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Trends in Show HN posts (toddwschneider.com)
93 points by karimf 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

I'm glad to see Show HNs ticking up a bit. We've been putting more effort into finding good ones that fall through the cracks. Anyone who wants to help with that should browse https://news.ycombinator.com/shownew.

If you see a Show HN (or any submission!) that's particularly good and isn't getting attention, let us know at hn@ycombinator.com. We'll take a look and maybe put it in the second-chance pool (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11662380), so it will get a random placement on HN's front page.

The best such suggestions come from people who aren't personally connected to the article or project, but just ran across it.

> Anyone who wants to help with that should browse https://news.ycombinator.com/shownew.

And as you browse, it's worth keeping the Show HN guidelines in mind, particularly those around commenting https://news.ycombinator.com/showhn.html (which I actually had never seen before clicking on that spike in 2014...)

I wish there were some more analysis of the trends but lots of interesting analysis would be hard to do. I had a quick search and found some trends. eg, lisp decreased in popularity, overtaken by clojure then Haskell, then peak JS, but my memory of HN was that lisp articles were reasonably common until 2015 at least, Haskell had a peak around 2012-2016 and in the early 2010s there were loads of articles about all the different web frameworks. I see a lot less of all of those things today. Probably the biggest increase has been in current affairs. There was also a period around 2016 when articles from literary magazines (<city> review [of books]) were popular, typically articles about politics more than books. I don’t see them so much either, I barely even see articles from the new Yorker anymore.

The problem with using this site to look for some of those things is that those things were usually not mentioned in the title. I’m glad that HN still has a lot of “mystery” titles where you don’t know what you’re going to get when you click a link.

Ever wondered if Hacker News has vote inflation? https://toddwschneider.com/dashboards/hacker-news-trends/?q=...

Not sure exactly what you mean by "vote inflation," but, IMO, all that graph is showing is that there are more people voting on more things these days. That seems kind of obvious. If you divided those numbers by total number of active users (alternatively, active posters, if total user counts aren't available), then you'd get something that would signal whether there's been "vote inflation" or not, IMO.

> Not sure exactly what you mean by "vote inflation,"

The fairly literal definition of "posts on the front page get more votes than they used to", which is usually the effect of more users being on the site but occasionally also users upvoting more than they used to.

It would make a lot of sense if the number of active users have grown over the years. Which I suspect it has.

I don't know about vote inflation but I'm pretty sure we need some karma inflation. New users need easier ways to get in the game.

(Of course karma is silly and no one cares very much about it, but it's not nothing, and as long as we have it we should have a system with better circulation.)

I don't really think it's that hard as a new user. I've been here 25 days and I just got downvote powers, which is cool. I imagine I'll get vouch powers at this rate next month but I haven't found anyone I want to vouch anyway so it doesn't seem that bad.

Vouch powers happen at the same level as flag powers (> 30 karma), so you passed that long ago.

Edit: I should add that when you see a [dead] post that shouldn't be dead, you can vouch for it by clicking on its timestamp, then clicking 'vouch' at the top of its page. Those links only appear there, just like 'flag' links on comments.

Vouch mostly comes in handy for stories.

They're great for bringing in good comments from new accounts as well.

Yeah, certainly.

As a new user for sure I find it hard to get into the game - it would be nice if there was more information on how to do that.

Don’t worry about the karma. If you notice interesting stuff, submit it. If you notice a thread you can contribute something valuable, comment.

My submission and comment history is sporadic because of that. Most of the time, I’m happy to soak up what’s being said by some really clever, experienced people (and HN has a lot of quality talk by lots of smart people). But sometimes there’s a question worth asking or a point worth making and that’s when best to comment.

Karma goes up and down but if you’re polite, it’s mostly up - even if people don’t agree with you, they will appreciate a well thought out and respectable argument. Especially one that makes you think, regardless of how contrarian it is.

Don’t feel compelled to submit or comment or build karma!

By far the best way is to submit articles that the community will find interesting. Successful submissions are the way to karma riches. If you want to play that game, looking at past front pages (click 'past' in the top bar) is a good way to get a feel for what the community likes.

