How a Hacker News comment turned into a large Red Cross donation

Since 2004 I have provided a mobile optimized version of the Drudge Report. I was a bit early on the mobile curve and back in 2004 browsers weren’t nearly as sophisticated (or data access as fast), so it was a huge time saver. Even today having one column makes things a ton faster to read, so it has continued to draw an audience.

After some slowdowns on my server I noticed a very large amount of iPhone users (north of 100,000 unique monthly) using the site, which I thought strange because on my other sites mobile usage is pretty evenly split across lines according to market share. There were no referrers, so I had no further insight into where the traffic was coming from. I updated it to use memcached which helped reduce load on my server and then didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it other than fixing it when Matt would change his formatting a bit and a user would email me letting me know (I rarely if ever use it myself).

Flash forward to this week when in the comments of a post on Hacker News I mentioned this mysteriously popular web service and measure2xcut1x piped in saying they have an iPhone app for the Drudge Report that uses my URL. It all clicked–that explains iOS traffic dwarfing all other mobile OS’s and the lack of referrers. I quickly got the app name and downloaded both the free and paid ($.99 at the time of download) versions to confirm. Sure enough, the app is a webkit view around my site with either iAds or the $.99 purchase price. All the while I’m funding the millions of hits monthly that the site receives. I was happy to provide free hosting/reformatting as a sort of public service, but not happy that someone else was profiting off it.

I emailed the app’s listed developer, James Leung of Smartest Apple and asked to talk. After some back and forth (and disagreements) I ended up shutting the app down by changing the URL of the service, 301 redirecting anyone not on an iPhone and providing a note for iPhone users telling them of the situation. Drudge’s humorous siren graphic was also used, which made it pretty apparent something was wrong. This didn’t endear me to James much (or his superiors who control the money), but since I knew an update to the app to cut me out was coming ASAP and I had limited time with leverage.

I then had an idea, instead of sending me the money it could instead be donated to charity. With the current earthquake/tsunami/nuclear situation in Japan this seemed like a perfect idea and while I could find many ways to waste the money, the Red Cross could actually put it to good use. James wrote back right away saying he was in for his (small) cut of the revenue, but would have to get back to me for the bulk of it from his company. He wrote back again quickly saying that his employers would donate $5,000 if I would immediately return the functionality of my site so the app continued to work (negative reviews were pouring in). Almost directly afterwards I got another reply saying a matching $5,000 donation would also be made by the parent company. $10,000 to the Red Cross for Japan relief isn’t something to sneeze at, so I returned full functionality and thanked them for their generous donation. This morning he posted a video on YouTube of the first $5,000 donation while the matching donation is still in progress (at the end it says on behalf of 715 Franklin, which is the shared office I’m a part of in Tampa).

Considering how my first thoughts of what to do were incredibly immature (goatse?), I’m very happy of how this turned out.

tl;dr a couple days after a Hacker News comment I was able to help secure $10,000 for the Red Cross. The Smartest Apple and James deserve credit for turning around a bad situation into a big win for people in need.

Read the latest posts

Leave a Reply