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Tell HN: Paywalls with workarounds are OK; paywall complaints are off topic
176 points by dang on Sept 6, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 160 comments
Publications like NYT, WSJ, the Economist, and the New Yorker have paywalls that leave ways for readers to work around them. Such stories are OK to post to Hacker News. Yes, this sucks, but the loss of many substantive articles would suck worse. In the future, when someone doesn't understand this, please politely direct them to this thread or to HN's FAQ [1], which now makes this explicit.

Complaints about paywalls are off topic, so please don't post them. The spirit of HN is to discuss specific articles and avoid generic rehashing. Arguments about The Paywall Question are all the same. For an example of what we want to avoid, see [2]. For more on our thinking, see [3].

It's ok to ask how to read an article or to help other users by sharing a workaround. But please do this without going on about paywalls. Focus on the content.

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10178012

3. https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20paywall&sort=byDate&...

I would very much like to see a small tag indicating paywalled content. It is easy to tell that NYT, WSJ etc are paywalled, and some even allow free viewing, however scientific papers and academia seem to have a higher proportion of such sites. Since this community is pretty STEM centic, a lot of papers, journals, and smaller subscription sites are posted here. If users could simply "tag as paywalled" it would be a timesaver and a rather nice feature. Thanks.

HN generally eschews tags, and I fear having to maintain this (edit: I mean manually). But we'll think about it.

Thanks, really appreciate you giving it consideration would be awesome. Cheers. Also, couldn't it just be as simple as adding a "tag as paywalled" button next to the flag option. Then, if 3 people, (or a reputation heuristic meets a threshold) a small wall icon appears after the article. It doesn't have to crank up gravity or affect the post.

Thank you for your contributions to this site.

It could be an optional tag like [dead] or [flagged].

But those are automated. I've added "manually" above to clarify why I fear this.

Would it be practical to introduce a tag system which lets each user manage their own list?

You can do this yourself with a userscript

This would be my preferred option.

I've got a specific use case that's not applicable to most HN readers - here in .au Popular Science links are useless - they do a geo redirect based on your ip address, which redirects me to the homepage of the .com.au version of their site, which in general doesn't even have the original article available...

I'm not sure how configurable userscripts are, but I'd love to add this.

I don't really want to write RES for HackerNews, but it's an interesting project for the last week of my holidays.

Working on this now, no ETA though.

Done. It's terrible. In its own repo so I can have pull requests that add extra sites.

Hit the "Raw" button on https://github.com/voltagex/hackernews-paywalltag/blob/maste... - linking directly is not a good user experience for anyone using GreaseMonkey

I wrote a user script so you don't have to.

I like this idea. Or maybe a checkbox at submission - "this is paywalled" - and have HN offer a link to the Google result for the title of the page instead of a direct link if the box is checked.

This would be perfect. Anyone else remember those "[scribd]" links that used to be next to PDF submissions? There could be a "[google]" link to the Google redirect page (google.com/url?…).

Submitters don't always know if something is paywalled

Done: https://github.com/voltagex/hackernews-paywalltag/blob/maste... - click "Raw" and install it with GreaseMonkey

Yeah, I'd like to see this as well.

It would be also nice if HK incorporated a filter, so people can choose if they want to see posts to paywalled articles or not.

Just click on the link and you'll find out if it is paywalled or not.

Why should someone else spend all the effort to code up a solution to your problem when you believe it is beneath you to click on a link and find out for yourself?

I, and many others it seems, would appreciate it. I simply asked if s/he would consider it as a feature request because although a small gripe, it is quite annoying. It wouldn't be as bothersome if it were not for mobile. Waiting 5+ seconds for several JS libraries to get served to the client, then after about a paragraph of reading a paralyzing modal covers the entire screen asking to subscribe to read the full article. Not so much well known "reputable" sites like wsj, nyt, exonomist, but others. There is limited popup blocking and thus sometimes the page needs to be manually shut off, so one must then find the link and try to find a non-paywalled version in google, possibly repeating that process instead of knowingly bypassing the article for the comments and following the top comment of a helpful community member.

It was a polite feature request, asked civilly.

Complaining about paywalls on HN is strong irony. Paywalls are erected around websites intended to make money.

A significant portion of the HN community are specifically building websites intended to make money. Perhaps the majority in the past, before the Elves left the forest.

What's special about news sites, that compels people to complain about them popping up on HN? If it's really a bad thing, then shouldn't we be complaining about non-news sites that make money (or are trying to?).

Isn't every YC company trying to make money, and charging for what their website offers?


I have no problem with paywalls. In my opinion, that's how sites ought to fund themselves. Ads and tracking suck. So yes, I subscribe to sites that I read frequently. But I'm not going to subscribe to everything that strikes my fancy on HN.

So anyway, what I complain about are sites that load the paywall at first visit. If the site allows five free articles per month, why not just wait until the sixth?

I'd like to think the comments in this thread don't represent HN.

