The problem as I see it is not the size of the community but the concentration of thinkers. It doesn't really matter what articles make it to the front page; if the comments start filling up with cheap one liners and unreasoned opinions I know that I for one will lose interest.
EDIT: Come to think of it, I knew this crazy guy about 10 years ago. He was so gung-ho about being "truly alive" that he tried his damnedest to never say the same 4 words twice. This made it impossible for him to give driving directions!
I am unaware of any websites that have "died". I assume you refer to the digg.com and reddit.com exoduses that are so often brought up. Comparing those two sites to Hacker News is not comparing apples to apples. The commercial purpose of those sites is to sell advertisement space to advertisers, so trading a small group of thinkers in favor of a large group of more advertisement friendly users makes commercial sense. Hacker News, on the other hand, probably has the commercial purpose of driving business to YCombinator. It is in Hacker News' best interest to keep the small group of thinkers in favour of the larger population. So there is good reason to believe that Hacker News will be able to overcome these growing pains and be a community for the thinkers for awhile yet.
Popular forums (at least in my experience) stop being worthwhile to me past a certain point, and sometimes do just die outright from the problems caused by their popularity.
The sample size is small so far. I can't think of a lot of sites that have tried really hard to avoid becoming lame, even at the expense of growth. Most put growth first.
Metafilter might count as an exception. They often have interestesting links. But reading the comments is like eavesdropping on a bunch of freshmen at Oberlin.
TechMeme is not bad, but I don't think the sites they link to are decided by user votes.
All this makes me think that maybe community forum software should be taking reddit's recommended page to the next level and only showing me posts/discussion from people who have similar voting habits to me or even based on some social networking style "proximity".
Having all submissions in one pot and giving everyone an equal vote averages everything out so the only way to maintain whatever niche the site caters for (in this case thoughtful and interesting posts/discussion) is to maintain the niche of users.
I bet Gnome-theme-designer forums have it easier because not everyone wants to be a part of that niche, but forums based around interesting and intelligent discussion are going to continue to slide gradually towards digg no matter how well they start because (a) everyone thinks they're more interesting and intelligent than they really are, and (b) lots of people want to join an online community filled with people "just like them".
If only I had the time to develop a prototype.
I'm not so sure a technical, mathematical, and purely self-organizing solution exists -- I think at some point, standards have to come from the top. In the past, I think pg has exerted his influence by commenting on things he likes to see and doesn't like to see. He continues to do this, but either his comments will continue to occupy a diminishing share of the site as its user base grows, or he'll spend too much of his life commenting -- even lecturing and nagging.
I like the idea of giving each user a weight, calculated from how similar their votes are to some trusted set of voters. Each user's vote would then count for some fraction between 0 and 1. Scores could be updated periodically en masse to reflect new weights instead of with every page load.
Maybe such a system could also give people the ability to "found" new communities within some sub-domain and have all the posts from the main site submitted to their site but ranked differently based on different voting weights.
Not everyone wants to look at a text based site with very "geeky" information - unless of course you are a geek... So the site will grow no matter what but in my opinion, i think it will stay occult - at least I hope so...
Actually, I just wrote a post about hacker news that is scheduled to publish this friday - but again I don't have TechCrunch's traffic, so my post should not help/hurt HN :)
Basically, I think the community was excellent before you made a big deal of announcing it. It has continued to be excellent after, but the signal to noise ratio has worsened somewhat. I'm not a long-timer, but I have very much enjoyed this site and, for once, would be quite happy if the community didn't grow wildly.
I think that publicity has worked out okay, though, probably just showing the resiliency of the community.
I imagine "Hacker News" as a shy, but talented hacker. It can live with a few minutes in the spotlight, shaking hands, and taking awards, but it's going to do its best work when it can quietly focus and get the work done with its team. The more time spent in front of the press, the less time it has to improve the world behind the scenes. It understands how the fanfare is important at times, but certainly doesn't seek it when there's clever coding to be done.
