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I Quit Hacker News (mattmaroon.com)
261 points by cwan on Nov 23, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments

It certainly does seem that HN has become increasingly more political in recent days. Yes, I can understand a post on body-scanner technology and it's applications to travel security, but do we really need to see blog posts about how person n opted out, or how person x experienced an unusual pat-down? Yes, for Americans (and non-Americans alike), these are important issues, but HN does not need to become an aggregate site for stories such as these.

There is a strong commitment by the community to prevent the site becoming like digg, reddit, or slashdot. Losing focus on the topics that brought us here in the first place (technology, startup culture, and programming) is the first step on that path in my opinion.

All I can ask is please, try not to submit/vote up stories which are not particularly related to tech. It's not what I'm interested in discussing in this particular venue.

Or maybe I'm just in the minority. I guess time will tell.

P.S. Just because you put the word "Hacker" in your article/title, doesn't mean it belongs here.

It would be completely ridiculous to try to remove political discussion from HN.

Politics is involved with _everything_ the world has to offer; and more specifically, politics is fundamentally bound to technology.

The fact that people like making 'cool stuff', will always have a flip-side. We need to be able to talk about the way that technology is utilised and that (necessarily) involves political discussion.

Without this kind of discussion, people involved in the tech industry are destined to become unthinking drones .. consideration of ethics and politics is essential if technology stands any chance of making the world a better place.

Politics is involved with _everything_ the world has to offer

I completely agree, but it is considered impolite on HN to call attention to the fact. Just as it is considered impolite to call too much attention to politics in many parts of real life.

And it is true, of course, that the impossibility of discussing certain issues on HN means that HN is a very poor substitute for the rest of your life. But that's true of any group. You need other communities, other activities, other obsessions than just one.

Impolite? ... really?!?

Well, I suppose that's one explanation for why so many people in society could be described as apathetic lame ducks :)

Perhaps a lot of people would like to question what goes on in the world, but don't wish to offend.

[..] and more specifically, politics is fundamentally bound to technology.

The fact is, technology is closely linked to politics. If you want to convince me that political discussion is out, I think I'd need more than guidelines re. etiquette to stop me ;)

especially given pg's stated position that YC founders enjoy breaking rules (just not the ones that matter)

> Politics is involved with _everything_ the world has to offer

There's a difference between something that happens to be politics and touches very directly on subjects germane to this site, and inviting in politics articles of every shape and form.

> Without this kind of discussion, people involved in the tech industry are destined to become unthinking drones

Uh, no we aren't. Our lives do not revolve around this site and many of us manage to think about politics, economics, history, bicycle racing, and many other fascinating topics without discussing them here.

I think this type of discussion is much better suited for personal environments. Strike this discussion up at the next HN Meetup in your area, or with your co-workers when you go out for drinks after work. Anonymous discussion of such topics on a news collection website will neither change minds nor produce any constructive debate.

Why? Why shouldn't we all be willing to change our minds? Why shouldn't we be willing to debate and explore a subject in depth?

Your point of view completely baffles me.

Your point of view doesn't baffle me, because you said this:

"Why shouldn't we be willing to debate and explore a subject in depth?"

Good question! I would be happy to debate and explore political ideas in depth. (That's why I hang around some politically- and economically-focused blogs, and I chat about politics with my friends, and I read the writing of experts.)

But how on earth can you call Hacker News posts about politics "debating" or "exploring a subject in depth?" They are the absolute opposite of depth! Pseudonymous, evanescent discussions, where you stick around for a few hours and a few comments at most; you have no commitment to defend your words or argue sincerely, and half of the commenters don't know what the other half said last week on the same topic. Could you possibly think of a worse format for "debating?"

At the very best I have ever seen, Hacker News debates are someone who sounds smart stating a reasonable-sounding position, and then someone else who sounds smart suggesting that there might be reasonable-sounding problems with the reasonable-sounding position. Then after a dozen posts about the position it's off the front page and forgotten. That is the nature of this medium. Usually, everyone just lines up behind their premeditated arguments and fires upvotes and downvotes at each other until they see another interesting post.

Places that are reasonable for debating and exploring a subject in depth: A small, focused community that's willing to build on their prior discussions over the course of months or years. Talking with friends with whom you have a shared, growing, and conscious context in common. Books, essays, and other long-form prose where you can present your whole position at once. NOT here. At least I've never seen it happen, and I don't see how it could.

Books, essays, and other long-form prose where you can present your whole position at once.

So if someone wrote an essay about net-neutrality (which is almost entirely a political issue), that shouldn't be posted or discussed here?

I wouldn't want it here with the reason being "so we can have an argument about the merits of net neutrality." I would hope that there would be something concrete, interesting, or new about the arguments presented in the essay, or that some recent current events applied to make it worth noting, and then it would be nice to discuss the interesting new thing.

That may have been true for the first TSA post about backscatter scanners and pat-downs, for example. But it wasn't true for most of the next hundred.

Hmmm .. in that case perhaps you're actually arguing against repetition and redundancy?

Sure. But one of the excuses for repetition and redundancy in link content is "we can have a discussion about it," and I only think that's a good excuse if it's a good discussion that we haven't had ten times in the past year already.

Still, that has little to do with politics ;P

Or at least .. little to do with banning political discussion.

I fully agree that a subject can only really be discussed a few times before it's boring - and only a few more after that before it becomes downright annoying - but I think this is a separate issue.

OK, I think we mostly agree.

Yeah - agreed :)

Because you can look up some of the same damn discussions from more than 20 years ago on usenet.

For instance:


I'm sure it's possible to dig up more examples.

It just goes around and around and around. Please leave us our wonderful site for tech and startups and take the politics elsewhere.

Tech stuff can also go around in circles, the problem with just ignoring politics here and talking about it on other sites is that I haven't seen another community that I would rather discuss or hear their opinions on the subject.

In the 2+ years I've been coming to hacker news I don't really feel the subjects have changed, there has always been broader political, economics, education topics on top of tech and startups.

That might be political, but I don't think that has anything to do with technology.

I don't think it's a fair comparison.

Politics can directly relate to tech and startups.

Perhaps you are misunderstanding my post, but I never said that people shouldn't change their minds or debate a subject (in fact I vehemently believe that they should). It's simply this forum is not a constructive place for that type of discussion. Debating online, through anonymous accounts, provides little context towards other people's experiences. Additionally, you lose the nuances of language and body language, which often leads to misunderstandings. Personally, I don't feel it's an effective medium for debate.

But clearly, you disagree with me.

Additionally, you lose the nuances of language and body language, which often leads to misunderstandings.

I think I understand what you're saying, but I don't think that's reason to _not_ try to have decent discussions about politics when it relates to technology.

HN already has systems in place which make people pause before replying consecutively, which goes a long way to discouraging flame wars.

In any case, politics doesn't need to be about enforcing a point of view - it's about exploring options.

Net neutrality is almost completely political - should discussion about this be killed?

Copyright legislation is almost completely political - should this be killed too??

Limiting discussion to things which feel 'safe' isn't constructive imo.

"How to disclose security vulnerabilities" might be appopriate for HN, but "some technology somewhere is being misused" isn't.

Just because something is worth discussing doesn't mean it's appropriate here: I get my politics news from newspapers and my tech news from HN, and I like it that way.

Any way you slice it, discussion on ways to bypass scanners is not that relevant to technology. More importantly, there are a large number of sites where 'politics' can be discussed, don't infest a hacker site with it.

It's entirely relevant to technology.

Whether you like it or not, technology doesn't happen in a vacuum. Technology relates to people and society in a big way.

When usage of a device (like the millimetre wave scanner) is misguided and unappreciated by a large number of people, why on earth _shouldn't_ it be discussed on a tech forum?

It's not enough to take the view that 'I just make the stuff .. other people can choose whether it's a good idea'.

We all have a responsibility to consider whether what we create is going to result in anything 'good' and what 'good' actually means.

That's bypassing the point. Discussed once, absolutely; discussed in hundreds of posts, maybe not so much.


What you're talking about are your opinions and your personal philosophical beliefs of only tangential relevance to technology. Discussing them is not what I signed up here for. You wanna talk about it? I have a reddit account, you know?

What you're talking about are your opinions and your personal philosophical beliefs [..] discussing them is exactly what I signed up here for.

.. or are you claiming you only express facts ;)

Did you read the grandparent comment? The point made was that politics suffuses everything. You can't exclude politics. Robert Heinlein once commented that politics is like peristalsis -- the result isn't very pretty, but it's necessary for life and you ignore it at your peril!

I didn't say you should ignore politics. I read real news, just like other people. I took offense at the parent comment's implication that just because I oppose talking about the TSA on HN that I'm somehow ignorant or amoral. Give me a fucking break, it's about the signal to noise ratio, It's about me being able to regard HN as my 'industry journal' vs random water cooler chat.

The problem is the community can't really do anything about it. Without the ability to downvote a topic all you can do is watch and hope others don't upvote a story like that.

Which itself is a problem because the threshold is so low. By even the most conservative estimates there are thousands of people visiting the site every day yet it only takes a handful or so to get an item to the front page.

