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I've often thought of it. The reason I had downvotes originally was to deter people from saying things that were mean or stupid. But maybe the right way to deal with that is a separate mechanism from voting, as it is with stories. Maybe the right combo for comments is an uparrow, plus a flag link, and encourage users to flag comments that are mean or stupid.

I'll think about the real solution more after I'm done reading applications, but I'll increase the downvote threshold to 500 now.

We had a saying in physics: "there are no stupid questions, (only stupid people)". We encouraged people to ask stupid questions, because (a) quite often that's the only way you learn, (b) it encourages shy people to speak up, and, (c) sometimes a stupid question isn't stupid at all, and leads to a deeper insight.

I'm a little disappointed that HN isn't like this. Most of the time I have a "stupid question", but I don't comment due to the HN's disapproval of stupid comments. I self-censor to the extreme with HN, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Maybe I'm in a minority here, but I'd like to see mean comments flagged/deaded. And stupid comments filtered to the bottom (but not otherwise punished).

"Stupid" comments are one thing, "stupid" questions are another. With "stupid" questions you at least demonstrate a willingness to learn and not just spew political talking points, biases, etc.

I self-censor because of this and think we shouldn't mind. I end up writing comments I don't submit, but I consider the exercise worthwhile because forcing myself to write my thoughts out and then judging whether they're truly helpful/insightful teaches me what knowledge gaps I need to fill eventually and where I'm just falling back on preconceived notions/biases to form my opinions.

So if you think you'll be down-voted ask yourself why. If you don't know why, then re-formulate your post as question to understand others' reasoning.

On second thoughts, I have to agree with you re the differences between "stupid" comments and "stupid" questions. Good point.

Can you clarify the kinds of self-censoring you're doing?

Some of it is really a very good thing -- namely, "am I asking a question that would be trivial for me to answer for myself?"

There are plenty of "stupid" questions that are important to ask of yourself (and are part of the learning process for all of us) but need not clutter up a good discussion.

If everyone self-censors by asking "will this increase the value of this discussion for other readers?", I think that's a good thing.

I think you're talking about self-censoring based on "will this comment reveal my ignorance and harm my karma?", which isn't the same thing. A question or two along the lines of "I don't know much about this, but it's interesting and seemingly not well-covered online -- does anyone want to give a quick high-level explanation?" are normally welcomed.

Be polite, be on topic, don't ask something that's trivial to answer for yourself, and consider the value of the question to other readers... and you don't have to be already a wizard on the given topic to discuss it.

I think self censoring is largely a positive - it means people will actually take the time to think through their post, rather than just responding emotively. Whilst I'm sure there are times that valuable comments are lost because people are too cautious, I think the overall effect on signal-to-noise ratio is hugely, hugely beneficial.

But "in physics" sounds like a university class where people are paying money to learn.

Is Hacker News about teaching people things? Or does it have some other goal?

Agreed. Punishing people who make stupid comments seems like it causes resentment and anger and thus more stupid comments.

I wonder if there a parallel with the whole punishment vs rehabilitation aspect of the justice systems. In essence, a justice system is a social tool to cause people to act a certain way. Some techniques are better than others.

I think the problem lies in that the downvote has two distinct purposes:

1) People down vote to express disagreement. 2) People down vote to eliminate value-less comments.

There needs to be a separate function for each of these. Perhaps the current down arrow for disagreement and some sort of irrelevance flag which wouldn't impact karma, but would still make the comment fade or eventually disappear.

I typically approach down or upvotes to my comments as (dis)agreement.

What is important to me is furthering the discussion if someone downvotes me for disagreement.

Requiring a dissenting opinion with a disagreement downvote would not only satisfy my wanting to hear the objections to my comments, but it would also require the downvoter to have a good dissenting opinion (lest his post be flagged as valueless/irrelevant).

Requiring a dissenting reply with a downvote is for my own personal reasons, but I do think there needs to be a distinction between disagreement downvotes and irrelevance/valueless downvotes.

I've had my comments republished in your monthly but I rarely comment on HN anymore due to the negativity. Case in point:


We've gained a few trolls but I don't think we've suffered from evaporative cooling yet so it's not too late. I support removing down voting and switching to flagging specific offenses e.g. spam|offensive|troll to start.