Should we also stop what's you favourite book threads since they are mostly paywalled or ask if we are allowed to link to the torrents?

Paywalls don't make as much sense on the web because of hyperlinking. I don't read articles from just one source (like a newspaper) I'm reading tiny bits from hundreds of different sources in a day.

I'm not sure the best way to monetize that but a paywall on a single domain sort of misses how 99% of the audience actually uses the site.

To extend the irony further, it's products like the Economist that are consistently of a better quality (than non paywalled publications), it seems. I'm no libertarian, but I have yet to find a news publication better than the Economist.

It's not really ironic though. This is a site for discussing articles. Having to pay to play really ruins the experience and excludes a lot of valuable discussion.

Nobody cares about sites trying to make money. What people complain about is when it means an HN reader has to directly pay to participate.

> Having to pay to play really ruins the experience

Indeed it would, which is why it's not happening. That's already clear from the title: "workarounds" means the only price is a bit of annoyance.

Is it OK to mention it when it appears that a poster is spamming paywalled content for a specific site? For example, this guy [1] stopped posting altogether almost immediately after I politely pointed out the sheer volume of paywalled WSJ articles he was posting [2]. It isn't inconceivable that this account (and many others) were created solely to spam paywalled content to HN. If we are forbidden from mentioning such things, I think we are going to have a problem around here with many more attempts by paywalled sites to exploit HN.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=abetaha

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9641922

Sure, that's such a special case that I don't see why it would be a problem. You can also email us (hn@ycombinator.com) when an account is using HN solely to promote a particular site. If we can email them, we often ask people not to do that. And in egregious cases we take away submission privileges.

People out to promote one specific site can happen regardless of if the site has a paywall. Someone could always promote one specific ad supported site as well.

This will get worse. Ad revenue per click for news sites is down so much that most non-paywalled news sites are now utter crap.

If you're posting a story which began with a press release, it's better to find the original press release (probably on PR Newswire) and link to that. At least you can read the hype before it was munged by some minimum-wage Demand Media employee.

It'll be interesting where it goes next. The content on most news sites is complete trash, and they are obviously getting desperate to make money in any way possible.

> paywalls that leave ways for readers to work around them

I would call pasting-the-URL-into-Google-Search less of a intentional workaround and more of a trick to take advantage of the websites' compliance with Google rules.

Not every HN reader would know to do that, or look in the comments for that "workaround."

> Not every HN reader would know to do that.

That's right, so it's ok for people to ask and share how to read an article in the comments. There shouldn't need to be more than one or two comments about this, and it helps everyone focus on the content.

What's off-topic is the generic tangent of paywall complaining.

So all I need to do is read every comment, then I can try to find out how to read the article?

If an article is from a brand-new source that uses a kind of paywall you've never encountered before, then hopefully someone will comment with a workaround. If not, you can ask. Maybe you could even subscribe to publications you like, read regularly, and want to support.

Since almost all paywalled articles are from the WSJ, the Economist, or the NYT, this shouldn't happen to you very often.

Eventually you learn these things, from living life (including reading HN for awhile). And if you can't read an article because there's no workaround, or because you don't know of a workaround:

- Just don't read the article.

- Subscribe. If you can't/won't afford it, then see above, or see below.

- Search for other sources of the information. And post them, it adds to the discussion. Most articles worth taking up space, particularly on paywalled sites, are worth that space in other venues. Almost nothing is exclusive, not after a day anyway.

In the WSJ case, I've noticed that yahoo often prints the article verbatim.

Personally, I just google the key words in the headline and find it. I meant for others who have not had the benefit of experience.

Yes, over time you learn things.

That's one option. You can also google the title or URL of the article (this is the most common workaround); or you can search the comments for the word 'paywall'; or you can purchase a membership or subscription for the paywalled site; or you can skip reading the article.

So all I need to do is try every possible option? And even then it may fail (scientific journals, newspaper archives, etc)?

The links are just huge wastes of time. A prominent tag attached to the article would be ok, but in the absence of any other feature to avoid these time sinks, it makes sense to flag the articles to save others from additional wastage.

The links are a waste of time to you. Other people have useful subscriptions or know the work-arounds and those links are useful to them.

Of the flood of links posted to /newest the paywalled links are nowhere near the most problematic.

I'm curious what people think are the most problematic links?

Or we can stop showing paywalled links to people and not support this crap as a community.

It's either this or ads, and ads don't work anymore because people use adblock.

Most people don't use adblock and the ones that do weren't clicking on ads to start with.

This site has a graph that say 55% of visitors to gaming sites use adblock http://contently.com/strategist/2015/07/10/why-adblockers-sh... . I would assume hacker news visitors would have a similar number. That would be an interesting thing to measure. Someone who gets to the front page of HN should measure what percent of people with a HN referer block ads.

And many ads are paid per view, not per click.

I don't agree with the moderation decision, but given what this site is 'supposed' to be I suggest you step up your game.

