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Poll: Would you like tags implemented on HN
72 points by RiderOfGiraffes 1120 days ago | comments
Sometimes it's difficult to find stuff on HN because of the usual problem of extracting semantics from plain text. The idea of "tags" helps with this problem, but has problems of its own.

Regardless of whether there's any chance of it being implemented, I'm interested in the sense of the community. Would you like to see tags on HN?

Over my dead body - I'd leave if it happened.
19 points
I'd dislike it, and I wouldn't use or contribute
464 points
I wouldn't use it, but I'd contribute tags to item.
15 points
Hmm.
145 points
Seems like a good idea, but there will be problems.
51 points
That's a great idea - please can we have it?
186 points
Here's something I prepared earlier.
4 points


gnosis 1120 days ago | link

I love the idea of tags on HN, and have wanted them for a long time. With tags, I wouldn't need to bog through dozens of posts on things I'm not in the least bit interested in, and tags would help me to find things I am interested in. They would make the fire-hydrant of information that is HN much more manageable.

I have heard various people poo-pooh the idea of having tags. But none of their reasons seemed particularly compelling.

One objection is that it would "splinter the community". But this is far from a given, if the default is to keep the front page full of stories unrestricted by tags. Filtering by tags would be optional, and those who preferred not to do so wouldn't be forced to.

Another objection I've heard is that "it would be an admission of defeat". If the complainant had a better suggestion for how to handle the flood of information on HN, this might be a credible objection. But he didn't.

Keeping the status quo is just not desirable for a lot of HN users. Why not offer them the option of a better user experience and at the same time make it a lot easier to search HN for subjects of interest?

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statictype 1120 days ago | link

Might work as long as tags are not user defined. The submitting user has to select from existing tags.

Keep a few to begin with. For example:

startups - news about or related to startups - IOW what this site was supposed to be about initially

gadgets

products - new products from existing non-startups

hacking - related to programming

business

advice

other - stuff that probably needs to be flagged unless enough people like the topic (cooking/food seems to be one seemingly OT topic that people like)

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

"other - stuff that probably needs to be flagged unless enough people like the topic"

Except that things in the "other" category are not off topic, and shouldn't be flagged even if only a few people upvote them.

Per the guidelines, what's on topic is:

  "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."
http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Personally, I am opposed to limiting tagging to only a handful of pre-determined tags. But if that must be done, I'd prefer a much wider range of tags. The tags you list are far too limiting.

For instance, I am interested in Lisp, but not in Java. "Hacking" just doesn't do a very good job of filtering these.

I am interested in "gadgets", but don't want to see another iPhone or iPad story for as long as I live.

HN should allow a wide range of tags (ideally completely determined by the users or story submitters).

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statictype 1120 days ago | link

Well, yeah, the exact tags would have to be chosen by pg or something. Main reason for fixing them is so that we don't end up with tablet,iPad,ipad2 as separate tags

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

I understand your concern, but I am not sure that having separate tags for tablet, iPad, and ipad2 would necessarily be a problem.

Someone might be interested in tablets in general, but wouldn't want to see stories on the ipad.

On the other hand, ipad2 is clearly a subcategory of ipad. And someone who is interested in the ipad will probably be interested in stories about the ipad2, even though he may not have explicitly looked for ipad2 tags but only for ipad tags.

Since "ipad" is actually a substring of "ipad2", this could be easily solved with a simple substring search in the tag.

A more problematic example is someone missing a story tagged "java" but not "programming" when searching for stories tagged "programming".

The solution to this problem is to have a tag hierarchy. Thus, the "java" tag would be explicitly made a subtag of the "programming" tag. Unfortunately, the problem with this solution is that it's not easily automatable (though I'm sure there's been a lot of research done in this area), so the hierarchy would probably have to be built by hand. And this, in turn, means that it probably won't be done for a lot of tags.

Perhaps a good compromise would be to require each story to be tagged with at least one predefined tag (from a wide selection of predefined tags that are already organized in to a tag hierarchy), and allow an arbitrary number of user-defined tags.