From a quality point of view, the best submissions are on obscure topics that haven't been discussed much before. But quality and karma-earning aren't exactly the same thing!

On the contrary, I think that commenting has shown itself to be a faster, easier, and more consistent way to gain karma.

It wasn't the last time I looked at this but that was a long time ago.

Actually the main thing I think karma measures is time spent on HN (at least among the minority who make posts).

As someone who spends far too long on the site, I would tend to agree.

I realize you probably said this as a joke because you've never submitted anything; that said...

Commenting is a decent way! If you opportunistically roam threads, it's not that hard to get quite a bit on each thread.

However, the stories are way quicker as long as you're not submitting them at the wrong time of day (if you check through the profiles of people who submit non-spam and non-political posts frequently, which stories of theirs made it to the front page can almost entirely be predicted by checking /past and seeing if anything submitted +/- 20 minutes from it made it there, outside of the case where they get manually boosted there).

I think submissions could be improved with some simple fixes (famous last words), but it's definitely not terribly difficult to get decent amounts of karma that way if you've got your mind set on it.

No, not joking at all. It's actually a fair amount of work to find good links. While I make a point to not submit stories, the people with the most karma on the site, and those who accumulate it the fastest, gain most of it from comments. Getting stories upvoted is fairly random in comparison; there are a couple (I a particular user in my mind right now) that make this work by submitting like a dozen stories a day, getting 1-2 points on most of them, and then a hundred or so about once a day, but that's not really any worse than commenting because stories don't map one-to-one with karma.

(I should mention that if I don't actively optimize for karma; I exclusively skim threads on the front page for a while and leave comments, coming back a couple times to catch new additions and respond to replies. If you're really trying to rack up karma and can can string a couple of words together on a variety of topics, there's a number of more aggressive karma accumulation strategies you could employ. They're not nearly as enjoyable.)

I may be an outlier in that I've always collected links that I find interesting and periodically revisit them, but I really don't think it's that much work to find links; curious exploring should get you far.

Also, I just want to point out, as someone who plausibly had the fastest accumulation of karma during the first months of having an account,* that "and those who accumulate it the fastest" may not be quite accurate.

* (I actually got called out for it by three different people; my first five thousand points were achieved within (-/+ 5) ninety days of making the account, and that was with fifteen days of not posting anything (my account was made on 91919, which is a palindrome I find nice); my first thousand was within thirty days of making the account.)

> I just want to point out, as someone who plausibly had the fastest accumulation of karma during the first months of having an account

I've mentioned it before, but I silently keep track of people I often see around on Hacker News–what they like to talk about, any affiliations they've mentioned, their positions on perennial topics. Think of it like those extensions that let you put tags next to people's names, except I use a browser that killed its extension community in cold blood so I keep this around in my head instead. An extension wouldn't be of much help, anyways: I find it very difficult to remember to read usernames, so I frequently end up in the curious situation where I'm reading a comment and think "this sounds like something so-and-so would say…wait, yes, it's them" (in certain cases, this can be "this sounds like so-and-so's writing style").

All this is a long way to essentially say that I am quite familiar with prolific users, especially ones that I see submitting things to the homepage or participating in comment threads that I frequent (which is a large subset of what ends up on the front page), so I was well aware of your incredibly rapid karma accumulation within weeks of the creation of your account. I factored this in to my statement above, which I will admit I haven't actually run the numbers on precisely but still stand behind unless you've happen to have done the math on this and would like to share. Here's why I think that comments come out ahead.

Hacker News is a fairly small community, but even inside it there are people who interact with it disproportionately and accumulate karma quickly and readily. As far as I can tell, both of us are in the top dozen or so karma accumulators on the site, which means that we're averaging 20-50 karma a day. I personally have been not very consistent–I didn't use Hacker News too much when I started out (I was a lurker for a couple of months before even registering, so I wasn't used to commenting)–and this year until about spring I was on-and-off with my contributions, reading a bit more or a bit less depending on outside workload, and at one point not being on the site at all for a month as a bet. These days I'm on fairly often, so I get a decent amount of karma consistently.