Just out of curiosity: Why did you post about it? Was it to grow the site? To help your readers find a good source? Or did you want other founders to know about it to grow the number of startups that hang out here?
Thanks for asking, though.
Now it's pg's job to figure out how to programmatically maintain the high quality of results. I still want one down-vote per week for stories...sometimes a story shows up that makes me feel ill to see it on the front page, and it would feel real good to vote them down, even if I only got to do it once per week(day|month).
I also like the idea of forcing people to solve a riddle or make a simple program in order to sign up. This can be gained, but your average Joe stupid person won’t bother.
I am firmly in the camp of "HN will eventually go to heck" -- mainly because of the mod system and the way these things tend to drive to the lowest common denominator. I know that the good-article-per-page ratio today is not as good as it was 6 months ago. But hey, pg wants to play this thing out, so crank 'er up, right?
There is a somewhat controversial solution here... just make a sub-section of HN where only users that signed up X days ago or earlier can post and vote. If X = 250 and guys like me get screwed, then so be it; if old timers are actually better voters, then at least I'll get to read the better articles. And you don't lock out new users either, since the original front page will still exist without any vote weighting.
Personally I don't know if the quality of the "old timers" section would be any better or worse than the normal front page, since "interesting" is a subjective concept. But if you miss the Hacker News of the good old days, then maybe it makes sense to bring that HN back to the future this way.
That said most of the folks here (at least the ones that have been using this website from the earlier days) don't want this site to go the way of other communities online, where the quality of shared articles and conversations go down the drain.
From my time on many online communities, it's not the question of if the quality will go down, but when, and I would rather see an algorithmic solution to reduce the noise.
My answer from there:
For me, read-only access to "old LtU" would be more pleasant than read-write access to "new LtU". In other words: I don't think bans are "extreme", my vote is for a lot more bans, and I wouldn't mind being banned myself if this improves the signal-to-noise ratio.
If you have no idea what I mean, be grateful.
as a potential example, if you want to submit a story, you need 25 karma, or something. proof that you contribute to the community via comments.
So we aren't dead yet. I don't see much discussion of the importance of avoiding massive comment threads, yet I think this is one of the main problems with site growth. Over time the volume of comments that are detracting or repetitive on a site grows to overwhelm the amount of time required to find the good comments, or even maintain a thread of back and forth replies.
A good rubric for looking for solutions might be finding how to penalize comments that would not be acceptable in a face to face discussion.
Sites often resort to banning bad users, but it is too easy to just generate a new account, so it would be encouraging to see some way to make it much harder for the same person to masquerade as a different real user. (I have no idea how, but geolocation tools seem to be getting ever better)...
Well, it's too late anyway. The cat is out of the bag. Besides, if no one had talked about it, I never would have found it, so you have my blessing.
I don't mind. Traffic had been growing pretty constantly at about 5x per year anway, so we'd have had to deal with this problem eventually.
The metrics to handle the "problem" should have been addressed during the conception stage of the site. I would be surprised if simple administration could fix the trend.
of course Hacker News will break news EARLIER than TechCrunch so it would be better for "techcrunch" for this site to go underground - then "techcrunch" can break the news :P
I think it behooves hacker news to stay as ujderground as possible.
You know, there was a time when Digg was a good source for programming news and discussion. Digg. Reddit too.
This site is now where I huddle to get that programmers social news fix.
It's important for those of us interested in making the social web to have our own little unadulterated social webs. This site also needs to stay lean so hackers will be drawn to it. ycombinator watches this thing to see what potential founders say. I think this should be a place for those thinking of, or filling out an application. At least, that's what I hope to find in reading it.
I think the most promising method would be in limiting the weight of new users. Not giving them any weight in the voting would prohibit them from posting stories that don't fit into the topic. If they stick around long enough eventually people will find out what the community likes and will submit similar stories.
I don't think so. The problem is associated with growth, and HackerNews was already experiencing growth before you came along. You might be speeding things up a bit, but word will get out. It always does. And that's why this thing exists, right? Otherwise, it'd be members-only.
