Tools & Tabs: ProductHunt.com

 
 

The Verge calls ProductHunt “a must-read site in Silicon Valley.” Created in 2013 by Ryan Hoover, ProductHunt aggregates the “best new” mobile apps, websites, hardware projects, and tech creations selected by site-approved ‘hunters.’ Any user can upvote favorite products, but only hunters knighted by ProductHunt can post product reviews.

Additional features of the site include an online shop and live chats, which (in a puzzling collaboration) are archived by Hardbound, a new storytelling app founded by Hoover’s longtime friend Nathan Bashaw.

ProductHunt is easy to use, and most of the site is accessible without signing up or signing in. To register for a live chat, I had to set up an account, but I couldn’t register with just an email address—it had to be through a personal Twitter or Facebook profile. It seems like this function, which intentionally links users to their wider online presence, is used to screen potential hunters.

The site is simple to navigate. There are no unnecessary graphics or background colors, no verbose copy, no mammoth set of filters to sort the product review pages—a website after my own heart! I easily spent two hours clicking through different products after my first login. It’s a good way to procrastinate at work while staying off social media.

ProductHunt’s new store venture is small but perhaps already too dangerous according to Brandon, Talos founder who has a self-professed, gadget-buying addiction. We have a bunch of these umbrellas from ProductHunt in the office, and I love them.

The live chat feature, though, leaves something to be desired: video-streaming. The live chat is entirely text-based, reminiscent of the internet forums of yesteryear. With no video component, the live chat drags at a snail’s pace, and afterward, ProductHunt emails you a ‘recap,’ which is essentially the finished chat forum. Instead of wasting an hour pressing Command+R during the live chat, skip the live “action” and wait for the short transcript to arrive in your inbox.

That said, I did enjoy reading the transcript of the Ryan Holiday chat I missed last week.

After one day on ProductHunt, I’m a fan. I feel informed about what’s new in the industry. I feel more connected to the zeitgeist than I would after paging through the Apple Store. So that’s a good thing, right?


ProductHunt practices a certain strictness of quality.


Only established industry voices and proven tech geeks can become knighted hunters in the forum, unlike Reddit or Amazon which favors a no-barriers-to-entry model for user reviews (often with hilarious results.) ProductHunt clearly values a purity of intent, and its hunter screening does eliminate most trolling.

But does this community then fall victim to the same self-selecting bias that plagues the tech industry at large?

It is true that other sites value certain reviewers over others, as well. Amazon has top reviewers. Rotten Tomatoes has super reviewers. The democratic party has superdelegates. Like the establishment throwing its weight behind Hillary Clinton in this year’s primary elections, in ProductHunt we see the establishment in Silicon Valley favoring itself. Let’s face facts: ProductHunt hunters often look like and fit a similar socio-economic group as do the founders of the ‘hunted’ apps, of all apps, of all startups, of all tech companies, of all tech executive teams, of all tech boards of directors, of all tech, period. (Read: white, privileged men.)

This raises an important question: Is ProductHunt an echo chamber for the wants of the few?

ProductHunt’s statement on knighting hunters is as follows:

Commenting and posting permissions are granted to those that have been nominated by someone in the community. Invites are granted each week to the most engaged and thoughtful contributors based on a variety of factors. Those with invites available can nominate others by submitting their Twitter username on the Invite page.
 
If you do not know anyone that has an invite, please know that those that demonstrate active participation on the site (e.g. upvoting products, creating collections) and thoughtful discussion on Twitter (we’re watching!), may also be invited to join.

Basically, you have to know someone who knows someone who knows someone who was an original hunter. Friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends. And some other people those friends of friends of friends all follow on Twitter. Though not the strict definition of nepotism, it’s something close.

So does ProductHunt represent the most innovative global creators; the most needed technologies; the most sustainable, responsibly made products; the technologies that can save our world, can save us from ourselves? I’m hesitant to agree.

This type of bias was replicated on HBO’s Silicon Valley when fictional app Pied Piper invited only its creators’ friends—other developers in California—to beta test the platform and, as a result, launched an app that was difficult for the average consumer to navigate. Developers think like developers, and tech-enthusiasts think like tech-enthusiasts, not like average users.

There’s something lost when we privilege the voices of the few, but there’s something gained when we use specialized users to help the rest of us decipher and navigate the ever-growing deluge of apps and technologies released every day. I would recommend ProductHunt—it’s fun, easy to use, aesthetically appealing—but with a caveat: see what the established, proven tech community thinks, but don’t expect hunters to act for global, diverse interests or needs.

And, if you’re launching a new product, following ProductHunt—and being featured on its homepage—is increasingly a necessity.