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Most of What We Read on the Internet is Written by Insane People (reddit.com)
718 points by unquote on Jan 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 309 comments

Most of the comments here are either elaborating on the OP, or justify lurking. I am a mostly-lurker myself, but I felt the need to comment here, since I was hoping to see the discussion go into a different direction.

The OP uses the word "insane", not outlier. It's clickbaity, and used in jest, but I think it better captures a subtlety of this phenomenon: The prolific commenters are molding every discussion in their image. They might have an interesting angle on the story, or they might just be saying trivial things with beautiful prose. In any case, there is a lack of diversity in general -- discussions are driven by the worldview of a few.

That would be an argument for lurkers to make an effort, even if, like this comment, it's just a barely-formed idea.

Edit: "molding the discussion" -> "molding every discussion"

A related phenomenon I've been thinking about is the impact of traditional entertainment media (TV, Movies and Music) and the inherent bias in the sample of worldviews that the people who work in those businesses espouse.

In other words, we only hear and watch stories from those people who chose storytelling as their career, and if you assume we are inevitably influenced by their views then we're effectively taking advice from them. This means entertainment shapes the viewer-listener's interpretation of reality to better fit the model of reality to which storytellers subscribe, but I'm pretty sure that's not a desirable outcome in the long run.

In a recent interview, Michelle Obama said we only ever tell young people about the good parts of marriage. We hardly ever explain to them that it has its ups and downs, that it isn't "broken" if suddenly the lust isn't there like it was in the beginning. She presented the argument in a much more cogent manner, but in any case, if you believe her to be right, then this seems like a specific (important!) example of this broader trend.

There are countless others out there who go on to live perfectly happy lives with perhaps much more useful advice to us, and who would arguably be a better influence overall – you just don't hear about them.

In other words, we only hear and watch stories from those people who chose storytelling as their career

There has been a transition from culture being produced by members of one's community/village/family to culture being produced by professionals for money.

Stories and songs of the past were just as unbalanced and insane as stories and songs of the present. (Both in terms of being fantastical and showing only one side of complex emotional situations.) People grounded in the reality of making living things grow, keeping animals alive, and fixing their own houses and equipment most often understood those stories for what they were. What magic such people believed in was often closely tied to feelings of belonging and community. Gatherings of people often have such magic feelings, but this is quite a real phenomena of human social organization.

Now, there is less of such intense community, and we are bombarded by more commercially produced culture than we could possibly consume, made by people who often live lives of exaggerated imbalance, enabled by what our ancestors would have considered the phenomenal wealth of modern resources. What's more, so much of what we're given as non-fiction also fits into this model by varying degrees.

When Rome's military went from citizen soldiers to full time specialist professionals, the misalignment of incentives between the specialists and the citizens was the subtle, long term root of many problems. I think there is such a misalignment with how human civilizations in general produce culture.

I think this phenomenon may be a "Great Filter" answer to the Fermi paradox. We might not only be swallowed up by Virtual Reality, but also by the purely mental constructs of our own fantastical narratives, as we abandon more and more of the creature connections with nature which keep us grounded in reality.

(Plato. Cave. Shadows.)

>culture being produced by professionals for money. //

There are a couple of other steps beyond the actors/producers usually, particularly for mass media -- there are the owners, or funders who ultimately choose what becomes mainstream; and there's the use of psychological manipulation (advertising, marketing) to direct them to "want" (or accept) what is offered.

There has to be accounting for vagaries and fashions of the time but with those constraints those deciding the parameters for which productions are funded wield immense power.

>There has been a transition from culture being produced by members of one's community/village/family to culture being produced by professionals for money.

I have certainly seen this shift in culture creation to professionals within Christian communities in the US. The modern megachurches (2000+ attendees) are rather different culturally from the small community churches of the past (~150-200 members). The shift has coincided with increased political polarization (e.g., Jerry Falwell and his relatively early megachurch) and personal isolation.

I'm kind of confused here- you mentioned Plato, but wasn't Plato a professional culture generator?

The reference is to Plato's allegory of the cave. Prisoners are chained so they are facing the back wall of a cave. Puppeteers project a play of shadows onto this wall and the prisoners, knowing no better, take this show for reality, when in fact, reality lies outside the cave. The OP was comparing the shadow-players to the professional cultural generators.


Interesting. A 400 BC version of the Matrix!

Thanks for that.

I'm kind of confused here- you mentioned Plato, but wasn't Plato a professional culture generator?

Note, I didn't say that everything professional culture generators produced was fundamentally wrong and poisonous and would instantly result in your mental and spiritual death.

> I think there is such a misalignment with how human civilizations in general produce culture.

Perhaps this is why poets are to be banished in The Republic.

> In a recent interview, Michelle Obama said...

I always wondered why USA places so much focus on the Presidents wife? I'm not an American but I know more American leaders wives than I know spouses for all other country leaders together... Isn't that insane? I've never heard anyone talk about spouses of leaders in other countries. Do you know who Merkels husband is? Did you ever hear about David Cameron's wife?

So who is pushing that story? Why is Michelle still in the spotlight? Why was she ever in the spotlight? Why does anyone cares what she thinks?

The first lady is expected to pursue social projects in the US and serve an almost head of state like position.

Those who actively pursue the role do a good job of staying in the limelight. For example, Michelle spearheaded a number of projects like her shift to require more nutritional school lunches.

It's an interesting position, and I wonder how things will be for the first first husband, if it happens and it's not Bill.

That’s a really interesting point. It does seem that we’ve (the US) got a long tradition of the First Lady (and First Gentleman once the time comes) taking a big role in politics.

At the risk of sounding ignorant, do most other countries require their president-equivalent to live in a government building? If not, perhaps that’s a contributing factor?

In Brazil, there is an official residence for the Pres. and their family, but they could choose to live in some other official building. Pres. Collor (1991--1992) lived in "Casa da Dinda", instead if "Palacio da Alvorada".

You could say the same about many people in positions of influence -- sometimes they just kind of luck into it. It's like asking why anyone cares what the queen of England thinks -- because she has power and influence. Some first ladies choose to do more with that platform than others though...

She's in the spotlight because she's an amazingly accomplished person. A 54-year-old black woman from the South Side of Chicago who went to Princeton despite her high-school career advice telling her "she wasn't really Princeton material".

It also helps that she wrote a #1 NY Times best-seller that everyone is talking about[0]. Maybe if you read it you will understand what makes her so special.



> She's in the spotlight because she's an amazingly accomplished person.

I refuse to believe that you honestly believe that.

54-year-old black women from the South Side of Chicago who go to Princeton occasionally get an interview in a local magazine and enjoy fifteen minutes of something that if you squint might pass for fame. If they fight a high-profile court case, they may get a two-paragraph Wikipedia article without a photo. To go further they need to become federal judges, or achieve a comparably prestigious position.

Women who marry a President of the United States automatically get on the cover of national magazines and have their Wikipedia page protected from non-logged in editors. If they're accomplished and eloquent as well, sure, that's a bonus.

Little unfair. She married a lawyer/community organizer who ran for congressman (lost) then Senate then President over 20 years.

She was almost as much part of the Obama presidential image as her husband.

That ain’t peanuts.

> > She's in the spotlight because she's an amazingly accomplished person.

> I refuse to believe that you honestly believe that.

I'm offering one explanation for why she is more in the spotlight than the wives of foreign presidents. I didn't say being married to Obama wasn't a factor in her popularity. Read again.

I don't understand, what makes her more inspiring than these women?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursula_Burns https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Brewer

Sorry, but can you quote where I ranked her above any other black woman?

I guess not.

I have heard Ursula Burns speak, and she wasn't inspiring. Although I was doubtless biased by her disengagement from the part of the company I belonged to.

It certainly feels plausible and yet we have that issue. All our media tells us we should all carry guns and shoot people and yet gun violence is down.


We have some of the sexyist media around telling us we should all be sleeping around and yet apparently sex is down too.


Are we sure it's any different for other topics?

Also, as for media and marriage I feel like more media is about bad marriages than good ones. A common theme might be falling in love and getting married but a movie about people already married seems rarely about things going well. Or maybe I just have a selective memory.

> apparently sex is down too.

There are lot of confounding variables, though. Sex could be down because both men and women have to join the workforce, people live with {their parents for longer, with roommates} because rent is expensive, technology lets parents keep tabs on kids better, etc.

EDIT (to reflect your edit, I believe):

> Also, as for media and marriage I feel like more media is about bad marriages than good ones.

I think that's exactly her point. We only ever talk about "falling in love" and "break up". How many songs can you think of that talk about a resilient relationship? Better yet, how many songs can you think of that talk about a relationship in the past tense and say it was great?

I was thinking about this yesterday. An interesting project would be to filter every top 100 song in the past century for love songs, then look at how many stories are predominantly in the past vs. future tense, and then how many of those say good vs. bad things about the other person in the relationship. My hypothesis is there's most forward-looking of those songs talk about the wonders of love, and the past-looking songs talk about how shitty the relationship was and how they're glad it's over.

Extra credits for whoever buckets the data by decade to see if the trend has shifted.

> My hypothesis is there's most forward-looking of those songs talk about the wonders of love, and the past-looking songs talk about how shitty the relationship was and how they're glad it's over.

Really? I'd guess that most past-looking songs take a more mournful angle than an angry one (especially in the past century, what with the various wars), although that could just have to do with my sampling bias.

Media is dominated by news, and news is unavoidably carrying a bias. The things that matter are long term and commonplace, the news is novel and unusual. Major long term trends are not something that gets reported on because they’re not news. What gets reported are outliers and contrarian views.

That’s why if you want to be informed about the world you shouldn’t watch the news and just read books.

>That’s why if you want to be informed about the world you shouldn’t watch the news and just read books...


This is the thing though, books are media too.

Also published for clickbait-y reasons.

It sounds like everyone's out suggesting methods for people to avoid using their critical thinking skills. There's no way around it, if you consume media, ANY media, you have to consume it with an almost deeply skeptical eye nowadays. It's just the world we live in, everything from music to books, and from video games to news paper articles, is riddled with bias. Using your head in such an environment is unavoidable, assuming you wish to take wise and measured actions based on the state of the world around you. If wisdom is the goal, reading books, or watching Al Jazeera is just no substitute for exercising your brain cells.

The suggestion to read books doesn't sound to me like suggesting people avoid critical thinking; quite the opposite.

"Riddled with bias" doesn't make sense to me. Any book - one about maths, as much as one about the world - is written from a point of view. This is the "bias" that phrases like "riddled with bias" seem to suggest can - and should be - completely eradicated. But the decision what to include in a book, what to exclude, for example, is a personal one. (It's why committees have a bad name.) All we know of the world is how it appears to 'biased' individuals. There's no eliminating the human factor, and the desire to do so seems to me futile and misconceived.

"...every mind has a new compass, a new north, a new direction of its own, differencing its genius and aim from every other mind; as every man, with whatever family resemblances, has a new countenance, new manner, new voice, new thoughts, and new character. Whilst he shares with all mankind the gift of reason, and the moral sentiment, there is a teaching for him from within, which is leading him in a new path, and, the more it is trusted, separates and signalizes him, while it makes him more important and necessary to society. We call this specialty the bias of each individual. And none of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone. ...A point of education that I can never too much insist upon is this tenet, that every individual man has a bias which he must obey, and that it is only as he feels and obeys this that he rightly develops and attains his legitimate power in the world. It is his magnetic needle, which points always in one direction to his proper path, with more or less variation from any other man’s. He is never happy nor strong until he finds it, keeps it; learns to be at home with himself; learns to watch the delicate hints and insights that come to him, and to have the entire assurance of his own mind. And in this self-respect, or hearkening to the privatest oracle, he consults his ease, I may say, or need never be at a loss. In morals this is conscience; in intellect, genius; in practice, talent; not to imitate or surpass a particular man in his way, but to bring out your own new way; to each his own method, style, wit, eloquence." - Emerson, Greatness

A nice saying that sums up what you're saying more clearly: Dog bites a man is not news. Man bites a dog is news. Rely on the news for information and suddenly there seems to a rampant culture of men biting dogs! Is YOUR pet safe!?

