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Tell HN: Apply HN apology and revision
653 points by dang on May 6, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 206 comments
A couple days ago we ended the first Apply HN experiment with a big fuck-up, and I'd like to try to make it right. (For background on this, see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633270 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11440627). I thought I'd made it clear that we'd make things up and change the Apply HN rules as we went along, but it wasn't clear. It took time and a large stack of HN user comments for me to perceive this, but I get it now.

Maciej, I'm sorry. Your interpretation of what I originally posted was not only reasonable, it was how most people read it. The fault was not yours, but mine. We changed the rules of a game you had won, to cover for my failure to anticipate an unwanted outcome, and you were right to be pissed.

We've offered Maciej the $20k, and he graciously accepted and asked us to donate it to the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (http://www.cohsf.org/). We'll take care of doing so. (Edit 2016-05-08: We now have.)

A note to HN users: The intention behind Apply HN was to do something new to excite and interest the community and engage it with YC in an interesting way. That did happen, but it pains me that it also partly turned into the opposite. If any of you have suggestions for how to do better, I'd like to hear them.

It's nice to see an organization behave like "a decent human being" from time to time.

This post is a shining example of exactly what people want to hear when they perceive a company/organization has failed (especially when it's apparent to the company/organization). It's direct/to the point, doesn't mince words, doesn't attempt to twist it into something it isn't and instantly, in my case, raised the level of respect that I have for YC[1]. Personally, I didn't fully understand the controversy and didn't feel it was as big of a deal as it was bubbling up to be, but everyone has their opinion. Had I been on the "yes, you fucked up badly" side, though, this would have been a response I would have never expected and been pleased to see.

I know there are reasons that organizations don't offer this level of candor. Many of them are the same reasons people choose not to apologise/own up for their own mistakes. The only valid reason is the one that comes from the legal department: Outright admitting a mistake opens one up to possible liabilities and an easy win from a plaintiff in court. In the especially litigious United States, this could be a "death blow" kind of risk. When it's not, I wouldn't want to be the guy in charge of weighing the "goodwill" benefit from handling an apology correctly against the costs of litigation (I'd prefer to attempt blind-folded archery through the wake of a 747). But I deeply wish organizations could behave more like individuals and handle an apology properly: Admit clearly you've screwed up, state the cause and corrections to prevent it in the future, and possibly provide something as a show of good faith that those actions are being followed. I found seek out and find a way to do business with companies that behaved like that.

[1] Which is funny to say. Frankly, I'd have expected a response like this from YC because they've tended to behave in an admirable way.

[2] All of which are terrible ideas and require one to only get over one's ego. Be quick to apologise and quick to forgive is my rule. Just because malice wasn't intended (which is practically always the case), doesn't mean things couldn't have been handled better and people weren't hurt just the same.

I might be in the minority opinion here, but I think Maciej is getting off light on this one.

I am a happy paying subscriber to Pinboard and enjoy his writing as much as anyone here, but Pinboard can barely be considered a startup at this point in time (running since 2009), and he seems like he has not really been interested in adding much new since then (for good reason..)

The original posting stated "It will be like a lighter version of YC for idea and prototype stage companies" - Which doesn't fit Pinboard at all.

I think the original response to the voting, etc was handled very professionally by YC, and Maciej should spend more time writing and less time stewing up trouble.

I would say it was marketing genius and Maciej knows how to play YC and the HN community like a master.

Personally if I have been Dan or Kevin I would have called Maciej’s bluff and demanded that Pinboard participate in the program since that is what everyone was voting for and if he still chose to participate then hold his feet to the fire over the time requirement of the YC fellowship program.

Exactly this. Maciej built his entire brand based off of HN. He is laughing all the way to the bank with this post.

Does that take away from his achievements? I don't see anyone else succeeding or even attempting to "build a brand", which requires one to forge his own path.

Courage: in short supply. is not defined by ability to mouth off ideas propelled by groupthink. often is found in those who are divergents.

I believe he laughed all the way to a homeless shelter, not a bank. I'm sad because I do believe he'd have invested the money into Pinboard had he been chosen as deserved the first time around. But it was not a total loss, and can potentially bring greater benefits to a needy population given prudent resource management.

Given the number of sign-ups he received over the past week, I'm certain he made off very well with this deal, even after donating the "spoils".

I'll share a secret. I'm aware of the fact that my tirades here are getting me (HN nick) name recognition, something that may assist me in getting more penetration with my messages and my products.

however, that is a byproduct of how my soul acts in this given situation. I have a firm foundation on who I am, which is why I am able to get attention whereas some aren't.

therefore, if Pinboard founder didn't have some solidity (this implies neither "good" nor "bad" - qualifiers that fall short of capturing non-absolutism in life) to himself, none of this would've happened. he has reaped the reward for molding himself (which takes work) in a way so that he was able to win a battle like this. that is to his credit.

> Maciej built his entire brand based off of HN.

Not true. He had his blog readers before YC existed. Later he also participated here, got banned for (debatably) harsh words, was asked to return, and returned without much enthusiasm, AFAICT.

Some of his "brand" (now there's a telltale word, there), perhaps. Entirely, no.

I don't disagree with your points, but given that, shouldn't all this have been resolved before it even got started with a quick: "This is for idea and prototype stage companies, sorry"?

YC decided to let it move forward when it clearly didn't fit the criteria; having done so they then changed their minds and disqualified it on completely different grounds.

> I think the original response to the voting, etc was handled very professionally

I'd have to disagree. I think the professional way of handling this would have been to nix it quietly at the start.

"It will be like a lighter version of YC for idea and prototype stage companies" - Which doesn't fit Pinboard at all." - I agree 100%

This comment adds nothing to the discussion. Use the upvote arrow if you simply agree with someone.

I completely agree. I missed most of this "event" but the very idea that Pinboard was involved in any way, shape or form just doesn't make sense at all. It seems very not-in-the-spirit of things and it was very obvious from the start (so Maciej knew he was not acting in good faith).

In my opinion of course but you are not alone.

When dang pointed out how asking for upvotes is against HN policies, the argument Maciej put forward was - "Hey. If I knew about this, do you think I would have done it?". Really? "ignorantia juris non excusat". This is nothing but high level of arrogance and unprofessionalism.

This is coming from someone biased since my Apply HN was disqualified for the same reason. Before you make a quick judgement of Maciej and myself, I'd ask you to take a better look at the Hacker News website and the Apply HN post itself.

1. I may have missed this but if you look at HN's guidelines (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) there's nothing that says that asking for upvotes is not allowed. You'll only find this in the FAQ (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html). I'm going to guess that long time members of HN are not going to read the FAQ.

2. If you take a look at the submissions page, as of this moment there's no link to HN's guidelines, or even a mention of it. Nor is there a link or mention to the FAQ.

3. If you look at the stated rules for Apply HN, there's a) add Apply HN to the title, b) comment and 'be nice' and c) rules for scoring (which are designed to account for upvotes). You'll only see the mention about asking for upvotes, pretty deep in the thread. If it's that important then the announcement should be updated to reflect it

4. When you reference 'What We Look for in Founders' (http://www.paulgraham.com/founders.html), it sends a mixed message because #4 comes to mind. "Though the most successful founders are usually good people, they tend to have a piratical gleam in their eye. They're not Goody Two-Shoes type good. Morally, they care about getting the big questions right, but not about observing proprieties... They delight in breaking rules, but not rules that matter." Of course "rules that matter" are going to be arbitrary.

