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Ask HN: How to stave off decline of HN?
465 points by pg on April 3, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 680 comments
I was just asking RiderofGiraffes if he had any suggestions for fixing the decreasing quality of comment threads on HN (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2403449) and it occurred to me that I might as well ask everyone.

Anyone have any suggestions? We're on mostly uncharted territory here.

The problem has several components: comments that are (a) mean and/or (b) dumb that (c) get massively upvoted.

Cap the score that is displayed with a comment e.g., past 10 points, just display "10+". Don't display karma and average scores of users, again, past a certain point: this prevents (subconscious) game incentives which lead to e.g., posting comments that say something stupid or mean but which tend to agree with general tendencies of the site.

For example, I can post a comment decrying Blub with a snide remark (e.g., "You wrote a 1,000 line Blub program? Was it 500 getters and 500 setters?" in a thread discussing software projects) that is both information free and mean (perhaps Blub wasn't the author's preferred choice, but chosen for him or required in order to build an application for the iBlubber). People on this site generally dislike Blub, so the comment will get upvotes without adding any value to the discussion (an example of adding value would be saying you were able to do this in 100 lines of Flub using its cool new hygienic macros with a link to a paper on hygienic macros in Flub).

That's not to say all comment score data should be gone. Comment scores can still be kept and comments could be displayed on stories in the other in which they're displayed now (a mix of comment score and how recently it was posted). Generally, what I've found is that comments showing up _first_ tend to be of higher quality i.e., overall algorithm works more often than not.

[NB: I work at LinkedIn and we do this for connection counts-- we want users to network with each other, but we don't want to make it a "who has the most connections" game, that's why when you have over 500 connections (which is perfectly legitimate and allowed), only "500+" is displayed as the count on your profile]

The blub setter/getter comment really is the archetypical "dumb comment", isn't it? Nicely done.

Users should live or die by their votes on that comment. If you vote up the blub comment, you should personally get the downvotes for it too. Upvotes should expose you to the karmic downside of superficial comments.

Especially because the really good comments, the ones most deserving of upvotes, don't seem to get a lot of downvotes; watch the scores on a 'patio11 comment closely sometime to see an example.

> The blub setter/getter comment really is the archetypical "dumb comment", isn't it? Nicely done.

It's actually based on a real comment I saw: the discussion was about migrating a 10 MLOC (iirc) enterprise Java system to git. One comment said that this system must have been "5MM getters, 5MM setters". That struck me as particularly mean and below the belt strike against the programmers who worked on this system: it's very likely there is a good reason why it had to be in Java in the first place (and other JVM languages may not have been available when it was created) and even so, it didn't mean the programmers working on it would have chosen Java as the language themselves (but they were not there when the architectural decision was made). Further more, it added nothing to discussion.

This is not unlike poking fun of somebody for wearing the wrong kind of clothes on the school yard: cheap way to score social points with the plurality of others present, mean and ignorant (may be they can't afford the right kind of clothes, may be they are going hiking right after class).

An insightful comment would have been something like "That's great that you were able to get this into Git, changing a VCS is a painful task. Have you considered using Scala in some of the modules? Functional objects, case classes and implicits could help you model your business domain better, write thread safe code, and get rid of much of the boiler plate."

My initial reaction was to disagree with your suggestion: Your method would train people to predict how well a comment is going to be received and to vote based on that. I disagreed, because I don't want to read comments rated by the hive mind, in order to please the hive mind.

However, at a second glance, your idea could work. If people see diverse and insightful comments being voted up, perhaps the hive could learn to encourage creative and interesting comments.

Then again, this would incentivize upvoting comments with an existing positive score, and vice versa.

Perhaps the solution is to not display comment scores at all until you vote on a comment. (But order comments the same way they are ordered now.)

Reddit does this pretty well, they often feature a submission with a dot instead of the number of votes. Perhaps HN could randomly put a thread at the top without showing votes.

I believe Reddit does this for the first X hours of a submissions life - to discourage bandwagons, and so that newer submissions that may otherwise be overlooked (due to having less initial upvotes) will get a chance. I agree that it's a good idea and something that may work well on HN's new page.

I see that I'm replying to a rather old thread, so apologies in advance if I'm doing it "wrong". (It doesn't appear that is specifically outlawed in the welcome page but that doesn't mean it's kosher.)

This is similar to an idea I was toying with a while back but never got around to nailing down. Upvoting or downvoting an item should result in a change on the personal account, but rather than it changing the account's "score" up or down, the system records the vote based on the "type" of item. If a series of items are categorized as "Gossip" and I vote them down, the system learns that I don't like "Gossip" items. An item could be in multiple categories ("Gossip" and "IT") and my past voting would determine whether or not I would see the item on the page (super-roughly "the item was categorized 50/50 Gossip/IT, dpk's Gossip score is -11 and IT score is 10, result is -1, don't show"). In effect, users would themselves be group-able by their votes, so if someone in your "group" posted an item, it would get an automatic bonus. If someone in your "anti-group" (someone nearly diametrically opposed to you) posted something it would get a negative bonus.