Alternatively [just a crazy thought] how about we open up and show what each user has down voted. Perhaps as a courtesy we could only show down-votes starting Halloween 2010.

It looks like that was a case of piling on. There may be stuff I can do to mitigate that specifically. BTW, it's not our monthly; Hacker Monthly is someone else's project.

> ...but I don't think we've suffered from evaporative cooling yet...

If we assume that a user's total score is a good indicator of their value to the community, then the HN leaderboard would agree with you.

I'm not so sure, though. IIRC, pg has mentioned in the past that he spends less time here now, and I rarely see anything from Reddit's founding user group. Another HN user that I've been following for a while -- DaniFong -- who's doing some pretty interesting stuff and has a tendency to post fairly intelligent comments, has had a really obvious decline in activity here.

Although I've been a part of this problem as often as not, I've also found that the discourse here isn't worth participating in any more.

But, maybe there are alternative explanations for all of that.

I think of downvotes as the gong on the gong show. One can follow all the established rules of politeness and still negatively affect the atmosphere of the site. The downvote is crucial for dealing with bores, stupid people and obnoxious comments which fit into the discussion guidelines, but are still obvious trolls.

I'm relatively new to this community, but I've thought for a while that the problem with any points-based system is the inherent competitive nature. One of the interesting things I've learned in improv classes is the "Yes, and..." structure that performers use to build on each others performances to create something bigger and better.[1] Structurally this may be as simple as implementing a mandatory "Yes, and..." string to the beginning of each comment. Maybe it is only displayed as the user is writing comments, but it could be a simple, effective nudge to be more constructive used in conjunction with the existing points system.


Yes, and what should we do if someone posts something that is not constructive or that cannot otherwise be built upon?

You're right, this is strictly an attempt at prevention, not a cure. But it might be interesting to attack a problem like this on multiple fronts. Right now, however, most of the focus seems to be on the "cure" side of things.

What I'm curious about is what sort of data is available on these negative comments. If we were to identify (and agree) on a large enough sample population (n>30, probably) can we start seeing any trends in terms of downvotes, account age, posting frequency, etc? Do any of those correlate with a sample population of comments we identify as positive?

Other half-formed ideas I have that may be interesting: - mandatory cooling off period (one to two weeks) before account activation - analyzing downvotes by user and, once a threshold has been reached, putting them in a "time out." - being able to block certain users from appearing in stories once you've logged in

I'm an advocate of mean answers, if they're well-placed. I've seen them work at kuro5hin.org; they're 'area effect' weapons against stupid posts (by example), stronger than just a downvote. The truth is, as a site grows, you really only want a subset of the readership posting, and you want the rest to think twice before doing it (that sounds bad, but if you want read-quality and not write-quantity, you've got to do something to make people pay attention). Now kuro5hin.org is pretty much dead, but I don't think that was the cause.

The trick is that we don't actually want to shame and anger people posting comments that don't fit into the HN ethos; we just want them to improve their comments, or wander off elsewhere without feeling too bad about it.

If someone has good ideas but is used to discussions on wilder forums, we want to educate them in a respectful way. If someone really doesn't belong here, we don't want to get their attention; we want to make HN as boring as possible to them, so they go away instead of posting a self-righteous rebuttal or seek vengeance in some way.

On the subject of respectful education... it might be helpful to have some built-in explanatory text shown next to downvoted posts shown only to the author, with the standard reasons for HN downvoting, and suitable responses for downvotes that seem unjustified.

Here is an idea: Instead of deleting "down vote", instead, add "yay!" and "boo!" links.

A user can see the "yay!" and "boo!" scores of any recent post or comment.

"Yay!" and "boo!" scores do not effect karma or otherwise effect HN privileges.

(The idea is to allow the exchange of "push a button" feedback that, in some sense, doesn't count. Up/down votes can still work as always.)

To be honest, since opinions with which I disagree often seem stupid, I see downvoting when there is disagreement as a natural reaction to a certain extent.

Philosophically, downvoting should impact the karma of the downvoter.

I propose: a "mean/troll" flag button in addition to the regular voting buttons for each comment. In addition, we need a mean/troll loserboard.

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