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Would this community prefer to be under the radar?
103 points by techcrunch on Mar 26, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments
I've been getting a lot of private and public feedback suggesting I stop posting about Hacker News on TechCrunch because it's polluting the community. Do you guys think I'm hurting the site, not helping?

Security by obscurity is not really security at all. Perhaps the TechCrunch exposure has hurt the site in the short term, but if Hacker News can get through these growing pains it will be presumably better off in the long run.

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.

Someone should implement Randall Munroe's proposal, so that repetitive and cliche phrases are automatically "demoted" -- which would mean that they appear on the bottom -- with the penalty getting exponentially worse, so it starts out as a mild chiding at first, then escalates.

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!

+1, Even-Handed: for your willingness to compare your own suggestion to the antics of a crazy guy. ;)

I taught him how to program in Perl, and when I left he was working as a Perl coder for a public television station. He also got married to a very interesting and quirky woman, so don't count crazy antics out.

Perfect, that way he never has to use the same 4 symbols twice.

Someone should implement an algorithm that demotes anything by Randall Munroe.

Why the personal attack? I mean there's no reason for that.

When it comes to so-called "public knowledge," obscurity (and more largely, apathy) is the only kind of security there is. All websites eventually die (or, at least, all that I have observed); you can't "keep a community alive" so much as you can just let it die peacefully, leaving its children (perhaps under the same ownership!) to continue its legacy.

It is irrelevant whether or not obscurity is the only kind of protection available; obscurity is temporary and only needs to be defeated once. Furthermore, obscurity is not the only kind of security there is: Benevolent moderation is another form of protecting a community. And even if obscurity was the only kind of security available, we could simply invent a new kind of security.

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.

The only site that I used that and reminds me of HN is Perlmonks(.org). It never had any commercial ambitions and the quality has been maintained for a decade. There's tons of lessons to be learned from it. They use blind voting, have user levels, and the higher level users moderate. The community there is unbelievably awesome and it has a very similar feel to this site.


Obscurity in the sense of "how many people know about this site" is not binary - every inbound link makes it a little less obscure.

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.

All websites eventually die

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.

That you can't think of many might imply most that have tried never grew large enough to get your attention.

Less than it would with other people. I get a lot of info about which forums exist from referring urls. That was how I learned about both Delicious and StumbleUpon. So I can at least say with fair certainty that there's no good smaller forum where people link to my stuff. Except here of course.

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.

Presumably the internet is big enough that there is a small community with no overlap with your essays. Hard to find if they are small.

I'm sure there are thousands, for everything from hydroponic gardening to fursuits. I wasn't saying there aren't good small communities, just that there aren't any except News.YC in the subset of the world that reads the kind of thing I write.

> All websites eventually die (or, at least, all that I have observed); you can't "keep a community alive"

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.

That sounds pretty computationally intensive, if each page load is going to result in recalculating all scores for a relatively large universe of objects, but maybe "people who have similar voting habits to pg (or some small, select set of trusted quasi-moderators)" would be feasible.

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.

I like that idea, pg and friends would be the founders of the community and would moderate it simply by voting on submissions.

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.

While it isn't exactly what you describe, I found this to be rather interesting:


I agree that forums and sites like this have a lifespan. They don't die outright, but they become less and less useful/interesting as they grow and age. Techcrunch almost certainly reduced the useful life of news.yc, so I would have prefered it not happened. But how much did it reduce the lifespan by? Probably not that much, I suppose.

I have told about 10 people about hacker news. they are all in the "tech" field and then when I checked with them a week later - all of them but one actually read the site or found it interesting...

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 :)

I'm one of the whiners on TechCrunch about exposure. Sorry!

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?

While I agree the signal to noise ratio has increased significantly since I first started frequenting YC News, I'm not sure I agree if its specifically the TechCrunch exposure that is the cause of this. My reason? I was actually reading this at school and I've had friends sign up who could really care less about anything about programming...and end up treating this site like its Slashdot. Perhaps similar episodes have occurred elsewhere?

When you say that the signal to noise ratio has increased, do you really mean that there's more signal? or did you mean that it's decreased? Not nit-picking, just trying to understand.

It'll grow regardless. And, the kind of people that will actually stick around tend to be the kind of people we want to be here. The rest will wander off...back to digg, over to reddit, whatever.

