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Tell HN: Some thoughts on ten years on Hacker News
72 points by te_platt on Nov 10, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 18 comments
Ten years ago today I created an account on Hacker News. I just wanted to share some thought about what I’ve seen here.

1. The quality of the content, both stories and comments, has remained remarkably high. There have been times where I thought things were slipping but a few minutes on YouTube comments puts everything back in perspective.

2. There is just too much to learn and not enough time! On any given day there are more interesting stories to follow than I can possibly follow. Thankfully the comments are consistently good enough that I can read the comments before the actual story to check on credibility and accuracy.

3. I have learned to be more precise in what I say and give a little more latitude to others. Comments can get a bit pedantic. Not every comment needs to be a mathematical proof (although there have been many). I thought about creating a user named “PedanticMan” and going around harassing people about their grammar but I decided instead to try not to let the little things bother me.

4. There are a lot of smart, enthusiastic, knowledgeable people here. There have been so many comments with deeper explanations and links to extended content. Thank you to everyone who takes the time share.

5. Most topics deal with conflicting values and goals. Watching competent people argue different issues has been very instructive. For example, it’s possible to think “C++ is a horrible mess of a language” and “C++ is a powerful tool” at the same time.

6. Karma is strange to me. I’m a grown man with a rich life experience and I don’t care what random people on the internet think about me, there are no prizes for karma, and you can’t sell your points. Still, I notice. I get a stronger emotional reaction to it than seems rational. If any of you ever want to hack the system to get more karma try this: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. I think the best thing is to not care too much but pay attention.

Since Fall 2013 I've been reading HN twice a day -- over coffee in the morning and in the evening after dinner. I am a nomadic contractor who works in the blue-collar basement of the IT industry, with several years experience in Silicon Valley, Portland and Austin as a datacenter technician, service reliability engineer, and general-purpose nuts-&-bolts computer guy. For me, HN opened a window on an entirely new dimension of the industry: the world-view of the elite class in venture capital and entrepreneurship. It's fascinating to read the same articles they read, to see the world through their eyes. I don't always agree with the ultra-capitalist weltanschauung on HN, but I think I understand it better, to a certain extent.

Aside from the politics, I have learned a great deal from HN about my own technical domain: the hegemony of the Linux operating system, advantages/limitations of RESTful APIs, python as the (arguably) preferred scripting language, and much more. But the best aspect of HN is, in my opinion, the continuous stream of commentary and discussion about books on a variety of topics. It was here that I discovered Joseph Frank's magisterial biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky, which alone was worth the price of admission.

Overall, I consider HN to be an intellectual oasis in the chaotic desert known as the Internet. Many thanks to the women and men who develop and maintain this remarkable web site. Bon courage.

I signed up back in 2009, so almost 9 years ago now. I've been frequently telling myself since then that I should cut down, and quit using it for a while. I always end up using it again.

The reason I use it is that sometimes there's a link posted to something genuinely novel, fascinating, and/or perception-shattering. Likewise, sometimes a comment will be deep, insightful and/or informative on a poorly-known topic. These are what bring me back.

But, most often, the community is prickly, fad-driven, and increasingly conformist.

It's always been a mix. I don't think it's actually gone downhill - I think the metric of quality has changed. The new moderation team has cracked down on overt rudeness and trolling. However, the userbase has shifted - it's larger now and more dominated by employees than entrepreneurs. That leads to a narrowing of opinion. The tech industry has also become much more high-profile, and everyone is hyper-aware of the media criticism of startup culture.

Once upon a time people would express controversial opinions and expect at least a fair hearing - it felt like a friendly gathering of smart friends. Now, it feels like people standing on soapboxes shouting to a hostile crowd. People like Sebastian Marshall (https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=lionhearted) used to be top posters here, and he's no longer active -- and I doubt he'd go down well with the current crowd. Steady changes in the userbase like that change the vibe in hard-to-define ways, but it's definitely changed.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a good point to end my Hacker News usage for good. Some thoughts:

1. I've just come off a call with a university friend who is now a manager at a big startup out in China, working on a really ambitious side project, and building tons of relationships out in the Asian startup world. I used to hang out with tons of people like that, then I had some bad life experiences, and disconnected from many good parts of my life. At the same time I got sucked back into HN procrastination.

2. Even times when I'm not producing or meeting interesting people, I have a stack of interesting stuff to read. Sebastian Marshall, who I mentioned above, has this amazing "Strategic Review" series, of which I've only read a fraction. There is never a single second of my day when HN is the most valuable thing I could be doing.

3. For the last 2 years I've had a second account under a pseudonym where I could be more outspoken about my political beliefs. (Hopefully at least a few people followed links I've posted from this account, or that other account, and learned something). Aside from the timesink aspect, the reason I'm leaving HN now is because it's become way too much of a political echo chamber.

I can cope with a place that's dominated by liberal/progressives, but not when they take a haughty, dismissive tone towards anyone who disagrees with them. (E.g: commenter takes a controversial stance, people who reply jump to the worst possible interpretation of their words).

To be clear I'm not remotely any kind of alt-rightist, Trumpkin, Milo fanboy or anything like that. I have tons of idiosyncratic opinions based on years of living abroad and reading every thinker I could get my hands on. People like me usually find their way into fringe communities of similar people -- and then slowly see those communities colonised and turn conformist, and leave to find somewhere else. It's a constant search to stay ahead of the world.

4. HN comment threads are usually noise, but one super interesting thing to do is read the comment history of an interesting poster. lionhearted I mentioned above, https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=bane is another good guy to "follow". As was https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=michaelochurch, though he went a bit nuts for a few years. Deep in my comment history I'm in a thread with Aaron Schwartz (on Austrian economics!), which illustrates the unusual paths that cross on this site.

Aside from that, I'm done here.

> but a few minutes on YouTube comments puts everything back in perspective

Facebook and Reddit work too ;)

Twitter works pretty well too, especially if the people you follow end up focusing more on politics than whatever you actually followed them for.

So true

I've encountered this view of Facebook discourse quite a few times on HN and I continue to be confused and perturbed by it so I must speak up.

I value HN because among the many things the OP mentioned, it very often gives me vastly different and contrasting views on topics. Facebook does not do this. However, with that one exception (i.e. it's filterbubblish) I've generally found Facebook comments to be of extremely high quality. Is it just the company I keep or am I not the only one?

It's your "private FB" vs "public FB" -- i.e. comments on news articles, big viral shares, etc.

Facebook and Reddit are both great places to have a mature discussion on tech. But which groups you join matter a lot.

Neither highlights new things as well as HN, but I feel median comment quality is better there.

I'm seeing diminished returns of my HN consultation.

Also, the hive mind developed here is quite strong and sometimes you can predict the general sentiment of the comment thread.

It's still a great source of news though.

Best way to get karma is to post a link to something on a topic that typically gains a lot of traction. E.g. a famous company talking about an JS framework. Or someone influential talking about lisp. Or be the first to post some breaking tech related news.

And anything that matches "* Deep Learning *".

Once considered hiring an expert-level virtual assistant. Solely for the purpose of reading HN at regular intervals through the day. And preparing a presidential style daily briefing ;)

I love hnletter! Works when I didn't have the time during the week :)

I'll consider doing it for $20/day. Not just topics but comments. Maybe cheaper if a lot of others subscribe as well.

Karma seems to hit me a lot harder here than most sites. I think a lot of the negative ones just feels unfair, like someone didn't properly read what I wrote, or didn't like the joke. But most of the time it's good feedback because it means I didn't explain something properly or simply didn't bring anything interesting to the conversation.

"In this best of all possible worlds, everything is for the best."


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