>That was super hilarious. I was literally rolling on the floor laughing. TAIWAN NUMBER ONE! COMPETITORS NUMBER NINE!
Hahaha, people in dire financial situations who have to use my service are doing what I tell them to! Ain't that just hilarious?
People were using the trial feature browserling provided on its main page and not breaking any terms and conditions while doing so, so not freeloaders. Browserling is entitled to blocking these users or limiting the trial feature and the Facebook messages were from the time when they were not trying to monetize by asking for $0.10
I know sweeping generalizations about a group of people most certainly less fortunate than you are easy and you definitely are entitled to your opinion but don't try and label it as something "HN thinks".
"Brogrammer" is a slang term for a stereotypically masculine programmer. The word is a portmanteau of bro and programmer.
Toying around with your customers, blegh. People were desperate, couldnt he see?
I'm going to guess that:
* The phone is free / really cheap, advertising subsidised. Or subsidised to cross sell other Jio services (they have a bunch).
* It doesn't have WhatsApp either because it's pushing Jio services or because it is ultra low end.
* The users have another phone with an expensive data plan. They leave it at home on wifi running WhatsApp.
Not sure though...
Can't make heads or tails of this :)
WhatsApp on the phone is effectively a server, and whatsapp web is a client. I can't see how their e2e encryption could work otherwise.
The link follows to https://faq.whatsapp.com/faq/web/28080002
So I admit, I'm also struggling to see what the benefit of using WhatsApp through Browserling is.
Insert a 'free' sim card.
Write down the phone number.
Actions on the tablet:
Enable installation of unknown sources.
Download the apk file at https://www.whatsapp.com/android/
Execute the apk file
Use the phone number to activate Whatsapp
I think at some point, it becomes sticky if a huge part of the population has it.
So I don't think Facebook will try to shut down this guy. He is doing free work for them.
He might also be successful if he plays his cards right.
And while the way he herded the users to spam others was distasteful, I think his pivot in the end was a positive thing.
Hope this turns into some real success for him.
> "Then I got curious. Would these users tweet anything that I asked them? So I decided to troll my competitors a little bit, and asked users to tweet a popular meme Taiwan number one to them. And it worked! Suddenly Twitter was full with my troll tweets"
He's also a bit of a prick.
I suppose that if any of us are lucky, we'll be successful enough one day to be burned at the stake on HN by a bunch of folks who can't tell the difference between "did one or a couple of things badly" and "is a bad person".
Couple that with the fact that he was providing them with a free service and I only see a morally net positive contribution from him.
Ah yes, just like spam.
> Couple that with the fact that he was providing them with a free service
He wasn't. He was just giving them an error message after they Tweeted what he wanted.
Did you read the entire post? His service is available to India right now. Their tweets helped make that possible. It’s strange to me that you hate someone who provides a valuable service to people.
> And they did! All these users started following Browserling and tweeting about it. But they still couldn't use Browserling or Whatsapp, it was just a new message in place of "fatal error".
> It’s strange to me that you hate someone who provides a valuable service to people.
I don't care enough about him to hate him. I just said I think he's an asshole.
> Then I got curious. Would these users tweet anything that I asked them? So I decided to troll my competitors a little bit, and asked users to tweet a popular meme Taiwan number one to them.
Then he seems to shift to actually trying to tell them when the service is available instead of pretending it will be if they send a tweet:
> Then instead of just tweeting and trolling, I asked users to start following Browserling on Facebook so I could reconnect with them and let them know when the software was up and running again.
And then finally he built something where they could sign up and it admitted they were building up server capacity to handle it. Then he moved to a lottery which it sounds like legitimately paid out, and he started to do legitimate monetisation of a not-entirely-firewall-blocked service.
Browserling has been a great investment, and he's a good friend as well. :)
I guess it's just the case that for every ass-hole out there, there are people who'll stand besides him saying he's a great guy, simply because he's an asshole they know.
1. International payments are hard because every country has its own system, and the people there have their own payment methods. In the US, you take it for granted that anyone with money to spend has a credit card that can make payments in US Dollars. It isn't valid to assume that for users outside the US. People may not have credit cards at all, or if they do they can't necessarily (economically) pay in US Dollars as the currency.
2. There are a LOT of potential users in international markets. Focusing on the First World (US, Europe, Japan, etc.) might be a great way to keep your project simple or speed up your launch, but you're leaving literally billions of potential users on the table if you don't even try to consider India, China, etc.
(Seems the battle over the correct usage of "ironic" has been lost long ago.)
The fact they are indian is totally irelevant here.
Maybe making them tweet stupid stuff was a mistake but hey, we all do mistakes, that doesn't make us assholes. You don't know the relationship he has with his competitors, maybe they are in good terms. Why are people judging him this easily?
Don't get me wrong, I am against people calling Peter names and I didn't participate in bashing him. I have followed his blog for a long time, I eagerly await his book recommendations and read them, I felt bad for him when he didn't get that Google job and felt happy for the success of Browserling, I own a copy of Perl One-Liners because I enjoy his technical posts.
I don't even expect Peter to relate to his customers to this extent, but I at-least expect him to treat them like humans. I felt that this article's tone lacked empathy for humans which was wrong and although Peter doesn't deserve to be called an asshole for that but he does deserve to be criticized for it.
From my perspective, the tweets were not a mistake. They certainly weren't done with malicious intent to the tweeters, and they all for the purposes of marketing (with some meme humor mixed in). Isn't this pretty run of the mill for some twitter marketing campaign?
He could have skipped the Twitter jokes but otherwise he did more than most businesses would do by providing a solution to these unexpected customers.
These users were (ab)using the free tier of Browserling beyond its intended use.
I highly recommend reading back issues of catonmat to see how much value to web and programming community Peter has provided over the years.
An Android, that wasn't even Google Android, and may even look like candy bar.
All it would do would be:
4. Brave Browser (or Firefox Focus)
Perhaps it would have a camera, but only sufficient for WhatsApp.
Perhaps GPS/Maps would be built in, but only accessible for WhatsApp "share my location".
The browser would open links and allow browsing, but would not integrate too deeply and would focus on security and battery life where updates may not be applied and signal is sometimes terrible.
Just the simplest phone, dirt cheap, durable, capable of communication in an age of WhatsApp.
It would also be a near perfect travel/emergency phone for people in the West, and would likely have a huge market amongst outdoor types.
The biggest issue was that I didn't have Whatsapp, either on my phone or on my laptop, as my main phone had shut down and so the keys were offline.
I started searching around for a cheap phone that would run Whatsapp, but they retired all the non-smartphone stuff last year. If someone sold a $50 phone that just had voice, text and Whatsapp I think they would sell a shit-ton, especially in the developing world...
Internet.org-like plans haven't exactly gotten much love, and that seems to me like the biggest differentiator Facebook could introduce. (purely business-wise, their brand name of course could help, but that's not much actual merit IMHO)
i might get blowback for this but I had an Instagram paid service where Indian users were blowing up the free trials and never paying so I just blocked all Indian IPs. more trouble than they're worth
Even sold by Amazon:
He offers an VPN Service / more or less without the proper knowledge.
I think he could be sued for distributing child porn and other things VPN companies take a lot of ressources to make sure they are protected by that stuff.
It's better to build apps for iOS because those users have the most money and spend the most on apps. Android is further behind but still reasonable... If you're targeting users of some cheap $20 phone, then obviously there won't be much money in it. Plus the cost of running a virtual environment for each of these users would be too high I suspect.
This could be used as a tool for mass social manipulation though. Browserling could transform Instagram feeds into whatever it wants... Could potentially be used to spread fake news and spark protests.
Also, basically all those users were at some point able to cough up $20 for a phone. Messaging is pretty important (and WhatsApp is near or at the top of the list), so maybe a lot of those users could manage to cough up another $1 for something.
But as this article points out, the dependency on WhatsApp in India is too high to ignore; the last I heard was that the effort to bring WhatsApp to Jio Phone failed and the Jio Phone 2 would run on Android.
Shame on you, “startup enterpreneurs”.
How come no one was built a mobile app that locks down all apps other than those you select (e.g WhatsApp/Signal) for X amount of time until you put a code in or (even better) a partner/friend sends you a code. Would be great for enforce non device time.
Isn't that exactly what the kid-friendly modes of the various mobile OSes do?
Now if he finds another way to profit off of these users beyond advertising or just spamming twitter, then could be successful.
And people still think Cryptocurrency will not unbank the world. I am not talking only about Bitcoin, but there is a necessity for a new way to exchange value, store value and buy things without the limits that the place where you live decided to impose.
It starts with author calling his users "fools" for not randomizing useragent (while he himself is a fool for not using useragent correct way - to know what hardware/software accesses his service). Then he goes super happy "hah, great, let them crash competitor websites". Then he realize "This is the biggest opportunity ever!". He tries to sell his service for small amount of $1 per day for using free WhatsApp. "I had no idea how much money Indian users spent on online services." Quick google search reveals that daily wage labour gets 2-3 $/day.
What he does next?
He sends his users to promote his website at social media. Follow and tweet about my service and I will allow you to use my service - he promises, except it is not a payment method - it's a lie. But free advertisment is not enough for this guy. It's "his biggest opportunity ever"! He sends his army to "troll my competitors". "That was super hilarious. I was literally rolling on the floor laughing."
"users would tweet, follow, like, and do anything I tell them to get access to Browserling" except he didn't let them access Browserling. They are just numbers for him, a viral mob that will do whatever their god tell them to do. And as a god, he doesn't care about his promises. Well, he could, but it's too much work and there are more interesting things to do for him.
His final solution - more lies and unethical behaviors.
"Increase your chances in lottery by promoting my service" - chance does not change
Depending on your luck, the same amount of money will give you day, week or month of a service.
This guy is an asshole, his behaviour is unethical and wrong. I can't believe it gets positive feedback here.
He thought he was getting DDOS'd at first, and his attackers were using one useragent. In which case, they would have been fools.
"Then he realize "This is the biggest opportunity ever!"."
It __is__ a great opportunity! For the HN audience, a large influx of users is considered a great opportunity.
"They are just numbers for him, a viral mob that will do whatever their god tell them to do."
There seems to be a lot of negativity around this. I thought it was hilarious. Would there still be outrage if the users were American instead of Indian?
"His final solution - more lies and unethical behaviors"
I would hardly call it lies or unethical.
1. he isn't obligated to do anything
2. he ultimately delivered a usable product with a paid option to the service. Sounds like any other freemium app or in-app-purchase
There would definitely be outrage.
As other people have said, he comes across as lacking humanity. Especially as the people using Jio phones would be the kind of people who are not rich or well off.
In fairness to the person, he could just be clueless and doesn’t really think of the people trying to use his service as people.
Hmm. That makes him sound worse.
I know a friend who thinks like that, And Is not a bad person....
I don’t know - this guy comes across as if he doesn’t realize that he is manipulating people less informed and weaker than him like someone orchestrating ants into following sugar.
But that doesn't make his server costs go away. And they must own at least another phone otherwise they wouldn't be able to use WhatsApp Web. So they are probably not as poor as you think.
If it were just the opening part of the article which gave me pause, I would agree with you.
But the other parts?
Its very hard, even when I am trying to give him the benefit of doubt, to devise a sufficient and forgiving explanation for his behavior. Unless you just ignore entire chunks of what transpired.
He used those people to troll his competitors. It sounds like someone realized that he could flash a laser, and make a group of camps walk over someone else's flower bed.
Its hard to defend that, and the implication that has for his view on the people he aimed like water from a hose.
For the record, I've put some time into knowing what I know about India, the Indian telecom industry, Jio and Jio pricing. I'll say that my educated guess should be pretty close to the mark, but I will change my position if a contradicting piece of information is shown.
"he comes across as lacking humanity. Especially as the people using Jio phones would be the kind of people who are not rich or well off."
Would you say the same about apps that serve video ads in order to unlock something in app? Or contests that requests tweets for entry? Or bootstrapped companies with "buy now" websites that only lead to an email signup?
"he doesn’t realize that he is manipulating people less informed and weaker than him"
Manipulating seems like a strong word. No one was forced to tweet, this isn't a matter of life or death. (It's for getting on WhatsApp after all). More importantly, I don't think anyone that tweeted really cared about the contents of the tweet.
Challenges or re-tweet requests are assumed in good faith or in the context of a (relatively) symmetrical/fair market system.
I’m trying to give him good faith and it’s coming up short.
I don’t think he is malicious, just not used to thinking at the scale of humanity he was dealing with.
By the way - this is also an excellent example of how good net neutrality laws help customers.
I am sure JIO would love to block whatsapp.
Actually - how is Jio blocking Whatsapp?
That’s a more important question.
Jio launches a pretty ambitious phone network and decimated the competition.
Do note thought that they are considered to be really bad competitors to go up against. They almost always have a focus on good ultra competitive pricing and ways to extract extra money from the consumer.
But they are very actively investing in broadband content to drive use of their network.
Probably just a lot of people shrugging and saying "I guess this guy doesn't want us abusing his free service for our own gain" and "it was fun while it lasted".
All indications pointed towards all these people using his service in bad faith. I went to his website and it's obviously meant for cross-browser testing, not spoofing your user agent, circumventing regional restrictions or whatever it was preventing them from accessing Whatsapp directly.
So I'm pretty sure what they want is to access the Whatsapp web interface and use Browserly for user agent spoofing, circumventing geographic blocking or some kind of blocking on their phones like a 0.0.0.0 entry for whatsapp.com in the hosts file. Either way it's a major dick move if you ask me, especially when there is no shortage of services built for this exact purpose.
This is exactly the point. There would only be outrage if the users were American. There would not be a positive response here.
Imagine French facebook users waking up one day to see "If you want to log in, tweet 'I love facebook`". Would there be an outrage? What if tweet would say "Macron is not my president #downwithmacron"?
So I think
> It starts with author calling his users "fools" for not randomizing useragent
Was not very true, given the author previously said:
> I thought it was a DDOS attack. I noticed everyone had this weird user agent that said it was a JIO phone. _I throught these attackers were fools_.
He’s spent years on this business and finally had a break. Its unfortunate he chose to phrase things the way he did but this is a one man band with a hacker as CEO who does PR about as well as an average PR person does full stack development.
Probably not to his friends. But rofling at masses of indians tweeting on command (fooled into thinking tweeting will unlock a service) is a "dick move".
Saying "please tweet to use the service" and then blocking people anyway is lying. Making fun of people for doing what you asked so they can fulfill one of their needs is scummy. Telling people to Tweet to increase their chances in a lottery and then not actually doing it is also scummy.
This post left me with nothing but bad impressions for the author and for Browserling. At some point I wonder whether a middle school bully was writing the post.
The vast majority of these users were looking for a shady freebie at his expense, gleefully ripping him off and doing so en masse in a way that would destroy his livelihood. They were being more than cheeky and he has a right to treat them the same way. If it were me I'd have had my fun too.
No, if you lie to people and tell them you'll give them service in exchange for something, they do the something and then you don't give them service, you are definitely an asshole.
I'm not a fan of the false dichotomy of "you're either a doormat or you go full-blast lying and making fun of your users". He could just have said "If you want to use the service, please pay for it per day" and that would have been that.
> The vast majority of these users were looking for a shady freebie at his expense, gleefully ripping him off
Wanting to access WhatsApp is shady? Then I'm shady all the damn day. Also, how were they ripping him off? They were using the service he provided on the terms he provided it, even jumping through pointless hoops of "Tweet/Follow/spam competitors".
We decry all those shitty "tweet to jump the queue" tactics, but this guy doing it and laughing at his users makes it okay?
If you don't think this is asshole behaviour, we're never going to agree.
If that was "okay, there is a demand, I can't monetize it but can still convert it into something useful while I think how this can be a successful business" is one thing. Telling users to fund/tweet/support/whatever while the problem is being tackled feels perfectly fair to me.
If that was "muahaha see my army of puppets tweeting" it's another thing, of course.
Have you told that to your CEO?
Unfortunately I haven't had that chance, as the people I work with already know to not be assholes.
If you still think that's okay, there's a fundamental disagreement here we'll never reconcile.
When people spend a lot of time looking at stats, sometimes they become disconnected from the reality behind them.
And it will probably give ideas to people on HN to build services for this new market, and get Silicon Valley hipsters interested in cheap phone market. I'm not in SV, but at least that's the effect it had on me.
I'm getting more and more allergic to moral hypersensitivity everywhere. The air is becoming unbreathable.
In the end, though, I think he's done something decent-- providing a way for poor people in India to access a service that they are normally unable to afford. That's a good thing.
I discovered Browserling just yesterday looking for a replacement for BrowserStack. I planned to hand over my credit card today but saw this blog post on the commute to the office. Thanks, but no. I'll continue looking and make sure to not make business with this guy.
It could also be argued that their net utility to humanity is negative: see the issues with social media and echo chambers.
He did a silly test to have some fun that didn't force the users.
I'm happy for once to read an article that is not heavily edited by marketing to please the sensitive readers but instead gives us the raw reactions of the guy.
Not sure if intentional, but funny either way :)
His initial reaction when he thought he was under attack was fine and the second reaction was immature and lacked empathy but he was likely facing an unexpected problem that he couldn't figure out how to handle but very soon got on the right track.
Those servers and bandwidth aren't free. Bandwidth to tier three countries is actually more expensive.
Advertising revenue is basically non-existent for tier three countries, conversion rates and LTV is super low, ltv for the group of user that are using his service for whatsapp will be in the range of 1-5 Rs, ~(1-8 cents).
He will eventually have to block these countries again if he can't figure out a way to indirectly monetize these users. Or he will run out of money and the servers go down.
The best thing for these users would be if he can figure out a way to make it sustainable, and that means to monetize these users.
I can only think the negative components are ironically from the readers who lack the empathy to understand what OP was going through - both his limited understanding of what was happening and the implications.
Most importantly, I appreciated the honest writeup - something quite rare these days.
If this is a correct translation, YC would be using it as a no-invest signal more than anything else, given how much the two original founders have talked about the importance of good character and decency in being a successful founder:
I'm not trying to criticize YC here, not by much at least. I like YC and we even interviewed with them once. I don't know what kinds of answers they get or expect to that question, but I suspect that "hacking a non-computer system to your advantage" has only two categories of good answers, one being hacking a bureaucracy (which, let's admit it, is more like hacking a computer than anything else). The one is hacking people which feels a little bit psychopathic to me no matter how you put it.
I've done YC. I've met and closely observed many of the founders of the most successful companies, including the ones who are most revered for their ability to hack non-computer systems to their advantage.
Their behaviour is not remotely psychopathic, which very specifically means to act without any concern about causing harm to others.
To the contrary, these people stand out for their willingness to help others and create outcomes of mutual benefit.
I think this is where you're getting it wrong: you're taking a zero-sum-game approach, in which for someone to gain, someone else has to lose.
But good business (and good social hacking) doesn't work this way; it is all about creating win-win outcomes, by identifying and removing inefficiency and waste, or creating new opportunities for people to live more productive and enjoyable lives.
If you're interested in understanding this more deeply, I strongly recommend listening to this EconTalk podcast episode , particularly the story of the Padre.
For what it's worth, when I reflect on my own stint at running a YC-funded startup (which had a moderately successful outcome but not any kind of home run), I can recognise that one of my biggest failings was being too narcissistic. Since recognising this and spending several years working this tendency out of my character, my career success has improved dramatically.
I can also look back on a time in my life when I looked at some people who were more successful than me and assessed them as being a "psychopath", but it's clear to me now that I was just avoiding doing the self-scrutiny I should have been doing in order to become a successful (and good) person myself.
None of this is to defend the Browserling guy's conduct, which does seem rather ugly to me.
I'd really urge you to use terms like that with great caution and some self-reflection.
I appreciate your comment and I think you're right.
WhatsApp should be able to figure out a way to perform human user detection on these cheap phones. What type of API does FirefoxOS lack?