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 like the idea of a karma hurdle to vote on articles, but not to post comments. Since fewer people tend to comment than visit, this will allow a small number of people to act as effective gatekeepers.

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 wouldn't like that one bit. I know a fair bit about technology, but when it comes to most here I probably know diddly squat when it comes to programming. I'm a reddit refugee who finds quite a bit of the articles here interesting and is excited to actually see good discussion. Besides, I'm willing to bet there are a fair number of people who could pass any kind of test you set up and still prove to be quite destructive.

Down voting is too easy to abuse. Reddit was being gamed in this way -- certain users were down-voting everything, which made being a new poster starting out an almost automatic karma penalty of a few points. They've made the down-vote penalty milder because of this.

I suppose, but if you only get one...you'd have to have an awful lot of extra accounts to make a big difference. But, if everyone agrees that a story sucks or doesn't fit the purpose of the site, it ought to go away.

Just having a small amount of extra accounts can make a big difference if you can down-vote stories at the very beginning. This gives the unmolested stories a big head-start. I think that reddit implemented different behavior for the first hour of a story's life for this reason.

How could a small amount of extra accounts with only one down-vote per week make a big difference?

Only one down-vote a week? If you reduce the frequency like that, then that's just another way of weakening down-voting, which is what reddit seemingly did to their downvotes.

How about spending karma points as votes?

No. I've had experiences where people gain 'karma' by being nice, only so they can troll some more. ('But I'll be nice this time, I promise!')

Somebody is going to do it if you don't, so I'm not sure our answer to the question matters, does it?

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?

I think the influx of new users is good; there are probably people out there with great things to contribute, that don't even know Hacker News exists. But of course the characteristics of the front page posts are going to change.

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.

This definitely fits into the "make it too boring for 14 year olds" category.

You are a tad bit late in asking ;-). In any case, you can't control the kind of folks that read your website and decide to show up and participate here.

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.

When the programming language site Lambda the Ultimate was going through the same transition, the admin asked long-time members for their opinions. The discussion is here:


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.

Bring Back Snacks (he of the hasty banhammer).

If you have no idea what I mean, be grateful.

I'm excited to see TechCrunch here--you're helping. I read TechCrunch, which convinces me there are TC'ers who will add value. HN has to deal with idiots. If there's going to be an influx, let it be TechCrunch's influx. TechCrunch also has hacker, angel, and VC readers who might give real-world insight into startup financing or business questions--we should welcome them and learn to deal with TC's idiots (really, idiots in general) with the right control measures, in preparation for the day HN tops Digg.

I enjoy the smallness of this community a lot. On the web, that's a commodity in some sense.

i still do really enjoy the idea of karma-based requirements for access to features. that would help prevent "pollution", which i would refer to as "dilution" instead.

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.

Look at the relatively lengthy comments on this, and yet almost all of them are intelligent and a relatively nice portion of them add more to the discussion.

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)...

How do we know you're the real Techcrunch?

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.

It's the real TechCrunch.

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.

I find it odd that you even consider it's a problem. It's odd to hear a founder consider a site growing a problem.

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.

The difference is that HN was not designed with maximum growth (and hence ads or being acquired) in mind. It seems mostly geared towards bringing people to YC, and motivating hackers to try startups. A big community isn't necessarily worse at this, but neither is it necessarily better.

I think of social websites as country clubs. The club is fun and good when you know everyone's name and you're able to form deeper relationships with people. Country clubs are not fun when it's filled with tourists who aren't interested in contributing to the club.


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

Funny double-take: I thought you were describing hackernews as the "real" TechCrunch.

good question on trust

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 was a regular reddit reader(in fact at the time I was a digg-refugee) and found HN about 6 months ago while reading about YC. Reddit started to disappoint me more and more(e.g. Ron Paul) and I started to frequent HN more often. I am kind of disappointed about reddit and digg, that they weren't able to maintain the quality of their active members. I am not quite sure if PG succeeds in protecting the value of HN without making it to a closed community with an elite group of moderators. Let's hope he'll find a way to do this.

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.

Hi Mike-- big of you to ask, first of all.

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.

As others have noted, the problem was always going to have to be solved at some point. So no, TechCrunch should not modify its current behaviour.

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...

Two things: 1) It would be great to have more reasonably good people here. 2) But I just don't want the scoring to be screwed up. If the voting keeps stuff that's only of interest to people who are into hacking and startups on the front page then other people will simply not stick around.

