Post Death by Algorithm

Here at KeepVault, it’s hard to advertise on a shoe-string budget, so it hit us hard when our Hacker News post about Backup Awareness Week went from a healthy #4th spot to dismal #40 position in the blink of an eye. Now what?

The Pledge – Now you see it

Our team worked hard on Backup Awareness Week, developing a website and contacting backup companies to get great deals for customers. Posting to Hacker News was our primary launch plan, after all HN is the perfect tech-oriented audience to get the word out about an event about backing up your files. Posting a successful Hacker News article typically takes both work luck, but in our case I knew we had a sure-fire front-page post; everybody loves (and/or loathes) backup.

So we set to work and got our ducks in line. We prepped the website and then tried to figure out when to post to HN. Backup Week started on March 25th, so was a natural post date. We decide 8:30 AM EST is a good time to submit, and titled the post “Show HN: Backup Awareness Week“. Then we pulled the proverbial trigger.  

  • 8:40 AM: four upvotes in ten minutes; all going as planned.
  • 8:55 AM: We start seeing twitter shares and #backupweek tweets; wonderful!
  • 9:00 AM: twenty upvotes and a #2 spot on the front page – 2K hits on the site per hour; success! —

The HN Slap on Backup Awareness Week

The Turn – Now you don’t

— or so I thought.

It happened at the height of the team’s elation; the internet’s grim reaper reached his dry, pointy hand out and assassinated our post. “Um, guys? What just happened?” We looked at each other in dis-belief and took few moments to think it through and verify. Was our post with 25 upvotes per 1 hour really listed lower than a post with 3 upvotes per hour? Yes, it was; and it was not our imagination.

Was the post reported? Did a moderator mess with the post? Does somebody at HN not like us? Whatever the reason, like magic, it was gone; disappeared right off the front page. I sent an email to HN to see what had happened and searched the internet to find a possible culprit. I stumbled across the “HN Slap“, otherwise known as a Hacker News penalty. As traffic started to dwindle down, there was nothing more to do except wait and wonder.

HN got back to me with a response later in the evening:

The post set off the flamewar detector. That was a false positive. Usually we watch for those, but we missed this one.

We removed the penalty from the post, though it may be too late for it to benefit much. Sorry about that—we can’t always look into these things immediately.

Hm,  so that’s what it was – a “flamewar detector” algorithm. People were so excited about backing up their files that they set off HN’s flamewar detector!

Well it was mostly relief for us, knowing that we hadn’t done anything wrong, but HN’s 1-submission per url per year policy prevented us from re-posting the site.


The Prestige – Making it re-appear

You've gotta bring it backup

There’s only one thing to do when something like this happens – recover gracefully.  

We got some seriously good feedback from the HN community and we even went so far as to put out a press release for Backup Week.

And now you’re here – that means it’s not too late to let your friends know that it’s time to backup and take advantage of the great deals running during Backup Week! #backupweek backupweek.com

One thought on “Post Death by Algorithm

  1. Alan Bonjour says:

    Sounds like the campaign was TOO successful.

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