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Ask HN: Where do you go for civil discussion on the Internet?
183 points by ar0 on Sept 2, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 221 comments
Is there a place on the Internet for general -- including political and economic -- discussion that is filled with civil, insightful commentary?

Outside of specialist corners (such as HN), the Internet often appears to be filled primarily with hateful repetition of populist punchlines, providing little to no insight into the big topics that concern the world at the moment. This is such a shame, as the Internet really should be the enabler of discussion across borders and societies (which of course can become heated but should always be respectful and rooted in trying to understand each other!).

From what I have read, The WELL seems to have been such a place (or still is?) in the "old days", but where do you go today for such an exchange of ideas on a variety of topics?

(Note: It is allowed to cost money.)

I mostly stay here. The amount of political and economic discussion here is what I personally consider enough in my life; I don't think looking for more sources would improve SNR for me.

I sometimes like to peruse Reddit for some well-defined topics - the trick is to find an appropriate subreddit for it. So, for instance, when I want to follow SpaceX news, I'll tune in to /r/spacex, because quite a lot of people there are aerospace engineers (and some are SpaceX employees), so you can expect detailed, up-to-date and to-the-point news.

My general observation is that the more specialized a community is, and the further it is from ego-involving topics (politics, economy, religion), the more civil the discussions are there. So I'd focus on finding many specialized discussion places instead of one general.

HN is where I follow the tech news. For discussions, if we take civility as politeness and elaboration of one's points, HN is quite good. But if we take it as convivance and proper productive discussion of different, potentially opposite ideas, HN is not all that good. Here there are some certain and strong biases and dogmas, and the moderation is oligarchic. I've learnt to not post on political stuff and philosophical questions about tech, as all you get is downvotes, flags, thread-detaching and whatnot. I believe any politics post is off-topic here, and for philosophical questions on tech, if the tech is liked, sceptics are lapidated.

Your comment under the thread I link below is a case in point. You make a reasonable counter argument, but it still got greyed out. In this case, Upton Sinclair best explains why: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"


> But if we take it as convivance and proper productive discussion of different, potentially opposite ideas, HN is not all that good.

I agree. But how could it be made better?

As I suggest in another comment, Hacker News should be hackable. The only way to find a better solution is with a lot of experimentation. But because you need a large userbase to do a proper experiment, we've been limited to a dozen or so experiments to-date (HN, reddit, slashdot, etc).

Making HN hackable would eliminate this chicken and egg problem. Look at the experimentaion that the Netflix Challenge enabled. Hacker News of all places should enable creative hackers, math studs and inspired experimenters to test their ideas.

If making votes publically visible in the API is a no-go, there are other options, such as Y-combinator accepting experimental code to run in a sandbox and produce alternate front page and comment rankings. I'd prefer votes becoming public for other reasons though.

By fixing the problems that I cite in the sentence after the one you quote. I doubt that it is possible though.

But those are the problems and I'm looking for solutions. What could change on the HN site or in the rules for its community to fix these problems?

I'm not sure anything can be done, which is why I ask.

We would need tools to vote negative content to be categorized as dissonant, circular reasoning, or speaking for other's feelings/blaming.

>>My general observation is that the more specialized a community is, and the further it is from ego-involving topics (politics, economy, religion), the more civil the discussions are there.

Paul Graham wrote an excellent essay on this: http://paulgraham.com/identity.html

The problem with HN for politics and economics is its decidedly Silicon Valley, libertarian and white male slant, often self-servingly pedantically amoral. The civility here is often arrived at by burying comments that challenge this self-serving slant. Or by an algorithm that systematically buries articles and users (whose accounts accrue ranking penalties) that generate any heated debate by challenging the slant. We're not talking trolls.

Check out the top comment under SF tech bro: ‘I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, despair of homeless’. It was at least generating some good debate, but HN decided to flag and bury it. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11125896

See the dominant and buried comments for 272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11512830

Why was Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems flagged to death? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12304414

Hell, even this post has been quickly taken off the front page despite having better numbers (70 votes in the last hour) than many items that are there now.

Politics and economics points of view are heavily filtered here. Rarely if ever does a challenge to the status quo make the front page. If one does it is then killed, ironically, for inspiring debate!

I'm late to this thread but this is definitely not factual:

> The problem with HN for politics and economics is its decidedly Silicon Valley, libertarian and white male slant, often self-servingly pedantically amoral.

There's a cognitive bias where everybody thinks the slant they disagree with is the one that dominates this site. If you held opposite views, you'd be arguing that HN is dominated by liberals or what have you. Perhaps that's not obvious to you, but it is to us whose job it is to oversee HN as a whole. HN's archives are full of people complaining about this from all sides.

The point of view you describe (or, to be fair, caricature) does exist on HN, of course. But the community is politically divided, most claims people make about who dominates it are just a rhetorical device, i.e. to score cheap points in arguments.

> The civility here is often arrived at by burying comments that challenge this self-serving slant.

This is where I have to disagree. I feel the civility comes from swift and brutal downvotes of low effort contributions.

If there's a pattern that I see amongst grey/flagged/dead comments is that they are most often off-topic and/or low effort.

Not to say that groupthink doesn't exist or come into play, just that it's not the prevailing cause for burying comments.

Well to me at least. After all, I'm just a single user that reads arbitrary threads, I have no data to reinforce my opinion.

By "bury" I mean more than "grey/flagged/dead". I also mean in terms of order on the page. When looking at rank order, groupthink is a large if not prevailing determinant, especially since HN applies a penalty for contentiousness (defined as lots of upvotes AND downvotes) to both articles, comments and users.

> ...HN applies a penalty for contentiousness (defined as lots of upvotes AND downvotes) to both articles, comments and users.

Unless I've misunderstood what you're saying, this simply isn't true.

I believe you so my bad. But I got this impression from my erroneous understanding of the flamewar detector which you reference in another comment, but also because I know a penalty was put on my account even though I rarely make comments that go negative, though I often make comments that clearly get a lot of up AND down votes (obvious as I see the net go up and down, e.g. my comment at the top of this subthread, for which I give you permission to post the up and down totals in reply publicly). Daniel cleared that penalty but I obviously "earned" it back, as is evident from how my comments are ranked.

I suggested to Daniel back then that HN should let users with penalties know that they have them, and show them what earned those penalties so that they can adjust their behavior. Feedback loops only work when the user understands the feedback. He agreed.

It’s also important for transparency. It isn’t very honest to show us our positive karma scores but also keep a separate negative karma hidden.

I agree that vacuous comment are ruthless downvoted as they should be.

But observations, even with high grade citations that criticize the libertarian narrative are also regularly down voted to oblivion.

Likewise any criticism of Russia gets clobber very quickly no matter how much evidence is offered.

[edit] likewise pointing out either of those two problems

So yes, poor post are down voted very efficiently but there is still a genuine problem with downvoting to hide information that parties don't want spread.

I'm trying to figure out how "The city should be building affordable housing" is considered a libertarian ideal, and I can't get there from here. Can you help me understand why you feel that it is?

I'm having an equally hard time finding the libertarian angle in the top comments to the other threads you referenced.

It is not. Although the idea rent control benefits no one and that north American land ownership is unambiguously virtuous both are. Points I have objected to to his account's serious detriment. I can not fathom why you imply I make such claims about affordable housing although, even ridiculously untrue, it cleverly nullifies my complain doesn't it?

But whether I personally eat babies or not does not change the problem I have pointed out.

There is a problem that I and others have taken the time to point out, and rest assured if one person points it out, far more don't bother. So whether anyone wishes to address the problem or just downvote the complain itself is not really my concern.