In practice, this is memoized per site. Few HN readers don't know to open incognito windows for NYT pieces.

Chrome also allows cookie blocking, no need to interrupt your browsing workflow.

Good point. We don't use such techniques when moderating because it seems important not to insulate ourselves from the typical reader experience.

If these paywall sites are being officially supported, why not reroute users directly to the google search for these articles?

I've thought about trying to solve this problem with software, but it feels like a line we probably shouldn't cross. Hence the current answer: it's fine for users to help each other read articles. That seems unimpeachable, whereas having HN officially undermine paywalls seems like a Schrödinger can of worms if not a classical one.

I disagree.

The news sites have made the economic calculation that allowing access to traffic from content aggregators like Google (which is the price of being discoverable by Google) is worthwhile.

The idea that only sufficiently large aggregators/traffic sources should get a special pass seems preposterous; anyone trying to enforce would be engaged in downright anticompetitive behavior.

The cat is already dead, can we please open the box & acknowledge the source of the foul smell?

Maybe you can automatically put paywall bypass instructions in the "TEXT" portion of the URL submissions?

edit: The auto-generated bypass instructions will get the top-sorted/top-comment favoritism that we normally try to avoid from users.

If sites don't want people to bypass paywalls, then they would not allow "special" ways to bypass paywalls. The fact that some paywalls have special referrer bypass rules reeks of financially motivated favoritism and entrenched interests preventing competition; the next search engine startup to be created is going to have a rough time of it.

That sounds like it would be a worse experience for readers who are paying subscribers of the article's source.

Because it doesn’t work everywhere.

Since I can't be the only one looking for things to break, I'll ask: What if I complain about a paywall and provide a mirror at the same time?

Then I suppose your remark would be partly on and partly off topic.

Mirrors and workarounds should be in the post to begin with. No link (not just on HN, on the internet) should lead to paywalled content without clear indication. Providing a mirror or at least spelling out the best workarounds (Yes every.single.time) should be mandatory.

Edit: I understand it could be controversial for HN to officially push links that pierce paywalls. But a tag users can avoid wasting time would be appropriate, just like a link to a discussion of common workarounds.

Would we also need to carve out an exception for the typically vapid "announcement" articles advertising paywalled academic journal papers?

The announcement-mills (phys.org comes to mind but there are plenty of others including nature.com itself) are not really "original" sources, the papers are, but such announcement-advertisement articles are submitted regularly.

Finding the freely available pre-print and/or author provided copies without resorting to (ahem) other workarounds is a pain but useful.

I'm reluctant to say that paywalls with no workaround should be banned outright, but obviously they're not covered by the "ok" policy.

Sometimes people post these and others respond with links to freely available versions, or articles about the work. In such cases we're happy to update the URLs.

We're not happy about announcement mills either (and those sites are penalized on HN), but that's arguably a separate problem.

My concern is with the interaction of the "original source" rule and the "ok for paywalls with workarounds" rule preventing most articles on new research. The "original source" papers are often locked behind paywalls (or embargoes) when the insipid announcement mill advertisement articles start appearing. Even supposedly reputable official university press sites are thoroughly guilty these overtly promotional teaser articles. The trouble is, lightweight advertisement articles are often the only things we can (legally) access when the "news" first becomes public.

As much as I hate to admit it, the sad state of suckage for announcement mills (including university press sites) actually does have some minor advantages; which would you be more inclined to read and up-vote?

"Astronomers detect furthest galaxy yet with Keck telescope"


"Lyman-Alpha Emission From A Luminous Z=8.68 Galaxy: Implications For Galaxies As Tracers Of Cosmic Reionization"

Non-Astronomers would be lucky if they understand the details presented in just the abstract of the paper, and I say this as a non-astronomer who does _NOT_ understand all of said details. Reading original source papers takes far more effort than reading lightweight announcements, and this gets to the fundamental question of, "What do we want HN to be?"

The status quo of interested HN users finding and comment-linking to the original source papers (if available) on the puff-piece stories is a lot of manual work and some stuff gets missed, but it really does tend to work out reasonably well. If we forbid paywalls without workarounds and require original sources, then we will miss out on a lot of great new research. Besides infringement, there is no easy answer for this situation.

I’d like to complain: For me, from Germany, the Paywall workarounds for WSJ do NOT work at all. This means I can’t read those articles, and have to use proxies to do so. This is not acceptable.

EDIT: One solution would be to use a link to a webcache, or screenshot, waybackmachine, or similar

When you say "This is not acceptable", what do you mean? If a link is accessible from Germany without a proxy but not the US, would that be acceptable? What if it's accessible to you in Germany and me in the US without a proxy, but not to someone in China unless they use a proxy?

So maybe it's OK to require a proxy from China? But what if a user in North Korea can't access a proxy? Should that link also be prohibited on HN? How is HN supposed to know what consists of an acceptable workaround, and what does not? Are the standards different for different countries?