That way there'll be at least some minimal organization to the submitted stories.

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eagsalazar 1120 days ago | link

An exploding mess of tags can be mitigated in practice by: (1) normalizing tag capitalization, (2) auto completing/suggesting as you type, (3) providing a dynamic list of tag suggestions for tags that are likely to occur together, (4) suggesting tags based on post content.

In your example what you really don't want is for people to create distinct tags for ipad, ipad2, iOs, etc on accident. Making it easy for people to select from relevant existing tags means people will only add an ipad2 tag over using an existing ipad tag if that distinction is important and particularly relevant for their post.

Done right tags can be super useful without creating a mess or being overly difficult to implement. StackOverflow does a nice job on this front.

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motxilo 1120 days ago | link

What about a sort of tag hierarchy in which the first level the tags would remain fixed, and in lower levels user-selected? Every post would only display the leaf tags of the branches to which it pertained, or something along that line. Well, I guess this would make search a bit harder to implement. Dunno, something that came up and I had to verbalize :)

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beaumartinez 1120 days ago | link

The power of tags is that they're user-defined.

Look at Digg and its naïvely broad topics: they're nowhere near as useful as user-defined tags. A story on a TCP bug is in completely different interest areas to a story on Apple's Smart Cover, yet both are filed under "technology" in Digg.

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limmeau 1120 days ago | link

Thanks for suggesting this, as it points out that people come to HN with different mental taxonomies. My fixed-tag system would subsume three of your tags into "startup business advice and paypal alternatives", whereas "hacking" would have enough sub-categories to distinguish "new ways of making drop-shadow gradients in CSS3" from articles about versioning tools and clever exploits for security holes.

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mkr-hn 1120 days ago | link

Or make tag creation a karma threshold.

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gaius 1120 days ago | link

13000 should do it ;-)

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epochwolf 1120 days ago | link

Why not 1300?

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mkr-hn 1120 days ago | link

karmaism

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rms 1120 days ago | link

This is basically what subreddits are. I would like to see this implemented.

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franze 1120 days ago | link

>Might work as long as tags are not user defined

== Categories and even there i doubt the "might work"

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bravura 1120 days ago | link

I believe tagging, like sorting, is best left to machines. I've built an auto-tagger, and I've already auto-tagged Hacker News:

http://metaoptimize.com/projects/autotag/hackernews/

For example, here is the topic "conversion":

http://metaoptimize.com/projects/autotag/hackernews/term/7c/...

You can search for tags, and on tag pages you see the most related tags and the most related articles. So you can browse, effectively.

Quality of the autotagger has improved since I ran this demo a few months ago. It's also only through articles through 2009. But it demos the tech and the concept. To what extent are people interested in seeing this updated?

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edw519 1120 days ago | link

There are so many requests for enhancements to Hacker News, I'd like to see them all consolidated into a "Hacker News Users Group Conference", just like commercial software vendors do, but with a few differences:

Commercial Software Vendor User Group Conference:

  - in Las Vegas or New Orleans
  - Monday thru Wednesday
  - vendor presents infomercials disguised as "flights"
  - users decide list of enhancements needed to package
  - vendor says yes and puts them on enhancement schedule
  - enhancements never get done anyway
  - everyone gets drunk and gambles or plays golf
  
Hacker News User Group Conference:

  - in Mountain View
  - on a Saturday
  - users get to meet and associate faces with names
  - users network and share what they're working on
  - users present list of hn enhancements to pg
  - pg says no there isn't time
  - users get to see Trevor's latest robot
  - everyone gets drunk and discusses their favorite algorithm

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e1ven 1120 days ago | link

I think that's half the purpose served by Startup School ;)

HN users are more likely to meet up given an excuse.

Conferences are normally centered around a series of core speakers- That's what Startup School is all about. The only problem is that it's dramatically limited in attendance.

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eterps 1120 days ago | link

Yes please, but semantic tags would be even better:

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/favikis_social_bookmark...