> All our media tells us we should all carry guns and shoot people

This has not been my observation, at all.

Sperm count in men is declining as well.

This applies to news as well, and in this form is more dangerous. There's almost always a story behind a story -- someone with an agenda who pitches a reporter on publishing their narrative

So the news you read isn't necessarily the most accurate take (you could argue it's almost never the most accurate take), and there is often a tremendous amount of bias that most people never know exists. A disproportionate number of stories come from a small but motivated group with an agenda. Those with no agenda don't care as much about getting their perspectives distributed

This isn't a novel observation, but i still think most people take news at face value more often than they should.

I think it's also a good example of why it's important to make your voice heard, even if it's as simple as commenting on Reddit / HN. Having informed public discussions requires that informed but disinterested (i.e. unbiased) parties make their voices heard.

> In other words, we only hear and watch stories from those people who chose storytelling as their career, and if you assume we are inevitably influenced by their views then we're effectively taking advice from them. This means entertainment shapes the viewer-listener's interpretation of reality to better fit the model of reality to which storytellers subscribe, but I'm pretty sure that's not a desirable outcome in the long run.

This thought often crosses my mind in particular when I consume media that is more 'psychological' in nature. Much of the time I can't shake the feeling that no matter how convincing the characters and their 'inner life' is presented, we're still ultimately seeing a projection of the writer themselves.

Sometimes I notice how certain characters seem richer than others, and usually these characters are obviously closer to the writer's own life. Perhaps this is why slice-of-life shows seem to do well (Atlanta, Better Things, Louie), because they're just the writers writing about themselves.

Or when I read a Dostoevski novel, I can't help but wonder how much of these character's inner lives are really just thinly-veiled versions of Dostoevski's (and, considering my love for his novels, probably my thoughts are 'compatible' with his).

What makes all this worse or more complicated though is that especially for television as a media, there are all sorts of pretty serious constraints. A show needs cliffhangers, ideally every episode, and at least every season, and unless you're on Netflix, you need mini-cliffhangers before every ad block. I imagine that's got to have some significant effect on the story.

I rather like this article by David Foster Wallace that sort-of goes into all of this: https://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf (E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction).

This is why I constantly work to become a better storyteller, both for personal and professional reasons. You must promulgate the narrative surrounding yourself and your work or someone else will.

Humans absolutely require a narrative surrounding anything with which they consider themselves associated with. It’s vastly superior to that being one provided by you versus one invented for use by those who know you.

I've been thinking about this as well — especially in regards to the excessive amount of grim, cynical, and depressing content across many modern streaming services as well as general media. I'm not sure if I've lost my taste for it or if there's a trend here. Either way I've seen it as a prevalent theme of storytelling currently. I wonder if storytellers are molding to fit their audience or the other way around...

Compare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Defence_of_Poetry ("poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world").

> A related phenomenon I've been thinking about is the impact of traditional entertainment media (TV, Movies and Music) and the inherent bias in the sample of worldviews that the people who work in those businesses espouse.

Agree, to the extent that we consume that media for purposes other than entertainment. I would argue that most of what entertains us is created by "insane" people, and that's ok. Same about art.

I've always wondered in the back of my mind how judges and elected officials are influenced by movies and television.

Try not to think about how much tax money the military spends to ensure that it is portrayed in a very specific manner in mass media such as television, movies, and sporting events.


This parallels civic/political engagement in real life.

It's tough to get lurkers (like me) to speak up and shift the discussion when the emotional cost of doing so - arguing, being downvoted, getting defensive, being ridiculed - seems to make the effort simply not worthwhile for the individual. Not only on the web, but also in the office, at Thanksgiving dinner, at a cookout, etc.

This is also a reason why sometimes, while it might seem pointless, engaging in a discussion with someone you know won't change their point of view, can still be worthwhile. Because there's probably a huge number of lurkers who might either end up agreeing with you, or at least be deterred from simply agreeing with the person you're arguing with.

> "It's tough to get lurkers (like me) to speak up and shift the discussion when the emotional cost of doing so..."

the 98% works in that case too: there are many people who might benefit from your comments but don't interact in any way, so you sometimes may deem the costs worth it (like now).

> This parallels civic/political engagement in real life.

Indeed it does. And the "insane" label to the engaged is even more apt there.

This reminds me of when I attempt to send a Snopes link to someone who just forwarded me a chain email. They don't thank you, you get silence or worse.

Yeah, people don't like being corrected when they are wrong. I've bumped into that a lot when discussing things on social media. I find that if you can manage to spare someone's ego when correcting them, it helps a lot. Rather than sending a link and saying something like "You're wrong!" If I can give them the opportunity to decide for themselves that they are wrong, by saying something like "Are you sure about that, this guy is saying something different," I often get a better response.

There's a rabbinical art to being tactful that unfortunately eludes me. The effort is usually wasted on internet discussions.

In more controlled, personal settings my favorite response along that vein is "what factors did you consider that led to your conclusion?" It's a less offensive, more roundabout way of telling someone that their assertion is questionable that also betrays their thought process.

Silence from people who forward chain mails seems desireable.

> The prolific commenters are molding the discussion in their image. ... In any case, there is a lack of diversity in general -- discussions are driven by the worldview of a few.

The most interesting point to me in TFA was the 99.8 - 0.2 - 0.0003 rate of lurkers, commenters, and prolific commenters. It's the 0.0003% who obsessively comment (or edit or play games or whatever) all day on anything and everything that I don't understand. I actually think 'insane' is not an unfair commentary on their behavior. They very often drown out the 0.2% who participate but not obsessively, and are often rewarded with special recognition and even 'untouchable' status on various sites.

> that I don't understand.

One of the examples in the post, Ninja, reportedly earns $500,000 per month for that twelve hours a day of streaming. So.

>The prolific commenters are molding every discussion in their image.

This is actually why disinformation works so well. Many people are consumers. A handful of people create content. Everyone has an expected behavior in a rather fragile system. If an organized group comes in and acts in a way that is outside of the system norms, they can very much control the dialog.

I did a project on this during my Masters. [1] Reddit has an option to display your upvotes and downvotes publicly. About 2% of users have this option enabled. I scraped a random sample that I found from the torrent of all Reddit posts and comments. I looked at pairs from that set that shared common votes and the highest pair was from /r/the_donald. This behavior is what allowed it dominate the front page for so long. When most users are just voting on 1 or 2 things per page, and someone else comes along and votes for every post they see, it can greatly affect what is displayed.

When you have a small set of people controlling a conversation, they can manipulate what a huge number of people consume. Social media is an incredibly effective propaganda machine!

1. https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/82ylpv/_/d...

You're right about the title. We've put the insane people back up there.

It still amazes me how deeply titles shape discussion. Most of what you read on the internet is by insane people reacting to titles.

That has always been the case with humanity in general. Think of book authors, there are few of them, but they've been influencing our thinking for hundreds of years. The problem now is, the barrier for entry has become incredibly low (although, this would have been true when the printing press was invented too).

I stopped using reddit because of this. I've no idea about the credibility of the authors, their intentions and their motivation. When I'm listening to someone's opinion, I'd like to know more about them, so I can decide for myself how seriously to take it.

> When I'm listening to someone's opinion, I'd like to know more about them, so I can decide for myself how seriously to take it.

This outlook is alien to me. I'm quite the opposite; I'm happy reading and judging anonymous comments purely on the strength of the argument being made there and then (although I don't ignore the background and history of a commenter when that is available to me).

Not attacking your point of view; just very interesting to see an approach described so different to mine.

I'm the same, although I have noticed the same usernames on comments here and there on hn - but not on reddit.

I only look through the post history of someone if I feel they have a particularly interesting outlook, or if they're batshit crazy and I'm a bit bored.

Another possibility is that diversity is simply represented by extremes; that individuals sitting on the polar sides of issues are shaping the conversation. In other words, it's the boring, moderate, stable, center who remains silent.

That's probably true, but it might be the end result of a vicious cycle: you don't engage, you don't sharpen the skills required for it, you fall into the easy role.

But when you fall in the middle there is less of a need to comment

this argument does resonate.

i started getting downvoted a lot. since then, i've become much more of a lurker and have remained logged-out.

to me it's obvious, and necessarily the case, that the conversation happening is not representative of my views because i'm not sharing them. it's not worth it to me to contribute to the conversation, and get embroiled in an accidental dispute.

my views are my own, and i don't need to spend a lot of time sharing them at other people in order to live a satisfied life.

the internet, like the real world before it, is not my own space... and to the extent that i exist in it, i'm happier going my own way and not encountering lame-o jerks.

I've gone from being an admin and owner of popular forums back in the early 2000's to just a lurker who 98% of the time will write a response but just delete it before it's posted because I don't need or want the hassle of an internet argument. I'm proud of even posting this. Maybe this is my one post for 2019. :)

I also have 100,000 posts scattered about forums from the early 2000's, but very few (less than 1,000) since after 2010. The trend towards downvote groupthink is not an insignificant part of the reason I've dropped content generation.

Thanks for sharing this. It's an interesting trend that I was not aware of (but maybe intuited?). It does seem that, while on the one hand, upvotes are necessary for ranking crowdsourced content on HN and reddit, on the other hand, the voting on comments is responsible for the groupthink/hivemind/echo chamber that develops.

In terms of fostering discussion, the comment voting is a silent killer.

In my experience, the worst aspect of current boards are the lifetime of threads. If you post a comment to a thread, and come back to the page couple hours later, the thread is no longer available anywhere; now you have to create the additional loop of going through your user account, locate each comment, and check whether anyone replied to it. I'd rather save myself the hassle and just shut up for the most part. And even if I do bother to find particular comment, seek out replies, and respond to them, they will go unnoticed if it's not done immediately, because it also requires the other users to go through these additional steps too. It's just impossible to write comments that have more than a couple of hours gap between responses.

Non English forums tend to be much more diverse in my experience simply by having a smaller audience. You can argue with ignorant Joe on a small forum since there only a handful of people are active at any time and everybody knows everybody else, but you can't argue with the seemingly infinite stream of ignorant people on a larger forum like the main subreddits.

I agree with this. I suspect that any community with “downvoting” or similar would skew more forward outliers, because the prevailing group-think will downvote contrary content and getting downvoted stings, scaring off many who might otherwise add diverse perspectives.

But even without voting mechanisms, nasty replies are just as bad or worse, so the general trend of chasing off the people who see things a little differently seems pretty universal to me.

I walked around the problem of replies(on Reddit/HN) by never looking at them. I have a red envelope of 150 or so now.

Every once in a while I imagine something anxiety inducing about them, or catch a glimpse(and more often than not a positive one) in the automatic reply emails Reddit likes to send me. Sometimes I will look back at the thread, if I really want to know.

But I don't use these platforms to converse, even though I will happily make a reply to an existing thread. They are both too fast and too slow to be conversational. I use comment threads as a writing prompt instead, and by ignoring external feedback I don't experience pain from them, even though some of the time this might result in someone asking me something and never hearing a reply. If my idea is good, someone copies it and I see it in a later thread.

also, the 0.002% don't represent all of the outlier positions, and even less so, all of the interesting ones.

some people (1) have a compulsion to speak, (2) don't feel as much cost from (online) admonishment, and (3) have enough wherewithal to experiment with ideas and presentational approaches. (i'm sure there are other qualities, but these are some).

on another tangent, social cohesion requires that a certain number of people incur the social costs of calling out bad behavior. that seemingly tends to be power law too, since the number of people who don't mind the social costs are quite low. even many law enforcement officers (whose very job it is) care a lot about what other people think and won't always act against self interests when necessary.

> The OP uses the word "insane", not outlier. It's clickbaity, and used in jest, but I think it better captures a subtlety of this phenomenon: The prolific commenters are molding every discussion in their image.

The author's definition of insane is stuff such as having read a lot of books, posting a high mumber of edits in wikipedia, or streaming videogaming for a profit.

That's not clickbaity. It's simply wrong.

Focusing on the most arguable assertion, the wikipedia user who has on average an edit per 4 minutes for pretty much the last decade. Based on my personal experience, it's very easy to reach that sort of rate due to wikipedia's auto-edit features, as it only takes a single click on a link to submit an edit.

For example, you can revert a vandalism submission by clicking the revert link, you can mark an article as stub by clicking on a link, you can add a post to a category by clicking on a link... You can even post a warning on a user page by clicking on a link. Each of these actions count as an edit.

This means that if you happen to stumble on a user who posted a joke on a set of articles, in the half minute it takes to revert all vandalism submissions and warn the user to not repeat that you will contribute tens of edits, which can give you easily a rate of 100 edits per minute.

Does that count as insane?

It is clickbaity. It is also wrong, indeed. But it's used here in the same way a person would say to a friend "You're insane!", when hearing of that person's unusual feat (like making 10000 wikipedia edits in the last month).

I cannot really see anything that wrong with this. I mean most (=all) never post anything on Stackoverflow although on some occasions I strongly encouraged people to do so because they'd otherwise run into problems - sometimes I even posted questions for other people.

The point is: the hurdle to contribute or even create is quite high, no matter if it's on the internet or in the "real world".

Stackoverflow is not a magic community, they have guidelines otherwise their content won't work so well. Same goes for Wikipedia. As a matter of fact, either you know how these sites work and what is expected or your content gets downvoted and eventually removed. Even HN works like this.

So yes, then there is a small percentage of users that took the hurdle to internalize how things work. It's much easier actually when you do it regularly. In fact I used to be Wikipedia contributor but I gave it up because it's time consuming and frustrating. If you're not a frequent user, you can correct orthographic errors, anything else is pointless unless you're a writing genius/journalist.

Nobody ever complains how insane they are working 10+ hours a day for an unstable job and oftentimes bad salary.

You are in the demographic you're talking about. You've posted 5 comments in the past 31 days and more than that the month prior. Yours was the top comment when I looked at the thread and you are therefore driving this discussion with your own worldview of the few.

Me too, I suppose.

I don’t know if these people are really “outliers”. Many thought that an extreme outlier would not “win” the 2016 election, but it turned out there were 62 million who supported and loved his extreme outlierism.

Or rather 62 million preferred him enough to the alternative to vote for him in the national election. Among that 62 million were probably very many genuine supporters, but I think that a lot of them chose to read what they wanted into his rhetoric. So it's a bit more nuanced than that.

On the other hand part of the reason he seemed like such an outlier might be because the consensus he seemed to deviate from was itself driven by outliers.

I'd say this shows how much of an effect 'outliers' can have. I'm not generally a proponent of the 'great man/woman' perspective on history, but I do think that the 'right' outlier at the 'right' time can have a huge effect simply because a large number of people can be affected significantly if they're compatible with this outlier, whether this outlier is out to run a cult/new religion, conquer the world, maintain some paradigm in whatever field they're kings of, and so on.

I think this is less because most of us are 'sheeple' and more to do with how we have some (huge) low-level bugs that can be exploited in particular configurations. We care, but our heuristics can steer us wrong. Marketing/PR/propaganda as a way to exploit these things, and the scientific study of these things really kind of scare the crap out of me when it comes to my hope for the future of humanity.

> a lack of diversity in general -- discussions are driven by the worldview of a few

Are you saying that internet commenters have a monolith "worldview" that could be referred to as "the worldview of a few"? I'm not saying you're saying this, but that's what I read.

> Are you saying that internet commenters have a monolith "worldview"

No. I'm saying that each person has a worldview, which is the aggregate of their life experience. If a small set of people drive most discussions, then the discussions are (mostly) a reflection of their perspective only. Maybe these perspectives are diverse enough, but it's hard to know.

You make a good point. Perhaps, going forward, putting a (reasonable) word in and encouraging others who do the same should part of our civic responsibility, just like voting and paying taxes have been.

> That would be an argument for lurkers to make an effort, even if, like this comment, it's just a barely-formed idea.

The content is there, by lesser known figures and lurkers alike. It’s just hard to discover. You need to stumble upon it by accident, instead of by a deliberate process like consuming the top upvoted posts.

That's a good point. It could be that since we don't know how to scale curation (and use upvotes as a proxy), we exacerbate the problem of lurkers not having their (few) comments discovered.

As a counter-example, I find the "editor's picks" comments on some New York Times articles to be high quality and quite diverse. But that model, of course, doesn't scale.

Then people talk about inequality. Even in free thing like Reddit only 1% people create value because they get high from it.

Inequality comes from nature, wether it's wealth or contribution on Reddit like sites.

Small pox came from nature too. But it's effectively gone. So is the Dodo bird, etc..

Yes. Most of the content you watch on TV was written and acted by outliers. The products you use and consume were crafted, marketed and even distributed by outliers.

First, when zoomed out, outliers in all possible tasks become more common — internet commenting is just a subset for silly folks like me.

Secondly, the emergent human social fabric is built to recognize and amplify outspoken and / or talented outliers, via mechanisms whereby others who {agree, can find utility, can profit} are incentivized to act as amplifiers. The cost function to repeat a message drops precipitously every time it’s repeated (influences status quo). I’m not sure it’s particularly surprising that internet social forums behave by the same rules — and are even optimized to replicate them mechanistically (upvotes).

I mean... not be dismissive, I guess it does strike me as particularly neat that the internet provides a medium for these people to productively share insight and identify new niches where they can potentially add value to the rest of the world. Where would we on HN be without, say, patio11? :)

The difference between outlier actors and outlier Wikipedia editors are that outlier actors are better than everyone else at acting, but outlier Wikipedia editors need only be superhumanly obsessive. It used to be that the way in which you were an outlier had to be somewhat related to being good at the task you were competing for the honor of completing, but on social networks the only qualification is that you spend all day doing it.

>but outlier Wikipedia editors need only be superhumanly obsessive.

Yup. The way the internet works is it privileges the perspectives and opinions of people who have an abundance of time to spend on the internet (either because their jobs are online or because they just have a lot of free time). So you wind up seeing the perspectives of bored office workers overrepresented and manual laborers underrepresented, you see a lot from students but not as much from working parents, etc.

This might be why online discourse is especially toxic around any subject that actually has to overlap with people out in the real world: The people least in touch with it are best positioned to dominate the conversation. And any system that relies on majoritarianism to do curation just amplifies these defects. One of the problems with this has been that it's actually impossible to get a real understanding of what motivates people who disagree with you. Even if you go looking, all you will ever find are the worst representatives of that worldview.

It's definitely true of subjects like politics, but it's also kind of true about things like dating or relationship advice or even restaurant reviews. Even job advice can be spotty. The conversation is always amplifying the voices of people who have strong, poorly thought out opinions. And in cases like politics people aren't even really interested in discussion. John Scalzi characterizes it as "gamified rhetoric" (https://twitter.com/scalzi/status/1025372965754621953) where the whole rhetorical strategy is to frustrate and exhaust you by nitpicking everything you say. The goal isn't to clarify, synthesize, or understand so much as to "disqualify" you and your perspective from consideration.

80% of US workers are in the service sector, 12.6% in manufacturing, 1.5% in agriculture. 60% spend the entire workday sitting.

The notion that manufacturing workers are the real America and desk jobs are held by privileged outliers may have been true at one time, but today it is a myth. The right model for “average working stiff” today works in a hospital, restaurant, or government office building.

Stats per BLS: https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/employment-by-major-industry-...

Desk jobs are common. Jobs that let someone spend much time editing Wikipedia are not.

I got bored one day and decided to spend an evening going through a full discourse with somebody who was using the gamified rhetoric, essentially making a counter point and dropping a link with a "study" that had a title and synopsis which sounded like it backed up his claim.

I sat down and read every...single...link.

What I discovered was that not only had he clearly not read anything he'd posted but that what is allowed to pass for a publishable study is borderline laughable.

After going through it and then realizing that several "prominent voices" on my assorted feeds use the exact same approach, it became apparent that these folks only goal was to keep a conversation thread going in order to amplify the headline reach of a post. Slightly more sophisticated spamming essentially. The only solution was to realize what was happening and refuse to engage.

Now the only conversations I'll have about topics online are a) off of Facebook and b) logical conversations that can be had without link bombing.

The more conversations I've been involved in, the more I've realized that if it seems like what's being said doesn't add up...there's usually a reason.

> And any system that relies on majoritarianism to do curation just amplifies these defects.

This is such an important point it needs to be repeated.

I don't think there is as much of a difference as you're saying.

I agree most actors we see on TV and movies are outliers (even within the total population of actors). I don't agree they are consequently better than most other people at acting. I think they're marginally better, somewhat practiced, but really "into it" as a career.

Likewise, I think you're underestimating how "good" someone is at a thing if they do it all day. It is difficult to not become good at an activity - for some subset of what that activity entails - if you do it all day long. I think most actors are good at some subset of acting and most Wikipedia editors are good at some subset of editing.

If you dribble a basketball all day long for five years you'll become remarkable at the narrow skill of dribbling unless you deliberately try not to. You probably won't get significantly better at the broader activity of basketball, but dribbling will become like walking for you. In the same way, I don't think there is a large difference in the way actors and Wikipedia editors become good at their activities. They just spend a lot of time in a particular niche.

regarding actors, I actually disagree. Sometimes I will watch a movie made with second rate actors and they tend to be so much worse than first rate actors at acting, that often those movies are unwatchable.

>regarding actors, I actually disagree. Sometimes I will watch a movie made with second rate actors and they tend to be so much worse than first rate actors at acting, that often those movies are unwatchable.

Part of this is also just the options that first-rate actors open up for you as a writer or director that less capable ones cannot. If you think of the performer's talent as kind of a box that you can fit your narrative and emotional depth in, you just wouldn't try to ship something unless you have a box big enough to hold it.

If you have someone like Anthony Hopkins or Ian McKellan on hand you can give them long, baroque speeches and they will nail it. With a less capable actor you would be forced to keep it simpler because most of that stuff might sound corny as hell in less capable hands.

I suspect that with acting:

1. Luck does indeed play at big role in getting a break, the right roles, the right director, etc. A lot of people who could have become big stars don't. People know this and leap from there to the whole thing being pretty random.

2. It's often not obvious what makes a great actor that much greater than someone who is not quite so great. Film probably accentuates the differences. But even with mid- to top-level professional theater, the whole cast is probably pretty solid, but the stars really shine in hard to put your finger on it ways. In more "normal" professional roles, it's usually a lot easier to peg why someone is just better than someone else.

