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I dunno, 1. and 2. seem like a cop out to me. When crappy freeware Windows installers provide a checkbox (checked by default, of course) to opt out of Bonzai Buddy or a million Ask.com toolbars or some bullshit malware scanner, they are still shitty and sketchy, and it's disappointing to me to know that YC is now behind a company that makes such software. And saying this crapware is popular does little to assuage my concerns. If users are "choosing" to install these things, it's unclear to me how informed or aware of a choice they're making. I bet successful viruses and worms are also popular by this metric.

By the way, here's an example of what we're talking about: http://imgur.com/8SGXUPP. Oracle bundles the ask toolbar with Java installs now. This is the default state, i.e., the box is default-checked. Why, users love the ask toolbar, they probably have a 95% install rate!

Exactly, I always feel these "choices" are like being sold an extended warranty. It's presented as a choice but is "strongly recommended", non tech savvy users are likely not sure what "recommended" means in this context. Does it mean that the software might break my computer without it? Does it stop me getting a virus?

Anybody who consciously decides that they want the ask toolbar on their computer can find the standalone download here:


It's worse than that, actually. Experienced computer users interact with a computer in a completely different way from inexperienced ones; at some point, experienced users develop the ability to do some kind of fast cognitive relevance filter on the screen, so they know which UI elements they can interact with, which ones might be important, which ones aren't, and so on.

Less experienced users can't do that -- they have to read every single word on the screen and make a decision about it. They mitigate this by memorizing specific actions. i.e., "to send an email, first I click in this area, then I click on the blue thing, then I click in that area..." (which is why constantly changing UI is such a problem for them, btw).

So what do they do with installers like this one? They just click "Next" with all the defaults on. The text on a screen like this is no different to them than the text of the EULA that none of us read.

Completely agreed.

Amongst my non-computer literate friends, many of them adopt the "click next quickly until the install starts or it stops working" tactic.

Yes, the install dialogs might as well be a series of screens of lorem ipsum with buttons labeled WHATEVER

The game is to get those people who aren't tech savvy, and PG knows and actively supports it. There literally is no way to do what IM is trying to do without somehow engaging in questionable behavior (reminiscent of Facebook in many ways)

> There literally is no way to do what IM is trying to do without somehow engaging in questionable behavior

For starters, default to not install the crapware.

Alternatively, instead of creating more required user actions than necessary. While the software is installing, show splash screen type adverts of software the user may also be interested in installing with a way to add them to the install queue on the fly or select it after the install is done.

Sure, they rate of install will be shit, but if they were really interested in doing the right thing this wouldn't be a problem and the users of said applications would be legitimate users, not just angry computer illiterate people.

> "... rate of install will be shit, but if they were really interested in doing the right thing ..."

That's just it -- they aren't.

The sole purpose is to generate revenue. They don't make money when users don't install the software.

The customers (advertisers) actively push for insidious installation methods. Legitimate software developers don't advertise using those methods (have you ever seen an ad for WinEdt?), preferring google or other direct methods.

So the population IM attracts are precisely those unscrupulous developers and programs that profit from questionable behavior. Working in a proper manner runs counter to their customers' goals.

Legitimate software producers do use similar methods I outlined above. Examples, and correct me if I'm wrong, my memory is quite shaky on this subject, ubuntu installer, steam installer, most PC games, and I think even the open office installer uses similar.

The examples are usually just advertising other products they own, or features within their software so not exactly direct examples but its not a huge jump by any means.

While I agree the population of customers they will attract are those shady toolbar guys, it certainly doesn't follow that they cannot make a business out of pushing good software. I think as long as they tailor the ads to relating software or software people will likely install alongside the current piece it could work. Taking the high road could even payout bigtime down the line when more developers catch on and realise it won't detract from their image/brand by using such a service.

> PG knows and actively supports it.