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markkat 1120 days ago | link

>Here's something I prepared earlier:

I'm working on a site based on news.arc that has tags. They can be followed, and used to sort stories. http://hubski.com

However, hubski is a general news site. Since HN has a focus to begin with, I am not sure how helpful it would be. I would be interested in a custom feed that follows people on HN though. -I have that implemented on my version.

There are some people on Hacker News, where I would like to keep tabs on everything they submit, whether it hits the front page or not.

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

"Since HN has a focus to begin with, I am not sure how helpful it would be."

HN has focus... in theory.

But even according to the guidelines, what's on topic is:

  "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."
In practice that allows for a very wide range of stories, even when those submitting and voting on the stories bother to read or follow the guidelines.

And that leads to the very problem tags are intended to solve.

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markkat 1120 days ago | link

Yes, you might be right. In fact, it might be a good way for the site to provide both with a little bit less competition between tech and non-tech posts.

The tough part is getting tags right. I went the organic route, as I assumed that I would either overlook topics that might be needed, or create redundancies. My site is still too small to see if it works well. I'm not a big fan of the subreddit approach, as I think it divides submissions and attention to a large extent.

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user24 1120 days ago | link

what would this solve?

I'd rather see an un-vote option.

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dagw 1120 days ago | link

And as if to prove your point, I accidentally downvoted you...

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user24 1120 days ago | link

;) I've never been happier to be downvoted!

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tikna 1120 days ago | link

The whole idea of hacker news is to keep things simple. I enjoying spending time on this community. I find tags creating clutter. One person will tag "C" other "C programming" and someone else "Programming in C".

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

That's an interesting objection.

But it might be at least partially solvable by offering the user a choice between existing tags before allowing him to type in his own phrasing.

Or, once the user has typed in his own phrasing, a search could be done on existing tags and the user could be presented with a list of matching tags to pick from.

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tikna 1120 days ago | link

won't it make things way too complicated considering the simplicity HN right now. You can't be 100% correct with it all the time.

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

Even if there's an occasional tagging mistake, I don't think it could be worse than it is now. After all, you'd still have the option of looking at articles with every tag, or doing a regular google search for any word or phrase in the body of the article or its title.

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nhebb 1120 days ago | link

No. One of appeals of HN is the simple interface.

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mkr-hn 1120 days ago | link

The appeal to me is the thought that goes into new features, not the subjective complexity of the overall experience.

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nhebb 1120 days ago | link

The main features that I get out of HN are that (1) I get to read the opinions of a lot of very smart people and (2) I get exposed to industry news and trends that I wouldn't from sites with far more noise.

If I go to a site like http://answers.onstartups.com, I have trouble scanning the page because of all the visual elements like the tags, the background image, the blue text, the side bar advertising, and so forth. I realize not everyone is as visually distracted by those things as I am, but I really appreciate not having any of those page elements on HN.

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mkr-hn 1120 days ago | link

The tags wouldn't need to be visible. Tag visibility is just a long-standing trend--they don't really need to be seen. An HN tagging system would probably only reveal itself when you wanted it, either in specific contexts or by enabling the display.

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rbanffy 1120 days ago | link

But only if I can block specific tags.

I would also suggest the application of default tags, such as "n00b" when the article is posted by someone with less than (total_age_of_hn / 5), "anonymous" (with strong flag bias) when the account is less than a day old, "oldie" when it's a dupe that was reposted.

Anyone would suggest more?

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wladimir 1120 days ago | link

I think tags would be a pretty good idea.

I'd like to be able to ignore gadget porn (here's this new iPad cover!) by default, and weigh the programming/science/DIY hacking/design topics higher.

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egor83 1120 days ago | link

User-defined weigths for tags is a nice idea indeed.

Might be too much load on the server, though, as it will actually mean that every user has his own front page.

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wladimir 1120 days ago | link

That's indeed a potential issue, same for filtering. I'm not sure how much caching is going on, but it'd make any caching in place much less effective. Maybe only give that option above a certain karma.

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robryan 1120 days ago | link

Is there really a downside? Could make a button that allows you to turn off seeing tags at all. Unless there was some kind of a you can have one thing but nothing else I don't see any downside to it.

