The next company in line for serious disruption? Not who you’d think.
Here at Centric Digital, we pride ourselves on transforming traditional businesses into digital leaders, and we keep vigilant watch as sluggish corporate giants are rendered obsolete by lithe innovation in industries like transportation, fashion, and dining. As community-based discovery platform Product Hunt continues to gain steam with the recent release of its iOS app, it’s clear that the next target for serious disruption isn’t some antiquated heritage company, but actually Apple itself. The App Store is broken, and Product Hunt has the perfect opening to forever change how we find and download apps.
Founder Ryan Hoover launched Product Hunt in November 2013 as a email newsletter meant to answer to a common watercooler question in his Silicon Valley network: What new products are you into right now?
Feedback was loud and positive, so he quickly brought Product Hunt to the web, where the basic structure remained the same. Every day on Product Hunt, a small handpicked community of curators (2% of the total userbase) submits simple, one-line descriptions of new products they love with direct links to download. Users comment, add links, and up-vote their favorites, and the most popular products bubble up to the top of the daily leaderboard.
Product Hunt quickly attracted an enthusiastic community of product managers, founders, and designers, and became a prime location for budding developers to receive feedback on their products and (the dream) to catch the eye of major investors. Messaging app Yo – which famously took on $1 million in funding with only a single word — was scooped on Product Hunt on May 19, one month before it started to gain buzz on Twitter, and photo/video messenger TapTalk was backed by SV Angel after the VC firm found the app on Product Hunt.
But beyond its utility for investors searching for The Next Big Thing, Product Hunt has the grander potential to change the way everyday app users find new products they love.
In the six years since it launched, Apple’s App Store has grown to hold 1.2 millions apps that it can no longer properly manage, leaving some gaping holes ripe for Product Hunt’s disruption.
Search Doesn’t Work
Perhaps the App Store’s biggest problem is that it just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. As uploaded apps ballooned into the millions, its core search functionality didn’t evolve in kind to accommodate this kind of growth. Now, users searching for a specific app are often forced to weed through an array of similarly named and keyworded apps, many of which are obscure or obsolete, before reaching their mark.
App Store search also fails to account for context or sudden shifts in momentum, ranking new, buzzy apps at the same level as their older, decaying counterparts. Even Facebook’s new image messenger Slingshot, backed by social media chatter and a robust marketing campaign, appeared four pages deep in a search for “Slingshot” when it first launched, and was missing completely from a search for “Facebook”. The App Store’s broken search is ultimately a disservice to both users looking for a high-quality app and developers who want their app to be found.
On Product Hunt, search is simple, clean, and works just fine — but more importantly, it’s only a secondary discovery method. Product Hunt’s prioritization of curation and social leaderboards makes it easy for users to find new, high-quality apps while empowering developers to communicate directly with new users.
Curation Isn’t Focused on the User
The App Store is no stranger to curation, but space in its HQ-gated “Featured” section is limited and the selection process remains a mystery to the uninitiated developer. Without a curated spot, a new app will likely completely miss the Top Lists and fade into consequent nothingness, so desperate apps resort to exorbitant marketing budgets and black- market bartering for non-human downloads and five-star ratings, just to stand a fighting chance.
These tactics often work, but unfortunately companies with the means or willingness to rise through the App Store this way are not necessarily making the best apps for users. A new developer with a gorgeous, user-friendly app can easily be overlooked as users browse bloated, stagnant Top Lists of mainstay favorites they’ve already downloaded (Gmail, Evernote) and random fad-apps of dubious quality.
Product Hunt flips this curation model on its head by putting users first. Since user ratings are the single factor determining a product’s rank on the site, user experience is the prevailing virtue at Product Hunt: not budget, legacy, or number of downloads. Product Hunt also resets its leaderboards every day, keeping content fresh and preventing the Top List stagnation that is such a problem in the App Store.
Supported by a enthusiastic, knowledgable community, Product Hunt’s reliable, egalitarian curation model ensures that its top recommendations are valuable for users and that all products have an equal chance to rise through the ranks.
Organization Doesn’t Support the Way We Find Apps Today
An App Store user can also opt to browse by category, but the categories themselves are far too amorphous to be useful. Labels like “Productivity” and “Lifestyle” were helpful when we were first learning what an app was, but have relatively little meaning now given the breadth of the loosely related apps contained within.
Product Hunt has found a more interesting way to organize products, with lists like “Uber for X”, “Product Flashback”, and “Troll Your Friends”. But more importantly, Product Hunt is organized to reflect the way we find apps today.
The App Store is no longer the go-to source for new app offerings. We’ve become so reliant on apps that we’re consistently looking to friends and media outlets to help us find new ones that will make our lives better and easier. Product Hunt works because it is the inevitable digital edification of the organic process by which we find the best apps: hearing about them from our friends.
What’s Next Matters
Product Hunt is steadily growing, and Hoover has already discussed potential monetization strategies centered on conversion to downloads. But as it scales to accommodate a wider and less elite userbase, Product Hunt must take every precaution to uphold the integrity of its product curation, community-driven discovery, and user reviews. If it strays too far from its current user-centric approach, it will lose the momentum it needs to truly disrupt product discovery.
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(Originally Published on the Centric Digital blog // August 29, 2014)