If we look at other top users, I think the pattern is similar. 'tptacek has a truly insane average of something like 70 karma a day going back all the way to 2007 (although I think he's slowed down slightly right now?), which is like the top quartile of what I get on average. Other users, including you, have more reasonable but still fairly high numbers as far as I can tell.

Taking this into account, I still think that comments make up the majority of karma for most of these users, for a number of reasons one of which is probably the fact that stories are downranked when calculating karma by something like 2x AFAIK. If you go through 'tptacek's or 'jacquesm's profiles right now, you'll notice that they post stories once in a while, and they even hit the front page occasionally, but not nearly enough to make up more than a small fraction of their karma. I think even you, whom I used to recall got things on the front page once or twice a week, would have a hard time accumulating karma that quickly if you also didn't comment abundantly.

I'm not saying it's impossible to get karma through stories, but it's uncommon and among the top posters I think there's perhaps one that doesn't comment at all, a few that post stories frequently, and the remainder who submit rarely if at all.

For what it's worth, belatedly: I think there's also a pretty important compounding effect; a Markov 'tptacek would still accumulate karma. In part I think that's because people follow my comments (following people instead of the front page is a really good way to use the site, which can be crazymaking otherwise) --- I've seen evidence for this, like commenting on very old stories and seeing those comments bumped --- and part of it is probably just a name-recognition thing in threads.

Which is to say: a significant factor in karma accumulation is just how long you've been on the site.

We should just get rid of it altogether!

I'm sure that name recognition is an important component, but for what is worth and completely anedoctally, I've found myself many times upvoting a comment and realiziing it was from you after the fact.

Sure, but at least it's not like Stack Overflow where you can just sit around and accumulate karma interest forever. I think that counts for something :)

Well, as long as we're replying in this thread at week-long intervals (I just saw this!) I would like to add that I think HN needs some karma inflation to make it easier for newer users to get in the game. Not that karma matters very much, but it does have a gamelike quality.

I also want to change HN's leaderboard to show leaders by different criteria, including on (say) a weekly/monthly/yearly/alltime basis. Maybe that would help bring in some fresh air.

Hmm, I'm not sure. Not because I want to "preserve my karma value" or anything but I am fearful of tricks like these because they seem to be somewhat close to "engagement" hacks. I do enjoy seeing new users and would like for there to be ways for them to contribute, but I am not really a fan of outright gamification. Personally, when I started contributing I was a bit hesitant because I didn't know how to "do it right"–it takes a bit getting used to commenting here, so I actually think a bit more detailed FAQ would be really nice. It's always fun to discover something new about Hacker News and share it around once you've been here for a while, and I think you could still keep some of those little secrets for people to find, but I think at least some of https://github.com/minimaxir/hacker-news-undocumented would be nice to know upon joining.

Speaking of the leaderboard, I was actually curious how it was organized: there are some people missing from it that I would expect to be there, like 'pg. How is that list generated?

I don't currently have the time to respond to this in depth (I plan on doing so tomorrow), but I actually have done the math, although only for limited periods.

I’d love to see it :). Actually, I gave a presentation once that had some Hacker News stuff in it almost exactly a year ago so I’ll see if I still have the scripts for that, so I’d have at least a spreadsheet to play around with.

Having a pretty tough time finding my data here (not entirely sure which device it's on but it doesn't seem to be on the one I thought it was on), but if I can find it sometime soon I'll shoot it over to you via mail or something!

Sure thing!

Anecdotally I'd say links are way better. 95%+ of my karma comes from comments, but one good link can net you 100's of karma points, whereas the very best comments ever might get you 60-70.

Writing comments is easier, but links are definitely more bang for the buck if that's what you're going for.

You can routinely get a hundred or so karma from a comment thread without much difficulty, if you happen to leave a top-level comment early on a post and that happens to make it reasonably high on the front page, and then go in to reply to the inevitable responses to it (excluding an outlier comment of mine, I know it's possible to get over a hundred on a single comment as well). Not only do links earn you karma at a reduced rate, they are also nontrivial to find: for any "news" you need to beat out the dozen other people who'll submit the same thing as fast as they can, and for other content you actually need to find things that interest Hacker News and that hasn't been shared too much before. Plus, if you exclusively post links you miss the discussion, which is the best part of Hacker News IMO. Twitter or Reddit or Slashdot do link aggregation too.