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statictype 1120 days ago | link

But you can't turn off comments arguing over whether an article was tagged properly or not :)

I can envision a lot arguments like that taking over the discussion.

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

Those comments could themselves be tagged "meta". And there should be an option to ignore all comments tagged as such.

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statictype 1120 days ago | link

So we're talking about tagging comments too (as opposed to just the article)? Not sure we need to go that far...

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

I guess that might be going a bit overboard. But it's not completely unprecedented.

Slashdot, for instance, has a restricted tagging system for their comments. Comments can be tagged as "Interesting", "Insightful", or "Funny".

I've heard some people on Slashdot complain about the "Funny" comments, but it's quite easy to filter those out via Slashdot's interface. I'd say that was pretty useful.

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mkr-hn 1120 days ago | link

Collapsible trees could be added at the same time.

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roryokane 1120 days ago | link

I can think of two downsides. First, there might be a better system of organization than “tags”, and if PG implements tags, then even if a better organization system is found later, PG will not want to spend even more time implementing this better system, so we would be stuck with an inferior system. Also, even if tags turn out to be the best system of organization, we would use up goodwill if we asked PG to make them for us, and he might decline to spend time upgrading HN in other useful ways later.

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

"there might be a better system of organization than tags"

We should cross that bridge when we get to it. If there is no better alternative to tagging now, this objection does not hold much weight.

How long are we to hold off implementing improvements in hopes that a better solution is found? A year? Ten years? A hundred years?

Remember, there are no guarantees a better solution will ever be found.

And your argument could be used to hold off implementing any feature, not just tags. After all, a better solution might someday be found.

We should make reasonable, incremental improvements like tags instead of waiting for someone to find the holy grail.

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twidlit 1120 days ago | link

Can we have a built-in search engine first?

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RiderOfGiraffes 1120 days ago | link

I use http://searchyc.com/ and find it works well enough for me. Despite the lag, I can usually find things I'm looking for.

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dave1619 1120 days ago | link

Nice, it just helped me find what I was looking for.

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rbanffy 1120 days ago | link

Why? Those folks at Google seem very good at it.

http://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs...

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twidlit 1120 days ago | link

Indextank should be all over this...

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lhnz 1120 days ago | link

Yes.

But more so I'd like the ability to curate and follow lists of people that post comments and articles that I am interested in. It seems to me that this idea from twitter could be used to stop Eternal September problems on sites like HN and reddit (the subreddit system is not fully effective.)

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RiderOfGiraffes 1120 days ago | link

Have you seen http://hackerfollow.com/ ??

There's also http://beta.fedang.com/

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markkat 1120 days ago | link

I'm trying something very similar in a hack of news.arc. I submitted this just yesterday, but it fell of the new page pretty fast: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2359935 I don't have enough data yet to tell if it works well though.

I agree that /r/ doesn't quite do it. Some of the communities are just too small to pick up on some very good submissions.

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PaulHoule 1120 days ago | link

It's 2011 and tags are increasingly a problem rather than a solution. Real semantic technology is on the horizon. It's time to send tags to the recycle bin.

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

Can you elaborate on which "real semantic technology" you're referring to?

And how would you like to see that technology applied to HN?

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PaulHoule 1117 days ago | link

Let's put it this way.

The game of 20 questions demonstrates that there are about a million 'concepts' that are our shared human consciousness. Although a early attempts to catalog these in the 1980s are widely regarded as failures, we've had 30 years of progress in software and hardware since then so what was once impossible may soon be easy.

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gnosis 1117 days ago | link

Which software packages could HN install and use for this purpose?

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pclark 1120 days ago | link

I think that tags with which everyone can contribute is tricky, tags usually seem to work better if you can have your own taxonomy of tags and they contribute to the site. (eg: delicious lets you tag stuff, and browse those, in addition to everyones tags.) With an implementation of that scale, I can think of more valuable features to implement (like combatting the decline in comment quality recently)

Really not sure what tags would achieve over Google and/or http://searchyc.com/

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revorad 1120 days ago | link

This is deviating from the main discussion here, but what are your ideas for combatting the decline in comment quality?

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delineal 1120 days ago | link

If there were a checklist of guidelines about comments and you had to physically check each one to post a comment, it would A) reduce trivial posts by making them more work to post and B) provide reminders -every time you post- about the kinds of content desired for posts.

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BrandonM 1120 days ago | link

C) inspire a Greasemonkey script within a few hours

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delineal 1118 days ago | link

Easy fix: simply impose a timer on adding comments. If you're only allowed to make one comment per story per 5-10 minutes, you'll choose more carefully where/when you place comments.

Oh, and even if there is a GreaseMonkey script, displaying reminders is still a good idea.

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thecoffman 1120 days ago | link

I would like a robust (official) API for HN before tags, I think it would have more direct uses.

I'm aware of the existing solutions such as the ruby gem or http://api.ihackernews.com/ but functionality is fairly limited, and it would be nice not to have to resort to just scraping it.

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olalonde 1120 days ago | link

I tend to dislike the idea, but I wouldn't oppose a 1 month experiment after which we could run the poll again.

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ck2 1120 days ago | link

For those that do not want them - just make a menu option to hide them, easy enough to set "display:none" on their block.

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alex_c 1120 days ago | link

Tags for this post: [terribleideanothanks], [buttes], [thistagisnowdiamonds]

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j2d2j2d2 1120 days ago | link

If tags were used, they should be weighted. Not everyone will agree on what the tags should be, but the top 5 should be close.

I think last.fm has used this kind of model successfully.

Weights can combat the chaos from users entering anything, but allows for evolution.

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rbanffy 1120 days ago | link

I would suppose people who disagreed strongly would post their reasons. That's disappointing.

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cake 1120 days ago | link

Metafilter does this and I find it pretty useful to find sources on the same subject.

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pacifika 1120 days ago | link

we need comment filters instead because its even harder to sift throughu 100+ comments.

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rmc 1120 days ago | link

Agreed. One of the best things about HN IMO is the comments and the community. However some comment threads are too big.

Maybe limit the maximum reply depth? (to 4 or something well low)?

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gnosis 1120 days ago | link

The comment interface on HN is embarrassingly bad for large threads. I've been meaning to do a separate writeup about this, but the gist of it is that the epitome of a great interface for managing threaded discussions are some Usenet news readers, which have relatively advanced features like kill files, filters, sorting, collapsible threads, user-controllable thread marking through color codes and tags, actions that can be taken based on the contents of the title and/or body, etc..

Even ordinary web forums are atrociously primitive in comparison, and HN comments are even more primitive than that. The simplicity might arguably be an advantage for very short threads. But for long threads the lack of features can be a nightmare.

At the very least I'd like the HN interface to flag which comments are new since the last time I refreshed the page. That way I don't have to manually reread many dozens of comments in the longer threads while trying to remember which comments I've already read.. and do this over and over and over again as I reload the page.

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kgermino 1120 days ago | link

If you use Chrome there's an extension for that. I don't remember what it's called or if it works on other browsers but I'll find the name and update this when I get back to a real computer.

UPDATE: It's called HN Unread Comments and you can find it at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/fpndmkcfggkffpablc...

I don't think it works on different browsers and it can get annoying when you use multiple machines because the read comments don't transfer, but otherwise it is a very nice tool.

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mickeyben 1120 days ago | link

There's an option missing : Seems like a good idea. I'd like an experimentation.

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kmfrk 1120 days ago | link

Only if I can use them to filter posts with tags I am not interested in.

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digamber_kamat 1120 days ago | link

Makes little sense to makde decisions based on such polls. Had Apple conducted a poll with "would you buy a slightly bigger iPhone called iPad" I dont think that device would have seen light of the day.

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mooism2 1120 days ago | link

Maybe. I think many submitters would tag links wrongly, so (sufficiently high karma?) readers would need to be able to (vote to?) retag them.

