways to get distracted.

Again, who says the world is supposed to be fair? Am I supposed to believe that every product written about in TechCrunch is there because of its merits alone? What about funding? We should probably band together on forums to talk about how some founders are born into money and VC relationships and others aren't. This all seems a bit silly, to be honest.

It's kind of that they give the impression it's a fair vote when it isn't that's annoying. And indeed the world isn't fair. However individual sites can be. It reminds me a bit of the early days of Google vs search engines where you could buy higher placement or Stackoverflow vs Experts Exchange neither of which went so good for the unfair players.

Wow. A brand new product review site that nobody has ever heard of is in complete control over the startup landscape. Has anyone sold the movie rights yet?

How do you talk to users if you can't get users?

You don't have friends/family? You don't have a social network at all? You don't have coffee shops near you? There's no place where your target market is congregating? You can't pick up the proverbial phone book and call someone's office?

If you are honestly relying on PH to bring you users your startup is already dead.

This. Nobody owes you anything, the least of all some perceived "fairness" in Valley media. In the prioritized list of things I need to accomplish to continually move my startup forward, "spending time thinking about Product Hunt" is sandwiched somewhere between "Start an Ello account" and "attend more pay-to-pitch events."

People are beginning to move to: https://www.openhunt.co/

Just look at this HN post: Show HN: Open Hunt – an open and community-run alternative to Product Hunt (openhunt.co) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10759879 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10741827

How about their ranking system: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10739875

> People are beginning to move

Isn't this how it always goes? Something controversial happens, someone shows an alternative, it gets praise and a flood of users and is within a week forgotten about. E.g. reddit > voat recently.

Digg > reddit doesn't count, as they actually broke their site.

Depends on the details I guess. I signed up to ProductHunt I a year ago and still can't comment, vote or submit unlike the chosen few and as a result have not taken much interest in it. If Openhunt becomes more like HN where I can do that stuff I think I'd use it.

I know, right! What if only YC employees, alum and their extended friends could comment here? Can you even imagine how many Show HN posts, including some by future founders that wouldn't have happened?

Voat is not "forgotten about", it just doesn't have any mainstream appeal. The activity now is mostly from groups of users that have become "unpopular" on Reddit.

All you have to do is look at Ryan Hoover's "recommended" comments on his own post to get a sense of his position on things. This is a weak attempt at damage control that shows absolutely no desire on his part to address the central issue with Product Hunt: those people (in particular, those who aren't PH employees) who can arbitrarily post startups to the front page with no differentiation from those who made it there via popularity.

Of course they won't change it. The whole "game" is to provide a system that on the surface looks meritocratic, but actually isn't, in order to give visitors the impression that the arbitrarily posted products / sites are popular (because they must be to have made it to the front page), and thus drive traffic to them. It's dodgy.

My experience with Product Hunt.

- Front page of HN, check.

- Top trending weekly product on GitHub. Check.

- Ability to get the in-crowd at Product Hunt to approve of my product for voting on their site. NOPE.

The response was the same canned one that others have mentioned. AZ buying a product news outlet to advance their other startups is a vague accusation, but in my world not in the tin-hat territory whatsoever.

I glanced at your bio and recent comments. I'll take a guess that Semantic UI is the product you're referring to.

It looks like it was posted and got a few upvotes, but only shows in search results after clicking "Show all" on the right. I'm not positive, but perhaps this is a way upcoming posts are differentiated from front page posts.


I'm using SemanticUI since 0.19.3. It's awesome, best UI framework I know :)

My big takeaway from the original post was that "early insiders" controlled the frontpage of ProductHunt. This post confirms that "early insiders" can still post straight to the frontpage. I see data from this blog post that is presenting an argument that the "early insiders" are a small percentage of the currently upvotes, but I don't understand why someone would opt for viral effects if you could just have an "early insider" post it directly.

When I view the Product Hunt frontpage, I see nothing to indicate that a submission has been 'boosted' and that seems to be an area that could be improved if "early insiders" will continue to have the boosting ability.

Product Hunt faces a difficult challenge. Many people from the software/startup world are egalitarian, yet Product Hunt is a business. They must find a balance.

A more democratic approach to this would work much better than the insider model they've adopted. Hacker News isn't a business, Reddit is, yet both are egalitarian. There does exist a balance that works.