PG, please consider action for #2. Don't go with the "show everyone different rankings" approach of reddit though.

Honestly, I haven't seen a noticeable effect. People still post great links and are generally cool in the comments. No influx of trolls, no flood of spam or otherwise bad posts on the home page.

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

I don't think a site like this can remain occult forever. When you consider the name is 'Hacker News' it's surprising it hasn't been swamped already with spam and adolescent comments. Perhaps a high quality community forum like this has a limited life span. It's a depressing thought, but I know if anyone can fix it, then pg can!

>> Do you guys think I'm hurting the site, not helping?

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.

When communities get too big, even if they spoil, it's not a bad thing. It's a good thing because people are encouraged to then start their own communities.

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.

The biggest concern for techcrunch should be the quality of the comments there, not here.

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.

The REDDIT.com community is saying the same thing now. They claim that their website is now polluted and that the quality has gone down.

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.

It's funny -- I've been here for about a year, maybe more. How did I discover it? Digg, or maybe reddit. One of Paul's essays got dugg. Ironic in a way, I think.

The question seems to center around the universal problem of mediocrity through popularity. It's not unique to the 'net. In the early 80s a flood of frat boys and party hounds invaded Dead tour and pretty much destroyed a truly beautiful thing. There's a similar trend happening at Burning Man. Pop culture visibility tends to dilute unique subcultures to the point of obscuring the original flavor.

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...

Certainly. I think you should post a link to my startup on your front page instead. :-)

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.

Improvement comes from stress.

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.

Yes, sometimes its good for the niche communities to have less exposure otherwise its inevitable to hurt the community. There are lot of jerks lying around to spam the community, but who knows the results can be surprising, too. I wonder though how Hacker News would deal with this excessive exposure and how many of the sites the techcrunch has hurt until now?

If you stop promoting the site on techcrunch, then the folks here at Hacker News will have one less thing to complain about.

Wow, I'm glad to see this question be asked here. I don't think you should stop posting as long a the 'fake INSERT FAMOUSNAME' do not begin muddying up threads. You have a lot of readers that could benefit from this community and vice versa although you might create more work for pg and the algorithm :)

Yes, because TechCrunch has nothing to do with hacking.

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.

> Yes, because TechCrunch has nothing to do with hacking.

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.

Let me re-quote the grandparent post for you, perhaps removing a bit of subtlety in the process:

> Yes, because TechCrunch has nothing at all whatsoever to do with hacking (rolls eyes)

You forgot the (wink nudge) an the end!

Me too. Typically I'd just follow any interesting headlines from the rss feed, but since the first TechCrunch mention I've been interacting with the site quite a bit more (hopefully in only positive ways).

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".

I think that we don't mind being "underground" or extremely popular, as long as the quality of the site stays high. The fear is that publicity will bring the childish masses and turn hacker news into another spam playground.

since the demographic of this community seems to be smart entrepeneurs, what would people here think is the best way to protect their community from the morons of the internet? I remember in olden day's when digg was a friendly place full of interesting news, nowadays its, well it's digg... Keeping a social news site under the raydar is not the solution to this problem, there should be something more elegant, any ideas?

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 ;)

I think it is somewhat presumptuous of techcrunch to consider themselves as determining what is under or over the radar, as the metaphor goes. Techcrunch has less influence that it supposes.

It may seem presumptuous, but it is undeniable techcrunch has considerable influence.

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.

No. It's not a bad community to pick up readers/users from. And, people are pretty quick to down-mod ugly comments here. Thanks for asking, though. It means a lot.

I see where they are coming from - the discussion was better when it was under the radar. That says nothing about the future, however.

There are a lot of discussions that need to be had concerning filtering, vote weighing, etc. We just have to have them earlier now.

As you can see "this community" has no consensus on the issue.

I personally am fine with you posting about whatever you think is relevant.

>> "this community" has no consensus on the issue.

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.

Sigh. Just more of the elitist ethic so pervasive in the hacker community.

Are you even Micheal Arrington? This is your first post... You don't have any info on your profile... The writing style seems different... hmmm... Still an nteresting topic though.



Funny how this showed up on reddit today:


that picture forgot the viagra, and the botnet posts.

there's always the reddit effect. reddit gets popular, gets bought out by corporate swine, becomes a tabloid full of duplicate articles and complete wastes of time. at least this community is still populated by more thinkers than stinkers. well, except for me.

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