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electrichead 1120 days ago | link

How come there is no search functionality? I think that is a higher priority.

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RiderOfGiraffes 1120 days ago | link

There's a search link at the bottom of every page:

http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Anews.ycombinator.com

As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, there's also http://SearchYC.com

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sapegno 1120 days ago | link

I think it could be a good idea to insert tags in an apposite page where people can find the topic they're interested to. Instead i wouldn't touch the hn central page.

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JohnDeHope 1120 days ago | link

No. No no. No friggin way. Everyone, everywhere, STOP adding features! Except this one pet feature I have in mind. Let me tell you how I think it could work...

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shasta 1120 days ago | link

Just adopt a convention and have someone start posting comments to every thread with searchable tags: HNTAGcplusplus HNTAGsquirrels. I nominate the giraffe rider. No griefing, guys.

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patkai 1120 days ago | link

Not a bad idea, per se, but could we not distract PG with such ideas so that he can read my yc application in peace ;)

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digi9ten 1120 days ago | link

Yeah, they would help. There are few that would help, right from the start.

E.g.: Show HN, Ask HN, etc.

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Eugene3v 1120 days ago | link

The ability to "favorite" threads would be nice as well.

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viggity 1120 days ago | link

One of the things I love about HN is its total simplicity. Adding tags would complicate that.

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pasbesoin 1120 days ago | link

Here's what I've "learned" with regard to tags. The UI needs to be effortless. I've encountered exactly one program that accomplished this. It was written over 10 years ago and has since been abandoned.

It automatically generated a fairly sensible set of tags from context. Then the user could adjust. They were presented as a comma-separated list -- just edit the list, free-form.

I had thousands of bookmarks, spanning many months, in the thing. And by typing a list of words/tags, I could invariably find what I was looking for in about 3 seconds. I believe it also did partial matching against all tags beginning with a search value; one didn't need to remember the exact tag to generate a match.

I still miss it.

UI's like Gmail's labels are better than a hierarchical, single-location structure. But they are still miles away from the above.

OT: I also want tagging in my file system. My understanding, purely from reading, is that BeOS was one of the few/only to really do this. Anyone have pointers to a current, maintained file system that does this?

--

EDIT: I think I mis-remembered, and that the program presented and used a whitespace separated list. Whitespace separation was, in my opinion, easier to use than e.g. comma separation.

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unfasten 1120 days ago | link

>OT: I also want tagging in my file system. My understanding, purely from reading, is that BeOS was one of the few/only to really do this. Anyone have pointers to a current, maintained file system that does this?

The closest thing I'm aware of is KDE 4, but it's not using a special file system. I haven't used KDE 4 yet but it sounds like it's integrated into the overall desktop system, including Dolphin, the file manager.

It uses NEPOMUK (Networked Environment for Personal, Ontology-based Management of Unified Knowledge). Quick description from wiki: "NEPOMUK-KDE is featured as one of the newer technologies in KDE SC 4. It uses the RDF store Soprano and, on a technical level, allows associating metadata to various items present on a normal user's desktop such as files, bookmarks, e-mails, and calendar entries. Metadata can be arbitrary RDF; as of KDE 4, tagging is the most user-visible metadata application."

The KDE site for NEPOMUK looks like it has some good information: http://nepomuk.kde.org/

General NEPOMUK specifications: http://nepomuk.semanticdesktop.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main1/Deli...

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zeynel1 1119 days ago | link

I like the simplicity of HN and I voted "I'd dislike it". But it was interesting to read the discussion because I've been working on an application with tags: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2366115

Several of the problems mentioned caused by variation of the same tag, it seems to me, can be solved with related tags. So if I am searching for "string methods" http://ting-1.appspot.com/rt?rt=string%20methods, related tags also shows "python string methods".

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amnigos 1120 days ago | link

Would love to see it.

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herman 1120 days ago | link

Yes, that sounds like a good idea.

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bauderjoshua 1120 days ago | link

Yes I would love to have tags on hn

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code_acdc 1120 days ago | link

noooooooooooooooo

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