The concerns others levied against HOTorNOT were ones the founders themselves wrestled with at first
The HOTorNOT craze also amazed their Silicon Valley friends because Young and Hong were one of the first web engineers to get some social cache and fame from outside of their insular tech-nerd circles.
“Being a Silicon Valley founder definitely wasn’t cool then. “But they had tapped into a pretty mainstream audience. They were like mini-celebrities in a world where there weren’t a lot of celebrities created via the internet.”
A New Yorker writer profiling “The Hot or Not Guys (opens in a new tab) ” even followed them around Entertainment Weeklys exclusive “It List” party in 2002. Thrust into the glitz and glam, Hong was shocked to discover beautiful women whod never give him the time of day before were suddenly captivated after hearing he was behind HOTorNOT. Not because of any presumption of riches, but because people saw the site as imbuing him with some sort of magical ability to be an objective arbiter of attractiveness. Their newfound popularity baffled the two co-founders, with Young describing it as “awful.” It was a stark contrast to the reality of exactly how unglamorous their jobs actually were.
One persons 4 is inevitably someone elses 8, a platitude that the internet helped validate
“Were not even hot ourselves, so who were we to talk? We were not the type of people with any right to go around judging people on their hotness hookup bars New Orleans,” said Hong. “We saw HOTorNOT more as a tool where you could get an honest assessment from people if you wanted it.”
Famously, they put up a three-story billboard on the side of their datacenter on 365 Main St. in San Francisco that showed the two co-founders buck naked, their private parts covered only by a sign with their relatively low HOTorNOT scores of 3.9 and 4.1. It was an irony often played up for branding, too, some proof that — despite what critics said — their site wasnt really built on the worldview that beauty was the most important quality in a person.
Ultimately, Hong said, the rationale was that real-world society already placed the same value on attractiveness, regardless of whether HOTorNOT brought it to the web. Many of their initial worries also turned out to be unfounded since only under 2 percent of visitors actually submitted pictures. Those brave enough to seek ratings were self-selecting, rarely surprised by their scores.
“If youre attractive, you didnt really need HOTorNOT to tell you that. You get that feedback every day from people and the way they treat you,” said Hong. “The small percentage of people who had the chutzpah to submit themselves who werent, you know, conventionally attractive also already had the confidence to not really be fazed by a low score.”
They even got some positive feedback from people with lower scores because, inevitably, some rated them much higher than expected.
Still, they did think a lot about designing the site in a way that lessened its potential negative psychological effects and misuses.
They purposefully forwent conventions like comment sections and forums, so people with low scores or specific insecurities wouldnt get dog-piled. Those who submitted photos could opt out of public ratings or even upload a different one at any time. If anyone ever contacted them to request taking down a picture uploaded of them without their consent, they always did so as quickly as possible with little to no questions asked. To further deter bullying or inappropriate use of the site, they implemented a pioneering moderation system that incentivized power users to become mods through gamification. Becoming a mod was presented as selective and aspirational, requiring users to apply, get accepted, and then receive rewards and status symbols the more they contributed to protecting the community. It was yet another advent from HOTorNOT thats now standard on the web, used by monoliths like Wikipedia and Reddit.