So even if 99.5% of the people here make a "strong commitment" as you put it the front page will still be flooded with all those TSA stories

Flag them. Flag them all.

Does anyone know how many flags it takes before an article is automatically deleted? I'm just curious as to what percentage of the hacker news ecosystem would have to flag something to remove it from the front page.

I think an article is deleted when it reaches 10 flags (could be less, not sure) before reaching 10 votes. After 10 votes, it can't be flagged to death anymore.

How about permitting downvotes to everyone after a submission has had a certain number of upvotes (say 10 or 20)?

As you say, currently there's no way to say "there's nothing interesting on the front page" even if a majority think that.

I disagree that everything that is submitted should be related to tech. Opposite is also true, just cause it is related to tech, does not mean it is appropriate.

In any case, here is the official NH policy:

"What to Submit

On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."

This sentiment, which I would caricature as "the hoi-polloi are polluting our elite discussions" is risible. Enlightenment and insight comes from listening to a variety of sources, not all of them agreeable. Set up your own invite-only community and see how quickly the discussions become stilted and predictable.

It may well be true that the threshold for stories appearing on the front page needs to be revised, but if you only ever read the front page then you are also doing nothing to select stories of quality and relevance to appear there. Perhaps you should personally be doing more to raise the quality of the front page in whatever direction you feel appropriate.

And yes, I am a newcomer.

Enlightenment and insight comes from listening to a variety of sources, not all of them agreeable.

I believe the most appropriate of responses here is, no, not necessarily.

In the end, communities defined and redefine themselves, and they do so constantly. One way to keep the level and content of discussions in acceptable territory is to restate, emphasize or otherwise promote the original purpose of the community. Discussions such as this help, if each party isn't entirely focused on mindlessly arguing with other and actually try to understand where their fellow HN-er is coming from, I suppose.

Keep in mind that the sentiment, as you put it, of the grandparent does not necessarily imply the elitism you so readily cauterize. Like it or not, communities have a narrow focus, at least narrow in the sense that contradicts a sentence like "Politics are ubiquitous!". Insight and enlightenment in this particular area of focus usually has a prerequisite the deep and fundamental familiarity with said subject.

Your point about the front page I liked alot. I noticed I only view the front page, deliberate as that may be. I wonder what gems I might be missing..

This "original purpose" ("charter" perhaps?) is new to me, is it written down anywhere? Don't communities evolve? Aren't they supposed to?

Or are people perhaps bemoaning the current state of HN just like so many old folks complaining that everything is going downhill and "it's not as good as it was in my day?"

Here are some guidelines [1].

I've answered your questions; have you read my post? Some people (eg. OP) merely point out the community is deviating from its focus. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing and it's not complaining rather than introspection of the community. Some people don't like the end result and leave, others stay behind to "evolve" the community.

I don't understand why you're (and others, admittedly) being so fast to condemn the "old folk". Even if you don't agree with their style of writing or their attitude, they have experience (inside the community, of course) you don't and know its issues quite well.

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

agreed. Matt made some very good points, and i can see arguments for revising the voting scheme. but a long-time poster citing as his #1 issue the problem that "a vocal minority" (whose views he doesn't want to hear) is getting a handful of stories on the front page comes across as very elitist, and so do a lot of the comments in this thread

All I can ask is please, try not to submit/vote up stories which are not particularly related to tech. It's not what I'm interested in discussing in this particular venue.

As a community, is that true, or is it "submit/vote up stories which are not particularly related to technology, startup culture, and programming?" That's my preference, but I also came in a few generations after HN started.

I wrote this as a reply to 'icey and it got unwieldy:

The standards for what's germane to Hacker News have gotten looser. TSA is only the most recent example. What's especially toxic about this fact is that you don't notice it until it gets really bad. That's because most of these stories have nerd-structured narratives, involving tradeoffs and logic and subtext and affordances for contrarianism, which bait commenters. Having participated in a TSA discussion (for instance), you become socially committed to the idea that they're relevant to Hacker News.

Hacker News has become much more self-referential. All due respect to 'lionhearted and 'DanielBMarkham and 'jacquesm, but there have been many stories voted to the top of the site on content that wouldn't stand had they been written by an "outsider". There's a clear name-recognition bias. That's not the author's fault (it's their blog, they should write what they want), but it does make the site feel insular.

I'll go out on a limb though and assert that insularity is something 'pg cultivates. My most recent cue on that was his encouraging response to "Offer HN".

Like it did for Matt, Hacker News has killed any desire I have to write standalone content. I haven't blogged in over a year. A book idea I was tossing around has been dead for longer. Hacker News fills the same psychological place for me that Usenet did in the 1990s, when I also didn't write a lot of standalone content. Now, for me, this is actually a good thing; I dove into HN while fleeing the "blogosphere". But I can see it being a problem for someone else.

Having said all that: I get tremendous value out of HN. I've met tons of people running startups, I've done business with some of them, I get to carry on long-running conversations with people like Patrick McKenzie and Colin Percival, I've hired several awesome people off the site, and I'm still impressed by the newcomers (for instance, go read 'carbocation's backlog of comments on biology and medicine).

Perhaps I'd like to see people a little quicker with the "flag" button; perhaps I'd like to see the site tuned so that flaggers can more easily win the race against thoughtless up-voters. And it might be nice if we could take a break from blog posts by long-time contributors; maybe we can switch to a "best-of" 'lionhearted mentality, instead of a "today's" 'lionhearted mentality.

But, while it sucks to lose Matt (he seemed like one of the more no-bullshit members of the site), I'm not as alarmed as he seems to be about the decline of HN.

'Perhaps I'd like to see people a little quicker with the "flag" button; perhaps I'd like to see the site tuned so that flaggers can more easily win the race against thoughtless up-voters.'

What happens when the 'thoughtless upvoters' find the flag button as well though? I don't think flagging posts is the solution to this problem.

People are never going to see eye to eye about what content belongs on the site and what content doesn't. There's no amount of convincing or flagging you can do to change this.

This is a tech-centric community, there's enough talent here to come up with a good tech-centric solution to the problem.

Something as simple as being able to apply a subtractive filter to the main page could go a long way. I.E. '-TSA -scanner' or something along those lines.

The TSA posts are manifestly off topic:

Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic.

The first TSA post was (marginally) germane. The TSA is now on the front page of CNN. Unfortunately, HN "blessed" the topic by spinning off gigantic discussion threads on early TSA stories. So, even though this is a current events topic currently being covered on network TV news, it still finds a place here.

I bring this up not to further the argument about the TSA on Hacker News, but rather to demonstrate a pathology that occurs when we accept borderline stories that end up breeding months-long narratives in dribs-and-drabs. I also say this as someone who has written many hundreds of words here in comments on TSA stories.

As for filtering the front page: you might as well suggest "sub-HN's", like Reddit. Part of the point of the site is that it focuses a lot of interesting brains on a single spool of stories and discussions.

PS: For what it's worth, this is actually not a tech-centric community full of tech-centric ideas for community building problems. HN is a deliberately simple site curated by a single guy who started it as a demo for his programming language and liked where it went. Very few of the technical ideas anyone has proposed for this site have been tried, much less adopted; that's just not how HN works. This is a community governed by norms more than by code.

I'm not arguing that the posts are on topic. What I'm saying is that you have no control over the so called 'thoughtless upvoters'. If you start flagging. They will start flagging, even if it's just out of spite.

I'm not taking sides here, and throwing the rulebook at me isn't helping to solve the problem.

The filtering suggestions was the first example technological approach to solving the problem that popped into my head. I agree that there's a danger of fragmenting the community with that sort of change, but filtering out '-TSA' is hardly the equivalent of having a 'TSA sub-HN'.

Regardless of whether the filtering idea is good or not, I'd like to see more suggestions on how to fix the problem.

There's a karma threshold to flag stories.

If we're going to "- TSA" filter the site, I'd be happy if 'pg just fired up a REPL and did that to news.arc.

> The TSA posts are manifestly off topic

The guidelines leave an opening for politics and even religion, so long as you're contributing something genuinely new, which has been true of a few of the TSA stories.

The rest need to be flagged aggressively.

the TSA posts are also potentially examples of "anything that good hackers would find interesting". the story about the guy not going through the scanners coming back into the country is a classic example of a hack. the excellent comment by 'aphyr on the radiation post was enormously technically interesting. etc. etc.

and they cover Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc. on TV news. they all seem to be popular on HN

The problem with this is, "anything good hackers would find interesting" is the rule that allows 'carbocation to comment here about the molecular biology of human metabolism on HuffPo stories about high-fructose corn syrup, and you want that to happen. But it's also the rule that allows whole comment threads consisting of nothing but people quoting Ben Franklin and the 4th Amendment at each other on TSA stories, to no end.

That there is someone here that can write engagingly about the dosimetry of backscatter machines proves my point. Yes, there are TSA discussions that have value to HN. That's the mouse hole the swarm of TSA stories crept in through. This is the pathology I'm talking about.

