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HN: The Good Parts (2017) (danluu.com)
144 points by quickthrower2 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

PG's essay "What I've Learned From Hacker News"[0] is on point:

COMMENTS: Bad comments seem to be a harder problem than bad submissions. While the quality of links on the frontpage of HN hasn't changed much, the quality of the median comment may have decreased somewhat.

There are two main kinds of badness in comments: meanness and stupidity. There is a lot of overlap between the two—mean comments are disproportionately likely also to be dumb—but the strategies for dealing with them are different. Meanness is easier to control. You can have rules saying one shouldn't be mean, and if you enforce them it seems possible to keep a lid on meanness.

Keeping a lid on stupidity is harder, perhaps because stupidity is not so easily distinguishable. Mean people are more likely to know they're being mean than stupid people are to know they're being stupid.

The most dangerous form of stupid comment is not the long but mistaken argument, but the dumb joke. Long but mistaken arguments are actually quite rare. There is a strong correlation between comment quality and length; if you wanted to compare the quality of comments on community sites, average length would be a good predictor. Probably the cause is human nature rather than anything specific to comment threads. Probably it's simply that stupidity more often takes the form of having few ideas than wrong ones.

Whatever the cause, stupid comments tend to be short. And since it's hard to write a short comment that's distinguished for the amount of information it conveys, people try to distinguish them instead by being funny. The most tempting format for stupid comments is the supposedly witty put-down, probably because put-downs are the easiest form of humor. So one advantage of forbidding meanness is that it also cuts down on these.

Bad comments are like kudzu: they take over rapidly. Comments have much more effect on new comments than submissions have on new submissions. If someone submits a lame article, the other submissions don't all become lame. But if someone posts a stupid comment on a thread, that sets the tone for the region around it. People reply to dumb jokes with dumb jokes.

Maybe the solution is to add a delay before people can respond to a comment, and make the length of the delay inversely proportional to some prediction of its quality. Then dumb threads would grow slower.

[0] http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html

I think the top submissions have declined somewhat over the years. Maybe it’s just my personal taste that’s changed, but I like two types of articles. The ones that are interesting and the ones that are actually useful to me. There is still a lot of interesting articles on HN, that diver story from yesterday is a great example of one. It’s rare I see an article that’s actually useful though. Google cloud being down, and google engineers explaining what was going one is one of the few useful thing I’ve seen on HN in 2019. (And that actually mainly involved the comment section).

I realise that you will always get a lot of hype-technologies on a technology focused social media, but they are actually not that interesting to me. Sure Rust is cool, but chances are that I won’t actually ever meet someone who uses Rust professionally in my lifetime. This frankly makes the majority of Rust related content rather irrelevant to me, and I say Rust, but I could be mentioning a range of the other cool, new and not-adopted technologies. Now, I’m not saying that those articles shouldn’t be here, because I think they absolutely should. It’s obviously more news-worthy to write about something new and cool, rather than something old and tried. When the majority, or all, the content is made up of technologies that will probably never see real world adoption, however, well then HN becomes somewhat irrelevant, at least to me. Maybe that means I’m just on the wrong web-page though.

I disagree. Hacker News is a time limited popularity based discussion forum. Everything else being equal, short unsubstantial comments are a lot easier to refute. It is long unsubstantial comments that inflates the issue until the effort required to argue against them makes it unfeasible to do so. These comments also create a false consensus, based on volume rather than arguments, that then continue to live on in subsequent stories. One of the few way to puncture such a bubble is to write something short but pointed. But this will more often than not be penalized by users and the system on HN. Making effective dissent against the winning narrative practically impossible.

One problem I think HN has in the way it views comment quality is the assumption that the only reasonable metrics for "quality" in a comment are novelty ('adding something new') or information density. Comments are conversations. The deeper into a thread you go, the less relevant that conversation becomes to the general audience, as the context shifts from the broad subject to some more fine-grained tangential minutiae between fewer and fewer people.

Expecting all comments to provide intellectual merit or brilliantly quotable nuggets of insight, or considering those that don't to be harmful grossly misjudges the intended use of a forum. We're not here to post theses at one another.

I also disagree that humor and brevity in a comment are implicit signs of low quality. One can find many examples of brilliant people with a well developed sense of humor, and of its employment in intellectual discourse. Indeed, the lack of a sense of humor is seen more often than not as a sign of intellectual deficit. I suspect there is a correlation between HN's distaste for humor in comments and the growth of meanness in comments over time - humor as a virtue signal is suppressed, so its opposite becomes encouraged.

