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Ask HN: Why is there a black bar added on top?
149 points by t3ra on Mar 22, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments
Why has the black bar been added on top of the title bar ? http://i.imgur.com/O8FU6km.png

To all people saying "We should add some link to the news because I don't know who Andy Grove was". C'mon, this is the community of people who don't need to have everything delivered on the silver plate - either you know, or you spend a while and find out by yourself. That's something we do every day.

I saw the black bar and thought "huh, who died?". I then briefly scanned the front page, saw that someone called Andy Grove had died. It took two seconds to do a Google search and I had my answer.

Its really not very difficult (or time consuming) to find out who it is.

Oh, I saw the black bar and wondered, didn't make the connection it was for someone that died.

I suppose if you haven't seen it before, there's no way of knowing it.

> I saw the black bar and thought "huh, who died?"

It's highly selective though. There are some great Hackers who have passed away recently and get no black bar at all. I guess you don't want to do it every single day, but then why do it at all ?

That's the biggest problem with the black bar in a status-conscious community like HN - it unintentionally becomes a prize. Certain deaths earn it, other deaths don't.

I highly doubt anyone in any HN-related community is living their life hoping to get a black bar for a day.

It's not much of a prize, but the fact that it goes up for some tech-related deaths and not others makes it a de facto posthumous award, whether it's intended to be or not. People inevitably talk about how someone "deserves" the black bar, as if it should be something earned and not given.

We're status-conscious? I have to say that has never actually occurred to me.

A prize for whom? The dead people?


Except it COULD have been a black bar for Brussels.

In fact I've just arbitrarily decided that it is, because there is no official word either way. If I go off and do research into what happened today Brussels makes just as much or as little sense as Andy Grove. Both are on the front page.

Anyone who disagrees needs to show me why it is an Andy Grove bar instead of a Brussels bar? And, yes, I am intentionally being obstinate to make a point.

Or you can take the "for whom the bell tolls approach"

I noticed it on here last night (ET) between news of Grove's death and the Brussels bombing. Not trying to be pedantic, but it definitely seems to be in honor of Andy Grove.

I didn't. I got to work this morning and saw it. It easily could have been either.

Given that terrorist bombings like Brussels happen with much greater frequency in other parts of the world, do you really think HN will only choose to 'mourn' when it happens to a Western European country? It's for Andy.

Pretty simple really. The black bar is for tech related losses. Otherwise, the black bar would be there everyday.

It might make sense to add an "alt" attribute with a name to the bar, or perhaps a small link in memorial.

Accessibility tip - you're probably thinking of the "title" attribute. Agreed though.

Actually, probably better, aria-label:


Edit: FWIW I as a blind user didn't notice the bar. Glad this story pointed it out. Kind of wish HN would update its layout to be more accessible. There are a ton of aspects of HN that are entirely unusable or painful--no easy way to navigate comments by thread, no accessible indication of downvote status, no easy accessible way to scan the front page other than pressing tab 6-7 times to navigate between entry titles... I suppose some of that isn't a huge deal--I just don't notice or care about downvotes and speak my mind (within reason) as a result--but the whole tabbing half a dozen times to hear each new headline is a bit ridiculous.

Anyhow, sorry to derail the black bar discussion. Respects to the deceased, but I'd still like to see HN become more accessible and inclusive. When you literally can't notice things like this then they become aspects of a community you aren't included in.

Agreed! The 'up' / 'down' vote arrows are really too small for 'not-jet-disabled' (or regular) users and I'd them test to see if two arrows placed next to each other would be more usable. Another one: comments. I usually read the comments first but clicking that on mobile is hard as well...

> Anyhow, sorry to derail the black bar discussion.

IMNHO Not at all! Just like I love the fact that someone that didn't realize the meaning of the bar, simply asked (and so helped others figured it out), I love your input on accessibility. I'm sure I'm not the only one that hadn't considered the accessibility implications of such "semantic" style/design choices. FWIW, I think it's a bit crazy to use a table with a 1px image and background colour (if I'm reading the source right?), when a "border-top: thick solid black" would do the trick. But then again, HN does stick to a strict 90s table-layout. That still leaves out the question of where/how to communicate the change to those that are vision impaired.