Precisely. Those actors are still outliers, just as almost all reddit commenters are outliers. Outliers aren't defined by being good at their activity, they're defined by doing it sufficiently more than the rest of the population. That's why I said there isn't much of a difference between Wikipedia editors and actors as concerns their relative skill over the total population.

I found myself instantly agreeing with your sentiment and then failing to explain it to myself. I think the problem is that being good at something is not related to that "good" as an outcome and appreciated by others as such.

Let me try to explain with a bit of an overstatement: Most TV is crap, but year after year they keep making it. People making it cannot be good at it? Well actually they are. They found the sweet-spot by maximizing the profit in terms of eyeball captured they will make from the least amount of effort. That is success.

Now-a-day successful politicians are far better at making people vote for them than actually realizing the platform they are elected on. They are literally good at the game of democracy, but don't know what to do with the spoils. The difference between those two seems to be "fake-news".

Lets assume that the prolific reviewer on Amazon is completely legit. He is obviously good in the sense of efficient at reading and writing reviews. That we do not see the "good" in an outcome of having so many reviews written by the same person does not make his activity less good as an activity.

Typically, it is considered a bad thing when success comes by exploiting the system instead of achieving the goals of the system. Politicians who are experts at nothing but gathering votes are a failure of the system when they do occur, because the government has a purpose. Another example would be corporate executives that don't know anything about running a business, but are experts are accumulating status. The "degenerate best reviewer" would be a bot that posts the letter "a" at absolute maximum speed.

You have to be obsessive but you also have to produce content that is useful to the community at some level, otherwise other superhumanly obsessive people will reject your edits and IP ban you.

On reddit you can submit posts all day but you only see the light if others upvote you.

In short I think you have to be both obsessive and skilled, which is something like the real world.

It's a problem for Wikipedia which says a central principle is that it's the enclyclopedia anyone can edit.

That's clearly not true with Wikipedia's hostile to new users policies (even with the existance of "don't bite the newbies").

Even creating a username means you have to navigate the username policy, and the two admin boards (one RFC, one noticeboard) for usernames. There are two templates for usernames (and templating new users is pretty hostile). And until very recently the noticeboard had two different sections, a holding pen and the main board. (They've got rid of the holding pen).

Username creation is less hostile right now that it was a few years ago, but that can change at any moment if someone choses to trawl the new username lists.

> It's a problem for Wikipedia which says a central principle is that it's the enclyclopedia anyone can edit.

Anyone can edit it, but only those with enough obsessession can meaningfully make a change (beyond fixing typos and such) that will persist. That was my impression anyway, after spending a bit of time trying to contribute and it seems to be very much inline with the message in the OP.

I don’t bother anymore.

The username policy is quite simple. A username:

1. Must represent a single person, not a company, organization, website, band, partnership, or other group of people

2. Must not be deceptive or impersonate someone else

3. Must not be unreasonably long

4. Must not be inflammatory or imply that you intend to troll

If you create an account that doesn't meet this policy, an administrator will prevent you from editing until you choose a new username, and you can continue afterward.


You're absolutely right in that Wikipedia needs to improve its user experience to ensure that new editors know what the rules are before they accidentally violate them.

> an administrator will prevent you from editing until you choose a new username, and you can continue afterward.

No, an admin may instantly block you permanently, or may temporarily block you until you change your name, or may temporarily block you while they discuss it with you, or may not block you but apply one of two templates, or add your name to a username for discussion board where you'll have to try to justify your name.

EDIT: Reads some stuff about his company. He knows that information is factually incorrect. It's not harmful to his company, but it is misleading to people reading Wikipedia. He signs up for an account.

If he signs up a "xargleblarg" he's fine, he can edit the article.

If he choses to be open and honest and he signs up as "Bob from BobCo" he faces instant blocks across multiple policies (COI, Spam, spam username), even if those policies are being incorrectly applied.

> Reads some stuff about his company. He knows that information is factually incorrect. It's not harmful to his company, but it is misleading to people reading Wikipedia. He signs up for an account.

The only interactions I had with Wikipedia are reading articles. Even I know it is frowned upon to edit your own articles.

So simple it's presented on a page with dozens of subsections. It should present a simple version like your 5 points and link to the longer version for the few outlier cases or rejections.

It's repeated for every single policy page - they are enormously long and complex for every single topic. There is nothing remotely like a friendly beginners guide to helping - be that fixing some poor language, or correcting a mistake. You have to plough through the meta Wikipedia policy encyclopedia and figure out what's relevant or not the hard way.

On my experience many moons ago, Wikipedia was one of the most hostile sites I've ever encountered for new users. I dread to think how a subject expert who isn't also an IT expert finds it.

Reading through that page, it feels like a case of the core rules being really simple, but a lot of ink being spent being very particular about defining the edge.

The first paragraph is:

> This page in a nutshell: When choosing an account name, do not choose names which may be offensive, misleading, disruptive, or promotional. In general, one username should represent one person.

Seems fine to have the sussinct description at the top followed by details on the same page. If there really are lots of people that have issues picking a username (these policies seem petty typical so I’d expect most users to be fine) then a link from the create account page would be a good idea.

I don't seem to have been clear enough: it's not just the policy, but the ways in which the policy is applied.

For a few years the new username lists were trawled by vandal patrols and there was a lot of biting of newbies -- so much that "don't bite the newbies" had to be added to the policy pages.

For example: the section on "confusing usernames". This was added to avoid people suggesting they were a bot account if they weren't a bot account, or were an admin if they weren't an admin, or to prevent impersonation.

So, if you register as "kjwenflkjclnaksdnalmsd" that's confusing, but it's not against the policy. Except a lot of people reporting usernames hadn't bothered to read the policy, and so they were just reporting names like that as confusing. For sometime people using their real names in a non-latin script were being blocked because their name was "confusing". This again led to changes in policy.

What WP really needs to do (and what they've actually done) is have a bot that checks usernames and places them on a list with descriptions of the problems, and warnings about why it might not be a problem. (There are differences between "WhitePower88" and "MartyJenkins88") -- and then have people checking the list.

On their own these might all be simple and reasonable, where the problems start is when entrenched people try to "weaponize" these rules for the purpose of waging drama wars to keep any newcomers from becoming relevant in the community, at that point it becomes an issue of personal interpretation which usually isn't all that objective.

That's the way democrat-ish institutions work.

You know why the political process is so opaque? Fundamentally, it's because the people who are there making stuff happen had the time and inclination to be there. They stuffed envelopes, went to events and ate lots of rubber chicken, and did stupid nonsense to be a councilman or chief of staff or whatever.

The same thing happens in these scenarios, but with different types of "toil" to gain acceptance.

Really? Is that one of the main problems with wikipedia? Even in the top 20?!

Biting newbies is one of the main problems for Wikipedia, and the hostile way the username policy is applied is one example of biting newbies.

And it's really inconsistant: depending who's looking at the name the new user may get instantly blocked permanently; may have to go through RFC/usernames, may have to discuss with admins on usernames for admin attention or on ANI, may have to discuss with admins on their userpage, may have to discuss with non-admins on their userpage.

The jargon doesn't help newbies either. Newbies (and HN readers, for that matter) can't be expected to know what "RFC" or "ANI" means.

> First, when zoomed out, outliers in all possible tasks become more common

Sure, but we should consider which outliers most internet discussions end up encouraging. They're going to encourage people with fewer family/community/social/hobby/work obligations, because the more of those obligations one has the less time one has for online discussions. It's going to encourage people who spend less time writing their comments, because if you're spending 15-45 minutes making sure your comment is of high enough quality you're simply not going to be able to make many comments. If you spend a few seconds/a few minutes writing one, you can make a lot. It's going to encourage comments when people are outside of their own areas of expertise or when they don't have much to say (because you're not going to be seeing all the people who refrained from commenting).

You mentioned voting, but the same issue applies. Someone who has fewer time obligations is going to end up upvoting/downvoting a lot more comments than someone with an very active offline life. Someone who votes before reading an entire comment is going to be able to make a lot more votes than someone who does. Someone who upvotes/downvotes everything because of how they feel is going to be giving out more votes than someone who wants to reserve those for truly bad/truly good comments. Someone who checks whether or not a comment is true is going to have less time to vote than someone who doesn't. Someone who has time to refresh a page every 10 minutes throughout the day is going to be voting earlier, affecting what comments/posts even get seen by less active user (people with other things to do miss a post because really active users downvoted it off the front page within 30 minutes).

A lot of people seem to be unaware that this is an issue, and think the internet is representative of society at large. But commenting and voting as much as you want encourages certain kinds of content from certain kinds of people (a small subsection of people[1]), and discourages content from others.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule_(Internet_culture)

Good points overall, but this:

> people with fewer family/community/social/hobby/work obligations, because the more of those obligations one has the less time one has for online discussions

seems like a bit of a category error. There are any number of stable online groups that should be considered under the rubric of "community/social" activities. People participating in them know and expect things of each other, just as they do in a face-to-face group.

>The cost function to repeat a message drops precipitously every time it’s repeated (influences status quo).

I'm not trying to be a contrarian on this point but some social forums (e.g.: reddit, where this was linked from) end-up being sgemented into their own forms of echo-chambers, where any dissenting outliers - however valid - are voted into oblivion, simply because it doesn't agree with "muh viewpoint".

IMHO, that reinforces status quo, rather than influences it. I realise that this mightn't be the case with all or even the majority of social forums but it's the loudest that gets the most attention and since we're discussing something directly linked from redditstan, I figured it worth mentioning (since the aspect of influencing the status quo angle crumbles in this specific regard).

To give an example: Create an account on reddit and comment a valid point in the donald, even if it's down-voted into oblivion, go and then comment on something in politics or worldpolitics or the like. Wait for someone to go look at your post history and see that you commented in the donald and watch the tide turn against you, simply because of your participation - even if that comment is directly contradictory the original post in the donald. Just by association, that influence of the status quo is immediately eroded way because it's deemed "invalid" because, again, "muh viewpoint".

Any possibility of influence is lost, at that point. Repeat it day and night, it won't eventually influence the status quo until enough people repeat it and I think that's, probably, more along the lines of what you meant: It's not the number of times it's repeated, it's the volume of that repition's saturation into the larger group that's intrinsically more important. A single person repeating a message over 30 years has far less weight than people (en masse) repeating the same message. Granted, it - sometimes -takes a single person to incite the spread of that message, simply repeating it ad infinum won't reach the end-goal of influencing the status quo.


Given your point about the donald, you'll despair at https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/117289/86725. Check out the history and the comments-moved-to-chat. Answerer suggests creating lots of social media accounts as a way to drive bad search results about you off the first page of Google, and lists a bunch of possible sites to sign up to, including Gab. The mention of Gab gets censored by a moderator, but not before various Academia Stack Exchange members have chimed in to opine that:

1. Mentioning Gab as a possible site to sign up for is "pretty blatantly out of line" and a violation of the Stack Exchange Code of Conduct, and

2. If they discovered that a job candidate had a Gab account, they would throw out the application based upon that fact alone.

So it's not just internet communities; we've got academics openly bragging that even engaging with a community they politically disapprove of, regardless of your individual views, will lead to them barring you from employment in academia.

I'd encourage anyone convinced by this comment to do some research into the antisemitic and white supremacist comments which representatives of Gab have openly, publicly made.

So what? That doesn't justify reactions like rejecting an applicant based on having an account alone.