It seems simpler to assume that the articles that get upvotes have people who want to read them, and that if people want to read the article everyone is raving about, they will find a way. It's Hacker News after all.

If a link is not available to everyone, link to archive.org, or archive.is, or Google webcache.

This means everyone can read it.

People do that in the threads, which is helpful. It's usually better not to supplant the canonical URL of a story in its link.

This problem will get a lot easier when we have a way to group the related URLs for a story. That's something we are eventually going to work on. Indeed, I wonder if it couldn't turn into a broader solution to the paywall question.

The Google scholar approach might work as a format. Official link as the hypertext, publicly accessible link (if available) in the right column. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=1273530321270058317...

Same here in Spain, I think it's geoIP based.

A: This is something pretty terrible and should be in violation of search engine rules. So perhaps file a complaint.

B: Even Google gets on the geo-IP bus and will outright 404 pages in some zones with zero indication that the URL was ever OK. Recent example was the Google Solar Roof thing - in some countries, it was just a 404, nothing else.

Maybe there should be some flag about GeoIP'd posts?

Or just outright banning them?

Same here in Brazil.

Long ago in the mists of time, some Usenet groups had a wonderful policy of self-moderation. If you wanted to post something, you had to figure out how to add an "Approved" header to your own post. A hassle the first couple times you had to do it, but great for overall signal-to-noise after that: http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/AltHackers

I'm occasionally tempted to think that HN should in the same direction: no links whatsoever, everything is plain text. You want to read the article, you cut-and-paste. Or write your own browser extension, or whistle it into a cell-phone or something. Terrible for rapid reading, but would definitely cut down on the complaining about paywall tags. One-click links probably violate some Amazon patent anyway.

Taking it a step farther, all submissions must be done rot13. If you can't figure out how to translate a link to rot13 (or install an appropriate browser extension), maybe you shouldn't be posting here. Not because you are inherently unworthy, but because you haven't bothered to read and follow the instructions. The instructions could be given on the bottom of the guidelines page, and all improperly formatted submissions could redirect to the guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

I feel like it's either that, or more all-Erlang days:

  You can help the spike subside by making HN look extra 
  boring. For the next couple days it would be better to have 
  posts about the innards of Erlang than women who create 
  sites to get hired by Twitter.
pg, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=512145

And while you are at it, get off my lawn. :)

Gubhtu V ybir lbhe cubar juvfgyvat cebcbfny, n orggre vqrn zvtug or gb unir n phgbhg bs na naguebcbzbecuvp pnegbba punenpgre jvgu uvf unaq uryq bhg ng n cnegvphyne urvtug juvyr ubyqvat n fvta fnlvat, "Lbh zhfg or guvf vagryyrpghnyyl vagrerfgrq gb rawbl guvf fvgr."

If the workarounds are so commonly accepted, can you start automagically editing the links to be the google/url redirect bypass then?

Or add a [bypass paywall] link, like there used to be a [scribd] link? ;).

Even just a [paywall] like you do [pdf] to warn people not to bother clicking it would help greatly.

[pdf] is added by software.

Yup. I thought about exactly the same reasons you described there; that's why I put a ";)".

But while we're at it, how about a [cache] link? More often than not we end up overloading the submitted site and there's always a comment with Google Cache link.

Under what circumstances will this decision be reconsidered? It would be very bad to adopt a permanent policy that prevented any discussion of itself, since there would be no way to correct any such policy if it turned out to be a bad one.

If it has bad consequences we'll reconsider it, like any decision.

This might be the right thread to ask this: the usual workaround for WSJ of googling for the article never works for me. Neither do the google-redirecting links people post. Anybody else have this problem?

You should install refcontrol, it is a firefox extension. It allow you to create rules for your Referer header. Make a rule so that wsj.com receives the referer www.google.com.

I should add that this invariably happens when I don't have the time to debug things. Then nothing works: clearing cookies, going incognito, switching browsers. But of course when I go looking for examples right now everything seems ok.

I'll keep refcontrol in mind next time it happens, thanks. I'm not sure why setting the header this way would work when clicking directly on the link or the google search page doesn't, but heck I have no model for this behavior anymore.

Perhaps add [paywalled] to the post title, link it to the FAQ entry and expand latter with a list of common workarounds?

I think it's safest for readers to help each other rather than for HN to push specific workarounds. If someone wanted to make an unofficial list, I don't see why they couldn't link to it.

At least add the tag though so readers that don't have subscriptions to these things can know immediately if they need to skip the article or look at the comments to figure out how they can cheat to read.

For one, I do not consider this OK.

For two, declaring rules and then declaring that no-one is allowed to talk about said rules sets a very dangerous precedent.

For three, pretty darn ironic that both this and http://deathtobullshit.com/ are on the front page at the same time.