They've solved the problem of sorting good/curated products based on upvotes, but that is not the true problem.

The harder problem is ensuring new products can reach the front page fairly. Reddit would not be the amazing community it is today if there were a curation team at Reddit determining what should be on the front page. If I were PH, I would focus on this problem.

I would urge them to address the issues that the community is bringing up. His post does not seem to indicate any change will occur.

Am I the only one that read (most of) this and didn't really see any direct responses to the criticisms leveled at it last week?

You're not the only one. They don't address any of the issues in this blog post.

Literally addresses NONE of the issues presented in the piece he's responding to. No one questioned the upvote system and how much each vote counted, though I'd say that's still dubious. When insiders exist to get your product on the home page and no one who doesn't use that method gets on the home page, and you have coordinated launches using SPECIFIC TIMES that it will be on the front page, you don't get to come out in a medium post with a cute cat and go "But, we didn't do that!"

As I've said previously on here I'm a capitalist and I respect greed, but I don't tolerate liars. If you going to build and insiders promotion site, then do it, and own it. Don't backpedal when someone calls you out.

I interpreted this whole thing as 'I'm sorry you're mad.'

Me too.

The guy is a politician. So many smokey words and mirrors, so little straight talk.

It was probably edited by a crisis management firm.

Honest, authentic straight talk is the solution.

I know, right? So when I see all the HN comments about how dare we be angry at this person and how straightforward and ethical they are and that they only care about the community... it feels even more infuriating.

I think PH suffers from an identity crisis.

It started off as a curated newsletter and became a portal. It never fully embraced a community-driven approach (as evidenced by their opaque curation policy) nor a pivot to a more search engine/yelp-like community. In essence, they have yet to conquer their scalability problem: how to maintain quality while increasing quantity of products. It's a bloomin' hard problem to be fair to them.

What I am most disappointed by is that with network effects, it is beneficial for a community as a whole to have one dominant portal. The one thing you want for a dominant community platform is transparency (there's an argument for decentralization too), a requirement that has yet to be met.

Wow what a crock of shit. They got called out for back room deals and ignoring products; and it's only after a revolt ready to make their entire operation obsolete that they publish a half hearted PR response that admits no responsibility at all.

> Once the product has received a significant number of credible upvotes (those that aren’t manipulated by voting rings) from the community, will be promoted to the homepage within 48 hours.

> Everyone’s upvote is equal — my upvote counts the same as yours — and ultimately upvotes determine what rises to the top of Product Hunt.

To me, this was a direct contradiction.

Not only to you. Homepage or no homepage is a pretty staggering difference in "vote-weight".

I encourage everyone with unanswered questions to participate in Product Hunt's LIVE chat. If you feel like a point wasn't adequately covered, drop by and ask Product Hunt's team directly. (link is from the article) https://www.producthunt.com/live/product-hunt-team

I’m unsure as to why the Product Hunt outrage in particular. Every major distribution platform (the press, social networks, app stores, even Hacker News) favors insiders. Has PH been presented as a solution to this problem? (I never thought so, but perhaps I haven’t been paying such close attention.)

Hacker News and Reddit do not favor insiders, despite popular misconception.

I recognize it's an edge case, but YC company hiring posts appear to go straight to the front page and stick for a little while.

At least that stuff is open though. It would probably be better for Product Hunt if they separated openly voted for stuff from the others similar to how Google separates paid and organic search.

That behavior is well-disclosed, and is only for job ads. It can't link to the product itself, for example.


This is a response to the traction openhunt is getting. Another version of "I'm sorry we got caught".

Ryan, maybe had good intentions at the beginning then got carried away with the "stardom" and of course, with $6 million in the bank, a bit of arrogance took hold.

His initial response to the Medium article was "lol", while that of the posse was "fuck the haters". He forgot his remit was building a massive community and not a small clique.

Competition is good. It makes people humble.

Product Hunt cannot change. It's "community" is vested in ensuring things remain the same. Just like fat cats.

Reminds me of a certain logo.


Edited: $6million not $16 million series A

>... with $16 million in the bank, a bit of arrogance took hold.

Uh, what?[0]

Also, I'd argue that Product Hunt's Series A was almost modest in light of their popularity and growth last year.

[0] https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/product-hunt/

You're right. I meant $6 million series A. Corrected.