I wish development of the HN code was a bit more open - as far as I know, the current code, has evolved[1] a bit from what's currently readily accessible as FOSS[0] -- but doing something with the layout to help accessibility while still staying true to the spirit of HN really shouldn't be that hard. And I'm sure the result would be greatly helped by some of HN readers that are able to do the change themselves, for themselves.

As for general accessibility, I think everyone would want vote-buttons that work (I'm using vimperator, so on Desktop, it doesn't really matter if the arrows are invisible on a big monitor - I just know that the "first" link-hint is "up", and the second is "down", indications of which way one voted (and a grace period to change/cancel), and a way to hide threads.

The latter is especially useful if the first comment on a story is a controversial tangent.

As for the black bar: Having those that change the bar submit a story at the same time (eg: the "Andy Glover has died"-story that was on the front page earlier), and have the bar link to the HN submission might not be a bad idea. We sadly live in a time where it might not be obvious, even in a relatively small community, for who or what the black bar express sympathy.

[0] "Anarki: a publicly modifiable 'wiki-like' fork of Arc Lisp (http://www.paulgraham.com/arc.html)" https://github.com/arclanguage/anarki

[1] "Ask HN: Is the Hacker News Team Actively Developing Arc?" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11240350

Thank you for bringing this up.

Or, alternatively, we could just get off HN and get some work done.

What's that you say? But I'm writing this on HN? Oh right, er, uh..

/me takes his own advice and closes HN.

@hn, since it's not the first time this question pops up, for increased "discoverability", what about making the black bar a <a> that links to the associated news? This, or pushing it even forwards, adding text?

I think that would take away a lot more than it adds. There's something poignant about a simple, unadorned 5px #000000 line. The lack of text or a link sends the message, "This person was significant enough that HN readers already know who it was, and why their life was so important."

It's like flying a flag at half-mast; you don't attach a sign with the person's name.

I visit HN every day and I am either dumb or missed something but I had no idea why the black bar was at the top. I assumed it was an error.

Unless you know what it is, it's really not obvious at all. A flag at half-mast is a commonly known thing, someone important died. A 5 pixel black bar at the top of a site is not used anywhere but here.

A 5 pixel black bar at the top of a site is not used anywhere but here.

Insularity, exclusion and gradually-learned shared secrets and customs are one of the ways communities define, distinguish, and stabilize themselves.

I agree with all that; I just didn't notice the black bar. I surf almost exclusively on mobile though, and therefore have extremely low expectations.

No. That's just an excuse for being lazy.


Yeah, a 5px black bar isn't gonna bring us any closer.

> A 5 pixel black bar at the top of a site is not used anywhere but here.

I recall black bars being used on various sites, although usually not for individuals. Similar to black mourning bands worn on clothing, or how sometimes newspapers will print black front pages. Black isn't a universal colour for death and mourning across cultures of course, but it is rather universal in western cultures at least.

At any rate, as I mentioned in another comment, I'm glad people ask when they don't know. And I'm not convinced having a link to an obituary wouldn't be a good thing, but apparently some people feel strongly against it.

>Unless you know what it is, it's really not obvious at all.

You either know what it means or you don't. Did you know what a flag at half-mast meant the first time you saw it too? You learn what it means and move on.

I noticed it and didn't know what it was. Now that I do, I feel that leaving it simple, akin to a flag at half mast, is more fitting than any functionality.

C'mon, "no idea"? There are three mentions of Andy Grove on the front page right now, and there's been at least one the entire time that the bar's been up.

I can assume lots of things raldi. I could also assume it's because of Brussels, but I would be wrong. I could assume it's because of a mudslid, still wrong.

Regardless of what you say it's not obvious... If it was there wouldn't be this thread.

I initially assumed the bar was for Brussels as well until reading further and then felt a bit silly.

I am aware of what the black bar represents however it is not always consistently used. for example, Ian Murdock who I consider to have a great impact on GNU/Linux in general was not given one after his passing.

I definitely believe Ian Murdock was deserving of a black bar as well. Debian is one of the most widely used Linux distributions.

