Yesterday, I posted my findings on how Product Hunt works. I hoped to initiate a conversation, and hoped to have my criticism read in a context of appreciation for the work that Product Hunt does and makers everywhere do. So far, I haven’t heard from Product Hunt team. Below is a letter, by me, that I imagine might be written today by the founder of a site like Product Hunt.
Founder, Launchers’ List
Lots of people have been forwarding me yesterday’s post which criticized Launchers’ List, and asking me to respond.
My first reaction was defensive. Why should I have to respond to every criticism of my work? I didn’t have to read much of the piece to feel that the author got some things wrong. More importantly, the site he described just didn’t resemble the project I’ve put my heart and soul into for the past two-plus years.
But as I saw more and more people commenting that the piece resonated with them, I began thinking: maybe there was something to the overall perspective of the piece.
Having been on the inside of Launchers’ List since the beginning, it’s hard for me to believe sometimes how far it’s come, and what it has come to mean within the industry. At the beginning, I never thought about the fairness of what was or wasn’t listed, or who was doing the listing. It was just friends and people with a lot to say and give, sharing what they were finding. If we worried about being comprehensive in any way, we never would have gotten off the ground.
As the site grew and became important to many product launches, people began clamoring to be let in as contributors. My biggest worry then, and now, has been how to preserve the intimate community feeling of the site. I’ve seen so many other special communities online devolve into places I would never want to spend time because they opened their doors indiscriminately. I don’t have to tell anyone who spends time online that this risk is very real.
So we decided to invite many more users, but to limit them to the ability to comment and to post just to a firehose feed of submissions. Their submissions would not be searchable, canonical parts of the site.
We didn’t do this to create a lower class of users, but to open the doors more and make the site more inviting and fair. It was a move towards more democracy; from where I’ve been sitting, I couldn’t imagine that would seem unfair.
We get such a flow of great products that it is natural for us to see the front page as inclusive and comprehensive. But I can see how from the outside, the majority of product creators might feel Launchers’ List’s doors are effectively closed to them, compared to users who work at this or that VC firm.
It’s important to point out that the focus on launch attention is somewhat misplaced. I don’t think many creators feel their product would have failed to gain users if not for Launchers’ List; product-market fit, timing and persistence matter so much more.
I do have to object to the tone of critics who call Launchers’ List rigged. As yesterday’s piece admits at the end, Launchers’ List Is not a public utility; for now, at least, it’s my life’s work and the full time job of a whole staff of people. We work hard everyday to make it as great as we can. Every single contributer we have given front page posting privileges deserves it. Every one of them has made the site richer. And we have never seen a product promoted that didn’t deserve the attention.
I also feel angry about some of the assumptions and characterizations the piece makes. But even more, I feel uncomfortable with the aspects of the piece that are correct. The author did repeatedly reach out to me and several employees with many questions, telling us he was working on a piece about the company. We responded, but chose to leave most of these questions unanswered.
Why? The easy answer would be to say we were too busy building things. but that’s not really the answer. The truth is, the questions were ones we hadn’t been forced to think about before, and the answers we would give would be awkward. Instead of being curious, we sort of hoped the questions would go away. As frustrating as it is for a founder to read a piece like this, it may be necessary as a forcing function to get us to ask hard questions about what Launchers’ List is right now, and what we want it to become.
We are under no obligation to please this author or anyone else. And yet, he professes his love for launchers list, and I choose to believe him. Few companies receive this level of attention and expectations from its users. That love is the most valuable thing we have. Whatever the particular systems and policies we develop — and maybe we don’t need to change a thing — I promise to hold that love close and continue building something that deserves it.
I welcome your comments.
Ben Wheeler is a programmer and teacher in Brooklyn, and is not the founder of Launchers’ List, which doesn’t exist. If you liked this, try reading his thoughts on what to do when typing hurts.
Picture by Ben, CC 2.0