As Reddit’s Bored Users are Set Adrift, Hacker News Shuts Down Account Creation to Keep Them Away


In the world of large online communities, Reddit ranks among the largest, most active sites today. Right now, however, all of Reddit's users have been set adrift on the Internet, as Reddit is blacked out in support of the SOPA protests. Quite a few of those bored users, it seems, found their way over to Hacker News, a smaller but growing community that focuses mostly on startup and programming news. Seemingly afraid of this sudden influx of new users, Hacker News' founder Paul Graham today decided to suspend account creations for the time being.

Yeah Right…

Graham, of course, was rather political in making this announcement and argues that he doesn't want to "repay them for their impressive stand by stealing their users." Nobody on the site is really buying this argument, though. Instead, most Hacker News users assume that Graham simply turned off the ability to create new accounts to avoid an "Eternal September" effect – a term which refers to those early days of the Internet when new users (often college freshmen or new AOL users) would constantly ask the same questions on USENET and change the way many established online groups worked.

There is some irony in this, of course. Reddit, after all, greatly profited from Digg's fall in 2010. At the time, the established Reddit community was anything but happy about this influx of new users who weren't familiar with the site's rules.

12:43 pm

Is Google Really Trying to Scam Kenyan Business Owners? (Updated with Google’s Reaction)


Google was already having one of its toughest weeks in the company's recent history, but it looks like things just got worse: Mocality, a Kenyan startup that offers business listings on its site, now accuses the search giant of scraping its data and using it to cold-call the businesses in its directory to offer them free websites and paid domain names through the Google-backed Getting Kenyan Businesses Online initiative. In the process of poaching Mocality's customers, these Google employees allegedly also told these business owners numerous lies about Mocality. Mocality, after hearing about this, set up a sting operation and caught a number of callers who indeed said they worked for Google (here is an example).

Update: Google has posted a reaction to this on Google+ now. Google's Nelson Mattos: "We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved." 

Mocality's Accusations

Mocality's evidence for all of this? Besides the calls, the company caught two waves of scraping activity on its site – one with IP addresses based in Kenya and one with IP addresses linked to Google ( It then served a special phone number to visitors from these suspect IP addresses and it never took more than a few hours before the company would intercept calls from Indian call-center employees who identified themselves as calling on behalf of Google.

You can find all the details in Mocality's blog post about their allegations.

Something Ain't Right

Does any of this really make sense, though? Google is investigating the allegations and promises to have a statement soon, but something just doesn't feel right here. The only evidence that really ties any of this back to Google is the IP address that is linked to Google in Mountain View.

The Evidence

IP addresses can be spoofed and over on Hacker News, some folks are arguing that the Google IP address could either stem from the scammers using Google Translate or Google's App Engine or the Google OpenSocial proxy.

Google, given its brand recognition, is probably invoked by more online scammers than anybody else.

On the other hand, though, that all seems like a lot of work for what seems to be – assuming that Google wasn't involved – a pretty standard scam operation. I doubt most scammers would go through the trouble involved here. Also, the fact that a call center in India was involved here either means this was a very elaborate scam, or more evidence for Google's involvement in this. 

Just a Scam Without Google's (Direct) Involvement?

Google, however, generally isn't in the business of selling business listings and domain names – though its affiliates sometimes are. This also seems like a rather labor-intensive operation for very little profit (at least on the scale Google operates on).

What could Google's role in all of this be then? My best guess: somebody went rogue at Getting Kenyan Businesses Online or maybe in a Google-affiliated call center. Google's partners aren't "Google" and while the company will have to take responsibility for this, chances are that whereever this scam originated from was not under direct control of the company.

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9:13 am

Google Business Photos: New Indoor Street View Images Go Live


After a long period of rumors and denials, Google officially announced its Google Business Photos program (a.k.a. indoor Street View) earlier this year. While Google put the first set of businesses online soon after the announcement, we didn’t hear much about this project since. Now, however, it looks as if more and more of these indoor, Street View-like images are going online. You can find some examples here and here.

