Product Hunt Is Tech’s New Tastemaker, and It Has Big Plans
It used to be The TechCrunch Effect: If you were lucky or good enough to get a TechCrunch story about your product, the spike of traffic and users created a wave you could ride for weeks—if you could keep your site up. Today, though, there’s a new kingmaker in tech. It’s called Product Hunt.
You see it everywhere now. A company gleefully shares “The story of our awesomely accidental Product Hunt launch” or “How I successfully launched Bookicious on Product Hunt, and what I learned in the process.” You can read “The ultimate guide to launching on Product Hunt,” and use tips on “finding your hunter” and how to comment on your page.
What began as an email newsletter with a bunch of links has turned into a booming, expanding destination where people come to geek out over awesome new stuff. They have live chats with interesting people in the industry, and are also curating books, games, and podcasts. A few weeks ago, the company launched a redesign of its homepage to highlight its newly broad scope. Today, it’s launching a new app for iPhone to do the same thing.
A few days before it launched, I sat with Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover, at a table in the same Philz coffee shop where he sent the first-ever Product Hunt newsletter, as he flipped through the new app. It’s broken into four sections: Popular, Today, Chats, and Profile.
Chats and profile are exactly what they sound like. Today is basically Product Hunt as you know it, a carousel of sections you can flip through to see what’s new. This is for the hardcore hunter, the core user who wants to know what’s new. The Popular tab is sort of a best-of, an ever-changing list of stuff you might think is cool. It has podcasts, apps, books, collections, upcoming live chats, everything.
The app looks great, and makes the entirety of Product Hunt much easier to digest. You can upvote, comment, add to collections, and—as always—find plenty of cool stuff. The only big feature missing is the ability to actually hunt something, Product Hunt’s lingo for submitting something to the site. “The interface for hunting on mobile was always bad,” Hoover says, and no one ever really did it. So they got rid of it, though an extension that lets you share from other apps is coming and might help.
Product Hunt is turning into a nicely-designed hybrid of Quora, Reddit, Digg, GoodReads, and more. Its community is full of makers, venture capitalists, and experts—it’s the rare place where you actually should read the comments. Still, it’s most powerful as a find-cool-stuff engine. With podcasts in particular, the company has a chance to be the first truly great tool for doing so.
“If all this was, was podcasts,” Hoover says of the new app, “I’d be happy.” In the new version, you can flip over to the Podcasts tab to see the most upvoted podcast episodes of the day—it’s a little tech heavy and leans a lot on the biggest names in podcasting, but it’s a perfect place to just show up and find something to listen to. Follow a collection like Hoover’s “The Best of This Week in Startups” to get the greatest hits, or poke through his “My Podcasts Playlist” to get a pretty good sense of what he’s listening to right now. Tap on any podcast anywhere in the app, and it starts playing. There’s never been an app like this for podcasts, curating great episodes and making them this easy to find and hear.
The next step for Hoover and Product Hunt is to make the whole thing even more social. He wants you to be able to see what your friends are up to, and to start to personalize the experience for you based on your activity. He’s trying to find the balance between showing people cool new stuff they might not find otherwise, and personalizing things so everyone sees only what they’ll definitely want. It’s the same issue facing Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, everybody: Do you segment your audience infinitely to give everyone a totally unique experience, or do you show everyone the same thing and hope they like it? He’s also grappling with the desire to be an all-encompassing destination site where people hang out, while still holding to the original idea of just pointing people toward cool stuff.
Product Hunt is still new, still small. It has a headquarters in San Francisco, but Philz is still Hoover’s office as much as anything. They’re still working out what they want to be, what place they hold in the world. But people are watching, because Hoover’s little email newsletter has turned into a kingmaker.
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