Monday, February 1, 2010

Turning Hacker News Into Spam

People often rail against spam blogs. Spam blogs never contain original content; they scrape other sites to generate their content. People despise spam blogs because they're parasitic spam.

Last year I built a bunch of miniapps; my favorite was (and is) Hacker Newspaper. Hacker Newspaper never contains original content; it scrapes another site, Hacker News, to generate its content. Hacker Newspaper is parasitic. But I don't know of anybody who despises it.

Hacker Newspaper is an automated repurposer, just like every spam blog, but although it never contributes content, it does contribute opinionated presentation and occasional filtering. Spam blogs look uglier than the blogs they plagiarize; Hacker Newspaper is prettier and more legible than Hacker News. A story on Hacker News which comes from or will never appear on Hacker Newspaper, and at the moment Hacker Newspaper also rejects any story about the iPad, because the chatter was overwhelming. In either case, Hacker Newspaper improves on its original.

Spam blogs are scummy things, yet the same tactic that spam blogs revolve around - automated republishing of existing web sites - powers Hacker Newspaper, making it a site I use every day, and which I prefer over its original, Hacker News, by a gigantic margin. The difference is where spammers look to steal stuff, Hacker Newspaper looks to improve it.

When I think about internet marketing, I think about Hacker Newspaper. A technique is just a technique; how you use the technique, not the technique itself, determines whether what you're doing is positive or negative.