"Anything that good hackers would find interesting" is a norm that is being abused.

but i could make the same argument that "avoid politics" is being abused by people who for whatever reason don't want to see stories about clever hacks or problems with startup life that happen to be related to travel

Don't be disingenuous. I've been reading the TSA stories; the TSA is a political topic that happens to bait me very effectively. These discussions are not about the impact of the TSA on startups.

it really cracked me up that my comment was voted down so heavily ... especially given's Matt's point about how people misuse downvoting

Agree, even a simple button to remove stories permanently from our individual views would help a lot.

If PG doesn't want to do that due to performance issues, maybe one of the useful Chrome/Firefox plugins out there could add that at the browser level. I'll try to build this one of these weekends; will post it if it works well.

I was planning to build a site called HN Filter which would use the (unofficial) API from api.ihackernews.com

Basically it would allow each person to filter out stories based on keywords (perhaps "TSA", "iPad", or whatever their pet peeve is), by URL (to get rid of blogs they don't want to see), or by user (in the case of personal feuds).

In the end I started working on another startup before I got into this idea, but someone else might enjoy working on it.

We might as well just allow pictures of kittens. After all, you can always build a kitten-free HN aggregator site if you don't like them.

That was exactly my line of thought as well, and the reason why I decided it was a waste of time to pursue. I just mentioned it, however, because it is an idea that anyone can build themselves if they personally can't stand some element of HN and decide they want to filter it out.

With respect to insularity: what's up with your use of 'lionhearted, 'pg and the like? I always thought the use of @user by Twitter people was both insular and annoying...

Many people on HN have nicknames that are confusing in normal English prose. Extreme and artificial example: someone owns HN:the. The @user convention strongly implies that the person mentioned actually owns twitter.com/user, which is often not true. Some kind of "this is a username not a word" convention is useful; I chose the Lisp quote character, to prevent the username from being evaluated in the context of English prose.

Since I am the only person on HN who does this (my meme has not taken root), I'm not going to take your concern about my idiosyncrasies contributing to the insularity of HN too seriously.

I completely agree that this idiosyncrasy of yours doesn't really change anything, as long as you alone do it.

This isn't clear from your comment, but: you do understand that I said Twitter users' use of @user is annoying and offputting to outsiders, not an example to follow?

That said, this isn't a big issue for me; feel free to ignore this comment!

Twitter isn't insular. My mom knows Twitter conventions. That's not from my influence: I think she may still her mail on AOL.

The TSA stories are certainly fluff in the sense of being easy to upvote, even if the underlying principles are important. Ironically, so are posts saying that one is tired of TSA stories.

I do believe the TSA stories represent a danger. If there's a road from hacking to politics, it's probably civil liberties. So already for the past week TSA stories have had an automatic penalty applied. Or more precisly, they've been autotagged as being political, which entails a penalty.

There are no TSA stories on the frontpage at this moment. In fact, the frontpage is a pretty normal HN frontpage now.

> the underlying principles are important.

I have a suspicion that the more the underlying principles are important, the more things tend to decay into discussions that aren't particularly useful. Offhand, I can think of numerous issues that are far more important to the world than pretty much anything on the front page:

* Ireland and the Euro.

* Will Berlusconi finally be turfed out of office? Will it be for good?

* Health care in the US and the broader debate of taxes and the deficit.

* The upcoming vote for independence in South Sudan.

* Korea and Iran's nuclear capabilities.


And so on and so forth. Indeed, we could entirely crowd out "hacker news" topics with those that, I think are objectively more important in that they impact more people more deeply than Ruby on Rails ever will. I would be very disappointed to see this happen.

Just curious: Was this submission penalized, too? I noticed it dropped on the front page from #1 to about #25 almost instantly at around 1:50 EST.

Yes; posts complaining about excessive posts about topic x are effectively posts about topic x, in their effect on the content of the site.

Wow, just curious about the implementation. Do you use some sort of heuristics in determining political posts or excessively complaining posts?

The main one is number of flags. When anything gets over a certain number of flags, it shows up on a list that admins see. They decide either to kill it, mark it as political or whatever, or do nothing.

I'd imagine the heuristics mechanism was biologically evolved ... ;)

However, you also have to take into account that Matt didn't quit just based on the quality of the articles posted, but also the decreasing quality of discussion.

This comment thread is a perfect example of fanboy pile-on voting against a well-reasoned but unpopular point of view : http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1888239.

Don't you think turning off HN (literally) for a few hours every now and then will help? Sure, it won't be convenient and some people will complain but it's still worth a shot. It will at least improve the world's productivity by a few % points. The next Google might be born.

I've often thought about that, actually. I think I proposed the idea once in a comment thread. But most users seemed to be against it.

I'm going to take a possibly contrarian view, Paul. Personally, I don't trust many other news sources. HN is one that I do. I find immense value in what people here contribute and comment. The TSA stories in particular, while numerous, have been needed.

We cannot live in a complete vacuum, as many of us that center ourselves around technology do. For some background, I used to be extremely politically active when I lived in South Florida. I ran the Miami Indymedia branch for several years. I got my ass thrown in jail for being on a sidewalk at an FTAA protest and videoing it. I got burned out.

When I moved to SF in 2007, I was disillusioned with politics. I discovered that going to rallies accomplishes little. In a very relevant way, the protest community in Miami was very similar to HN. We only talked to each other and got our information from other Indymedia sites where similarly minded people around the world posted similar thoughts. That's why I got burned out.

So while you are well intentioned in penalizing TSA stories, does it stop there? When the US government makes another serious affront to human dignity next year, is HN going to filter that as well? It's ok for us to post Ask HN type questions all the time, or to post about new weekend projects that mashup Google Maps, checkins, and chickens, but it's not ok to post about serious items of public interest that affect HN-members, their friends, and their families?

Why would you trust HN more than any other news source?

Been on HN for 3 years. I personally have met many people that are part of the community. I have met pg a couple of times. I have had personal experience in different communities where members generate news. I have found for the last 3 years that HN'ers who submit stories and comment on them offer sometimes radically different opinions about something, but almost always present interesting and reasoned arguments supporting their positions. There are few trolls here, and they are beaten mercilessly when the emerge. I frequently hop around to "mainstream" news sites (msnbc, cnn, fox, etc) to see if there is anything being reported that I haven't seen on HN or elsewhere. 98.6% of the time whatever is reported on those sites is crap or bullshit, to use the Anathem/Mathic expressions of those terms.

I trust the people of HN, based on all of the previously mentioned reasons.

I've a similar story. Started using Hacker News for finding stories to read about 3 years ago (tho without getting a login), using it alongside Reddit, etc. But eventually I noticed anything worth reading was virtually always on HN, so began visiting other sites less and less frequently. (Got a login a year ago went I first saw a thread I couldnt resist commenting on.)

So just for the links alone, HN is a good visit!

> Ironically, so are posts saying that one is tired of TSA stories.

What if we could "fold" multiple stories into a single discussion? That would probably help with topic floods by collapsing a given popular topic and help discussion by concentrating it.

The site you're looking for is Metafilter, where the poster is expected to curate additional links into the post where necessary, and duplicate posts on the topic are deleted. You link to newly published/discovered content by commenting on the existing recent post, and this works out because the comments are unthreaded and in chronological order.

Paul, I'm thinking about your comment in "What we look for" about how YC founders enjoy breaking rules, just not the ones that matter.

In your view, is the "no politics" rule here one that matters?

Yes. Hacker News is a place that exists because "honor amongst thieves" (or, in this case, "honor amongst hackers") is strongly enforced. Simply stated, every HN guidelines actually matters.

I think the road from hacking to politics is any exercise of power using the intrinsic mechanisms of a system. So "voting machines", for example, might be a more hackerly means of connecting hacking with politics, than "civil liberties."

I've had high hopes for http://techstartu.ps, but it doesn't really seem to be getting much community traction.

HN has become more and more general news and less technical or startup related over the past couple of years, but the last few months have been especially bad.

It's got significantly less value for me today than it has previously... it just sucks that it's still the only game in town. Now it feels like there's a cult of personality here; that vapid, content-free submissions gather a surprisingly large number of votes. Comments have mostly stayed good, but the reddit lulziness is starting to creep in there as well.

I do think that pg has done an excellent job in making adjustments to the site as it has grown; the rating mechanism on the front page seems especially well tuned, and trolls get [dead]ed very quickly. I think this might just be a symptom of community growth & dilution.

I wonder how much of that is because of the asymmetry in time needed to produce quality content, vs. the time needed to consume that content.

I remember when I made "Diary of a Failed Startup" public. It shot to the top of HN, and the top comment was tptackek's "More posts like this, plz." But that one link was a year of accumulated startup lessons learned, experiences, and emotional reactions to things along my startup journey. And it fell off the HN front page in a day and a half. Just by the numbers, posts like that can only make a small portion of total links submitted.

The same thing when I submitted "Write yourself a Scheme in 48 hours". Shot to the top of Reddit and HN, stayed there for maybe a day. Took 3 months to write. Compare that with the volume of material that can be produced by a blogger who spends a couple hours on each post.

When a new social news site becomes popular, people immediately start submitting all the favorite links they remember from years past. But that's selecting the cream of the crop from the last 15 years of posts. Once the community reaches a steady-state, all of those posts have already been read before, and it takes a long time to produce new ones. Instead of becoming a selection of the best articles published over the last 15 years, it becomes a selection of the best articles published in the last day. The latter will naturally have far less quality than the former.

My personal solution has been to care less about consuming content and more about producing it as I've gotten older. This sorta sucks. Producing interesting content is a long, hard slog where you investigate lots of ideas that nobody wants to hear about before finding one that people do. Consuming it gives you the immediate satisfaction of thinking "Hey, I'm smarter than I was fifteen minutes ago." But ultimately, I'd rather be part of the solution than part of the problem.

(And the irony isn't lost among me that this comment is probably part of the problem, being dashed off in ten minutes or so.)

Why does your solution suck? Producing quality content, even if the attention is short, is far more admirable than consuming social news. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be learned from reading articles on HN and participating in the discussion, but if you don't apply it then it's nothing more than masturbation.

I'm reminded of some of the recent articles about how the corporate environment needs to adapt to millenials so they can profit from their amazing technology skills of the new generation. It's great that the kids know how to use Twitter and Facebook, and yes there are some nice marketing opportunities there, but let's not kid ourselves: most people are not changing the world with their mobile phones, they're distracting themselves and killing their productivity. In Silicon Valley there is this social pressure to stay on top of technology fads so as not to appear clueless, but a hermit who holes himself up in a cave for a year to work on an invention is much more likely to do something truly interesting than people who are so concerned with staying up to the minute that they're all rehashing the same ideas in rapid cycles with no downtime.

Most longer content that has been written over a long period of time is going to contain far more value than the average submission. I think in reality what we should really aim for is consuming less and what we do consume is more in depth.

It can be a thankless task at times, given that the longer a piece is the smaller a section of the audience that reads through it is. Those people will get far more value though.

A little while back one of the guys from the YC startup adioso was talking to me about their new version. Someone from techcrunch did a quick 15 minute interview and pushed out a shortish post complete with concept misunderstandings. Another site (which I forget now and can't find) did a real in depth interview and a multiple page write up but probably only grabbed a small fraction of the attention the short error filled techcrunch post would have had.

How social sites devolve.

Many social sites start with a small community of thoughtful, intelligent people because they were created by those people. Certainly this is how reddit started, and HackerNews after it. Then as the site becomes more popular, the masses (and particularly the immature masses) join up. As the masses join up they start outnumbering the founders, and the center of gravity of the site moves towards the lowest common denominator. This makes the site even more interesting to the masses, who join in greater numbers, and so on.

Current sites are on different positions on this timeline right now. At the far end is HackerNews. Reddit is more devolved -- because it's older and because of the digg debacle. Then probably comes digg. At the far end of the sewer of the masses is 4chan. But make no mistake: all these sites are gravitating towards 4chan-ness. It is unavoidable. Our only hope is that as sites slip towards oblivion, new ones take their place at the top of the hierarchy.

I suspect the #1 reason why these sites devolve is because their handles are anonymous. This gives you leave to be a jackass where you'd never do that in reality.

I have decided to test this. On reddit or digg or whatnot I have my own name as a handle for official announcements, and of course I have various anonymous accounts, including novelty accounts. I'm sure that's the case for everyone here. But on HN I solely post under my own name, and have no anonymous accounts at all. Numerous times I'd write some snarky thing on HN only to delete it at the last minute as I realized that this was going out under my real name. As a result I think my comment quality has been radically better and more thoughtful than it has been on, say, reddit.

I still think the flow is unavoidable. But I wonder if HN could at least slow the inevitable flow towards oblivion by requiring real names.

I wonder if HN could stem the inevitable flow towards oblivion by requiring real names.

I would definitely support a requirement that real names be used. That said, I don't think that real names will "stem the flow toward oblivion." Having to provide your real name might stop someone from posting porn (as on 4chan, Reddit, etc.) but when it comes to quality of posts as we demand on HN there is nothing immoral or particularly embarrassing about submitting an article on the TSA. Non-anonymity only stops people if what they are doing will embarrass them or get them in trouble.

I had tried launching a Reddit/Hacker News clone that used Real Names, but wasn't able to get anywhere.

HN mostly ignored it, and Reddit users were rather hostile to the idea.

You can read the details at - http://e1ven.com/2010/09/15/lonava-com-retrospective/

In large part, I'm sure, I marketed it badly. But I'm also fairly confident that Real Names is one of those features that people wish "everyone else" would use, but aren't thrilled about using themselves.

Another idea for preventing decay / devolution:

Membership is by invite only. Whenever someone gets banned (for any reason), the person who invited them gets banned (recursively).

> Whenever someone gets banned (for any reason), the person who invited them gets banned (recursively).

If I understand your "(recursively)" part correctly, this could make for a really interesting mass-shedding of users the first time anyone was banned. Like watching Filezilla delete a directory structure ...

Well it would only go up the tree of invitation, not sideways. The most members that could be banned at one time would be the depth of the tree. If A invites B, who invites C, who invites D, and that's as deep as any chain of invitation goes, then at most 4 people could be banned at one time.

I'm not certain how to deal with the problem of initial members / founders. Surely the founder would not set up the system so they would be banned the first time someone was banned. It seems there would need to be a set of unbannables, including the founder.

I suppose you would need to handle the detached leaves of the tree too. This brings the unbannables back into play. So if A was an unbannable and had invited B, B had invited C1 and C2 and C3, C1 had invited D and D got banned, C1 and B would also be banned, and C2 and C3 would be considered invited by A.

I think this is getting far too complicated to be practical.

Maybe instead you have to be sponsored by somebody in order to view posts, but instead of banning people outright, let the sponsor's karma/reputation be affected by the people he sponsors. That way someone who creates a lot of value to the community can mentor someone who is not currently providing a lot of value, and help them understand the community or decide it isn't for them. Then if the relationship isn't working out the sponsor can stop sponsoring them and the person will have to look for a new sponsor if they want to do anything but view the stories and discussion, but the community will be kept fairly intact, except for the people the system is still trying to figure out or vice versa.

Reminds of Zed Shaw's Utu (AFAIK inactive). That concept had recursive hate, and real names, if I remember correctly.

But honestly, that leads to very complicated systems, lots of angry banned people, … anonymity, in moderation, is good.

I think it's important to distinguish between being an asshole on the internet and being a poor judge of character.

How true. The only online community I know that avoided this debacle is PerlMonks. The same small group of people groom it carefully and constantly since before the first dotcom bust. The website itself is getting tired, though, but the "consideration" system successfully kept trolls away for 10 years.

I'm wondering if it's possible to get this sort of results with a non-technical site, though.

There is a different kind of devolution possible, which Wikipedia has undergone. It strongly discourages the masses from lowering the quality.

More users need to be given the right to flag articles. It's risky, and there has to be some learning on the part of HN. The sooner the better, or it will become harder to determine who should best have those rights.

Karma breeds elitism. But low or negative karma individuals may preserve diversity, preventing fitness plateau, stagnation and, as you suggest, perhaps decline.

Would be nice to be able to fork HN, like git, with parameters of the forkers choosing. Kind of a deme model, where you could possibly merge your fork back into HN if it had enough meta-karma.

An example of a simple fork, would be to limit posting to once per user per thread. This might concentrate the contribution of certain overactive users? Would be good to be able to run the experiment, in a fork, and abandon if it was not fruitful.

Another fork might be a PG-free zone, deus abscondicus... this might prevent the suppression of dissent? Because users would not use votes to magnetically align with the Founder.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

Almost everything in life can adopt 'story' as a metaphor.

(What I'm trying to say, is that HN won't be good forever, and it won't be around for ever either... it's a fact of life.)

I think they're all good points, though I disagree with #6. It doesn't steal comments from the source because I would never comment at the source and there's a lot of value in having conversations with people with whom you share a history and context. When patio11 comments on something, I know where he's coming from for the most part already so he can get right to the point without having to give background information I already have.

I agree with this. Follow up question: I've seen sites where HN comments appear in the source's comments (like trackbacks). Can someone point me how to do this with Posterous?

Disqus allows this... I don't know how to do it on Posterous, but that's how I got it working on danieltenner.com.

I think people use Disqus' reaction feature to do it.

> 4. The community is often snobbish and out of touch with how the other half lives.

I suspect this is endemic to many (most?) community sites, especially as they grow. HN is no exception.

> 5. It’s a time suck. That one’s self-explanatory to anyone who has used the site.

So does the rest of the Internet.

> 6. It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site.

Many sites linked to from Hacker News, like Daring Fireball, do not support commenting. Others require user registration. Either way, I read the HN comments on an article first, every time, and I use that discussion to help me evaluate if I even want to read the source article.

> 7. It reduces blogging time.

So does the rest of the Internet.

I agree with Matt on about 75% of these points. That's why I have severely started limiting my time here.

Probably the worst part is the time-sink and the predictable nature of the comments. Most of the time I can tell from the title what all the comments are going to be like. Anybody that tries to swim against the stream, if only a little bit, can be mercilessly punished. In fact, it's somewhat of a game to see how even-handed I can make a thread -- human hacking. Which makes it even more of a time sink.