So Paul will have to use his big brain to solve the problem community dilution... Perhaps a little sooner than he would've otherwise, but he's going to have to solve it.
I have my own theory for how to solve this problem. You start off by putting on a filter - all comments with less than 5 points are hidden from users unless they specifically ask for them to be seen.
Each post, when first posted, automatically has a +5 modifier, so it gets seen. But a post is reduced by one point after 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 hours. If you have received a few positive votes, your comment will stay up, but if others feel that it is repetitive, or doesn't have any interesting comment, it will disappear after a while.
Those time values may need to change dynamically to be more rapid for heavy traffic threads.
The other thing to fix it is to really encourage people to actually give votes for EVERY post that they find worthwhile. This imncreases the amount of feedback in the system. Perhaps there should be a quick three to four sentence guide to voting at the top of every YC News page?
Anyway, that's what I came up with after many years of frustration with slashdot...
PG, please consider action for #2. Don't go with the "show everyone different rankings" approach of reddit though.
I did see someone say on twitter "There's no need to read news.yc because everything good is reposted on techcrunch". That's not cool, but the point is that there is still plenty of good stuff here on news.yc
No, I don't think so. The community pollution is a separate peril, which should be continuously taken care of by improving the moderation system and/or using some form of editorial control. If this site will continue to improve, the increased traffic is inevitable.
Digg -> Reddit -> Hacker News -> .. next thing ..
It's this progression that keeps new and interesting sites coming along. If it hadn't happened, we'd all still be using Digg.
They are mean spirited and often wrong.
I think you should continue to promote any site you like. Hacker News needs to deal with this eventually, and the average TechCrunch reader (not commenter) is probably better than the average blog reader.
BTW: I found this community via TechCrunch last week and like what I see. Still unsure that I'll fit in with you guys although I like the content.
Active mentoring of appropriate behavior and a willingness to exclude offending users seems to be the only way to preserve the culture. But if you take that approach too far you run the risk of becoming elitist and self-righteous.
Openness has a real value and very real risks. I like the "benevolent moderation" idea suggested by murrayh the best...
Seriously, I think this community does have some advantages by staying out of the flow of traffic. I go to TechCrunch as well. It's got worthwhile news and the advantage that only one person can post (and his picks for topics are usually pretty good). This site is actually the same, except that people can join the pool of submitters.
Right now, there is a selection process for submitters. They have to be interested enough to find out about startups by researching a bit. If the doors were opened wide, who knows what might happen. Well, looking at Reddit lately, we have a pretty good idea of what would happen, and it isn't pretty.
To get bigger muscles, you lift weights. To increase cardiovascular performance, you run. To improve cognitive ability, you read, study, and solve problems.
To improve software, you load it up.
Bring them on.
But the other posters are definitely right: this is an inevitable problem and it would be nice to have a more organic solution. I've been trying to read and vote on the "new" page more.
Techcrunch is read by a huge percentage of all hackers working on tech startups. This site was previous called "Startup News". I think the TC audience is very well suited.
> Yes, because TechCrunch has nothing at all whatsoever to do with hacking (rolls eyes)
I think ultimately hacker news is a coterie of sufficient specialisation that it will survive multiple techcrunchings, or at least fare better than digg - as Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded".
disclaimer i am not looking for ideas for a news site, personally i feel the market is saturated, and anyway i have far better ideas to work on ;)
My only concern is that knowing certain important people from TC now read HN, there might be an influx of spam from people looking for attention. Especially now that everyone knows it is possible get TC coverage by posting here.
This would only be a bad thing though if the "hey look at me!" spam really got out of hand. Otherwise, I really like reading about peoples startup projects (as I'm sure Arrington and others do too), as long as the intent is genuine.
I personally am fine with you posting about whatever you think is relevant.
A community doesn't have to agree to be a community. The very fact that we all gather similar info from a singular source is enough to define a community, however niche it may be.
But I am completely with you on the latter point: if we start talking about who can link to what we get into rather murky terrain.
TC: link to what you want. You don't need our approval.