First and foremost political opinions have no place in most professional settings and no influence on someones work. If I recall correctly it's even illegal to judge someone based on their political affiliations in many countries.

Further, someone could have an account there to comment against the radical opinions or because he has friends with those opinions, which brought him to the network. And surely some more reasons why someone might have an account without sharing the extremist views of the outliers there.

I'm not sure that the contents of the censored site really matters to the point he's making.

While I agree with you, the complaint of the particular critic you're replying to isn't even about the contents of the site. It's that some of Gab's staff have, individually, said bigoted things.

Even assuming that's true (and I don't know or care if it is), it's unclear to me why it should reflect on the community. If tomorrow somebody were to leak a tape of Paul Graham or Joel Spolsky ranting about their hatred of some race, it wouldn't somehow reflect poorly on the character of anyone with a Hacker News or Stack Overflow account.

Not employees, representatives. These are things which employees of Gab have said in their official capacity representing the company (for instance, on Gab official social media accounts).

Okay. Still doesn't change anything. Stack Overflow has officially made plenty of official announcements on political issues that I oppose, despite being an active user.

Repeating messages to an audience that agrees with them are practically non actions. Influence occurs when the difference between saying something and not results in different actions. As such most social media content is effectively meaningless.

New ideas in this context are not limited to what disagrees with the overall consensus. Simiple refinements make real changes over time.

You could just make separate accounts for separate sub-reddits. A single first post can be influential, see mimblewimble, bitcoin, linux, special theory of relativity...

> A single first post can be influential, see mimblewimble, bitcoin, linux, special theory of relativity...

Again, I'm not trying to be contrarian because you bring up valid points - save for Theories of Relativity because they were review before being published by someone.

A good example, which was quashed from its inception, was the Copernican Theory of Heliocentrism: Though, very much valid, it was oppressively pushed from gaining ground by "muh religious viewpoint[s]". Even when substantiated by Galileo, this wasn't influential enough to change the status quo - with Galileo living the remainder of his in house arrest.

To lazily quote Nietzsche, in this regard: "All things are subject to interpretation, whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."

I still think it's surprising that there are so many lurkers who literally never engage in the discussion, considering the barriers to do so are so low.

Anecdata, but I'm a typical lurker. If I don't have something to contribute to a discussion, I stay silent. I think that goes for a lot of people. There's also the commitment angle - if you engage in a discussion, you're typically committed to follow up on the responses you get. That can be more of a time/attention commitment than people are interested in, and with the growing toxicity of online discourse a lot of people don't want to put themselves out there to begin with.

There's also your attention surface. I typically read threads/posts from a variety of communities, but might prefer to reply only on some, and lurk on the others. I'm sure this is true for a lot of people, from anecdotes I've heard.

Yep. If it's about programming, game design, board games, video games, writing, I'll feel confident I have something to say and/or want to contribute. But I also read discussion about music composition, hiking, art, diy, history, philosophy, etc, and I would almost never post in those subjects (at least not at this point in time), as those aren't my focus, just other subjects I'm curious about.

Yes, there are few subjects in which I am proficient enough to contribute.

"Commitment" to a discussion is optional. It's perfectly reasonable to give your point of view, and come back a few days later to see if there were any interesting replies.

Depends on the forum. HN emphasises that, by not notifying users that they had replies. Reddit on the other hand colours your mailbox in red so you're aware of replies without actively seeking them.

I don't know which foster the best quality discussions, but I feel the HN way is a bit impersonal.

A trick I finally hit on for Reddit a couple of years ago was that when I start feeling a discussion does not feel fun or interesting anymore, I look away while I click on the inbox icon.

When I don't see the replies, they're easy to ignore.

At some point (I have no idea when), Reddit also added a "disable inbox replies" button to comments, so that you can prevent notifications on a comment by comment basis.

Why is it set up like that on HN?

I have no idea. Perhaps they want to avoid discussions form derailing? Reddit routinely has long sub-threads, but they're hidden behind a link by default.

I agree with your statement. It also adds a lot of bulk, with little substance if everyone chimes in with their own version of a post they agree with.

I've been lurking on Hacker News for (at least) two years before deciding to participate: I would visit the homepage daily, read some interesting news and comments, and finally leave the site.

It's pointless to comment if one cannot add new information, perspectives, arguments, or humors to the thread, as a result, one really needs to make an effort to engage in the discussion. In practice, it means you'll need a proper keyboard, and a fast Internet connection to search for references. At least, at there, or at Reddit, or even at 4chan, this principle applies. I mean, you can make pointless comments, but you'll lower the SNR of the entire community, or your comment will be ignored or filtered on 4chan, or downvoted (or not getting votes) on HN/Reddit/Slashdot.

There are other places where the barrier-of-entry is lower, like the comments section below the stories on "ordinary" news websites (not HN), etc, but make an comment is even more pointless.

I guess the best counterexample I can think of is Twitter. It's no more than 140 chars and highly personal, so making a knee-jerk comment is common, and you can use a mobile phone instead of a proper computer to do so.


I think it's mostly a psychological barrier in most respects. There's also no necessity to comment - lurking, despite the quite awful name we've given the behaviour, is a perfectly normal thing to do. Plenty of people read books who don't write them, etc.

I'd also presume (and it is a presumption!) that people who are commenting on one platform will likely also to be commenting on another. As in, I would presume they would establish a conversation as the preferred method of internet discourse they digest, as opposed to a one way consumption of data.

This also gives me an opportunity to use one of my favourite Cronenberg quotes: "The monologue is his preferred method of discourse" - Videodrome

> There's also no necessity to comment - lurking, despite the quite awful name we've given the behaviour

This is especially true if the content itself gives authoritative or complete information about something, as Warnock's dilemma (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warnock%27s_dilemma) described:

""" The problem with no response is that there are five possible interpretations:

* The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."

* The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.

* No one read the post, for whatever reason.

* No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.

* No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.

— Bryan C. Warnock """

In this way, I think the voting system became popular, not only because it's usable a mechanism to select interesting information, but also gives an important feedback to encourage the poster, same for the "Like" button. However, they has their own problems.

That's not true -- I comment on HN but lurk everywhere else. The reason for this is, first, time commitment (I can really only be part of one online community at a time, although I do read other forums on occasion), and, second, I find discussions here more civil, comments more relevant, and emotions less charged than on other platforms.

In truth the polarizing of the Internet is causing a lot of us to be lurkers who may have things to say but do not want to engage in emotional content with strangers, because everything is interpreted so emotionally these days.

Related: "The best response is no response."—Dr. Maxwell Maltz, "Psycho-Cybernetics"

I find it's mostly that posting a comment is very different from entering into discussion. There is a surprising amount of friction attached to entering into a discussion on the web, compared to just lobbing a comment onto a page (like I'm doing right now). Throw in point scoring to comments, and you've created a system that just doesn't appeal to the majority of people.

You get publicly scored on your contributions to the discussion. Most people are turned off by the idea of discussions being adversarial, point scoring, confrontational.

And in that respect, I consider the barriers to comment contribution to be very high indeed.

The barriers only seem low to those people who've already passed them.

But I remember teenage me, over 20 years ago, being very reserved about writing online because I considered my grammar too bad and I didn't want to embarrass myself.

And back then there wasn't even anything social media, where blunders like that could lead straight back to "real" me, the whole idea still made me anxious.

Can't even begin to imagine how teenagers these days must feel with social media being literally everywhere and recording pretty much everything they write for the foreseeable future.

At least nowadays they have access to some pretty good grammar correction tools ;)

I know of some friends who are lurking on HN, but feel like the have nothing valuable to contribute to most discussions. So they just read the comments without feeling comfortable enough to interact with them.

Maybe out of fear of saying something wrong and getting debated on it - though it's quite civilized here. They might have seen too much of other websites where things turn less civil :)

Time is a big factor: usually I can only spend some 30 minutes per day for HN/reddit, barely enough to only have a look at a few of the interesting posts, let alone contributing. I feel like you need to be willing to commit a meaningful part of your time to internet communities to contribute frequently.

Bit of a different perspective : I mostly read HN on my phone, and I find it hard and time consuming to write non-trivial, thoughtful comments on a phone. It takes several times longer than it would with a proper keyboard. So I don't bother posting and mostly just lurk.

Same with my blog: there are perhaps 40 people who actually comment vs thousands whose presence is subliminal.

lurking = reading.

Most people (who can) read. That's a lower effort (and most of the time sufficient) than writing.

Maybe more of us should apply the following before speaking up:

* is it true?

* is it necessary?

* is it kind?

People come to Wikipedia to get an answer. Many users of Wikipedia are kids, or non-native English speakers for whom contributing is a challenge. Or laymen that don't know about the subject and naturally don't feel like they could contribute anything. Or people who simply don't know how to contribute. Or people visiting via mobiles where it's really difficult to research and contribute. If you adjust for all those users that could not reasonably contribute, the percentage of contributors is much higher.

There are other factors at play at Wikipedia too. In my native language, Danish, Wikipedia is all but dead. Years ago, I tried contributing within my own field. I researched and spent hours adding relevant information to different topics, only to find out a few days after that all my contributions had been deleted by the administrators.

Here is the Danish site for one of the most beloved Danes: https://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Laudrup

Here is the English: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Laudrup

It's just one example, but it is true for culture, history and many other areas. If you want to know anything on Danish matters, the English Wikipedia is usually a much better option than the Danish.

Wikipedia does a lot to prevent new users participating. The mediawiki software is very confusing and has a lot of different functionality crammed in to the same page edit tool that doesn't even make sense.

I attemped to create a page about a slightly obscure file format with all the information I had found while developing with it. I linked to all the sources I found that helped me understand it and my submission was rejected because my sources were not academic enough so I removed those sources and added the only official source in existence which is a zip file containing code examples and example files. My second edit was rejected for not sourcing all of my info.

Literally the only info available is the zip and forum posts. I mainly used the forum posts while learning and verified it against the data I was seeing in the file. How am I meant to share this info for others to benefit from? If I make it in to a blog post it's not an acceptable source but if I post it as a PDF and pretend its some wanky research paper then it probably would get accepted.

The file format you tried to write about isn't notable enough to have its own article in Wikipedia. The notability guidelines are there to prevent people from writing about things that can't be verified by reliable sources, and it's a mechanism to help ensure that articles are accurate.



While not every topic belongs on Wikipedia, there are a number of other places where your article would be appreciated:


I think the notability guidelines are wrong headed.

There doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to whether something is deemed to be 'notable'.

Worse, you put off people like the grandparent who actually attempt to contribute.

We all want accurate and reliable sources, but why not work with people, rather than just deleting? Or why not a 2 stage process. Have a staging area for pages that aren't good enough. Then promoted to wikipedia proper when good enough?

What happens in X years time, when that file format is 'notable'? You've lost the person most inclined to write the document, and lost historical context from a living document.

The BBC had a habit in its early days of reusing 'old' film. What could have been a treasure trove is now lost. I cant help feeling wikipedia is being similarly short sighted.

/rant (not aimed at you btw)

That staging area exists, and it's called "Articles for creation" (AfC). The website directs new editors to the staging area for their first article.


Drafts in AfC will not be deleted for being non-notable, but they will also not be indexed by search engines.

When a draft is ready to be published, a reviewer looks over it and ensures that it is properly cited, before moving it to the encyclopedia proper.

That's getting closer to what I was thinking, but that's for new editors, not new articles.

"Only experienced editors should ever create an article from scratch. Others should first create a draft page and build the article there."

