Honolulu Advertiser Harps on HotU
“A Web site for college students subsidized with millions of dollars in state income tax credits is now an adult-oriented Internet portal.” So begins Sean Hao’s article in the Honolulu Advertiser, documenting the “rise and fall” of HotU. The site, which rode the dotcom boom into the dotcom bust in 2004, is used as an example of how some companies that benefited from Act 221 didn’t go anywhere.
While it’s fair to analyze some of the failures in Hawaii’s high-tech industry, it’s bizarre to have HotU dredged up five years after its death. After all, HotU was one of easily dozens of companies that exploded, then imploded, in the dot-com bubble.
It seems the only reason DotU was back on the media’s radar is because someone noticed that the HotU.com domain name is now full of links to adult websites.
The implication is that the tax credit may have been used to “create a Web site geared to adult singles.” The provocative lede suggests that, and the piece quotes Tax Foundation of Hawaii head Lowell Kalapa as saying: “Would something like that have gotten approval if it was asked to be in an appropriation? […] You don’t know what you’re buying when you pass a backdoor expenditure like that.”
Sean Hao writes: “Although HotU the business no longer exists, HotU the Web site endures. The Internet site uses the keywords ‘adult singles chat, adult singles, online dating and singles chat’ to generate search engine Internet traffic.”
Sure, there’s a chance that a former investor or employee of HotU still owns the domain name. But I think it’s much more likely that HotU.com expired without fanfare, and was just snapped up and turned into a link farm by a random party. The same pitiful end befalls hundreds, even thousands of websites every year.
Though the article concedes that the domain owner cannot be determined, it’s clear the heart of the piece is the possibility that taxpayers backed an adult website.
In the comments, “kunamao” claims to be a former HotU employee, and explains:
As someone who worked for HotU, this story has some facts right but the big picture totally wrong. The URL for HotU, like other companies that went out of business, got bought up by someone else who has no affliation with HotU. This story gives the impression that tax dollars went to subsidize Internet porn, which I assure you it definitely did not.
Another user, “strollen,” concludes:
HotU was a legitimate Hi Tech company with a decent business plan to form a social networking site linking Universities and their students, It was not all that different than another social networking start that focused on universities called Facebook. HotU raised $10 million, $6 million that was unrelated to Act 221, in a couple of years. Facebook raised $40 million. Facebook is wildly sucessful, HotU failed.