I don't think this statement is really fair. If you read the previous post about this, he was clearly surprised and troubled, and he again seems troubled here. He also mentioned in a comment in this thread [1] that he didn't seem to know about InstallMonetizer, and that the team is working on a different product.

[1]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5093047

Something seems off here, reminiscent of Rupert Murdoch's testimony regarding phone hacking. Being troubled is easy to say, but the fact that a company he has invested in is engaging in questionable activities doesn't really jive well with PGs claims regarding office hours. Not to say that he isn't genuinely troubled, but I would have hoped YC would inculcate his values (which, if they did act in accordance with PG's stated views, would have resulted in a far different product)

Are you seriously, unironically comparing PG to Rupert Murdoch? Have you hit your head on something particularly hard recently?

The facts here are simple:

1. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 startups in the current YC batch (http://ycombinator.com/w13smaller.html).

2. They are all coached by around 7 active partners (http://ycombinator.com/w13smaller.html) and perhaps some program alumni.

3. But those people also continue to support participants from past batches too.

4. This is (so far) an isolated incident -- YC hasn't even had time to change any of its procedures, even if it deems it necessary to do so.

5. Immediately after it being brought to his attention, PG followed up with the owners and they made some changes as a result...

6. ...even though they aren't in YC for IM, YC has no real influence or control over IM or even the team.

So what's your expectation here? Should YC be performing a full background check on participants? If IM wasn't mentioned during the application or interview process, how reasonable is it to expect YC to have known about it? Are we supposed to expect someone at YC to be able to glance at something like IM and sense whether it's icky or not, or are we supposed to expect them to spend hours digging into it?

A program like YC is bound to attract some bad apples eventually (and we don't even know that these guys are "bad"), especially since YC explicitly looks for people doing things that might seem questionable at first.

"If IM wasn't mentioned during the application or interview process, how reasonable is it to expect YC to have known about it?"

It's listed on the LinkedIn pages of both co-founders as their current business, together with AdMonetizer as a previous business. I assumed that checking the LinkedIn pages of applicants and taking a brief look at the websites of their businesses would be a minimum background check, but I guess I assumed incorrectly.

If you paid attention to the Murdoch issue you'd actually realize each of your facts parallel a facet of the phone hacking scandal:

A) Your purported argument about scale really suggests that YC may have more investments than they can reasonably manage, but that doesn't absolve them from blame. This is EXACTLY the same argument Rupert Murdoch made (We have so many newspapers that we couldn't possibly be aware of hacking at one paper)

B) Your sixth fact is

    6. ...even though they aren't in YC for IM, YC has no real influence or control over IM or even the team.
There are actually two parts here, and I'd like to hone into the first for a moment: "even though they aren't in YC for IM". It seems VERY odd that PG would allow companies to pivot without first having an office hour or discussion with partners on the matter, and if what you are saying is true then there are deep procedural issues. Murdoch tried to make the same argument regarding autonomy of the individual units under News Corp.

C) Your second and third fact focus on partners and alumni. They have additional senior staff, so how was this allowed to happen? If the partners and alumni did share the same mores as PG purports to hold now, and if at least one partner or alumnus dealt with IM, then there's an internal inconsistency (akin to blaming rebekah brooks for what is really a cultural issue)

D) Your fourth fact tries to argue that this is a single bad apple. It's the first instance being reported. Of course it's an isolated incident insofar as no other company attempted the same effort, which is exactly what James Murdoch claimed regarding News of the World.

E) " Immediately after it being brought to his attention, PG followed up with the owners and they made some changes as a result..."

The problem is that the underlying problem wasn't resolved. PG decided to point to the TOS, which doesn't address the nature of the business model. This is akin to James pointing to ATT's terms of service and security model.

I'm pretty sure that for whatever "fact" you wish to throw there's an analogue, and until there's some sort of real "accountability" I don't see how you could have such unwavering support.

My expectation is simple: if YC wants to invest in those types of firms, that's their prerogative and they should own their decision. Don't try to pull some cognitive dissonance. Just say that you are comfortable with investing in the malware model, and this entire discussion would be moot. The only reason my reply makes sense is because PG and YC claim to aspire to something higher. If we all drop that assumption, then the original issue is really irrelevant.

And with regards to your last comment: " YC explicitly looks for people doing things that might seem questionable at first.", I think you misunderstand what 'questionable' means there. Questionable there means "i doubt it could succeed", not "shady business practices".

Perhaps against my better judgement I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt here. You seem to be misunderstanding the situation with IM and YC; according to what PG has said so far, the IM team did not "pivot" while in YC. Again, just to be completely, perfectly, totally crystal clear: nobody at YC was aware of IM. That's not what the team applied for, and it's not what they were accepted for. YC applications do not ask for work history. You are not required to share your resume. They do not ask for references. If I had in the past built a business on exploiting Wordpress installations, it would be largely irrelevant to YC (until such time as someone found out about it, posted it to HN, and triggered the predictable witch hunt).

And, again, even if someone knew about IM -- even if it was mentioned on their application as a past project -- there is absolutely no reasonable expectation that YC's principals should have looked far enough into it to come to the same conclusions that other people here did.

Furthermore, I'm not sure where people are getting the notion that YC funds things on some moral basis. As far as I know, there has never been any statement to that effect, nor is it supported by data. At most I would say only that YC looks for startups that "make something that people want". You seem to be on some kind of mission to "expose" YC, except that all you're really doing is exposing what you have imagined YC to be. This makes you look silly, not them. Every single batch, there is at least one thread on HN wondering why YC funded some company or another, usually because people disagree with the business model. Yet, people are still surprised when YC funds something they disagree with.

I did not at all misunderstand what questionable means. I used it exactly as I meant to.

Finally, your continued comparison to Murdoch is beyond absurd. You are performing a slightly more contemporary version of Godwinning this thread. I shouldn't dignify it with a response, but, Murdoch was found to have been willfully ignorant of what was going on, all while there were widespread (and well-founded) allegations that in fact the top-level executives of his various companies were (and still are) carrying out his wishes in spirit, if not in letter. The News of the World incident was only the one that they happened to get caught at. Only the most imaginative mind could find some kind of allegory between that situation and this one.

It's clear you don't seem to understand investments, given your assertion:

    the IM team did not "pivot" while in YC
Like with any other venture capital or private equity placement, YC starts from the moment the team accepted the investment and ends when the legal entity behind Y Combinator fully divests its financial interests. YC can choose to sell its equity, and their refusal to do so is a tacit approval of the company and its actions.

You are trying to claim that YC has divested its interest. Clearly that didn't happen -- if it already did, then PG wouldn't have had to respond. Stop trying to change the subject by focusing on the application -- the problem you are trying to avoid explaining is on the fact that somehow they went from state A to state B, a massive shift, without anyone at YC noticing (ironically, this is exactly the storyline in the News of the World scandal that you find criminal in one case and plausable in another). YC is a significant investor in most of these companies and (based on their claims) has a sufficiently frequent engagement with the companies that it would be hard to pivot without them noticing.

"I'm not sure where people are getting the notion that YC funds things on some moral basis."

I don't think they are, but PG is in a state of cognitive dissonance: he is trying to claim that he is being "moral" by not sponsoring spam yet is profiting from the practice. That's the part that rubs me wrong (and, incidentally, another aspect of the phone hacking scandal that rubbed me wrong) Defending cognitive dissonance is not just silly -- it's deceptive and does a disservice to silicon valley.

>"YC applications do not ask for work history. You are not required to share your resume. They do not ask for references."

Honest question: why not?

Seems reasonable, even if only to protect brand image.

But not troubled enough to not make money off them.

"literally no way" is a very strong statement - do you have any proof?

