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HN comments are underrated (danluu.com)
733 points by ingve on Oct 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 359 comments

I second Dan's advice of blogging more.

I'm a very average HN commenter. I do put in effort in writing here, trying to be civil above all and sharing my experience where it could be of interest. But I'm not Alan Kay, I've never rewritten a distributed deep learning system in Haskell using a genetically optimized Paxos consensus protocol, and my entrepreneurial experience is a loose string of "don't do this" case studies at best... So my comments certainly won't make anyone's "Best of HN" list.

Last week, after the news broke that Salesforce walked away from buying Twitter, I was about to write a HN comment about what Twitter could do. The text got long enough that I decided to expand it into a Medium post instead: https://medium.com/swlh/twitter-could-be-the-next-mozilla-e7...

To my surprise, the post has 28,000 views and 755 recommends so far. If I had written it as a HN comment, it would have got maybe 5-10 upvotes and perhaps spawned a short discussion thread about how unrealistic my idea was. (Please don't bother to criticize the content of the blog post in replies here -- I'm just using it as an example of blog vs. comment.)

I love reading HN discussions... But maybe there could be a site that slots between the HN and Medium formats, and lets you expand your comment into a blog post with minimal friction? Call it "HN Long-Form" or whatever. Ideally it would interface with the HN comment system so that you could mark your comment with something like "Promote to long-form" after you've written it. That would create an editable post on the long-form site. You could then later expand your comment there, and publish it on the long-form comment aggregator site. (Maybe I should just build this myself and see if it feels right.)

> I'm a very average HN commenter.

An 11k karma is not average IMHO. You're way above average HN commentator.

I think that you just used the best tool for the job. That doesn't really mean anything about comments. You read what I consider low level comments and high level comments on technical and social subjects from the SAME nickname all the time at HN.

I've been on the site since 2008 IIRC, so I've had plenty of time to accumulate karma.

> An 11k karma is not average IMHO. You're way above average HN commentator.

I don't know if that is true. I had an equally high comment number and I reset it. My feeling is that there are others that do that as well.

You can get upvotes any number of ways [1] putting out correct and admirable info is only one of them.

Likewise you can loose karma by simply mentioning a third rail issue or not fawning when the community (on a particular post) [2] is fawning.

[1] For example I tend to upvote the parent threads of my comments. That way my comment has a better chance of being seen is my theory. (Doesn't matter if I am correct since I am pointing out what I do and it's reasonable to think that others might do the same.)

[2] And this is important. You can say the same type of thing on one comment thread and be downvoted but be upvoted on another.

I completely agree.

In 2009 I got a brief 15 minutes of internet fame through a incredibly badly written essay about... a thing (not relevant here). Seven years later it's still one of the most popular pages on my website, although luckily it's been eclipsed by better content.

If I spent half the time writing more blog content (aargh, my last entry was 2015) than I do here, I'd have a really nice corpus of work. Which people might read!

I have seen a tool which allows a HN thread to be used as a comment on a external blog post --- it came up a few weeks back. I don't know if this worked by screen-scraping HN itself or whether there's an API, but either way it suggests that your idea would work.

> If I spent half the time writing more blog content (aargh, my last entry was 2015) than I do here, I'd have a really nice corpus of work. Which people might read!

I think everyone feels like that sometimes when writing long comment, the problem is all the mental burden that comes with trying to structure a blog post. Another thing is that a blog needs to have a theme or be subject specific otherwise it drowns in the oceans of interwebs.

There's also the burden necessary to recontextualize. A comment on HN has at least an article's worth of context and possibly a thread of comments it is in reply to. Any attempt to sideline that into a longer blog post needs to spend "set up time" to contextualize the blog post. Certainly one can start such blog every time with HN links and big blockquotes of text that one is responding too, but such easy approaches tend to invite the question "Why wasn't this just a comment in HN?" To do things right you have to write a proper opening establishing the context through paraphrasing as much as linking/quoting, and that certainly can be a lot more effort than just commenting on HN.

One day, I intend to scrape all my HN comments, and turn the best ones into blog posts (if still relevant) :-)

I want to start blogging, but I'm concerned about giving control of my content to a third party. At the same time, I can't be bothered to register my own domain (mainly due to the herculean task of finding a decent name).

One relatively easy option is to use Jekyll on GitHub Pages. You can eventually CNAME your own domain to it. The content is in a git repo you can easily clone and take with you somewhere else such as Netlify or other hosts that compete in this space, if/when your needs change.


Yes, I have sometimes thought too that some of my longer comments on HN could be expanded into a blog entry quite easily. Unfortunately, I don't have a blog to publish it on and I don't consider it worth the hassle getting one.

As someone who has done this a few times, LongForm sounds like a great idea.

hey this is a great blog post! I was around during those times and totally forgot how all those deals went down. And I wish you were an average HN commenter. Reality is probably more like top 5% :)

On second read, I'm not sure I agree with the first paragraphs of Dan's post at all. He seems to be saying that HN is terrible, but a handful of comments from star posters rise above the muck. I just don't think that's fair.

Yes, the cliché is that HN is a place full of mean, entitled semi-autists who will criticize your site's CSS whitespace formatting when you ask for business feedback... And of course there's a grain of truth to that (persistent stereotypes usually don't come out of thin air), but it misses the mark on two dimensions.

The first is that the criticism you get on HN is no worse than what other aspiring creative professionals suffer. I went to an art and design college, and the critique you'd get from students and even teachers was 99% of the time harsher than the HN style, yet no more guaranteed to be useful.

Consider a first-time novelist who spent years on a book. One day it gets critiqued in a newspaper. The professional critic might find that the author has a clumsy style, poor research, paper-thin characters, and seems to lack the life experience to even write about the topic. What do you do after that kind of criticism? You suck it up and go back to work on the next novel.

Making use of feedback is all about filtering and reducing multiple sources into something actionable. Nobody is right all the time. Your parents were wrong. Your teachers were wrong. Your peers were wrong. Your professors were wrong. Your boss was wrong. Your cofounders were wrong. Your investors were wrong. HN commenters were wrong. Still it's worth taking in all these inputs as much as you can.

The other dimension of HN comments is that they can be surprisingly deep. When an arts or culture topic makes it to the front page, it seems like someone comes out of the woods with the perfect personal anecdote. Whether it's Mondrian, Messiaen or Modiano, there's always someone on HN who happens to have a passion for it.

HN comments are underrated, but it's not just because of star power: it's everyone's contributions that make it consistently worthwhile for me.

Another note: A valid criticism mean the author actually took the time to read, understand and respond to your work.

Comment moved, per request.

Is there any reason why you replied to a comment instead of responding to the article? Because as a sub it has little added value to the parent, but as a top level comment I would have liked to see it as the #1 comment.

Edit: for the record, it moved to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12775905

When I worked with the HN post data, I noticed that some years ago HN users had correctly predicted the "Show HN" projects that later got funding. Those projects had more upvotes.

The more recent data has no such connection. It seems that the influx of users reduced the quality of judgement.

So one way to improve HN submissions and comments is to weight points by the user's tenure on HN.

I also suspect that early comments dominate late comments by the time factor alone. The sorting algo gives a brief advantage to new comments, but old comments are more visible. A post on the front page gets 30+ comments in the first hour, and latecomers can only post into the void. To address that, long branches could be collapsed by default, leaving only 2-4 visible messages per branch.

Interesting, but when I upvote Shown HN posts, it's because it contributed to my enjoyment of reading HN. That's largely orthogonal to whether it would be a good product, and often times is directly contradictory towards it (fun tech demos -> upvotes, products -> meh). I don't think that's a decline in the quality of HN, it's just a different focus. I use HN as entertainment rather than as a prediction market. But I can see that others would not like the shift.

Yes. And the analysis could be improved by coding each submission according to its intended status as a cool toy or a side project. I bet that as HN has grown we're seeing more toys and less startup projects on Show HN.

You raise an interesting point; in comparison, Product Hunt is essentially the opposite.

> So one way to improve HN submissions and comments is to weight points by the user's tenure on HN.

I've been on this website for quite some time and I don't honestly care about "Show HN" links. I mean, I wish the submitters all the best in the world, it's just that I'm not visiting HN in order to see who is gonna get funding or not in a year or two, I visit HN for interesting links and some interesting comments.

Another factor might be the abuse of the bookmark feature. I tend to upvote stories that seem interesting when I am at a hurry just as a way to save them in the upvoted stories section for a later time.

About the comments, pretty sure the sorting algorithm still takes into account a user's avg score. I usually make late comments but they show up well above other threads.

I use the bookmark feature for articles that I want to keep, not read later. For instance, I seldom bookmark news. (I would, without data, guess your way is more popular.)

Otoh, I often bookmark an article just to keep a reference to the comments.

One consideration I'd like to point out is how the audience changed over time. I'm not saying anything like "HN is getting worse every year", but rather that it started at a startup accelerator, before startup accelerators were popular and at a time when startups weren't as popular as they are now. The crowd was more insiders at the beginning, and insiders may have more insight into what will / won't succeed from their experience.

Another point, and I wish I had data but this is purely anecdotal, is that it seems like the side project --> startup transition is happening less. People are content making small side projects, doing hackathons, etc but not making that business their life (upsides and downsides to this).

Cool. And sad.

But re old accounts: I've recently seen a few cases where old accounts with high karma dismissed Wikipedia -- without any references of their own. That is a "quality smell", if anything is.

(One particularly shameless fellow just copied the primary link Wikipedia used -- and lied about the content. :-( )

EDIT: I wrote without any references of their own -- i.e. dismissed with hand waving. Wikipedia won't always be correct, but it has references and is whetted by quite a lot of people.

My dad likes to dismiss Wikipedia, and he used to be an admin. They may just know how the sausage is made.

His rule of thumb is "If it isn't a major article there's probably errors". His favorite example is that of an article about an ancient persian poet, which says that there's only 2 of his poems known, and only 1 remains. Next to that line, there's a picture of the other poem.

Eh, who knows.

You can see Wikipedia as a mixture of different "subpedias". I find articles on technical and mathematical topics to generally be extremely accurate, content rich, and surprisingly bias free (so not very, but still). Protocols, theorems, proofs, even very advanced topics (way over my head, so perhaps I can't tell...). You could do much worse than take everything Wikipedia says about mathematics at face value.*

On the other hand, everything about currently living people, or worse, companies, you can essentially dismiss out of hand.

* Please don't. I'm just making a point.

"I find articles on technical and mathematical topics to generally be extremely accurate, content rich, and surprisingly bias free (so not very, but still)."

Same here. I usually just link the Wikipedia article because it's either totally accurate or accurate enough for what I'm trying to accomplish. I added a bunch of stuff to it as a result from my domain. I do spot marketing BS on occasion in there but the baseline makes it really stand out. Most people doing IT work are going to say, "Wait, that looks like a fan or advertiser wrote it" then dismiss that specific point.

> His rule of thumb is "If it isn't a major article there's probably errors"

...and if it is a major article, there are definitely errors, some likely introduced on purpose[1] (since major articles are the juiciest targets)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Ravpapa/Tilt

I didn't argue that Wikipedia always was correct (no source is that, I'd guess), just that it smelled really bad to dismiss it with just hand waving. It do have sources and have been whetted (for reasonably popular subjects.)

Wasn't trying to imply you meant that. It's more that I could see where someone like that could come from, dismissing the Wikipedia article out of habit, especially if they've been involved with the project. Not backing it up with additional sources is of course bad form, but finding and linking extra sources is additional work.

Minor nitpick, vetting is someone checking something and approving it, whereas whetting is grinding away metal to sharpen a blade.

OK, you more or less agree with my argument. Enough about that, then.

I am curious about something else.

Do you have non anecdotal information about Wikipedia's general dependability?

How is the dependability for large subjects? For subjects like a poet where less than a hundred people even recognize the name?

(The last I saw on this was years ago, when Wikipedia edged out the Encyclopædia Britannica. It would be strange to be less dependable now?!)

It seems I was trolled, but in a funny way.

I discuss how you can see bad behaviour from even old accounts at HN, dismissing serious references with just hand waving.

This got a well written answer about how non serious my example reference was, arguing with a family anecdote.

When I ask for better sources (I don't know the writer or his/her family from Adam/Eve) -- then I get no answer. :-)

I always find it strange when people do that. I mean, it's a wiki - if there's an obvious, glaring error - just fix it? Then that particular article will be more correct?

Wikipedia is absolutely useless as a dead book - the level of (professional) work that goes into vetting "real" encyclopedia articles is much higher - and the errors that slip through much more permanent.

The great thing about Wikipedia is the potential steady improvement. When people complain about its accuracy it often just sounds like whining.

Granted, there are a few articles that are "contested", and I understand why people don't have the time or energy to fix all of Wikipedia.

No, your fix will often be reverted by those one or two authors who consider the article "theirs".

If you fix it a second time, including a clear explanation in the commit message, you'll be accused of vandalism.

Do you know if anyone's done quantitative research on that? Should be pretty straightforward to sample some articles and see if that pattern is common? (I'm not trying to passive - aggressively suggest you're wrong, I'm honestly curious)

[ed: I should add that I've started to form a habit of looking at the revision history and talk pages of wp articles - in addition to references. And I really do think the added transparency is a very real added value over dead tree encyclopedia. ]

I referenced this earlier, but got no answer. It is from 2005. I haven't seen anything after that.

"Wikipedia is about as good a source of accurate information as Britannica, the venerable standard-bearer of facts about the world around us, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature."


(Please Google a better source for that paper. :-) )

I am willing to believe that "sensitive" information about living (and relative unknown) people along with companies/political parties is being more gamed in Wikipedia today, than ten years ago.

I'd just see some good references for that...

HN comments are full of naive political opinion, groupthink, and a tendency to blind optimism on all things technology or new. Often older ways have merit too.

It's also probably the only place left on the net where, from comments, I'll find out rapidly, and bluntly with citations, when I'm wrong (and, yes I'm often wrong on the Internet!), usually learn something new on the topic, and sometimes talk with the guy who invented it. My ADHD brain loves the depth that side topics can get explored and being surrounded by people far cleverer than me.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

>I'll find out rapidly, and bluntly with citations, when I'm wrong (and, yes I'm often wrong on the Internet!), usually learn something new on the topic

If you stay off the default subreddits and only go on the intellectual/debate subreddits, then I honestly think reddit is better for this. The amount of expertise on reddit is astounding. It's very easy to find someone to rigorously challenge any view I have. I'd go so far as to say that it's the smartest place on the internet (except for maybe places like MathOverflow and some other specialty blogs/forums). They do have a natural advantage because of their huge userbase.

Business startup ideas are essentially experiments in economic theory.

Yet HN comments are vastly inferior to Reddit's when regarding anything to do with economics.

It didn't used to be this way, and I kind of miss the HN of old... where logic and fearlessness were valued more than affiliation or keeping up of brand appearances. I've been finding it increasingly disconcerting that the incentive here lately has been to discredit or silence (bury) comments from anybody whose opinion points out something like: yeah -- Airbnb's "business model" might be creating way more more problems than it's claiming to solve. Or that collusion in and among YC-funded companies might (or maybe should) yield some Antitrust issues. The tech commentary can be pretty good, and there are plenty of active HNers whose opinions I respect. However, it is leaning heavy on becoming selection-biased and just plain mean to anybody with an original idea.

Reddit is a swamp of filth wrt economics comments.

Basically all the subreddits except /r/academiceconomics, /r/badeconomics, /r/econpapers are awful. I'm friends with the mods of /r/economics and they have a really hard time reigning in the masses of ideologues (on all sides) ruining what should remain pure economics discussions.

Reddit and HN make an interesting comparison. Reddit's highs are really high, far higher than HN's, often skirting the level of "so good as to be newsworthy". But Reddit's lows --- and I don't mean trolling and harassment, I mean the lower bounds of normal conversation there --- are much lower. I think the median HN comment is better, by a lot, than the median Reddit comment.

I think you can extend the same judgement out to entire threads --- the best Reddit threads being so much better than HN's that it's hard to even imagine what HN could do differently to compete, and the median HN thread being better than the median Reddit thread.

Another interesting thing is that the comparison would probably fall apart completely if not for the heavily-moderated subreddits that produce the best comments. If the Reddit comment cohorts included only the lightly moderated subreddits, HN would probably win on all metrics other than volume and diversity of topics.

I find it hard to agree with you, but I don't go on reddit much. Can you supply a few reddit threads you feel are exceptionally high caliber? I mostly consume /r/askscience and /r/askhistorians. One of the problems I have with reddit (and this might come from not working hard enough at it) is not knowing how to find active, high quality, specialty subreddits.

You want to find the niche expert subreddits. The ones you named are good. So is /r/badhistory, /r/badeconomics [1] which are generally hangouts of experts to make fun of people claiming things. /r/netsec is generally good, so is /r/machinelearning. Even niche job-specific subreddits (like meddit or /r/protectandserve) are interesting to observe.

Because economics gets politicized so much, it's very rare to find sound discussion in popular forums. It's a ton of people cheering for their "team's" policies.

[1] Full disclosure: I'm recently been made a mod there. /r/badeconomics is probably the highest signal/noise economics place on the internet at the moment though. I learned more there than in school in the years I've spent there.

I didn't know about badeconomics, and I'm enjoying a lot, but I can already see ways in which its moderation reduces the average comment quality. For instance: there's a whole lot of insubstantial snark. A lot of it is funny, but you have to pick through it to find the actual information.

That's not a criticism of badeconomics! Just an observation on how moderation choices can affect total thread quality in different ways. It is also totally legitimate to optimize for highest-possible-highs.

Yeah it's going through reforms in the next week or so, to improve overall quality.

The subreddit has tripled in subscriber base over the last year, and growth like that can be harmful if you're aiming for a higher signal/noise ratio.

Snark is not frowned upon as long as it's based on something meaningful. I'm guilty of snark, but I try to craft high quality posts. Making fun of people because they disagree with your viewpoint is not fine if you don't explain why in an objective manner, though.

But the subreddit is such that a lot of people bring their personal ideology and hope for the regulars of that subreddit to back them up. So there's a balance to be struck.

While I still think HN probably has the better median, the quality of what you're exposed to on reddit is mostly up to you. Ditch the defaults and Reddit's median skyrockets. Ditch some of the more popular non-defaults, it skyrockets some more. Start building a list of well-moderated subreddits with a strong sense of community, and it jumps some more.

Not that you're doing this with your comment, but it has always struck me as odd to treat reddit like it's a single website with a single experience for all users. Yes, there's a base, universal experience, but it's truly up to the user to tailor that experience into what they want. You want memes and fart jokes? There are subs for that. You want to look at breathtaking photos? There are (poorly named) subs for that. You want to discuss why obscure Warcraft character A is behaving so oddly toward Warcraft character B? There's a sub for that. To me, that will always be Reddit's strength.

No matter what reputation it gets, no matter how much shit goes on in the defaults, there's always my little specialty subreddits filled with meaningful content to consume.

> Ditch the defaults and Reddit's median skyrockets. Ditch some of the more popular non-defaults, it skyrockets some more. Start building a list of well-moderated subreddits with a strong sense of community, and it jumps some more.

Honest question: What are some actual techniques to effectively find these gem subreddits?

I see this sentiment expressed regularly, but nobody explains how actual effective discovery works. If the answer is spending hours wading through a bunch of noise only to find one or two gems, it's a completely rational response to just give up on Reddit itself, because the reward/time spent tradeoff is too low.

So that's the obvious response, and I agree, I think --- the comparison does get trickier if you take just, say, AskHistorians versus HN (there are casual Redditisms condoned even on well-moderated subreddits that are annoying enough to keep the comparison tricky).

But if you compare the basket of subreddits relevant to HN --- programming, crypto, etc --- right now, I feel like HN is winning handily. Reddit only starts crushing HN when you broaden out into topics that aren't really in HN's bailiwick.

I find /r/crypto much better than HN for crypto discussions; you have more than one crypto person there ( as opposed to essentially just you).

AFAIK HN has more than one qualified crypto persons.

/r/boardgames is pretty much always a positive community, unless you proclaim your love of Munchkin. Anything interesting news or links about board games tends to get posted there too. But there's also people asking the same questions over and over again (I like blah and blah, and don't like blah, what should I buy next?), but I don't mind that personally.

I remember specifically when GamerGate discussion was poisoning just about every video game community and someone tried to bring it to the board games subreddit and tie it in with board games, and the admins made an executive decision to squash it. Probably one of the best things they ever did, because the board has remained very civil and friendly since.

I've had good experiences with /r/keto too. I almost never check anything else there anymore.

But yeah, niche subreddits.

The problem with this analysis is that each Reddit subreddit is its own community. So "median Reddit {comment,thread}" is largely useless and misleading for purposes of the comparison.

I sense that you know this, though.

> /r/badeconomics

The subreddit arguing that it’s reasonable to give companies power over democratically legitimated governments?

No thanks.

This is a non-negotiable requirement, no non-democratic entity should have power over the highest democratic entity.

That’s the fundamental issue that makes traditional ISDS problematic, and why ICS and the new ISDS alternative in CETA were created in the first place.

But /r/badeconomics ignores that entire political problematic.


> The subreddit arguing that it’s reasonable to give companies power over democratically legitimated governments

Is a massive strawman if you're referring to ISDS (which is what it seems). If you want a trade agreement, the terms need enforcement to be unilateral. But political actors in each respective countries will be incentivized not to respect that by internal pressures.

So there needs to be a way to settle those disputes, or else you might as well not have any trade agreement. You can dispute the merits of the current court system; I won't, I'm not an expert in that.

But saying that this means "companies have power over democratic countries" is absurd. Go look at supreme court cases in any country. How many are "[person] vs [state]" or "entity vs country"?

Democratically elected governments can act in ways just as abhorrent as any other entity; that's why the president doesn't have control over, say, what is constitutional or get to control monetary policy.

> Go look at supreme court cases

The supreme courts are democratically determined and justified.

For ISDS courts, half of the judges are appointed by the company that is suing.

For ICS courts, all the judges are appointed by the nations taking part.

That’s why ICS is acceptable, but ISDS is not.

> Democratically elected governments can act in ways just as abhorrent as any other entity

Correct, but democratically elected governments are put under checks and balances to prevent them from doing so, foreign companies are not.

For ISDS courts, half of the judges are appointed by the company that is suing.

The ISDS provision in NAFTA uses a panel of three arbitrators; one appointed by each of the nations involved, and one which is appointed either by consensus or from the third NAFTA nation if consensus cannot be reached. Investors don't get to appoint any arbitrators.

That's then closer to CETAs solution, too.

Classical ISDS trials have 1 determined by the suing company, 1 by the nation sued, and one both have to agree on.

> Basically all the subreddits except /r/academiceconomics, /r/badeconomics, /r/econpapers are awful.

You probably mean "Basically all the subreddits related to economics except ..."

> they have a really hard time reigning in

Reigning monarchs have it hard these days.

Not that reining stubborn mules is much better.

(Pet peeve, but really paying forward a good correction someone gifted me a few weeks ago. Otherwise quit, really ;)

Regarding /r/economics, if you find it bad now you should have seen it before. I for one doesn't miss the Austrian bullshit that used to be very common there.

What's an example of a pure economics discussion?

"Yet HN comments are vastly inferior to Reddit's when regarding anything to do with economics."

I find that HN is pretty weak on economics. But it's a tech blog, so ...

And I'm not so sure that 'business ideas' are about economics. Usually, they are simply about doing things using newly available technology, in ways that are obvious in hindsight.

I don't think that AirBnB conceptually is rocket science - it's the great experience they provide for everyone. It's really well put together. AirBnB done by a lesser team of people would be something you never heard of.

"I don't think that AirBnB conceptually is rocket science "

People have been doing what they're doing on individual or household level on ad hoc basis for decades. The problem persisted all the way up to AirBnB's time. There was no efficient, integrated, widely-available solution to the problem. They provided that. They exploded in growth followed by other founders looking for similar problems in unrelated markets like business trips. Several markets forming as a result.

Basic concept is simple and was always there, though. Just needed someone to solve it in an economical way. :)

I agree there are some smart Econ things here, but when there's a tech article that wavers into Econ elements, I find it all to be lacking, generally.

My point: HN folks are not thinking about market power, value chains, supply chains, forms of financing, currency markets - they're thinking about tech.

At the risk of getting 100 down-votes - this is best exemplified by Bitcoin. It's a very powerful, cool technology - but almost nobody seems to grasp what it means from a financial perspective, i.e. as a currency, as a store of value etc. etc.. HN readers see it in 'techno-social' terms, i.e. 'cool tech' and 'free from big banks' 'decentralization' etc..

Reddit is the new Usenet with all the good, the bad and the silly.

The advantage of small subreddits over HN is that links don't get buried.

Reddit a crossroads of the usenet and 4chan cultures: it's where they meet. However, Reddit actually doesn't totally adopt the common-carrier approach, and aren't decentralized: they try to take responsibility for their users to a greater degree than either of the previous sites ever did, resulting in things like hateful subreddits getting taken down, and the voat split.

> Reddit is the new Usenet with all the good, the bad and the silly.

And none of the decentralization that was Usenet unfortunately.

You also find a whole lot of echo chambers, fanboys and wannabe-intellectualism. This because anyone can set up a sub-reddit, and thus also moderate them.

On most things that aren't programming (and some things that are) HN can be the same way

The game of life meets the Dunning Kruger effect.

> only go on the intellectual/debate subreddits

Any recommendations?

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/ is unrivaled in its signal-to-noise ratio.

>It's also probably the only place left on the net where, from comments, I'll find out rapidly, and bluntly with citations, when I'm wrong (and, yes I'm often wrong on the Internet!), usually learn something new on the topic, and sometimes talk with the guy who invented it. My ADHD brain loves the depth that side topics can get explored and being surrounded by people far cleverer than me

This is pretty much why I use HN at all: it doesn't make me feel smart, but I learn new, exciting things constantly.

> This is pretty much why I use HN at all: it doesn't make me feel smart, but I learn new, exciting things constantly.

Thanks for articulating it so well.

...okay. You're welcome, I guess, but I'm not sure what's so hard about articulating it that makes doing so praiseworthy.

Or were you just being nice? If so, that's totally fine, never mind.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between the right phrasing and the almost right phrasing is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. We're here for the lightning.

...And that was totally the right phrasing.

Thanks for explaning so well.

^ Very similar for me. A good criticism that invites me to better understand a different viewpoint is worth a lot.

It's worth more than any other type of comment, IMHO, save maybe construtive criticism. All that's left if you take those out is banal agreement, something some of the more aggressively PC communities out there don't realize, IMHO.

> blind optimism on all things technology or new. Often older ways have merit too.

I've seen plenty of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" in the comments and complaints about engineers always trying to use the newest technology.

Yes, using any tool or language that came out after the commenter started programming is "hipster".

And you see a lot of xkcd 927 and "I can't help thinking effort would have been better spent on an existing project" when someone writes any program of any type where other examples exist.

>Yes, using any tool or language that came out after the commenter started programming is "hipster".

I see this a lot, and I don't think it's a valid criticism of the issue.

It assumes either that all periods in IT are equally good, or that there's monotonic progress (both of which are wrong), and that there's no such thing as a fad, so anybody pointing one is clearly a "get off my lawn" person.

I'm with Alan Kay on this: computer science is a pop culture.

It's not a "criticism" of an "issue", it's a description of a behavior that may in some cases and out of some mouths have a point, but is not necessarily rooted in anything worthwhile.

The behavior is frequently ad hominem in use and often seems to express insecurity of some form, mixed with the conservative bias towards freaking out about flaws in new things while brushing them off in existing things.

I only post a 927 when there are >6 different standards in the field, and there's no way a new one will catch on. As for the effort better spent posts, those are awful. Never post those. Instead post about how great emacs is compared to vim: you're more likely to spawn useful discussion.

And if you post the xkcd link to a discussion about a piece of software and not a new standard for which many already exist, (and I see that post,) I will proudly downvote you no matter how many examples exist.

Just be glad I don't have the magic ability to force anyone to use QED to program their next project in Fortran on a CTSS box.

Yeah, just don't post 927 on software: that's dumb.

Note I said when a new one won't catch on, or is unlikely to do so, particularly of it doesn't have any significant benefits over what's already there.

> As for the effort better spent posts, those are awful. Never post those.

Except, the issue is when there’s already dozens of standards in the field, and someone decides to make yet another one, and publish factually wrong articles about existing standards to get an advantage.

I think that it's interesting that there is an etiquette developing on when which XKCD is appropriate.

XKCD is always appropriate when it's relevant, pretty much. There's only etiquette for 927.

Well, here. It's still popular on Reddit to be the first to post an "obligatory" link to a vaguely relevant xkcd. Here, that usually gets downvoted fast.

I do it sometimes, but only if the XKCD is actually highly relevant. As a result, I've actually never gotten downed for it.

It depends on the subject. Take Mars colonization or self-driving cars. There's recently been a few posts (with a large number of upvotes) that were more or less press releases from companies, with the majority of the comments being very positive and the most up-voted comment in each post complaining about the existence of a few comments that were skeptical.

Yep it seems anything by Elon is sacrosanct with much of the HN crew.

I'm pretty critical of technology and modernity in general, and this Cult of Elon is a large part of the reason I dislike the man and his endeavors.

It has nothing to do with his intelligence or person. He's clearly intelligent, and I'm not quite sure he's a person (ha) but I don't know the dude.

It's just that he has revived so much technological optimism in a time when skepticism is pretty important, at least imo. He seems to bandy about these technical solutions that are dazzling, for sure --- and extremely interesting --- but just don't cut it, or come with a slew of potentially unintended consequences, or simply aren't putting the focus in the right place.

For example, his talk of Mars colonization as an escape hatch to our degradation of biodiversity / carbon emissions / etc. is just awful. What kind of idea is that?

It's infuriating because when I say things like, "I'm not convinced that collapse or technical decline would be a bad thing," people can immediately see the criticisms, chief among them being "Won't a lot of people die?" Which is fair.

But there is little to no skepticism when Musk presents his idea, when there certainly should be. How many people do you think will make it on those spaceships, and who do you think those people will be? At least in a case of economic or technical decline, many people will have a fighting chance at it not being totally awful.

> For example, his talk of Mars colonization as an escape hatch to our degradation of biodiversity / carbon emissions / etc. is just awful. What kind of idea is that?

To be fair, that's not a good characterization of why he's into Mars colonization. He's not advocating colonization so we can disregard life on Earth. He seems very much into preserving life on Earth. Mars colonization is a backup plan (or the initial stage of a backup plan) for the inevitable moment when Earth will have to be abandoned regardless of how well we behave.

Regarding “a lot of people dying” angle: the difference is in magnitude of “a lot of people”, and choice. However many people die on SpaceX spaceships, the number can never reach millions or even billions that would result from the collapse or technical decline. People also, in general, will choose to get on a spaceship and dwell on Mars, but they neither choose to be involved in dying from civilization collapsing, nor to have to fight for survival in such a situation — it would be completely forced upon them.

Thanks for clarifying his position. I didn't mean to suggest that he intended it to be anything other than a backup plan, but my wording might have been ambiguous because others, like Martin Rees, have suggested similar things and tend to regard them as one of the more likely outcomes of humanity's future, if the species is to survive.

> However many people die on SpaceX spaceships,

Maybe you misunderstood me. I mean that the people who don't go on SpaceX spaceships would die in a situation where that is critical to the survival of civilization.

Your choice thing doesn't convince me, but I do understand and think it is an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.

I did say tendency!

I still get surprised the way opinion goes for some posts. I won't be betting on the likely sentiment any time soon! Whichever way opinion leans it rarely stifles discussion.

I've also seen a fair amount of people actually cognizant of the dangers our technological society poses. It's not the majority, but there are far more people here than most discussion-centered places on the internet.

It's also full of people who readily classify deviating opinions under naive political opinions, groupthink, and a tendency to blind optimism on all things technology or new.

I do agree with you second statement though, often before forwarding a link to colleagues I read the comments and see if my enthusiasm is not easily killed, it often is (and rightly so, in most of the cases).

I keep meaning to scrape my comments over the years, collate the most upvoted ones, then publish in a blog/ebook somewhere with a bit of commentary on what it appears that HN "likes". The API doesn't quite facilitate this, unlike most sites which will just let you sort your comments by votes.

On HN politics, while the comments often have a substantial presence of doctrinaire libertarians, I feel that the voters skew much more liberal/social democrat. Unless there's a bout of "anti-SJW" downvoting and flagging on e.g. "discrimination in tech" stories.

(Provisional title "Silicon Valley on ten upvotes a day")

> unlike most sites which will just let you sort your comments by votes.

If you just want to see your comments sorted by net upvotes, use this link: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:pjc50&sort=byPopularity&pre...

You can get all of your comments as JSON via this URL using a site I built: http://hnuser.herokuapp.com/user/pjc50/json/ You can then run that data through a sort and filter to get what you want.

Thanks, that looks extremely useful.

Long ago, someone wrote a little app that did this. I can't seem to find it now. The premise was something like "you've probably already written a book's worth of HN comments".

I took a shot at this here https://hn.icymi.email/

I've also had this idea.

I was going to write a similar comment, but you said it better in every way. HN comments are a frighteningly important part of my day.

What you see as "groupthink" is really your bias attempting to dismiss any number of people for disagreeing with you. I understand the point of your post, I just don't find that particular bias funny enough to let it pass uncommemted.

Or, it could actually be groupthink, and your bias is acting to prevent you from having to admit that a group you identify with expresses positions that are wrong.

There's actually no way to prove that either case is true. However, you expressed a position as a certainty -- "what you see as groupthink is really..." -- that is in reality just another opinion. Therefore, your comment is equally as ill informed and myopic as OP's.

Great comment, though I'm not sure 'naive political opinion' even exists. If a topic is political then it's controversial and sophisticated expert opinions count just as little as naive layman opinions.

that's because you generally agree with those political opinions and groupthink

I think HN needs a way to easily find the top comments. There are absolute gems deep in discussion threads, but you'll need to spend a lot of time reading to find them. Hence, it's very nice of Dan Luu to list some of his favorites.

The top root-level comment for each comment page is obviously easy to see, but good comments deeper in the comment tree are easily lost. Would be great if e.g. the top 5% voted comments on a page were highlighted in some way.

Perhaps a workable solution would be to just follow the comments listing of smart people. Guess I'll at least try that.

Dan and Scott recently added a "favorites" feature that you can see if you click the timestamp for a comment. Saving a comment to your favorites publishes it in a list of favorites on your profile.

I think they're not especially happy with how this feature is working out.

But I also think they're very close to a version of the feature that would work quite well:

* The "lists" page on the site should include a list of users that have "favorite" comments (at least until the site has so many users with favorites that the list is too long to make sense) with links to their "favorite" pages. This seems trivially easy, and would help bootstrap the feature.

* There should be a master list, linked perhaps on the top of the page (maybe replacing the useless "comments" link) to a list of the most-favorited comments.

> maybe replacing the useless "comments" link

I've found the comments link useful for finding the newest comment activity. That said, it's been useful only because I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on HN as I get started. There's likely a better way of accomplishing the same thing.

>I think HN needs a way to easily find the top comments. There are absolute gems deep in discussion threads, but you'll need to spend a lot of time reading to find them. Hence, it's very nice of Dan Luu to list some of his favorites.

An idea: A full 24 hours after the submission, the top N comments on a given submission should be displayed.

Waiting 24 hours will discourage people who are looking for instant highs, and will reward patient people. Seeing the top comments while the threads are still evolving can be very misleading.

Great idea. This would also give a longer lifecycle to submissions. Now most tend to die quite fast, so you don't get answers to comments any more if you're late to the party.

I swear there was a way to show top voted comments but I can't find it now.

The problem with /bestcomments is that it's based on votes, and thus does not in fact track the best comments.

Removing the vote count was a step back.

You end up with highly positioned comments that are factually wrong and no way to weigh the corrections made in replies.

If you saw that a comment had 20 votes, but a reply had 500, you'd have something to go by. If nothing else, they could show the relative score of a reply to its parent.

This and the "karma" info on people's profile page - bring it back.

Please also provide a new view that lists all top 20% of highest commented and highest voted news stories per day (disregarding any downvotes/flags !!). I really hate to miss stories that received a lot of traffic but got buried on page 200+ just because a vocal minority decided to hide it.

Please let me vote on old comments. "Voting is closed on that comment, but you can add it to your favorites if you like." Why have you recently changed that?

> This and the "karma" info on people's profile page - bring it back.

Your wish has been granted, you have a "karma: 4406" line

I meant the karma ratio (or what it was called) that was on the profil page, a percentage value as far as I remember - ...maybe dang can explain it?

Here are the comments he made in reference to removing average karma [1][2][3]:

> dang 781 days ago

> It's based on comment scores only. My sense is that it's an irrelevant distraction and we should get rid of it.

> For example, we caught a bunch of users who were gaming it by deleting any comments that brought their average down. We fixed that by treating deleted comments as comments of score 0 for average-computing purposes. It's an example of how, once you publish a metric, people start to care about it and do things based on it, regardless of how meaningful it is.

> Comment average used to be used by a few algorithms (like comment ranking) but we turned that off as an experiment a while ago and nothing seemed to get worse. If anything, I think it may have helped a little.


> dang 572 days ago

> What brudgers said is correct, but I'll add that we're probably going to get rid of comment averages. We've looked at the data extensively and it hasn't proven to have much value. We've phased out the code that used to rely on it, and what's left (which is only for display) is probably not worth the cost.


> dang 567 days ago

> ... We got rid of average because (a) after looking extensively at the data we didn't see any value in it, (b) we had evidence of people gaming the metric, (c) its implementation was complicated, and most importantly (d) we think upvotes are wrong thing to optimize for. Optimize for saying substantive things.


[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9297678

[2]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8264220

[3]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9322256

I'll add to this that statisticians taught me averages are actually meaningless when applied to individuals. The number is tied to a data set but that data set can be all over the place in terms of what it contains. You can't know where you're at relative to others in a data set just by comparing to an average. Unless it's the median where you know you're above or below the middle person without further data on what that means. Pretty useless.

From what I was taught, averages are mainly (or solely?) there to measure trends in sets of data. Basically, where it's collectively going over time. Applying it to individuals is meaningless. So, that feature should never exist unless you're intentionally exploiting psychology & common misinformation for personal gain. Example: showing players how they compare to an "average" so at least half of them think they're better than average and keep playing to get number higher. Another example: differentiating a software company with terrible defect rate by comparing it to the industry average, which is worse, in an industry full of shoddy software. The software looking good is still crap but "better than average." ;)

Yeah, that had a major drawback: it discouraged helpful replies deep in the thread. I'm glad they removed it.

It was also buggy. On several occasions, I'd post a comment that got voted several points higher than my average, but the average went down; or vice-versa.

It may have been a moving average of the last N items.

It was, at least from my observation

The vote counts weren't removed to make the comments more comprehensible or the threads easier to mentally rank. Their removal may very well have made those tasks harder.

Vote counts were struck because they were causing fights.

Paul Graham decided to risk sacrificing a little bit of comprehensibility in exchange for some extra civility. I think the tradeoff has worked very well --- especially because incivility crowds out comprehensibility anyways, so that almost anything you do to make a thread more civil will have the knock-on benefit of making it easier to read.

It would be good if the vote counts became visible after a time period, say 7 days. That way when people re-visit a topic the most appreciated comments are visible.

You can get the scores on old comments through search. Since, to a first approximation, the average 7 day old thread gets zero viewers, it seems unlikely to be worth the energy to add new features just for them. But if you think it's worth doing, you should mail Dan and Scott at hn@ycombinator.com.

There is Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that has internet comments with two boxes: "agree/disagree" and "well argumented/poorly argumented".

So far it seems to actually work. There are differences in the scores and lazy but popular comments get punished.

How about just reading and evaluating what the damn words say instead of relying on a "score"?

Because there are a lot of topics, even in my professional field, where I don't have the necessary foundation.

Because sometimes a comment reaffirms or conflicts with my evaluation and it's useful to have a weight assigned to that.

Because the world has enough people who make their own evaluation and refuse to change their opinion regardless of overwhelming evidence.

>Because there are a lot of topics, even in my professional field, that I simply don't have the necessary foundation.

And what makes you think that the "majority vote" on them will be correct?

Most often, it's the majority that doesn't have the necessary foundation.

It's not an all-or-nothing. It's an extra piece of information.

There might be valid reasons to remove it (it hurts the community, it leads to negative behavior, .... I forget why they took it off).

But when it comes to trying to assess the quality of the comment, more data is better than less. Then you have the option to weigh it as you see fit, including ignoring it.

>It's not an all-or-nothing. It's an extra piece of information...But when it comes to trying to assess the quality of the comment, more data is better than less.

It could be an extra piece of disinformation, which can make it more difficult to evaluate.

I suppose I'd like it if there was no way to sort. What happens on Reddit is that such comments easily bubble to the top, and they're often wrong, or just making a silly joke rather than being informative.

Well, if we had the vote counts, we could test your conjecture.

We have them in other forums -- e.g. Reddit if I am not mistaken.

Do they work that well there, or do they make the forums a competition for points and popular comments, in other words a popularity contest?

WEB 2.0 turned online discussions into popularity contests. Period. I preferred the older, smaller communities sans likes & upvotes where you knew most in the community and had the ability to 'ignore' MUs. Of course, that had it's drawbacks and is much more difficult to scale as the site gains popularity & evolves. I do not have the answer other than self-moderation, yet, most(including myself) fail sometimes in the heat of emotional impulse... and personal investments, paid actors, other reasons.

As sad as Slahdot is these days, I still think they have a superior moderation system. I like that every vote comes with a reason and that you can use that information to do things like filter out the jokes.

But points don't equal expertise.

You can be an ignoramus in an echo chamber, or be the world expert who doesn't come here too often

Some expressions cannot be evaluated without knowing what people think about them. The truth is not determined by popularity, except from the perspective of the person who chooses to believe in the falsehood. I think it's relevant, but not sufficient, to know what other people believe if you want to understand the world.

Of course, the whole problem is that this reflects back on itself. Such that a highly upvoted comment will be upvoted by a person who values popularity too much, whereby he thus alters the very property he used to judge whether or not he should alter the property in the first place. So some people's over-reliance on popularity destroys the usefulness of the reading for everyone else.

Classic observer effect.

Not everyone have the time.

I really think the author is onto something here.

Recently I've been thinking about doing a couple blog posts that summarize the HN thread for a given article* in perhaps ~1500 words. I think of it like the approach that r/tabled uses for AMAs on Reddit (example: [1]).

Would others find this interesting, or would you rather just read the comments yourself?

A second idea is — a daily / weekly update of comments from all of the people you're interested in "following" on HN. You can do this very manually right now. I think it could be an interesting proof of concept.

*When I say one article, I really mean the aggregate of recent links around that topic as discussions are often merged or commenters bring information from other sources into the commentary for whichever link takes off on that topic. Often that is the most original source, but not always.

[1]: https://www.reddit.com/r/tabled/comments/4lh4t1/table_iama_i...

I did this once:


It's still one of the most visited pages.

This looks excellent, and very thorough. Thanks for sharing.

I absolutely love comments on HN and they are probably the main reason I read this site a lot. Some times, the posts themselves are quite self-explanatory from the title and I just go straight to the discussions.

I created a little site called HackerNews Club


Where you can easily search for user's submissions and comments. FYI, here's Dan's comments :)


And HN users ordered by the number of comments they have made.


Seconded. I too love HN comments. Overall, my perception is that HN has reasonably non-clickbaity articles with a good blend of tech and non-tech. The comments I find largely pertinent, overwhelmingly constructively critical, with FAR fewer trolls, flames and biased voting than any other public forum on the internet I've ever come across since the original Usenet days. In fact, it reminds me very much of good ol' Compuserve (there's nothing like having to pay REAL money for a subscription to curb bad behaviour).

To be honest, I practically never read posts beyond titles. If there is no tldr in comments, post was not worth it anyway.

It may seem funny, but it is a great mechanism to selectively widen knowledge without going into details everywhere.

You post a list of the best comments on HN without putting The Wisdom of Bane on the list?

Seriously, how did The Wisdom of Bane not make it one here? That is one of the best comments on all of HN.

For the uninitiated: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8902739

Aww shucks. Thanks for the shout out.

I realize reading this again that I owe a more significant writeup -- I started one not long after this and wasn't happy with how it was shaping up. Maybe I'll have another go at it.

Since writing that comment two years ago I've added a couple more examples consistent with the ones in the original post.

One thing I keep seeing is how teams seem to think that the planning stage of this kind of work involves figuring out how to shove the problem into the big-data platform du jour instead of figuring out how to solve the problem that has the business need. When they're working with the platform, and hitting the inevitable and unplanned for performance issues (because, you know, just shove the node to the hadoop cluster and it'll magically take care of that), the solutions never tackle the algorithmic bottlenecks but instead seem to focus on messing with the platform or changing platforms, or changing run-time languages or throwing more hardware at it.

If you are having trouble taking the nuts off your wheel to change a tire, using a bigger hammer or a blow torth isn't going to help. Take the time to find the wrench, of the right size, and then things will work much better.

I mean, you get shoutouts every day. Thanks for responding to this one.

>One thing I keep seeing is how teams seem to think that the planning stage of this kind of work involves figuring out how to shove the problem into the big-data platform du jour instead of figuring out how to solve the problem that has the business need.

Ahhh yes. The "when X is your hammer" problem.

In this context, I think the appropriate incarnation is, "When Hadoop is your hammer, everything looks like 1000 nails to be hit very quickly, using brute force."

Heh, I prefer to refer to that whole comment as Bane's Rule. I have had many interesting discussions with IT managers face to face after having them read that, especially regarding the idea of having vendors show that their product beats out the current system.

For programmers, I think one of the key takeaways from that comment is not the clever coding, but the direct tie into business results from the coding. Not just immediate business results, but also how the system was set up for growth and improvement easily too.

It's about some of core principles of software: Keep it simple, use the minimal code (if it's not there, it can't slow you down), see where speed problems are before optimizing, optimize before scaling up.

It's common sense, but it's rare to actually follow it.

Actually, I'm guilty of this myself. I was finishing last year's Advent of Code, and was given a problem which I tried to optimize, as I assumed the naive approach would be too slow. Then I realized I was trying to optimize Travelling Salesman, so I bit the bullet and went for the O(n!) solution. And it ran in less than a second. In interpreted scheme, no less.

I felt kind of silly later.

Thanks for the link. That was an amazing comment that should be required reading for all these people thinking about throwing datacenters at their problem of choice. It's actually about the same as the advice and methods used in the Beowulf clusters back when all this crap was starting. They did come up with creative ways to scale out while NUMA vendors (esp SGI) kept scaling further up. However, they also identified bottlenecks in their algorithms from transport all the way up to application layers. Active Messages vs TCP/IP, BLAS libraries, hand-tuned MPI, careful choice of interconnects, offloading I/O onto dedicated workstations w/ clustered filesystes... always improving efficiency of each component in the stack to get max ROI out of those expensive clusters.

As bane notes, it seems that third part of doing HPC right was lost in translation to modern crowd. Not entirely sure why. Prior conversations indicated strong separation between HPC and business/cloud crowds in terms of knowledge sharing. Plus, there's marketing hype and VC money involved riding the waves of whatever is massively popular. Bigger IT budgets, too, if your proposal doesn't involve using one, mid-range Dell. I'm sure such things have more impact than the technical arguments in many places. ;)

There's a reason it's a classic. The best summation I heard of it was, "If you can't get the solution to a problem to fit on one machine, you probably don't understand the problem well enough."

This is probably one of my favorite quotes in software. I'm probably slightly misquoting it here, but I don't care.

It's been formalized past that into the COST methodology of assessing distribution solutions: Configuration that Outperforms a Single Thread. If that configuration doesn't exist, just ditch the solution in favor of a single thread. :)



It just gets more hilarious the more you read the measurements of all these tech vs a single thread.

A single thread frequently has less code: less code means less code being executed. This is a contributing factor to speed. The less instructions you have to execute, the faster it runs, give or take. Not that instructions executed do not necessarily correlate to code size (a loop is only written once, but executed many times).

By the way, bane responded to my original post: it's worth reading.

His response just loaded on my end for some reason. Yeah, that's the points I was getting from his longer write-up. If you see him redo it & I'm not there, definitely ping me so I can see the future copy.

We were actually both in the best example I've seen of this effect on HN:


It's the kind of title that, if proven in resulting article, should make many people pause to think about how effectively they're solving business problems.

Ah, I remember that. To paraphrase myself at the time, "never send a 747 to do a racecar's job."

Yeah, as it turns out, it's not a good idea to use a piece of software optimized for workloads to large to even be handled by a single machine on large quantities of data, and maybe you should use tools designed for small workloads (Gigabytes, or even Terabytes, is pretty small, nowadays) for small workloads. This should be obvious.

Besides, things like Manta exist, so you can scale up your small workload scripts to larger workloads in the future. Mind, I don't know if I trust Manta yet (I don't know the perf, and I haven't tried it personally), so maybe exercise a little bit of caution about going that route.

These criticisms, when phrased in the manner of the post ("HN is full of mean and rude people"), suggest by omission that there's some kind of internet forum Nirvana out there where everyone's nice all the time and nobody every says mean things or is rude. ("HN is full of mean and rude people [... unlike place X, which is always great all the time]")

But the thing is, once a community reaches a mid-to-large size, certain kinds of people will always going to think it's full of jerks and trolls, and that its golden age has long passed--regardless of the community's age or actual composition.

I run one of the largest online writing communities online, Scribophile. We've been around going on 9 years and I personally pride myself on the reputation we've earned as being a friendly and supportive community. By and large people seem to agree. And yet every now and then we still get people complaining that Scrib members are out to get them, that everyone is mean, that Scrib's golden age has passed. (I started hearing that same golden age comment about 6 months in, by the way).

I think the truth is more like the faceless, voiceless, anonymous internet makes it really easy for people to both a) be jerks, and b) misinterpret harmless posts as people being jerks. I think this phenomenon happens in every mid-to-large sized community, ever. And I don't think it's really helpful to criticize any community of that size as having nothing but mean people, or trending towards meanness.

Uh, did you read his second paragraph?

> And yet, I haven’t found a public internet forum with better technical commentary.

I don't think they're mutually exclusive opinions. HN could be seen as mean or rude just as it can be technically correct -- and sometimes at the same time. The original post also acknowledges that there's been an effort to reduce negative comments in the past few years.

I read danluu's first two paragraphs as making the argument that "comments on HN are bad, but better than comments on any other online community", instead of as trying to distinguish between meanness and technical correctness.

I was looking for a writing community for so long. Thank you for pointing me to Scribophile :)

I often find my self searching through old HN comments for all kinds of things. Just off the top of my head I've searched for comments on: Redis, ZFS, Raft, SQS, ZMQ, message queue, RDS, connection pools, ECS in the last few days. I've learned quite a lot of things from reading comments by people with way more experience in these matters than I have. And that's probably less than half of my searches. A google search might give me some good stuff, and Stack Exchange too, but HN comments are indeed underrated.

Indeed. Searching on https://hn.algolia.com is an integral part of my workflow. When I read an article I often want to see:

a) What did people say about it on HN? Because the comments there are often superior to the comments on the site itself. If there are multiple threads on it separated by years, it's often interesting to read them all and reflect on how opinions of reasonable people have drifted over time.

b) Did I upvote any of the threads? (i.e. Have I read this before?) Did I, perchance, leave a comment?

Often this process adds a few more favorites to my list (https://news.ycombinator.com/favorites?id=akkartik&comments=...), which is also growing to be an integral part of my workflow.

I think the culture of rejecting joke-only comments is significant. I love a good joke, but so does everybody else. Rewarding jokes would have a major effect on the signal/noise ratio.

Agreed. The quality-death of many forums I've been a part of came from the onset of users posting joke responses becoming the norm. One joke amid 100 comments can be funny. One quality comment amid 100 attempted jokes is banal and mind numbing.

From my own experience, you can get jokes through the filter if you go against the rules of comedy and explain the joke / provide a serious version of the point in the same post.

Same if it's obscure enough that it's not obviously a joke on the surface.

Regrettably it makes the comments read like the minutes from an accountancy standards institute. There is also a 'wikipedia editor' or 'stack overflow mod' effect, where because someone said jokes are bad a whole bunch of people jump on them to kill them dead. Dead!

I'm reminded of a Robin Williams gag:

German talk show host: Why do you think there is not so much comedy in Germany?

Robin Williams: Did you ever think that you killed all the funny people?

Maybe have a [jokular] tag and let readers flag a comment as such, then allow [jokular] comments to be hidden for the people who find them noisy.

Edit: this comment deservers the [overengineering] tag...

Slashdot has something similar. Moderators' points have to be tagged with "Funny", "Interesting", etc, and users can choose how to weigh each type of point.

That's a decent idea. The HN client could also have settings to turn them off entirely or just disable them for a specific thread with too much noise.

I prefer cynicism over unthoughtful, inconsequential comments that floods several discussion forums that I have come across. "Nice article", "Great write-up" and the next thing you know, you have created a place where people are only interested in submitting their articles and getting it upvoted rather than make meaningful contributions.

People want to make good contributions here and that's something that differentiates HN from other news aggregators.

".. the measure of a healthy organization is probably the degree to which negative thoughts are allowed. In places where great work is being done, the attitude always seems to be critical and sarcastic, not "positive" and "supportive". The people I know who do great work think that they suck, but that everyone else sucks even more." ­­-- Paul Graham

The first bit is true, but the second is pretty much the opposite of what Google found: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learn...

In particular, Google found that psychological safety is a key component of successful teams.

Indeed, I think in an environment where rudeness is the norm, it's much harder to get people to share negative thoughts. Sure, you'll have a few alpha-dicks who will say whatever shitty thing that comes to mind. But most other people will just keep their lips buttoned because they don't want to deal with critical, sarcastic comments.

If you want real, long-term organizational improvement, you have to create an environment were people are willing to share problems and concerns without fear that they'll get insulted or blamed.

One great example is Toyota's culture of continuous improvement, which helped them go from post-WWII decimation of Japan to the world's dominant carmaker. They're explicit that "respect for people" is foundational. A good book here is Rother's "Toyota Kata", which goes into Toyota's culture and people-management practices.

Another is airplane safety. For its ubiquity and technological complexity, flight is amazingly safe. But this requires a culture of deep, thoughtful honesty. Sidney Dekker's "Field Guide to Human Error" explains how much this depends on creating blame-free contexts, how much it requires a deep respect for people. Without that, people will a) blame others, and b) cover their own asses in an effort to avoid getting blame. That muddies the waters enough that you can never find and fix the systemic problems that caused bad outcomes.

TL;DR: If you really want people to share negative thoughts, you need positive, supportive environments.

Nope. Seen both many times. The positive enforcement causes no one to share any negative thoughts after a while and the company smiles it's way out of business.

Unfortunately people who will not speak up out of fear are toxic to company culture. The creative process is immediately destroyed when people need to second guess everything they say or do since it is impossible to know if you are about to say the wrong thing.

If someone can not tolerate cynical and sarcastic comments they need to be removed quickly. This is very different from mean spirited put downs and intentionally hurtful comments.

Stuff like "idk that button looks like it was mad in 2002" or "I swear we have the shittiest parser ever right here". Is good and fine.

"You talk to much", "why did you write it like that? It doesn't make any sense" Are bad.

Notice how the first like says "we" or talks about a specific feature and the others talk about specific people.

First your anecdotes are not persuasive compared to two incredibly successful companies and one incredibly successful industry.

Second, you missed the point. It isn't about prohibiting anyone from expressing a negative opinion or sugar-coating things. That's a false dichotomy. It's about not attacking the messenger and not looking to place blame. It also means accepting valid criticism. You can be 100% honest without being an asshole.

Why do so many people (especially in tech) try to link "being a raging asshole" with telling the truth? The two are unrelated.

This brings to mind the three whys, and why it is important to ask them for both positive and negative situations.

Blame culture is extremely toxic, but negative feedback can have as much benefit as positive if approached from the correct angle.

The problem is that many people who are hurt easily by cynical and sarcastic behavior(which is very different than being as asshole) typically take themselves very seriously and it's a sign that they are very self focused and place their own concerns way above those of the team.

I wonder if there is a language barrier but cynical and sarcastic is very very different from putting people down.

"The problem is that many people who are hurt easily by cynical and sarcastic behavior(which is very different than being as asshole) typically take themselves very seriously and it's a sign that they are very self focused and place their own concerns way above those of the team."

Please give evidence supporting that claim. What I've seen is a lot of people are just non-confrontational by nature. They'll do a lot to avoid being in a fight. However, they may want to discuss things even with criticisms. It just becomes harmful to them after the conversational style crosses a certain line. Knowing this, groups like Toyota put a line down that allows the negative information to come in without the personal attacks or circumstances that shut many people down. Continuous innovations resulted that dwarfed the competition doing what you suggest. This is not an isolated incident as many innovative companies create similarly respectful environments where everyone tries to improve, either positively or negatively, the process or products without attacking each other.

Lots of good discussion in this whole thread. Another thing to keep in mind is that good, effective communication involves both/all parties.

That involves the speaker communicating in a way that will be effectively received by the listener, and the listener actively participating to try to hear what the speaker is trying to communicate. So it's context dependent as well.

There very well can be mismatches and miscommunication, but if the goal is effective communication, I think in a lot of cases these can be tolerated and worked around. Takes both sides.

"That involves the speaker communicating in a way that will be effectively received by the listener, and the listener actively participating to try to hear what the speaker is trying to communicate. So it's context dependent as well."

That's a good point. In my classes on it, they called it active listening. Anyone interested in following up on your point should type that phrase into Google to find all kinds of interesting resources appear. Another angle I found interesting was "dang" linking to Principle of Charity:


I think that would've stopped a lot of arguments. I was against enforcing it totally at moderation level as I'm for empirical approach where we do dismiss bad information if it clearly fits the pattern. It's good as a general principle in discussions, though, when one's instinct is to think other party is an idiot on specific topic. A combination of active listening, charitable approach, and follow-up questions can make that discussion much better for both parties. I even learn from people who are clearly wrong about an issue when I see what things matter to such people & can fine-tune my solutions or arguments to reach more people. Other times I'm wrong with similar effect of fine-tuning ideas or beliefs as long as I suck it up. :)

Thanks for the Principle of Charity link! It calls to mind Anotol's Rapoport's rules, summarized by Daniel Dennett as:

> How to compose a successful critical commentary:

> * You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

> * You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

> * You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

> * Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.


Might be too much for every comment response, but good to keep in mind.

I think I've been particularly fascinated by this whole area recently in part because I know it's something I need to improve on. Your point I even learn ... suck it up. :) is spot on.

Thanks again for your thoughtful remarks and contributions. Much appreciated. Off to dig into the Principle of Charity and its references.

Yes, Rapoport's rules seem comparable. Succinct too. Bookmarked. :)

You can be critical without sounding cynical and sarcastic. When you say something sarcastically, you're implying that you consider yourself better than that person.

Do you think it's healthy to speak to a child in a cynical way? It shouldn't be any different when relating to an adult.

"Do you think it's healthy to speak to a child in a cynical way?"

Absolutely not. I don't think I would look to fill my team with people who wish to be spoken to as children.

This strikes me as a willful misunderstanding.

One speaks to a child with kindness, politeness, and respect. If you're looking to fill your team with people who don't want to be treated in those ways, that sounds to me like a pretty broken team.

You are conflating respect with a lack of conflict. This mistake allows you to pretend that "respect" consists solely of being nice, never putting anything down, and generally being ineffective.

> If someone can not tolerate cynical and sarcastic comments they need to be removed quickly. This is very different from mean spirited put downs and intentionally hurtful comments.

If somebody belives that cynical comments are valuable that person needs to be removed immediately. Cynicism is never the most effective position. Anybody who thinks it is is an asshole. If they can't realize this, they'll become a cancer.

Cut out the cancer. Get rid of the cynics. If you hire somebody who says that being cynical is a must, then admit your mistake quickly. Fire them. They're worse than useless. An empty chair is more valuable than such a beast.

Isn't this essentially a tone argument?

It's just the opposite. It's a context of respect that expands the useful ranges of tone.

If a stranger shouts at me, I'll instantly ignore them. If a person who I don't trust shouts at me, I'll be planning my escape, or possibly shout back. If a person with whom I have a respectful relationship shouts at me, I'll immediately move to deescalate the situation, calm them down, and get us back to the sort of discussion where we can jointly discuss and solve whatever has put them in such pain.

Long-term, large-scale problems require creative team-oriented approaches. Jerks eat away at social and cultural structures that make that possible. A book that covers the details is "The No-Asshole Rule": https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000OT8GV2/

Yup. My team has vigorous disagreements about architecture and design. We all take an "engineer's mindset" - "I'm not married to this idea, just throwing it out there because a, b, and c - what do you guys think?" - and debate the ideas separately from (and usually without harm to) the egos of the people who generated them.

> you need positive, supportive environments

Google's research doesn't conclude that at all. Safe place to speak up is not necessarily a positive, supportive environment.

I'm having a severe case of cognitive dissonance here.

A positive, supportive environment is one that allows people to speak up, supports people to be critical and allows both success and failures but doesn't perpetuate failures - meaning the initiative or product is separate from the person.

A negative, unsupportive environment generally makes people feel like shit until they quit or are fired, perpetuates failed initiatives out of ego or spite, or otherwise tosses out people along with a failed initiative, etc.

Obviously, positive and supportive mean different things to different people. I, for example, don't see how you can be positive, supportive, but criticize other people's ideas and work they are doing at the same time. So, at best it's a neutral place, leaning towards negativity, since expressing criticism substantially is a lot of effort, it's easier to simply call bad ideas as bad and move on.

The research is actually about two things, safe place to speak up and empathy.

...I find myself telling this anecodote more or less at weekly intervals, but:

Where I work all code is reviewed. Like, it has to be reviewed before it gets checked in. Everyone does reviews, everyone has their code reviewed.

One of the people I work with has an amazing talent which is that you go through a review with them, and at the far end you feel enthusiastic and pumped and really keen to throw all your code away and rewrite it from scratch, because they've just pointed out all the incredibly stupid stuff they've done wrong, but they've done it in such a way that you feel really good about all the stuff you've just learned.

Meanwhile I've gone through much less severe reviews from other people that have left me depressed and completely unenthusiastic, even though they thought my code was fine.

Positive, supportive, constructive, and critical: it's totally possible (and I need to learn how to do it).

You can be supportive of the person while criticizing something they did. Also, when you criticize, you can do it with arrogance or with kindness.

As a signal of good feedback, I would use the number of adjectives in your feedback. Instead of saying that something is bad, stupid, lazy, you can say that a function has too many lines or too many branches, or that 2 modules are too tightly coupled.

> I, for example, don't see how you can be positive, supportive, but criticize other people's ideas and work they are doing at the same time.

I think it's the only way you can really criticize usefully. Negative feedback is always difficult to hear, much more so from somebody you don't trust. And trust is built up over time through positive interaction.

I am just back from my nephew's soccer game, the last game of the season. The coach gave each kid a card congratulating them on the great season. Each card had detailed, specific praise, as well as a couple of things they need to work on. It's clear he's been doing this all season: gobs of positive feedback, plus actionable negative feedback. And that's appropriate. What they're doing is mostly right, and what they don't do right they generally notice themselves. The small amount of negative feedback they need to hear is about the things they can't see. And for them to believe they are really missing something, it helps if it comes from somebody they really trust.

I should also mention that there are other ways to get improvement than critique. E.g., there's a technique called appreciative inquiry which is mainly about focusing on the things in a situation that are going well. Or you can just discuss someone's work and ask people what they see in it. Often they'll provide plenty of criticism on their own; you can then agree with the parts they should work on soon. Or you can set up feedback loops so that they experience quality issues sooner.

It's not, by the way, that I'm opposed to critique as a technique. But I think it's a dangerous one, in that a lot of people do it not because it really helps, but because it lets them feel smart and powerful at a colleague's expense.

> I, for example, don't see how you can be positive, supportive, but criticize other people's ideas and work they are doing at the same time.

I think the key is to consider your motivation. Do you want the person to succeed? Do you have their best interests in mind? Assuming you do and your actions are congruent with that, you're being supportive.

If you see a way they can do something better, or want to point out a mistake, you should do that, because you believe it's in their best interest to improve and learn. And you'll want to do that in a way that is receptive to them.

Generally that's going to be a more positive experience than a negative one. I think we'd agree that ripping into them for making a mistake or telling them they're stupid is unlikely to be effective in the long term. I don't know you, but I'm happy to give you the benefit of the doubt that that's not how you interact anyway :) I'm using it as an example of something I'm sure we've all experienced or at least heard of.

You might argue I'm just reframing it, and yeah, I am, but I do think it's a fair and useful reframe.

Your point about the cost of expressing criticism has validity. Thinking deeply and critically in general takes a lot of effort, and there is a cost in empathy as well. After all, you're now thinking about the problem and the other person. I think the empathy part gets easier over time and can become a habit. In a team setting, once there's a common understanding of support and constructive criticism, you've got some slack to give people the benefit of the doubt in everyday interactions. Think of it as a social lubricant, or insurance that pays out when things aren't going so well.

Think of it from the point of view of the recipient. If you've been working hard on a problem and it's not working out, you might not be feeling so great. Or maybe the work's just fine but your blood sugar's low and you're feeling a little irritated.

Someone comes along and points out problems in your work. You're already at a deficit, so it's extra effort to be empathetic towards them as well. Are they actually being supportive with constructive criticism? Or tearing you down? If that social lubricant hasn't been applied in a while, it might be harder to give them then benefit of the doubt.

No one needs to be malicious or overly sensitive for this to lead to a more negative situation, nor do you need to be overly upbeat and cheery all the time. (I'm certainly not and try to keep myself from being critical of people who are :)

I might have read a lot more into what you wrote than you intended. It's not my intent to misrepresent what you've said, so please feel free to point out anything I may have unfairly assumed or misread.

What do you think?

An underlying question is whether the organization treats differing and possibly contrarian views as a positive or a negative. All of your points follow from that.

Yes it does. Positive and supportive of people doesn't require being positive and supportive of every idea.

This may very well be true in organizations where the sarcasm exists in an established context of mutual respect (or at least, the knowledge that you'll have to keep working with the other person).

But it's very different when total strangers communicate by text over the internet: sarcastic comments breed aggressive replies, and threads degenerate into arguments very rapidly. I think good conversations online need more restraint and empathic effort than good conversations IRL.

I have noticed in HN that well justified critical comments without hostile tone are faced with aggressive tone if the subject is some new hot technology.

The underdone seems to be "say positive things", not say intelligent or insightful things.

I followed by doing it even more on more topics containing bullshit. I had a steady following of people that respected that I continued counterpoints to fads while linking to evidence justifying it. I have opponents, too, that prefer I cancel my Internet service or end my unrelenting, evidence-driven "attacks" on certain things.

Anyway, the trend exists but can just be ignored. There is a huge crowd of people here that appreciate thoughtful, civil counterpoints. I'll add that quite a few are also professionals in industry worth having in one's network for people that use HN that way.

I've noticed that too. However, since any criticisms I might have usually do not entirely detract from the... whatever, you can just preface it with something positive. "This is great! But, I wonder about X..."

You get your criticism, they get their happy feelings.

>In places where great work is being done, the attitude always seems to be critical and sarcastic

It can be tricky, though, to be critical and sarcastic without using a jeering tone.[1]


Critical and sarcastic seem to be two rather different things to me.

Constructive criticism is certainly important in all sorts of contexts. You don't want to be all "Oh that's perfect" when in fact it's fundamentally flawed in some way.

Sarcastic is more a matter of style than substance. "That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard." Which doesn't seem necessary or necessarily positive.

That's not sarcasm.

Sarcasm does not need to be ironic. From Wikipedia: Sarcasm is "a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt. Sarcasm may employ ambivalence, although sarcasm is not necessarily ironic.

In any case, saying instead: "Oh yeah, that's a fucking brilliant idea" doesn't seem clearly better in my book.

And this is where the "Gospel of Paul" fails, as some commenters here recognized: while being able to nurture healthy criticism is fundamental for quality, sarcasm shouldn't be recognized as necessary, even if it makes some positive effect in some specific situations.

Sometimes really good articles don't have lots of comments. In these circumstances, I post an "excellent article!" comment just to give the author some feedback that someone somewhere actually read the article, and they really liked it! Humans writing articles appreciate that.

I am denying importance of compliments but they lose their lustre if the whole culture of forum is to "appear too nice"; it just gives an impression of everyone making comments for the sake of it. Besides that, the entire point of a forum doesn't bode well if there aren't any strong comments touching the subject, even if they are cynical or scornful. Take a look at OP's example of the "Should you leave a bad job?" thread [1].

The first comment is surely harsh and questions the entire thought process of hating a mundane job. Some people would disagree with it; some would not but I would be disappointed if the comment didn't exist.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7789014

It's important to distinguish between cynicism/negativity and terseness. Good comments are just that: comments. They contain no emotional content at all and make a technical point. Nothing more, nothing less.

Of course, some flavor of tone is unavoidable in written or spoken language, but if terseness or conciseness is labeled as mean or cynical, then I think that's fine (and irrelevant).

Indeed. When my comments or articles hit the frontpage/top of the thread, I don't really care. What excites me is when I get a ton of responses from more experienced people. Because that gives me an opportunity to learn something.

I second this. I watched the votes for a while to gauge what style, topics, or counterpoints had impact. Then, I mostly just ignored them. The real value is learning from people that know better than me on numerous topics. On top of helping out others with whatever I've learned. I've learned a ton, though, from other commenters with some things might have lasting significance in business or software developments I participate in.

I mean, yeah. I learned about security, how deoptimization works, why CPU cache misses matter, how to program better, and a bunch of other stuff.

So thanks to the lot of you, in no small part for putting up with me being an idiot. And yes, thank you Nick P, (author of parent, if you couldn't tell), as you taught me a good bit of it.

And I just looked at my account info page: I'm ~30 days off from 1 year on HN. Funny how that worked out...

Yeah, it's been quite the experience. I appreciated you comments as well as I learned from many I agreed and disagreed with. Still have the Scheme ones bookmarked for when I have time to start on it. :)

It's always good to know you've helped someone out.

Who knows, by the time you get started on Scheme, I may have finished one of may many side projects. Did I mention I tend to get distracted a lot?

Speaking of which, DFHack is unbelievably impressive. I mean, jeez. This has nothing to do with scheme, I've just been trying to work with it the past few days.

And with that, I think I've made my point.

> I prefer cynicism over unthoughtful, inconsequential comments

Reminds me of the episode from latest black mirror episode where the truck driver falls from 4.6 rating to 1.8 because she is critical of other people, thoughts.

I greatly miss Usenet newsgroups -- NNTP ones, not yahoo or google groups, or any of the pale http immitations. The best were usually moderated of course, but even unmoderated ones often had high signal to noise. I imagine how they might be now with rich text rendering, e.g. embedded TeX and images.

Good newsreaders (MT-Newswatcher on MacOS springs to mind, but also fast console programs like tin) really helped. There were no 'likes' or 'vote' buttons. But there was the ability to whitelist or blacklist certain authors by adding them to a user's 'killfile', leading to the wonderfully pithy permanent downvote reply:


"I greatly miss Usenet newsgroups... but even unmoderated ones often had high signal to noise..."

Me, too. My presence there began in 1987.

Part of what helped its signal-to-noise ratio was that participants tended to be in industry or academia, resulting in both better-informed contributors and a sense of community.

There was, of course, the odd flamewar here and troll there, but they were the exception, not the rule. Even passionate arguments were mostly civil (ah, comp.lang.c was quite a lively place as the ANSI standard was being discussed... even just the NOALIAS debate alone).

Participants also cared about readability; good netizenship meant trimming text unrelated to the context you were discussing (interleaved posting, as Wiki calls it).

As the AOL bridge and the top-posting mongrel horde of Outlook posters flooded in, there went the neighborhood... damn neighbor kids messing up our lawn!

And now top posting is the norm in email! It's so anti-electronic to do it that way, as if we were exchanging _letters_.

> Participants also cared about readability; good netizenship meant trimming text unrelated to the context you were discussing

I get confusion these days if I use [snip], people think I am mutilating their email through spite or something.

Preach it ;-) Even the raging assholes had a more interesting command of invective, the food tasted better and the air was fresher ... well ... one out of three ain't bad ...

I never really got into usenet (proper news clients) - but I still read (and occasionally participate) on email lists.

Just in case there are some readers here with an interest in news, but unaware - the d-lang forum software is open source, and built around usenet technology:


I have often thought it's be great to do a "best comments of the week" email list the same way "Kernel Traffic" did for a number of years with Linux kernel development: http://www.kerneltraffic.org/kernel-traffic/archives.html

Condensing comments down to the 5-10 gems would be very interesting. And, perhaps with the voting system, not that difficult.

YC has something like this in the Monday Morning Macro newsletter [1] called "Top Posts on Hacker News". I think it's a combination of highly voted comments and ones referred by other users that found them insightful.

Interestingly the links to comments don't seem to be published anywhere on the website, unlike everything else in the email.

[1]: http://www.themacro.com/

Thanks for the link, unfortunately, I was unable to find the section you mention...

It's not actually listed on the website anywhere, but it is in the email newsletter every Monday.

For example, this is what they chose for last week's:

> Top Posts on Hacker News

• How I built a keyboard by hand

• The Hard Raise

• Is Facebook’s Massive Open Office Scaring Away Developers?

• Statistical Machine Learning, Spring 2016

• Yarn – A new package manager for JavaScript

• Open Guide to Amazon Web Services

• Windows 93 (2014)

• Say Cheese: a snapshot of the massive DDoS attacks coming from IoT cameras

• Making Human Settlement of Space a Reality

• The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 awarded to Bob Dylan

• So You Want to Learn Physics

• Most drivers who own cars with built-in GPS systems use phones for directions

• Barack Obama on A.I., Autonomous Cars, and the Future of Humanity

• It’s Been Real, Android: Why I’m Retiring from Android

• Taking PHP Seriously

• Google's “Director of Engineering” Hiring Test

• Ask HN: What is your favorite YouTube channel for developers?

• Be Kind

• A Man Who Stood Up To Facebook

• Ask HN: How to get started with machine learning?

• Becoming a CTO

• Books Programmers Don't Really Read (2008)

• Ask HN: Good books or articles on UI design?

• Restoring YC's Xerox Alto day 10: New boards, running programs, mouse problems

• Walmart Paid Its People More to Get Cleaner Stores and Higher Sales

• What has happened down here is the winds have changed

• Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system (2013)

• Programming books you might want to consider reading

I just dug a little into the HN API (https://github.com/HackerNews/API). Unfortunately, they don't publish comment ratings... :-( Unless that is changed, implementing an automatic "best comment finder" would become rather more tedious... (And perhaps even turn out to be AI complete ;-) )

I like that idea! The only problem I see is that great comments are often embedded within an extensive discussion - how do you give readers of such a digest the necessary context without too much bloat?

I can think of two options:

* Embed enough to give the reader context (maybe a link to the original article or quoting the parent or grandparent is enough)

* Only include those comments that are stand-alone.

It'd be quite a lot of work, but even if you highlighted 10% of the great comments, you'd provide a great service.

Absolutely! If you do it, I might just subscribe :-)

Same to you :)

Another thing I've noticed about HN comments is that everything is hyped beyond what it deserves.

For example, the recent DDoS attacks were just a bunch of skids with Mirai, but it was discussed as if it was the end of the internet.

There's also the issue of self-censorship, where users will refrain from posting their opinion in case they get downvotes and negative karma.

The things people post here are fascinating, but the comments, in my honest opinion, aren't.

To be fair those two things aren't HN specific. They seem to be human nature as they've happened in ever forum I've been part of.

> For example, the recent DDoS attacks were just a bunch of skids with Mirai, but it was discussed as if it was the end of the internet.

Couldn't it be both? What's your proposal for stopping DDoS from skids with Mirai?

> For example, the recent DDoS attacks were just a bunch of skids with Mirai, but it was discussed as if it was the end of the internet.

As far as I'm aware it was the biggest DDoS attack on DNS ever. Whatever the cause, the effect was massive. The potential to effectively blackout major parts of the Internet for more than several hours is pretty concerning to me.

> There's also the issue of self-censorship, where users will refrain from posting their opinion in case they get downvotes and negative karma.

This is the price for shadow-banning which some blogs use to censor freedom of speech. The hosters may consider it super smart to silence unwelcome messengers. Actually they just expose their own intolerance.

> The things people post here are fascinating, but the comments, in my honest opinion, aren't.

Truth can be inconvenient and offending, causing downvotes. People often try to silence offenders as "hate speakers" these days just because of (justified) criticism. It is evidence of increasing intolerance.

I miss the deep expertise often on display on forums like slashdot in the past which is conspicious by its absence here.

In many ways this is more of a professional board than a personal board. A lot of folks here are in the profession and don't seem to speak their mind, lest they lose career opportunities. This also seems to promote an affection of expertise and authoritative tone even on subjects commentators may not know much about.

There is offhand dismissal of dissent as 'resistant to change' and a serious lack of scrutiny that often allows broken technologies and services to be hyped endlessly untill people come back months or years later to report deficiencies but by then the train has left the station.

And any forum that promotes downvotes to signal dissent cannot by design promote diverse discussion and will naturally coalesce around a 'socially acceptable' consensus.

Reading this article and thinking back on the users on HN that I do enjoy reading comments from I think that a neat feature may be the ability for a logged in user to "favorite/mark" specific authors. Those authors only get some particular character in front of their name (or a different color) so that they stand out more. I do agree with this post about seeing certain names and knowing that the signal ratio will be higher is nice. May just need a better way to discern those when scanning a comments section.

On Firefox, you can use extension "Favorite Users - Hacker News".

A simple userscript would help you with this.

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