"traction openhunt is getting" lol

My only interaction with Product Hunt was through the email harvester they ran on 17 December 2014 (a few months after joining Y Combinator) which found our company's public info@ email address and subscribed it to Product Hunt.

Oh come on! I had thought you are better than this! Another PR stunt?

It's digg all over again

THIS. I remember Reddit being seen as the red-headed-stepchild to Digg, back when you could get 3-letter usernames. Digg was estimated to be worth $200MM.

And then Digg v4 got released in 2010, with a huge community uproar. People flocked to Reddit, and within 18 months Digg gets sold for $500k.

Product Hunt, your clock is ticking. Fast.

If you want to protest, just don't submit your new startup to ProductHunt.

... and then someone else submits it and it gets like 5 votes, so you can't complain anymore that you don't get on there. ;)

Downvoted by PH supporters.

Hi All, I'm new here and I'm familiar with PH. I'll come right out and say it - I'm a big fan. I think people are looking for a point-by-point response to the earlier piece... and that's unrealistic. If you look at the message being sent here, it's valid and honest. Some thing are addressed directly "your vote counts the same as mine" dispels the direct link myth. The change in % of "insider" posts making it to the homepage has substantially decreased meaning you don't NEED to be or know one of these people to make it.

I've been on both sides - I've coordinated a launch with the help of PH & I've launched my own things at my own times. I've had great success and some flops doing both. There are pros & cons. But again... the frequency of this is certainly decreasing.

It's not that you need an insider, but if you really want to have a "launch" they help... If you want to share something cool you made, and think it's good, and garner some useful feedback... Post away!

While we're on the subject of disclosing conflicts of interest, you should note that "big fan" is a bit of an understatement when every other tweet you make is about Product Hunt: https://twitter.com/jsneedles

Are you suggesting that he has something to gain financially by tweeting about PH a lot? This comment makes no sense to me.

I know Jeff and can confirm that he was a huge fan of Ryan and Product Hunt before ever meeting him. Jeff is the epitome of a super fan. He networked hard and moved to a new city (SF) to make the connections he has and to get his job at Meerkat, as well.

He also doesn't angel invest, so he doesn't have anything to gain by posting the products he posts or tweets.

Here's the other thing, there are a ton of other people around the world just like him. They're a big part of the reason why PH has been successful and has struck a cord with product fans and makers all over.

There's a large difference between "big fan" as he said and "super fan."

I could have also pointed out a) he contributed to the source Medium article and b) he had openly criticized OpenHunt in the PH thread for "it's not Product Hunt."

The point is that super fans are good for Product Hunt, but not good for people trying to get into the ecosystem based on merit instead of pandering to a brand.

Insiders are still favored for no other reason than their relationship to the founder:

>>> "Unless you’re one of the early members of the community (those that helped get Product Hunt off the ground and continue to be instrumental in curating great products), all posts submitted to Tech first start in Upcoming. "

Eliminating that loophole completely would help in restoring faith.

Why won't people get PH is firstly about curation? This is the point of Ryan in this article, and nobody seems to get it.

PH is not made so you can promote your startup, it's made so that product loving people discover new cool stuff every day. Ensuring the quality level is what PH team is after, way more than ensuring that "meritocracy is respected", or whatever hate in disguise HN is fantasizing about these days.

To achieve this goal, Ryan took what we all know as the usual discovery channel - tech press - and opened it to a lot of people he gathered. They now try to find ways to scale this up, while keeping up with the high quality they expect from a curation process. Basically PH is a "opened press blog", not a "closed whatever you wish would help your startup".

Edit: read Ryan's article again at this light and tell me he is not addressing this misunderstanding.

I disagree. The homepage has to start somewhere... and the small # of "insiders" who post great content everyday have that reputation built up to elevate posts. I'm sure if an "insider" posted some bad products that weren't a great fit for the community... they'd be treated like everyone else. I've seen it happen.

> ... and the small # of "insiders" who post great content everyday have that reputation built up to elevate posts.

This is circular logic. How did the insiders get the great content to post? By excluding other viable content posted by others.

Some work super hard to cultivate sources because they like to be known as great hunters. Some are contacted by companies/startups and offered to try things early... Some post for their friends. They're not excluding anybody. They're surfacing things that for the most part, have been proven to be liked by the community.

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