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The main thing we learned is that a change like that won't solve HN's civility problem, which was the big question we had. But we learned other interesting things too, like that a week is too long for trying out an idea like this. Also, if we say we're trying out an idea briefly, some people think we mean permanently. Communication on the internet is hard.

We're definitely going to consider tweaks to the guidelines, but substantive stories on e.g. diversity are already not off topic. Some do get flagged, but we've often turned off the flags or reduced them (which is standard practice on HN for a whole range of stories) and many have appeared on the front page.

I think one of the reasons that people think that trying something out leads to permanence is that there's a pretty long established trend of that being the case on websites that HN shares membership with. You may be paying the social price for actions inflicted by Digg and Reddit, years ago.

That's quite interesting. What would you suggest by way of differentiating from this, if we decide to do something like this again? I don't mean something like a no-politics week, I just mean some short-term variation with no intention of permanence. I'd hate to give up our ability to try out ideas.

I don't think there's a short-cut to differentiating yourself there: you just have to run experiments and not use that language to roll out new features (ie, never make an experiment permanent at the end, but roll it back for a few days/week/month, discuss it, and then redeploy). I would actually trust a website that made too big a deal about how they weren't like those other guys less, because that's an old marketing trick.

Same way you build a reputation for anything.

Maybe add a notice to the site header listing currently-running experiments. Apart from making it easier for people who don't read every post to keep up with rule changes, that'd emphasize that there's something out of the ordinary going on, and not the new normal.

PS: How do you feel about adding a "rationale" text box to the flagging process + some eventual feedback on whether moderation agrees with the flag/rationale? I basically never flag comments because I'm not sure I'm the same page with y'all.

> What would you suggest by way of differentiating from this .... I just mean some short-term variation with no intention of permanence

Add a date and time, down to the second. The more exact the end time the more people will believe it really is temporary.

I wanted to see the criteria that the experiment was going to be evaluated on. I feared that since the metrics for the pro side would be more readily available (like measuring how many fewer flamewars there are or how they quickly get flagged instead of sprawling through the comments) than the "it isn't a good change side" (fewer meaningful discussions or a subtle bias towards one side in an issue), that the experiment would provide all the evidence needed to extend the ban. I know I am also really sensitive and jumpy around things they perceive as censorship, even for a week.

How about politics friday's or no politics Ndays. Where the rule is in general no X in general unless its something like "politician bans encryption" type stuff.

That way if people want to do politics, fine, but if we restrict it to a specific day or days so those of us that are sick of politics can just focus on getting things done. And then post about what we did on the day after.

Maybe politics day on, no politics day off in a series.

I think we learned enough here to know that there's no way that will work, and also that it wouldn't make the site better.

Edit: I'm afraid that sounded dismissive—sorry! I was writing in haste and genuinely appreciate your suggestion.

I think there will always be resistance to change, so perhaps there should be a visible indication that some idea is being tested out, with an option for users to disable it.

That works for software changes but not community standards, which is what we were experimenting with here.

Perhaps the lesson is simply: don't experiment with community standards.

I mistakenly thought of the change as a software change, since I've yet to use the flag button.

It might be useful to tie changes in community standards to something concrete and trackable. Taking the detox week as an example, there would be a way to flag something and specify "detox week" as a reason.

That being said, can you give an example of changes in community standards on this site which effects cannot be tracked in software?

EDIT: Clarified scope of "changes in community standards" to this site.

> Can you give an example of changes in community standards on this site which effects cannot be tracked in software?

Story quality, thread quality, community satisfaction...

I'd hope that at least some experimentation is still possible. Wouldn't a lack thereof lead to stagnation? I have a hard time believing that, as great as it is, HN has found the global maximum of community design.

Experiment, please, but wisely and with clear communications.

The 'Net needs more models tested, but also far more nuance than most sites seem to show.

Thanks for the response; those seem like good learnings.

In terms of hot-button-topic stories getting buried, it's not just flagging - the flame war detection logic also plays a role. On diversity stories, for example, once they reach the front page we often see a large number of strongly worded (but clearly legitimate) anti-diversity posts. When people reply, heavy discussion ensues; and in any case, there's often a lot of piling on in agreement. Pretty soon the post is back to page 3 or 4. Of course there's the option of not replying, but leaving the anti-diversity viewpoint unchallenged strongly reinforces the stereotype of HN as a place that's hostile to diversity. So right now there isn't any good answer.

Yes, this is a problem. I think the solution might be to have a 'vouch' style link on stories that get penalized this way, so users can say whether they really are flamewars or not. If they aren't, the penalty should come off. We do this manually today, but we don't always see the thread in time.

Of course that leaves the harder problem that some of those threads are flamewars rather than civil conversations, as the guidelines call for. But fortunately that's not always true.

That could help. And maybe adjusting the threshold for flamewar detection - with the "hide subthread" functionality the cost of a flamewar might be somewhat lower.

Thanks again for sharing your learnings. Unsurprisingly I have some thoughts of my own, but first I'm curious about what others have learned ...


Limiting comments per user per thread or subthread, or rate-limiting them, might help.

I'd be very interested in reading how you determine whether or not something is a flamewar algorithmically.

"Anti-diversity" is a rather uncharitable term to use; it takes people who, say, dislike bullying tactics or prefer meritocracy and lumps them in with racists. One reason threads on the topic often degrade into flame wars is the attitude that there is only one moral way to view the situation.

If you think there's a better term, I'm certainly up for suggestions.

But why do you think it's uncharitable? People who say they "prefer meritocracy" are in fact taking an anti-diversity position. Maybe they don't understand it's anti-diversity, in which case pointing it out may encourage them to think more about it and understand why. Or maybe they don't care, in which case they certainly wouldn't take it as a moral judgement.

I think I follow what you're saying. It's a framing issue, similar to the pro-life/pro-choice, which encourages false dichotomies. I agree that "anti-diversity" is sub-optimal. Do you have suggestions for more neutral terms to apply to the topic?

I would cautiously argue that the two sides don't define themselves internally so much by what they are for as by what they focus on opposing. So maybe anti-racism and anti-activist? Or anti-politics?

Naming is tough :/ Trying to name concepts in programs is tough enough. Thanks for giving it a shot. I don't have any better ideas. It'd be nice to be for something, though, right? Maybe I should convene a focus group! :)

>"Anti-diversity" is a rather uncharitable term to use;

I don't think it's uncharitable for people whose explicit, self-proclaimed position is that diversity makes things worse than homogeneity.

No, the mainstream explicit, self-proclaimed position is that these positions should be allocated on a meritocratic basis, not on the basis of racial quotas.

That is the mainstream, but paradoxically, the mainstream is the quietest right now. Public debate has ended up being between people who want quotas for the "minorities" and people who want to re-homogenize an already diverse workforce.

Does HN have a civility problem? It's one of the most civil online places of discussion I can think of. Probably the most civil, although I don't frequent any strictly scientific forums which I imagine are much more "professional" if not necessarily civil.

I'll be the first to admit that I can be a little snarky at times, particularly about things I'm passionate about, but I think most people could say that about themselves.

It has a problem when the topics are divisive, for example https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13095475. There are quite a few like that unfortunately.

HN does quite well, though the mods also stay pretty busy.

> like that a week is too long for trying out an idea like this.

Out of curiosity, how did you all reach this conclusion?

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