Some meta on voting would be a welcome addition as well. For example, when a post that is nothing but positive, context relevant links to related stories gets a -2. :)

Joking aside, there would indeed be legitimate value in such enhancements (browse by insightful, irony, etc).

There are two sites that I've seen that have that sort of 'enhancement', neither of which I have an account on:



The quality of discussion on the former seemed to go down after that feature was added. The quality on the latter has always been controversial.

Also, encouraging more irony than there already is on HN would be bad; encouraging low-effort sorts of things like 'oh wow that's ironic' and 'x is bad y is good' would lead to drastic and noticeable dives in the quality of discussion. HN's lack of choice for comment sorting is one of its benefits.

Done poorly, it could easily do that.

I was thinking more of offering reasons for downvotes due to the apparent increase in tribalism and what not, although I didn't exactly use the best examples.

People occasionally suggest this but in my view it's wishful thinking. It would lead to a lot of bickering about reasons for downvoting, and we don't need more meta noise here.

That is a reasonable prediction of the future.

But then, there's a lot of bickering about other things that could perhaps be addressed to some degree by this approach.

One idea I was thinking was to just occasionally run some threads in this mode, and see if it has an effect on culture & thinking styles (predudgement, mind reading, baseless assertions of fact, etc)

Just a thought.

I don't think it can be handled well. The Tildes implementation is done by arguably the only (that said, former-)administrator on reddit.com who can be called "universally-loved"; it wasn't done by an amateur, and it seemed to have a lot of thought put into it.

> I don't think it can be handled well.

Perhaps you are right, but that is an epistemic question. Perhaps people really can never get along ever again, and we should just spare the effort and let the tides of fate carry us where they may. After all, it's not our responsibility here at HN, is it. We have no responsibilities at all, other than adhering to the HN Guidelines, and even that is little more than a suggestion.

I believe lobte.rs does this too.

Probably for the best, I've never been invited to lobste.rs; without an account, lobste.rs is pretty pointless because it has like four new stories on the front page per week, and as such I've never really paid that much attention. It probably does have that feature.

Looks similar to something I built: https://hnprofile.com/compare?search=ruby,python

Note the rules for "Show HN" state:

> Show HN is a way to share something that you've made on Hacker News.


> Show HN is for something you've made that other people can play with. HN users can try it out, give you feedback, and ask questions in the thread.


The person who submitted does not appear to be the original author (who is Todd W. Schneider). Interesting content though.

Are you suggesting this post goes against the rules because the submitter didn't create it? This post is not a Show HN.

No, but its original title started with "Show HN" which misled me at the time (and perhaps the poster to whom you're replying).

Well, I was trying to be a bit clever. I thought that by removing the colon after "Show HN" part, I could use it as a subject. The original title was "Show HN Trends on Hacker News."

But that caused a lot of confusions indeed. Glad that dang has changed the title to be a more appropriate one.

Ah I see - that makes sense in retrospect! Not at the time though haha

The recent uptick in Show HN posts since the coronavirus pandemic started is interesting. I have some guesses why this is occurring (WFH, layoffs, new problems to solve) but it would be interesting to know exactly what's driving it.

> Show HN: This up votes itself

Ironic that that is still number one. A shady way to submit a bug, but props to HN for not burying it or punishing the submitter.

Shady? It's great. Little increases site culture in a more positive way than a community taking advantage of a flaw in the software it's running on, especially on a site wanting to encourage curiosity like HN. I'm surprised you disagree; reddit had some of the coolest examples of this:


I disagree specifically because I've been on the receiving end enough times to know that as fun as it is, it's a huge pain in the ass for the devs who have to scramble to fix it before someone exploits it for evil.

If reddit wouldn't have moved away from Lisp, maybe you wouldn't have had to scramble to fix it. HN (as an example of a site that didn't move away from Lisp) fixes are always fairly quick, and the site has rarely had downtime.

It's a cool tool but my main reason for commenting is to say how quick and fast the graph updates! Good work.

What caused the huge spike in 2014? Seems only one of the top voted items was around that time.

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