In the end the site is an advertisement for ycombinator and in practice it's really a question of how they want their organization perceived. I had assumed having NY Times articles that point out Russian interference in Swedish politics swiftly whooshed from the front page does not serve that end.

> Likewise any criticism of Russia gets clobber very quickly no matter how much evidence is offered

That doesn't seem to be my experience - I've criticized Russia many times without any problem.

There's challenging and there's challenging. If you're starting discussion with "you're amoral white male so here shut up and listen I'll tell you what you have to do to redeem your sorry existence" (I'm not saying you do, it's just an example - but not too far from what I've seen done in other places) - it's a challenge all right, but not one that would lead to a good discussion.

Also, experience suggests there are topics that generate almost no useful discussion and very quickly descend into a shoutfest, outgroup shaming and virtue posturing. It is possible that this one discussion on the very topic will not follow the pattern that thousands before it did, but usually the risk is not worth it.

Not every debate is good. And so, generating debate by itself is not a virtue.

> Not every debate is good.

True. But why can't we just let not-good debates die on their own, instead of not giving them a chance at all?

People want to get in the last word. It takes some level of self-restraint to let people be wrong on the Internet, especially if they're wrong in a way that is plausible and/or popular.

I agree. I think most people come here for a business / political angle on tech, not just for tech itself. I also often notice that the best discussions disappear really fast here.

I think (hope) people come here to procrastinate as it is a perfect fit. The groundhog day of Internet forums where every day things reset so you can reiterate your opinion like nothing happened.

Civility does not imply that we have to discuss topics that are of interest to you.

If you want to discuss those things, you'll have to find some people who want to discuss them -- clearly, the majority here does not, and they have every right to downvote stuff they don't think belongs on the front page.

Not sure if the parent was trying to communicate this or not, but I think the core of the problem is really that alternative view points (ie. comments to discussion threads) get purposely buried, not necessarily the encompassing discussion thread. So sometimes it feels like we are missing out on varied and interesting comments because they aren't inline with the most prevalent viewpoint of the HN community.

Politics is specifically called out as mostly off-topic in the guidelines, and libertarian-leaning political posts are also flagged: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12413342

HN needs fewer polemics, not more.

.. and it's back on the front page after a spell in the doghouse?!

"Inequality in tech" is a subject that's guaranteed to get flagged into invisibility.

> .. and it's back on the front page after a spell in the doghouse?!

This post hit the flamewar detector (see https://hn.algolia.com/?query=flamewar%20penalty%20dang&sort...), and we removed the penalty when we noticed.

It is unclear whether you are making the argument that HN users flag posts based on political leanings or flag politically controversial topics.

The downvotes are most likely due to the negativeness of the post, coupled with an ambiguous argument.

"The problem with HN for politics and economics is its decidedly Silicon Valley, libertarian and white male slant, often self-servingly pedantically amoral." Yes a thousand times yes and also lacking in the kind of perspective you would normally hear from people who have struggled in life and learned some valuable life lessons.

> Yes a thousand times yes and also lacking in the kind of perspective you would normally hear from people who have struggled in life and learned some valuable life lessons.

Therefore there are are many IRC channels where OldSchoolJohnny could find those discussions.

Oh wait, did he say "for civil discussion"...

Silent downvotes right on schedule!

I think civil and honest discussion would be better served without the anonymous down-votes. One can still retain privacy with a pseudonym.

I find it ironic that Hacker News is not Hackable! The most important thing about HN, its ranking algorithm and reputation system (karma), is closed and not hackable in any way. I know HN wishes it could come up with a better algorithm, and even pg wrote about the need and how HN will need to evolve (I can't find that post of his right now). What better way to come up with a better way than to let its userbase of hackers hack away at it? If the API exposed votes, there would be a blossoming of alternate front pages and comment rankings.

So let's consider the alternative - forcing people to comment on downvoting.

Let's say I see a post that is clearly not contributing to the discussion (on my personal opinion of course, not that I have any other one :) or is too misguided to even argue with, or lacks any redeeming merit, etc. Now, I want less of this on HN, so I am going to downvote it.

Now, let's say I'm forced to comment on it. I can't really say anything useful about it, and maybe even if I could I don't want to bother - if it was worthy discussion-wide, I wouldn't want to -1 it in the first place - so I'd say something like "this is just stupid". Or "-1 for not presenting a sane argument" or something like that.

Now, what happens when the comment author sees it? He comments "no, your face is stupid!" of course. And so we get a whole mess we wanted to avoid.

And now people see this whole mess and want to bury it so it doesn't stink up their nice discussion. But they are forced to comment too, so instead of removing the mess they are making it worse and make people hate each other for no reason but disagreeing on who started this mess.

Does not look like an improvement to me.

You ignored the alternative that I suggested.

I wonder whether any of the Hacker News staff contributes back to the Arc Forum project?

Hacker News may be Arc's most successful implementation (may not be, I don't know) but it does seem as if there's potential being wasted in keeping it a black box.

I think it would be solved by requiring a comment with each downvote. The motivations for an upvote are obvious but a downvote should have to explain why, even if it something as simple as "citation needed" or "factually incorrect, here's why."

I often get the sense that anonymous and unexplained downvotes carry a sense of "this post is so obviously wrong it defies the need for explanation," which means that nobody learns anything from the exchange.

EDIT: I got downvoted for this comment and I have no idea why

I agree, but I think the comment should be a private message, seen by only the commenter (and perhaps the mods). I don't like seeing a comment thread cluttered up by debates about whether a comment deserves down votes.

1: Presumably, people won't post redundant downvote comments. One or two tends to get the point across.

2: You can still collapse threads.

That would result in too many redundant comments. Many people will down-vote for exactly the same reason.

Though I do wish HN could distinguish between "I subjectively don't like or disagree with your point" and "Your logic is objectively flawed or rests on false data".

> I do wish HN could distinguish between "I subjectively don't like or disagree with your point" and "Your logic is objectively flawed or rests on false data".

I would like having strong AI driving HN too. Because humans are very bad at distinguishing those two and confuse them all the time. Once we invent the AI that allows people to separate them I'd be all for using it here on HN.

How can HN distinguish when even its users cannot? "Objectivity" is so subjective.

> Though I do wish HN could distinguish between "I subjectively don't like or disagree with your point" and "Your logic is objectively flawed or rests on false data".

We never hear complaints about people not distinguishing between "I subjectively like or agree with your point" and "Your logic is objectively sound or rests on good data".

Devil's Advocate: HN could then create a special category of comment - the downvote comment. Upvoting a downvote comment would downvote the parent, thus grouping similar sentiment.

I agree with you though, on both points.

In that case, it seems to me all of the value lies in the comment, and none in the downvote.

These are all "ego-involving topics" here, to borrow an excellent phrase from the parent comment. I'd say most of the time, predicting HN's reaction to a topic or even a specific comment is easy and almost makes the comments section superfluous at this point for certain topics.

So, funny thing, but I was just going through dang and sctb's comment histories to get a stronger sense of what makes HN tick. Despite (or because of) limited features, with strong guidance from the top (Guidelines, Paul Graham's "How to Disagree"), and a community that's evolved over the course of about a decade, the discourse here is pretty good. Not perfect, but the curation and commentary are usually informative, occasionally excellent. Topical breadth is limited, and there's no categorisation of posts, but what is covered is pretty good.

I'm contrasting that with Imzy, advertised as a "kinder, gentler Reddit", but which in my experience has been among the more vile, toxic, abrasive, and hateful hellholes on the Internet. I'm not a connoiseur of such spaces -- /b/, 4chan, and the like -- but I've seen what does work.

This set of guidelines from Google+ (unofficial AFAIU) are also useful. Communities with similar tools and principles tend to do better:


In a series of investigations trying to assess the size, scope, and vitality of discussion at G+, I hit on the model of searching for names of significant authors or other authorities as a proxy for meaningful discussion. Foreign Policy has a list of "Global 100 Thinkers" published annually which provides a pretty broad-based, multi-ideology, and current basis for finding same, and a set of Google searches (looking at site match totals) along with an arbitrarily selected string to indicate potential conversations not of interest ("Kim Kardashian"), gives an FP:KK index.


As earlier comments have noted, Metafilter has a staggeringly high FP:KK index, though low overall traffic. Reddit is also quite high, and blogs, most particularly Wordpress.com, perform quite well.

This is the sort of tracking I'd like to do over time and across more sites -- it would be particularly useful to have a web search which would simply return the top n domains and hit counts rather than having to parse results and insert search delays (about 45-60s seems to be sufficient) to avoid Captcha prompts.

Conversely, you could find some good search tokens for topics of interest and see where results tend to pop up.

Looking at the detailed results (which I've not posted, the tables simply become too large for convenient presentation), some pretty clear patterns of distribution across both sites and identifiers turn up. Richard Dawkins and Pope Benedict, for example, were both highly popular, though on different sites.

There's a huge amount of public Web activity at several private educational institutions, in particular Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Cornell University, University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins. By comparison, the University of California system, which I'd have expected to be more significantly represented, is tiny. European educational institutions are also sadly anaemic, with largely UK schools represented, also Maastricht and Unibo (Italy).

I did a follow-up search through major Libertarian organisations which was pretty disappointing. Having discovered virtually all are part of the Atlas Network might improve my search space a bit, and might make an interesting follow-up.

I've also become fairly convinced that good conversation scales poorly. I'm experimenting with a set of smallish groups, probably ~30 - 300 people, though that remains to be seen via empirical results. These are "knitting societies" in an effort to both be un-cool ("cool" and "good discussion" seem inversely related), and in the sense that these might be societies that knit together, both internally and externally. We're somewhat looking for a good home. (Imzy had been on the candidate list. It's no longer.)

The other option is to seek out the specific people you're interested in discussing things with. I've been taking to simply emailing people directly with either questions or information I'm hoping will be of interest. I got a response yesterday (after a week or two) from a Famous Authority in an Area of Interest who not only appreciated the obscure detain and evidence I'd turned up but invited more. Not bad for a space alien cat / 1950s sci-fi character.

The signal's out there, but you've got to hunt for it, and it is very easily scared off.

Let me answer a different question: where do you go for civil, insightful commentary?

I recommend gathering a group of "morning cup of coffee" people with an intellectual bent. This works particularly well among more academic neighborhoods, but can be done elsewhere.

Get 3-10 people you know (or get to know these people) that are generally aware of the world, from different walks of life/professions, and start meeting a few days a week at a local coffee shop. Ensure the shop has a copy of better publications across the political spectrum. Talk shop. Talk the world. Talk whatever.

The internet is good at information. It limps quite a bit when asked to do conversation.

You mean he should get out of his house? Isn't it dangerous?

Not necessarily. There's a growing trend of finding "mastermind" groups to have group skype chats with once or twice a week. They're great because you're not limited by geography. They're terrible because even the most antisocial introvert needs some human contact. :)

Very funny.

I agree. A great deal of social communicative data that is crucial to make meaningful connections is lost online. Even people who are good at reading and writing, and that's not very many, are deprived of a lot of real-time information that is automatically communicated in person, like tone, eye contact, facial positioning, and other signals. Humans are heavily dependent on those cues for successful interaction.

Further, the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory [0] applies -- taking away the complex risk calculations involved in face-to-face conversations causes people to discard social inhibitors like civility rather quickly.

[0] http://i.imgur.com/RkSu1kn.jpg

Can confirm this. I get my best, deepest and most respectful conversations on a huge range of topics simply by talking to my best friends at university. (As we have some very different views, those discussions can be quite lively, but as we all respect each other personally, they remain civil.)

Moral of the story: Choose your friends wisely.

You gave me an idea for a new type of meetup for my meetup group, thanks :)

The great thing that happens sometines on the internet, but rarely (yet wonderfully) in real life is that when you have a good conversation about something it often brings in people directly involved.

That's the reason I still bother to scan comments, for those moments.

meetup.com is great for finding this

Is it? A lot of the people are pretty solid on meetup.com, but my autism radar has gotten _so_ much better since going to meetup events. Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of bad conversationalists to make a good conversation difficult.

Do you happen to have one of your own? I'd be interested in joining.

I don't think you can get the same collective intelligence in a small group (even composed of very bright people) as you can find here on HN.

If intelligence = information, then I agree.

If intelligence = analysis, then I must disagree.

I think intelligence it's both. Therefore : intelligence = information || analysis Since the first is true, there is intelligence.

I find this area to be best filled by blogs. The format allows long ideas to be explored in a way no "social" site can. The comments sections are better at being on-topic, because there are less people stumbling in from another corner of a generalist platform. Or comments are disabled, and if you want to participate in a back-and-forth, you need to start your own blog and have something worthwhile to say. Barrier to entry helps with signal to noise ratio. The youtube comments are widely regarded as worthless, but bad video essays on youtube don't make people give up on watching video essays in general.

There is a lot of legwork in finding and following good blogs or aggregators. But if you're seeking out ideas (or "insightful commentary"), you can't avoid doing the legwork. Stopping in one place limits you to the scope of ideas found in that place.

HN and (some) subreddits are certainly good starting points, but the content eventually become predictable, trite and cliche. Even here. (especially here?) The collective conscious of any one community amasses new ideas slower than someone seeking them out can consume them. And that's the best case scenario, it doesn't even account for for topics that have devolved into an echo chamber, or constant flamewars on certain topics. You have to constantly keep moving.

Note: When I say blogs, I mean blogs. Not some hackneyed news-blog that will feed your mind poison just to keep you coming back. The Gawker properties were a FOX News for a younger, lefter crowd and it drove me up the wall when people didn't recognize that.

I found this leads me into a bubble of internet that only shows me what I agree with. I've found myself going back to reddit just to get both sides of the story. It's useful when say the Trump fans post things that lefties find hard answering, those are the points that I find myself thinking about late at night.

> Note: When I say blogs, I mean blogs.

I agree. The only problem is that it's in a way difficult to have a discussion with blogs. Let's say I read a great post somewhere, the person might or might not have comments on their page (embedded facebook comments are worst are ppl still not aware that not everyone uses it?). If they do have comments I probably wouldn't be able to reply (unless I'm a regular visitor of their site). If I write a longer reply and put it on my blog then there is this whole thing that if I put my link in their comments it's not as seamless. My best hope is some sort of IndieWeb solution for this but so far I haven't found anything that works any good.

It's funny, because 4chan, especially it's topic-focused sub-boards, isn't nearly as unfit for this as it might seem. Yes, the signal-to-noise ratio will be low and it'd be generous to pretend the conversation will always be civil, but there are some pluses:

- No downvotes, so opposing viewpoints don't get suppressed

- (Multi-)Reply support, so you can address your response to a specific post or posts

- Everyone already expects a low signal-to-noise ratio

- Everyone comes expecting some amount of personal attacks, offensive content, blatant trolling, and off-topic posts, so seasoned commenters aren't driven off by this behavior

- Default anonymity means no way to earn or lose reputation, so the only way to judge a post is by its content

4chan has plenty of downsides regardless and it won't appeal to everyone. But compared to Youtube comments or the typical CNN comment section, there is far less majority-moderation, far less intermingling of policy points and personal attacks within the exact same post, and far less propensity for people to respond to comments they deem off-topic or irrelevant.

There is a common misconception that all of 4chan is like /b/, but you can find some rather good quality discussions on some of the other boards. 4chan covers a lot of niches, and for some of them it is one of the best places to go to discuss them.

/b/ also has some utility as a containment board - it's nowhere near perfect at keeping shitposters away from other boards, but it is a decent magnet for those that want to go crazy.

I'd say Reddit. There are some heavy moderated subreddits for insightful discussions, like reddit.com/r/truereddit. Because Reddit has a voting system like HN, quality content is being upvoted and shown as first.

If you search you can probably find some more subreddits with less general content. And HN is of course a really great website for such discussions, with a lot of highly intelligent people that post quite lenghty comments. HN is probably my favorite website when it comes to discussions.

Reddit's greatest strength (the subreddit architecture) is also its greatest weakness. Subs attract groups of likeminded individuals usually with a particular interest, and as such a default tone and set of opinions are preset within a sub before you arrive.

If you fail to understand what the preset rules of engagement and opinions are you're going to have a bad time. Worse still, if you happen to disagree with the general consensus of a sub your opinion will simply be downvoted and your voice will not be heard. You're very unlikely to be educated by existing sub members as to why your opinion is wrong with any real sense of perspective because the hive mind has kicked in and you're not aligned with it.

The larger the sub, the more this problem is exacerbated as there are more people ready and waiting to hit the downvote button. This means that you're very unlikely to encounter a balanced and sensible (aka civil) discussion on Reddit.

A big pain point of the subreddit system would be solved in an amusing way if subreddits were qualified by the creator's name.

Example: /r/@theymos/bitcoin. Now, instead of looking like Reddit's canonical Bitcoin discussion forum, you're reminded that it's just one person's forum at the mercy of one person's agenda.


It was a test to see if anybody read to the end. And thanks :)

Agreed. There are several heavily modded subreddits for this. /r/neutralpolitics, /r/neutralnews, /r/truereddit, etc/

reddit.com/r/askhistorians is a goldmine. I love sitting in the cheap seats for some of the discussions there.

On the flip-side, their high standards make it difficult to contribute to the conversation.

That's a good thing. Too much of the internet is people with nothing to say, saying too much.

They don't complain about good questions. Just about bad answers.

The problem with places like Reddit is that they rely on users to moderate.

The obvious problem with that is now stories are filtered based on populist mass appeal, instead of insightful or expert appeal.

Populist content is very different from expert content. Clickbait headline is populist content. A peer-reviewed journal headline is expert content.

Which one do you think is going to be upvoted in a place like Reddit?

And the moderators are basically dictators over their sub. We believe so much in democracy that we practice it almost nowhere.

depends on the moderators, obviously, but "academics" aren't immune to clickbait headlines (they advance on attention too).

the problem with politics is there's not black and white, clear cut right a wrong, but there's a never ending pile of people who insist there is.

> There are some heavy moderated subreddits for insightful discussions, like reddit.com/r/truereddit

True Reddit is decidedly not heavily moderated:

> This subreddit is run by the community. (The moderators just remove spam.)

/r/politicaldiscussion is one that I frequent

/r/changemyview is a great one for this.


HN - Discussion is generally civil, and snarky or underhanded commends are generally downvoted swiftly. Not much in the way of political and economic commentary, and the discussion tools (e.g., the platform, notification, etc.) are just OK.

Quora - There are pockets of intelligent thought, but discussion is limited to an answer and maybe a couple comments. And there's a ton of noise and not nearly enough moderation. But some of the content is really good and the Quora Weekly Digest remains one of the more interesting emails I get every week.

Newsvine - I haven't been active here for years (since 2008-2009), but it used to be a great community with good discussion and a strong focus on politics and recent news. I think it's gone downhill.

I haven't waded into sub-Reddits yet. I really got out of arguing with random people in the internet. I have better things to do with my time, and (echoing the OP) most comment threads are filled with assholes and comments like: "Wow. You must not have finished elementary school."

Oh man, I had thought that Quora was a decent place but quickly found that it's full of the worst of the internet. I had answered some things and made some comments on answers and was quickly attacked for expressing constructive criticism. I think that it wasn't so much that people are negative but that they have come to expect vitriol from everyone on the internet that they were very defensive and in some cases offensive. I found it impossible to have reasoned discussion with people there. I really liked the format and the idea behind it, but unfortunately the internet seems to be broken. I do enjoy the weekly emails from Quora though, I just can't participate.

I also can't do reddit, partially because of it's negative reputation, but also I just don't have the energy to deal with it's terrible UX and having the wade through the crap to find the gold.

I've been wondering: would it be practical to build a reddit/HN like system where the comments you see are by authors you've upvoted before, or authors they've upvoted before?

This way everyone can comment, and the low effort jokes etc. can still exist but you personally only see them if that's what you enjoy.

Currently we give every comment a single universal score. It's hard to come up with a simple set of rules that encourage useful participation long-term, but this system would highlight the insightful stuff through the noise.

> I've been wondering: would it be practical to build a reddit/HN like system where the comments you see are by authors you've upvoted before, or authors they've upvoted before?

Only showing upvoted authors would only reinforce your personal echo chamber, see also: Tumblr.

Only showing downvoted authors would, going by my Reddit voting statistic, expose me to 95% dick jokes and 5% authors that have valid points I disagree with (mostly on such disgustingly controversial topics like "Lenovo makes better Thinkpad laptops than IBM did").

> Currently we give every comment a single universal score. It's hard to come up with a simple set of rules that encourage useful participation long-term, but this system would highlight the insightful stuff through the noise.

/. tried it, did it ever work out? (Honestly no idea, I've never been deep enough involved in it.)

> Only showing upvoted authors would only reinforce your personal echo chamber, see also: Tumblr.

Certainly, if you just upvote left-wing and downvote right-wing or vice versa. But if you want to see something better you can get it by upvoting those authors that have valid points you disagree with too.

I think currently some amount of upvoting happens because people want to amplify views they agree with even if they don't provide new insight. In the system I'm proposing, this incentive is gone because your votes affect what you see more of in the future, not what other people do.

I'm still unconvinced, most people still self-filter, consciously or not. You already have this filter mechanism right now, in a coarser form, by picking the subreddits, twitter accounts, … you follow – and those you respond to.

How'd you get the initial exposure to high-quality content you disagree with? HN is the only site where I run across right-wing content that (occasionally) isn't utter garbage, and even here you have the whole community pre-filtered for people who accept HN's comparatively heavy-handed moderation/censorship approach.

> high-quality content you disagree with

I think we need to unpack this a lot more in order to work out what it might possibly look like. I mean, if it were truly high-quality wouldn't it change your view so that you agree with it? That's a gross oversimplification of course, but there is a real problem in that people's politics tends to proceed from their values, and there's a very fine line between being "challenged" and being grossly offended. Could a "high-quality" argument for genocide exist, or is that the sort of thing that should be vetoed because it's an unacceptable conclusion no matter what the logic?

The only way to have a discussion with people with extremely different views is to go back and find out what points of moral convergence you do have. Or from what background people have developed their views. This is time-consuming, personal and doesn't scale, because it depends on digging to the individual privilege or trauma that embeds people's strongest views.

The middle ground is probably something like the Economist, where I'm to the left of it but it's sufficient quality that that doesn't matter. They also avoid advocating for truly stupid things for tribal reasons, which causes most of the left/right noise problem.

Scroll to the bottom to see what you're missing out on, or open incognito for a neutral view. I guess the system could throw in some randomness if it's necessary.

On reddit, I switch between sorting by top, new, and controversial to try to see different views. It's something but still crude.

What would be great would being able to see comments as ranked for e.g. creshal. If someone's yearning for the good old days of civil, insightful commentary you could give them a link to that view.

Also, how would /r/space posts look as ranked for/by an astronomer?

In my opinion it is not really possible to have a good comments system when voting is simply up or down. The definition of up and down varies too much by person to really be all that useful for anything other than creating an effective echo chamber. I think we need easy, one-click ways of classifying a comment with a more specific assessment.

That's just what this is trying to fix. Currently an up means 'I think this comment is good for everyone'. I'm saying it should mean 'this comment is good for me and people like me'.

The one-click assessment would be closer to slashdot's 'interesting', 'insightful', 'funny' etc. approach, which could be an improvement but still runs into trouble because what is 'interesting' still varies too much between people.

My idea is that as you continue to vote, you teach it what insightful means to you personally.

I think it would mean I could avoid an echo-chamber of ideas because I could avoid being swept along by the status quo of group-think voting, and instead follow more thoughtful people. See my other reply to creshal for more thoughts about this.

>see also: Tumblr.

And Facebook.

/.'s moderation system sort of gives you this, but not the connection to the authors of the posts. You set a score threshold for visibility. The discussion system hides things below the threshold, but doesn't hide the thread itself (like reddit does, IIRC).

  * (Score: 5) Some stuff
    * (Score: 0) *Hidden*
      * (Score: 4) Actually, if you read ...
      * (Score: -1) *Hidden*
        * (Score: 3) Blah blah blah
Posts are also moderated by kind (offtopic, funny, insightful, etc.)

So all those crappy first post and Natalie Portman posts were easily filtered out, and good (at least better) comments were left visible.

EDIT: Other things they did well:

Moderation was based on karma, a hidden score. Karma was calculated by several things, but the two key things were:

  How were your posts moderated (better means better karma)
  How were your moderations meta-moderated.
Meta-moderation: This was a really neat concept. Basically, people went back and (anonymous to both of you) rated a post's moderation as good or bad. That is, if you posted something genuinely useful or interesting but someone gave it a negative moderation, the meta-moderation system would (in theory) catch this. It didn't change the moderation, but it rated the moderators.

They also only allowed you to moderate in discussions you didn't comment in. If you commented, all your moderation was undone. And you had limited (5?) moderation points to use at a time. This prevented anyone from going on an abusive moderation streak (fuck that Jtsummers guy, I'm going to mark all his stuff down).

/. used to have a "friends and foes" feature, which is more or less as described.

I think you could set +1 or -1 for

I had a few "foes" set to -1, to attempt to filter out some frequent, crazy commenters. But I stopped reading the site when extreme opinions became the only opinions.

Oh, that's right. I'd totally forgotten about it.


I stopped reading it when I couldn't find interesting articles [EDIT: 0]. I think the firehose style of HN or Reddit is, in many ways, better than the curated submission system of /.. User directed submission moderation + scanning /new is usually enough for me, paired with going to direct to certain news sources (for whatever particular topic or category).

The comments were also pretty annoying. For those not familiar: See the strong anti-Microsoft posts that periodically show up here, and imagine that as the only thing that makes it to +5 when MS announces something. A ton of rhetoric with no substance.


[0] There were interesting articles. But there was a period (not sure about today) where the updates to the frontpage were incredibly slow. Perhaps I could've dug more into the topic areas or set some different display options, but things changed too slowly and I'd end up seeing the same articles for most of a day, or days.

On the one hand, this is a good format for some sites (and maybe for /.) as it allows things to remain visible for extended periods. On the other hand, it wasn't good for my usecase. /. was an aggregator, I wanted to see it update frequently. If I wanted a news magazine that totally cycles its front page only once a week, I'd be on that site.

It's really strange how far most group moderation systems have regressed from Slashdot's features. The algorithms are more powerful now but users have a lot less control. It's like they used to say about ALGOL-60: it was a significant improvement on its successors.

So I'm imagining a system like this, except who friends are and who foes are is decided dynamically based on the up/down voting we do currently. And also their voting on comments is weighted accordingly.

At one point you could adjust your weightings for things, so you could make "funny" or "insightful" count for -1 for an entertainingly different view of the site.

Yeah, I vaguely recalled that but forgot my password so haven't confirmed it. Just got in, seems my last post was 4 years ago. Anyways, it seems that feature has been disabled (or it's well hidden). But that'd be a useful addition as well.

You can filter on comment length. Apparently right now I filter out all one-line comments that don't have +4 or better. So "+1", "this", etc. won't show up, but "Oh hey, that reminds me of <useful link>" will.

EDIT: Seems I was wrong. https://slashdot.org/my/comments lets me see and change those settings, but getting here was non-obvious so I'm not certain if this will affect anything or if it's merely a legacy page. You'll need to be logged in to see anything. But this offers score modifier options for comments by how they're moderated (troll, offtopic, funny, etc.) and friends/foes.

This is a fantastic idea, and I'd love to see it tested out. Unfortunately I can't see HN or Reddit actually implementing this feature. They already have the monopoly over their respective communities, and thus have stopped toying with new features and innovating.

We do have an API for HN. I wonder if someone could create a variant of the content here. Show everything like normal, but pair it with this sort of friend-network based meta-moderation + the ability to hide individual posts (rather than just whole threads and subthreads).

Possible but potentially hard on your database as you have to poll thousands of edges per post. Doesn't scale too well.

I think advogato tried something similar with its trust metric: http://www.advogato.org/trust-metric.html but advogato is effectively dead - on the front page is still a poem about the death of k5.

Really the nearest thing is to get on twitter and curate who you follow.

I've been wondering for months now why something like that doesn't exist.

Here are some comments I wrote on that topic (or a closely related one):



As mentioned in some of the comments, there are probably some technical hurdles (keeping score of every edge in the network), but can't they be overcome?

People tend to come up with the same objection: echo chamber, filter bubble, etc. but I think they miss the point.

That's a really interesting idea. If that existed here I would subscribe to you now.

No idea how viable this would be, but as a user up/down votes, incorporate that into some kind of learning system that will, over time, be able to better select posts that that specific user wants to see. Maybe weight structure over content to avoid the echo chamber effects to some degree?

This could also apply to moderation in addition to comments; we could make it so only people whose moderations we respect actually count. Others' voting is disregarded.

Clever. I like that this could give the benefits of moderation without hard censorship.

Twitter's timeline shows replies of people you follow.

I think you're describing the algorithm behind the Facebook news feed (minus pay-for-play).

Yeah, I don't consider moderation censorship. There are plenty of places to go for unmoderated conversations, but they are rarely civil. On Metafilter, abuse and insults aren't tolerated.

Not anymore, unfortunately. Metafilter used to be a great community 10-15 years ago, but these days it is a heavily censored echo chamber.

Have an upvote. The "Note: It is allowed to cost money." reminds me that the $5 charge on MeFi filters out alot of noise. However, this doesn't necessarily promote an increase in quality. Much of the discussion can be, like Reddit, cute or snarky one-liner comments.

From what I've seen, any place that claims to be "civil" also tends to be the most closed minded communities, especially ones that have upvote downvote systems.

Unless you happen to agree with the specific set of ideas that a majority of that community happens to agree with, your contribution is meaningless

"Civil" seems to equate with "filtered via down votes". I would prefer seeing just the number of up votes and the number of down votes which gives it a "popularity ranking" of a sort. I can then make a determination for myself if I want to read it or not. Lots of up votes, few down votes? Probably speaks to the majority opinion. Lots of down votes and few up votes? Could either be a shit post or one that goes against the grain. Two seconds of reading will tell me which. Lots of down and up votes? Probably a comment I should read, even if I'm just skimming.

I don't need the community to filter for me, I'd rather just get more information in order to choose what to read. But then I usually read any forum in as raw a format as they allow.

It takes time and effort to construct a lasting narrative. For sure there are some defense mechanisms in place.

Metafilter is great, partly due to the $5 posting account cost. I've lurked there for years and not posted.

CrookedTimber is the last of the oldschool blogs-with-comment-sections that I follow for this purpose, although it has some serious problem posters.

HN isn't really politically or economically focused so you kind of have to slip under the radar.

Metafilter is a borderline groupthink echo chamber, so heavy is the moderation. It's best for purely factual stuff. Stray into opinion stuff, and it's really narrow and slanted.

I'd call it "toxic", from the one and only discussion I participated in.

Sure, probably an outlier. Bad luck. But I still hate thinking back to that experience, and I survived Usenet flamewars just fine.

No, not an outlier. Metafilter used to be great, but it has definitely deteriorated into a toxic echo chamber. Opinions that do not fit in with the groupthink are not tolerated there.

Metafilter is also aggressively moderated. I think that has at least much to do with it staying so high quality for so long.

Some of the Stack Exchanges do well here. It's not 'discussion' in a free-form sense, but in general I've found the focus of each SX and the Q-and-A format to provide a good way to talk about topics without going off the rails.

There are insightful comments on almost every site with UGC, even if said comments are a minority. We need a client-side aggregator of whitelisted/upvoted comments, to "follow" pseudonyms and merge comments and context from many sites. Alternately, there could be communities which curate/whitelist comments from multiple sites, then readers could "follow" a feed of curated comments. RSS was a step in this direction.

Any site which achieves economic infuence via discussion quality/quantity will eventually attract paid posters of various stripes, ranging from sophisticated misdirection to uncivil discourse. Whitelists can reduce the cost of filtering this noise, but sufficiently good propaganda can best be detected by readers who co-evolve with paid influencers: "... elite consultants have adopted grassroots advocacy tactics for paying clients. Rather than being dismissed as mere 'astroturf', these consultants' campaigns should be seen as having real effects on political participation and policymaking", http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IO0E69E/

  Manually curated Twitter lists, viewed on Flipboard
  Private groups on Facebook
  Niche/subscription blog comments
  Amazon book reviews & comments (niche books)
  HN comments/stories from whitelisted users
  NY Times comments (quality varies by article topic)

Almost all of the popular communities online lean left, take your pick.

You have much slimmer pickings if you're a conservative. http://gab.ai recently launched as a pro free-speech twitter alternative, I would also check them out.

> Almost all of the popular communities online lean left, take your pick.

Funny, I'd have considered them to lean right, since I'm left, and don't see myself represented in them either.

I'm sure there's a name for this sort of cognitive bias.

There's a site that indexes reddit's most downvoted posts and quite often it's about 75% right-leaning political news being posted to major news and politics subreddits, if you visit those subreddits, the upvoted stuff is indeed stuff that's more left-leaning. Hard to see otherwise here, especially when you factor in the upvotes and not just # of comments.

> There's a site that indexes reddit's most downvoted posts



Not much political stuff on the past day right now but if you look at the past month's posts about the US presidential candidates you'll see what I'm talking about.

Disclaimer: Observing your election from europe, I have no skin in the game.

It seems to me that your current election is a bit of a special entity, so this data might be a bit skewed. I don't know a single conservative/right/center minded person who would support the current repuplican nominee if she/he could. I think this comes from the fact that he is a very unique candidate. Saying that anti Trump is anti right doesn't acknoledge this.

There are also more general issues. Most public political discussions are not so much political but mostly ideological aka not meaningful. People who follow ideologies are self imposing an anti discussion barrier. Your two party system enforces this.

If I want political discussion and/or information then I talk to friends or read/share interesting long form articles. Democracy is complex and full of kompromises aka hard, so "quick and dirty" just doesn't cut it.

> Disclaimer: Observing your election from europe, I have no skin in the game.

Ah, but you do, unfortunately, in the same way that non-drinking drivers have skin in the game of DUI laws and enforcement.

Ah, thanks. This election cycle seems to be a singular shitstorm anyway, but the random non-election posts in between also seem to be tendentiously more right-leaning. Interesting.

Going by the coverage of the refugee crisis (more relevant to me in Austria) a while back it was looking the other way around, and I mostly stopped bothering with political subs.

You don't really notice the things you agree with (the sky is blue). What stands out are things that violate your worldview and are thus unexpected(the sky is polka-dotted).

Maybe the world in general has a different definition of "center" than the US.

I can't speak for the world but in switzerland we have a similar distribution. The big exception is that we are way more skeptical towards people who put on a big show. We like it way more moderate. Wannabe alpha wolves get ridiculed here.

most europeans trust their government more than the average moderate american. it might be some universal belief, or it may be a function of the work your governments have done.

> Almost all of the popular communities online lean left, take your pick.

Like Reddit where /r/TheDonald is consistently at the top of /r/all, and stories about terrorism on /r/WorldNews devolve into xenophobic rants that stop just short of containing phrases like "the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim?" That's not too "left leaning" to me.

No. Reddit modified their algorithm weeks ago to remove /r/the_donald from the frontpage. Before it routinely made it due to the sheer number of upvotes and users engaged. They 'tweaked' their algorithm to allow more "diversity"; their words not mine.

Also /r/worldnews is HEAVILY censored to remove any criticism against islam in particular. If you see it it's probably because they missed a spot.

Same with /r/news, to the extent that major breaking stories have to be reported on AskReddit. It's really disgusting.

anecdotal garbage. i glance at r/all once or twice a day and the number of threads from /thedonald making an appearance is dwarfed by those from /news and /politics -- both groups that banish even thoughtful "right leaning" comments to the basement. at least with /thedonald, you know there's a political bent. the other groups pretend to be "objective".

Because of this, I virtually never comment on anything on the internet. I am genuinely disgusted at the comments on most sites and want no part of it. It is not just a waste of time, it can also rot your soul. Besides the small handful of posts here on HackerNews, I honestly cannot remember the last time I wrote anything online at all.

I suggest all of you do the same. You might find you are much better off, like I did. To be clear - by all means READ blogs and sites and stay informed. Just steer clear of the comments section. Vote at the ballot box and with your wallet. Not with your keyboard.

A bit more - what you wrote is exactly the typical case I have seen almost exclusively across the spectrum for many boards/sites. And Reddit in particular is especially guilty of this. It shouldn't really surprise anyone, though, given that Silicon Valley leans hard to the left - they are in charge of some of these non-media owned discussion sites like Reddit. Just look at the recent case of Facebook hiding conservative news from the feed. Of course they claim it was a few "rogue employees". Sure, I believe that.

And as for discussions on Reddit or news websites, the typical tactic I see over and over is as soon as anyone who is in the minority viewpoint is starting to make any sort of sense, commenters whip out the laundry list of go-to techniques for intellectually dishonest attacks - name-calling, stereotyping, questioning motives, questioning knowledge/expertise/credentials, using incorrect assumptions and false premises, straw man attacks, claiming facts are just opinions, use of weasel words, or (my personal favorite) the claim of having "rights" that are not in fact rights at all (surprisingly common). None of these crap tactics address either incorrect facts or incorrect logic, which are the only two things that should matter.

