The new favorite tool of Silicon Valley’s early-stage investors — Product Hunt — plans to announce Thursday that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s summer 2014 batch. The news wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, except for one questionable element: There’s a conflict of interest between Product Hunt and YC.
Product Hunt is a rival of that beloved YC entity: Hacker News. In fact, when I wrote the first-ever media story about Product Hunt last December, I chose the headline, “Can the democratic power of a platform like Hacker News be applied to products?”
For those unfamiliar with Product Hunt, it’s sort of like a Reddit for finding new tech apps, tools, and hardware. Users post one-line introductions to early stage companies, sometimes weeks or months before the tech press gets wind of them (see: Yo and Product Hunt).
As you might imagine, Product Hunt content overlaps with plenty of Hacker News posts, particularly given that Hacker News has its own tag for flagging product launches for readers — Show HN. Hacker News isn’t a for-profit endeavor with startup scaling ambitions, so in that way the two content companies are in entirely different categories. But in Product Hunt’s current iteration, Hacker News is certainly a competitor, jockeying for the eyeballs, time, and attention of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs, investors, and developers.
In terms of the division of labor between YC and Hacker News, the line is a blurry one that has only become less defined in recent months. In March, YC founder Paul Graham announced that some YC partners, like Kevin Hale and Kat Manalac, would be personally working on the site.
Hale has also advised Hoover throughout the summer’s YC program. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to presume the same advice he feeds Hoover about Product Hunt, and the ideas Hoover generates during YC, could end up changing the way Hacker News is run.
Absolutely not, Hale said in an interview.
“The way we see it is they occupy different spaces,” he said. “The Hacker News crowd is a community of hackers, builders, makers, great for people to get feedback on early prototypes. The Product Hunt crowd is more naturally consumers, potential customers, people who want to get early access.”
In July, for the first time ever, Hacker News rolled out a feature for filtering “Show HN” posts. As mentioned above, “Show HN” is the time-honored Hacker News way of flagging to the community a new product presentation. In the past, such links were mixed in with the other Hacker News posts, so product fans, aficionados, and potential investors couldn’t easily sort them out.
At the time, Hacker News users — who didn’t even know Product Hunt was going through the YC process — pondered how the Show HN filter could impact Hoover’s company. “Is this going to be the killer of Product Hunt?” one wrote on HackerNews.
The likes of Path CEO Dave Morin, Circa founder Matt Galligan, Twitter senior product manager Michael Ducker, and REDEF’s Jason Hirschhorn rose to Product Hunt’s immediate defense. “You can’t “kill” an authentic community,” Morin tweeted.
For his part, Hoover is not concerned. He agrees with Hale that the two organizations have such different trajectories that they’re not in conflict. “Over time well be looking to other communities, other verticals, other types of people,” Hoover says. “I don’t imagine Hacker News will be serving Middle America or middle-aged moms.”
But for now, there’s undeniable overlap between the two organizations, and the timing is rather auspicious. One month into Product Hunt’s time at YC, and Hacker News’ starts taking a page out of its books?
YC claims the addition of the Show HN filter was not motivated in any way by Product Hunt’s growing success or participation in the accelerator. “We had planned the Show HN stuff for awhile before talking to Ryan,” Hale said. He pointed to the fact that Hacker News has filtered out “Ask HN” posts for a long time as proof that the Show HN filter was not a new idea.
Have the group and Hoover chatted about the potential conflict of interest? “I haven’t talked to them about it, no,” Hoover admitted.