Any software that is desirable on its own will be sought out on its own. Plain and simple. There is no need to piggyback adobe PDF reader in any software that doesn't use PDFs because people who need a PDF reader will seek one out.

Any sort of parasitism is trying to circumvent this process by convincing others that they need software that isn't directly needed for the problem at hand or otherwise forcing people to install software. And that's the type of behavior styled as "questionable" in this discussion. Tactics like omitting a "no thanks", while perfectly legal, seem as questionable in many other contexts.

I feel like you may be right for the wrong reasons. "Any software that is desirable on its own will be sought out on its own." is the prelude to many a failed software project. People say the same thing about films, games, apps, etc... and it's almost universally untrue.

If you are right, it's not because no good software aught to be promoted and thus this (and by extension of your logic most any type of promotion) can't be legit, but rather that there doesn't exist a non-scummy way of conducting this particular type of promotion. Is that true?

I'd say that piggybacking on installation process is not a valid way of promoting other software. If I go to the cinema to see movie X, I don't want to have to see half X, than Y, than other half of X, just because the distributor thought that Y ought to be promoted.

Sure, advertise the crap out of your product, but do it in contexts where people expect to see them. It's like I'd let a friend through my doorstep, and a random salesman tried to sneak in while doors were open.

And first make sure that whatever you're promoting has any value for user. I'm yet to see a single thing install-bundled that is net-positive for user.

Perhaps you've heard of this thing called 'movie previews'.

I'm not saying that "no good software ought to be promoted", but rather that the promotion should happen at the places where people would seek them out (e.g. Google). Advertise for photoshop where designers would go to look for software (e.g. in design magazines, google, etc).


Don't make libelous public accusations of PG if you don't know anything about the situation.

Unless the parent comment has been edited, I'm not sure what you think is libelous about it?

It's certainly a questionable company, they either didn't bother to scan for open source software being rebundled, or deliberately chose not to scan, because they knew the result would be bad.

It looks like niggler edited his comment, but he's still saying that PG is an active proponent of this. YC companies are completely independent, and you really can't assign any blame to him for what one of YC's hundreds of portfolio companies do.

PG accepted them into YC, funds them and defends them in public. If that's not an "active proponent" then I wonder how you define that term?

Comment was not edited. It looks like you viscerally reacted to a comment suggesting PG isn't a deity.

Ah, sorry, I thought it was edited, it seemed to read differently the second time. I was reacting to your implication that PG was somehow responsible for this, which, if you know anything about how YC operates, is obviously untrue.

Edit: Reading some of your other comments in this thread confirms that you're assuming a lot of things that aren't true to build an internal narrative and participate in this silly little drama. YC is not controlling at all, and is frequently not directly involved with guiding a company, unless the founders reach out for advice. It's a self-directed program.

My comment wasn't edited -- I think the critic just realized that PG isn't holy or perfect ...

I think some of us are finding it difficult to draw other conclusions.

Well as in life its the "perception" of a thing, can be more powerful than the actuality.

Definitely. I find it hard to find any reason why something like Babylon (one of the things I remember that IM might install) should not be called "crapware" or malware. Babylon hijacks your browser and then becomes practically unremovable (it can be removed but the people savvy enough to remove it are the ones savvy enough to never install it).

If users like this software so much then why do the creators of this software have to work so hard to make it next to impossible to remove? Who would want to get rid of software they love?

I ran into this one recently at work we couldn't figure out how our testing machine got "infected" with all of the ask toolbar defaults... Eventually we traced it back to the default install options for java. A lot of software depends on java, so all of these users get asked to install java, and end up infected with ask's toolbar.. It's pretty sad that legitimate software is selling out like this.

Why don't you include examples of IM misbehaving rather than other companies you're trying to associate with them? The other post about this was full of this and it's crap.

The example of Babylon translator being bundled via IM in the previous thread was specific to IM, as was the input from anti-malware companies who had targeted IM's products specifically.

haha! Good point about the ask toolbar! Didn't think of that...

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