Of course, there is a legitimate reason to want to police and reduce obviously poor comments, trolling, etc. But I think HN tends to cut its own nose off to spite its face in its efforts to engineer quality beyond what's actually necessary.

I'd like to take this moment to highlight the contributions of HN user philipkglass. Their comments on energy-related articles are always well informed and well explained.

I used to really love HN for the good parts. Even back when I first started lurking, you would see waves of mean and incorrect comments, but it ebbed at times. These days the good stuff seems to be getting drowned out more and more. It feels like the polarization of discussion based social media is finally consuming this place like a cancer. I’ll always love the things I learn here, but I’m driven away from the discussions more and more.

That intro leaves much to be desired in terms of inviting the reader to what comes after it.

Why, the intro perfectly describes a comment such as this one :-)

Which part of the intro? Was my comment mean? Was it wrong?

It was short ;-)

(Oh, sorry, it was the quote in the top comment that warned against short comments)

It's great. "HN comments are terrible" ... I want to read on to find out why he thinks so...

I have only lurked here for a few years, but from the beginning it seemed to me that the HN zeitgeist is slightly sociopathic. It does not stop me from lurking, however, perhaps because it is one of the last bastions of text only web.

This reminds me, I was planning to extract my own most-highly-voted comments and see if I could make some sort of book or longform piece out of them.

Do you put comment licensing in your profile? I do.

Yes, comments on HN are mostly a time waste or even total garbage, as are comments everywhere else.

BUT, there's the occasional nugget hidden in that pool of filth that makes it worth digging through :-)

So how would you judge your comment by that metric? To me it seems you just repeated what OP said many times without adding something new.

>> So how would you judge your comment by that metric? To me it seems you just repeated what OP said many times without adding something new.

One could say exactly the same thing about this comment - and the one I am making right now. Comments about comments should be kept to the bare minimum as they invite flame wars and add noise.

I know. That was, what I was pointing out. Complaining about bad comments with a bad comment, while feeling superior.

... so did my comment raise the bar? I don't know. It maybe made the poster thinking. Because what bothers me actually much more than a non expertise comment is a snarky elitist comment, failing to see their own ignorance.

Maybe because I was a lot like that. I am very smart. But I know (now) that I can be very stupid as well.

Yes, I was absolutely aware of the irony of that while writing my original comment.

dan, please set max-width: 40em; on your content. It's unreadable as-is. I will read this later on Pocket.

You can use reader mode if your browser supports it. But I agree.

FWIW, I immediately enabled Reader Mode in my browser and was very confused when the topic of the article changed abruptly because I was running into the other articles on the page.

Most HN comments are gratuitously mean or incorrect, but it has good technical comments.

This is so true. Posting work I've done on Show HN is like going back to an abusive relationship with someone who just wants to crush, dismiss and ridicule every creative thing you ever did or wanted to do.

I've spent a lot of (necessary, but still feels wasted) time getting over the trauma of commenters on Show HN and their cruelty. I find their comments contribute to the self-doubt inner narrative I have and I hate that, particularly the idea that some random abusive person on the internet can influence your future choices by convincing you you are stupid, or your work is bad or whatever. But I consider I just have to find my own way to get stronger about this and to somehow be resilient to that. Because people are like that every where you go.

In processing this emotional/comment abuse trauma, I also have spent quite a lot of time thinking about what makes each person say something mean, when they could have pointed out something in a considerate way. I think the path to become an abusive HN commenter is different for each person who goes that way, but one thing I think must be behind it is people who feel crushed, or dismissed creatively themselves, and wanting to perpetrate that on other people as a substitute for making something themselves. It's common that the meanest commenters don't have any "submissions" or at least no personal "this is something I did" submissions.

Creative communities don't have to be like this. OpenProcessing, Glitch are some very supportive places I've seen for creative work. IndieHackers, Product Hunt, the same. Here it seems that the community "tolerates" this behavior and possibly views it as some sort of sport or entertainment, as unhealthy as that is. I'm not dissing entertainment like that, it has its place, I just wish/expect it were not here.

But that leads to a second theory I have about abusive commenters, that this is a "tech" or engineer thing, and not a creative person thing. Tech has an asshole problem, and maybe there's correlation between people who are technically good, but emotionally abusive or lacking in empathy.

I find often mean comments are disguised as not, to give the abuser an "out" or plausible deniability. So they get to perpetrate their cruelty under a cover of just being helpful, or whatever.

Anyone want to share some strategies they have for processing this trauma in an efficient way, or some strong responses they have for it?

>But that leads to a second theory I have about abusive commenters, that this is a "tech" or engineer thing, and not a creative person thing.

Don't think it's specifically tech-related. Probably goes deeper.

One of my hobbies is music, I play in a live rock band and frequently meet other bands. A feature of fellow amateur musicians that stands out the most to me is how often they are dismissive and snobbish towards other musicians. I've been in bands and amateur musicians' circles in two very different countries, and people in both had this thing going on! It's bizarre. And coming on to the next point...

>Tech has an asshole problem, and maybe there's correlation between people who are technically good, but emotionally abusive or lacking in empathy.

I've seen this behavior from people that are pretty proficient at their instruments more often than from newbies, too!

That's an interesting perspective about the behavior not being unique to tech. Thank you, I found it helpful to consider.

Well, you should be aware that a lot of people who spend a lot of time on HN are bitter, because their own ideas did not flourish and they are stuck in a mediocre job, so wandering on HN and alike to get inspirational spirit, but with jealousy, so not eager to love new things at first sight, but to smash them. But they are also able to applaud something if they love it.

So of course it is possible that your work is not the best, if random internet strangers can crush it easily.

I found HN to be a much nicer place than most other places on the internet, but still, you should not expect anonymous people to be nice. Not in this internet, not in this world with all its freaky, unhappy people. Happy people usually have other things to tend to, that makes them happy, than posting all the time. So don't take it too personal. View it as a challenge and don't try to please a internetmob.

> you should be aware that a lot of people who spend a lot of time on HN are bitter, because their own ideas did not flourish and they are stuck in a mediocre job, so wandering on HN and alike to get inspirational spirit, but with jealousy

That's quite an assumption, don't you think?

Yes it is. And I know, I got no data to back it up, just experience and logic. And yes, there are some people who really like to post a lot here and enjoy it. But they are the exception.

Thank you very much. I found your comment helpful by giving some perspective about why people do it and how that helps to not take it seriously. It's reasonable.

You should not read the feedback in show HN seriously. HN is good for the exposure and traffic it generates, and it helps that the links are also picked up by a few blogs, aggregators, and even the media may pick it up and write an article about you. But don't rely on individual opinions and don't take them seriously, instead do your own a/b testing with your product. HN is no longer a community of hustlers the way indiehackers is so you 're not going to get any high fives or enouragement, unless you pander to the sensitivities of the crowd here, which are overwhelmingly corporate employees.

The best way to get over it is to see the reactions rationally, and understand where they come from. Don't read further into it than you should be. Instead pay more attention to the opinions of your users.

I really appreciate this comment, it's helping me to put it in perspective.

The main thing to consider here is that Hacker News probably isn't your audience. Unless your product or service is aimed at developers/software engineers first and foremost, the probability of it getting relevant feedback via Show HN is slim.

And to some degree, that's one of the big reasons why this community can be so harsh or mean. Because for the kind of person who uses this site, many of these Show HN projects feel like things they'd be able to build themselves, or which can be done better via some simple technical process. I mean, look at Dropbox. People here were real harsh towards that one, and didn't understand the market potential for it at all.

It's also subject to the same trends as other expert focused communities, in that experts in a field/creators in a field will usually be harsher towards others in said fields than the general public will be. They know how the work is done, and are looking for technical novelty in such rather than the content of the work.

So don't take it too seriously, remember that people here probably aren't your audience and that they're likely to be significantly harsher/more dismissive than the general public is.

Thank you for this. Your comment is useful to me, especially the point on DIY, novelty and Dropbox.

Two thoughts - on cause and on dealing with it. For the affinity of assholes in technical fields, I see two things push people towards it. One is the work (engineering) pushes you to look for edge cases, flaws, etc, and fix them. The second, highly related imho, is that technical people frequently work for non-technical people who tell them what to do. Often in a way that leaves out lots of important details. I think that creates this inner frustration where people who may be good at leading projects architecturally instead constantly clean up bad plans. I don't think this is everyone or the cause of everything, just a supporting thread i see in a lot of people.

As for dealing with it (and negativity elsewhere) I've been trying to train myself to focus on the positive. Not in some head in the sand type way, but more in realizing where negativity and positivity goes. Negativity, dwelling on mistakes and flaws, etc -- they don't get you anywhere. They get you nothing. They make you feel worse. Moreover, _searching_ for the positive does more than just let you find opportunity. It affects how you see the world. And it gives you more chances to improve it. Because instead of dwelling, you use that energy to look for ways to change things. Or make things. Or network. Or find luck. Its not as simple as deciding one day to be happy. But becoming aware of the tendencies and making a concerted effort to search out the positives, it changes you over time.

I really appreciated your your explanation of cause about finding fixes and edge cases, and being incompetently managed, and found your notion of making the effort to search for the positive very helpful, thank you.

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