Categorization would need to be put to the community, and would be done while the item is on what is currently termed the "new" page. Once the item is categorized the various display scores (as loosely described above) will be computed and the result could be shown to the users.

One side-effect of this is that it allows users to "shun" spammers in to their own "group". They could spam all they want but nobody would see it unless they were really excited about seeing spam.

The idea has (at least) one major serious problem: It encourages group-isolation. This could be partially resolved by always showing a "best of group" block of links somewhere on the home page, which could encourage users to branch out a bit.

As I said, this idea is not fully fleshed out, hence the overuse of quotes and its nebulous, hand-wavy nature. It's a less punitive, more categorical system. It may not scale at all.

You, and other users both in this thread and in similar ones before it, are only looking at one side of the equation.

The problem is only partially too many bad comments, it's also too few good comments. Your proposal is targeted at lowering the amount of bad comments, but it might do so at the expense of the good ones.

Most of the users that have a high karma count have so because they always have something insightful to say (mechanical_fish (http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=mechanical_fish) is a good example), and their incentive for posting interesting stuff is marginalized by this. Almost all people, whethere they'll admit it or not, are incentivized by other peoples approval, eg. karma, and downplaying their contributions will make them more prone to not submitting great comments.

> The problem is only partially too many bad comments, it's also too few good comments. Your proposal is targeted at lowering the amount of bad comments, but it might do so at the expense of the good ones.

Very interesting point about not discouraging high value contributions: you don't want to create a situation where users have no desire (or are afraid to) comment.

> Most of the users that have a high karma count have so because they always have something insightful to say (mechanical_fish (http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=mechanical_fish) is a good example), and their incentive for posting interesting stuff is marginalized by this. Almost all people, whethere they'll admit it or not, are incentivized by other peoples approval, eg. karma, and downplaying their contributions will make them more prone to not submitting great comments.

I think we can all agree that users with high karma generally have it for a reason. However, you can't always deduce that if user A has higher karma than user B, than user A has higher karma because his contributions are always more insightful than user B's. It's not a total order.

The marginal incentive ("get more karma by writing a comment that gather N+1 up votes") is not aligned with the over all goal of the sight (produce consistently insightful content).

One way around this could be through badges (a la Stack Overflow). You could automatically get badges based on average comment karma and so on, instead of tying your contributions to the HN community to a mere number.

That way, you're rewarded when you contribute meaningful, valuable comments, plus from a reader's point of view, your comment will still have 10+ votes.

I tried badges based on average comment score (the infamous orange dot experiment) and everyone hated it, including me, because it divided the community into haves and have-nots.

If the badges are only shown on a users profile page I think you'll see a very different reaction.

Hmm, maybe you're right.

Exactly what I had in mind as well. I'd prefer if the current UI stays as it is, but if I click on a user's profile (or hover over his username), it would be neat to see the type of badges earned.

That's when you start selling orange dots. And then orange dot removers.


"... because it divided the community into haves and have-nots. ..."

Isn't this is a logical inconsistency? There seems to be no problem dividing the community into haves and have-nots when it comes to post quality.

i know many of us Use HN Plugins for chrome. For posters that I like, I follow them and their comments are displayed in a different color.

It's not quite badges, and it is a bit twitteresque but i really feel like it ads value to the site for me.


I like this idea as well and I think it supports how a digital community actually works. For example, some people are great at finding awesome, relevant, high quality articles to submit. They should be encouraged to do so by earning a particular badge.

Others are better at commenting, and maybe there are even different classifications of commenting or different badges.

You would be able to incentivize behavior (commenting) and then narrow it down to a particular type of commenting.

One interesting badge might be the efficiency badge, and that would be generating the most points or badges per minute on the site.

That's actually a great idea!

Many people are suggesting replacing numeric point totals. That could help, but let me throw out another idea. Why would someone write "You wrote a 1,000 line Blub program? Was it 500 getters and 500 setters?" Simple, they seek to build community reputation/acclaim by coming across as clever, even if it means being mean. But it's easy to take that incentive away. I propose leaving everything the way it is, except two changes: hide all usernames (make visible upon hover/click) and reset visible karma points daily. Truly interesting/insightful comments would still rise up, but with even more clarity as people would be reading for content before casting their vote, and incentive to be "clever" while adding no value would be gone.

Edit: I like my later thoughts on this better (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2404267)

Actually, you just gave me a great idea (I think). The problem is mainly snide remarks, right? So make it impossible to make snide remakrs. How?