Meta discussions, such as this thread, are ok from time to time. But they don't really make anyone smarter. HN exists for YC's purposes, if those don't align with mine, then I am free to vote with my metaphorical feet and literal clicks [or rather non-clicks]. Standards are what makes a community and there are many others with different standards and precedents.

My interpretation isn't that no one can talk about the rules, just that the comments on an article should be about the article content. You could still post your own Ask HN to discuss the rules.

A lot of off topic comments would be better served being made into full-blown blog posts (even if the author has no blog otherwise; one-off pages like Gists work fine for this) and then submitted. If HN wants to talk about the topic, the submitted page will get voted up like any other article, and discussion will ensue.

Generally, Ask HN topics shouldn't be meta discussions [nevermind meta complaints]. There's a feature request policy, and it's a potential conduit for bright solutions to policy problems that bypass debate.

We wouldn't bother bringing this up if it weren't a major and increasing problem in the threads, such as https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10178012.

It's also easily derived from the values of this site, which are no secret (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10179248) and have not changed.

I think it is a subject that should be brought up. I do not think that a flat-out "stop complaining about it" is the proper response - and, to be frank, it disappoints me that that is the approach you seem to have decided to take.

It very much reminds me of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand - namely, that the response of a link aggregator to more and more of the links it aggregates disappearing is to say "no it's not, there are <insert increasingly complex and increasingly quasi-legal workarounds here>, now stop complaining".

It's not just now that should be worrying, it's the continuation of the trend. And a website as major as this within its domain is one of the few that has more than a snowball's chance in Hell to divert said trend, assuming it acts in a timely fashion. But this is just waiting around like a lobster in a pot of water being slowly heated.

Oh we probably agree more than disagree about the trend, and it's certainly on-topic for HN in the sense that stories about it and debates about it are welcome here in their own context. Choking other threads like weeds is another matter. We've noticed that becoming more of a problem lately, hence this post.

So is it acceptable to post separate threads about the topic of paywalls, then? Because if so, please make that explicit. At the very least, I did not get that impression, and reading through this thread it would appear I am not alone. And - assuming it is acceptable - how? Ask HN does not seem appropriate. Tell HN does not seem appropriate. HN doesn't generally have discussion threads on their own right. We are being told that other threads are not appropriate. The HN guidelines say "Please don't post on HN to ask or tell us something (e.g. to ask us questions about Y Combinator, or to ask or complain about moderation)." So where is appropriate, then?

Also, the reason why said discussions are starting to "choke other threads like weeds" is because it is rather hard to have a discussion about something when one has to resort to increasingly-complex and quasi-legal methods (if not downright illegal in some places) just to read the content people are trying to have a discussion about.

Write blog post about it and submit it?

Again, "Please don't post on HN to ask or tell us something (e.g. to ask us questions about Y Combinator, or to ask or complain about moderation)."

Add a way to indicate that an article is pay walled before you ban talking about it. Otherwise you are just trying to police people from talking about the elephant in the room.

It isn't the elephant in the room. It's been the status quo for as long as HN has existed. You could hardly find more common publications here than the NYT.

The objections seem to be largely ideological, and reciting ideology is the essence of uninteresting in HN's sense. If someone comes up with something new and clever to say about paywalls, by all means post it as a story and let the community have at it. Repeating complaints for the zillionth time, not so much.

>It isn't the elephant in the room.

If it wasn't, you wouldn't be implementing a policy to stop people from talking about it.

It seems we understand that phrase differently. People certainly have not stopped talking about it.

Great move, in my opinion. I always found the complaining to be tedious, since bypassing these this is so easy for people who are good with computers. Which people on this site ought to be.

This thread itself is pretty telling. As far as I can tell its made up of two groups:

1. People complaining about paywalls

2. People complaining about poor quality content

I'd wager that most HN users are using AdBlock as well. How do you reconcile this with the above complaints? I'm sure some users restrict AdBlock on certain sites, but I suspect it's far from the majority.

Does this apply for academic links as well? I.e. can we post a mirror to a paywalled study?

I commented about this at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10179203, though it isn't a complete answer.

Apparently yes, think what would happen if HN would lose Nature, Science, Cell, IEEE, etc. original content!

Several of those don't have real or full paywalls anymore.

I was thinking more of Elsevier, which actively sues websites that publish mirrors of papers (see https://torrentfreak.com/elsevier-cracks-down-on-pirated-sci...).

There are indeed a lot of high IF journals in Elsevier (152 on Computer Science alone) so if pay-only news articles are allowed I don't see why hard science shouldn't, right?

I think you may have misunderstood. I'm not asking if we're allowed to submit links to Elsevier. I'm asking if we're allowed to include a mirror in the comments of an Elsevier submission. This is different from news articles because the news paywalls are only meant to kick in after a bit of usage and are easily avoided by new window or similar, while studies generally require a subscription or paying a fee. The "workaround" for those involves someone with a subscription downloading it and uploading elsewhere, and whether that's allowed on HN wasn't clear from this post.

I'll go out on a limb and answer that on Dan's behalf: Yes, please post these links in the comments. They are a benefit the community. Dan's needs to walk a fine line between having working links and not being sued by evil companies. This is what he is referring to in some of his comments when he mentions 'lines that should not be crossed'. He can't (read 'would be wise not to') offer you blanket permission in advance to post such links. The link may even be removed in the unlikely (?) event that HN receives a threatening letter from Elsevier, and at that point, a policy may be loudly proclaimed. But until you are explicitly told not to, please keep posting the links that let people read the publicly funded research.

What about http://sci-hub.org/ ?

Damn sorry, I did misunderstood your first comment indeed! I totally align with your question: is pasting the content on the comments (or a link to the contest illegally reuploaded) an allowed workaround?

It doesn't seem like it would be too much work to automate the paywall workaround by automatically redirecting people through Google. Is there a reason this isn't being done? Seems like better UX.

Yes, it's tempting to try to automate the problem away, or at least reduce it through software. But see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10179116.

At Blendle we try to solve this with micropayments. NYT, WSJ and The Economist (and many others) are already working with us in The Netherlands en Germany https://medium.com/on-blendle/blendle-a-radical-experiment-w...

In my opinion, HN should be a place where people discuss about articles that are freely accessible to everyone.

Articles from sites that are accessible to a limited group of people have no place here. Instead, they should be discussed in the comments of the article itself.

(as of right now, this post is 2 hours old and has 102 comments on a Sunday evening. What's wrong with us?)

Why do these sites have an SEO exception?

If they didn't, Google would ban them for showing different content to the Google crawler and to users. They wouldn't get much traffic if they had a paywall that didn't allow this.

"A workaround exists, it's the user's fault for not knowing it" is terrible interaction design.

Having links on the site fail arbitrarily devalues the entire page. Users aren't stopping and thinking "hey, is clicking this link going to waste my time?" - which results in the entire system being perceived as less reliable and trustworthy.

I agree that such discussions are off-topic, but is there a better way to handle these articles than "RTFM, noob"?

You're quoting things I didn't say. The snark-amplification mechanism of putting the most uncharitable spin you can possibly think of on someone's remarks is one of the worsts you can do in comments here. I spend a lot of time asking users not to do it to other users.

Of course the paywalls suck. Is there any user who has to deal with more of these annoyances than we ourselves do? There can't be many.

The question is the lesser of two evils. Anyone who doesn't get what a disaster it would be for HN to lose the NYT, WSJ, Economist, and New Yorker doesn't get HN in the first place.

I think you're over inflating the value of articles that a bunch of people can't read. If this policy is even half consistent, nobody will be able to complain when there are things posted that there is absolutely no workaround for other than paying (or having someone copy and repost). Postings like that absolutely deserve complaint IMO because it punishes those without privilege.

> the value of articles that a bunch of people can't read

"Paywalls with workarounds" means people can read them. Obviously we care about that—we've explicitly let everyone know that users are welcome to help each other do so.

Re value, people disagree about value judgments but someone has to make the call, and it's the same now as it has always been.

I can at least tell you what it's based on: HN wants to maximize the quality of the articles on the front page and the quality of the comments in the threads. Sites like the NYT and the New Yorker increase the former. Repetitive complaining about paywalls reduces the latter. Hence the above.

With articles like NYT taking the place of an article without a paywall (the front page has limited real estate), all you know is that NYT articles result in crappy discussions because users have difficulty reading the article and rightly complain.

Rather than banning the crappy discussion, why not ban the articles that result in it?

Because many of them are high-quality articles, and intellectual curiosity is what HN tries to optimize for.

Obviously the discussions on such articles aren't all crappy. Often they're good. That doesn't mean that off-topic generic tangents about paywalls aren't a problem. All generic tangents are a problem, and this was an increasingly common one.

It astonishes me how the people making objections in this discussion ignore that we're talking about articles that are possible for nearly everyone to read. That's what paywalls with workarounds means. It means readable with a bit of a nuisance.

There have been a few legitimate counterpoints—for example, if it's true that in some countries you can't google WSJ articles to read them, that's a problem. But mostly this argument has charged ahead as if we were talking about unreadable content, with lots of indignant points being made on that basis and little stopping to notice that it's false.

Banning people from talking about it seems rather childish though. If people are talking about something off topic it's usually because it was something jarring enough to distract from the point. "the beatings will continue until morale improves"

It astonishes me how this policy is so favorable to a money sucking strategy yet it ignores the myriad of other usability complaints that frequently pop up (e.g. Why is/isn't this on medium, wtf is this scroll jacking, why is the js so big, why is the font so small/big).

> so favorable to a money sucking strategy

None of the workarounds cost anything—that's what "workaround" means. Your comment is a good example of what I was talking about: indignation blithely proceeding on a false premise without stopping to consider it. The fact is that these articles are freely accessible with a bit of work. Had you said "time-sucking", you'd have had a point.