And as you say they aren't indexed.

Experienced editors usually create a "userspace draft", which is in a different staging area:


Userspace drafts also won't be deleted for non-notability, and they can be published whenever the editor feels that they're ready.

Neither of the draft spaces on Wikipedia are indexed by search engines, because these staging areas generally aren't proofread by other editors.

It is a very notable file format used by many devices and lots of software can read it. The only reason its hard to reference is because the company that develops it basically just publishes a C file with how to use it and everyone uses that to write their own implementations.

Whether something is notable or not is subjective. Since many editors collaborate on Wikipedia, there's a common standard that editors use to judge whether a topic is notable.

The test is called the "general notability guideline". In short, any topic needs to have at least 2 citations to different sources that meet all of the following requirements:

1. The source provides significant coverage (at least 1-2 sizable paragraphs) of the topic

2. The source is reliable

3. The source is a secondary source that is editorially and financially independent of the subject (and of the other source)


A manual for the file format would not meet requirement #3, since it's a primary source that was published by the company who developed it.

This rule is in place to prevent companies from publishing information about their own products, and then promoting them on Wikipedia in a biased way.

So if the official documentation isn't enough and info on random websites isn't enough than what possible source can be used? Do we have to find a group of academics to look at the file and write a PDF saying "yep the official docs are indeed correct"?

You can absolutely cite the official documentation, and it's considered a reliable source for your article.

However, it isn't considered an independent source, since it was written by a company with a vested interest in the topic.

To prove that the file type is notable, you'll need at least different 2 sources that meet all 3 requirements: they must provide significant coverage of the topic, be reliable, and be independent of the topic.

You don't have to use these sources to write all of the content in your article, but they do have to be cited as references to pass the notability test.

The three most common kinds of reliable sources are:

- Articles or web pages from a reputable news organization, magazine, or web publisher (with an editorial team)

- Books from a reputable publishing company

- Publications from a peer-reviewed academic journal

Offline and non-English sources are accepted.

If you can't find at least 2 sources that meet these requirements, then the topic doesn't pass the notability test and isn't suitable for Wikipedia. In this case, you're probably better off sharing your article somewhere else, such as Wikibooks, Wikiversity, or your personal blog.



IMO this discussion about notability is making the original point upthread about hostility to newcomers.

I also find it ironic that Wikipedia notability is so tied to traditional publishing sources.

ADDED: I admit to falling pretty heavily on the inclusionist side; I'm pretty skeptical about notability at times.

It's true that the rules of Wikipedia can be intimidating to new editors.

There are two places where editors can ask for help: the Teahouse (for new editors) and the Help Desk (for anyone).



So does this mean I could write a Wikipedia article about my grandmother if I can dig up articles on her from two different newspapers?

Provided those two different newspapers wrote on her life in detail, not just a mention, yes. See the following section of the notability guidelines:

"Significant coverage" addresses the topic directly and in detail, so that no original research is needed to extract the content. Significant coverage is more than a trivial mention, but it does not need to be the main topic of the source material.


Since she is your family member, you're asked to disclose that you have a conflict of interest:


But the answer is yes.

Interesting... and along the same lines as the parent comment, if two independent blogs had written about the file format in detail, I wonder if that’s enough.

Most tech blogs have just one author, and their posts don't go through a high-quality editorial process. Wikipedia calls these blogs "self-published sources", and they usually aren't considered reliable sources.


> The file format you tried to write about isn't notable enough to have its own article in Wikipedia.

Grandparent said it was rejected because of the citations, not because of any supposed lack of notability. Are you implying that reviewers refuse articles for other reasons than the ones they actually give?

(Edit: from what I gather on this thread, the citations were both secondary and substantial, so the notability criterion was probably met.)

Lack of citations establishing notability means wikipedia generally assumes something isn't notable enough, and per GPs words no such sources exist. (I'm not saying this is necessary a great and problem-free system, but that's how it works as far as I understand)

Putting a blog post would already be a positive contribution. Then reference it a bit, for instance by answering relevant questions on stackoverflow and linking to it to give more comprehensive details.

Over time your page will naturally get referenced by Google and other search engines.

Too bad it's not accepted in Wikipedia, but as long as the information is easily findable and organized as an easy to read and comprehensive enough reference, your work will be useful to many.

The problem with a blog post is others can't improve it to add more info or fix mistakes. The wiki format is perfect for this.

What about a Github Gist (or similar) or an actual code repo somewhere (wouldn't necessarily have to have actual code, could just be a readme)?

Also out of interest, what is the file format?

File format is .fit its used in a lot of GPS devices specifically for cycling. Its not super hard to find info on but the info is scattered over random sources

> I attemped to create a page about a slightly obscure file format with all the information I had found while developing with it.

One of the core principles of Wikipedia is "No original research". Your proposed article sounds like it was just that. The Wikipedia editors would rather have you share that research in a blog post or similar.

The original research has been done by the company inventing the file format. Reporting on it is not original research.

Well all the info I have about it comes from a single source published by the developers of the format but apparently just one reference isn't good enough.

That source (published by the developers) is a primary source. Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, are tetriary sources that are based on secondary sources and not directly on primary sources.

In other words, unless there are reliable secondary sources to base the article on, it is considered original research and is not a good fit for Wikipedia.

I guess part of the reason that new contributors feel bad is confusion about the goals and nature of Wikipedia itself.

It's not just goals and nature. It's rules that can be pretty silly and unhelpful when they're taken to extremes rather than applied sensibly. In this case you have documentation that can't be referenced in a Wikipedia article. Yet, if someone wrote a blog post that liberally quoted that documentation, that would probably be an acceptable source.

The basic ideas of not doing original research or relying on primary sources are fine. But writing just about any article requires synthesizing multiple sources to some degree. Rules are one thing. Saying that the documentation is not a suitable source for information about a file format is something else.

Wikipedia does consider the documentation suitable for supporting information in the article, but not suitable for establishing the topic's notability.

The article needs independent sources (as in, secondary sources that are financially and editorially independent of the company who develops the .mix file type) to show that the topic warrants an article.

If an article has enough sources cited to show notability, primary sources like documentation pages can be used. If notability is not shown, then the topic doesn't meet Wikipedia's inclusion criteria and the content of the article is moot.

Without this requirement, any company would be able to publish promotional articles on all of its products, and exclusively use its own web pages as citations. Wikipedia's notability guidelines are in place to prevent spam and to ensure that topics only get articles if they can be written about in a neutral way.


I would put it on Github. Check Stack Overflow and google for has questions about the format, answer there and point to your repo.

I went through an almost identical process with English Wikipedia many years ago. Added to a sorely incomplete entry with carefully written and sourced info, to find it gone a few days later. Tried a few tiny updates in case new users were restricted somehow (this was never made obvious), so simply corrected some obvious grammar and spelling mistakes. Nearly all of those were backed out too. At which point there's only one option, give up.

I've encountered torrent sites that make more effort to make newcomers feel welcome.

Never tried again, and won't, despite running across much that's inaccurate, plain wrong or has poor language over the years.

Nobody with stories such as yours seem to actually give a link to the article in question.

I have a story like this, but I did the work (that was backed out) over a decade ago. The domain was not especially political (something related to history of music notation). It sticks with you because when you are already an expert in an area, and spend days contributing high quality content with good references only to have it vaporized without comment/reason, it is deeply demoralizing and creates long standing resentment. I vaguely remember the subject matter, yet remember distinctly the feeling of having all that work purged. I’m sure Wikipedia politics have changed since then, but my desire to contribute has been pretty well quashed.

Yep. I made an attempt to get into it over a decade ago, and it didn't help that I was heavy in the Flash game/animation scene and felt that was the best way to contribute. I say it didn't help, because so few of those pass the ridiculously restrictive 'Notability Test' of Wikipedia.

The animation could have 50 million views and be known across the internet, but because no 'reputable news organization' wrote about it, i.e. no CNN or BBC article or whatever, they would routinely be brought up for deletion and quickly killed.

Which always seemed strange to me, that this new fangled technology that took advantage of the power of the Internet wouldn't find anything on the Internet itself worthy of gracing its virtual pages. Especially since, as Wikipedia itself states, "Wikipedia is not Paper", and doesn't have a physical limit to what it can talk about or include.

It always annoyed me that these things wouldn't get passed the notability filter, but the most obscure Star Trek episode would have a dedicated page with a full synopsis and details and Easter Eggs, despite the fact that there couldn't have been a news article about that specific episode anywhere out there and the author had to be drawing from the episode... I mean, primary source, itself in order to get that information, which is something that gets squashed elsewhere (No primary sources!)

The hypocrisy just got to me big time. And then when I'd fix spelling or grammar issues on other random pages and see every single one of those get reverted without comment, it was clear that doing anything on Wikipedia was just a big waste of my fucking time. While I still read it to get a really rough handle on topics sometimes, I will never 'contribute' to it again, including every time that giant "We Desperately Need Your Financial Support" message from Jimmy Wales comes up on the site once a year.

I'd love for there to be an alternative where the admins aren't such deletionist zealots, but alternatives just don't exist.

I should also state that I had such a negative experience trying to contribute to Wikipedia that it still riles me up thinking about it to this day. And there's not a whole lot out there that riles me up.

Generally speaking these days, whenever I see a non-minor / specialist article in need of correction, I tend to rely on the talk section to make points that maybe an editor can apply better.

That's what I did for Wikipedia's article on software synthesizers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_synthesizer), which in 2014 was rather out of date, particularly on its "typical" examples and other elements.

The article does look a fair bit better now. It does seem to still carry a little awkwardness (eg statements like "a software instrument is akin to a soundfont" which is not really correct) and a few out-of-date moments (eg why mention Csound and Nyquist as music programming language examples but not mention more common examples these days such as Max/MSP or PureData?) and some other quibbles I have. But it is better. Maybe I'll have to make a few more talk points someday. :)

Personally, I do think Wikipedia for the casual contributor is unfortunately broken. But given the amount of trolls and agenda-oriented people out there, I actually can understand why there is a high barrier to entry. It's just a bit unfortunate because it also restricts the diversity of the contribution ecosystem. I'm not sure how to reconcile the two personally...

Wikipedia's notability rules are generally about ten/twenty years out of late, and seem to be designed on the assumption the internet doesn't exist. As you said, they often miss out notable works that aren't reviewed by what they class as 'mainstream' sources, and they also often end up failing to consider the amount of credibility someone may have in their own area of expertise.

For instance, in the gaming world, I often look at Serebii.net as a good example of where Wikipedia's credibility priorities are misplaced. To them, it being a fan site run pseudononymously makes it less credible/reputable than a publication like IGN or Vice or what not, but in the actual community/among those who know of the topic, it's actually the far more credible source. The owner has written in magazines, been quoted by popular media sources, used as a reference by those seen as more reputable, etc.

But Wikipedia doesn't think like this. To them, credibility equals being paid as part of a major publication, and it doesn't matter even if you're a distinguished professor writing on your blog or academic site otherwise. And this then hurts the niche topics you mention even more.

Subject-matter experts, such as distinguished professors, are considered reliable sources regardless of where their statements or writings are published. I'm not sure if it has always been this way, but it is currently written into Wikipedia's policy:


You're right about fan sites. It's harder for people outside of the fan community to evaluate whether a fan site is reliable, and that contributes to the skepticism you see.

That's because we don't have the (as the OP puts it, insane) temperament to fight some battle for days on end for something we really don't care that much about. It takes effort to dig up some random edit from years ago that wasn't important enough to fight about then and certainly isn't worth the stress to fight about now. It's a lot easier to just bitch about this obviously real problem instead of having to make the same kind of effort we didn't even do the first time to somehow justify and defend our anecdote.