Minimum comment length of ~50 words.

This would A) get rid of casual snideyness, as those sorts of people wouldn't put in the effort to formulate a longer post; B) discourage crowd-pleasing one liners, which while enjoyable have a long term negative effect; C) still allow jokes, they'd just have to be asides to actual substance; D) encourage longer, better thought-out posts in general, and backing up of claims.

This reminds me of the Slashdot lameness filter, which IIRC just caused (causes? I haven't been there in a while) lots of posts ending in, "La la la la, adding some content to get past the lameness filter." and the like.

And we could make it policy to immediately downvote such cases.

Sorry, your comment is too short (as is mine)

It's telling that this comment got more upvotes than any of my other (much more constructive) comments in this thread

I think that gridspy's comment is worthy of some upvotes. He made a valid point, and in a meta-joke kind of way. I'm perfectly happy with flippant posts, so long as they're not mean, and they add something to the discussion (be it humor or insight or both).

Pithy, incisive remarks are to be celebrated, not supressed.

You just banned 10 out of 12 of the 'pg comments on this thread. :)

Ha. It would certainly lead to less comments overall, but maybe that would be a welcome timesaving. Who knows, people might even start pre-emptively addressing counter-points for their arguments and the whole debating process would be greatly contracted. (am I at 50 words yet? maybe 30 would be better...)

I was thinking the same thing which is why I didn't mention the length idea. However... what if users over say 1 year and with a high comment average were exempted?

To add to that, lionhearted posted a comment about inevitable site decline because of open membership and equally weighted voting. What if only accounts over 1 year could vote (or diminish their vote weight)?

Wouldn't instituting a min. length requirement and taking away new user voting improve the problem significantly?

But there is something unsavoury about that sort of elitist/privilige system I think. Perhaps, however, the word-count restriction could apply only to the 'top-nodes' of the comment threads, ie. if you're replying to the submission itself. That way, things are started off on the right foot, and snidey one-liners never get upvoted to the top of the whole thread.

I know what you mean, but is it really elitist if it's only a time requirement? It's like admission to a club, anyone can get in but everyone past the current site size pays their dues (in this case by sticking around). If the goal of the site is to not die from popularity, this may be understandably necessary.

On your other point, I'm thinking that short unwanted quips can rear their ugly head anywhere along threads.

The thing about elite prestigious clubs is that a large portion of the discussion and activity inside the club turns out to be about membership -- who wants it, to whom we should give it, who is unworthy of it, how worthiness should be decided, and how awesome we folks inside the club are compared to all those folks who aren't inside the club.

(Or at least, that's what I assume it's like -- I don't know, I've never been invited into any elite prestigious clubs...)

Even if you say "Oh, it's just a time requirement", what are you gonna do if Big Name Smart Person shows up wanting to comment? Surely you're going to let them in. So now you have an elite line and an unwashed line and you're arguing about who should be in the elite line.

The restriction isn't for commenting, only voting. "Big Name" would have to stick around 6 mo. to a year to vote. Shouldn't be a problem if site quality (the key draw) remains high.

The minimum length of your comment is inversely proportional to the amount of karma you have

I downvoted you because I have found this to not be the case in practice, and I find that setting some minimal comment length is not correlated to increasing the quality of submission. Casual snideness will still occur, and one-liners are not a problem in and of themselves. The context of that one-liner is, and a minimum comment length should not considered a judge of quality or context.

Have you seen this actually implemented somewhere? Note that I'm not contending that none of the short comments are valuable: far from it, sometimes they're the best thing in the thread. But having a limit would not necessarily deter that content from appearing. The authors would just share a bit more info/insight with us before hitting 'reply.' Meanwhile the timewasters really would be deterred. And while it's great to have sharp, witty remarks now and again, the problem is that loads of unfunny jokes appear, trying to emulate.

However, I suppose you could argue that valuable content would be blocked to some extent, it a knowledgeable contributor was put off because s/he didn't have time for a longer comment. Still, 50 words isn't much, or 30, 25... anything above the average sentence length I suppose would start to have the desired effect.

We implemented this on zootoo.com during a contest where posting rewarded the user with points (I understand 100% how ridiculous this is as a concept, how awful it is at achieving any kind of 'quality' by itself - and if I was the one who had been allowed to make the decision on this then it never would have been implemented - but karma is a kind of never-ending contest). Not only did the minimum length limit not work DURING the contest, but even after the contest was over and we had kept the comment length requirement in place, the quality of comments did not increase, and if someone wanted to say something that was below the minimum threshold they would simply add 'foobar-like' content to their post to meet the threshold.

