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.)
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 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  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)  is fawning.
 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.)
 And this is important. You can say the same type of thing on one comment thread and be downvoted but be upvoted on another.
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.
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.
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.
Edit: for the record, it moved to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12775905
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.
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.
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.
Otoh, I often bookmark an article just to keep a reference to the comments.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
...and if it is a major article, there are definitely errors, some likely introduced on purpose (since major articles are the juiciest targets)
Minor nitpick, vetting is someone checking something and approving it, whereas whetting is grinding away metal to sharpen a blade.
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?!)
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. :-)
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.
If you fix it a second time, including a clear explanation in the commit message, you'll be accused of vandalism.
[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. ]
"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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I sense that you know this, though.
The subreddit arguing that it’s reasonable to give companies power over democratically legitimated governments?
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.
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.
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.
Classical ISDS trials have 1 determined by the suing company, 1 by the nation sued, and one both have to agree on.
You probably mean "Basically all the subreddits related to economics except ..."
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 ;)
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.
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. :)
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..
The advantage of small subreddits over HN is that links don't get buried.
And none of the decentralization that was Usenet unfortunately.
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.
Or were you just being nice? If so, that's totally fine, never mind.
Thanks for explaning so well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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 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 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).
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")
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Your wish has been granted, you have a "karma: 4406" line
> 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.
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." ;)
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.
So far it seems to actually work. There are differences in the scores and lazy but popular comments get punished.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
You can be an ignoramus in an echo chamber, or be the world expert who doesn't come here too often
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.
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: ).
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.
It's still one of the most visited pages.
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.
It may seem funny, but it is a great mechanism to selectively widen knowledge without going into details everywhere.
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
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.
>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."
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 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.
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. ;)
This is probably one of my favorite quotes in software. I'm probably slightly misquoting it here, but I don't care.
It just gets more hilarious the more you read the measurements of all these tech vs a single thread.
By the way, bane responded to my original post: it's worth reading.
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.
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.
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.
> And yet, I haven’t found a public internet forum with better technical commentary.
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'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?
Edit: this comment deservers the [overengineering] tag...
People want to make good contributions here and that's something that differentiates HN from other news aggregators.
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.
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.
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.
Blame culture is extremely toxic, but negative feedback can have as much benefit as positive if approached from the correct angle.
I wonder if there is a language barrier but cynical and sarcastic is very very different from putting people down.
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.
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'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. :)
> 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.
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.
Absolutely not. I don't think I would look to fill my team with people who wish to be spoken to as children.
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.
> 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.
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/
Google's research doesn't conclude that at all. Safe place to speak up is not necessarily a positive, supportive environment.
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.
The research is actually about two things, safe place to speak up and empathy.
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).
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 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 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?
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.
The underdone seems to be "say positive things", not say intelligent or insightful 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.
You get your criticism, they get their happy feelings.
It can be tricky, though, to be critical and sarcastic without using a jeering tone.
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.
In any case, saying instead: "Oh yeah, that's a fucking brilliant idea" doesn't seem clearly better in my book.
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.
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).
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...
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.
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.
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:
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!
> 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.
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:
Condensing comments down to the 5-10 gems would be very interesting. And, perhaps with the voting system, not that difficult.
Interestingly the links to comments don't seem to be published anywhere on the website, unlike everything else in the email.
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
• 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
* 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.
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.
Couldn't it be both? What's your proposal for stopping DDoS from skids with Mirai?
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.
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.
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.