> ignores the myriad of other usability complaints that frequently pop up

You're right that those are also off-topic and mostly of little value. But we can't come up with a complete set of rules to cover everything under all cases. Even if we could, the community would reject it, and even if they didn't, what a miserable way to live.

Thanks for the ad hominem response, it really reminds me what's great about this site.

Given that you did put in quotes things that dang didn't say, it sure seemed like dang was describing your actual actions, not saying anything about you or your intentions. (Well, maybe 'snark amplification'.)

I don't think it was ad hominem, but it's possible that I misinterpreted your comment as snarkier than you meant it. If so, I'm sorry.

The ad hominem was "doesn't get HN in the first place". It's very dismissive of people who disagree with you. And it's not the first time you've responded like this.

I don't get it? No, you don't get it.

Oh, I see now. Sorry about that. Normally I'd delete it, but in this case I suppose I'd better leave it in.

I still don't see any ad hominem, and as a statement of HN's very specific values it seems obvious to me, but you're right that I shouldn't have said it in a dismissive way.

for those of us that fail to jump thru hoops to work around the paywall, the paywall is the content ... it's not off-topic at all

What will you do when those workarounds disappear?

What will you do when every article on the homepage is paywalled?

What will you do when users provide free mirrors, either pasted in the comments section or hosted elsewhere?

Will you be providing easy-to-use guides for users (new or otherwise) on how to effectively utilize such workarounds?

I'd like to add my voice to the calls for some kind of flair obviating that a submitted link leads to paywalled content, so that I may avoid such links.

I don't know. If the situation changes, we can adapt.

Please clarify: is pasting the full text/screenshot of the article in a comment an acceptable workaround under this new policy?

The more these questions get into legal areas the less I can help you. YC's lawyers are charming, but moderation of this site has pretty much failed if we have to resort to asking them things.

But let me take a crack at this. No, pasting the full text of an article directly into the thread is not a good workaround. First, it gums up the thread. Second, obvious copyright issues.

Therefore, if there's a standard workaround like "incognito window", "turn cookies off", or "google the article title", the way to help people is to teach them that. If none of those things work, linking to a different way to read the content (such as a Google cache link or an archive link) is probably ok. Beyond that my crystal ball gets cloudy.

Which "workarounds" are approved by HN? Copying the article verbatim to pastebin is a workaround.

That is also a copyright violation.

The workarounds are arguably a circumvention of DRM. Sites that have paywalls have chosen not to participate in social news type engagements (unless they make specific exemptions for sites like this, rendering this whole discussion unnecessary), and it seems appropriate to honor their intentions.

Is it though? They are allowing use if you have a Google refer, the "circumvention" is just linking to a Google search endpoint that redirects you to their website. You entered in the prescribed way which they made an explicit method for.

> What will you do when every article on the homepage is paywalled?

We'll all do whatever the overall population of the web ends up doing, should this come to pass. Which will be some combination of: subscribe, subscribe to an aggregated subscription (like cable TV), or don't read it.

What? I thought the point of this thread was to use workarounds instead of paying the toll?

Legal workarounds, as far as I know. The only reason the Google trick works is because the sites allow it. Note that they don't allow it directly from HN, the point being they control it, not Google.

Cookies and private windows only work because the sites have a free views counter. They could stop at zero if they wanted.

I can't see the HN mods advocating anything illegal.

If every article on the homepage was paywalled, it would because the balance had tipped in sites' favor, and they no longer feel compelled to allow workarounds. Almost everyone that you might think could charge for their service would be charging, the result being every/most articles on HN's homepage paywalled.

In that future, people would commonly subscribe to news sites. I can imaging that aggregating subscriptions services would come to be, something like cable, where you pay one low-ish price and have access to lots of sites, without having to manage individual subscriptions.

And now that I think about that more, that could end up replacing what cable is now, and the giant broadband companies would either become the dumb pipes that they truly are, or become those subscription aggregators.

Good! And people who complain about paywalls should be banned.

I'd much rather read a primary source than read a blog that summarizes a splog that links to another blog that wrote about a headline that appeared in the NY Times.

I pay for NYTimes, WSJ, ACM Digital Library, etc. And most often the best information is from these sites.

Yeah! Screw poor people!

From (2): > We all hate paywalls, but an HN without NYT, WSJ, The Economist, The New Yorker etc. would obviously suck so much worse that anyone who doesn't get that doesn't get HN.

This statement is up for debate. I don't get why you continue to declare this like it is settled. Paywalls do limit access to content, no matter how easy or numerous the workarounds. In my opinion, the site suffers when paywalled links are posted. I don't think it's a just-so story that NYT/Economist/WSJ links are so important to HN that we simply must suffer their existence.

Declaring discussion of paywalls thoughtcrime is not good for the community. Suggesting people who can flag should not flag because they should figure out which of the 18 different workarounds they can use to read content is also not appropriate.