If HN is going to be really strict about the rules, then it would be nice if the rules were referenced more often and if they were more specific ie. if a 'rule' is broken that isn't written down e.g a 'spiritual' rule, it would be nice if it would be written down for posterity

This said, I'm still happy about the end result of the 1st Apply HN, though it kind of shocks me that the winners were rejected during F3.

>"ignorantia juris non excusat"

It very much should, though. Especially with the over-abundance of stupid bureaucratic laws covering all aspects of life. And, that quote aside, that ignorantia is actually considered as an excuse by courts in judging certain cases, at least as a sign that no malicious intent was present.

Plus, it's not that different from the “They did not know it was impossible so they did it” Mark Twain quote.

Note to tech world: THIS is how you take responsibility, make things right when mistakes happen, and look out for the communities we live in.

It's good to see the apology, it's very well written and dang has seemed consistently genuine throughout this process. My respect for him has increased because of this episode, and I think he does a great job shepherding HN.

I wish I could say the same for YC. Kevin's post about why Maciej wasn't accepted was a textbook example of the sort of thinking that leads to the terrible lack of diversity we have in tech. Nothing about this changes that. 20k is relatively little money for both YC and Maciej, it's nice to see it go to what looks like a worthy cause but it doesn't really address the core issue at all.

The arguments about diversity in tech are normally framed in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation etc. But in this case the issue was in diversity of ideas relating to startups. I think Maciej makes some very compelling arguments that the sort of model that YC promotes is seriously flawed, and was basically rejected because of that. I think his arguments are ones that many young entrepreneurs should hear.

If you replace the first couple of sentences of Kevin's post with "The simple answer is that ${the woman | the black person | the gay person} was clearly the best candidate, but just made me feel uncomfortable in the end. It’s touchy feely, I know, but the truth." they could have been successfully sued, and for good reason. Think of the 20k as settling out of court.

I generally agree with Maciej's assessment of the startup world, and it's sad to have one of my major prejudices about it confirmed so clearly. My estimation of YC has definitely sunk even lower after this.

Do you have a link to Kevin's post and Maciej's responses at all? I (and I suspect a lot of other readers) completely missed all this, and whilst I'm not very interested in the drama, I am interested in the points you bring up in this post.

Here's the thread you're looking for: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633517

I don't know if this is such a great example.

The right thing to do seemed pretty obvious, and it would have been easier to just give it to Pinboard in the first place. The skeptical view here is that they're only fixing things because they were so vocally called out for screwing up.

So yeah, taking responsibility is great, but doing the wrong thing and taking responsibility only you're called out for it, isn't so great. When possible, just do the right thing in the first place.

You have to give people a path to get apologize and get better. Sometimes, it takes getting yelled at to realize that you are wrong. That doesn't make the learning any less real.

Otherwise, we just live in a world where everybody demonizes each other and we are knives out all the time. Oh, wait...

You can't ask for much more than a full apology and an offer to make it right. This was as good as we can expect to get.

I'm not sure I agree with that in general. There should be negative consequences for doing the wrong thing. Companies shouldn't be able to do whatever they want and say "Oops, our bad! Look how awesome we are for owning up to it!" Otherwise there's no motivation to do better in the future.

I'm not saying YC should go out of business, or YC funded companies should be boycotted or anything like that, but some negative publicity is well deserved. The parent comment seemed to be sweeping the whole thing under the rug.

The consequence is closer scrutiny next time, and less likelihood of "getting off" as easily next time.

Being allowed to go "oops, our bad" every time would have bad consequences, I agree. Being able to go "oops, our bad" every now and again because you usually do ok is another matter entirely.

One of the incentives to do good can very well be that it makes you more likely to get off easy when something occasionally goes wrong - it's good insurance.

It boils down to trust: You get off easy with a "oops, our bad" when people believe it is a genuine, occasional mistake, rather than a regular case of "shit, they caught us, better backpedal".

If you have the money to give.

No, the money was pledged regardless. Maciej said how he'd like it bestowed, and HN have followed his request. The money wasn't in question.

Owning the problem was in question, and HN owned it.

What a compassionate way to turn this into something good! Thank you to all parties.

If anyone wants to join me in also donating to the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, here is the donation form linked on their site:


(You have to actually click the "Take Action" link in the header: http://www.cohsf.org/)

My specific suggestions on how to improve the Apply HN process.

1. Allow more than 2000 characters for the application description. I don’t think we need to make this endless - something like 5000 characters should work.

2. Increase the contrast of the text in the description - as a (slightly) older person reading large blocks of light grey text on a light grey background is hard going.

3. Set clear guidelines on what we are supposed to be judging the applications on. Is it what we would most like to see funded, or is it what we think is the best fit for YC?

4. Once a shortlist is selected then let the applicants update the description in light of the discussion they have had. In my case I learned from the questions asked that many people missed what the market was for my idea and dismissed it on that basis. I really needed to go back into the original application and update the description to make this clearer.

5. YC should not limit themselves to the winners of the process. If they see an application they think is a great fit for YC then just interview the applicants. YC is getting a different category of applicants in both cases. In my case I put in an Apply HN application yet I had no interest in applying for a standard YCF or the YC program. Edit. I should add here that I am probably not a good fit for YC, but I am sure some of the other applicants that did not win were.

6. We need some better way of deciding on what is more important - what appeals to the HN community, or what has wider appeal. The HN community is a great resource, but it is not necessarily the best market for a startup. Many of the applications were voted up on what HNers wanted, not on what we thought the wider world wants.

> 2. Increase the contrast of the text in the description - as a (slightly) older person reading large blocks of light grey text on a light grey background is hard going.

I'd love to see some decent research on this. I'd like to see what the eyesight is like for the average web designer, compared to the average eyesight for the general population.

Here were not talking about people who meet the level of "visual impairment" - they may wear glasses, but their nowhere near meeting requirements to be counted as disabled.

Yet very many websites make the mistake of having either light text on a bright background, or of having a bright white background and black text.

A vision-simulation mode plug in might be useful.

There's also the factor that web-designers generally do their work on high-quality, big monitors (and an environment that doesn't impair viewing, etc etc). Some of them probably do test their designs on other monitors? Like you'd maybe also test your web-application on a low-powered machine.

Anyway, a lot of them probably also don't, but still a lot of the general public has less than optimal viewing conditions.

And ashwoods, I'd also be interested in that research if you can dig up that you find particularly illustrative.

(anecdotal: I often enough open the Inspector tool to disable a `body { color: #555; }` style definition, myself)

There is decent research on this. And a lot of it. Easy to Google but I can post some once I'm home again.

I'm starting to lose faith in the concept of online voting. You get Pinboard, Boaty McBoatface and white house petitions about the Death Star. Maybe it's how easily links can be shared to reach a wider audience. Or just something about the nature of using the internet to vote. For some reason, nonsense seems to be more likely when people make decisions over http.

There's a fine line between "wisdom of the crowds" and "American Idol for startups". I'm not sure exactly where Apply HN falls. It doesn't seem like any individual investment will make or break YC, and this is an interesting idea for an experiment. But I don't come away from this feeling upbeat about the democratic process.

I too was disappointed to see the mob forming and stayed away from the original discussion poisoned by it - a crowd baying for blood and entertainment is the worst side of HN and online crowds, so it's disappointing to see people behave that way here.

As a suggestion for doing things better:

Make it clear what outcome YC wants (serious candidates for YCF) and what they won't accept.

Don't tolerate crass trolling like boaty mcboatface or 'I want my $20k', stamp it out early with a polite decline, if someone is clearly subverting the contest.

Make the reward explicitly be not participation and $20k, but an interview with HN, then starty mcstartupface who has no interest in the program can be gracefully declined, and others who are actually interested can participate as was intended.

Have categories defined by HN as well as an overall popularity contest, to encourage people to look at all the options, not just those which are popular.

Perhaps the way to go is representative democracy - vote for a committee from a pool of HN users, who then get to choose applications. The committee is re-elected every year, or whenever a member steps down.

The ability to say "I F'd up" is an important skill of leadership. Capt. Kohei Asoh [0] crashed a Japan Airlines DC-8 into the San Francisco Bay after a miscalculating the final approach. Nobody was injured and the aircraft was repaired. It became famously known among pilots as the "Asoh Defense"

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Airlines_Flight_2#The_.2...

I read the wikipedia entry. As an IFR-rated pilot, actual measurement of 300' and 3/4 miles is an easy ILS approach.

So rather than demonstrating leadership skill, total incompetence was illustrated.

For what it's worth I only voted for pinboard because I like what they're doing. I didn't vote for any of the other startups. I didn't see the promotional tweet and I had hoped pinboard would become a YC company. I'm disappointed all around and while I appreciate that the money will help people at the charity I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm disappointed Maciej didn't go and join the YC family with pinboard.

At this point, I think it's probably better for everyone to go their separate ways. Some drama was had, Pinboard doubtlessly got a nice subscriber spike, and now some homeless people will be helped. Good ending.

Wow, my respect for everyone involved is higher now than before this incident. Congratulations!

You're a good man, Charlie Brown.

"You" being you, among others. Wouldn't have happened without your drum-pounding, Thomas.

Thomas was certainly putting the most effort into the thread but it was a community effort with many voices opposing the result. As it should be if there's a problem in a community. That's likely why YC responded the way they did.

Geez- I miss a couple of days and really important stuff happens. Not sure what to make of it yet, but I'm pretty sure it means that this is a community I'm proud to be a member of.

You may have missed it due to the fact that the final YCF thread only got 180 votes and was probably flagged into the ether.

It wasn't flagged (well, a few users did, but not enough to affect it) and it spent many hours on the front page. It wasn't posted at peak hours, but we didn't plan it that way; it just ended up being the earliest time Kevin and I were both ready.

With all due respect to 'tptacek, there were a lot of folks unhappy with the result and "drum-pounding."

Hey, well said.

Fuck-ups happen. The biggest difference is how you deal with it.

dang, good on you. I hope it's not too embarrassing if I publicly say this, but I'm more than ever impressed by your level headed judgement and decision making, but even more so that when you realise you made a mistake you openly say so, then take measures to make it right.

It's very hard to do this, and it's my firm belief that only those of good character have the strength and fortitude to do so!

Maciej, you're a gracious guy and the manner in which you handled this was also exemplary.

As an aside: dang has one of the toughest and most thankless jobs you can imagine: moderating HN and ensuring that trolls, unstable people and those with hurt feelings are fairly dealt with and at times corrected. I am one of those people who dang has had to quietly speak with after I emailed HN, and his gracious, open and firm communication speaks volumes, and is one of the reasons why HN is the best and most interesting forums on the Internet.

Great response dang and big respect to Maciej for directing the 20k towards charity. A good resolution.

While this is the best outcome for all parties, I hope that future experiments have more clearly-defined rules. The outcome shows that brigading is a favorable strategy, and it may set a bad precedent in the long run. (Such as with a certain other startup voting site where vote brigading is expected because everyone else is doing it)

I'll add a note about the voting ring issue here, so as not to dilute the apology above.

Yes, there was a problem with vote solicitation, and we know how strongly many users feel about this. But the community support for Pinboard was unmistakeable, so there's a tradeoff here either way. In this case, the margin of that community support was so high that I think it has to win.

Now might be a good time to add a suitably abstract and all-encompassing sentence to the guidelines about mentioning submissions, comments, and poll entries on other sites in the hopes of gathering support.

There are very few community management problems Wikipedia hasn't had to tackle, and, unsurprisingly, this is one of the earliest ones:


Might also want to figure out where YC stands on public vs. social media vs. direct message solicitation of votes. I was encouraged by one of the other finalists, via FB message, to vote for his startup, and that same founder also asked all his FB friends to vote. I don't personally mind it when it's someone I've known for decades (as this person was), but other contestants might.

I've also been e-mailed by strangers asking me to vote for their Show HNs on the /new page, and in one case was even approached "As an influencer [hah!], would you mind spreading buzz around our XYZ Startup that we'll be posting to Hacker News shortly." Usually I just respond to these with "You know there's a voting ring detector, right?", but it's not really clear what is or isn't acceptable from a HN community moderator's perspective.

They're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place here.

HN doesn't have a lot of resources to combat abuse (notice how much abuse prevention is just 'dang --- who runs all of HN --- personally writing corrective notices [they're not even the same notices! Dan, get a shortcut completer!]).

I think a pretty big part of their strategy is to wait for serial abusers to do something stupid and then penalize their accounts. It's an arms race. If they list all the things you can do to get a submission penalized, they're making it harder to catch serious abusers.

I suspect that writing the corrective notices is cathartic for Dan.

Oh God no, and if any catharsis works its way in there I excise it posthaste. But I think there is value in writing each one individually and varying them as much as possible (which isn't always very much).

I do use a shortcut completer—personally recommended by tptacek as it turns out—for some things, but more on the email side.

and if any catharsis works its way in there I excise it posthaste

original poster meant that writing these posts are cathartic for you because they let you "untangle the knots" in this situation. he is referring to your (commonly believed) good-hearted nature and how it must be relieving for you to set things right.

he didn't mean that you are using these posts to let off some steam, as you have perceived it.

How is it even possible that there aren't just buttons next to every comment in the admin UI that you can click to detach a comment and apply an incivility warning?

We have software to detach the comments and do mechanical things like that, but finding ways to vary the message about civility seems important to me, so I force myself to do those by hand. Sometimes I throw in variations to counter tedium, even with the idea that it might have entertainment value... though that is dangerously easy to overdo.

There's a design point here too. After two years, these comments have shown themselves to be partly formulaic and the sort of thing that could benefit from software support. I'd like that software support to be something available to users, not just moderators. If there were a way for users to convey to each other that a comment could be edited to better follow the guidelines, that'd be great, because we (actually just I in this respect, since I'm the only one currently posting moderation comments) would no longer be the bottleneck. The long-term vision for HN is to make it a self-regulating system.

Actually, I don't look forward to more clearly-defined rules. What you get then are more lawyering and arguing about the meaning of words. Often, the goal, which is what got us together in the first place, is completely lost, Instead, we argue about the parsing of each word of the rules. Definitely not what startup-y or "lean" as I see it.

"BUT BUT BUT, There was no rule that said I wasn't allowed to murder all of my competitors! Since no one is left except for me, that means you HAVE to give me the money!"

When a Fellowship (or anything important) is at stake, you want "lawyer-y".

Nice. I like how YC "moves fast" and introduces new experiments pretty often, but solves the "break things" issue gracefully and with good communication.

Just three recommendations. (I think I have read them in other threads, but I want to insist on them.)

* Say that the HN community will select 2 project for an interview for the YCF program, so it's completely clear that YC has the final word, veto power and whatever additional conditions seam necessary.

* Keep the last vote open for at least 24 hours, as it was in the extended period. I live Argentina, so I have a an hour similar to USA, but it would be nice that the people outside north/south America have time to vote.

* (More difficult) Enable a "hide" option for the ApplyHN threads. There were more than +250 applications and some of them were good and some of them were "obviously" bad. I'd like to filter them from the random order (without flagging them), so I can make my own shortlist of 30-50 applications to read them more carefully and upvote a few more.

It sucks that the outcome of the first Apply HN became complicated, but the resolution makes me confident that the people behind this are gracious and understanding – which is more important than that mistakes were made this time around. Thank you.

I think what YC has done was reasonable. It is true that you changed the rules, but Apply HN is like a MVP. Making things up as you go alone is part of the ethos of startups, and what matters more is if it's done in good faith.

I thought it was pretty clear from the beginning.

But I have to say it's pretty cool to see this response. Shouldering responsibility and admitting fault is something that most people avoid and most businesses don't even think about.

If any of you have suggestions for how to do better, I'd like to hear them.

1. Make this "HN selects startups which get invited for YC interviews", i.e., a feeder into the existing system. Essentially, use HN to supplement the network of YC alumni who help out with the application-filtering.

2. Since YC will explicitly still have the final say, open this to both Fellowships and YC Core applications.

3. Have a standardized form. Or possibly even a "make this application public" checkbox on the regular YC application form.

4. Use a more sophisticated voting system. I think a "which of these two looks better" combined with a form of Elo rating could work quite well.

EDIT: To the people voting this comment up: Do you agree with all four of those suggestions, just some of them, or are you voting it up because you like the fact that I'm offering ideas despite thinking that these four are all bad ones? As Dan has said a few times recently, discussion is more useful than votes. :-)

> 1. Make this "HN selects startups which get invited for YC interviews", i.e., a feeder into the existing system. Essentially, use HN to supplement the network of YC alumni who help out with the application-filtering.

I'd actually like to see the winners bypass an interview stage. As discussed on the previous results thread I think this is an opportunity for YC to shed any biases in their interviewing process and see what the results are.

Are there biases in the YC community that will come into play? Surely. Are they different biases than the YC interview process? That's why we experiment.

> Make this "HN selects startups which get invited for YC interviews", i.e., a feeder into the existing system. Essentially, use HN to supplement the network of YC alumni who help out with the application-filtering.

If you're going to have a interview step, then by all means list it. But I think it's an open question whether the interview step is a good idea, at least in the context of relatively rare contests for a Fellowship spot.

I also don't think a more elaborate voting system is needed, but requiring voters to have a certain karma and/or account age threshold seems like a good idea.

> Use a more sophisticated voting system.

How about only HN accounts with a verified email address can vote, and then you vote via a "Sign up for their mailing list" button? That way you're forcing voters to have some skin in the game, and also leaving the startups who participate with a tangible asset.

I'm pretty sure most HN readers can bring to bear a nearly infinite number of email addresses with minimal effort.

Also a karma threshold?

Age of account is a better metric in my opinion.


Well, I've had my account for over 2500 days, and my karma only yesterday broke 1000. But I read HN daily, and feel part of this community.

I just only comment when I feel like I can add something to the conversation, and always pause before commenting (stops me from getting into flame wars)

So age of account should have some say, or at least if they can see how often you read and vote for stories and comments here.

> 4. Use a more sophisticated voting system. I think a "which of these two looks better" combined with a form of Elo rating could work quite well.

I think that's a bad idea given how different the startups are. It doesn't make sense to me to compare for example AirBnB (what it was when they applied) with Tarsnap or AutoMicroFarm with Cruise.

To me, the difficulty of comparing startups makes asking people to compare two at a time even more important: If comparing AirBnB and Tarsnap is challenging, how can people possibly compare AirBnB and Tarsnap and AutoMicroFarm and Cruise and 14 others at the same time?

I think a bigger problem is what criteria are we supposed to be selecting the startups on? My application wasn't even a startup (just an idea). Should people have voted for it if it was a good idea, if they think I have the track record and resources to build it, if it solves an interesting problem, if it could be a unicorn, if it could raise future investor funds, etc, etc?

Yes, that definitely needs to be clearer. Given the context of "wisdom of the crowd vs. wisdom of YC", I interpreted the sole criterion to be "YC will benefit by making this investment"; it seems that many people took it instead as "who do we want YC to give $20k to", which is a very different question...

The mere fact of who won suggests that you and I were in the minority on this. Most of the problems Dan and Kevin have suffered is due to most people not thinking of what is best for YC.

I agree that we were probably in the minority, but statistically speaking it doesn't immediately follow: Votes for "who do you want YC to give money to" may have been far more concentrated than votes for "who will YC benefit by investing in". I don't know the total number of people who voted; if most people only voted for one or two submissions, then the pinboard-voters would be in the minority.

Only YC knows the answer to this. I would not be surprised to learn that the votes were split into a large pool of people that voted for Pinboard only and another large pool that voted for multiple applications. All I know for sure is they were not voting for mine :)

At what point do you start paying the voters for all this work?

Which probably isn't the best phrasing, but I'm serious about the question, for people on HN the motivation to participate is that it is fun or interesting or whatever, so I wonder how many rounds of votes you can squeeze out of that.

That's a very good question, actually. I'm sure there are quite a few of us who take "interesting startups happen" as motivation enough, but if this experiment becomes routine there might well be a reduction in the number of hours people volunteer for this.

I have a lot of suggestions to make, but I am waiting for the postmortem thread that Dan has said we are going to have to discuss the experiment and how to improve the process.

I can't support Maciej when he's posting this kind of stuff:



This is a cryptic post, what, in direct terms, happened?

It's not cryptic. This was all hashed out on the announcement thread. Pinboard won HN's endorsement overwhelmingly, but Pinboard itself isn't a good fit for YCF. When "Apply HN" was conceived of, it wasn't clear that the winners would still need to be interviewed by YC. It became clear that they'd need to be. An interview step was added. Maciej talked to Kevin, Kevin decided not to move forward with Pinboard.

If YC does an "Apply HN" thing again, no doubt the interview step will be in the announcement, but it wasn't this time.

The rest is just miscommunication and bad optics.

I read through that and I didn't really see anything that required an apology and $20k to be given to a charity.

'What' did Pinboard supposedly win? I can't find any poll or submission that appears to be contentious. I searched HN https://hn.algolia.com/?query=%22apply%20hn%22&sort=byPopula... and found this joke submission https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11441480

I mean, I think I've pieced together what's happened, but I'm still fairly confused and feel like I'm missing a lot of context.

Pinboard won by having the most votes, but was disqualified for vote brigading apparently.


And the "joke submission" wasn't joke at all

The vote brigading thing was just mud slinging. They were pretty clear that they disqualified him because they don't like him. Or at least don't want to work with him.

Was my vote "brigaded"?

> It's not cryptic.

Cryptic might be the wrong word, but having not been here for what happened as it happened, I'd say that trying to piece together what this OP post was about if this was your first exposure to the whole "Pick startups for YC to fund" idea is not at all trivial.

I skimmed enough of the two links dang posted above to know that it would take me more time than I was willing to devote to figure out exactly what went down. The way HN threads are presented makes sense when the threads are alive and active, but are terrible from a historical perspective of how things unfolded if you weren't there to see it live.

I actually crawled through enough of those links to get an idea of what happened and I still don't see anywhere that YC/dang really went wrong. I'm sure it's in there somewhere but I've already put in more effort than I really wanted to.

It became clear that they'd need to be. An interview step was added. Maciej talked to Kevin, Kevin decided not to move forward with Pinboard.

I think this interpretation gives YC too much credit -- it was clearly stated that all discussion would happen in public on HN, then they added a private interview without announcing that change, and the reason given for Maciej not passing the interview was that he made Kevin "uncomfortable" (which as many people noted in the thread, is basically Unconscious Bias 101). The optics of the affair were that the contest had been redesigned to exclude Maciej specifically.

I hope that for the next Apply HN there's no final vaperoom stage -- putting something to a vote them sending it off for final decision by the elite is not going to go well a second time. A better process might be an "Ask HN" for each finalist where the YC gatekeepers (along with HN members) could interview the applicant(s) in a public way.

Thanks for providing a summarized context of what happened.

This post wasn't cryptic, but could have used a retrospective or summary of facts.

From what I can tell: The founder of Pinboard (Maciej, HN user idlewords) applied to "Apply HN". The application was (probably) done a bit tongue in cheek and ironically, because (as I understand it) he's had interesting previous interactions with YC and has posted some "anti-Paul Graham" blog posts

BUT, he "won" ApplyHN with more than double the votes of the next runner up:


However, he was not selected and there was this post to the winner's announcement yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633278 making it appear there was some bias involved.

FWIW, Pinboard is awesome.

A contest for admission was announced to be conducted entirely in HNews threads and based on popularity.

Pinboard won overwhelmingly but was disqualified based on a private, ambiguous, and somewhat troubling conversation that took place outside of HNews threads (where Pinboard's founder made the YCombinator partner interviewing him "unconfortable" for unspecified reasons).

When people expressed reservations about this, the story was revised: The YCombinator partner actually believed that Pinboard's application was just a joke, and in any case Pinboard had violated a secret/unwritten rule not to solicit votes outside of HNews, which disqualified them anyhow.

As todays announcement probably made clear, that didn't really solve the problem, because it felt way too much like "We don't like Pinboard's founder, and we'll revise the rules until he loses." Not saying in any way that's what happened, but that's the optics.

Anyhow, I'm glad things are resolved, it seems everyone walked away reasonable happy, and YCombinator seems to have moved quickly and decisively to draw a line under it and move on. However...

...in my personal view the problem arose 100% because of a series of poor decisions by YCombinator. :(

Edit: The conditions of winning were described as "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." The problem is that 1) the contest was expressed as "find us someone to fund", not "find us someone to interview", and 2) Pinboard wasn't disqualified based on either upvotes or comments, but based on other factors not mentioned in the post.

> As todays announcement probably made clear, that didn't really solve the problem, because it felt way too much like "We don't like Pinboard's founder, and we'll revise the rules until he loses." Not saying in any way that's what happened, but that's the optics.

This is understated. dang is on the record ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11636651 ) that that's exactly what happened.

FWIW, that's not quite what happened. We revised the rules when it became clear that Kevin wouldn't include Pinboard in the YCF program, but that only happened at the last minute. Before that, both Kevin and I were fine with Pinboard winning, which is why it was in the final poll.

To me, it was crystal clear from the beginning that there was not any well-defined rules about how this would work. The message I got was that the purpose of this experiment was to get ideas from the community about interesting startup ideas that YC might have been blind to in the past. At no point did I have the impression that this was meant to be an exercise in strict democratic voting for its own sake. Everyone knows the perils of online voting.

dang, I think the criticism you're getting is unfair considering the openness with which you conduct yourself. You could have easily avoided trouble by being secretive, but you didn't. I hope you don't let a contigent of vocally pedantic people discourage you from continuing your experimentation, which benefits us all when done so openly.

I really appreciate that you guys apologized for all this and did the charity thing. But constantly changing your story does not make you seem trustworthy at all.

"He made me uncomfortable" "It wasn't a serious application" "He'd be a bad fit" "He vote brigaded"

Which just makes it look like you're throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. My advice, put down the shovel and stop digging the hole deeper.

"Kevin reluctantly concluded that Maciej doesn’t want to participate in the program as intended."

"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."

"We revised the rules when it became clear that Kevin wouldn't include Pinboard in the YCF program"

It's seriously hard to even keep track of the different conflicting stories. :)


Man, I keep running across comments from YCombinator that just make this sound worse and worse.

This is the thread in question. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633270

Some guy got the most upvotes for his submission, but did not "win."

Beyond that, I don't know. I hadn't followed all the action closely enough.

This is a nice apology. Why rake through the problems, again, here? The threads have been linked to in OP.

Because a summary for those of us who don't have time to read through the very long and multithreaded original posts would have been nice.

Look at the linked threads perhaps?

Without context the threads don't add much narative. I haven't been following applyHN and it's not until quite deep into those threads that you can piece together what actually happened.

Seemed to be:

Something won a vote People running the vote decided they didn't like the outcome so they ignored the vote.

It's basically Boaty McBoatface again with similar lessons of "don't run online polls".

> It's basically Boaty McBoatface again with similar lessons of "don't run online polls".

I was tempted to draw that conclusion too, but decided it's important to resist. Finding new ways to productively engage this community is a big deal to us. We obviously have a lot to learn, so screw-ups are inevitable, but we're ok with that as long as we can make them right.

It's basically Boaty McBoatface again with similar lessons of "don't run online polls".

Fooy McFooface is the inevitable outcome of online polls which are open to the entire internet, allow arbitrary submissions, and can have traffic easily driven to them. Other forms of online polling -- high-turnout votes with a preset voters list, polls which are hidden away in unlinkable parts of member-only sites, or polls with a moderated list of options, for example -- don't have those problems.

Possibly merely "don't run open-ended online polls with unclear rules for submission". Don't be too quick to generalize.

Since I commented on the previous ones, here is my take on this.

Dang and YC have done well and played their part. Maciej has not.

I am with @nickpsecurity in stating that Maciej is misappropriating the money invested in his company. Of course the argument can be made that

1. The money did not get to him at all.

2. Too much bad blood has made participation untenable.

Irrespective of the above, the spirit and intention of those that voted him (I did not) and those that insisted he be given the money (I did) for for Maciej & Pinboard to participate in YC so we can see what happens and how it will affect the product. .

If we are looking for who YC should make charitable donations to, we would mention that.

The aim of this scheme by YC was to engage and bring the community together and it has brought a lot to awkwardness. This is mainly on Maciej and doesn't look good.

To Dang and co, keep up the experiments. Not everyone will turn out as planned.

While I was rooting for Maciej, I understood why Y Combinator didn't want to fund him, and I don't understand this decision at all. Maciej applied to YCF, not to just get the money, even if that's all he wanted. He should have either took the money and the mentorship, or nothing at all.

Wow, $20k to the Coalition is a great choice. That's fantastic news.

To Daniel and Kevin,

You are both awesome people who are genuinely interested in doing something different to help give new ideas a nudge forward. It sucks that this blew up, but I think the original intent still rings true and I thank you both for giving us a chance to be a part of it.

Excellent response, dang, by you and YC.

Alternately, what Maciej did with the money is more irritating now given point of competition and his comments in it. I was more interested to see what value in business he could create with it given Pinboard success. (rolls eyes)

It is clear from Maciej's posts that the $20K in and of itself is fairly marginal ($20K ~= 3 weeks of revenue). Part of why I was excited about the Pinboard application was to see whether the entire experience would help Maciej improve Pinboard and grow it a bit (not hockey-stick, but an OOM bump), to turn it into a new Delicious. The other part of why I was excited about the Pinboard application was because I think YC would be better off embracing the bowling ball cleanse that Maciej promised; if the VC rule is that the best investments don't look like the best investments, then YC would be smart to embrace Maciej--not that Pinboard will turn into the next hundred bagger, but that getting to know and understand one's smartest critics isn't a bad strategy for escaping one's own biases. The trope isn't called "wise fool" for nothing.

Considering the badness that ensued, Maciej's request for a charitable donation seems entirely correct. Pinboard can earn $20K easily enough, and the potential for good to come of the clash between views is no longer a possibility. It also serves as a useful escape hatch from the controversy; we don't have to revisit it in the future, as the question of how Pinboard spent the money is now moot.

I totally agree with the first paragraph. The second is well-put and I get where you're coming from. Far as money, several mention it's insignificant but it's what he kept asking for and tweeting about. Mentioned an investment or two it could buy. Then no need for a business use after.

So, I remain annoyed by that waste or going back on his claims even though I see what you're saying in terms of just ending situation in a mutually agreeable way.

I was also surprised by the choice to donate the money. Given the huge homelessness problem in SF, I get the impression it's meant as a characteristic jab just as much as an act of charity.

That's something I hadn't thought of. Yeah, Silicon Valley investment are said to cause that problem. Helping the homeless instead of them... using their money... would be a major act of trolling.

Nonetheless, strange about all the complaints about YC not doing what they said with basically nothing but my comment saying same about Maciej's use of the twenty grand. Both would seem to be a problem.

I think he was mostly interested in the mentoring and networking, in terms of what YC could offer his business.

He mentioned in a comment that $20K was 3 weeks revenue.

Hopefully after all the free publicity it is only 2 weeks revenue.

That's possible. He rags them a lot but still could use that.

Cheers for doing what's right, double cheers for the donation!

How about letting the community nominate companies for consideration? I can think of a few bootstrapped companies in Michigan that are deserving. Whether HN would agree I don't know.

Rules would be that you couldn't have any equity in said company or have ever received any compensation from them.

Could the HN community vet them as well as you do?

Since they'd have to be willing participants in order for that to work, it would be simplest if you persuaded them to apply themselves. (That's if we do this again, which we haven't decided.)

Dan I do hope YC runs the experiment again with an improved process. I can't talk for any of the other top 20 candidates, but I would never have applied for a standard YCF yet after the experience I would consider it in the future.

Whenever you do something new you can expect not everything run according to how you expect. I know we are supposed to have a postmortem thread at some stage, but I would encourage you to use the results more widely in your internal selection process. There is no reason a priori that the community chosen candidates are the best fit for YC. If you find a good candidate in the Apply HN applicants then just give them an interview irrespective of what votes they get.

Likewise, I hope you do it again. We didn't apply this time, and "conventional" YC has never been for us anyway. But the YCF program is very appealing, and I actually like the idea of doing it the "Apply HN" way. That way at least you get (in the optimal case) some interesting feedback and discussion from the community, regardless of what happens with the YCF application.

I understood it as a game you could change the rules until you posted the poll, already vetting some uneligible applications and keeping Pinboard, and stating that the two most upvoted would pass. Then you messed up because you decided Pinboard was not elegible anymore. Personally I find this final decision and mea culpa correct and honorable. Congrats.

My suggestion: Next time ask a private application for YCF with the sole purpose of considering an application eligible on whatever (transparent) criteria you choose. And dont take it lightly. Be 100% sure that you would give the 20k and mentoring to any of the eligible applicants.

Then create detailed rules and guidelines that allow removing an elegible applicant from the poll and publish it.

Then, only then, publish the poll and state that the 2 most upvoted will be selected.

Well done -- excellent resolution.

I can't actually find what Maciej submitted, why it was initially rejected, and why it was deemed within the rules. It's kinda hard to scroll through hundreds of posts on a small mobile screen. Can someone summarize those details?

HN had a competition. The prize was some money and invitation to HN Fellowship. This was announced here:


Some people applied. Pinboard applied. Some people felt that Pinboard fell outside the scope of the competition. (Because it's a well known, much used, much loved, site.) Pinboard was included in the poll, here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11615639

Pinboard got a lot of votes. Some of these were from people coming from Twitter after Pinboard announced the poll.

Some people felt that was an abuse of the process; other entries got penalised for doing the same thing and it's a long established convention on HN that you do not ask people to upvote submissions. Other people felt that if it was a rule it should have been more clearly communicated.

Pinboard got more votes than other entries, but were initially denied fellowship and funding. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633270

This caused some anger, annoying, displeasure, etc.

I've tried to write this neutrally, but I may have mangled some of it.

Of all the times I've seen Internet votes made to have a real-world value, the bad parts of this contest were among the mildest of potentially bad outcomes there could be. Went better than expected honestly.

Much respect Dan. And classy, great way to handle it to both you and Maciej.

well handled. The positive side of all this is cohsf got 20k donation. So it wasn't that bad after all.

How to make the process better:

- give a 2 week window for applications to go up. Only publish the posts all at once, once the window shuts

- give every user one vote and one vote only so there is a cost to the user in voting

I was extremely disappointed reading the thread yesterday and the overall handling of the situation on the side of YC. This apology and outcome is about as good they come though.

I actually really like this outcome of 20k going to charity :)

If you insist on drawing continuous attention to meta drama (this is something very new to HN since PG stepped back), then please at least document exactly what it is you're apologizing for rather than making some vague remarks then linking to 2 huge threads full of drama. I really tried to figure out what this was all about, but after 5 minutes I've given up.

This is really crap content, please cut it out

Ouch, but you're right, except for 'continuous'. Meta stuff is off-topic, but there's a tradeoff. After pg stepped back, users asked for more transparency. pg didn't run HN that way because he didn't have time and because it isn't interesting. More transparency means more meta. We try to keep it down. Normally we'd downweight this thread, but here that would have looked like trying to bury a story about our own screwup, and HN would 'see through a cheap ploy like that' whether it was the reason or not.

You're also right that my post above was impenetrable to people who hadn't been following this. Sorry. I didn't have time to write a full description, plus I was scared to, because there would have been a volley of objections no matter how I described it.

Thank you for modding HN. We're very lucky to have you at the helm.

I think you should consider your own response.

This was precisely the correct resolution. Thanks 'dang and 'kevin for doing the right thing, and understanding the issue at hand. Sorry if we clashed a bit on the other thread, but I wanted to ensure you understood, clearly, how it was misread by so many, even if it didn't occur to you when you wrote it. That happens all too often in anyone's writing. :)


Yay. Well done. Now please don't let this rocky start ruin such a uniquely promising idea. This is YC's chance to implement the first true diversity program in SV. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11634217

I almost posted an 'ASK HN' on this topic but didn't want to stir the pot. Since it was an online contest, was YC legally obligated to the 'official rules' as it were, and Pinboard had legal recourse? Did that factor into this ultimate decision of capitulation?

No official rules were ever posted (in any traditional legal format) and it was clear to many that there were "legal" weasel outs YC could use (twitter posts asking for upvotes) if it somehow came to that. I doubt any possible legal recourse factored in here. Reputation, yes. Legal? No. (IANAL)


> A note to HN users: The intention behind Apply HN was to do something new to excite and interest the community and engage it with YC in an interesting way. That did happen, but it pains me that it also partly turned into the opposite. If any of you have suggestions for how to do better, I'd like to hear them.

How about publishing rules for a contest and sticking to them, or canceling the contest entirely if it's not going the way you expected or desired? If there was a risk that some founder you didn't like would be picked the rules should have been clear about how to prevent that (through interview, etc.). And if you realize the rules didn't cover this contingency then scrap it entirely and start over with new rules.

Frankly I'm surprised that this is being pushed back as some failing of the HN community. This is clearly a failing of the contest creators.

> I thought I'd made it clear that we'd make things up and change the rules as we went along, but it wasn't clear. It took time and a large stack of HN user comments for me to perceive this, but I get it now.

> Maciej, I'm sorry. Your interpretation of what I originally posted was not only reasonable, it was how most people read it. The fault was not yours, but mine.

I don't see them "push[ing] back as some failing of the HN community." They openly admit it was their own fault.

if you read the thread, he's plainly referring to the fact that he missed a very natural reading of his sentence (he thought it was clear he meant "we'll probably change things during this contest," but the sentence really lent itself to meaning "we'll probably change things dramatically next time we do this"--since experiments are rarely changed mid-performance). readers pointed this out, and he got it.

that's not even close to blaming the community, that's taking full responsibility for unintentionally misleading writing.

There was no rule that says I wasn't allowed to murder all of my competitors! I'm the only one left, so that mean you HAVE to give me the money!

This apology is definitely worth more than the $20K. Well spent and nice turnaround.

There is too much grief being felt on both sides of the table for a measly $20k. I hope everyone's happy with he outcome but let's avoid this kind of pain in the future.

Hey now, not everyone lives in a world where $20k is "measly". For most of the US, it's damn near half a year of salary, not to mention the rest of the world.

Point taken ... It's not measly individually. But it is measly corporately. With over thirty years in the tech business, I've become sensitive to false economies.

YC was essentially crowd-sourcing application review as an experiment in how well we'd pick winners. As a thought experiment, let's say there are 250 of us involved and that we each spent an average of four hour reviewing applications (posts), discussing candidate awardees and voting. YC effectively paid a "measly" $2 per (wo)man hour.

My opinion is that this time was well invested and I have no problem donating expertise here or elsewhere. As an added bonus, I think the exercise also strengthened the community ... We normally have discussions but this projects turned the natural flow of those discussions into motive force.

The wasted time and mental energy started when the post-decision arguments and interpersonal conflict happened. How many more hours were wasted at the "measly" pay rate calculated above?

Here's my proposal to make the process better ... Make votes cost something. My original thought was to propose that same $2 per vote, and that you could vote for as many applicants as you wanted but only vote for each applicant once. Now I'm leaning towards each vote costing 100 points of karma.

And since I'm calling $2 "measly", I proposal we each donate $8 cash to create a fellowship for another YC applicant ... Or we could simply crowd fund pinboard (though I agree that pinboard doesn't really fit the spirit of the original proposal) ... Tell me where to send the money and I'll post it today,

@llamataboot is right ... There's nothing "measly" about $20k when it's applied in a way that changes someone's life. I'd also caution those who think it would solve all their problems ... You have to understand how you ended up with those problems or it will make no long-term difference in your life.

I could literally solve every problem I have in my life right now with an infusion of $20k, so yeah, calling it "measly" is just one more drop in the bucket of evidence that i'm not welcome at HN because it's for wealthy techbros.

I blanched at that comment too, and don't think of $20k as measly either. You are welcome here, and HN is emphatically not just for "wealthy techbros".

The most offensive comments one runs across are the ones that make the strongest impression, but they don't give a representative picture. And much of the time an obnoxious comment turns out to have been carelessly expressed rather than obnoxious outright.

Dan are we going to have a specific postmortem thread on this experiment? I don't want to post a lot of specific suggestions in this thread as they would be rather off topic.

I think you should post your suggestions here. Others are doing so, and I don't know if I have the stamina for another thread about this. It would probably end up much like this one anyhow.

OK. I think you should have another thread to focus on the positives that have come out this experiment.

I congratulate you on pushing this along and I really feel for you on how this ended. I think is a great shame given 95% of the whole process was positive.

Super impressive to see things resolved this way! Well done.

If any of you have suggestions for how to do better, I'd like to hear them.

Don't open up a selection process if you're not going to accept results that aren't already of the sort that your insider selection process would have picked anyway.

In another thread you called Pinboard your "Boaty McBoatface scenario." The thing worth understanding is that Boaty was the best possible outcome of that poll. If they had wanted to keep to status quo of boring and vaguely-majestic names they should have never opened the process up. Boaty was not a failure, Mountain Dew's poll that selected "Hitler did nothing wrong" was.

Unless you're ready to paint the giant cartoon eyes on the bow of your ship, you don't actually want outsider ideas. So why are you asking for them?

> In another thread you called Pinboard your "Boaty McBoatface scenario."

No, that's the opposite of what I said. If we'd thought that, we'd have disqualified it right away for that reason.

What happened is that Maciej posted some comments that suggested that his application was serious (though it obviously had a lot of jokes in it), and Kevin and I agreed that we'd rather trust that interpretation than simply reject it. We knew that it would likely win, and we were fine with that.

What happened after that is where it gets confusing and sad and hard to persuade the reader that there was good intent on both sides even though there was, so let's just skip that and go straight to the apology, which addresses the key point.

Props to both of you.

Tough crowd here.

Is there a tl;dr version of all this?

Can someone eli5 who this Maciej is?

Pinboard is the best.

It's weird. I read that thread and gave it a lot of thought over the last couple of days, and I was just deciding that I respected your choice (even if it wasn't necessarily one I would have made myself). Then this unqualified mea culpa shows up and I don't know what to think.

In the world of PR, there's a very strong bias towards appeasement. If a controversy gets big enough companies tend to just 'give in.' But these victories are hollow ones as the true rightness or wrongness of the controversial actions become irrelevant. It's impossible to know whether a corporate/organizational apology is genuine or if the stakeholders are simply appeasing the crowd.

My gut says this phenomenon has become more powerful in the social media era as consumer voices are more easily amplified.

You'll notice that there were two things at stake:

1) $20K

2) Participation in YCF

Maciej was rejected because Kevin didn't want him to participate in YCF; Maciej' objection was always "I want my 20K", implying that though YC conflated those things to be the same, he saw them as separate.

You'll note that this apology says "We've offered Maciej the $20k", and says nothing about YCF, so if it's appeasement, it's only partial. It seems most everyone is satisfied that dang apologized and Maciej said "donate the money". Frankly, I would've liked to see Maciej go through YC, because I think it might've had better long-term consequences for the ecosystem in general.

> Maciej was rejected because Kevin didn't want him to participate in YCF

This is a pretty dishonest characterization, isn't it? Maciej was rejected because he didn't want to participate in YCF, according to what kevin and dang have previously explained about their post-vote phone call. Of course, that was their version of the call. I may have missed where Maciej countered with, "Not true. I wanted to participate in YCF. Kevin didn't want me in the group."

Disclaimer: I voted for Pinboard.

No, it's not: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11633517

Kevin explained pretty clearly that it was his call, and Maciej disagreed with that.

Ah, okay. So, Maciej did want to participate in YCF? I'm still not seeing him say that. Because I got the impression he only wanted the $20K (and I was okay with that, which is why I voted for Pinboard).

