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HN: Please add Reddit style collapsible comments
311 points by AndyKelley on Mar 24, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 109 comments
It could be much, much easier to browse HN if we could hide subtrees of comments the same as works on reddit.

It's a huge usability problem.

It's dead simple to program.


Yea it is rather frustrating when the top comment spawns an enormous tangential discussion and you have to scroll through it; it doesn't help that there are no indent guides to at least make it easier to tell when you've finally scrolled to the next top level comment. And all this is doubly annoying on mobile.

I do not want collapsible comments - I feel that this encourages "skipping" over discussion (which helps polarise and lower the quality of the entire thread)

Indent guides? Yes please. I often find myself wanting to find and read all the replies to a particular comment (it is often posing a question or defending an opinion I find questionable).

As opposed to scrolling by without reading, which is what most already do instead? We're under no obligation to read everything here.

Actually collapsing comments helps. Often insightful top level comments are posted at a later time. These remain less read and less voted because of their position.

That's the thing that a lot of HN users don't get. A lot of thought has been put into how to get fewer comments on HN. You have shadow banning, thread depth delays, thread depth limits and so much more.

They don't want to turn HN into reddit.

Dang has said that collapsible comments are coming[0]. and shadowbanned comments are reversible by the public now[1] - and people vehemently defended shadowbanning as being absolutely essential in maintaining the quality of the community. Plus, other features (like domain links) have been added which make the site superficially more like reddit[2].

There used to be a "feature" where links would expire very quickly, making it impossible to reply to a comment if you spent more than a minute or two with the submit form open. People argued that that was also an intentional feature, even when the staff admitted explicitly that it was a bug. The staff has attempted to add a mobile stylesheet numerous times, and yet people argue that keeping mobile users away was a conscious decision by pg to keep the site from becoming reddit. This site has become so paranoid about "becoming reddit" that it literally tells you in the site guidelines not to complain about the site becoming reddit.

It is entirely possible that, while pg did make a conscious effort to design the site in such a way as to attract certain users and repel others, that is not nearly as overriding and critical a priority as people make it out to be.




Well, collapsible comments are not the end of the world.

Thank you for the links! I find it interesting how vicious comments around the supposed intentions of the sites maintainers are.

Agree with that. I wanted this feature for a while but after thinking about it, I think that it would be bad. It would change the focus on the first, second, and slightly third comment where all the other comments in the trees will be disregarded. But right now each comment is valued and has its place. There are less focus on the last leaves but it's still great.

If it's done, the first comments will have all the attention plus it will engage to a race to have the best first comment. We want to seek to engage people with real thoughts and deep discussions, regardless their position here. I have read so many long and great conversations between highly skilled persons, it's so valuable. We have to keep it like that.

I don't understand. I'm all for collapsible comments exactly because the current situation often puts all the focus on the first comment. Because that one will have a disproportionally large tree of discussion hanging off it, usually with one or two tangents that have not a lot to do with the featured article.

While the tangents can be interesting, when checking comments I actually really do want to read the top five voted top-level comments, because that gives me an idea what people think about the article.

Now I do have an HN-comment collapsing plugin installed (I forget which), and I use it for exactly this purpose. Especially when the singular large top-thread contains more than one large tangent that I don't particularly care about, it's absolutely great. Especially compared to the alternative, which is sort of eye-balling where you are in the thread and tracking with your finger or mouse cursor whether you're back at a level where people stopped talking about that thing (which is not always apparent if it's a short reply).

Now if I want to read what people think about what other people think (about what people think ..) about the article, I can always return to the tangent later.

I also believe having the feature built-in will be a net positive on quality of discussion. Even if you may prefer HN's tone of discussion over Reddit's, to assume that adopting any feature that Reddit has will result in a decline of discussion quality is pure cargo-culting.

HN's tone of discussion comes from the guidelines, stringent self-moderation and constructive hints from a moderator. Not from having messy comment threads and lack of UI affordances just because Reddit has them.

So I am downvoted after taking the time to write a constructive reply and the person doesn't even reply? That's great...

Isn't it really great how we can now have this totally tangent discussion on how you got downvoted, right in the middle of the gigantic singular top-comment dumping ground that always appears on HN discussion threads?

Please, do go on :)

There's a few extensions that do this, and they're pretty trivial to write if you want something more custom: http://paste.click/brRgHL

That reminds me, it would be cool if we could collapse a thread from the bottom as well as from the root.

Such as, "Show only threads to depth 3"? Sounds good to me!

Not quite what I had in mind, but that sounds nice too. I just meant when you get to the bottom of some comment thread (i.e., next comment is de-dented), it would be nice to be able to collapse it there, too.

Yes! That's actually a feature I often wish for on Reddit as well :) It would make reading and keeping track of where you are a lot easier.

To all the top level comments about browser extensions, I want to use HN on mobile without an app. It's not possible due only to collapsibility. Comments sections are effectively top-comment-only.

I browse HN a lot in the default iOS browser, and it works fine for me. I can scroll pretty darn fast with flicks of my finger, to get past sub-threads I want to skip. Heck I do the same thing on Reddit; it's faster and simpler for me than collapsing threads.

Without a good ident guide, I never quite know if I'm at a top-level comment or a second-level comment.

Use Firefox? (It has addons on mobile)

If you don't mind me asking, why don't you want to use an app?

Because I already have an app for that - the web browser, and it works great with countless other services I use on a daily basis.

Apps can spy on me more than webpages and have more potential to do bad things to my device.

Yet another tool to keep track of for something that could easily be native?

Biggest reason to use an app in this case would be only if pg was expressly against an idea that an app could achieve.

While we're wishing, I wish:

- Arrows indicated which way I voted instead of disappearing completely.

- I could change my up or down vote on a comment after making it. When viewing on a phone it's easy to fat finger the wrong arrow. If there's a concern about changing votes long after a discussion, gate it by time.

Agreed for the ability to change vote. This is most likely due to the way the buttons work (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11307758), so as to keep the code as tight as possible.

I'd also like to see a "hide" button on each story so I can filter out stories that just aren't interesting to me.

I get that "Left-pad as a service" is interesting to many people here(182 comments at the moment), but I've never really done any web development at all in my life and I am never really going to be interested in any javascript or node.js link.

Similarly I'm guessing most people won't care about my favorite topics quantitative finance or algorithmic trading.

It might cut down on the weekly posts where someone complains that HN is going to shit because a story made the front page and they just can't believe someone would find it interesting.

That would be contrary to Hacker News' existence with regards to Y Combinator. I like to know where the SV pulse is, and I'm almost certain that's why this site exists. It's for watching SV and commenting on it and interacting with it as well as posting cool links that anyone is interested in.

Oh. Are you interested in security? Deployment? Or "idiotic practices that are apparently widespread but only coming to light in the wake of a disaster"?

Because that's what that story is actually about.

And this is why HN became my goto after ditching my basket of reddits. I can find a takeaway from nearly every one of the links that make the front page.

While you're correct about npm story, I think the grandparent has a valid point. Not everyone is interested in every story, and the ability to hide would be a nice enhancement.

Ironically the posts I am least interested in are the ycombinator posts.

However I assume hacker news is rendered on the server incrementally (anyone have any links on this?) so hiding links will simply reduce the number you see.

Beautiful HN Chrome plugin UI, supports:

- Improved readability design

- Retina screen support

- User following

- Super fast inline replies

- Quick profiles with social network info when hovering over usernames

- Filtering of stories based on terms and phrases / domain or user

- Endless scrolling

- Collapsible comment threads

- Direct link to Google Cache version

- Social sharing for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Buffer


(not affiliated in any way with this, just love it)

I always wonder what level of security and data transparency exists behind things like this. Are there any real risks to using something like that?

This one happens to be open source (https://github.com/tommoor/HackerNew), but you can always unpack plugins, take a look at their Javascript, and if you don't like what you see, repack with your own modifications.

I absolutely understand the notion that being open source makes it significantly more difficult to hide devious code, but let's be realistic. If you had to scrutinize every piece of OSS for something malicious, you would never get anything done.

Is there a firefox version?

It's not a straightforwardly positive UX decision. Allowing people to hide conversation trees they are not interested in has other effects. It would reduce discussion. the current setup promotes constructive disagreements.

We already hide things if our collective mind thinks it's a bad idea, but I'm not sure it's beneficial to let this occur on an individual basis.

If everyone thinks what I am saying is wrong, then this comment will get whited out and sent to the bottom, but if only you think it's dumb, maybe you should still have to read it.

I kinda like the current way.

I actually find I get into more discussions by using a plugin that allows me to collapse so that I can comment on lower threads because I can actually get there when I'm interested. It really should be built in though.

I disagree. Often the most insightful comments lie a few posts into a comment I disagree with. When browsing on reddit I would have already collapsed the thread.

When I am genuinely not interested I don't have any problem scrolling down.

Once discussions get long I can't even follow them, though. There at least needs to some something added to the UI so I can see who is replying to what and where a tree starts/ends

I think he's just talking about the ability to collapse something after you've read it, which is a great feature on reddit - particularly on mobile.

I use it all the time. I read as much of the comment tree as i'm interested in, then collapse the root node to move on to the next one. It makes it easier than having to scan down and do visual indentation tracking.

I can see why collapsible sub-trees aren't quite dead-simple. The comment list is a single table, and each comment is a separate row. There's no container around a comment's children. (Also, the indenting is implemented by putting a 1x1 image in the first column and setting its width based on the indent depth required.)

Internally, there's obviously tracking of parent/child relationships, but adding container elements so that the children can be hidden would require getting rid of the table-based layout and replacing it with a nested div-based layout. The markup and styling changes would be fairly simple, but none of us know what the impact is on the backend, or on anything that depends on the markup structure that may or may not be in HN's control. My guess is that these non-technical impacts are the driving force behind keeping the markup as it is, which prevents the kind of features you want.

Find the row clicked on.

Find the indent.

For every row that has larger indent (until one with the same indent), set display: none.

For this row, mark it collapsed (even by putting a div around the current content, un-displaying it and putting a "show thread" button/link there).

So indent is width of the "invisible pixel", easy to query, isn't it?

What am I missing?

You can actually beat Reddit's UI on this: save collapsing state across page loads. It's quite annoying on mobile to open a link on reddit, come back and be forced to reload the page, and then be presented with the same wall of irrelevance I closed up a minute ago.

With res. Or at least for me. It's saved. Sometimes i go to comments thinking I haven't even and find my already collapsed comments and realize I just forgot I already read comments for this post

I believe the RES extension does do this for Reddit, actually.

I recently made a firefox addon to do just this, called HN Collapse.

Here it is: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/hn-collapse

Also on github: https://github.com/tomkel/hn-collapse

Good man. I was going to suggest a RES-style extension.

While we're suggesting improvements...

Why is it that the discuss option isn't available on posts that are job adverts?

I think it would be useful/interesting to allow casual conversation about job postings.

It really needs some polishing, but I am using a handcrafted UserScript [1] that lets me navigate comments with the keyboard (j/k as well as p/g/J/K), fold/unfold (m) and vote (a/z). Also some styling to ease reading (larger font, indentation marker). However, the "reply" (r) feature is not complete (i.e. broken), "last" (G) shortcut fails for some reason and flagged comments break the navigation.

If you look in the relevant folder, you may notice it was initially designed for Word Press (WP.user.js), more precisely SlateStarCodex, and seems to work for most such blogs. SSC.user.js is just meant to improve the styling of SlateStarCodex.

[1] http://sinon.org/userscripts/HN.user.js

I'm late to party, but Premii's HN client has collapsible comments and keyboard navigation.


I think users should be able to flag a certain subtree of the comments tree as "off-topic" or "tangential" so that after a certain flag threshold such subtree is automatically shown as folded, and users would be able to see the most related comments first.

Firefox extension to collapse comment trees: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/hn-utility-su...

I never used collapsible comments on reddit. By the time you're reading deep into a branch and decide that it's better to skip it, you already too far from the comment that started the branch. It's actually more difficult to scroll back and click collapse than scroll forward until the next top-level comment.

There are subreddits with a CSS that fixes that issue.

Take https://www.reddit.com/r/geopolitics/comments/4a46s0/china_h... – the indent markers at the left actually allow to collapse that comment

Use RES keyboard navigation to navigate to top comment, fold it, and then go to next. With my settings, I just have to type OMJ.

Here's another one, which works with the awesome hckrnews.com: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hckr-news/mnlaodle...

This is Hacker News. JavaScript should be added by users as a browser extension. Only requests to make the website more user-serviceable such as class names and element names/IDs should be considered.

I actually got frustrated enough with this a few weeks ago to write a quick extension that lets me jump between comment trees:


It's very lightweight and doesn't clutter up your screen with an icon since that's literally the only use case. I haven't gotten around to publishing it on the web store yet unfortunately so you'll have to install manually.

Until implemented on https://news.ycombinator.com/, try https://hn.premii.com/ which has collapsible comments. The web and mobile apps are open source[1].

1 : https://github.com/premii/hn

Another option is http://hackerwebapp.com/. By default, top-level comments are displayed without replies expanded.

Check out "Hacker News Collapsible Comments" https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-collap... if you don't want too many changes that come with the Enhancement Suite.


I wrote this userscript a while ago.


In light of the left-pad brouhaha, maybe I should mention that my userscript doesn't have any dependencies - not even an embedded jquery.

This is a great Chrome add-on that lets you collapse comments:


I built a Mac native desktop HN client. I don’t have collapsible comments yet but its on the way :) http://mackernews.com

Please. :( I will pay for it.

I don't trust plugins and extensions.

Dear HN: Please don't. Your design is perfect.

If you decide to implement collapsible comments, then please make them expanded if Javascript is disabled.

Does this site get updated on any regular basis? It doesn't feel like it it's ever changed.

This is a particular pain on mobile, because a given thread tends to be much deeper to scroll past.

Yes, please do it


Hacker News Enhancement Suite works wonders https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-enhanc...

I personally use "Hacker News Collapsible Comments"[1], but it breaks whenever they add the black bar to the top of the site.

[1] https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-collap...

I use this one: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-collap...

It doesn't break with black bars.

What is that bar at the top for anyway?

It is added when somebody "noteworthy" has died.

Hacker News Enhancement Suite deals with that just fine in my experience.

This doesn't help on mobile, and these browser extensions are frequently broken when markup changes.

And the screen on mobile is obviously smaller so collapsability is even more needed.

Given how infrequently HN updates their markup, I don't think such extensions will break very often.

It's probably a couple times a year. Is that infrequent? That depends on how much time you have to devote to being a plugin maintainer I suppose.

Why have I never seen this magic before?!

Yeah but I had to download the enhancement suite first to find this second comment...thanks though

Thank you for this link, this extension really makes the site a lot more enjoyable.

Where has this been all my life! Excellent, thanks for this.

Any Safari extensions for this? This sounds awesome!

I use the Safari extension from http://hckrnews.com/about.html#extensions. Works great.

Thank you! I've just installed it and it seems to be working pretty well so far.

If there was a Firefox version, it might actually be usable on Android, too.


Sadly it doesn't work on android firefox.

This is well worthwhile, since it would help combat "top comment discussion is the only discussion" disease.

There's a philosophical reason for a cumbersome UI, and it revolves around the idea that comment volume should overall remain somewhat low.

It should be hard to manage tons of comments on a story, because it lowers the overall comment count.

I'd love to see some A/B testing on this.

I understand the philosophy, but the law of unintended consequences means that the comment threads are only about whatever the top commenter brought up.

For example, let's say the article is "Scientists discover new material that boosts solar panel efficiency by 16%". The top comment might be, "This does nothing to alleviate the base-load problem. We still need better battery technology".

Well now the comment section for me is all about battery chemistry, battery manufacturing news, hydro-pumping as a means of storage, etc. All because the top comment spawned its own mega-thread that pushes relevant (to the story) comments off the bottom.

Maybe that's okay, or at least an acceptable consequence.

no, i disagree strongly.

i despise reddit's collapsible / half-loading comments. on large threads it loads the same 10% every single time and hides a lot of the good responses.

just give me all the comments in one shot. i'm a big boy, i can handle reading.

You're disagreeing with a different request, then. I'd just like to collapse comment trees. That's all. I don't want to only partial load them. (I can see why you'd infer that from the post, because it references reddit)

It's an embarassingly-simple feature to add, and it would provide a huge value to all of us that browse this site on our phones.

I agree, but why not keep the loading structure, with just an option to collapse individual threads, having them opened by default. So, the experience doesn't change for users that wish to avoid collapsable trees, but gives the option to users that do want it.

it's _not_ given to you 'all in one shot' though. the 'top' comment is first, along with all of its responses, then the second top comment, and so on. you'll still miss many good responses because you won't scroll through hundreds of comments (which can be very lengthy on a mobile screen).

also let's not conflate collapsible and half-loading. this thread is not advocating partial loading. you dont need partial loading of comments in order to enable collapsible functionality.

sometimes i start at the bottom and scroll up. i might be weird.

There's no advantage to not having the feature. It isn't a trade off so it's somewhat odd that you disagree "strongly".

Are you too lazy to roll your own Greasemonkey script if it's such a problem for you? Are you just on HN to lose time, or too learn how to hack things?

Short answer is that the legacy codebase can't handle that. Most people use various browser extensions to help with HN usability issues.

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