Keeping things fun meant ensuring the site didnt become a hotbed for bullying, toxicity, or really anything too serious

Keeping things fun meant ensuring the site didnt become a hotbed for bullying, toxicity, or really anything too serious

Keeping things clean meant not letting it become just another place for porn (which, of course, immediately became its biggest ongoing problem)

Most interesting, though, was the goal of realness – arguably a precursor to what remains the most sought after social currency of “authenticity” on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Like social media authenticity now, though, HOTorNOTs “realness” still meant literal models with high-production photos tended to top the hottest score charts above everyday people.

Like much of the early web, HOTorNOT contributed small innovations so rudimentary we take them completely for granted. For example, before it, users always had to click “submit” before any sort of vote or action would be registered by an HTML site. But in service of making the ratings game of HOTorNOT as fast-paced and addictive as possible, Young got rid of that extra step.

“The way we used it was a major departure from the norms of the time, but I wouldnt call it an ‘invention,” Young insists. “It took like 10 minutes to figure out and was just a few lines of Javascript code.”

“The ‘OG Instagrammers first cut their teeth on HOTorNOT, optimizing angles, using sepia tones, posing with puppies as their profile pic to optimize their ratings,” said Kun Gao, one of HOTorNOTs earliest employees who was part of the group that eventually splintered off to found their own wildly successful anime streaming website, Crunchyroll.

Actually, Hong eventually launched a proto-Instagram himself called Yafro, a social network photo-sharing site. But he shut it down prematurely after hearing rumors that the Bush administration would soon crack down on illegal images spread through web platforms.

While they didnt originate it, HOTorNOT popularized the Korean innovation of virtual goods bought with IRL money in the West. Suitors on the Meet Me speed dating service could buy each other digital flowers.

For the few whod stuck around in Silicon Valley after the Dotcom crash dried up all the money, the sheer ridiculousness of HOTorNOTs seemingly unstoppable success was a ray of hope, reigniting a belief in the webs endless potential – no matter how stupid or wild.

“HOTorNOT showed us that anything was possible on the internet,” said Gao. “That it can serve as a social playground instead of just a place for utility services to buy cheaper books and look up sports scores. It connected online and offline social interaction in new ways never imagined or implemented before. It gave all of us that went through its doors the realization that the internet was one big social experiment.”

Meet Me flowers, which “died” after a certain amount of time, were equivalent to a Tinder Super Like: paid-for bling to make a potential match more likely to notice your profile

Exactly how much of HOTorNOTs mythos was fact or fiction, natural or manufactured, a stroke of genius or luck, revolutionary or inevitable, positive or negative, is a question with no definite answers. Its also a debate the founders welcome.

Not everyone (including Hong himself (opens in a new tab) , for various reasons (opens in a new tab) ) sees some of the social web conventions HOTorNOT inerican Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers (opens in a new tab) , Nancy Jo Sales critiques HOTorNOT as the genesis of misogynistic social media platforms that were created mostly by men and promote valuing women and girls for their physical appeal above all else.

“Some people hear the initial premise of HOTorNOT and immediately jump to conclusions,” said Young. “But I wouldnt be surprised if most of them had never actually been on the site.”