HN has changed for me from being a site where I can hang out with fellow hackers to being a site where people I like hang out and spend too much of their time. I'm trying very hard not to make the same mistake. Hopefully I won't be joining Matt. (Lunch is over. Back to work)

I think that to some extent the karma average score has encouraged too much homogeneity in the comments. I don't feel like I can disagree for fear of getting downvoted or not upvoted, which would lower my karma average and make my votes in turn worthless.

The time sink factor is also obvious. However, I tend to swing back and forth between very productive and not very productive. When I am in a coding mood I rarely browse HN or comment and instead I hack like crazy for hours every day. When I am burned out or feeling like I need a break from chasing some bug I'll stop by here and read.

So the time sink aspect is doable for me at least. No one can work constantly, without any breaks, and maintain their sanity.

I think that to some extent the karma average score has encouraged too much homogeneity in the comments. I don't feel like I can disagree for fear of getting downvoted or not upvoted, which would lower my karma average and make my votes in turn worthless

I disagree with HNers(mostly because I offered radical opinions) all the time. Sometime I get downvoted, sometime I got lot of points. There will alway be assholes who downvote people for simply disagreeing but they're outweighed by people who vote me up for adding to the conversation.

> I don't feel like I can disagree for fear of getting downvoted or not upvoted, which would lower my karma average and make my votes in turn worthless.

That's too bad, because you can.

Stop worrying about your karma.

Its easy to say that I don't or won't worry about karma, but the truth is that karma systems are tied to body's endorphin system. You get a good feeling when you see that your karma or karma average has risen.

Naturally the reverse is also true and you can't help but not want either number to fall. In my case at least these feelings are involuntary, despite the fact that I know these are pretty much worthless numbers. (Except for the fact that karma average does effect the weight of your votes.)

some people are a lot more susceptible to this than others. if it's at the point where it's a significant issue for you, then you should treat it as you would any other kind of chemical dependency: learn ways to control it, or stay away from environments that trigger it.

I have noticed a decline in the "interestingness" of the stories, so it seems inevitable that the comments will be less interesting. Though I attribute this to random fluctuations in the news and meta-news cycle, rather than to some failing of the HN community (which I think is awesome).

That Matt's blog post made the front page is a case in point.

Though I attribute this to random fluctuations in the news and meta-news cycle, rather than to some failing of the HN community (which I think is awesome).

I don't know. Do you monitor the 'new' page at all? The SNR there is certainly worse, but I do come across submissions I enjoy far more than practically anything on the front page these days. I realise that submission quality is subjective; I guess the community's average opinion on this has diverged far enough from mine that the front page isn't doing it for me anymore. Due to the low SNR (and rate of change) on the 'new' page, consuming HN via it is even more time consuming than normal.

I do catch myself idly looking through front page discussions and even commenting, but there is zero intellectual value in it most of the time. At least I don't upvote the stories.

/classic is slightly better on the surface. (currently 6 upvoted stories by me vs 3 on the frontpage) Unfortunately, submissions seem to hang around there for longer than on the frontpage, so it's like a distilled version of the front page's top 60 into 30, not a truly different set.

"The community is often snobbish and out of touch with how the other half lives. "

I have noticed this and unfortunately have to agree with this observation. I wonder what principle (teaching) lets hackernews people behave like that.

I saw this in a thread about poor people. I got in a long dialogue with a pretty prominent contributor about the nature of poverty and how it can be changed. You wouldn't believe how much people here feel that it truly is poor people's fault 100% that they're poor, rather than pointing at the myriad systemic fault lines pervading being poor in a poor community, such as family turmoil, substance abuse, decaying infrastructure, underfunded classrooms (and, no, you don't get to point at one school of knuckleheads in NYC as being the marker of the entire US school system and its students), and lack of skilled blue-collar work available.

Perhaps I'm just sensitive because I grew up poor, and perhaps they're not because they never, ever had to. But, it seems that they haven't even traveled outside their comfort zones to at least take a peek at the "other half". Because of that, most of them have "common sense" solutions that are about as "let them eat cake" as can be without actually coming out and saying that (such as "just go out and get a job! I have one, and I'm fine!").

Unfortunately, that won't change here. Entrepreneurs, by our very nature, need to be cool to these sorts of fundamental problems (unless that's our problem space); we simply need to hunker down, eyes on our work, and barrel forth.

Most people are like this. People generally don't have a lot of understanding or empathy to the challenges of people outside their social class.

What's the average age of an HN poster? I remember being pretty judgmental and self-righteous when I was 20…

This poll says 32% are in the 19-24 range, and 35% in the 25-30 range:


I'd say the secret to self-actualization is having a noetic understanding of the fact that others are simultaneously far more similar to us and far more different from us than we can ever fully realize.

Your statement made me think. Looking at my friends, family, and colleagues, I can think of 2 small groups where your statement fits. The rest, I feel, do seek to understand and empathize. In my case, it is the minority.

> 6. It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site.

I think this is the reason Hacker News exists. The comment threads on destination sites are scattered across the Internet and do not bring any one community together. They are also often filled with some of the least desirable commentary possible. Read any of the comments on a Washington Post article, say, for an example of the rubbish that is exceeded only by Youtube commentary.

Evaporative cooling...sigh. I can sympathize with some of his points here, and I've starting really limiting my time here as well, but it's disappointing to see the high-value members start to move on. It's only going to make it harder to keep quality high.


He complains about lack of downvotes on stories, but then points out how downvotes on comments are abused. Personally, I'd rather have an unworthy story be voted up and having to ignore it than miss a good story because it was unfairly downvoted. Yes, I know that theoretically, poor-quality upvoted stories can mean good-quality ones are ignored, but I think that's less of a problem than good ones being prematurely killed by downvotes.

As for the "downvotes to show disagreement" problem, it's no where near as bad here as it is every single other place I've seen with downvotes. I do see one sided upvoting fairly frequently, but it usually is because the downvoted side is not arguing their position well, not because of their position. I'd say that the reverse is more of a problem, actually (poorly worded arguments that most HNers agree with being upvoted). Overall though, most downvotes I've seen have been due to poorly thought out or worded comments and comments that don't add value rather than disagreements. If you're downvoted here, you should generally put some thought into why. Every single time I've been downvoted, I've learned something from it.

There's a substantial difference between downvotes on comments and downvotes on stories. Upvoting or downvoting a story is a vote for whether you agree or disagree that the linked story contributes to "hacker news". Upvoting or downvoting a comment should be a vote for whether or not the comment constributes substance to the conversation.

I'd be in favor of reversing what can be down-voted: allow submissions to be downvoted, but only allow comments to be upvoted. Then the comment 'vote' more easily becomes "is this good?" (or at least removes the "is this something you disagree with?") and we can maintain a 'flag' on comments for the trolls/spam.

RE point 6:

> It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site.

Each place-of-commenting is its own community. You comment on HN because you want to talk to other HN folk. Generally, each community online has a particular focus. On HN you get a startups-and-tech focus, which is very different from what you get on reddit, or the Guardian, or NYT, etc.

Finally, the quality of each community is different. Contrast HN to reddit to reddit-when-it-started to techcrunch. Part of that quality comes from the software, some from the community, part from the moderatorship.

A blog is it's own community. HN is it's own community. There should be comments on both.

Why not quit quietly?

I think it shows how addicting it is. People wouldn't feel the need to broadcast if it wasn't an addiction.

I respect trying to get more time out of your day (RescueTime helps). But it seems here Matt has found an issue (TSA backlash) that is helping him go cold turkey. Since it is public resignation, it may help him regain some of his productive time.

If noone knows you quit, you can come back on Monday with no consequence.

One reason is that his reasons might resonate with others and add value. It did with me.

Quitting quietly wouldn't get any more traffic to his blog...

Quitting loudly helps to burn the bridge. Presumably he is removing any temptation to return.

Perhaps PG will change his mind about allowing political articles (TSA)?

Classifying TSA stories as "political" is just one way of looking at them, and I think it's a bit myopic. I suspect the reason we've seen a lot of TSA stories here is because they have to do with personal liberty to most folks, and this is a legit theme on a forum like HN-- there is a thematic overlap between stories like these and stories about Open Source, &c.

"Personal liberty" is a huge, and very political topic, because it's very connected with where one's freedom stops, what the rights and responsabilities of communities are, who should exercise power, and a whole host of other very political subjects that, while they may be fascinating, are generally toxic for internet forums, and are certainly not about tech or startups.

Open source is open source. It is not gun rights/free speech/right to privacy/any number of other things that are important, but are not open source.

Also, "myopic" presumes that I am not interested in politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I dearly wish to keep it out of this site.

Shall we then ban stories on HN about the latest vim plugin, or that cool Emacs macro someone wrote? Those are fiery political topics, you know--maybe even "religious" topics for some users. I agree that all this is hugely political, but to me that only strengthens the point I was making. You can't avoid politics on forums like HN (in the broad, generalised sense in which we are discussing it here).

Aside from having fun debating - you honestly can't tell the difference?

I believe they are being filtered. I'm not sure how dead auto-killed articles appear from the submitter's point of view, but I submitted an article yesterday that included the TSA acronym and it appeared to me without a comment box. This, and the absence articles on the front page, makes me think that filtering is in place.

I'm not complaining --- this is probably a fine policy. But it does complicate how one reads Matt's post. I think that HN actually does a lot behind the scenes to promote a better community, which is what keeps it as good as it is.

i'm pretty sure this happened to me as well.

EDIT: pg's comment at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1934367 describes the reason why -- they're being autotagged as "political" and a penalty applies

How is the TSA political?

The TSA isn't. The TSA articles are. They have almost nothing to do with startups, and even less to do with tech. They are the antithesis of intellectually interesting.

The site is currently called Hacker News, not Startup or Tech news. Even though the site is heavily associated with the ycombinator brand, for a lot of people, the hacker identity has a lot to do with personal freedom, even more so than technology. So if this site is really only about startups and tech then it is poorly named.

Startups can be very hacker-oriented, however forming a startup to sell out to a large corp. in the end is very anti-hacker in my opinion. But you don't see people complaining about every startup article on the site. The reality seems to be that the site attracts a cross section of visitors.

Resisting unjust searches and ridiculous security theatre procedures is hacking. The fact that it is also political is irrelevant. I have a hard time understanding a mentality where these issues are not considered interesting or important as they affect our most basic rights. Is your startup or your tech really worth anything without freedom?

Smells like politics to me. It's all over the place here:


If you feel a need to discuss it, perhaps that would be a more appropriate forum?

Not to mention featuring on sites like cnn.com. It's a pretty big issue that is certainly not "startups" or "tech". Yeah, there's tech involved, but the issue is how does society believe it should be used: politics.

Something occupying /r/politics adds no merit to its political status.

So how do you decide if an article is 'political'?

Whether you like them or not, you really can't tell? To me it's pretty obvious what goes where, with a few things that are on the edge, like politics that are really important for tech and startups, like net neutrality. The TSA articles aren't tech or startups at all. I think the "pro-politics" people would still vote them up if there were no scanners and it was only about being groped by the goons.

Because the erosion of the constitutional protection against unreasonable search & seizure is implicit in every article about the TSA, and some people would rather we trade essential liberties for an immeasurably small increase in safety in silence. And, thank you sir, may I have another[1]. This makes it political.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdFLPn30dvQ

Well, there is the fact that it's link bait.... ;)

This is a community of white collar workers who quite frequently look down on blue collar workers. I’m sorry but it’s true. A TSA worker...

Who here actually looks down on truck drivers or plumbers? It's a disingenuous way of framing the issue.

Yes, it's the logical equivalent of saying someone is anti-military for opposing the occupation of Denmark by the Nazi troops.

I still don't understand why guys like this will complain about quality and then say that they don't flag anything!

Upvotes move posts up. Flags move posts down, and if you get a ton of them, it even makes the post disappear. That's all there is to it! What does it matter whether it's called a flag or a downvote?

You're missing his point about flagging. Flagging is for trolls, spam, etc. It isn't a 'downvote'. He wants downvoting to be the opposite of upvoting, meaning 'I don't like this' or 'I disagree with this'.

As Matt himself says, it is a nuance that is lost on most.

Flagging is also for things that are off-topic. If he's sick of 20 TSA stories every day, I don't think the flag is the wrong option. I personally flag things I see that are merely political.

When you use it, it moves posts down, which is exactly the opposite of upvoting! The nuance is lost on me. I don't see why we would be provided with something that acts exactly like a downvote would act, and then expected to use it differently than a downvote.

I also draw no distinction between "spam" and "a link to someone's blog about how they were patted down at the airport." I would just as soon read about free Viagra and watches.

Yes, and a Vice Grips is not a very good wrench, unless you are stuck on the side of the road and have nothing else. Is this nuance or unnecessary idealism? :)

I'm surprised people are so reluctant to use the flag as a downvote, since it has approximately the same effect. I make it a point to visit the 'new' page and use it liberally on TSA articles, political articles, Gruber articles, etc., as well as upvote the sorts of articles I'd like to see on HN.

In the course of participating in a community or in an activity, it can be hard to avoid defining yourself in terms of that participation. "I am a Hacker News member," or "I am a poker player," become not only descriptions of what you do, but who you are. You become attached to that participation because it is part of your identity as a person. It's really easy to fall into this trap, especially if you don't have a strong sense of personal identity. I think that a lot of people, myself included, lack a real sense of self, of who we are, and we begin to define ourselves by what we do.

When you find something negative about what you're doing, or it simply disappoints you, or whatever else it might be, you end up projecting those feelings onto yourself. When the activity or community begins to frustrate you, you can either be frustrated with yourself or realize that you've grown beyond it.

Like Matt, I spent some time making a living at poker, and like Matt I have been a Hacker News member for over 3-1/2 years (I just realized that there is only one day separating our join dates). I feel like I have a pretty good idea where he is coming from. When you find that the quality of your life is being diminished by something you're doing, and you have the power to remove yourself from that activity, then it is time to do just that. I commend him for having the courage to do that.

I know people will complain about him leaving loudly. Personally, I have also tried to quit poker and Hacker News, and in times when I have a lack of direction, I find myself wandering back into old habits. Quitting loudly is a small measure to take to give people the chance to help you stick to your decision, to hold you accountable.

Good luck, Matt.

I think one of the major problems isn't that bad stuff gets voted up, but that good stuff doesn't.

The new page is sorted by time, which was fine when there were a hundred posts a day, but now during busy periods a new link is only on the new page for maybe 30 minutes.

Most of the votes a link on the new page gets seem to occur when the link is one of the top 5-10 links. So in practice a link has ten minutes to get votes or it dies. So it comes down to the handful of people who read the new page in those ten minutes (I posted a link the other day, it had ten click throughs while it was on the new page and 3 upvotes; 1 more upvote would have pushed it to the front page).

I think HN needs to switch the new page to a "rising new" page (like Reddit uses), where links that have upvotes get to stick around longer on the new page than links without upvotes.

I like the community. I like the TSA stories. I like the lack of a downvote button. Maybe the community does too and that's why they're rising to the top.

I honestly can't think of a post from mattmaroon.com linked from hacker news that's ever taught me anything or made me think. I learned quite a lot reading the TSA articles and I've been thinking about them and the enforcement of the policies they describe.

Internet people tend to be somewhat libertarian in my experience. Not left leaning or right leaning, just protective of their liberties. This unconstitutional violation of American's civil rights fits nicely into those views. So people like it.

If you really want to see a community on it's last legs take a look at digg. It's become a cesspool of political insanity combined with NSFW top ten lists.

I agree with a lot of his points.

A TSA worker, to them, is not some guy without a college degree who is feeding his family, he’s an amoral pawn of an evil bureaucracy that exists solely to ensure that peaceful Americans have to get their junk touched by the back of someone’s hand before boarding a plane.

I got eviscerated for suggesting an alternative to berating the front-line TSA workers. To repeat, they are working hard, in a shitty job, to feed their families. They are following the rule they're given, and have no input to the process. Treating them like shit isn't the answer.

The ideology is often anti-corporate to the point of naiveté, and that’s nothing compared to how anti-government it is.

This seems to be a problem in any tech community. Maybe the larger percentage of Asperger-like folks?

"I got eviscerated for suggesting an alternative to berating the front-line TSA workers."


Looks like you got eviscerated for bragging about not reading the article and calling the author a 'douche.' Also, you didn't suggest an alternative to berating TSA workers, you suggested that such alternatives existed, and only in an edit to the original post.

I'm not sure it's the specific issue of TSO decorum that Matt is trying to communicate, so much as it is the perceived lack of life experience and corresponding biases that HN commenters appear to bring to issues like this. We do, in the large, sound like a bunch of 17 year olds when we talk about the TSA.

I disagree with Matt about TSOs, but I think that's probably survivable. What might be less survivable is the fact that a group of people who are overwhelmingly privileged young male knowledge workers are spending time talking about politics at all. This is a crappy place to talk about politics. Discussions seem to invariably devolve to Rand-ian libertarian software developer vs. WTO protester software developers.

hmm, i haven't seen a lot of WTO protester types here ...

there certainly are a lot of privileged male knowledge workers here. that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad place to talk about politics, though. it depends a lot on your goals.

It bothers me that three people have (as I perceived it) now commented on this thread suggesting that there's nothing wrong with talking politics on HN. That's a shift in the norms of the site. We're talking about something that is specifically called out in the guidelines as off-topic.

No wonder there are so many TSA stories on the front page.

This is a crappy place to talk about politics.

Where's a better place? I watch CSpan on occassion, and the Hill is a much worse place. Political discussions tend to devolve, but so do discussions about Microsoft, Google, Apple, RoR, Python, typing, editors, IDEs, paradigms, SLC, etc...

With that said, everyone has to decide where to spend their time. And everyone has a preference as to what kind of discussions they prefer to have. I hope Matt finds a great community whereever he ends up going.

Finding a better place to talk about politics is not HN's problem; politics is specifically called out as off-topic in the site guidelines.

I don't think you'd keep someone with Matt Maroon's portfolio of complaints just by eliminating politics; after all, people do also write pointless comments about Apple. But that doesn't mean the politics stories aren't a correctible deficiency in the site.

Finding a better place to talk about politics is not HN's problem

To be clear, I was simply responding to something you said. You gave the impression that it was the quality of political discussion, not simply that it was against the rules.

A simple way to avoid problems would be to require all submissions to have code in the body of the text. The broad notion of "hacker" is too broad to be useful, IMO.

I can respect their need for work. Everybody needs to survive. The issue is what they are willing to do to survive.

Are they going to actively participate in throwing their fellow citizens under the bus? Can you respect that?

Do you respect thieves, debt collectors (not the "call you on the phone" kind), domain squatters, or crack dealers? (Yes I did lump domain squatters in there. As a group, they are scum.) They are all just doing what they can to make ends meet. It doesn't mean one can't expect them to have some perspective on the morality of such methods of survival.

Every single citizen is responsible for the safeguarding of our collective rights and freedoms. There are no excuses.

I welcome posts like this one. I don't agree with everything stated, and frankly it may be easy to take exception to some of the points made.

Nonetheless, I find it incredibly helpful to take a critical look at the communities I am a part of and the thinking that pervades them.

He'll be back, hn has its problems but there's nowhere else to go.

The Well actually has a discourse level that's comparable or even higher than HN on some subjects, but you need to pay $99 to join. The next discourse level up would be edge.org, but you're not allowed to contribute unless you're already a famous scholar.

You make it sound like it's $99 up front, but it's just $10 a month, or something reasonable like that.

1) Yes

2) Yes, but those appear to be the actual semantics of uv/dv buttons, not the intended meaning. It's sad but true. This has it's own impact, people tend to talk about the things that people will agree with in order to get upvotes.

3) Yes a million times. The actual Apple/Google/Microsoft discussions here are a very tiny signal in a fantastic epic pile of ideological noise. These are companies we can learn a lot from by looking at their successes and mistakes, but it's virtually impossible because people have invested far too much time making their purchase of products these companies make part of their personal identities.

4) Meh, maybe. That's just the way a community like this might skew.

5) Yeah well. But I find I'm fantastically up-to-date on the technology and business concepts for this area.

6) I actually find the comments on HN and interesting meta-discussion to most everything that shows up. I typically don't care to talk with the author of something. Most of the time, the link target isn't a blog with a comments section anyways.

7) Oh well. I'm not sure blogging is that great a benefit to humanity anyways.

I'm surprised it's not over the mysterious rules that PG tweaks constantly on the site, or the slow degradation along the HN->reddit->digg->4chan path.

And common, no alternate site that he's going to?!

PG needs to take a more active role and nuke some of the world news / politics submissions. There's really no justification for having them here.

I don't agree with Matt's conclusions about the 'damage to the internet', but his comments about the problems with HN resonate. I can understand why he's leaving. I think there are solutions, though, even if no other sites have quite managed to pull it off. I think the key points are:

1) It's OK for different users to see different views of the site. Reddit moved to predefined subcommunities, but this could also be done dynamically. A single 'top page' won't cut it unless users have the ability to block and filter.

2) It's OK to partition the site. While one wants consistency, it's OK to pretend that some posts were never made. You can't have things disappearing from the middle of reply-chains, but there's really no difference between a post that's never made and a post that's not shown to everyone.

3) Not everything functions best as a one-person one-vote democracy. I'm all for the benevolent dictatorship PG and those whom he delegates his power to. While transparency is often preferable, sites like this tend to fail due to lack of use of power rather than from unchecked use.

> It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site. When you read a blog post, then click back, then comment, you’ve greatly reduced your chance of speaking to the author.

Commenting on the blog is close to worthless, for several reasons.

1. Most blogging software has atrocious handling of comments. Even such a basic feature as threading within the comment stream is often missing.

2. There often is not any kind of way to vote on comments so as to make it easy for people to find the good comments.

3. Bloggers are often one-hit wonders. They write one good blog post that makes it to sites like HN and Reddit, and then fade back into their normal obscurity. This makes it much less likely for a community of regular commentators to form around any particular blog. On sites like HN, one starts to recognize the frequent commentators, and see what they think on a variety of different comments.

There are often times where the comments here or on Reddit are sufficiently informative that I don't even get around to clicking through to the original article.

What really happened to the downvotes?

Are they removed entirely, or the threshold is increased to beyond what I have now got (462 karma, at 3.5 average)

The attendees at Hacker News Meetups are some of the smartest, most interesting, most courteous, and most entertaining people I've met. It's true that the software running this site may need to adapt a bit, but the community itself is still thriving.

(Plug for Hacker News DC meetup group: http://www.meetup.com/JoinHNDC)

    In an ideal community people would up-vote arguments for adding
    value to the conversation and down-vote only for detracting.
I agree in general with this point--I'd much rather have comment ranking based on comment value than how many people agree with it. However, I think a big part of the problem is that there's really no other way to 'agree' with a comment. Commenting "I agree" or something similar is (rightly) frowned upon, but the only real replacement right now is an upvote (or, if they disagree, a downvote), and people like being able to indicate their support of things.

The obvious (although maybe not best) solution would be to add another axis for comment voting that doesn't affect post ranking (or, at least, affects it much less than the current one) that tracks agreement/disagreement. I can see a couple of downsides to this, the biggest of which is that it adds a large new element to a very simple commenting system.

It seems like Matt is generally not a fan of online communities. In reality hacker news has not changed a whole lot in the last couple years and as far as I know is still one of the few sites with a large community and a strong bias towards intellectualism and knowledge sharing.

Matt points out that HN and other voting related sites have flaws. Frankly, thats my assumption when I use any tool, or for that matter interact with any group of people through any medium. I'm a little surprised that the author is just now reaching his threshold for the flaws in the system - he points out no new problems.

The important question is not, "what's wrong", as much as "what's better?". This post would have been much more valuable as a discussion of feasible, implementable alternatives to the observed problems rather than a post about the author's choice on how to spend his own time.

Might not want to know, but there is a password reset function.

So what is the next big new thing? I'd certainly like a HN that is filtered much more. Plan to experiment with machine learning, but prospects are uncertain.

How did those sites work out where news are just filtered by your friends, rather than everybody?

I've been throwing around some ideas, and I know that RiderOfGiraffes has, as well...

Things come and go in HN, but that cannot be a primary reason to quit HN itself. Today it is TSA, yesterday it was offer hn etc. I have gained more in knowledge than what I have lost in time on HN, as long as it is that way, I am staying.

I agree with just about all of Matt's points, but I've gotten (and continue to get) so much value out of the people here that I'm not ready to walk.

PG's recent inclusion of "average karma" seems to me a shot over the bow pushing us to recognize the importance of thinking before we speak.

It is shocking to me to see a leader board populated with low karma averages - only 1/3 of the "top" 100 members by total Kamra average over 5 (including Matt).

If there's one piece that we desperately need it's the ability to downvote, tied into average karma which is how I've measured and meter my contribution (and others) to the community.

> 6. It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site.

This is very good in my opinion because it gives us more freedom, because the post's author can't discriminate against possible negative comments. In other words: this is neutral ground.

> someone who can’t tell the difference between being a freedom fighter and being a douche to a guy who makes $12 an hour trying to stop planes from getting blown up.

I don't think the TSA's moves are as effective as they are annoying.

> 2. Votes on comments are used to express agreement or disagreement rather than value

I don't think there is an easy solution for this one anywhere else.

A little offtopic, but:

"The term “evil” (the silliest and most counterproductive word to enter tech discussions ever) is thrown about haphazardly."

Interesting observation. Haven't seen it here before. Was there some talk about this on HN?

I have not noticed this phenomenon, other than various paraphrases of "don't be evil".

Yes, the use of that term in this context is clearly bad -- bad in the same sort of way that Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Darth Vader is bad. </irony>

As a newcomer, I don't see the problem. There are so many interesting submissions on HN that surely no one has time to read them all (I suppose if you reflexively read them all, then you would have a problem). I appreciate the TSA-related posts as civil liberties are very important to me, but if you don't care, skip them! It's not like they're not clearly labelled.

I have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks reading the site, but I don't regret it at all -- it's been informative and inspiring.

I once quit Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=43635

Looking forward to seeing you back soon under a new account name, Matt.

Is it true that there's a secret spinoff site, called 'Flouncer News', to which you only receive an invite if your public "I'm quitting HN" post makes it to the top HN position?

Yes. It's spectacular.

Is it just me or does his blog post only reason is to reassure himself that he's above hacker news as a community. If you want to leave because you see no value in it, then by all means leave. What does it matter if the author thinks HN sucks? I understand the need for valuation of one's actions, but really this sort of statements are just boring.

This article belongs in a tweet: "I'm fed up with Hacker News and ergo, I'm leaving it!". That's the only thing that the author really said, but really, does it even matter?

After reading this I realize that I still vote up comments I agree with rather than comments that add value to the discussion. Why is it so hard to change your behavior in this regard?

The cases I see most often after reading a comment:

1) I was going to post the same comment. I'll just upvote him instead.

2) I had never thought of that. It makes sense and I agree. I'll upvote him.

Both cases are "I agree". But for 1) If I was going to post the same comment, then I clearly see it as something relevant to say in the discussion. Therefore his post is relevant and should be upvoted. 2) is also a case of something being relevant.

Should I also be spending my time finding things I disagree with but find insightful and upvoting them? Insightful generally falls under category 2.

Basically, agreement and value go hand in hand, and as long as you aren't treating comments like a poll, most if not all of your upvotes should be the result of you agreeing with the comment.

Tend to agree with alot of what Matt says. It's why I don't comment often, and simply use HN as a source of news and posting anything I find myself that I think is of interest.

Genuine question: when should one refrain from posting a comment on HN? Mine aren’t exceptional bits of wisdom, or unheard-of in the technology world. I haven’t invented any programming language nor did I create an app which gathered 10M+ users in a matter of weeks. Should I just shut up or do we want to encourage discussion, let people make mistake so they can be taught — when there is one — the right answer?

189 comments (and counting) on a self-reflective post? The old chestnut about the media liking nothing more than talking about itself comes to mind.

The community is often snobbish and out of touch with how the other half lives. This is a community of white collar workers who quite frequently look down on blue collar workers. I’m sorry but it’s true.

Who cares if it's true, is it useful? Is it a useful trait for HN to have, and is it a useful complaint for you (him) to raise?

>the community has grown more insular and self-referential which is a problem in and of itself

Nail on the head.

The site is having trouble loading. Can read it here: http://viewtext.org/article?url=http://mattmaroon.com/2010/1...

Wow, most of his Categories are some variation of "other people are stupid".

I just changed the password to some long random string so I’d never be tempted to log in again. Lack of password recovery isn’t a bug there, it’s a feature.

Going to do the same thing. See ya, HN.

To me, lack of upvotes is one of the better traits, as on other social sites, good stories are often downvoted into oblivion in order to make other stories look relatively better.

A lot of this is true, but HN is a great source of interesting links, where else would you go to find interesting articles such as this blog about quitting HN?

It's amazing how this post has received 233 upvotes in 4 hours, and it's not even on the front page. There's something weird with the ranking algorithm.

It's been penalized for being offtopic.

I think he's just upset about the TSA articles. That point keeps coming up over and over again in his post. It weakens what he has to say.

It's clear he supports the TSA to "stop planes from getting blown up." Since the majority of HN doesn't agree with that sentiment (at least that's how he paints it), he's sort of being a baby about it and quitting because he can't handle disagreement. He masks this fact very thinly in a what is definitely a stereotypical flameout post.

Communities disagree, and they're not all perfect. Nothing new there. If there was no disagreement on HN, it'd be boring.

Some of us are not fond of the TSA situation, but are vehemently opposed to this site being yet another place on the internet to chat about politics. You can get that elsewhere, but you can't get tech/startups/basically friendly attitude anywhere else I've found so far.

I'm with you on that. I flag articles that are political. That said, the posts about the science behind backscatter radiation, and subsequent discussion on HN, I've enjoyed.

He's been here almost 10 times as long as you have. I wouldn't be so quick to blow him off.

At the moment, nine people have voted up a comment on Matt's story that asserts that Matt's real issue is that he supports the TSA. I think that supports his point somewhat.

It's clear he supports the TSA to "stop planes from getting blown up." Since the majority of HN doesn't agree with that sentiment (at least that's how he paints it), he's sort of being a baby about it and quitting because he can't handle disagreement.

This is an absolutely ridiculous, trollish statement. It bears no obvious relationship to the blog post linked. Do you actually believe this? If so, why?

Because he mentions the TSA by name multiple times and ends his post with a sentence dedicated to it.

On the one hand, he spends an entire multiple-page blog article mentioning reasons why he thinks the general quality of the site is poor, none of which have any direct connection to the TSA. On the other hand, he mentions the TSA by name twice. Which is more likely to be his primary concern?

I'm sure that if you try hard enough, you can read hidden, shameful motives into everything people write, but it's damn rude to use that as an excuse for ignoring what they actually wrote.

I agree with all the TSA articles on HN. I have also flagged all of them, because they're obviously preaching to the choir, and per the site guidelines, they're not specifically interesting for hackers.

I'm guessing he's a Myers Briggs "Guardian" type who can't truly respect people he disagrees with :) Lots of people are this way, and it's not really a big deal, but it does explain a lot of the world's problems.

Guardians are also inclined to respect authority, which may also be part of his aversion to anti-TSA stories.

Instead of using Myers-Briggs as a tool for understanding, you've just it to pigeonhole someone based on one negative characteristic (which lets you disregard his opinions) and then blamed his personality type for "a lot of the world's problems."

Tools like Myers-Briggs are great for looking at yourself, understanding your strengths and weaknesses and learning to be a better person. However, when you start using them as weapons, the focus becomes other people's problems. I guess the benefit is you don't have to worry about self-improvement anymore when a personality typing system makes it so convenient to place the blame somewhere else.

Not at all. I simply attempted to explain how the lens of personality is often a useful way to understand someone's motivations which may at first seem highly counter-productive (as Matt's did upon my first reading of his post).

I must admit that I do judge people harshly for several Guardian characteristics, but I realize that those characteristics are also (in many cases) strengths.

I think he's just upset about the TSA articles

The TSA articles are annoying noise that undermine HN. Unless it's discussing the technology of the devices or heuristics of algorithms used to analyze it, it's pop political garbage that belongs on Reddit.

Though I'll disagree with him on one thing: HN should be more elitist, not less. HN's distinction was once that it really was where the smart technology people were. Of course once it gets that rep the hanger ons follow, and soon they're the ones stamping their feet and yapping about the TSA or even North and South Korea -- those are nice, calming, accessible topics, and it's how every community driven site, without oversight, eventually drifts to the mean.

Finally, I can align my HNews user name with my "street" nick. Sincerely, Chaz Wannamaker

What if we could tag posts? Identify which ones were political, programming, etc.

Too much drama.

Can I have your stuff?

Wow... I haven't even noticed TSA posts here. And I thought I checked a lot!

I bet no-one will read this cause here are definitely to much comments but even so I will give it a try.

Part 1

I'm one of those new guys around here (to be honest I really don't know how I find out about Hacker News, maybe twitter) and maybe one of those assholes who are killing this community (if it is even possible) with it's valuable content. I just read in this blog post what I'm doing wrong here and how I'm helping those contents which don't belong at Hacker News come to the front page BUT I never knew and never wanted to do that. I love this community and I have to say it really opened my mind about functional programming, startups, making decisions, learning from lessons and so on. But in fact there was no-one who told me what this is all about, what news belong at Hacker News, how to comment and react right, that I should up-vote content which are valuable and not which are cool and exactly what I think about it.

In a place where are no rules people will act like there are no rules. And by rules I don't mean restrictions I mean telling people what is Hacker News and what is it about: startups, hackers, fancy geeky things, sharing thoughts ect. By not telling this to the newer AND older (who maybe forget about it) you are supporting that Hacker News becoming more and more invaluable. You are also supporting it if you are just opting out of this community. Come on, is it this everything you can do? To just leave and not help Hacker News become better (again)? It's not my style and hopefully it will never become my style.

If you want to give the Hacker News community something back maybe it would be a article about Hacker News and what it is and what it is for.

Part 2

I really don't understand why people are complaining about a lack of a feature when they could write it on their own. We are all hackers and pretty good ones. So grab for example GreaseMonkey and write a freakin' down-vote button own your own. When you are finish submit it to Hacker News and I bet my balls it will become a top topic for several days and everyone will use it. There you have it: the way a real hacker would go, right? Just do it. (No I'm not working for Nike)

Part 3

Hacker News is time consuming. Yeah thats exactly what it is BUT while it is time consuming it has a pretty good value cause you read about what people did wrong and who you can do it better on the next time and which services can turn to bad even if it was in theory really excellent.

Before I knew Hacker News I hang out on StackOverflow, some Blogs about Gadgets and so on. Now I'm just hanging out on Hacker News and reading all those valuable content (I try to focus on the ones which are interesting and not about TSA and other US-political stuff ect).

I learned so much about programming, software architectures, startups and wrong technology decisions that I'm glad I 'wasted' my time here and not on Facebook, Gizmodo, DaringFireball, you name it.

Part 4

Everyone has to do what they love and what they feel to do. If it is hacking and to exchange your experience: you are welcome. If Hacker News is turning to a waste of time for you? Drop it.

Last but not least

I hope I could write something which is valuable for all of you.

Note: Sorry for my bad english. I'm from Germany and so my english is sadly not my primary language. Feel free to correct me.

no u didn't

at least its not reddit (yet).

geez sorry :\

He seems to have issues with the TSA.

Some valid points, but you're stilling getting this from me: http://imgur.com/F2QBM.jpg


Let me know when the community is full of libertarian nutcases, rather than ideologue hating HNers.

I guess he's not planning on applying to Y Combinator...

He's the founder and CEO of a YC Company.


Really?? Well that's the last time I make a playful quip on HN. Here's to being really serious all the time.

I love their About page. It's really funny. I 'm glad they put Tupac.

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