> It takes effort to dig up some random edit from years ago

Yes, but a simple link to which article it was would be enough. What also might be useful is a user name and/or a rough estimate of what the time period was, but without even an article name, there is nothing anybody can do about fixing these things.

It was a lower tier event or personality of WW1 or WW2. Not a Churchill, Paton or D-Day, but something lesser without reaching insignificant. It was 10 or 15 years ago - in the days when it was still common for articles to be incomplete or missing. I couldn't estimate when that period of Wikipedia ended, but I'd guess at least 10 years+. I'd be amazed if someone hasn't managed to fill the gap since, as articles are generally much more complete. Current Wikipedia has other issues.

It was some hours I spent on a topic I knew well, and had a good selection of books on my own shelves to cite, triggered by finding an incomplete or missing article, or a glaring error. Nothing more. After the challenges contributing I lost interest and moved on. I was doing Wikipedia a favour and trying to contribute, they apparently weren't interested. I'm not going to fight for it, but as a result I'm not open for trying more, or ever again.

As for username, I have no idea whatsoever, but offhand I can only remember one of the several LJ usernames I had, some I used for months rather than just a few days. Mind I doubt I could accurately list all the topics I blogged about on LJ, either, but could cover the main interests easily. I'm not even sure a username was needed at all but it may well have been.

yeah all these accounts of Wikipedia being hostile to new users must be lies and exaggerations /s

Same experience here. Grammar corrections should only be back out if they create true problems with regards to intent. And if that’s the reason, it ought to be made clear, through discussion, what the problem is.

Deletionism is the thing that will kill Wikipedia, by deleting itself and gradually narrowing the circle of permitted contributors.

There are some situations where the non-English Wikipedias have far more information than the English ones though, because of how "notability" works.

I agree. While I don’t know how big the problem is, my limited experience is that notability is applied unevenly, and tends to be levelled against articles that particular editors find boring/annoying, mostly as an excuse to remove them.

The number of Wikipedia articles is steadily increasing:


Deleting articles doesn't prevent anyone from participating, since anyone can write/edit articles on any notable subject. The deletion process protects Wikipedia from search engine marketers who try to promote their clients with biased low-quality content. They can go to Quora for that.


There are a number of people in this thread explaining how the policy prevented them from participating, and usually caused them to quit participating entirely.

My comment was unclear. Yes, people who are solely interested in writing about one topic are prevented from participating if that topic doesn't meet the notability criteria.

When I said that it "doesn't prevent anyone from participating", I was only considering the editors who are interested in writing about a wider variety of topics.

For better or worse, Wikipedia frowns on editors who are only interested in editing articles on one topic. There's a page for that:


This is because these editors usually have a conflict of interest, and must make an extra effort to keep their writing free of bias.

Policies aimed at improving the quality of articles also tend to reduce participation. It's a trade-off, and I don't know that the optimal balance would be.

Typo correction:

It's a trade-off, and I don't know what the optimal balance would be.

At one point I was playing Serious Sam, an FPS. I finished the game and let the credits roll by, noticing a quirky name "Derek Smart". I searched for it on Wikipedia and arrived at the eponymous article, describing the life and creative work of a rash and stubborn but obviously ambitious and talented video game designer.

A bit later on, there was Croteam, the maker of Serious Sam, AMA on Reddit so I asked them if the reference to Derek Smart was an inside joke or what. The reply was along the lines of "he's a dear friend of ours and our inspiration". I went back to the Derek Smart Wikipedia article, pointed out the screenshot of the credits with Derek's name, the AMA reply and asked a very innocuous question: "Can we put this in the article?"

I got a reply that what I did is termed "original research" and the only acceptable way to include the reference would be if some noteworthy third party, such as Washington Times, mentions and explains the connection, meaning all the work I did up to that point was in vain. That's when I completely gave up on editing Wikipedia as it seemed to me, and still does, absolutely Sisyphean. Editors of that article then went on to argue how to phrase the incident where Derek Smart assaulted a vending machine to best fit the article.

The implication of "no original research" and "noteworthy sources of information" means a large mass of regional events and persons can't be included in the English Wikipedia unless they clear this arbitrary bar of noteworthiness that can still be gamed with ease: a) be an employee of a mainstream news source, b) publish a biased article on any given topic, c) create an anonymous Wikipedia account, d) create an article on the topic or edit an exiting one to embed the information you published and e) marvel as Wikipedia editors revert the changes under the guise of preventing vandalism.

Automated edit-correction tools are another grave issue for Wikipedia, as they instantly revert an article to its sanctioned version set by a reputable Wikipedia editor. How is Wikipedia "an encyclopedia anyone can edit" again?

I'd say that many times, that's true of Swedish topics too. I wonder how well that fits with eg Wikipedia in other languages where English may not be so fluent though, eg German?

The German Wikipedia is large and sees a lot of activity. Articles about topics relating mostly to Germany, Austria or Switzerland are usually better than the English ones. Other articles are often somewhat biased towards a readership from those country, which is actually helpful if you live there.

Lower English language fluency in the general population, compared to the Netherlands or Scandinavia, supports this of course. But also the fact that German remains a scholarly language to this day (in the humanities but also in some branches of engineering).

German wikipedia is plagued by the same

You Danes generally speak real good English right?

I think that may be a problem for Wikipedia in such countries. People can read/write English good enough that they just go directly to English.

It's pure speculation on my end though. But I'm a non-native English speaker but I never go do my native language's Wikipedia.

Just post on your own repository on github instead. It’s the new wikipedia minus worrying about deletionists and notability. Just a matter of time until non-developers become comfortable with it.

  One of Wikipedia's power users, [...] Assuming he
  doesn't sleep or eat or anything else [...]
  that's still one edit every four minutes.
When your hobby is replacing hyphens with en dashes [1] and removing errant newlines [2] I doubt it takes 4 minutes per page.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Plymouth_Brethren...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Raymond_Ramazani_...

probably uses a bot

As the original Reddit thread pointed out, a fully-automatic edit system is required to use a separate bot account. Edits like this, is called a semi-automatic edit, or "cleanup tasks", or "maintenance". It includes adding proper categories, fixing links and typos, correcting some deprecated Mediawiki syntax and templates to standard code, etc. Editors can use mulitple tools to do this job, with a mouse click and proper regular expressions, you can edit a dozen of pages.

While there is an interesting and relevant point in this article, I feel compelled to point out another possibility: you only comment if you have a POV or opinion not yet represented. If I'm seeing somebody else make the point I thought of making, I upvote it and move on, only spending the time to comment when I don't see it already there.

It would be odd if, after viewing/reading the exact same content, we all had unique opinions of what we just saw or read. It would be pretty bizarre, and probably imply that our communication system wasn't working. It's good to see more than one POV, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ever have agreement either, and if I see someone has already made the same point, why should I type it in?

Admission: I didn't read absolutely every comment here before typing this; just the top dozen or so. :)

I came here to express the same sentiment.

One interesting thing regarding this was when Reddit added a "chat with a random user" -feature a few years back. I was so used to the high quality submissions and comment threads that when I was paired to chat with random lurkers it was kind of eye opening how they were just... really plain and hard to hold a interesting conversation with.

And this is exactly why communism will NEVER work: 90% of the population just won't be able to produce anything of value by themselves. They just lack the "business instinct" or "drive to hustle" or whatever you want to call it. Is it environmental? genetic? cultural? I don't know, but if you forcefully stop the "creator class" in favor of the 90%, what you will see happening is exactly what happened to the Soviet economy after WW2.

That was quite a leap from you not being able to hold a conversation with a stranger to a critique of the soviet economy. You've got the numbers the wrong way around too - the 90% are the "creator class". I wonder which class you think you belong to? Statistically speaking you've probably got more in common with the random user you were paired with

I've got to agree with this statement. In my opinion, it's an absolute blessing (and an unavoidable evolutionary outcome) that there is still varying degrees of friction inherent to the process of commenting on many websites. Imagine if every person could throw their uninformed opinions about every topic into the common space with no hassle whatsoever, the signal to noise ratio would be positively devastated. In fact, the coupling of frictionless 1->N communication capacity with continual reinforcement of poisonous ego-centrism in advertising appears to be the precise recipe for the construction of FaceBook-style intellectual wastelands. The blunt fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people appear to have very little of value to contribute to the vast majority of discussions or processes, except perhaps in a passive role. This is not a judgement of value, merely a fact that should be considered from a societal vantage when the design of large information systems is undertaken so that ethical and socially-beneficial decisions can be made.

The concept of preventing a dilution of discourse and output quality by intentionally maintaining a degree of friction in the participation process is well-embodied by, e.g., the effort required to start contributing to certain critical open-source projects like the Linux kernel (think email-based communications, packaging processes, etc.). The notion of friction extends directly to aesthetics as well - consider the difference in discourse level that exists between HN, Reddit, FaceBook, and so on. There are many factors involved in the gradient, but it is worth noting that the aesthetic model employed by a system or product is perhaps the clearest external signal of that system's intended purpose. To that end, the dramatic "gameification" of relatively frictionless communication protocols appears to be incompatible with the idea of truth on a fundamental level. This also applies to the modern incarnation of popular US "news" organizations - think Fox's dramatic music and hyper-augmented hollywood-style visuals, or my personal favorite, CNN's "situation room".

4chan is the place where everyone can comment with very little effort.

Am here for over 2 years now, rarely upvote something, haven't submitted anything and this is just my 2nd comment... Pretty sure this rule holds for close to all kind of forums.

I wonder if it holds throughout history?

How many people posted letters to news papers in the hay day of paper news..

most probably much less. The big difference is that they would publish mostly in local papers while the internet's audience is always global.

Honestly, if you want to see what news editors see in the form of letters to the editor, go to your closest small(ish) (100k or less) town local newspaper or tv station's website and look through the comments on stories. They're frighteningly disjointed, insane, and disconnected from reality.

These are real, actual people who submit comments. And those people are anonymous and free to post whatever lies they care to come up with on forums such as this one.

I don't know if you're willing to make a 3rd comment, but I'm trying to understand the lurker mindset from the perspective of someone who posts quite actively.

Is is just that you don't care enough to reply, feel like your opinions are unpopular, don't feel like you have anything to say, or something else?

I'm kind of a lurker as well. I read HN comments to gain a broader perspective on issues. Sharing my own thoughts on the matter doesn't really help with that.

Of course, sometimes when reading comments I get the feeling that you people are all entirely, inexcusably wrong, and I feel an urge to set the record straight. Normally on HN, it doesn't take long for someone to step up and explain exactly what I was thinking with an eloquence I couldn't have matched. And the world is right again. :-)

I realise the irony of claiming I only lurk by writing this, but I'm fighting my habits to help illuminate those interested.

For me personally, I just don't care and don't get any reward in the idea of conversing with some random person on the internet. The chances are, I'll never see you again on here or irl, remember your online name (I remember faces, not names), or you will have any real impact in my day to day life. This is how I feel about every commenter online. I don't talk to random people on the street, so why would I talk to random people on the internet? To me, there is little difference.

I value face to face communication much higher than text chat. I really enjoy reading peoples faces and expressions when chatting, to the point where I find talking to others online is the equivalent of having a conversation where everyone has a paper bag on their head when.

If I think someone is wrong on the internet, I just don't care. I read their comment, think to myself "They are wrong/an idiot" and get on with my day. I see no value in correcting a stranger on the internet.

