Is the Thrill of the Product Hunt Gone?

This was originally published Medium and LinkedIn – seems like it's worth sharing here too…

Product Hunt debuted in mid-2014 at the perfect time to give startups a way to promote themselves to a populace that seemingly can’t get enough of them. But maybe some of us can get enough after all. Below, data from Product Hunt itself implies as much.

The Google Trend chart below tracking the search term “product hunt” tells some of the story. It’s followed by the one-year history of unique users to producthunt.com courtesy of Compete, with a similar fall spike, a lull in Q1, and some inconsistency since. (I’m assuming May 2015 was a tracking error; if that point was adjusted to fit between April and June traffic numbers, it would resemble Google’s a little better.)

What made me really curious about Product Hunt is that it’s achieved what I like to think of as the “Mad Men” effect. At first, it was really fun, and I couldn’t get enough of it. But after awhile, I felt like I was going there more because I had to than because I wanted to. Product Hunt is still a good resource for me, especially when friends post products (Hunter Walk posted a New York Times podcast with Lin-Manuel Miranda and it ate up an hour of my day). But it’s more of a utility now, the vegetables rather than dessert.

So is Product Hunt ennui an actual phenomenon? Product Hunt has some data available on its site, which I manually compiled to look for trends. Lists can be sorted by what’s “popular” and also by the number of “upvotes” (the equivalent of “likes”). There are some changes in rankings when looking at Product Hunt’s measure of popularity versus the number of votes, so to keep things simple, I used upvotes as the sole measure.

One very useful feature on Product Hunt is the monthly roundup of top products. The latest one from September, for instance, showcases the 30 most upvoted products on the site. From searching the site, it seems like those monthly lists started with February’s recap, so the data here spans eight months, from February through September.

First, let’s look at the total votes by month. It’s been a gradual downward trend this summer, and beyond May looking like an outlier, the slope is typically flat or downward. Each series listed along the x-axis here denotes the ranking number, so Series1 on the bottom shows the most upvoted product each month.

Looking at this on a more granular level, we can see each month’s individual rankings more clearly, with a clear winner of a product for five months followed by tighter clustering. There isn’t some kind of power rule here, such as where the first is twice as popular as the second, and the second is twice as popular as the third. The amount of clustering is surprising. February’s 3541-vote standout, by the way, was Startup Stash, a curated directory of hundreds of resources for startups (how meta!). May was a tough month to crack the leaderboard; the most popular product in September would have ranked seventh if it appeared in May. March brought the most votes for the number 10 slot (1241, compared to 856 in September).

Let’s flip the key. Instead of looking at the clusters by month, let’s look at them by series. Below, there’s an even more pronounced downward curve, with a lot of convergence in the back half of the top ten list (slots six through ten), and an indication that the popularity of the top three products each month tends to determine the month’s overall total. This is shown as both a line and a bar graph.

Perhaps this is all much ado about nothing. Four reasons in particular stand out as to why this may not mean much. Add your own reasons in the comments.

1) Upvotes may not be the best measure of activity. Perhaps people aren’t liking products as much, or perhaps there’s more commenting and sharing going on. Or maybe people are visiting product pages and then heading in droves to the featured product’s own site, rather than spending any time on Product Hunt itself.

2) There could be a long tail effect. Maybe the rich aren’t getting richer, but lesser known products are doing better. I’m not convinced that’s the case, but it’s a possibility.

3) Perhaps Product Hunt is too slow in letting new people participate. The site notes, “A limited number of people have access to comment and post on Product Hunt to maintain a healthy volume of submissions each day and thoughtful dialogue.” If it’s too limiting, then there may not be enough new blood to replace some natural attrition. (PS: I have a few Product Hunt invites; just reach out to me if you want one.)

4) Product Hunt is expanding into new categories such as games, books, and podcasts. That may dilute some of the interest around products but increase overall activity on the site.

What’s your take on Product Hunt? Were you ever in love with it? Are you still? Have you been waiting for months for an invite so that you can participate? If you go there, are you an upvoter, or a commenter, or just a browser and clicker?

It’s a phenomenally well done site, to the extent that there are “Product Hunt for X” clones out there, and it provides value for my own work at MRY. I actually found out about the site when a colleague posted a client’s product there last summer, and I’ve been a regular ever since. Being needed can be more important than being loved. The overall trend, though, isn’t encouraging. After all, a lot of my favorite products are those I discover because people I know upvote them, and fewer upvotes leads to less discovery.