It's amazing to me how ugly things have become. And it's not just politics. Go to virtually ANY youtube video with more than a few thousand views and read the comments. There are an inordinate amount of hateful/angry posts, even for the most subjective things like music. And somehow anything related to news devolves into a political debate.

I'll be interested in whether the let ISIS-sympathizers and KKK-style white supremacists in, in the name of free speech and the right to offend. That should certainly make for an explosive combination.

More likely they'll throw a few half-hearted insults at each other, then realize how much they have in common and become BFFs.

> You have much slimmer pickings if you're a conservative

IMO, it doesn't matter if the platform leans left as long as it fosters constructive and open discussion. You're correct that a lot of the heavy handed moderation (censorship?) is on popular communities that trend left, but that's just a money related trend imo. Companies want to make their product a "safe" platform for investors

It's about safety, but not so much of investors. You have a choice when running an English-language forum of whether to allow racism, homophobia, sexism and so on, and to what extent you'll give people the benefit of the doubt on those.

If you do, then it's like spam, it will become the "default" content of the forum. If you don't, it will end up left-leaning as a "safe space".

There are genuinely incompatible populations for audience/contributors and you have to pick one.

(And if you have a hardline free speech policy where you refuse to delete anything, you'll end up hosting child porn. You have to have a deletion policy in order to have a functional forum.)

Throwing rights under the bus in the pursuit of money is now leftist?

I hope we have Karl Marx' corpse wired up to a generator.

> Throwing rights under the bus in the pursuit of money is now leftist?

It's not that it's leftist. It's that the people online tend to lean leftwards, and people investing in online communities want to grab the largest portion of the available population.

I will say, however, that the left in the US (namely the Democratic party) certainly seems to be willing to pursue a lot in the name of money (like taking millions of dollars from corporate and financial lobbying), and a lot of leftists online are totally okay with creating echochambers (though that's certainly not their pursuit alone).

I doubt however it goes that deep. I mean, your demographic premise is right, but there is more than ample right (whatever you want to mean by that word, really) online population. And I don't think anybody does a careful calculation of whether we should get this slant or that slant based on how many dollars it will bring us - even if it were possible (which I'm pretty sure it's not) nobody does that in practice.

And, if you look at channels like Fox News, it has huge audience. Granted, online audience is different, but in this time and place, it's not that different. It's not 1990s anymore, using the internet is not for the elite anymore, no more than having a cellphone. Everybody now does that (not literally everybody but demographically pretty much all is covered).

So, why many online communities lean leftwards? I'd say because their organizers/maintainers lean leftwards. Those are usually people that are young, frequently college or early post-college age, frequently with background in liberal arts - that demographics leans left. And those that don't lean the same way don't feel comfortable there (and modern college left made making people disagreeing with them feel unwelcome practically into a competition sport) and leave. That'd happen and does happen with no money consideration involved.

> but that's just a money related trend imo

It's _much_ more insidious, but I'll leave it at that.

You to realize the irony that in a discussion about constructive / objective / considerate discussion, you have posted something that is not very constructive.

Do you really have to pick one? Is there no center any more?

Can you give me an example of some content from gabai that wouldn't be on twitter? It's quite hard to get banned from twitter for mere opinion.

I use twitter and have a quick and snappy discussion in about a dozen exchanges, many times with known people like journalists, columnists etc. Of course, you must carefully choose who you interact with or follow. I find engaging in discussion of such topics as politics and religion to be futile, and economics is intertwined with politics. I only do it when I see something intolerably incorrect or foolish and I just have to engage with the fellow (as in this https://xkcd.com/386/).

On a cynical note (or realistic if you will), I don't think topics like politics and religion can be discussed in a civil manner. If they are, then those discussing are not getting to the meat of the matter because once you get there, you are bound to hit a nerve or two and the civility facade comes right off. Even IRL those who engage in civil debates are more careful about appearing civil than actually debating effectively. The interwebs, with its anonymity and all that, allows one to be much more freer in bringing out their ugly side right of the bat (though sometimes it could be a persona adopted for the kicks).

I'm trying to create a private slack community for this actually. It's just a bunch of friends/trusted people who we know are smart, bring a new perspective etc and have good things to contribute. It's been slow going creating a community like that (high achieving, smart people who are usually too busy to participate - So far we're just 20 people with like 10 the most active) but I have hopes that some day it'll become good enough that I can open it up to the public.

Things we usually discuss (and we have at least 1 person who is more knowledgable/an insider so they can teach others and give context) - Tech, Economics, Geopolitics, Culture, Cinema, Photography, BioTech/Energy etc. The goal is _in depth_ discussions, not just water cooler commentary. But since it's friends, it also becomes your usual facebook chat replacement occasionally.

I know it's not the answer you're looking for (since it's actually private/friends and their friends etc for now) but just thought I'd mention this in the context. Trying to create and maintain a community has been an interesting experience so far. :)

It is possible for me to join that community?

Sorry, it's just I'm trying to keep it among known people or people who are vetted by people we know and trust (that also includes IRL identity etc). Like I said, when I see momentum and people deriving tangible benefit from it, I'll take it public! :-)

The second you take it public, it will get destroyed.

It's the classic "I don't want to be in a club that wants me" vs "I want to be in a club that doesn't want me"

AKA Eternal September. The quality of an online community is inversely correlated with its popularity.

Maybe make it read only for those who are not vetted? That would keep standards high and you can have a different place where everybody can comment add a source of future members.

I spend most of my time in small, private, invite-only forums these days.

As I get older, the problem with most forums is not so much lack of civility, but rather tediousness. Eventually, I have heard all the arguments, and if new comers to the forum hash out the same arguments over-and-over again, then I lose interest. Also I have found that the truth on a variety of issues is extremely politically incorrect, and so you either get a choice between forums that ban nearly all politically incorrect content or forums that are unmoderated and allow any vulgar or spiteful content. Neither are appealing to me.

I have been thinking of the of trying to start a forum for people who are very intellectually curious and not easily triggered by politically incorrect topics. Sign up here if you are interested, and you'll get an email if I decide to go through with it -- https://countersearch.net/forum

Form your own private, by-invitation, undiscoverable group. Friends and colleagues are the obvious place to start, and not too large.

I've belonged to one for almost 20 years. I think the group has varied between 10 and 20 people, a few have come and gone (and come back).

We use an email list, use whatever you like.

If you are asking a place online that equates to in-person discussions, I would say there isn't any.

As I told my kid when I showed him mosaic, the screen is not a human. Humans have kindness and compassion. The screen is to get things. To some it is a way to make a living. The screen can never be generous; that is learned at the home.

Ann Landers and Dear Abby. Ever hear of them? Newspaper columnists who answered readers questions. I always asked, " Why would anybody seek help or advice from a newspaper person? " Plus, you have never met them.

Why would I seek advice or opinion from a person I never met?

Google any ailment and the results are astounding. Ask your mom or dad if it is something to worry about and you are likely to get a trusted answer

> As I told my kid when I showed him mosaic, the screen is not a human. Humans have kindness and compassion. The screen is to get things. To some it is a way to make a living. The screen can never be generous; that is learned at the home.

I really like this, thank you for sharing.

As for getting advice on the Internet - there are many quandaries about which one might rather ask the Internet than a person they've met for a variety of reasons.

* They don't know anyone with expertise in $THING

* You want a more objective opinion (who better than someone you don't know?)