Edit: I'm probably being overly pedantic here. I rally behind Maciej's contention that we are all adults and don't have to feel warm and fuzzy about each other to work together. I suppose that's his way of saying he was okay with participating in YCF. I seem to be in the group who read the Apply HN experiment as applying via the community, and entailing YCF participation. I keep getting the sense from Maciej and others that their reading was this was a contest to win $20K, with no expectation to participate in YCF. I'm probably in error here.

I'm still not seeing him say that

"If the votes swing my way, I'd be happy to have a good-faith conversation with you."[0]


Man, I find it sad that 30 days ago, there seemed to be such a positively exuberant attitude.

So, good-faith conversation occurred. Didn't go well obviously. Definitely seems to indicate that 30 days ago, there was an understanding that participating in YCF and winning the $20K wasn't simply a matter of votes swinging one way.

"Maciej said "donate the money". "

Where did he say that? I missed it somehow. In the Twitter feed and HN comments, he kept saying he'd invest the money in his business in various ways. The Apply HN said something similar although in a trolling way. Never mentioned he intended to throw it away while others were going to build (or improve) a business with it.

Are you asking how dang found out? I assume this happened in a private conversation. We got told in this post. "We've offered Maciej the $20k, and he graciously accepted and asked us to donate it to the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (http://www.cohsf.org/). We'll take care of doing so."

Edit: I assume dang isn't lying; if he had been, @Pinboard would've already skewered this post.

Oh yeah, I figured he was telling the truth. I just find it strange that there was so much wrath for YC's questionable action about funding Pinboard but not a peep about Maciej getting the investment and then throwing it away on charity. They agreed to do it to make the situation right but his end seems to still be fraudulent.

Fraud is a legal term where you lie for personal or financial gain. Nobody here gained anything by lying. Hell, nobody lied at all. They didn't give him the money and he tricked them by giving it to charity. He told them to give it to charity instead and they did.

What a bizarre interpretation of events you've made.

He said he wanted the money for his business. Made a big deal about not getting it and what he could do with it. Ended up in a charity instead when he was going to receive it.

That's what happened rather than a bizarre interpretation. My interpretation was he went back on his own word. Which he did given I couldnt find charity or donation in whole, other thread.

I think "fraudulent" is unfair and uncharitable.

He claimed to want an investment into his business with many specific possible uses. After many gripes here and there, they caved to give it to him. He gave it to a charity.

Promise one thing for cash and do another involved is the basic definition of fraud. Only difference is they went along with it to right a wrong. Had he not entered, money would've possibly gone to a startup doing exactly what they promised they'd do.

All parties are okay with the outcome; I find it reasonable that the week's drama changed people's desires. Calling it "fraudulent" is, to me, given that no one feels harmed, both inaccurate and unfair.

That's one way of looking at it. The comments and feed make me think his desire was always to troll them rather than invest in his business. I doubt it really changed.

Fraud or not, giving him the money was a waste vs somebody that would do what they said. I'd have apologized then been honest about why I'd not pay him. Something along lines of "He's probably trolling us and will just give it to charity or something. Doesn't really need it for his business." If I had the foresight.

This is a major VC we're talking about here, it's not like they just gave their last $20k to charity and some other company won't get into YCF because of it.

Of course not. It just a question of whether money for a startup competition is better off going to startups for their business development or charities. I was thinking the former. YC can do as much charity as they like. I'd just give them the thumbs up for their generosity.

Note that I'm critiquing Maciej here, not YC.

I think the reason you're getting downvoted is that both parties reconciled, and now they seem to want to move past it. Your comments, however, run counter to moving on.

I agree. I kept discussing it because people replied. Otherwise, I'd have been done after first round of comments.

After what happened, doesn't it seem obvious that Pinboard in YCF wouldn't work out, 20k or no? So dang did the right thing by giving him the money, and Maciej donated it because he didn't want to win for the money (as be said repeatedly).

"want to win for the money (as be said repeatedly)."

He said both: that he wasn't doing it for the money, that he wanted the money, and things he could spend it on for Pinboard. If he didn't want the money, then it's a decent outcome. His comments and Twitter feed implied to me otherwise.

Maciej said, beforehand, that he thought the YCF+money would be an opportunity for Pinboard.

Afterward, he said (a) that he wanted to get what he deserved as a the winner, phrased as "give me my 20k", and (b) that he didn't actually need $20,000 as an investment with no other context.

Both of these positions seem eminently reasonable.


I respected YC's choice, but also noted that it's not how I would have interpreted the use of the word "experiment" in the original post. I think that that's a lot of what people were upset about: whether the decision was right or wrong, it was poorly communicated, as were the original goals & parameters of the process.

It's possible to be right about a lot of things while still being wrong about something important, and it's also possible to apologize for that without giving up the whole decision entirely.

Good on dang and whomever else was involved in this decision.

@dang - I know you sometimes have to make tough decisions where all parties involved end up unhappy with the end result. But I'm sure that the vast majority of the community appreciates what you do. At the very least I do.

It's not said very often, so I wanted to rectify that.

Not only do you try to fix the competition and then hide the fact, you're now trying to do the same with legitimate questions. This isn't responsibility nor transparency and surprisingly unbecoming of a organisation like YCombinator that supposedly value merit.

Your comments were killed by anti-troll software, not by moderators and not for reasons having anything to do with this thread.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11647858 and marked it off-topic.

I think you're missing the greater point here. From the original announcement a few things were quite clear. You welcomed a different perspective [0] and those who wouldn't want to go through the normal interview process [0], people was supposed to be nice [1], bias to be avoided [2] and that HN would decide. With this apology you've largely satisfied HN, but left everyone else wondering if they can ever trust an YC announcement again.

The things that was different about him was called out as faults (participating on his own terms, not knowing rules, making you uncomfortable), he was forced into the normal interview process (which you both said wouldn't happen and explicitly tried to attract people who wouldn't want to, then using that as an excuse to reject him), the "be nice" rules wasn't enforced on the many comments attacking his character as a result of this process and bias wasn't avoided.

It's one thing to change the rules, another not to be true to the premise of the experiment. How could someone now in good faith recommend a YC initiative to someone who doesn't fit the mould, when you can't even make it work with "one of your own"?

[0] "Hacker News users have many diverse perspectives on technology and business. Perhaps if HN picked startups, it would pick differently than YC. Maybe different startups would be motivated to apply, if they knew that the interviewing and deciding would be done by the HN community." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11440627

[1] "Anybody who applies to HN in public this way is putting both themselves and their baby in a super vulnerable position. We're going to rise to the occasion by being not only civil, but nice." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11440627

[2] "It’s easy to form some really bad habits when you sit in a position of power to judge the potential of a person, a team, an idea and their execution—believing that you know better and focusing your time on finding weakness." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11440843

Pinboard is an old company and not a startup in the sense of the SV term. It's just a small business that manipulated the community. I'm a bit disappointed that it received any money. :(

Democracy has to be more than 2 wolves and sheep deciding what's for dinner.

Sadly, regrettably, insufficient. You've just, finally, made good on the original terms; you haven't dealt with the insults thrown at Maciej's character. I would hope that you would have realized that was necessary too.

> If any of you have suggestions for how to do better, I'd like to hear them.

Y Combinator needs an impartial, independent ombudsman dedicated to tackling implicit and explicit bias both within the YC application process and, especially, on Hacker News itself.

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