I know that this site does not deal in current events outside the tech/startup community but my first thought was an error. My second thought was the Brussels bombings. I did not know who Andy Grove. I now know he was a significant figure in the community but the black bar did clearly state that to me. In general, I don't think that some background information on the person takes away from their significance.

The problem is that the black bar isn't always there when someone "significant to the HN community dies".

The black bar is an admin/moderator decision, and because it's not applied to all front page deaths, it's hard for headline skimmers to associate the black bar with a consistent pattern.

That is why the black bar confused me - it's when the black bar isn't there that throws me off, because it makes me doubt the assumption that someone died.

I just showed up, and I assumed it was due to the attacks on Brussels. Currently, the #5 post is "Safety Check for Brussels." It makes more sense that it's for Andy Grove, now that I think about it, but I agree with others that a small amount of text could help clarify things.

I also assumed it was related to Brussels. I did know Grove passed away, but I didn't notice the bar yesterday. I only noticed it this morning, so it was associated to Brussels in my mind.

Agreed, except when you have no idea what it's related to. Then there's nothing poignant because there's no message conveyed, the contrary of the initial objective.

Like an4rchy mentioned here in a comment, yesterday I thought it was "a styling issue or maintenance mode etc", and had to google it to learn about it. Not really intuitive.

EDIT to your EDIT: "a flag at half-mast" has shared meaning among sailors. I'm not so sure about an innocuous black bar on a website.

I just assumed it was a glitch somewhere. Never would have occurred to me it was meaningful - but then maybe it doesnt need to be? In the end this is about HN displaying something for themselves, I don't think my response matters.

Same, i've noticed it happening a few times before and i always just thought the CSS was broken by someone experimenting.

In addition to sailors a flag at half mast has shared meaning to any American. When someone of national importance dies (former potus, sitting supreme, etc) the flag is lowered to half mast for a certain period of time.

If you want to keep it very minimal you can add a "alt"-type description on mouseover, maybe just the name.

You grow up in a place where people ceremoniously raise and lower flags as symbolic tributes. Here, we just see a black bar.

So you're okay with these threads every time there's a black bar?

If you saw a mourning family on the street wearing all black, would you suggest they hold up a sign with the name of the deceased?

No, but at least I'd know they intended a public display of mourning. Whenever I've seen the black bar before this thread, it's just been a black bar. I thought something was screwy with the CSS or maybe my version of Chrome.

The black bar is not at all obvious in its intent. I don't see why it should remain that way.

Except this is the equivalent of wearing a black hat. My father used to occasionally do it when the mood struck him and nobody bothered to think it signified anything.

If that analogy were apt, this post would not exist.

Except there are plenty of comments on this post showing that many others considered it similarly.

If I'm in that family and I have no idea who died and why they dressed me in black, absolutely!

The fundamental problem with the non-discoverability is that it means that you're either one of the in-group people who knows who Andy Grove is and that he died yesterday, or you're an outsider and not a real Hacker News family member. If that's the approach to community HN wants to take, that's fine, but then why are there three stories about Andy Grove's death if all the real HN commenters already know that?

The #1 or #2 post the entire time the bar's been up has been "Andy Grove has died". How can you call this information undiscoverable?

Again, what indication is there to let us know that the black bar is tied to anyone's death, and not just a CSS change for the sake of it?

I think obscurity mostly serves as an in-group vs. out-group signal. I'm not a fan of the unexplained black bar.

  <td bgcolor="#000000" title="Andy Grove (1936 – 2016)">

Yeah, a link would be nice, but a title tooltip was my first instinct.

Okay, that strikes a pretty good balance.

+1 +1

What about writing something like "Andy Grove, 1936-2016" in an HTML comment? Then a simple inspect element should clarify why the black bar is there.

Edit: The tooltip mentioned above is an even better idea.

It's not that hard to figure out. Anything to add an explanation detracts from the gesture.

It's displayed as a sign of respect following the passing of important tech luminaries.

In this case Andy Grove - one of the fathers of Silicon Valley.

May he rest in peace.

Is it possible that in the future, the element alt text could contain some short explanation or information? For example, "Andy Grove, Semiconductor Industry pioneer passes away at 79."

I wasn't sure if it was for Brussels or Andy Grove.

I had the same question yesterday (saw it previously and thought it was a styling issue or maintenance mode etc). It would be nice to have a tooltip on hover to tell people what it's about. Good way to pay tribute.

It's a bit surprising that so many people just don't search when they see something they don't understand.

EDIT: just putting [black bar] into the search box tells you why the black bar is there. Sorting by date tells you who died.

If u see a black bar for the first time.. Bug/bad edit seems to be the first reaction than searching for information.

Sure. That's reasonable. But when someone assumes "bug" why make a post? Why not search to see if the bug has already been reported before making a post?

I think most of us just assumed it was a bad design change. I don't normally search every time a website makes a bad design decision, just in case it has secret and very obscure meaning.

I perhaps should have said "it surprises me when people make a post before searching".

You must be new? (To the Internet, humanity, etc)

I didn't assume it was a design change, bad or otherwise. I assumed it was to flag something.

What search box are you talking about?

Exactly. I didn't know this before it was pointed out to me, but the genius who made Hackernews thought it was a good idea to put the search feature at the bottom of the page.

I'm sorry you are not enjoying Hacker News. It is one of my favorite places on the internet. I thought I could share some advanced problem solving strategies that I use when I can't find something on a web page.

1. Scroll all the way to the bottom and casually scan everything on the page. This is also useful for when you are just unfamiliar with an interface and don't have a specific feature that you are looking for.

2. "CTRL-F", type the name of the feature you are looking for and press return. In this case you would have typed "CTRL-F", "search" and then pressed the return key. If you do this on the front page right now the first thing you will notice is the word "search" next to the sort of text box frequently used for entering search terms.

Oh ....

When someone dies that they believe worthy, they do the black bar thing.

I thought this was about the brussels attack...

It's especially meaningless for those of us who use Hacker Vision.


I didn't even notice the black bar until I read this post. Maybe something a little more distinctive would be useful, maybe.

Probably related to the same change that brought the black bar, but the Chrome extension I use to add collapsible comment threads is now broken.

Can we please get native collapsible threads here?

edit: Also I just attempted to use an emoji for the first time here, and it was stripped. ????

edit2: I thought it was a simple design update, had no idea it was a tribute. RIP Andy Grove.

I was equally as confused recently, until someone (quite bluntly...) pointed it out to me on Twitter.

Well, it would be simple to read the page looking at entries containing 'passed away', 'died', 'killed', etc

(It's usually one of the first as well)

Even so, the connection isn't in any way made clear. Your assumption that if people saw that Andy Grove died they would immediately identify the black bar as a sign of mourning is kind of, I dunno, culturally normative?

The site is in English, is based in the US and contains mostly news from certain regions of the world, of course it's going to be culturally biased

I agree an association would be helpful (is it for Andy Grove or for Belgium, for example)

But it is not hard to find the association

Whatever happened to "We exist without skin color, without nationality" and "Cyberspace does not lie within your borders"?

The site is accessible everywhere, but to expect it not to cater to a specific audience is disingenuous

It's tradition.

That ranks somewhere close to "I was just following orders."

Well, from experience I've seen the black bar for: Steve Jobs, John McCarthy, and Dennis Ritchie each in October 2011, so I assume most HN posters know (or should know: see this thread) that the black bar is a sign of respect for famed engineers, scientists and technologists who have passed.

Read the rest of the comments. There's plenty of confusion, and it's not applied consistently. Saying "it should not explain itself because of tradition" is only valid as a justification if you actively want to keep people out.

I didn't say that.

Luckily, the black bar doesn't appear as a weekly occurrence. When it does appear, the community can explain it well enough.

In this case, no one is saying that you can't mourn more than one event. Incidentally, the site administrators are most concerned with events that directly relate to Silicon Valley. That is just the context that they operate from and is not a statement of values.

There was also a terror attack this morning that has relevant articles on the front page.

Perhaps adding a tooltip would be a subtle way to provide more info.

This gets asked every time the black bar happens.

.mourning { border-top: 5px solid rgb(0, 0, 0); }

Princeton's colors are black and orange.

The black bar is nice and geeky but totally inappropriate to mark the passing of a human being.

I'm curious why you think it is inappropriate. I find it very tasteful.

To me it just feels rather curt. I suppose it saves the effort of trying to write something meaningful.

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