The problem with time wasters is that it's no big deal for them, they're already wasting their time. It's always going to be up to users who care like you, me and others to try to mitigate the exposure of those time wasting comments while not penalizing legitimate contributions by users who care, and that's why I don't think a hard comment length should be implemented.

To be honest, you're probably right. Unless comment padding was universally down voted, there'd be lots of it going on, defeating the point. And sometimes valuable things like corrections are at loggerheads with a minimum word count.

I used to actively participate somewhere with a 10 character minimum. It caused people to add remarks like "10 chars" after a perfectly valid, meaningful short reply to get it past the filter. It also caused savvier members to come up with creative ways to fool the computer into accepting their shorter post without making it appear longer to readers, which caused less savvy members to wonder out loud if some folks had special posting privileges.

> Minimum comment length of ~50 words.

This would backfire because many useful comments aren't that long, and therefore people will be forced to pad them, this decreasing the s/n ratio.

For example, my paragraph above has 24 words.

I generally try to keep my comments short. Verbosity isn't good per se.

Short and snide are by no means mutually exclusive.

I can spend all day writing a post that has no substance, garners upvotes (in today's HN climate) and is as long as the day, but that doesn't make it good, or worthwhile.

Many of my short remarks are actually more to the point, or are asking a relevant question, or are politely correcting errors. It takes considerably fewer words to do this sort of thing than it does to be mean, while trying not to look like it.

Valid points, but I think for any worthwhile comment it's easy to 'extend' the content beyond a single line. For instance, if you're asking a sincere question, you could provide some hypothetical answers, or state your reasons for asking - basically increase the level of mutual comprehension in the entire discourse.

Forgive me, I didn't mean to imply that your suggestion doesn't have merit. It does.

I just think that it's far too easy to game.

Another big issue with comment quality, of course, is in the general vagueness of it all. Jokes, for example, are almost always discouraged. Almost. On some occasions, it's quite appropriate.

All the times I wrote reprehensible, un-HN things, I did not strive for conciseness. Quite the contrary - if someone can cause disruption with 10 words, 50 are a nuke ;-)

Length of a comment is not an indication of insightfulness. Wall of text sometime is a turn-off. People who are busy tend to just leave bare minimum to convey their point.

There is no point in saying 100 words when you can make the point in 10.

The Kuro5hin solution of displaying averages plus number of ratings might give information in that direction, factoring out into two different numbers the average quality people thought the comment had, from the number of people who rated it. Not quite the same as a threshhold maximum, but it produces an asymptotic maximum instead. It's also, imo, useful to have them as two separate numbers, because they convey semantically different information.

I like this idea. As another commenter pointed out, we seek out external validation (whether we like it or not). However, there's good and bad kinds of external validation: looking for popularity (total number of upvotes) vs. more direct feedback from people you respect (Kuro5hin model: a score with a name attached to it) works better. The fact that a comment would be rated rather than voted on Kuro5hin (with a maximum rating) also has the capping effect.

Trimean or winsorized mean could be useful in this case.

That's not to say all comment score data should be gone.

I already like what HN does with the colour of posts. What if HN switched to colour only? Displaying points

* encourages "karma whoring" by posters or just makes people care about how well their comment was received

* biases the decision to upvote/not by subsequent readers. Subconscious, conscious, contrarian, consensus-seeking, whatever -- shouldn't people make up their own minds as to whether a comment was good or not, on its merits rather than on what the rest of the community thought?

The information filtering function would still be accomplished by colour and order only.

I used to be a big contributor to this site, but for the last months I've found that my interest in the site has waned.

I've thought a lot about why, since I used to really enjoy HN - now it's just one of a few newssites I visit every day. It's hard to quantify but here are my reasons and my take at the decline:

1) The obvious one: Signal to noise ratio in the comments is way down. The problem is twofold - there are both more bad comments, and the ones that are good aren't necessarily voted to the top. This makes it harder for me to find the nuggets that would be shown at the top of every comments page a year or two ago. As others have pointed out it sound easy but is in fact a very hard problem to solve.

2) The interaction in the comments is less interesting. I used to have great arguments in the comments. Sometimes I would convince someone of my point of view sometimes it was the other way around, sometimes there just wasn't agreement to be found. But it was always interesting and civil, and I very often learned something new. Engaging in, and watching others have interesting discussions was for me one of the main things I loved about HN. It's like when you go to a dinner party and get to sit next to this incredily interesting guy that is exceptionally insightful and has some really interesting things to say. The conversation leaves a mark on you.

3) I often find that the comments I make that I personally find insightful or interesting don't get a lot of upvotes, while the ones that state something obvious or funny get more upvotes. This isn't encouraging me to interact with people here on an intellectually interesting level. If others do this as well, which I suspect they will, then it's extremely degrading to the discourse in the comments. I often find that I don't bother to write up a response to something because I know won't get a lot of attention. