Would the site really have been worse off if the same posts had been submitted under the founders' real names? Instead of starting out with false pretenses, could they have encouraged their friends to contribute? I think once one goes down this path, the success of the whole endeavor is tainted. Yes, crime frequently pays and cheaters often win, but that's something that we as a community should work to change.
These are social sites and subject to the same kind of first impression biases that we all face in person.
Imagine showing up at a party with 2 guys sitting on a couch talking to each other compared to a party with people out front talking, people inside dancing and a small group in the back yard sharing a laugh. Social proof matters & I'd hardly consider this cheating or slimy.
If you say, "Ah, my party will probably only be three of us, I better pay 100 people to stand around so that I don't look bad", do people normally think this is an honest practice? You're still perpetrating a deception that could have real consequences.
Sounds fascinating to me
If it were a dating site and the founders filled it with a bunch of fake profiles with pictures of models, then I would have an issue with it because I'd feel the user is being taken advantage of. If there's a fake profile submitting links to news stories, there isn't much of a victim.
ADD: sure it's unpleasant, so let's just downvote and stay happy.
"Heavy weighs the head that wears the crown"; when you lead a large entity, there are always going to be people that are unhappy with your choices. I think by and large the great majority of businesspersons attempt to conduct business morally in general.
I can only speculate, but a site ostensibly where "all readers are editors" full of posts from only "kn0thing" and "spez" doesn't make for the best first impression of a community. Something to also remember is that in 2005, it was MUCH harder for buzz to spread online; I saw this firsthand launching hipmunk in 2010 and what a difference just 5 yrs made in producing all those 'social media' websites.
>Instead of starting out with false pretenses, could they have encouraged their friends to contribute?
Believe me, I did. Maybe 3 of them became regular submitters: Morgan, Connor, and Steve's girlfriend. Perhaps I'm not persuasive enough, but the 1% rule applies -- 1% or less of the traffic that visits a user-gen site actually creates content. So even if you had 100 friends who became regular visitors, you could only count on a few of them to become submitters.
>I think once one goes down this path, the success of the whole endeavor is tainted. Yes, crime frequently pays and cheaters often win, but that's something that we as a community should work to change.
Wow. That's quite the charge. I'm sorry you feel that way. I agree we should work to fight cheating, which is something we to this day take very seriously when it comes to trying to game reddit -- one of the reasons why reddit triumphed over digg.
I suppose if all your comments were things like, "Cool story, I'm glad you posted it", there's not much of a problem, but that doesn't seem like it would really drive engagement.
I have been a member of sites that grow organically with [almost] no activity. You just have to find a group of people that don't necessarily mind a slower pace; it really only takes a relatively small base of active users to get a snowball going. I don't think resorting to astroturfing is a necessity and I do think there is a permanent taint on sites that gain success by dubious methodology like this instead of slower, truer organic growth.
I worry that if people "bend the rules" in cases like this, they are likely to bend other rules that will cause harm to me and others. I'm very leery to do business with anyone who appears to boast of prior deceptions, as I have to presume they will attempt to deceive me in the future. I probably shouldn't have used the word "crime", but as with attracting subscribers with false profiles on a dating site, I'm not certain that it shouldn't be one.
I don't mean to single you out in particular. Talking about what's necessary to get a site like that going is better than everyone doing it in silence. I guess my real worry is that it's all a downward spiral, with ever more egregious tactics necessary to make a site stand out from the crowd. Maybe it's just a convenient excuse for my personal relative lack of success, but I've never been comfortable with the moral compromises that being in business seems to require.
Based on similar comments it appears most HN commenters assume we astroturfed discussions when in fact we had no commenting system; the only user generated content on reddit was only a username and submissions (there are no 'profiles' to speak of either).
But I've been presuming we're talking about submissions rather than comments. I'd be even harsher (and more incredulous that you are defending your behaviour) if I thought you were using shill accounts to falsely attribute comments!
It's clear that we have different value systems that we use to evaluate this. It's also clear that you've thought this through and decided you are OK with it. I'll keep trying to understand how this is, but for now I'm still baffled.
That is a severe judgement. I see it more as a clever hack. Building a community site or a marketplace is the age old chicken and egg problem. Without an existing community, you cant get users. And without users you cant build a community.
It's common practice to use throwaway accounts when writing personally.
Yes you could say cheating always causes damage in some shape or form and you would probably be right, but I'm not a good enough person myself to judge anyone on a such nuances of morality.
Of all not quite morally flawless sales practices this one is on the harmless end of the scale in my view.
I think this is not a fair comparison. Shady businesses try to rip you off and somehow give you less for your money - while they tried to set the tone and really submit legit content or as he put it "high quality content". So while the traffic in general was staged at least the content was in fact real and you had the real benefits of reddit.
As someone just starting out, you need to bend the rules once-in-awhile to succeed.
The problem with any forum is the chicken and the egg problem. You won't get people posting/coming back unless it seems like there are lots of people posting (the forum isn't dead).
You either need to fake the content yourself or pay people to do it for you. Most forums do this. There are many other types of sites that most likely need to do this as well (dating sites, for example)
"...the type of articles they wanted read. This 'set the tone' for the site as whole."
The first few hundred users of your site will determine what kind of users the site will attract, so "being" many of the first few hundred users yourself makes perfect sense, if you want to be guiding your project and not just "hoping for the best".
This was clever because they gave us a reason, not just an individual reason but a collective reason, to be there. We felt more engaged with the experience, even when it dragged into the late evening. We actually ended up laughing, at jokes that were not that funny when they ended up on TV.
Ultimately, what they did to get us there enhanced the enjoyment of the later users... I mean viewers. I wouldn't hesitate to get early users the same way, for the same reason.
Getting people to sit in a seat in a studio and laugh for an evening is basically a solved problem. But getting a sharper-than-average, engaged group of early app or site users is still tough. And it's desperately needed.
As others mention, Mechanical Turk is a pretty bad fit. You're probably better off getting a few friends to be sockpuppets (be sure to pick less silly names than "Nutshapio" though). Maybe a startup founder could try taking inspiration from this story to turn their public beta into a fundraiser. Oh, and I can't miss this opportunity to mention the BetaArmy subreddit:
That's about it as far as resources I've run across for getting a great first hundred users. So what are the best ways everyone else has found (apart from being in YC)? Does anyone run a service to satisfy this need?
Now it's all lolpics, atheism, LGBT issues, drugs, anti-corporation/government etc etc.
The people who have most time to participate (Out of work, college students, etc) may not necessarily be the people you want...
But if you create an account (no personal details needed, just a username and password and there is no "no fake names" rule so there is no personal information needed) you can change the default selection of sub-groups and you end up with a rather useful (if still somewhat random) aggregator of interesting stuff. Those things you liked from the first few months are still there and if you select just those sub-reddits you care about. Some of the other stuff will still leak in, but not overly so.
(Also, a brief googling turns up /r/startups, but I've got no idea of its standard of discourse.)
The video is worth watching though, it has more insights than just fake users.
Pretty sure I was inspired by Reddit at the time, and also Yelp which actually was mostly seeded by paid writers in the early days.
There's an art to seeding communities that I wish I had more opportunity to dabble in...
But it wasn't because of any substantial income, those nice lunches & dinners probably got me a net operating loss for the year...
I probably over-think things way too much, but every app or project I've created from scratch has caused me to ask myself questions about ethics and morality. Should I put that bogus badge on the site that says it's virus free? I know that it is, but does the fake badge turn me into somebody who's trying to "get one over" on the reader? Should I ask friends to participate in a discussion they normally wouldn't? Is it okay to pay somebody to write an article on my blog? And so on. Some of these questions I've answered yes, some no. Many answers depend on the circumstances.
There's a reason you'd be an idiot to listen too closely to the HN crowd when forming your startup. If you did, you'd end up writing something everybody thought was the latest hot app and doing it in such a way as that it would never work. You end up chasing peer approval and executing in ways that you remain sure that people can't attack you. You do this instead of actually making something that people want and executing in the way that ends up helping the biggest number of people.
I am not getting into the reddit thing. I've made my peace with it -- if I ever launch a social site I plan on using/hiring accounts to make the place look busy. This is exactly the same as launching a new night-club and paying to have famous people drop by (and then paying for stories about them dropping by appear in the local press). Nobody wants to visit an empty site. So they won't. This is part of the normal operations of running a nightclub, and to me it looks like part of the normal operations of running a social site in the initial stages. (Side note: I can tell you something really weird is going on with Pinterest. I am not sure what -- whether it's just lots of marketers trying to game the system or Pinterest itself that tries to manipulate notifications to elevate engagement, but something's not right there. This kind of thing is par for the course and will continue to be.)