* Asking someone they know is likely to create bad consequences (makes them worry! makes them judge you! makes them retaliate! makes them jump to a crazy conclusion and attack someone else! makes them report you to $AGENCY)

There is however a human behind the screen, however distant or difficult to see.

> Why would I seek advice or opinion from a person I never met?

Asking your peers and parents may be used against you forever. People you won't meet unless you really want to won't, so you can be more honest there.

One aspect we shouldn't overlook is stratification by intelligence. People of very different IQs have trouble communicating. So, "hateful repetition of populist punchlines" is a natural form of communication for average-intelligence people - to say nothing of below-average.

Now, the loudest, most visible fraction of any political group tends to be the stupid.

So your conversational Utopia needs some kind of poll-test at the entrance.

I think that an educated gentleman of 150 years ago wouldn't be annoyed at the ignorant opinions of a servant, because they were of two different worlds. Today with the spread of literacy and erosion of class distinction, these different levels of discourse are forced together.

Something Awful, D&D forum. Maybe not insightful but at least civil. $10 accounts mean being a shithead has consequences.

No, no, no, a million times no. Annoy the wrong moderator and your account gets sitewide punished.

I got an account probation, after posting something a few years back about how a specific poster was being disingenuous (and this on the GBS board, which is pretty toxic anyways), and wound up unable to post for 8 hours. Haven't been back since.

That and I find "goon" humor really smarmy and tiresome :/

Eh, even then, there's still tons of shitheads on there. The $10 barrier is not that strong, and the community is kinda balls anyway.

I think most of the forums on SA are filled with great people. AI is the best car forum on the 'net and BFC is pretty awesome too.

Same here, D&D is pretty good too.

by D&D do you mean dungeons and dragons?


They did rename it AD&D: Advanced Debate and Discussion in one of their April Fool's binges a while back.

Definitely https://8ch.net/pol/. I have seen a lot of insightful discussion about politics there.

Insightful maybe, but the ironic (and I'm not sure to what degree) antisemitism, nazi veneration, and apparent lust for the end of the world gets old quick.

I'd kill for a /pol/ that bans low effort posting like that.

It definitely leans center-left but I've found /r/PoliticalDiscussion to be a good subreddit for (mostly US-based) political topics.

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.

I frequent several private FB groups that cover a wide range of topics. Like technology, politics, and cars. I find that if you seek out specific groups of enthusiastic people who share your passions (but not neccesarily your perspective) the discussion is usually more insightful and respectful. You basically need to get off of main street and step into a little coffee shop to hear the gossip behind the gossip. Where else would these populist punchlines be coming from if not from passionate groups of people who actually put thought into things and talk about them.


On FB, there can be groups that are entirely uncivil and groups that are fairly - it depends on who sets them up and for what purpose, it doesn't necessarily depend on the subject matter.

bogleheads.org is a forum for the discussion of conservative investing approaches, but it ends up tying into proactive and insightful discussions about all sorts of lifestyle issues. I enjoy it a lot!

Bogleheads is self-contradictory in some ways. The Boglehead philosophy is to buy and hold assets without frequent trading. And yet the discussions are filled with financial noise. For a group of simple buy-and-holders, they like to micromanage (at least with words on the web) minute financial decisions.

A Boglehead thread should be something like this:

9/2/2016 Username said: I began regularly buying XYZ index fund.

9/2/2056 Username said: I began regularly drawing down XYZ index fund.

That's it. Instead they chinwag about tiny personal expenditures. I think a forum is not the best medium for such a community, given that a forum consisting of my model thread would be moribund.

There are some nuggets of financial wisdom, but for a lot of people there being a Boglehead is just a slogan.

I have a recommendation, but you first need stairs in your house...

I think it's easier to find such kind of comments on specialized communities, i.e. where users have a common ground. For example, looking for insightful comments on politics and economics, I usually like to follow the discussions on the Mises Institute site - since there is a common ideology to most visitors there (libertarianism), they don't spend time hating each other and disagreeing on basic views, and can contribute with constructive arguments instead.

I've been using Google+ for that since the beta. If you remove all of the "hot", "recommended for you" and similar torrents of stupid from your circles, you can create a vast circle of people with whom you can discuss politics, science and other things. My "politis" circle is a few hundred people, and a few thousands follow my politics (rabid infrared leftist) collections.

One option is setting up a passive Twitter account to follow a handful of very well reputed analysts in the fields you like. No friends, no general media, no noise. Shameless plug as an example: https://mobile.twitter.com/NuclResearchNet.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I've partially given up on finding a community. Instead I've decided to try and build it myself. There are some really great ideas around community that I'd like to experiment with.

It's not quite ready yet (www.elyxel.com) but if anyone is interested feel free to reach out.

I've been posting on total.fark.com for over a decade at this point for a certain definition of 'civil'.

I wonder if it is possible to automatically assign a "civility" score to internet comment threads using natural language processing techniques.

Even if it works, I think this might reduce the signal along with the noise :-) The most insightful commentary has at least a touch of rhetoric.


HN is definitely the only place I've kept returning to long-term. It's uniquely civil, even on topics that include triggers.

Besides HN, a friend of mine created a Facebook group of friends where we have those discussions.

While gaming oriented, there's a great group of people who discuss pretty much everything over at the Quarter to Three forums. https://forum.quartertothree.com/

Wow, I used to read Tom Chick's writings there a lifetime ago. Some of the best video gaming centric writing I've ever seen.

A little bit off-topic, but I've always wondered if there were academic research on how to improve discussion forums. In addition to collective moderation, could we use techniques like machine learning for a better ranking of comments?

BBC Radio 4 is enough for me. No need to hear what my friends think about politics.

The Guardian's CIF (Comment Is Free) is place I really enjoyed a few years back. Now, the number of users has gone up, I think, and the quality of comments isn't as good as it used to be. theguardian.com

I was going to say Reddit. But for some reason(I speculate it is the toxicity), HN is where I have most of my online discussions

Back in the days I used to discuss at a few IRC channels with pretty high SNR. Sadly, these communities faded out.

The Ars Technica forums are generally quite good. The non-tech forums require being a subscriber, though.

for local community elections etc we actually use nextdoor.

I am interested in one topic now that more and more school districts are going pork-free these days but don't know where to discuss that, so yes I'm unsure where to discuss civil topics outside of local issues.

every strongly moderated place will do. HN and some subreddits like r/science, r/askscience, etc. are of very good quality. can't stress enough that moderation is the key.

Every strongly moderated place turns to the bias of the moderators. Any discussion outside their allowance gets censored.

which is often better than no moderation, as evidenced by this site.

when you bring it with you it is anywhere

irc.freenode.net ##politics or ##<other subjects of interest>

Try 4chan.org/b , the only sane place for civilized people.

Yup, that or YouTube comments.

bogleheads.org is a forum for conservative investing, but it ends up tying into proactive and insightful discussion about all sorts of lifestyle issues. I enjoy it a lot!

Ironically, FB


quora FTW!

http://Fark.com has been my favorite.

I mainly frequent the Entertainment and Politics sections of Fark.

The Geek topic is generally too non-technical for me.

A slack channel linked to the community of edge.org would be pretty good.



Please don't comment like this here.

Hurting someone with the truth is better than killing them with a lie.

The assertion that civility and honesty are mutually opposed is a common one, but it's neither insightful, nor accurate.

The distinction between civil criticism and unholy flame only exists to an uncommonly mature audience. None of the major internet communities, including this one, gracefully host controversial arguments. The end result is almost always censorship.

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