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Tell HN: We're building a "HN Office Hours" app. Help us. (hnofficehours.com)
157 points by rguzman on Aug 5, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

I don't have regular office hours. I start work anywhere from 12-1pm and stop anywhere from midnight-5am. Sometimes I take days off. Sometimes I'm too busy to answer the phone. My schedule for something like this is pretty much unpredictable.

Proposal: rather than specifying hours, just let me specify here / gone like a regular IM client. If it looks like it's going to be a slow day, I'll turn on the tap, and if things pick up I'll turn it off.

I can understand your situation, but I like their proposed approach (if I understand it correctly). A lot of people like to make appointments in order to be able to plan their time. During YC, you can schedule a 20 minute block of time with PG where he talks to you one on one. A lot of people find it to be useful, and I think it would be great to have something similar for HNers.

Some people like to be able to say "I have 20 minutes from 11:00-11:20 scheduled to talk to this person on this date about my project". Personally, I've always felt that scheduled appointments feel more "serious" than IM conversations. If I've made a commitment to talk with you for 20 minutes, you're much more likely to get my undivided attention during that time. Plus I can prepare for our conversation. If I can't make it, I'll just reschedule.

Maybe I understood wrong then, and I'm not in the target market for this? I'm not really interested in having "serious" conversations except with people who pay me to solve their problems.

I was much more interested in the brainstorming or "fresh pair of eyes" aspect. (My day job is an iOS developer) I'm more than happy to give some advice on somebody's iOS app / idea / Apple / app review / APIs when there's a lull in the day. I do really enjoy helping people out.

But the minute I need to start "reserving" time and "scheduling" for this, it starts sounding billable to me. That's the sort of thing I get paid to do.

Put another way, think of the analogy to open source. I am more than happy to field a few e-mails a day doing support for my OSS projects. But I'm not going to reserve time in my day for it unless I've got a support contract in place.

Think of this is as "networking". You have to allocate time beforehand to do that: meetups, coffee, etc. This is no different. The only difference is that instead of expecting to make small-talk the expectation is technical talk. Further, I think it is good to be able to make yourself available quickly on a whim "mark me as available now" like you described.

Now, your time may be more valuable than "technical networking" with this crowd. Sure. In that case, you're not in the target demographic, like you concluded.

It's my observation (there are exceptions, but in general) that the awesome people are busy doing awesome things, not idling somewhere. So I would optimize for the busy person, not the person who can set aside 8 regular hours every week. Set a low commitment barrier, and attract great minds.

For me personally, there's a list of people 3 feet long on HN that I'd love to pick their brains about something. But I feel like a bother. (In a couple of instances, I've even been told I'm a bother. Sorry guys.)

Don't optimize it for me. Optimize it for the people way busier than I am. If pg (or grellas, or patio11, or ...) start using the service, it will both be unimaginably useful and also gain traction.

Sounds like an interesting idea. Perhaps you should even focus explicitly on pleasing, say, patio11 (if he agrees to give you feedback).

Stuff that's optimized for on specific person (or a very small group) often also gets better responses from the a much wider audience, then if you went for a `generic' person in the first place. (I can go and find the sources for this.)

I totally agree that fixed schedule limits the benefits of this activity. As you put it, the barrier should be as low as possible if we want greater participation. Having said that, I am happy that someone is trying to do somehthing good for the HN community. .

I like this idea a lot. Maybe we'll have an option to go on the site and just say "mark me as available now". Would that be close enough?


so actually i imagined it as being available to people who wanted to do 1-off office hours, "I will be available tomorrow from 5-7 CST."

theli0nhearted and i had a short discussion on IRC where I think we've concluded that it makes sense to have a "Currently available/unavailable" flag anyways even for people who do have regular office hours, so I think you'll be pleased with the plan.

Basically even if I have office hours, I need to be able to mark that I'm currently occupied with someone, so I'll turn off my "available" indicator.

That could work for you as well. Basically you're usually just unavailable. If you feel like talking you can be available.

The optimum MVP for me would just be a website that displays a list of HN users who are currently online in Skype along with a link to their HN profile. I don't even have to change any behavior to become "available" or not on your service.

Office hours as such are a non-feature for me. I will never set any, and I won't look at anyone's unless I'm actually trying to contact them (in which case I would probably write them an e-mail over trying to schedule an appointment).

I think that's an excellent approach. It's simple and functional with no unneeded overhead of planning, timings and what not.

Is there some way to scrape that IM client status from iChat, skype, gchat, facebook, or whatever else? People could configure that in their contact information/profile. The master switch would be on this site though.

I'm pretty sure Skype, and gchat both have a public API. Not sure about others

Have you guys seen Aardvark? Aardvark sends questions to friends and friends-of-friends via IM and/or email. If HN readers all linked together as friends or friends-of-friends, then your questions would be routed to the appropriate people based on interests. And if no HN people are available to answer your questions, they get routed off to the rest of the Aardvark network.

Even if people don't like this idea, it wouldn't hurt to look at how their UI and features are set up, since they're one of the pioneers in doing exactly the same kind of thing the "HN Office Hours" app is trying to do.

You can link to me here: http://vark.com/s/UR0C -- everyone who links to me will be a friend-of-a-friend and will be auto-networked by Aardvark, assuming they all use an IM program compatible with Google Chat or Yahoo IM. Or if someone else wants to volunteer to be the "hub" of HN users, feel free to post your link here.

Just a thought. :)

But then you have to deal with the annoyance that is aardvark. I turned that stuff off when I got five questions in a row that literally were first page google results.

IRC room with a site mapping persons profile to their nick would be less bothersome, however then you have the distraction of yet another conversation in the background....

Aardvark has an auto-response for questions you can Google:


Which sends them a summary of the first Google hit for their question. See: http://vark.com/commands

I get an occasional question you could Google, but it's been rare. You can also just pass. And you can tell Aardvark how often you want to be contacted.

IRC or other chat room software would be too noisy for me--I wouldn't ever want it to be trying to get my attention.

That thread caused a lot of ripples. It's clear that this is a service that many people want.

Here's another thread inspired by kentf's submission; http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1517198 and there's a collection of google docs here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1517198, you might want to build your database around the type of infomation people want to share.

Also, minor proofreading thing on the homepage: "want to build a site to those facilitate interactions"

I'm not a django guy otherwise I'd be offering to dive in.

I can offer space and bandwidth on my dreamhost "unlimited" shared hosting plan.

And I love beta-testing things!

(note to HNers, please save the discussion about what "unlimited" really means for another time.)

edit: another thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1516015

Thank you. Just fixed the typo.

Please see if you can combine something with http://hnhackers.com/ and/or http://www.hackernewsers.com/ It would be a shame if a third site comes along that does something related (even slightly) without working together!

Do you run either of those? We'd love to integrate as much as possible.

I don't, just throwing it out there. The creators shouldn't be hard to find though.

Anyway, I'll see if I can contribute some html/css/js work over the weekend :) see you all on irc!

I run http://www.hackernewsers.com - I'm actually working on a similar feature right now

I am so amazed by how frequently people come up with the same idea. I have been thinking about making an office hour app 7-8 months ago and been talking to everyone I know for feedbacks. Fail on me for not being able to execute it sooner. Good job for taking the initiative, guys.

sometimes it just takes someone to get the ball rolling. we'd honestly really rather have this be "everyone's project" instead of "our project". Please contribute. This is ideally going to be a very open process with lots of people committing code and ideas.

It would be a waste to ignore whatever ideas you came up with in 7-8 months of thinking about the app.

hey guys, ezl from pybrew here. So we're basically a python shop, but we'd really love input/collaboration from anyone.

The primary reason we're trying to approach this as a group project is we think it'll be fun to collaborate with new people; so even if you're not a Django guy, please feel free to contribute. We definitely need people with design savvy, UI advice, people who just click around the site and look for broken things, etc.

Don't feel like you have to stay the whole weekend or anything. Hop in and say hello. Any advice/suggestions are welcome.

It may be that many of us have google voice accounts, and I believe there is an easy way to embed a "call me" widget. (Just letting you know since I didn't see it in the list on the front page)


thanks. will add to our ticket list.

Are you guys only looking for local help? I am in India and would love to chip in but this weekend isn't the best time. Can't this be an ongoing, online thing. We can all chip in and host it too - a community developed/run/managed app?

Yes. We want to make it as open and community-maintained as possible. We're just kicking it off. Any help is welcome, local and remote. You can fork the repo on github or ping us for anything else.

I don't really get it...

If you like someone's comment, you can click on their office hours link and .. AWESOME!

I believe this is great. I have one comment (really one wish) to make. It would be absolutely fantastic to see some screencasts of HNers in action. In particular, how you get the skeleton of a project up and running. I, for one, would pay for content like this.

By the way, I haven’t tried PeepCode. Do you guys recommend it? Again, along the lines of getting things started. I look, for instance, at the App Engine documentation and (even though they offer a launcher) I wonder how professionals give the first brush strokes in less than several hours. How can I avoid constantly going back to the documentation?

Thank you, and sorry for the ramble!

I would highly recommend PeepCode... very high quality screencasts and a good range of topics as well.

I just rolled out timezone search to hackernewsers, e.g. http://www.hackernewsers.com/users.html?User[timezone]=Europ...

This is part of a larger set of community features that I've been working on for a couple of weeks and will be deployed soon. It looks like we've had the same idea

the github wiki is where we're storing a lot of ideas: http://wiki.github.com/ezl/hnofficehours/

it is editable by anyone with a github account. if you have any ideas, please feel free to contribute (leave your HN username as well with your ideas so we can contact you if there are questions)

Neat. I might start up my office hours again. For anyone thinking of starting their own, it's totally worthwhile. I wrote about mine a couple of years ago:


1) I hope the final product will be OSS 2) To keep spammers out, we could enable a karma threshold parameter. 3) As about UI, I've always been looking for an excuse to look into SproutCore ('course, this is free) or Atlas (which does cost).

1) I hope the final product will be OSS

It absolutely will.

UI Design / Adobe CS guy here. Email is in my profile if you want specific design help. Got a fairly busy weekend but I've got 3-4 hours to contribute.

I'm into using CSS3 (w/ fallback styles) in production so that would be cool.

I was working on a similar idea "Flash Mob: Help a Startup Out", but the specifics were to have a live chat at a given time, and have everyone (available and willing) throw their 2cents in.

It might be a good idea to have some restriction on users so that the service is not overwhelmed (a yahoo answers-type situation might not work out well).

Yeah, you're right. We want this to be HN centric, so I think we're going to start by limiting to HN users.

I think limiting to HN users is good. Given HN is a free community, it might be nice to see some HN information about the user (who they are, how long they've been a member, links to posts/comments, karma, etc).

If I'm crunched for time, I'd probably be more willing to help somebody who is making HN a great community in favor of helping somebody who joined 35 minutes ago to get free consulting.

(Note: Unless abuse occurs in the future, I would prefer to choose myself rather than having a policy that says "You must have XX karma or be a member for N months.")

I think it would be good to also limit by karma score too. It's trivial for someone to come here and create an account. I'm not sure what the cutoff should be, but probably low enough so as not to exclude people unnecessarily, but high enough that it weeds out trolls and people who are just not that serious.

I'm not so sure about that... If you look at my profile, I almost never comment or link anything. And yet, I have been a dedicated reader since I first found HN. I have also done as much as I can to bring new, intelligent users to HN. But none of this is reflected in my karma score.

Though I could be wrong... Maybe I should just start contributing more.

Bringing in intelligent people sounds like a good contribution to me. No matter what the software thinks `contribution' should be.

What OSS licence will you guys be using?

I was planning on spending the weekend holed up coding Django anyway so I will put my hand up to own a feature!


I dabble in UI design, and if I get the time would like to help out. Hopefully see you either tonight or tomorrow at some point.

Sounds like a good use of a wave-like app if you include voice chat.

Are there any existing wave-alikes (FOSS maybe?) to leverage?

Python coder here. Sounds like a fun idea. I'll pop into IRC if I get some free time this weekend.

i'll be around this weekend, would love to help out. not much of a python guy but pretty well versed in MVC and can prob contribute on the design /js end of things as well

You guys didn't specify a time zone.

I'd be happy to contribute a bit of visual design (interaction design, too, if you're interested in listening to an expert)... but I assume you're either east or west coast USA, so I'll be very, very asleep by then.

Now, though, I'll add that the idea of a public office hours would only be enhanced by the back and forth being public. I'd be much more inclined to help Person A during my office hours, if my help would be available later to others.

EDIT: Check out this time zone visualizer I designed: http://everytimezone.com - feel free to borrow the mechanic, because not only will you have to deal with time zones for the hack-time, but you will have to deal with them for office hours.

ah good point. We're chicago based, so Central ST. I suspect there will be some around the clock hacking going on so hopefully we'll cross paths.

Definitely interested in chatting with you about interaction design, its something that we generally feel we could use guidance on in all of our other startup projects.

I'll have to update the site later as I'm responding from my cell phone.

That timezone visualizer is gold.

I live in Europe, and am chronically bad at calculating timezone offsets in my head. Calls to clients on the west coast usually involve at least one moment of panic where I think I've missed it, followed by two hours of waiting because I calculated the time wrong, followed by an apology for calling an hour late.

This is also nice because my clients are even worse than me, and generally have no idea when it might be daytime over here. A nice blue bar would do them some good.

Another useful one is http://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/

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