I much rather have conversations irl, and I do, so I have no time/energy left for an online conversation. I'd much rather spend my time with my girlfriend, programming or anything else.

Everything feels so permanent online. I know I'm going to regret things I've said in this post in the future, my mind will change, maybe I won't lurk anymore after writing this!? The permanent nature of online communication goes the against how I should be as person, my opinions shifting and changing as I experience more of life, not held back by some random thing I said on a forum 5 years ago.

When I post, I open myself up to being attacked by people online. I can avoid this simply by never saying anything online.

To illustrate a point, I finally got round to creating an account on stackoverflow about half a year ago, and I still have only one point. I just wanted to vote on questions, but I can only do that if I have at least 15 points on my account, and that requires writing comments/questions (I think). For me, that means contriving 15 comments that succeed at playing some social game, that I simply don't have the time or energy for, so I've given up on ever voting on stackoverflow.

The privacy issue is real. I am not a lurker here, but every time I comment anywhere online a voice in my head says “it is not rational to do this. This mostly works against your self-interest.” However, I am not someone who is primarily driven by self-interest.

Funny. I was writing a comment in reply to this and then I thought “ah what does it matter” and removed it.

I check the site maybe once every couple of days, and I don't comment or reply because it usually seems like the post is "old" by then and the discussion has died down.

Your comment now is marked "5 minutes ago" and seems game for a reply, but later today when it's "5 hours ago" or longer, I'd feel like it has expired and any reply would be lost and never seen.

Hello fellow hackers, This is my first comment since I started reading HN around 4y ago. This comment thread mostly summarizes why I'm a lurker: most of the time when I read an article someone already made a point that I would like to make. Most of the time it would be superfluous ( objectively speaking this comment can be treated as such...). To make it slightly worthwhile let me share why I keep on consuming HN and lurking here: What I really like about HN in comparison to reddit is that HN is way less negative/aggressive. Many years ago I once tried there to discuss something - wanted to share my joy about some feature in some library on proggit. Instead of arguments I've received bunch of profanities and name calling. That effectively 'cured' me from participating in comments there. I really really enjoy that such negativity is missing here. That trait plus curated links makes my time spent here much better spent in comparison to alternatives. Thank you guys!

I follow a discussion I'm in for at least a day. HN commenting is asynchronous - it's not a chat conversation. Work hours, time zones and other "hazards" of modern Internet life all intervene...

First comment here, been reading HN for a few years now (proper actively - I spend way too much of my day here). I also tend to mostly read comments without even opening the article they're commenting on first. I don't need to comment on anything on the web simply because I already know my own thoughts and if I want to discuss something that badly I can always do so IRL. There's also always someone with a similar opinion posting so I could follow that conversation if I wish. I fully understand that if everyone was like me it wouldn't work but the thing is they're not. There's enough people in the comments here and on the web as a whole commenting - and it's enough for me to read those and then discuss IRL if I have the need. I like reading what other people say so much that if I start participating I'll waste even more time on here.

It's almost a natural law - IME lurkers outnumber active commenters on forums by a minimum of 10:1.

Not commenting is the natural state for most people. Maybe the question isn't why these people don't post, but why active commenters do.

I lurk and post.

Sometimes I won't add a comment because of the chilling effect of a future employer or online mob finding it and reading something into my words. It's not worth being contrarian on the internet, or there's no space for devils advocate anymore. Most of the time I will comment and it's fine though.

Sometimes, unrelated, I will write a comment and then when my thoughts are formulated, I delete it because I have benefited from the conversation and there wouldn't be any additional benefit or use from me posting it.

I'm not sure one needs to make an argument for not posting.

Of course not, there's nothing wrong with not posting. My question was just out of curiosity for why people never feel "compelled" (not a great word here) to post while actively browsing quite a bit.

Similarly, I would like to know your mindset like what incentives or motivations do you see? Do you also feel that if you don't post a comment, the discussion won't go in that direction?

As a lurker for me most of the times I feel like I am on window shopping of ideas. Not looking anything in particular.

A fair percentage of my comments are downvoted, so it's not about opinion validation. I'm opinionated on a number of topics, and voice those opinions.

Sometimes I have a question to pose, or I disagree with the premise of the submission (sometimes I'm one of the few people to do so).

I'm a singular, non-influential person. I don't believe I'm exactly changing hearts and minds writing HN comments. I do like the discourse I get, though.

I've been reading almost daily since probably the beginning. I comment very rarely. Most news in general is garbage, but I do enjoy tech + startup news and enjoy reading comments here before clicking on to the source. It's fast, simple and I use http://hckrnews.com as my portal into ycombinator.com.

I almost left during the year of the US primaries as the news was majority political and simply more garbage, so I'm glad that got cleaned up.

Often I don't have anything "more" to say on top of what has been said, so I wont add noise. That may be a common thread with lurkers. When I do have a unique perspective and I feel adds value and not noise I may comment, keyword is "may".

I couldn't care less about karma, popularity, social scores or the like (just more garbage). As long as this site and it's users continue to provide value to me by filtering and aggregating tech news I will continue to use it.

Just another lurker mooching off of non lurkers. Selfish yes, but it works.

No reason to engage. I think "discussing" a topic with another "online persona" is almost always a waste of time. I also find most comments to be speculative, argumentative, uninformed opinions, trolling, jokes or trash. It is great finding a decent comment chain, but usually I'm late to the show(like now)!

When I was young I enjoyed commenting and voicing my opinion, after 25 years online, I no longer derive satisfaction from it.

I have lurked on forums before. Usually its because I just check them sometimes on my phone and can't be bothered making an account.

I've been reading HN semi-regularly for over half a decade, but only created an account ~1.5 years ago and my first comment was last month. This is my second comment as well, and probably my 10th across all social media in the last year.

The topics on HN generally align with my interests and the quality of discourse here is fairly high, but I'm rarely willing to make the additional mental effort of participating. I prefer to research any points I make and back them up with data, and it's not worth my time to do so only to end up arguing with trolls or people who refuse to reconsider their position when presented with new information.

I've made comments in the internet only when I was a 16 years old. In a tiny forum community, where everyone known each other. Some weird shitty things happened because of my post on this forum. After this event became lurker, and post extremely rarely, only anonymously on sites like 4chan to ensure my safety from any crazy guy from the internet.

I have a 12 year reddit account and finally hit 700 post karma this week.

Looking at it from a different perspective: creating content requires lot of work, while consuming content requires little to no effort. Hence, looking from this perspective, it's natural that the majority of us are content consumers and not content producers.

It's timing too. I would've commented something along the same lines as you but of course by the time I got to reading the comments on this post it already had 148 comments, at least one of which covered what I would've contributed. The same goes for Wikipedia - everything I would be confident enough to write about is pretty well covered.

To look at this a different way, a far larger percentage of people are generating content now than at any other time in the history of modern media. As others have pointed out, anyone creating content is an "outlier" in a sense, since the vast majority of people don't create content ever. But more do today than ever before, and when I think back to the 80's and 90's when content creation had such powerful gatekeepers, I'm think the trajectory we're on is a massive improvement.

I suppose a related question is if every single person were to comment, would that be beneficial in any way?

I personally think we'd get a lot of duplicate comments stating the same thing which would reduce the overall quality of the topic at hand. An example that proves this is Ebay's user reviews. You have a lot of people participating in reviews because it's a review system that works both ways, so it's in the both user's best interest to review and rate. But most reviews are duplicates.

YouTube's comment system, which has a younger audience mainly, is rife with spam, trolling and comments that add nothing to the discussion. Is this what we want everywhere? Are those people outliers too? Or people with more spare time than people who purely browse?

I wouldn't use the term "outliers" then to describe these people. I would simply call them "people with initiative"... And in some cases "people with initiative who also want to help".

There's no need to guess what it would look like―just go to /r/all posts on popular subreddits. 200 top-level comments, and people still add new ones with zero useful info and zero chance of being seen by more that a dozen others.

>question is if every single person were to comment, would that be beneficial in any way?

you would end up crowded out with middle-of-the-road comments. Which is really interesting, because nobody would really enjoy that I think, yet it would be entirely representative of the viewer base.

Shouldn't we thank these people for creating the content for in most cases is free? It makes the interest way more interesting. Like the OP is saying it is something we should keep in mind. However, the word insane has a negative connotation even though its usage in the OP's title might intend it.

We should also note that the 1% rule also applies to traditional media be it news programs, tv shows, documentaries, or movies. They are many barriers entry and gate keepers to filter out content that may not have mass appeal.

Mainstream media's filtering enables them to be profitable and compensate the content creators unlike most of the people on the internet. People are spending their time creating stuff so the someone else can make money? Maybe that's the insane apart?

"However, the word insane has a negative connotation even though its usage in the OP's title might intend it."

I've noticed even people who, for instance, work for mental health advocacy organizations casually use figurative terms like "crazy" all the time. It makes me a little uncomfortable, but not enough to protest.

I'm half on the side of those who say "PC is just civility" and half sympathetic to those who see it as hypersensitive hypocrisy.

Its called the 1% rule, 1% create content, 99% lurk.


I think this behaviour is caused by the wrath of the hivemind. I imagine that it is common in reddit users to have a separate account for posting as an insurance against hivemind rage which can be invoked easily for unexpected reasons. And for others, it is easier to not get involved, get the value from the answers and comments you find. Avoid the abuse and emotional mud slinging. Life is too short. Same for Twitter.

That doesn't mean the communities aren't functional. The lurkers are still voting on the commenters. There's various internet communities who've tried different ways to keep that judgement mechanic high quality, and with varying degrees of success. HN is maybe one of the best.

The ability to create and to judge might well be separate. How many food critics are good chefs, and vice versa? Perhaps it's due to not having a horse in the race.

What's fascinating is that we have these people who contribute huge amount of content, like the review guy that's mentioned.

Some of these guys are even interactive. I've had programming questions answered by Jon Skeet, and it just boggles the mind how he can be so productive.

There's probably some specific life circumstances that have to come together for us to benefit from a guy like that.

I disagree about HN being among the best for managing judgment. Down-voting requires X amount of karma but up-voting doesn't.

I think that’s a key element to the success. It introduces an obvious upward bias in karma, but I don’t see that as a problem.

For one, it prevents creating new accounts to downvote someone that pisses you off. For me personally, it means I downvote only for “adds absolutely nothing and is somehow harmful to HN community”. I probably upvote : downvote at 20:1 or greater.

When deciding if a comment voting system is good or bad, I look heavily towards the outcome, and secondarily towards the mechanism. I think outcome on HN is second to none.

Fine. HN is the best among the contenders, but that's not something that one ought to hang one's hat on. Posts don't rise on their own merits here. If that is a goal, there is much room for improvement. There are a number of situational factors that influence whether any post will receive attention. These include, but are not limited to timing, competition, the new post reader archetype and his/her motivations to participate, etc.

I don't think that limiting downvotes to accounts with X karma is a significant contributor to the problem of getting attention to a new high-quality post on a fairly high-volume site.

I'm not suggesting changing the rules on downvoting as a solution. I've considered far more drastic measures!

some hacks I think could increase quality:

  - mandatory 60 second re-click to submit a comment, without edits
  - mandatory 60 second re-click on votes after a rate threshold is exceeded
  - multiple choice votes to express motivation, intention, feedback
  - do not publish karma numbers
  - publish "example threads" that show values being practiced, including dead links/comments examples
  - randomly assign usernames every 12 months
  - tags and tag feeds

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