Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Poll: Would you like tags implemented on HN
73 points by RiderOfGiraffes on Mar 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 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?

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

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

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.

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?

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


products - new products from existing non-startups

hacking - related to programming



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)

"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."

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).

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 :)

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Or make tag creation a karma threshold.

13000 should do it ;-)

Why not 1300?


>Might work as long as tags are not user defined

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

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

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


For example, here is the topic "conversion":


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?

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".

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.

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.

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.

>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.

"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.

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.

Yes please, but semantic tags would be even better:


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.

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.

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

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

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.

Collapsible trees could be added at the same time.

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.

"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.

what would this solve?

I'd rather see an un-vote option.

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

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

Can we have a built-in search engine first?

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.

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

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


Indextank should be all over this...

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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/

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

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.

C) inspire a Greasemonkey script within a few hours

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.


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.)

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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)?

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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...

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

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 ;)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

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

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.

>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...

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

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".

Would love to see it.

Yes, that sounds like a good idea.

Yes I would love to have tags on hn


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact