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Is HN only about saying nice things about everything?
69 points by DjDarkman on Oct 25, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments
My personal problem with HN, is that every time I dare to write a comment that is not positive about something, I get downvoted and in most cases the downvoter doesn't care much about explaining it, even when my comment spawned an interesting discussion.

It's very annoying that 100+ karma users could act as really good trolls, they could just go around and downvote everybody without ever loosing karma, but costing the commenter karma.

Don't get me wrong I really enjoy the HN community, there are a lot of bright people here and very good content and discussions, it's just that the system discourages you to have your own opinion on anything, because if you write something that a 100+ user doesn't like he can simply downvote you irresponsibly.

TL, DR: I don't know maybe it's me, maybe I have too radical opinions on stuff. But overall I feel that the downvoters should loose some karma too, and maybe force the downvoter to write a reason for it, to make sure that they downvote responsibly.

PS: I am not saying neither that I'm always right nor that I never deserved the downvote.

I can only speak of my own personal approach to commenting. I evaluate my own comments by one metric - whether I think my comment will make HN a smarter, more interesting place. I see HN comments less as a forum for chit-chat and more as a venue for a series of short essays on the topic of the original post. I try to avoid making comments of the sort that are satisfying to post but that I would not be interested in reading. If I don't think I'm being reasonably insightful, I don't bother. For every comment I post, there are usually one or two comments on other items that I decided weren't good enough to post.

It seems to me that HN is relatively neutral in terms of your opinion; People here seem to avoid the vice of downvoting based simply on a difference of opinion, at least in my experience. The community generally seems to award karma based on how thoughtful and carefully-constructed your comments are. I have one one occasion been downvoted into oblivion for politely and carefully expressing an opinion that is generally morally unpalatable, but someone came to my defence and I eventually ended up with a small amount of positive karma for the comment.

I think the easiest rule of thumb is to try and be the opposite of cable news. The calmer and more dispassionate your tone, the more detailed and precise you are in your reasoning, the more carefully you reference reliable sources, the better your chances of being strongly upvoted.

There's criticism and there's negativity. You seem to be confusing these two things. You can put your point across without snarky comments like:

"Vertical list of applications??? Microsoft what have you been smoking?"

(As we're quoting rap lyrics today) I think that you'll be doing just fine if you relax a little.

I actually get downvoted for saying blasphemy like this:

"Actually there were no HTML5 stuff shown in the demo, I can code those effects to work with IE6. In fact that demo may even work in IE6 if you would include some hacks."

I mean does this sound mean?

I may be alone in this, but I like expressing my thoughts/feelings, as a matter of fact, most of the time I want to make it really clear that what I say is just my the way I see it.

Do I go a little bit too far with it? Maybe.

I grew up in a blunt, German family. Very straight forward, often crude. I am, as a result, one to speak my mind. Effective criticism is best delivered from a high position: hyperbole and mistakes like "my the way I" debase an otherwise salient point.

A good insult is like a fine, dry wine; it is bitter and refined. You come across in your comment history as a dullard, enamored of his own ability to shout at crowds.

I'm picturing Dwight Schrute as I read this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_Schrute

I'm afraid that I have no understanding of that popular culture reference. Are you calling me a fascist?

Every community values different things. On HN it's insight. If your writing style or attitude obscures such insight, it will be voted the same as if there were no insight at all.

After a quick glance on the OP's comments, I don't think it's that his posts lack content or insight, but rather are expressed in a style and/or tone some find unpleasant.

Do I go a little bit too far with it? Maybe.

Trying to be genuinely helpful:

"Vertical list of applications??? Microsoft what have you been smoking?"

Sounds pretty emotional. Maybe was intended somewhat humorously but humor on the internet (especially in a forum) is tough to pull off. Three question marks expresses strong emotion. Strong emotion is the opposite of critical thinking and logic. Emotion is (in part) actually a form of memory. People with strong feelings are better at making snap judgments. People who lack that have to actively work at making a decision because they don't have some "gut feeling" to go by. When you emote strongly in a public discussion, you actively promote other people not thinking and, instead, just reacting. So there are valid reasons why that is something not very welcome here.

I'm someone who tends to strongly emote and I sometimes make remarks that get downvoted in part because of that. That kind of expression has its place. But it's so socially disruptive that there is good reason to discourage it in a public discussion and even more reason to discourage it in a public discussion where the goal is critical thinking and logical exchange of ideas.

Exactly what additional value is expressed by using three




In other words, say what you will, but don't get carried away.

Is the number of question marks really relevant to the point one is trying to make?

Let me rephrase that. Is the number of question marks really relevant to the point one is trying to make???

edit: Downvoted. I guess I don't have to keep arguing my point. :-)

You want downvoters to explain themselves;

I downvoted you because this makes no sense:

I want to make it really clear that what I say is just my the way I see it.

1) If you are honestly going for clarity, then 90% of the words you use in your comments aren't helping.

2) "It's PG's house. You may not like to wear pants, but if PG feels that people should wear pants when over for dinner, you wear pants"

3) It's just a stupid downvote.

Great comment. In the style of Eminem's Stan.

Based on a cursory look at your comments I would guess the problem is not what you say but how.

I receive a lot of downvotes for "well formed" comments too. The only thing that bothers me is that people downvote them and do not specify the reason, it's like they don't care, they just there to downvote. If I do not include any of my bluntness in a comment it annoys me that people just mark them as bad and don't reply to them.

He's not the only one discontented with the state of the community. It's gotten so bad here that I can't convince half the programmers I know that this place is any better than a cult locked in a warehouse.

Almost no one I know takes anything anybody says here seriously, even if the content stream is marginally better than the alternatives.

The focus has shifted from intelligent and thoughtful writing seeded by your essays, to business-oriented boosterism fed by a provincial navel-gazing audience who fail to censure themselves.

I'm someone who's already had a failed business, and even when my finances were falling apart, I loved the thrill of it.

I love hacker culture and ambitious people. I plan to begin work on another idea soon.

However, the situation here is untenable and the utility I once extracted from being exposed to this community is being destroyed for the sake of a minority's craven ambition and desire to fit in with the shibboleths of those around them. I am not by any means alone. Everyone I know who follows the kind of news and interests that is discussed here has been increasingly disenchanted over the past year with hackernews.

This is not a site or community unto itself, it serves a real purpose for YC and everyone is aware of this. You might call it a garden.

The garden needs pruning.

Actually there was more business-oriented boosterism when we first launched. The site was called "Startup News" initially.

The top stories don't seem visibly worse than they were in the good old days, whenever those were. There are more dumb and/or mean comments than there used to be, but they usually end up at the bottom of the page.

You seem to understand this, but it's hardly that I'm advocating tolerance for dumb/mean commentary, but rather galled by the hostility towards healthy skepticism.

We probably agree more than we don't. I might as well drop this albatross since I don't have any real conclusions to draw or ideas to advocate.

Back to code.

Your comment is frankly a load of crap. (I would be more polite if we were in person, but then I would have been able to interrupt and say, "Oh hang on a minute", when you came out with some rubbish like "the situation here is untenable.")

It's not untenable. If you don't like the community, leave! If you know a lot of people who are disenchanted with hackernews, great! Start something new for you to chat. You could even import the hackernews front page so you have something interesting to chat about.

But for me, this site still by and large works. Yes, there is some useless fanboyism in a few places, but this place is not a cult locked in a warehouse. And you can avoid the worse of it easily enough - just avoid discussion of shibboleth topics where the S/N drops and wait until it's a post on someone's blog instead of techcrunch.

I'm also intrigued - can you link to a discussion where you feel a craven minority destroyed the utility, or is it more of a general feeling, hard to pinpoint and reason about? Can you suggest who needs pruning and how it should be done?

Finally, community is what people put into it. So, what are you putting in Chris? You say you had a failed business. Could you do a post on what went wrong and how it would go better next time? That's the kind of thing that makes hacker news great.

It is untenable, the community will disintegrate if this place keeps getting invaded with marketers and MBAs who've never actually built anything and nobody has any constructive criticism.

I mean really, the instant youtube/$SITE_WITHOUT_AJAX_SEARCH thing is just the beast parodying itself and doing my work for me.

The complete lack of any real sound discussion or criticism regarding the absurd fad is exemplary of what I'm talking about.

If the goal is to gather, educate, and grow people who might build something soon as well as groom a community of hackers, then yes, it is untenable.

To claim otherwise is disingenuous.

I don't give a damn if you're polite. I care if you're correct and have something to contribute.

I could detail and log the ridiculousness, but there's no point. Take a gander through my comments and look at what of it has been downvoted, that'll give you some idea.

Do you want me to register a domain and build a site documenting the circle-jerk conversations here? It's not like anyone would care but me.

I found hacker news amazing and comforting. But if I was not happy here and if I ever found it to be only slighter better than the next alternative I'll just move on.

Really, it's sad to be in a community where you don't actually feel good.

Nothing better out there in terms of news or community that I've found so far. I'm sure I could find nicer people, but it wouldn't be a constructive use of my time.

Dude, it's karma points on HN. A number on a server somewhere that has no bearing whatsoever on your real life. Have some perspective.

I don't know about it not being important, I have made several important connections on HN that I don't think would have happened if I had little to no Karma. I have helped two individuals on here with advice on their start-ups offline from HN, I have worked with another to help him advance himself personally. I have picked up a few freelance gigs on HN. And I have expanded my network.

I feel confidence that if I where in a pinch, I could call on the community to help me find some contract work if need be.

To say that it is just some virtual bits floating around somewhere is to discount the real world connections that this site provides and I think Kara at some level serves as you credibility when making those connections, just like everything else, it is what you make of it.

The constant focus on not being adversarial promotes an environment of collaboration over competition, in which the individual members feel a bond of tribe among one another and therefore look to help one another out. I have to say it is a refreshing break from some of the rudely arrogant attitudes that are tolerated and sometimes promoted on some other sites.

I think the karma is irrelevant, but the lessons aren't. Often the lessons we learn on online forums can carry onto our real lives. Rather get spiteful, rude or angry and be downvoted hard, than lose your job or mess up your relationship.

Many times I've seen someone online be piled-on, and while I've felt sorry for them I've often seen them come back much more respectful.

I don't think its so much the points into themselves, I know an overall count worries me very little. It's the negative feedback you get from having something voted down, which isn't to bad if someone replies and explains why they disagree or why the argument isn't well formed, doesn't add anything ect.

It's when you have a comment the represents your opinion and you think it's well written, but it still has been voted down for unknown reasons with no replies in can play on your mind. It's like your telling someone something, they tell you they disagree and the conversations ends there.

I have to agree with you on this point. I caught myself caring the other day as I picked up a -4 on a comment. Then I had to relax and realize it was just a number. If a bunch of people disagree or think it was trollish then so be it.

I wrote about this on my own blog, and someone from Hacker News came and posted a highly critical comment about me. They concluded:

"The reason you were downvoted and will continue to be downvoted is because you don’t discuss topics with any intellectual integrity."

The comment was interesting since it was such a pure, mirror reflection of what the commenter was doing. For instance, they posted anonymously, whereas I always write using my real name, yet they called me a troll. They also accused me of repeating myself, though they had also repeated themselves many times. You can see the comment here:


As the post indicates, I'm feeling ambivalent about Hacker News right now. Sometimes the conversations are really interesting, but there is also a lot of noise. Sometimes I learn a lot by participating in the conversations, but other times I feel like I'm talking to people who have no interest in understanding what I'm trying to say, and who are willing to use downvoting as a method of shouting me down.

I'm ambivalent. I enjoy this forum, but I'm also thinking I should probably invest my energy elsewhere. I've been reading this site for almost 2 years now, and I've learned a great deal, and every day there are interesting new articles posted. All the same, I get bored with conversations where I think the other person isn't really interested in hearing what I might have to say. And no doubt, vice versa, of course - clearly I upset someone, if they were willing to pursue the conversation to my own blog (where I was writing about Hacker News).

I don't agree with the drive by anonymous poster to your blog, but I do agree with the downvotes you got below http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1821175. (And no, I was not the downvoter.)

The open question was how big of a stick the government should wield, and your response was to implicitly ask whether the other person believed in capitalism, and if not then should we go with communism? This is a straw man comparison. There is a world of difference between saying that the government should punish bad behavior harshly, and saying that the government should have any active role in the day to day management of businesses.

In particular Stiglitz' proposal is that executives who can be shown to have engaged in fraud and theft, be punished for it. He further seems quite unhappy about corporate governance issues that in practice make it very hard for shareholders - the theoretical owners of a company - to have any direct ability to control compensation of CEOs, or to get an accurate picture of what their own company is doing.

The appropriate discussion to have about this is whether Stiglitz' characterization of the behavior is correct. And, if it is, then whether his proscription would be reasonable, and whether or not it would solve more problems than it causes. It is not to accuse someone of not believing that capitalism works.

No where did I bring communism or capitalism into the conversation.

And, mind you, I am not critical of the anonymous poster on my blog - everyone has a right to be critical. But it did make me think twice about whether Hacker News is the right place for me to invest my time.

No where did I bring communism or capitalism into the conversation.

Really? From http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1821175 I find:

Do you feel that economies where the bulk of economic activity is organized via free actors engage in voluntary exchange tend to be more dynamic than economies where the government plays the major role in organizing economic activity?

What are you talking about if not capitalism? Then you go on to say:

If not, on what basis would you justify allowing the existence of non-governmental economic activity?

That sure as heck looks like a reference to something that famously happens in communism.

And both were straw men when referring to the parent comment. Which in effect boiled down to saying that it was possible that it could be easier to discourage gaming the system by providing bigger punishments for bad behavior than it is to do it by providing bigger incentives for not gaming the system.

Which actually seems like a good point to me. Increasing punishment would mean punishing CEOs that all agree have done something wrong, possibly with prison. Providing counter incentives means what? Do we give them more money than they would have made gaming the system as a thank you for not having gamed it? I for one would find that hard to swallow, and I doubt I'm alone!

Returning to the main thread of this conversation, it is up to each of us to decide how to spend our time. If you're not getting value (enjoyment, learning, reputation etc) for energy spent here or anywhere else, you shouldn't do it. If you are, you should continue to do it, and maybe should do it more. I can't make the decision for you. But that anonymous poster struck me as out of line, and doesn't seem to me to be the norm for this community.

But again, I think the anonymous poster was well within their rights. Everyone has a right to complain, and I welcome criticism of any sort. But it does make me re-think where I invest my time.

btilly, nowhere did I bring communism or capitalism into the conversation. It is interesting that you think I did. This is the where so many of these conversations break down: people use these words differently, and so, often a diverse group of people, not understanding each other's vocabulary, will end up talking past one another, each thinking that the other means something else.

You wrote:

"Which in effect boiled down to saying that it was possible that it could be easier to discourage gaming the system by providing bigger punishments for bad behavior than it is to do it by providing bigger incentives for not gaming the system."

Correct, which is I why I suggested that larger fines might be a reasonable option to look at. In the article, Stiglitz' points out that the fines that are now imposed are laughably small compared to the money that some of these people made in the financial deals discussed in the article. To my mind, the next obvious step is to increase the fines, till they offer a reasonable incentive not to engage in a particular activity. As I wrote before "I can think of a lot of incentives that might be put in place to help align the interests of those writing the mortgages and those who are receiving the mortgages". Larger fines for misrepresentation would be the most obvious incentive to try here.

I could go into some detail about the different ways that people have historically used the words "capitalism" and "communism." However, past a certain point, such writing becomes incredibly tedious. Strunk and White, in their book Elements Of Style, compare normal writing to legal writing. No one can write well, they say, who doubts the intelligence of their reader. Good writing depends on assuming good will on the part of ones readers. They contrast that to legal writing. When lawyers draw up a legal document, they assume the document will be read in bad faith. After all, if 2 parties still have good will between them, they rarely need to consult their written agreements. It's when all good will is gone that people pull out the contracts. Therefore legal documents need to be written with great redundancy and verbosity, to try to drive out any ambiguity and to try to cover every edge case.

Not mentioned in Strunk and White is the case where the reader bears no ill will to the writer, but through inexperience with the subject is unable to reach conclusions that the writer regards as obvious. For this latter kind of reader, a simplified kind of writing is sometimes required, and this kind of writing resembles the kind of writing you would do if you were assuming bad faith on the part of the reader - it is a kind of writing that tries to define everything, and drive out ambiguity. I often engage in this kind of writing when I'm trying to explain things to my customers.

This kind of writing can be compared to the kind of software that tries to take into account every edge case. We all know that, for non-trivial software, there is a substantial gap between the effort needed to get the software working for the simplest case, versus the effort needed to ensure that the same software takes into account every edge case that it might face. The first kind of coding tends to be fun, the second kind of coding tends to be tedious.

I'm willing to engage in that latter kind of writing for my job. Should I make that kind of effort on Hacker News? Such writing can be exhausting - it is often a verbose kind of writing, and, above all, it needs to be a very careful kind of writing. There are places where I recognize the importance of making such an effort - at work, and with certain friends when a subject is emotionally charged, and when I've undertaken some substantial responsibility. I find that I'm only able to write like that for maybe 5 or 6 hours a day - it takes too much out of me to focus at that level for much longer than that. Does it make sense for me to invest some of those hours on Hacker News?

To the extent that I can assume I'm being read in good faith, I can write with some shortcuts. That is the way I have conversations with friends. If I can't assume good faith, then I need to engage in much more careful style. As I said, this only seems worth it to me when the stakes are high.

You can, perhaps, understand my ambivalence? On a subject like the one involving the article about Stiglitz, yes, I could spend 2 hours putting together a careful essay explaining my views, how they formed, who I've read and how it influenced my thinking on the subject, and why I think an important aspect of the article is being overlooked. But am I being paid to to spend 2 hours that way? If not, I can probably spend those 2 hours more profitably elsewhere.

Thus, as I said, I'm ambivalent about continuing to participate on Hacker News.

I upvoted this because I think it's an interesting discussion despite the fact that I disagree.

Let me ask you this: Can you think of any online discussion boards with better discussion than HN? The reason I ask is because my its nature I think Internet discourse always devolves into a garbage as a function of community size. Another way of putting it is that you can have a good Internet community as long as it doesn't get too big. In my mind HN is a notable exception in that it is large enough that it should be complete crap, but the core values of the community have held the line longer than could normally be expected.

Even reddit or slashdot, which I would hold up as having quite a few intelligent commenters, still gets drowned out by the in-humour and mindless memetics. So despite being far from perfect, I still consider HN the best discussion on the net.

dasil003, you ask "Can you think of any online discussion boards with better discussion than HN?"

I often have better conversations when I meet up with friends at a coffeeshop. For me, Hacker News is in competition with all the other things I could be doing with my time, rather than merely being in competition with other online discussions. Hacker News may be the best place online for discussing concerns relevant to startups, but it still suffers from many of the problems that all online discussions suffer from, including anonymous posting. For me, the question is whether I should engage in any online conversation that isn't directly related to work. Is it worth the effort? Every minute that I spend discussing issues online is a minute that I'm not doing other things, such as discussing similar issues with close friends of mine in real life, or writing software, or responding to personal email, or exercising, or going to a museum, etc.

How is that response to my question? Obviously HN can not be anything but an online discussion forum, and it can only be judged on those merits. How you choose to spend your time is well beyond the scope of my consideration.

It is possible that the scope of our considerations do not overlap.

Yeah but I upvoted you for the sake of debate. I feel cheated.

dasil003, I think Hacker News is a good online forum for discussing issues that are relevant to startups.

This is one of several diseases in HackerNews.

There's a whole spectrum of ways to disagree, all of which have value in the right situation. Here, a good portion of that spectrum has been lobbed off in the name of niceness and nothing more. Is it worth it? Decide for yourself. I say nay.

Bonus disease: PG worship. Don't get me wrong, he's a brilliant guy; we're all here (directly or indirectly) because of him. But it goes too far.

I'm not sure it's exactly a disease. I'd rather call it a blindspot.

On the topic of "PG worship" I think, yes, perhaps the constant extolment goes a little to far. I think this is a blindspot of HN simply because most of us are pretty polite. One doesn't go into a host's house and take a dump on the floor, if I may. Sometimes I feel it may be rude to criticize Paul in this forum for a similar reason.

FWIW, here's a good example of a smart guy, cperciva, disagreeing with pg in a goodly way:


I feel that mindset runs contrary to the mission of the site itself.

Criticism is not impolite. In fact, it's the direct opposite. Criticism is a show of respect. You criticize someone when you care about them, when you desire their betterment and you respect them enough to be confident that they will not react negatively to the idea that someone else may know better than they do.

I agree -- it just brought a viscerally bad reaction the first time I did it. After reflection, though, I saw nothing wrong. I think that a similar experience may occur with others. It may help if Paul himself said something about this, but I'm not sure it's important enough to merit the attention.

I agree about the PG-worship or whatever you want to call it.

I preferred to absent myself from here for a while after it got real bad (to the point of the first article commonly being a 2-3 year old essay that had bubbled to the top AGAIN), simply because I felt fundamentally outside of the norm here - I rarely agree with anything PG says in its entirety. Paul is a thoughtful enough person that I've never felt that it would upset him if I disagreed here, but I would imagine there would be a lot of people keen to argue with me until I was blue in the face about it.

An opinion is an opinion however, and we're all entitled to our own - I take downvotes not as a personal attack, but simply an expression of disagreement, be it with your opinion OR the way you express it.

I have no opinion on PG-worship one way or the other (probably because I'm new here) but I agree about the general "problem" that involves people who seem to downvote (or even flag) thoughtful comments just because they disagree. Sometimes, they not only downvote a comment they dislike, they apparently go to your profile and downvote everything(!) you wrote recently. Maybe it's a weakness of the implementation, or maybe I just didn't understand the purpose of the moderation system correctly and this is actually the way it is supposed to work?

I tend to upvote anything that seems coherent and interesting, not just the stuff I agree with. If I ever get to the point where I'm allowed to downvote, I'll exercise that privilege only to mod down trolls, spammers, or very bad style. Everything else can much better be handled by replying to an entry and having an actual discussion.

So am I mistaken? What is the mod system for, officially? Quality control or consensus building?

Oh, don't get me wrong, I don't believe stuff should be down-voted just because it doesn't fit into the prevailing opinion, I'm just saying that I don't take it personally when it happens.

Sure it's difficult to take this personally, considering pretty all of us are just semi-anonymous handles on a website and we don't know anything personal about our fellow users to begin with. I believe the perception that there is a problem here really comes from two sources: first, you almost never know why you are suddenly and utterly modded into a black hole. Second, there is this creeping suspicion that the actual purpose of the mod system is either not well defined enough or not properly agreed upon in the community.

This leads to cases where coherent and interesting comments are sometimes -4, which is exactly the rating that should be reserved for porn, spam and really gross trolling. At the same time, some users achieve consistently high ratings for comments that seem to be lacking in content, leading me as a new user to suspect that the system is either rigged in some way or at least very susceptible to ridiculous pile-on effects.

The good news is though that this doesn't happen often enough to be a serious problem (yet?).

This is fascinating, because there was a post a little while back proposing the opposite effect, titled "the default position of HN is skepticism". Here it is:


My observation over a couple of years is that HN is consistently - sometimes boringly - critical. The top comment often is in disagreement with the submission, sometimes focusing on an incidental point, and it can seem that people actually compete to criticise on HN.

Since this is HN, you might consider reading pg's essay how to disagree, and apply it to your comments before adding them: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html Note that articulate, dispassionate criticism is one of the most difficult skills to master - so don't be discouraged if it takes a while to make progress. It's a valuable skill, and well worth the effort.

tl;dr HN upvotes intellectual disagreement.

Intellectual disagreements are usually more interesting than agreements, particularly when the original article is well written and doesn't require commentators to fill in the gaps.

There is a bit of a bad psychological effect on HNers: don't say things that might get people angry/to disagree, or your Karma goes down. But there is also a good psychological effect as well: don't say stupid things (like "LOL, wut?"), or you'll get down-voted.

Either way you look at it, there's a bit of good and bad in HN.

Well I did not expect so many responses. Thanks everyone for both the positive and negative comments, I have read all of them and I will keep them in mind.

BTW: It's not the Karma points that bothered me, it's the grayish color that some of my comments got and that some downvoters just downvote and don't respond.

OK, I bit and looked at your comments. You did grab some upvotes when it was snarky-but-clever, or simultaneously raised a good question. Most other comments are not getting upvotes due to unfiltered venting. Maybe apply a filter. A lot of knee-jerk anti-MS in there. I have similar gut reactions to the keywords MS and Ballmer but I noticed a long time ago that many people (even tech professionals!) did not relate (what are they smoking!?). Maybe try some other topics that allow you to share more concrete knowledge with HN readers.

Some things you could do to make your critical comments more valuable to the community:

1. Avoid unnecessary profanity.

2. Avoid ridicule and sarcasm, especially when directed at other HNers.

3. Avoid complaining about "trolls" downvoting you. In fact, avoid discussing karma in general.

4. Avoid using emotionally laden terms of disapproval. Instead use direct objective language ("There were rendering artifacts in the rotation effects") or clearly state the subjective aspects of what you are discussing ("Something about the rotation effects rubs me the wrong way.")

5. Be concise and relatively formal in your language.

To me it seems that HN has mostly been about content and thoughtful presentation. Not all of my comments are always happy unicorn rainbows, but if I'm presenting an alternative or unpopular opinion I (try) to at least explain my reasoning and logic.

Lame jabs, cheap shots, bad jokes, and vapid comments DO seem to get rightly pounded down.

Consider your question here

> Is HN only about saying nice things about everything?

This implies fault lies with HN. You make the assumption that you are right (despite your PS).

A better question is:

> I'd like to contribute; can anyone offer advice to improve my comments?

Humility, and no assumption.

Again, here:

> I don't know maybe it's me, maybe I have too radical opinions on stuff.

Again, this is conceited. It's not your 'radicalism.' It's your ego talking.

> I am not saying neither that I'm always right nor that I never deserved the downvote.

But your entire comment suggested that you weren't in the wrong.

> I may be alone in this, but I like expressing my thoughts/feelings, as a matter of fact, most of the time I want to make it really clear that what I say is just my the way I see it.

No, you aren't. You aren't "alone" in this. Rather, your ability to communicate effectively is lacking. Indeed, it's very egotistical. You're focused completely on "your opinion" and frankly, your opinion holds no value.

In all your comments, I see you place a lot of value on your opinion. Your opinion can't be wrong, and it's yours, and you'll share it. But who are you that we should care about your opinion?

This doesn't mean you can't offer opinion. It's just that you need to qualify you opinion with reasoning. You can't just state an opinion and expect everyone to see the wisdom.

Listen, you seem like your interested in providing value here. Disagree with whatever you want. But don't just disagree, explain why you disagree. With examples is best!

Be specific.

Do more than ask pointless questions (especially questions that are answered). Anyone can ask questions.

> Vertical list of applications??? Microsoft what have you been smoking?

Provides no value.

> Vertical list of applications? I'm not sure this will grow well. As users add applications, it will make for a lot of scrolling.

Goes further and provides actual meaning. People might still disagree, but now you've explained your opinion.

You've generated discussion.

Hopefully all of this (thread) helps! =)

Ok, you have a point, the thing that has annoyed me is that I got downvoted for comments that are not "ego talking".

If I write something like "<something> is a load of crap in my opinion" I don't mind getting downvoted, but a lof of times I get downvoted even when I am strict and technical, and again this won't bother me if people would supply a response.

Having a "well formed" comment simply downvoted is equal to simply replying that "Your comment is so crap that it's not even worth my time to explain why.".

> You've generated discussion.

Yes it seems that there is a way to do this properly, as I wrote I still get downvoted, even when I'm polite, but it looks like the bright people greatly outnumber the others here in HN.

Keep in mind that it takes just one or two person to downvote you while there might be 400 or more readers who had nothing to complain about your comment. So it may not be as bad as it looks. Especially if the downvotes are because you just used three ??? Or !!11! Instead of one.

If it's frequent then there might be indeed a problem. Think about and try to understand what PG observed about your comments.

I also often get downvoted. Think of it as just a tool helping to sort comments, not to judge you. I benefit from it too to read the "best" comments first. But when i'm really interrested in the topic i read all comments, even if they are downvoted. I also sometime upvote downvoted comment when I think it was abusive because I know how it feels.

I decided to look through your comment history to see what postings you've been downvoted for. There's a decently common theme. Usually they have flippant remarks and/or curse words.

"Microsoft what have you been smoking?"; "You are so fuckin wrong"; "OMG so much stupidity."; "Windows Phone 7 is a really good vapor-ware. And ridiculous patents + broken patent system are the key to success" (when Windows Phone 7 had already shipped to OEMs); "I guess if they get killed, they had it coming."; "(YAWN) You could have written that code in most languages with most databases years ago!"

We're looking for a level of respect that isn't shown by those phrases. The Hacker News Guidelines (http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) are a good place to start:

* Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation.

It's common to bash people on the internet, but we tend not to like that here. We do disagree here. Recently there was a large thread on Ubercab and whether their service is so ethical and responsible. Lots of people with lots of differing viewpoints were upvoted. They raised issues (rather than just being blindly for or against someone). It was enlightening to see the nuance and insight that lots of different people brought to the discussion and how complex the issue was. You can disagree without attacking a person.

* When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. "That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

Comments that include things like "OMG so much stupidity" just make people feel attacked and defensive. The statement doesn't add to the discussion and just makes things more combative. It's as if you're trying to discourage people from disagreeing with you because you'll call them stupid if they do. "I think this is important to consider"; "OMG, you're just so stupid". It isn't helpful. Plus, there are plenty of places on the internet if your interest is flamewars.

* Resist complaining about being downmodded. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.

Example thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1829049 - the open source campfire submission. People thrashed the UI in this thread but for the best part weren't negative or offensive.

People on HN are happy to pull something apart if it's incorrect, they just do it in an even tempered manner.

Additionally: This isn't reddit or slashdot, a lot of people here are looking to gain funding or contacts, therefore HN has much lower anonymity. Therefore more likely to be civil and appropriate.

Seems to me a fair number of your non-positive comments have been upvoted. If you dropped a lot, it could be from the / any -4 troll-claiming. Points only display to -4, but they can go much lower.

But yes. Critical comments: frequently upvoted. Non-critical, negative comments: essentially worthless for the sake of discussion, and are frequently downvoted here. Not many other places online, but I think it's part of why the community is in general so much more useful and mature than many others.

I think there's a difference between saying nice things about everything and being polite and constructive in your criticism.

Everyone can be a dick, sometimes. Heck, I'm probably a dick the majority of the time, but I decided a while back to be nicer to people on the Internet. That's part of the reason I upvote people who prove me wrong and thank them for it. If my horizons are expanded, or my assumptions challenged here and they stand on their own two feet then great. If not, then even better - I'm less wrong, so to speak.

The thing about this community is that brings together people like Zed Shaw and Seth Godin, two people I regard as polar opposites, each with their own focus. The people on the Seth side of the fence will be perhaps more likely to be turned off by the Zed Shaws of the world, as is vice versa.

Challenging them is fine and should be encouraged. Giving them grief, less so.

Usually when I read a techcrunch article posted here, I feel as though I die a little inside. Still, people like Gabriel, Patrick, Colin and even Thomas stand out to me as guys that I enjoy reading.

When criticising, it might help to consider the following:

* What does my comment add to the discussion?

* Can my comment be interpreted in a way other than how I intended it? (In which case a rewrite may be in order)

* How will other readers perceive what I write? (as an extension of the last one).

You get out what you put in. If you want to criticise, fine. But please do so in a constructive manner.

Any HN'ers got any more ideas for constructive criticism?

100+ user doesn't like he can simply downvote you irresponsibly

I personally, think the downvote activation should be a combination of length of membership and karma. It does seem that as of late, there has been an increase in "I don't agree with you, so down you go".

I am with you on this one, there is a specific subject I talk about a lot on here "JavaScript based UI's", I have been doing web development since about the day after TBL released Mosaic (That is not an exaggeration) and it is my opinion that the web was broken shortly after we moved from CGI post to server side web frameworks that introduces state.

I think the JavaScript UI's and REST bring web apps back into the original architecture of the web and that they bring us back to the architecture that was started so long ago.

Anyway, I am getting off on a tangent. There are a good deal of developers who disagree with this, some instead of forming a rebuttal use the down arrow as their rebuttal.

For me personally I see it, when used in that context, as a "I don't have a strong rebuttal, so I will try to make you post go away" line of reasoning. I had one guy get so annoyed at me, that he went in and bombed me on any post that he and I did not have an exchange on (you can not down vote if you reply to a post).

To me those kinds of actions are site killers, fortunately for HN, it has not reached a critical mass, and it still has a good deal of intellectuals looking for good conversation. I have just chalked it up to, oh well you take you licks. At the point that all of my post get downvoted then I will know that I have been voted off the island, and that it is time for me to leave, which is fine as the community will not be representative of the people I am looking to interact with. As of yet that is not the case, so I just go with the flow.

I just took a glance at my recent comments. Most of them are nominally negative (by about 2:1). Most of them have several upvotes, none of them appear to be downvoted.

People on HN enjoy criticism just fine, but they don't particularly enjoy standing next to a spigot of feces. The problem is that vitriol and excessive emotion skews debate. It makes the debate about the emotion itself, rather than about the issue at hand. When people get into a shouting match their brains shut down and people stop arguing rationally (the fight-or-flight response kicks in, blood starts being withdrawn from the extremities and some of the higher brain-function areas, the reptile brain starts taking over, and it becomes much more difficult to admit being wrong or that the other person might be right). This sort of thing is not helpful if the goal is productive rational debate.

You, sir, have ruined my dinner with your "spigot of feces" imagery. Upvoting since I need drop a few pounds.

As annoyed as I get when I receive downvotes, I think for the most part looking back, the comments were either divisive (and hence got some heated disagreement-based downvotes) or probably justified as downvote-worthy.

For the most part the moderation system works. But it forces you to think very hard about how valuable your comment is.

No, but you do have to say things nicely.

What does this mean?

Good attempt at spelling and punctuation. Don't curse too much, don't use excessive punctuation, proofread. Reread your post objectively and ask yourself 'am I trolling'. Attempt to make an argument supported by facts and intelligent reasoning.

Don't bother complaining about karma when someone down votes you for posting an unpopular opinion or being wrong. You posted an unpopular opinion or didn't check your facts thoroughly enough, what did you expect? With that 1 karma and a cup of coffee, you can sell the cup of coffee for a dollar.

Also, check your facts and post relevant links.

(So pretty much pretend like you are a hybrid of on a date, writing a term paper, and applying for a job, rather than posting on an internet forum.

Everyone posts a clunker once in a while, but try not to get too worked up about it. After all, this is entertainment, not serious business.

I've found the contrary. On Reddit, the hivemind is ever present. On HN, generally it's far less prevalent... though it could just be confirmation bias.

Just like Reddit, downvotes should be cast on comments/submissions that don't add anything as opposed to providing an unpopular opinion.

It doesn't matter what system you use, it will have good points and bad points. Ultimately, people issues aren't resolved by a better voting system or some such. They are resolved by fostering the right culture, which is somewhat independent of the system.

You can say quite negative stuff, but it is much harder to get away with trolling outright.

My diatribe against django: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1490415

Me telling some digg engineer that the plan to switch to cassandra was retarded, way back in '09: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=813967

Calling the content of a submitted article 'crap': http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=772693

I guess I might get away with negativity without being modded into oblivion, my secret is that my posts have some sort of information content.

<blockquote>it's just that the system discourages you to have your own opinion on anything</blockquote>

Please continue to bring your own opinion's to us, for the benefit of all.

Opinion's are cool, but intelligent ideas and lessons-learned are better.

There is definitely style of negative comment that attracts downvotes on HN. If you care about karma, it is usually easy to avoid as many comments in this thread point out.

Unfortunately there is always a temptation with karma systems to use them for "social proof". Social proof is implemented by downvoting opinions you disagree with and vice versa. The only ego-preserving way of dealing with this is to view your minority opinions as "ahead of your time" and resolve to politely keep up the thought leadership.

EDIT: I bit and looked at your comments. Suggestions on the thought leadership appear in another message.

Not for nothing, but nearly all of the comments I looked at on your first 2 pages are pretty negative. Not that negativity is always necessarily a bad thing (ironically), but really man, why so angry?

For any recent applicants to YC, how much does your expectation of contributing to the forum affect the comments and tenor of your posting?

If I were to answer my own question, I would say that I probably focus more energy than I should on sounding more insightful than I normally am and I get frustrated with a lot of the inane types of discussions such as: "What does it mean to be a successful tycoon who conquers the world and what's wrong with people who aren't successful tycoons who take over the world?"

I don't know about HN being only a place to say nice things, but I do wish people would explain their downvotes.

If people knew what was wrong with what they were saying, then they wouldn't say it.

It's very annoying that 100+ karma users could act as really good trolls, they could just go around and downvote everybody without ever loosing karma, but costing the commenter karma.

Really good trolls? does getting downvoted really get you all that riled up? As far as I can tell, once you are over 100 and can downvote, getting more carma does not alter your user experience.

I'd suggest you grow a thicker skin, especially if you want to say mean things on the internet.

If you are getting downvoted continuesly, why don't you take it as a sign you are indeed say something wrong?

from your comments:

"I found the UI unappealing and the heavy use of rotation effects amateurish."

edit: that is mean, although because it was about Microsoft/Windows Phone 7 as a whole, there is almost zero direct effect on the people who worked on it, and therefore may reduce it's meaness factor by 0.001%, but amateurish and unnapealing? come on, that reveals negative energy.

It's not that it's mean, it's that it's content-free. If I wrote "I think the Windows Phone 7 UI looks cool and the rotation effects are awesome" then I hope you would downvote it, because that is a trashy comment. (The real comment in question had 4 more lines, but they were all equally vapid.)

You have a specific comment about some identifiable aspect of the rotation effects? OK. You have evidence that the new wave of Zune-ish Windows UI style is not popular? Neat. You want to compare some design decisions between the WP7 UI and the iPhone or Android UIs? Sure, go for it. But if you have nothing to say, why say it?

How is that a trashy comment? You're affirming that they did something right which is a plus. Not everyone has the means to fully explain why they like or dislike something. Sometimes its just a gut feeling. Or sometimes it doesn't need an explanation.

If it were in response to a person on HN (or a Microsoft employee!) who was looking for feedback, I might agree with you. There's a place for simple praise. But what's the use of affirming your love for the new huge product of a big corporation somewhere?

Anyone can say whether they like or dislike something, and if that's an acceptable contribution in itself, everyone will. Welcome to Gizmodo and Engadget. The end result is that more substantiative comments and comments from actual experts are covered in goop.

I agree. But, the vaqueness is what elivates it to mean status. It contributed zero to the understanding of his claims, therefore leaving the negative energy stand out.

Also, that type of comment you refer to, gets usually downvoted on HN.

That's mean? That seems like very cutting criticism. I've gotten much worse from my old Creative Director. I would prefer people to speak their mind (especially on my own work) instead of sugar-coating.

Just because someone is used to a condition, that doesn't make it the standard. I really can't imagine someone saying that to someone who would have asked for feedback.

I'll admit that more elaboration upon 'amateurish' and 'unappealing' would be more helpful, but it isn't uncommon to hear those words in a design review at school, at an internal meeting at the company or at a meeting with a client.

And those type of harsh reviews tend to be quite standard... at least in New York. Watch the doc: September Issue. That type of tough critique results in amazing work.

You could also decide you're going to say what you think on the topics where you feel you have something of value to add, say it as best you can, and not worry about the karma.

I'm not being snarky. It's a perfectly legitimate way to operate if you're clear that being able to dictate your own header color isn't why you're here. It's OK to opt out of the parts of the system that are not working for you.

I mostly agree.

I think we need to accept some false positives [such as foul language] in order to preserve a reasonable level of freedom of speech on HN.

Here I mean freedom of speech in the weak form, ie. that you stop posting something you truly believe, because of fear it will attract down-votes.

Useful ideas/opinions that occur in the long tail may offend some people - but I think HN is too uniform and PC without them.

People use foul language all the time, and get upoted: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1636262

Nah, you can say all the bad things you want. They just have to be about Microsoft, government, or intellectual property.

Seriously though, nobody likes a negative Nancy. From looking at your comments it isn't that they aren't positive, it's that they are just ranting.

I am constantly negative and I have 22,000 karma points. It must be something else.

critics is easy. seriously. give me any topic and i will explain you why its shitty. seriously i can do that, and not just me.

constructive critics is very hard. By cc i mean comments that will not make feel poster like complete idiot, but rather gently stimulate him to rethink something about his idea, and went away with feeling of appreciation of your insightful efforts to help him.

one of my teachers told me: its easy to punch your opponent in the face. its much harder to kindly explain him why is he wrong in his intents, so that after that conversation he would ask you to become his sensei.

I received 3 downvotes for a link to XKCD suggesting that readers lack a sense of humour. No one felt like leaving a comment stating why they downvoted.

I think it suggests readers don't want HN to be a place where links to cartoons and lolcats are overvalued. Perhaps they go too far in the other direction.

If readers in general don't want that, I should really have gotten many more downvotes. 3 downvotes suggests that a few people just didn't like my comment while everyone else was indifferent.

Good way to get KARMA points Mr. DjDarkman, before this discussion his KARMA was ~20-30, now 74 elevated by 55 points. Nice way to get KARMA points :).

Entrepreneurs have to be optimistic and positive or else they wouldn't even try. HN is a place for entrepreneurs, voilà.

I don't think it would be a good sign either if you never get downvoted. And who cares about karma, I mean, really?

Take it as a life-lesson. People are more responsive to criticism and opposing opinions when it's expressed in a positive way, even if the core of the message is the same. While it's more satisfying to make clever remarks (believe me, I know), I've literally learned via HN how to craft negative statements in a positive way to get people to listen to me, and I'm sure you can learn the same.

(See what I did there?)

Judging by every article about Facebook recently, I disagree with you.

I write negative comments all the time and they seem to do fine.

There is no cost in a system that has no meaningful value.

I'm sure you will get maximum up votes for this post. :)

I agree with what you're saying, and it's been severe enough that I've taken to either not bothering to comment, or simply deleting my comment because HN had apparently deemed it that bereft of value.

The circle-jerk behavior is what is damaging the credibility of the startup scene and it's making it harder for me to convince my fellow programmers that it's the place to be.

I don't think just low karma users are guilty of down-voting in inappropriate situations. I had a discussion with Justin Kan awhile back and he was demonstrating the viewpoint that you're finding problematic.

I second that! HN has become a bit of a echo chamber; more or less as a direct result of the decision to have down-vote privileges scale with the number of HN commenters, thus disproportionally weighting down-votes in the direction of those who have been properly cloned. Although, I must say, the echo chamber effect is not as bad here as it is on (for example) the Derek Sivers blog [[ http://sivers.org/blog ]].

I downvote people that I disagree with. It's never because it's too honest or too negative or too rude, I don't care about that. I downvote if I think it's wrong or misinformed.

This applies to nearly every one of your comments on Microsoft.

That sir, I believe, is the incorrect way to do it. I may believe in capitalism, and I may believe that communism is wrong and someone who supports it is misinformed. But that should not mean that I downvote all comments extolling the merits of communism. I try to keep in mind that what the commentor wrote is his/her opinion and if that comment is well-written and adds value to the discussion, it should be upvoted and encouraged.

Long story short, comments that add value, contribute positively to discussion and are insightful need to be encouraged. My stand on the topic should have no bearing.

Too many people downvote people that they disagree with which is the downfall of a karma based system. What if you disagree, but they are right? Why do you dislike the fact that someone may have an opinion that differs from yours?

Downvoting people you disagree with implies that you are always right. I bow down to your perfection.

You forgot to read the part where he mentioned downvoting because the information was wrong or misinformed. The same way I'll get downvoted if I furiously debated that an apple's color is always blue.

No, because he THOUGHT it was wrong or misinformed. Large difference between something being wrong and him thinking it is wrong -- unless he is always right.

If something is factually correct, and he disagrees with it and thinks it is wrong, it gets a downvote. I was actually more amused that he got upvotes as it sort of reinforces the point I was trying to make.

By his logic, if we disagree with his point, we should downvote him, whether his opinion has merit or not.

Yes, you simpering vole.

y'know a few downvotes are not the end of the world either. The most downvotes I've ever seen anyone get never exceeds 4. I've seen hundreds of upvotes for some submissions. So if you're worried about the karma, just post something interesting. Guaranteed you'll get your karma back AND still have the freedom to criticize something if you feel the need.

That's because the publicly displayed score for any comment bottoms out at -4 in order to prevent a "dogpile" effect. Every downvote still deducts karma, though it may not be publicized in the comment's score.

Makes me wonder what the effect would be of doing the same sort of thing for upvotes.

I am fully aware of that fact. Thanks anyway.

The site wont display downvotes in excess of 4. That way, no comments are publicly downvoted into oblivion, but they do continue to lose karma.

I support this thread completely.

I don't wanna read your posts no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!

Would you prefer that?

Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!

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