I once listened to a tape series on negotiation techniques. The guy made a very appropriate point: there exist these techniques in the world. It's up to you to choose whether to use them or not, however they continue to exist and be used no matter which decision you make.
It used to be I would ask myself questions about these techniques and then worry over what the community might think. Any more I still ask myself, and I think long and hard about the answer, but once I've answered them I could care less what the community thinks. Whether that's personal progress or not is open to interpretation. :)
Recently a user "karmanaut" was exposed as systematically taking the highest-ranking comment of a previous picture submission and adding it to the picture when it was resubmitted (resubmissions on reddit are fairly common, yet they do make the frontpage again and again). It was clearly done with the help of a bot. The moderators initially deleted the thread that pointed to his shenanigans.
A lot of front page submissions originate from the same dozen-or-so people who are apparently on reddit all day long. I would not be surprised if - just like owners of YouTube channels - there are content creators in reddit that get paid as such.
If it works, it works.
As long as the quality is good, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.
No-one's attracted to a forum filled with void. All you need is a few carefully constructed, interesting personas as a nucleus to kickstart, then gradually remove them once the community has formed around them and becomes self-sustaining.
Casinos have been doing it for years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shill#Gambling
I say good job boys.
Boiler-room astro-turfing operations are SOP now for marketing operatives in both the commercial and the political venues.
The basic architecture of social sites is so wide open to miss-representation and gaming, its a marketers wet dream.
Creating an army of fake accounts and doing all the initial seeding would be quite a heavy burden in my case.
Common approaches I've seen for seeding a UGC site:
1.) Create lots of sock-puppets yourself and write/find the content that you yourself would want to read. Or get your friends to help. Example: Reddit.
2.) Write for your community. Don't worry about being big, just build something you and your friends would want to use. Once they start using it, they'll tell their friends, and you can get big later. Example: LiveJournal, HotOrNot, Fark, many niche sites.
3.) Scrape the hell out of your best competitor and then either provide a better user experience or SEO your site so you rank higher than them. Note that this is almost certainly against their TOS, is probably copyright infringement, and will get you on Google's shit-list, so you're in for a fair amount of pain if you're caught. Examples: Facebook, About.com, YouTube.
4.) Contact a couple celebrities in your field and see if they're willing to let you host their works, or if you can license their works with a revshare/partnership/whatever. All it takes is one really popular author to endorse you, and you'll get the halo effect of lots of less popular authors signing up because they want to be that one. Alternatively, be that celebrity yourself, so that people want to contribute to your site to bask in your reflected glow. Examples: JoelOnSoftware, Hacker News, StackOverflow.
5.) Be an aggregator first, nail your user-experience, and then once you have the visitors coming in, start adding your own hosting as a value-add. Examples: FriendFeed, many Google products.
6.) Throw money at the problem. Examples: Google+, Bing.
A few days ago imgur announced they now have a host of extra (proper) "social" features, comments and the like. It made me realise that #5 is exactly what imgur has done, started out as a simple hosting service fuelled by the rising success of reddit and now they're branching out into their own community and removing the reliance on reddit one bit at a time. This definitely seems like the best approach.
To be honest, the rate stuff spreads over campus list-servs I really don't think it was required at that point.
5,4,3,2,1 all offer good advice.
6 could (will?) be a bottomless pit
You don't need to actually create the accounts by hand, you just need some sort of admin mode that lets you submit content and then attributes it to a different account each time.
generate a random username from a dictionary (what I did was combining two words from a dictionary of words (english.txt) and then shorting it if was too long).
register the user
post from his account
For example, I think Reddit could have benefitted somewhat initially from random, paid people posting content, but I doubt a site like HN could.
Edit: someone else who thought about this (much) earlier:
A guy named Roth wrote a post, that got posted to HN, about pg's essay on how to disagree. pg responds. Husafan starts a dialog with pg. There's a response back, clearly continuing the dialog, saying "I felt like I gave that aspect of his post the reply it deserved", referring to "my essay", etc. but instead of being posted under pg's handle, the response is posted by nickb.
A little further down the thread, user ncart makes the connection:
holy sh*t!!! nickb = pg ????
This was just always a sense I've gotten about the site. Nice to hear some evidence that, at last early on, they were doing precisely this kind of thing. Perhaps it's still happening.