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A word about why Pinboard is not included. We spent a long time thinking about this, since the original application did sound trollish, but comments like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11442027, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11590386, and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11590315 made us think it was also serious. Had we thought it was merely a joke, of course we'd have disqualified it. We'd referred to that as the Boaty McBoatface scenario when planning the experiment and deliberately included a measure of moderator review as a way of filtering such applications out. But we wanted to give the benefit of the doubt. We like Maciej's writing as much as the rest of HN does, think Pinboard is a fine company, and Kevin was excited by the prospect of working with it. So we decided to include it in the runoff, knowing that its pre-existing popularity would probably make it a winner. That last part isn't necessarily a bad thing; popularity is a good property for a founder and company to have.

But then two things happened. First, Kevin and Maciej had the good-faith conversation described at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11441978, and Kevin reluctantly concluded that Maciej doesn’t want to participate in the program as intended. I don't know the details and can't speak for Kevin, but that's his call to make as the partner who runs YCF, and I know he hoped and expected it to go the other way. Getting into a YC batch isn't a cash prize—it's a close working relationship, and that's something that has to be right on both sides or it won't work. Both Kevin and I wanted it to work (if we hadn't, we'd simply have dropped Pinboard from the runoff and said why), and I felt sure that a good-faith conversation would be enough to bridge any remaining gap. It turned not to be, which is disappointing.

Second, we found evidence of vote brigading, something we'd disqualify others for. I don't believe that Maciej organized a voting ring (actually I don't believe he'd give it a second's thought), but when we dug into the data we found that the votes for Pinboard look dramatically different from the votes for the other startups. I presume this is the effect of Pinboard's (deservedly) large audience being asked to promote the post, e.g. at https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/727255170594131968 and https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/719599297604390912. We didn't know about those links earlier; we only found out about them from user complaints after the runoff was posted. But we would and did disqualify people for soliciting votes on a small scale, so it wouldn't be right to allow soliciting them on a large one.

We're sad about this. As I said, Kevin and I both really wanted it to work--I thought it would be good for HN and Kevin admires Pinboard. We also appreciate that humor and irony and "a variety of publicity stunts" (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11443463) are Maciej's style, and he was simply practicing it. That part is not a problem--as readers, we enjoy it too, and creative cleverness has always been prized on HN. I both take Maciej at his word that he wasn't trolling and Kevin at his word that he tried to find a way to accept Pinboard into YCF and in the end just couldn't.

We're going to have a community discussion about things that didn't go so well with this first Apply HN experiment, but I'm not sure I'd put this in that category. I'm glad that we chose to believe the serious parts of what Maciej posted. I think it was the right call, I still believe them, and under similar circumstances would do the same again. It's not always easy to tell the joking bits apart from the serious bits, but that goes with the territory.




I call shenanigans.

The way this experiment was presented, the Hacker News community would be allowed to select two YC Fellowship recipients. According to the announcement, "all the interviewing and evaluating will be done in regular HN threads."

But that's not what happened here. I won the voting by a yuuuge margin, and then the vote was nullified in a vape-filled room after it became clear that Hacker News might have its own agenda, separate from YC.

Accusations of soliciting votes by tweeting the HN threads would carry weight with me if there had been any published guidelines about what kind of publicity was allowed. But rules about "vote brigading" on HN are intentionally kept secret.

People have repeatedly accused me of trolling, but I don't think it's me who just trolled you all.

I want my twenty grand.


You're right to single out that sentence, or rather that word "all" in "All the interviewing and evaluating will be done in regular HN threads". We didn't stick to that, and I'm sorry. That's precisely what we changed, and yes we changed it at the last minute.

I didn't think of this experiment as having fixed rules, but rather as something we'd figure out as we went along. I tried to make that clear up front: "Note that word experiment! We'll start small and figure it out as we go. But here are the initial conditions." I can see why that wasn't enough.

It occurs to me only now that "figure it out as we go" and "changing the rules" are the same thing. So yes. We changed the rules, and I'm sorry.


The only catch with this is that "Note that word experiment! We'll start small and figure it out as we go. But here are the initial conditions." can very easily be taken to mean "we'll start small this time, and adjust things for the next time, figuring it out as we go." That's how I, and seemingly some others, interpreted it.

"We'll change things next time based on the results of this experiment" and "We'll change things this time as we see fit and appropriate" are very different, though your initial statement can be read as implying either.

I don't even think one is better than the other - I would just be more careful about communicating which it really is, next time. You guys are free to do what you want, heh. This entire "debacle," if you can even call it that, is actually a great case study in how and why clear communication is so important. The problem wasn't the decision that was made, but rather how it was communicated.


> can very easily be taken to mean "we'll start small this time, and adjust things for the next time, figuring it out as we go."

That's not what I meant at all. This is the first time this interpretation ever occurred to me.

If that's what people thought I meant, I can certainly understand some of this thread better. But it floors me that my intent would have failed so completely to come across.


Interesting. I'd interpreted it as "we'll start small this time, and adjust things for next time, if there is a next time". Usually an experiment (in science) implies that you don't change the conditions of the experiment while it's running, you let it run and record the results, whether they're positive or negative. Otherwise, you limit your ability to be surprised, which is the whole point of science.

It gets a little more muddled with social experiments, where it's often hard to delineate an "ending point" of the experiment, and there's often real collateral damage in the process. Even with social experiments, though, you get a more accurate signal if you let them run past the point where your gut tells you it's a bad idea.


Surely the point of an experiment is to run it. Observe the results. Then change things in the next run.


> That's precisely what we changed, and yes we changed it at the last minute.

no rule of law -> automatic bullshit.


I don't agree with that at all, and taken literally it would make adaptation impossible, which can't be right.

HN has never been a rule-driven, legalistic kind of place, and isn't going to get that way. But I've had to learn a lot about people who do feel this way and obviously have a lot to learn yet. My own temperament is very far from this; it's almost impossible for me not to read "we'll figure it out as we go" as a good, fine thing.