> Just so it's clear: this is a sure way to lose your flagging privileges on HN

Wow. So flagging an article that you can't read (by design), is a way to lose the ability to flag. What exactly are you supposed to flag, then? If you can't flag "this page just asks me for a credit card", then what exactly can you flag?

It's been pointed out to me that I shouldn't have said "anyone who doesn't get that doesn't get HN" because it sounds dismissive. So I'd word that differently now. The underlying point stands: many of the best articles posted to HN come from these publications. Wiping all that out—which a strong anti-paywall rule would do—would be disastrous to the intellectual curiosity that is core to HN.

> they should figure out which of the 18 different workarounds they can use

Workarounds are a nuisance but this exaggerates it. Overwhelmingly these articles come from a small number of sites that have the same few workarounds. Most people have internalized them long ago (or installed software to do so), and for anyone who hasn't, it's fine to share info like "open an incognito window" or "google the article title" in the threads. What's not fine is to turn every thread into the same old argument about paywalls.

> what exactly can you flag

You should flag things that shouldn't be on HN in the first place. But a New Yorker article on, say, Nabokov and butterflies obviously should be on HN. (Obviously, that is, given the mandate and history of the site.) Articles on offbeat topics that lead outside HN's core grooves are the most endangered species here. We need more of those. Flagging them is an abuse of flagging. Sometimes people do that because of paywalls, even when the paywall has a trivial workaround like an incognito window. That's what I was referring to.

Intellectual diversity is the founding value of this site: https://news.ycombinator.com/hackernews.html. That's what I meant re "getting" HN. But I'll try to be more helpful than dismissive when communicating it.

"I don't get why you continue to declare this like it is settled."

Because they run the site and, I imagine, are representing the broader group who ultimately make decisions about it?

I don't get why you continue to declare this like it is settled.

It's good to be the king.


The best way to keep these "off-topic" comments off HN is to make the sacrifice and stop rewarding those sites with traffic.

That might be the "most effective" way to keep those comments off HN, but it's not the "best". Remember what HN actually is. This isn't a site that only exists to champion free-content-for-everyone-at-all-times-no-matter-what. Links are submitted to distribute news and foster good discussion.

The goal of this move isn't "stop people from talking about paywalls at all times". The goal here is to increase the average quality of discussion that takes place, when a paywall article is submitted. Different things.

I think that the content is at least a constructive contribution, even though I'm not sure that I agree with it; but is anything useful really conveyed by the '-1' at the beginning? (I don't know how voting works, but I doubt that "Tell HN" posts by admins are materially affected by up- or down-votes; but, even if they are, what's the point of advertising, rather than just explaining, your vote?)

If the link as posted in the story does not work for people, it does not work. That's your fault.

"Workarounds" which are already incorporated into the link by the time I see them are fine. Workarounds that require me to download seven apps and swing a chicken over my head while ROT13'ing the URL are... not.

It is the site's job (HN's job) to provide usable links to its readers. That is literally your only job, the only thing you are here for. If it fails, it fails, and it should be criticized for that.

> It is the site's job (HN's job) to provide usable links to its readers.

I think any talk about the responsibilities of an ad-free site to its readers, much less a statement that its job is to behave in the way that one of its readers prefers, is probably presumptuous at best.

>It is the site's job (HN's job) to provide usable links to its readers.

No, the site's job is to aggregate links and provide a platform for discussion. Providing usable links is the responsibility of the people posting the links - other readers. Links which don't generate quality discussion will be killed any number of ways, but the quality of user-generated content is entirely on the users generating it.

In this case, the value of being able to discuss certain kinds of content with minor workarounds is greater than not having that content at all.

Ugh, the entitlement about paywalls on this thread is obnoxious. Pay for the publication/article, don't pay for it, but why should anyone's opinion about paywall's dictate link etiquette/form, etc. If you run into a link and discover it's to pay-walled content simply move on, you've only wasted like 3 seconds of your life.

Also, I'll be creating a scraper that analyzes users' comment histories to determine when they complain about paywalls if they've ever complained about the state of journalism or scientific funding. If they have, I will link to the evidence so they can be duly down-voted, ridiculed, and shamed.

> Pay for the publication/article, don't pay for it, but why should anyone's opinion about paywall's dictate link etiquette/form, etc.

Because it directly affects this community. It's a link aggregator site for heaven's sake.

> If you run into a link and discover it's to pay-walled content simply move on, you've only wasted like 3 seconds of your life.

I could take this argument ad infinitum. Why didn't you just move on instead of posting a comment here? Why does anyone say anything critical ever instead of just moving on?

> Also, I'll be creating a scraper that analyzes users' comment histories to determine when they complain about paywalls if they've ever complained about the state of journalism or scientific funding. If they have, I will link to the evidence so they can be duly down-voted, ridiculed, and shamed.

Great, vigilante justice and public ridicule over a topic you supposedly don't care one whit about.

Geese, I was joking about the scraper.

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