When Google first announced this program, the company stressed that it was mostly interested in working with independent local merchants. Merchants also had to apply to be included in this program. True to form, the new indoor Street View images come from small, independent stores, including the comic book store you can see below.

Google Maps indoor comics

Interestingly, it doesn’t look as if these images are linked to the larger Street View and the surrounding streets, though. Instead, the only way to get to them right now, it seems, is by going through the business’ Place Page. It would be nice if Google made finding these images a bit easier.

As one business owner pointed out on Hacker News earlier today, the total visit from the Google team took about 20-30 minutes (though things didn’t go right the first time around and they had to come back).

It’s worth noting, by the way, that Microsoft’s Bing has been offering interior views of some businesses since last December.

Google Maps indoor

5:56 pm

Smoke Signal: Smart Gmail Hack Lets Your Contacts Know How Full Your Inbox Is Right Now


Email can be a blessing and a curse. For those of us who get a lot of messages every day, it’s often the latter, as keeping up with the constant stream of things that need our attention can be hard. There are lots of systems for managing your inbox, but what if you could easily let people know how full your inbox is and maybe keep them from sending you that unnecessary message when you’re already busy? Smoke Signal does exactly that. Thanks to a smart hack, the service automatically updates your email signature in other peoples’ inboxes throughout the day and lets them know whether your inbox is pleasant, tolerable or unbearable.


Smart Hack

Typically, adding this kind of information to an email and having it update automatically throughout the day isn’t really possible, as virtually all email providers don’t allow dynamic content in emails (Microsoft has been working on this problem with a few select partners lately, though).

What Smoke Signal does to get around is, is to append an image to your email signature that reflects the current status of your inbox. You simply add an image with a URL the service gives you to your signature and Smoke Signal will automatically pick the right image to display every time somebody opens your email, no matter which email client they use.

The status message that’s added to your email signature depends on how many unread emails you have in your inbox (0-10: pleasant; 11-19: tolerable; 20+: unbearable).


Smoke Signal is similar to, a service we looked at a while back., however, doesn’t automatically update your signature and instead asks those who want to email you to click on a link instead. Unlike Smoke Signal, though, features some smarter algorithms to figure out what your regular email load is and adapts its message accordingly.


Whether you want to use this service, of course, is another question. Some people may prefer to keep their inbox status private. Others will feel queasy about giving a startup access to their inbox and others will simply doubt the value of this service (at least, that’s the reactions the folks over at Hacker News have exhibited so far).

For the team behind Smoke Signal, this is just a first test of a bigger idea. The team wants to figure out how to combine email and the idea of availability in smarter ways.

8:56 pm

Y Combinator's Hacker News Reaches 1 Million Pageviews Per Day


It’s not quite Reddit, which now sees 1 billion pageviews per month, but Y Combinator‘s Hacker News just announced that it now serves up 1 million pages per day. Hacker News, which is a social news site that specializes in news stories related to technology startups, was founded by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham in February 2007 and has quickly become one of the go-to sites for anybody who is interested in the world of tech startups.

In total, Hacker News now sees about 90,000 unique visitors per day. Its users register about 25,000 votes on any given weekday. Hacker News’ growth has been slow but steady over the last few years. In December 2008, the site had about 20,000 unique users.

Today, Hacker News functions as a virtual water cooler for young startups to exchange news stories, tips and tricks and their own experiences. For publishers, it has also become a major source of traffic. A story that ranks high on Hacker News can easily drive more than 10,000 pageviews.

Hacker news screenshot

Digg, which is at its core a very similar site, suffers greatly from users and publishers who try to game the system in order to rise up in the ranks of active users or drive pageviews to their sites. Compared to Digg, Hacker News is an incredibly civil site. Comment threads can often be contentious but generally stay polite – maybe because the site isn’t driven so much by the votes and submissions of a small group of users who think that getting lots of upvotes is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

The challenge for Hacker News will be to keep the quality of the comments and submissions at a high level as it grows. As the community grows and continues to drive traffic, chances are that it’ll become a bigger target for marketers and spammers. Hopefully, reaching 1 million pageviews per day won’t be the tipping point for this.

12:49 pm