You're missing the point others are trying to make. I'm all for experimentation - by all means. I experiment literally every single day, often failing, but occasionally succeeding.

The issue was that it wasn't clear there would be rule-changing or experimentation /during/ the experiment, rather than after the experiment.


I agree that if that wasn't clear, it was a huge problem. The whole idea was to figure this particular experiment out as we went along. Not putative future instances of it, which we hadn't even thought about or mentioned amongst ourselves. Why would we, when the first one hadn't even started?

From my point of view that sentence about making it up as we go was the most important thing in the original post. It meant that we didn't have to plan a fixed set of rules: if and when something unforeseen came up, we'd adapt to it then. That's why I said "initial conditions". I'd never have proposed anything that took away our ability to adapt in the middle of this, and especially not about something so untried.


You changed the rules to keep Pinboard out of the program. Even Kevin Hale admits that. You weren't turning the knobs to see what would change. The outcome was clear, you didn't like it, and so you prevented it from happening.

I think, at this point, the issue is that it's clear to most of us what happened, but YC is still trying to put a gloss on it.

The more you and Kevin Hale try to mitigate this, the more polarized it gets, and the meaner some commenters get about Maciej, who didn't do anything wrong. You don't have to accept Pinboard into YCF, but you have a responsibility not to let him take any of the blame for this.


> You weren't turning the knobs to see what would change. The outcome was clear, you didn't like it, and so you prevented it from happening.

Yes. I wasn't arguing against that.


It is very difficult to have a meaningful experiment if you change what you're doing in the experiment as you go. "Initial conditions" makes sense as "the conditions for this initial run".

Or maybe, now that you've figured out what this experiment is supposed to be, you should actually run this experiment, i.e., start it over, with a clear understanding of what's going on and what the parameters are. It's unsurprising that people were confused about the parameters since you yourselves were confused about them. Their confusion is on you.


If the "we'll figure it out as we go" is used just to reiterate the status quo, it's not a very sound or innovative approach.

About that, I like the point zellyn makes: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633818


According to the announcement, "all the interviewing and evaluating will be done in regular HN threads."

According to the same announcement, "We can talk about this in the comments, but to answer one question I know will come up: Upvotes are an important factor but they're too brittle to rely on exclusively; doing so would encourage the wrong kind of trying to game the system."

They said from the start that votes alone would not decide the results.


The overwhelming sentiment in the HN comments was that Pinboard deserved a slot.


We were specifically asked to be nice.

I certainly didn't think that saying "Please don't give money to Pinboard, I don't think Maciej will act appropriately and it will spoil any chances of following this process again" fitted into "nice". Now some people did post (generally more constructive) versions of that comment, but I refrained base on the stated policy.

There was no way to vote Pinboard down other than to just vote for the other options.

The process did not actually offer any way to determine the HN community's overall view, only that were was a large subset that wanted to fund Pinboard. That subset might be greater that the subset that specifically didn't want to fund Pinboard, but there's no evidence available to determine that.


"The process did not actually offer any way to determine the HN community's overall view, only that were was a large subset that wanted to fund Pinboard. That subset might be greater that the subset that specifically didn't want to fund Pinboard, but there's no evidence available to determine that."

This might be worth dang and others factoring into the next iteration of this stuff. Some way for people to express agreement without being mean. Might be one post saying "Disagree or voting against" that they can upvote if they want opposition to be tallied. Maybe even make it stay in one spot on page so it doesn't get in way of rest of discussion.

What yall think?


Voting systems are hard, but in practice they'd want to introduce something more useful than a plurality vote.


More because people thought it would be funny than because they thought it was a fit for the program. Many knew, and 'idlewords acknowledged several times, that it wasn't.

The original announcement said:

At the end of the month, we'll rank the startups and YC will fund two. The ranking will depend both on upvotes and on the quality of discussion, similar to how the ranking of stories works. We can talk about this in the comments, but to answer one question I know will come up: Upvotes are an important factor but they're too brittle to rely on exclusively; doing so would encourage the wrong kind of trying to game the system. So we're going to gauge community interest both by upvotes and comments, and in case of doubt I'll make the final call—or better, figure out a way to put the final call to the community.

All this says is that (a) upvotes and comments will be used to rank the startups, and that (b) YC will then fund two. It doesn't say they'll use the ranking as the sole criteria. It seems obvious that an organization giving away bags of $20k will exercise some kind of discretion beforehand.


I have the top comment on the runoff thread, and I was against Pinboard (due to doubts about whether Pinboard would do YCF in good faith - similar to what dang is saying here). So while I did notice a lot of people were in favor, it can hardly be called overwhelming.


I voted for Pinboard but did not downvote your post (it would be wrong for me to have done so).

While the upvotes are an indication of support for your position, it wouldn't have accurately captured the number of people who disagreed with you (and thus supported Pinboard), since disagreement is not grounds for downvoting.


According to Paul Graham, it's acceptable to downvote for disagreement. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=117171


It's true but I'm in same boat as parent: I only downvote on spam, hate comments, etc. Downvoting can make comments disappear and sort of censor aspects of a discussion. Even bad claims are often misconceptions worth addressing with comments and evidence instead of downvoting for other readers' benefit. So, I almost never downvote.

I'm sure there's others given I know specific people's position on comments I made that they could've downvoted. So, parent's claim stands but we can't know how much. Maybe worth considering modifying downvote concept to deal with this somehow in another forum as an experiment.


My view is that there is a ton of noise of HN, and HN has this problem where threads devolve into tangents/pedantry/really nitpicky arguments where people start arguing over little logical details. And rather than just go down the rabbit hole of this morass of noise, I'd rather just downvote.


Sounds reasonable. A third option you don't mention is simply ignoring the noise to upvote the quality submissions. You apparently had to look at the noise anyway to downvote it. So, is there another reason you're taking that effort?


I have to at least skim it to determine whether it's noise or not in the first place.


What's the score on that comment?


My feeling, (like Colin's, I think) is that even if the announcement could have been clearer on this point, it implies that votes & comments wouldn't be the only deciding factors.


Both Dan and Maciej are personal friends of mine, and it's uncomfortable to see them at odds.

But Maciej is right.


I think, in the spirit of the community, you should provide some argument for why you think that, rather than just state your judgement.

From a fairly outsider perspective, Maciej/idlewords seems to dislike SV & VC culture (for lots of reasonable reasons) and YC by extension, and is trying to joke/troll here as a form of protest or publicity; OK.

On the other side, the YC/HN guys are actually trying to do something innovative, with YC fellows which is more accessible than vanilla YC (can do remotely), and now with a community choice, which is a step in a more innovative/accessible direction again.

Surely this is a step in the right direction? If not, could someone explain why? If they are trying to make good faith steps in the right direction, and someone is trolling them (by which I mean for humor/protest, not bad intentions), isn't it fair enough to exclude that application?


Did Kevin Hale have special phone conversations with the other three founders to ensure that they would be able to work together with YC?

Meanwhile, look at the the post Kevin Hale just wrote. It says, "We ran a poll for the top applications and the voting was so close that we decided to fund one extra startup. Here are the winners." But that's not true at all. The fact that Pinboard took more than 3x the number of votes as the 2nd place vote-getter is mentioned nowhere in Hale's message.


Yes, I called all the other winners too. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633517


It was pretty clearly an experiment, and it looked pretty obvious to me that they were reserving the rights to tweak and nudge and basically run it as they saw fit. It's not like it was a cereal box competition or the lottery or something where you just win some money and that's that.


It wasn't a tweak or a nudge, it entirely invalidated the stated intention of the experiment, and completely disenfranchised the HN community.

But that's not the worst, dumbest thing about this. The dumbest thing is that YC would have gotten the most benefit out of giving Maciej the money, and they let their fear and discomfort keep them from doing that.


> completely disenfranchised the HN community

Their money on the line, their call. I have never felt "out of the loop" because I didn't influence their investment decisions. The value I get from HN is the conversations and things I read about and learn.


Of course, they get to do whatever they want. But their reputation suffers when they say they'll do one thing, then do another, especially when it's a bad decision made for bad reasons and communicated poorly.


don't call it a tweak or nudge when the experiment's parameters were deliberately altered to avoid the outcome the data was indicating.

"We had an idea for figuring out where we'd spend our money. We didn't like what happened so we spent it based on other criteria."

So the experiment was maybe the voting / HN selection, but they don't get to paint it as the experiment was "let's see who HN selects, then compare their outcome with traditional participants" like we were led to believe...


Right about what exactly? The deal was not "we'll give $20k to whoever gets the most upvotes." It was about participating in a YC program, which this person doesn't seem to have any interest in, or at least wants to feign complete disinterest. I'm glad a spot was not wasted on him based on his attitude alone.


Could you be a little bit more careful in minting new truths about people's psychology, especially if you don't know those people, to score points in Internet arguments? The Maciej I know was definitely not disinterested in winning that YCF spot.


The Maciej I know was definitely not disinterested in winning that YCF spot.

Did he want the YCF spot, or the $20k? I don't know him, but the fact that his immediate response was "I want my twenty grand" reinforces my belief that Kevin made the right decision here.


Let me save you the time and (having watched and read quite a bit of Maciej's stuff, internalizing his reasoning about many things in our culture) tell you that he was being deliberately facetious here. (Maybe "facetious" is too strong a word: he was merely speaking in jest, "calling YCF out", perhaps being a bit too flippant due to his (justified) frustration, if any). I'm replying to your comment because I see you reproducing your above point all over the place, and it's sad you think that way about this.

(That being said, for someone not familiar with Maciej's approach to things, I can perhaps understand why you'd think that way.)


God forbid that someone so known for his sobriety in all things should on this one occasion have a jokey response.


If he reiterated that jokey response in his "good-faith conversation" with kevin, then kevin made the right call. I'll agree with tptacek though that they should've just said that, instead of talking about voting rings.


Different people. Dan runs HN, and I'm sure he thinks about voting rings all day long. Kevin is from YC, and thinks about founders and fitting into the YC community. I think it's safe to say that they both had very good, but entirely independent, reasons for not wanting to fund pinboard.


There are probably ways he could have conveyed that better. Judging by the outcome, smarter people than me came to that same conclusion.


Now do you see the problem with how YC chose to explain Pinboard's exclusion?


No, it's pretty clear

> Did he want the YCF spot, or the $20k? I don't know him, but the fact that his immediate response was "I want my twenty grand" reinforces my belief that Kevin made the right decision here.

I agree, Kevin made the right decision as well.


I don't care about the decision. I care about how it was communicated.


The "Kevin talked to Maciej and it didn't seem like it would work out" part seems pretty straightforward. The voting brigade thing seems dumb, but Kevin was pretty explicit that part wouldn't have mattered.


Of course he was interested, trolls are always interested in getting a response.


>Accusations of soliciting votes by tweeting the HN threads would carry weight with me if there had been any published guidelines about what kind of publicity was allowed.

Sure: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11442647

P.S. I voted for Pinboard.


That's the problem with with this. You know and I know that posting a Twitter message about your HN post is against the rules, but that's because we're HN nerds. Maciej isn't.

I understand completely why the complete rulebook on how you can't and can't promote your posts isn't posted clearly on the site. Voting ring suppression is an arms race, and posting the current rules helps the vote-ringers.

But a general statement about not soliciting support for applications could have been made clearer. And, more importantly, the vote ring really had nothing to do with this. Kevin Hale didn't want Maciej in the program. That's all there was to it.


I agree with you on everything. But also with Kevin and Dang.

Getting into YCF even with 100 more votes than the next 3 combined is not a right. If YC doesn't feel comfortable working with him and think that he'll negatively affect the batch and the alumni network, that's their call. (Just take this thread for example, what was supposed to be a post mortem of the contest and a place to give suggestions and feedback has turned into a complaint fest).

I did somethings which the mods didn't approve of in their judgement and my application itself was disqualified (it was ranked at 5 by upvotes) but I don't feel entitled so I'm not complaining.


> I don't feel entitled so I'm not complaining

Is it because you don't feel entitled? Or because there's a vast chasm of difference between "5th place" and "1st place by several miles in each of two separate races"?


I don't think I would quite describe the comments as a complaint fest, it seems like a fairly civil and thought out discussion.


> posting a Twitter message about your HN post is against the rules

Questions:

1. where are these rules published?

2. why would someone (except in this one case involving money for votes) solicit upvotes for a post?


High positioning on HN can presumably drive a lot of traffic?


Your reply to Kevin in the cited conversation (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11441978) was 3 sentences long, where you graciously accepted praise for being compared to Berkshire Hathaway -- arguably one of the big corporate success stories of our generation. Are you willing to share the details of your subsequent good-faith conversation....?

I voted for pinboard... and I'm curious why Kevin decided that it wasn't in the spirit of the program.


I have no bone in this fight, since I did not apply nor would we apply for YCF (I think it's a great idea, but my company doesn't fit the criteria). And, if it matters, I do not use Pinboard and have never spoken a word to 'idlewords.

I respect 'dang and 'kevin both, a ton. Have always had nothing but pleasant interactions with them, and the amount of care they put towards managing this community is seemingly boundless.

With all of that said, 'idlewords is absolutely right here. The HN mods and/or YCF made a choice here not to fund Pinboard, regardless of whether HN wanted to or not. It's not really OK to say that it's an experiment where HN gets to make choices and then not support them, unless there were explicitly some bad blood or trolling occurring. Based on everything 'idlewords has posted, it would appear that he is not trolling. Sure, perhaps he has a bit of a 'let's watch the world burn' attitude, but it's not entirely clear to the rest of us that that isn't just a persona.

If I had applied for the "Apply HN" experiment, there is no way in hell I wouldn't have tweeted or asked customers to upvote - of course you would! Sure, perhaps this doesn't reflect the true nature of HN's vote, since these may or may not be regular HN users, but unless you only count users that have some age or karma, you can't prevent that. Alternatively, you can make it a stated rule that this isn't a popularity contest and thus you should not ask for votes elsewhere. That was not made clear at all - it was implied, or at least I perceived, that this was intended to be 'an experiment in democracy,' for better or worse.

I do think, if 'idlewords is truly interested in the fellowship and all of the requirements therein (Skype meetings or whatever else), that it would be good to stand by the original rules. With that said, these are investment decisions and aren't intended to be taken lightly, and obviously you guys have the final decision anyway (this was always true, no matter what HN said - you're the ones putting up the money and time).

I just think it's more 'right' if you follow along with the original plan of the experiment. Hell, maybe 'idlewords ends up getting so much value out of YCF that he becomes even more serious about Pinboard and it's the next Pinterest (no pun intended). If nothing else, YC/HN may learn something from it.


Have you not got more than $20,000 out of all the publicity? It is not better for you to have been “kicked out” than actually selected?


Regarding Pinboard, the simple answer is he won the votes, he won the poll, but he made me feel uncomfortable in the end. I went into my good-faith phone call with him very much wanting this to work out and I was disappointed to come out of it tense and with less energy than when I went in. It’s touchy feely, I know, but the truth.

The thing with YC is startups can’t do the program in a vacuum. Even with the remote nature of the Fellowship, the founders affect the partners they work with and the other founders they work alongside, both in their batch and among the alumni community. We made the decision to call all the startups we’d consider taking on through Apply HN and make a decision on fit. I know that’s changing the rules at the last second, but we didn’t realize this until Pinboard entered the fray. I'm actually grateful for the head's up. Like all our experiments at YC, we design them to adapt as things happen, and they certainly did here.

I made the same phone calls with the other founders and they felt completely different. I wasn’t looking for gratitude or devotion or deference. My minimum was connection, my ideal was simpatico—evidence that I could spend a lot of time with the founder, which is what’s needed to make this relationship work well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good rapport with Maciej. Regardless of the vote situation, I’d make the same decision.

Maciej is clearly brilliant and quite witty and knows how to build and direct a passionate following. Pinboard is unique and I’m glad it exists. More opinionated software should exist in the world. Even though we couldn’t find rapport together, I sincerely wish him and his startup the very best.


I'm sorry you didn't feel full of energy after our (very unexpected) phone call. Building rapport with you was not one of the evaluation criteria.

We're grown-ups and don't have to like each other to work together effectively.

However, I appreciate your being honest about arbitrarily changing the rules on me.


> We're grown-ups and don't have to like each other to work together effectively.

This times 1000. A working relationship is not a friendship nor does it require any particularly strong "rapport". Though the idea that there's no difference between a working relationship and being best buds is, I guess, not uncommon in SV---something to protest against the next time an experiment like this is run, I guess.


This depends on the context of a working relationship. It is certainly true that if your manager hired you and some other guy, it is possible for you to work together effectively with the other guy, even if you seriously disliked him personally.

YC is much more of a "mentor+mentee" relationship than a regular "coworkers on a team" relationship. A mentor relationship is much less effective if there's no personal rapport between participants.


Do university professors call all their students individually before lessons start, just to build a "personal rapport"? No, they build it as they are mentoring. That's how it's done, if it's all about mentoring. Mentoring someone you know in advance and have a personal rapport with is just a form of patronizing.


Also, as others (maybe you, elsewhere?) have pointed out, it would have been a good experiment (!) to take Maciej on despite the initial cold feeling just to see what happened. Maybe it would have worked out! Maybe that would be a lesson about relying on vague gut feels!


Thesis advisors certainly do this, though.


Working relationships, especially an intense mentoring-type relationship that YC is trying to set up, certainly do require strong rapport.

To put it another way, suppose the best advice YC can give is to focus on something other than pinboard (or something like that), would idlewords listen? Because if not, what's the point?

I can see this is disappointing for idlewords, but overall, this seemed fair and reasonably transparent to me.

I'm worried the overall outcome is that instead of being a fun and interesting experiment, it's going to be a 'bad and sad' in YC's minds, and any future contest is going to have a lawyer writing the rules.

So, here's to a clearer 'judge's decision is final' next time and that the three accepted applicants turn out successful.


"He made me feel uncomfortable" is like slide 3 of every "unconscious bias" training workshop ever. As we slowly try to claw our way out from a deservedly terrible reputation in our industry, high-profile retentions for, basically, "lack of culture fit" send a dark message to every person in existence who fears they might not leave you "energized".

I realize it's inadvisable to wade into this discussion, but this just leaves me indignant and disappointed on behalf of my whole industry and profession.


This is the Achilles's Heal of YC's application process. The human "culture fit" test, where in (literally) just a few minutes they evaluate the founders as people.

The reason this experiment was so interesting was that it would bypass their biased human filtering and let in people based purely on their merit.

Not accepting Pinboard undermines the entire experiment. Pinboard could likely be a huge company with YC's help, and it would be fucking hilarious to watch.

Let Pinboard in and do the experiment again. He's smart and he's not crazy. Any founder able to win the votes is someone you can work with. Consider it a diversity program, which it would be.


It also flies in the face of the "meritocracy" narrative that's so often brought up when talking about tech culture.


> he made me feel uncomfortable in the end

This kind of statement is broad, and covers anything from "he said he'd use the money to breed a race of robotic nazi grizzly bears" to "his voice reminded me of my ex-spouse's".

YC is y'all's thing, you run it however you want, but the lack of details here does make it seem like it really is about the fact that Maciej routinely criticizes the whole VC/startup fairy tale that YC peddles, and that changing the rules at the last minute is the only way you came up with to dodge having to work with him.

I generally agree with what Maciej has to say, and have a fairly negative opinion of YC (despite enjoying the HN community, and respecting some of the people involved with YC) - I thought I'd be pleasantly surprised by YC here and see what happens when they're willing to work with one of their smarter critics.

But in the end, there's just disappointment, and no reason to reconsider my perception of YC.


Could you guys maybe amend the post you just wrote, and Dan's disclaimer about Pinboard?

"We changed the rules at the last minute. We're sorry, but that's the way it goes."

I can live with that. What you did instead, first by pretending Maciej didn't win in your post, and then by blaming him for not being selected in Dan's follow-up, was a mistake, and not a great way to treat him. I don't know you at all, but Dan likes you so you can't be a bad person, and I can't believe Dan is happy with this.


This is exactly what strikes me as odd about the whole thing. 'dang has made an impressive effort to keep everything on HN as transparent as possible, and this explanation just screamed inconsistency.

Were the real reason, as stated here, published the first time, I wouldn't even have bothered to comment.


And, YC, you can be inconsistent. That's fine with me.

But when you're inconsistent, you should bear a special obligation to be generous and charitable to the people you're disadvantaging. YC didn't live up to that obligation here.


Sounds to me like they were generous, with their time. Kevin called him and they had a conversation... that's more than any other VC will do.


"Asshole VC associate" is not the bar YC is trying to clear.


I was an applicant and I understood from the start that the votes would influence it but that YCF would make the final call. It was clear to me before I applied that YCF would have a final say. I'm sorry it's confusing you.


What are you talking about? They promised a certain criteria, disqualified someone who appeared to win by it (minus the vote boost maybe), claimed it for one set of reasons, it looked like it was for worse reasons, half-ass admitted that later, and still aren't fully owning up to it now or presenting it honestly for future participants in these things. At least, that's how I read tptacek's comments throughout thread.

I was about to even agree with one saying the evidence looked fishy given spotting or countering subversive behavior is kind of my thing. Then, kevin's comment appeared just as I was about to write mine to confirm opposition angle a lot.

Full disclosure: First time I've ever found out who idlewords is, I don't use that product, probably didn't give it a vote, I give mixed reviews of Silicon Valley politics/VC's, and say whatever I think facts lead to regardless of blowback. As in, near zero bias in this and people's concerns are still obvious to me.


You misunderstand. There was a time when I thought we might be #2, and I thought, 'I think that gives us a good chance'. I didn't think, 'therefore they have to pick us'. They were clear about that.


tptacek's comment said a lot more than "he had more votes." Matter of fact, it didn't mention that directly at all. One would have to read his other comments to get context. That's what context I had in mind when trying to interpret your comment.

Now, if this is your whole argument, then I don't disagree with it. Yet, tptacek's reply to you is still true based on what's in the comment you replied to and the others. Your counter doesn't apply to what he wrote.


This comment has nothing to do with mine.


It has everything to do with it because I'm saying that I understood, everyone understood going in, that it was not a popularity contest.

If Pinboard had no votes, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It was specifically because it had the most votes that there was any expectation that it might be chosen. But it was always Kevin's prerogative to say no, and he did. They were clear that it is an experiment, and that we would figure things out as we go. I don't see how you can accuse "changing the rules". There were no set rules.

You would be dishonest if you tried to say that Pinboard didn't initially approach this as a funny/protest entry ("Let's make YC great again"). Whether he changed later is irrelevant. Whether some voted for Pinboard because they liked it is irrelevant. Others voted for it for it in the same spirit as he entered it, and suddenly (whether he intended it or not) you have the Wonka Factory's doors open and a bunch of people finding it fun (and maybe cathartic) to act like Veruca Salt. Don't blame Kevin or Dan, blame Maciej.


>We made the decision to call all the startups we’d consider taking on through Apply HN and make a decision on fit. […] Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good rapport with Maciej. Regardless of the vote situation, I’d make the same decision.

1. As other posters have said, "we couldn't find rapport" is a warning sign of unconscious bias. And, as you said, the rules were constructed "on purpose: we don't want to bias it along the lines of how YC already operates."

2. It's pretty clear that "we decided to privately call all the startups rather than do everything in public" only happened because of Pinboard's success.

3. You guys dropped the ball on this one, big time. DQ-ing Pinboard isn't the real problem. If you think the Pinboard business is no good, or the founder would squander the money, whatever, that's your call. But it should have happened far earlier in the process. Waiting to drop Pinboard until after after two rounds of votes were tabulated is ridiculous.


>My minimum was connection

>Maciej is clearly brilliant and quite witty and knows how to build and direct a passionate following. Pinboard is unique and I’m glad it exists. More opinionated software should exist in the world. Even though we couldn’t find rapport together, I sincerely wish him and his startup the very best.

I find this a little confusing in that it seems to conflict with what I had taken as the entire purpose of the experiment. If not trying out people who have positive attributes who others seem to like that you don't connect with then honestly, what's the point of this?

Everything HN readers know about choosing successful founders comes from reading material written by you guys and seeing your results in action. The facts were never going to be radically different in that our primary criteria would be things like "company name has lots of strong letters" or "that guy has a power beard", no the things discussed in the comments were stuff we've read from VCs and are effectively regurgitating. Nothing revolutionary there.

The true value I thought you were going for was to take the bias of "do I connect with this guy" out of it. But instead you say you think he's great, companies great, but just don't connect with him. You don't need us to be able to find great people with great ideas that you do connect with.

You've taken a system that would remove your own intuition bias, and then created a step at the last minute where the only apparent intent appears to be to introduce that bias. :/

I sort of hope this is just a polite "this isn't a business decision. It would just suck to work with this guy and I'm successful enough to not have to do things that suck for money", in which case fair enough.


I am not sure feeling uncomfortable around someone or not having a connection with them is a reasonable excuse for a company that wants to encourage diversity and reaching out to disadvantaged groups. Racial bias in workplaces is largely the result of people hiring those who are most like themselves. I think if your goal is to really to be inclusive, you should take people on their merits and abilities, not on the minutia of how you personally feel about them.

Disclaimer: I didn't vote for Pinboard and hadn't even heard of them before this voting.


Very much agreed. Allowing vague, largely unexamined "gut feels" to drive decision making is antithetical to what we want tech culture to be, and also precludes objectivity. It is by a very wide margin the most common tool used to restrict diversity - in all its forms - and keep something a closed club by making its decisions vague, nonspecific, and by its nature unchallengeable either from within or without.

Gut feels are often valuable signals, but without further examination and specificity they are a gigantic bias bomb waiting to explode.

An organization that widely permits this type of vague assertion to pass unchallenged is institutionally incapable of improving inclusivity or diversity, and one has to wonder if it's institutionally interested in the same at all.

Some concrete questions: what is YC's policy on ensuring employees/partners have received training re: bias? Have YC decision makers all participated in de-biasing education? If not, how does this reflect on YC's apparent dedication to improving diversity in our field?


Wouldn't it have been a great experiment to see if a company Kevin didn't like did well in the batch?

If the point was to experiment I think YC missed out on a big opportunity.


Yeah I have to admit that this puzzled me as well. I think Kevin and the rest of the YC folks have every right to do whatever they please with this process, and am not bothered in the least by the fact that Pinboard wasn't chosen, but reading Kevin's explanation somehow made me think that some of those WOULD be reasons to select it.

Pinboard is in a relatively unique situation amongst all the other companies in that it is beyond finding product-market fit -- it's got an established userbase and a founder with proven chops and a large following. It seems like he is in the exact position where something like YCF can help pour gasoline on the things that he's doing that are already working.

I understand YC's tremendous focus on finding a right fit with founders when they join the regular batches. But, at least at first, it's not entirely clear that this criterion should hold as much weight with YCF. They'll talk less frequently, invest less money, etc. -- maybe the optimal strategy for YCF is in fact focusing much more on the present stage of the company and whether or not the little bit of cash/partner influence can cause an inflection??? Who knows, really... but it sure sounded like accepting Pinboard -- not in spite but because there were these issues with Maciej -- would make it an especially interesting case to try out.


The right thing to do here would have been to award the fellowship to the voting winners and then amend your rules to exclude "applicants about whom we have bad vibes" going forward.

Retroactively doing so, sure, is your right but it's fairly underhanded.


Now, I'm just waiting the next hilarous talk Maciej will give about this YC case.


"I don't like him so we didn't pick him"


Let's be honest here, this is all because of Maciej's hilarious twitter account...


"Pay the man his money"

Is what I would say.


Especially considering the amount we're talking about is peanuts, by VC (and YC) standards. Some startups pay more for a chair.


> More opinionated software should exist in the world...

"...but we aren't going to be the ones to help that happen."


The 'ol Bay area bait-n-switch. Honor isn't something you 'prototype and revise'.


>> "Like all our experiments at YC, we design them to adapt as things happen, and they certainly did here."

Hi Kevin... :-)

Understand your feelings and agree with the choice in the context of YC/YCF - but to me this is a massive opportunity to grow YC beyond what it is now; to me, it feels that instead of looking for a way make it work, YC bailed out.

To that end, on a trial basis, I'm offering to start YCX, which would allow YC and the community to work together to make this possible.

While I wouldn't pretend to know the all the answers now (or in the future) - I deeply believe in bridging the gaps between communities to form new communities that in the end will be in sum stronger, more diverse, create opportunities, etc.

Very possible that I've misunderstood, but the main issues I'm seeing are: (1) how YCX relationships would work with YC/YCF and (2) insuring that the way capital is provided works for YC, the startups, and community.

To that end, to me, some solutions might be to have the funds provided by the community via non-equity crowdfunding, have YCX only mentors, allow YC/YCF to opt-in to relationships with YCX fellows, etc.

Happy to talk more offline if you're open to trying to make this work; also, completely understand if it's not a path YC wants to consider too.


I can't speak for anyone else, but I voted for Pinboard and only Pinboard because I wanted to maximize the impact of my vote for Pinboard.

If that's what you mean when you say 'the votes for Pinboard look dramatically different from the votes for the other startups', then I think you've unfairly confused my deliberate intentions with 'vote brigading'.

Things turned out exactly how I expected they would here, but it's still disappointing.


I'm in the same situation; I lurk HN daily, and voted for Pinboard only.

I hope single-votes are not being called out as part of some 'vote brigading' conspiracy :\


Throw me in this pool. I lurk frequently, rarely comment or contribute.

But I made a single vote, explicitly for Pinboard, and had not seen his tweets. I probably look like a voting scheme. But it was a legitimate and intentional vote because I believe in Maciej and what he could do to grow his business and improve YC through the fellowship.


> Things turned out exactly how I expected they would here, but it's still disappointing.

Yeah, this is disappointing, but also completely predictable.


same voting pattern for me as well, 1 vote for pinboard


I voted for Maciej because I admire what he's doing and I'd like to think that I "get" him (though I don't know him personally). I cut my teeth in this industry working at a startup that's still bootstrapped and profitable, and I share his vision of building an internet to "CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS" [1], instead of whatever insane internet people are dreaming of these days. Yes, it's a bit of a political thing, and while it might be a protest against the current industry culture (can you honestly blame us?), I don't think it's just a joke either. I think Maciej has a great intuitive sense of how people, technology, and culture interact, and he's good at expressing that; his ventures are certainly worth spending the equivalent of a single employee's recruitment fee.

Is the true YC? For all the talk about funding radical new ideas in their normal batches, they fund a lot of companies that look and act alike. So, when YC backs out of its own experiment because it turns out unexpected, it's not really disappointing; it's just a reminder of how seemingly conformist its attitudes are.

[1] http://idlewords.com/talks/web_design_first_100_years.htm


To make this right just make an additional YCF spot for Maciej, call it the "People's Choice" award, and be done with it. You can't hold a popularity contest and deny the popular candidate. Curate from the rest, sure, but people are always going to feel ripped off if the popular winner gets arbitrarily disqualified. That's why 'people's choice' awards exist. Plus if this is an experiment, why not run with the unexpected?


This is chock full of platitudes and obfuscation. Pinboard appears to have participated in good faith, as you admitted yourself. It seems rather like HN/YC had never intended to allow Pinboard to win, even before any votes had been cast.

If your aim with this contest was to pilot something new and unique that might further distinguish YC, I suppose you've done just that, even if in the opposite direction. Sometimes karma is more than just a column in your database.

(Disclaimer: I did not vote.)


I understand the concerns you all have, but I thought the experiment was to see what would happen with some startups selected by HN. By disqualifying one of the submissions based on an interview, you're testing something slightly different.


If you're 'sad' and 'really wanted it to work,' well, why isn't it happening? Do you have the power to make it happen? The voters apparently didn't.


There are two sides to an investor/mentoring/incubating relationship.


> I presume this is the effect of Pinboard's (deservedly) large audience being asked to promote the post, e.g. at https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/727255170594131968 and https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/719599297604390912.

Rather than presuming, you could check your logs and subtract the votes from users who arrived at the thread via one of these referring URLs. What do the vote totals look like if you do that?


I voted for Pinboard during "Apply HN", then went about my business. I don't refresh the HN homepage every 5 minutes (well, not every day...) so there was a big chance I would miss the second poll if it hadn't been for the Pinboard twitter feed. In fact, at this point there is a nagging suspicion that someone hoped less people would notice the second poll and results could "normalise"... The "voting ring" smear is just clutching at straws, really.


at this point there is a nagging suspicion that someone hoped less people would notice the second poll and results could "normalise"

I exchanged a few emails with Dan, and based on those I can say that this is definitely not what happened. Rather to the contrary, he was concerned that having a poll among "leading candidates" would make it too easy to game.


You've just reinforced the point you're trying to dismiss.


How so? Reference to voting rings is clutching at straws... because it's something Dan was explicitly concerned about last week?


He got more votes in the first round alone than the "winner" in the second round, and twice that amount the second time. The will of the community was pretty clear the first time around, and it only got stronger when new hoops were added; this not just from votes but from comment threads. Invoking "voting fraud" is clutching at straws. Kevin didn't like him - fine, let's just say so and move on, it's their money and all, but don't try to hide behind some sort of hacking (eh) or fraud that never was.


> But then two things happened. First, Kevin and Maciej had the good-faith conversation described at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11441978, and Kevin reluctantly concluded that Maciej doesn’t want to participate in the program as intended

How in the world do you come to that conclusion from THIS:

> Kevin: If you were seriously interested, I'd be delighted to work with you.

> Maciej: I feel like after seven years, I have a pretty good sense of what bookmarking/archiving needs people have, but am at the limits of what I can personally build. If the votes swing my way, I'd be happy to have a good-faith conversation with you.

And then how do you reconcile this statement from above:

> Kevin was excited by the prospect of working with [pinboard].

with this from below?

> tptacek: You weren't turning the knobs to see what would change. The outcome was clear, you didn't like it, and so you prevented it from happening.

> Kevin: Yes. I wasn't arguing against that.

if you wanted to work with Maceij, and he said he'd be happy to have a good faith conversation with you if he won, then why would you a) not like the outcome or b) prevent it from happening?

I don't really care who won, but these claims have no internal consistency and literally don't make any sense.


If you removed votes from all accounts newer than the day you announced this entire program, what would the tally be? If I had to guess it would have still won.


Lol vote brigading. You mean... people showing up and voting for what they want?


No, I mean soliciting upvotes, which is against the rules (and culture) of HN. We discussed this elsewhere in this thread.


FWIW, I don't have any dog in this race; I'm just a HN reader who liked Pinboard and voted for it.

Is it possible to address the points raised by `beeboop' and `killwhitey' above with the data available -- would long-term HN members have been enough to put Pinboard over the top ? (i.e. the vote brigading had no substantive effect and it was just the phone conversation that prompted the decision)


Even easier: how many up votes did the original "Apply HN" for Pinboard get before he sent out his first tweet about it?

If it's more than what one of the "winners" got in the second poll, then the whole argument is over.


To do or not to do the following is of course entirely your / YCF's prerogative, but: would you perhaps consider providing a more quantitative answer to 'toyg's query below - in particular: "Even easier: how many up votes did the original "Apply HN" for Pinboard get before he sent out his first tweet about it?"

Surely this is not hard to check? I think many people are justifiably curious, given that "vote brigading" is in my mind an accusation. (I understand that the decision has already been made and that it will not be changed.)


>when we dug into the data we found that the votes for Pinboard look dramatically different from the votes for the other startups.

What do the totals look like if you filter out new accounts, or accounts with little karma?


"but when we dug into the data we found that the votes for Pinboard look dramatically different from the votes for the other startups."

Examining the data, we found that there were oddly more votes cast for Pinboard than the other contestants, which smelled fishy so they were disqualified. Seriously, don't ask for people to vote for things and then ignore the results. Just don't ask them to vote in the first place.


Thanks for the transparency as always, Dan. It's well appreciated.


>transparency

I hope this is sarcasm.


This "vote brigading" thing is ridiculous. Are we to believe that no one else involved tweeted or otherwise publicized their candidacy?


Let's be clear; this wasn't just somebody tweeting about their Apply HN. It was explicit and repeated requests to vote specifically for him, going to a couple of orders of magnitude more followers than a normal person would have. What would be ridiculous is for the results to be determined by who has the biggest social networking presence.


> It was explicit and repeated requests to vote specifically for him

Where, exactly? His Twitter feed contains a single link to each of his original Apply HN and the later poll (plus one link-less joke about the poll). I mean, yes, he has a big following, and yes, he promoted his application (which everyone involved admits he would not have done if he had thought it was against the rules). But "explicit and repeated" makes it sound like a lot more than one (humorous) tweet per poll.

And it's not like he used a personal account, either. That one doesn't mention it at all. It's just @Pinboard - and frankly, it would be weird if you didn't think current customers would want to support you in growing your business.


Three tweets that contained a link that solicited votes, which is almost certainly three more than the median applicant. It'd be more if you also counted links without the requests to vote.

https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/727255170594131968 https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/720802750317993984 https://twitter.com/Pinboard/status/719599297604390912

And sorry, claiming they were just jokes can't be a free pass. Everything about that application was framed as a joke from start to finish.


Dude, any election is a social thing. To pretend otherwise is to kid yourself. If you don't want a popularity contest across social networks, don't have public voting - simple as.


If they did so publicly, you can tell dang about it...


That's not really relevant; I don't think it's our job, or anyone else's, to police the internet for 'vote brigading.' In this case, it was never against the stated rules.


It's definitely against HN's rules and is in the FAQ:

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


That specifically refers to submitted stories.

I think it is dodgy to have an online election, and then disqualify participants for mentioning it to people who might want to vote for them.


I can't reply to dan's reply to this, for some reason, but regarding "I don't see a distinction there. It refers to submissions, and Apply HN posts were submissions, a.k.a. stories in HN's sense (posts that aren't comments).", well, it also says that users should vote for "a story" because it's "intellectually interesting", which is not a rationale (or in the case of "story" a referring term) that seems to make much sense in the present case. So it makes a lot of sense, I think, to construe it as referring to submissions in the narrower sense.

Regardless, the tweets in question were around a long time before Pinboard was disqualified without expectation. The first one certainly predates kevin's phone call, for instance.

(And of course one of the tweets in question was contained a link to the general poll, which was not a submission of Maciej's, and the other, technically, was a link to all the Apply HN posts, not to his.)


I don't see a distinction there. It refers to submissions, and Apply HN posts were submissions, a.k.a. stories in HN's sense (posts that aren't comments).

Certainly it never crossed my mind that the rules about voting rings would be any different than with regular posts. HN users are passionately opposed to the voting system getting gamed; we'd have been skinned alive if we allowed it. But tptacek makes a good point about that not being obvious to everybody.


Do you think I would have consciously sabotaged my chances by breaking this rule had I been aware of it? Especially knowing that YC would be looking for any pretext to disqualify me?

Your rules about voting rings are not public. I think that you're so used to modding the site that you forget this, but take a look at the letter of what it actually says in the FAQ.


No, I don't think that for a minute.

I'm confused by your second paragraph—I just don't get it—but if there's a way to make the FAQ clearer I'd like to. There's no question that I have trouble seeing this stuff from an outside viewpoint. I'm too immersed in it.

By the way, I didn't reply to the bit about the voting rules because I think it's the only important point in your post; it isn't. It's just something that I knew how to respond to. I'm trying to write something in response to the larger substance, but am having trouble because my feelings (bad, and sad) have the better of me right now. I'll get there.


You've managed to personally lose an astonishing amount of credibility, and this has managed to do a shocking amount of damage to the YC brand. I literally just came from three different bars (hey, it was a good night) in SF and overheard no less than five different conversations about this clusterfuck. Obviously YC/HN doesn't give a shit (because sama could easily drop 20k like a rock and not care), but it looks super bad.


Holy crap. You need to go to different bars!


Why do think I kept leaving!?


Haha, this may be the best comment of all. For once, I'd just like to go to a bar and talk about Trump. Is that too much to ask? :)


The post he provided a link to wasn't his Apply HN submission; it was the run-off poll.

I told him when I noticed the same Twitter post that it was going to cause problems (too late!), and he was genuinely surprised.


He did also provide an earlier link to all the Apply HN submissions (not his alone).


Right - I agree with you, in general. I just think that this particular situation is a bit different, and Apply HN implies that there are folks outside HN applying /to/ HN. Those folks outside HN may have no idea about the voting rules, and it also isn't clear, even to long-time HN users, that this wasn't a different situation entirely.


Yup! And I don't intend to ever do that.

But that says nothing about the Apply HN situation. That's new, had a different set of rules (hell, you wrote a polling solution), and the regular guidelines didn't necessarily apply. That they did should have been made clear.

Again, nothing against it this time, since it's all up to you guys - just feedback for the next time.


Why is the FAQ not linked within the Guidelines page (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)? To me, that is a guideline... you wouldn't look at the FAQ before posting something.


No transparency here. How disappointing.




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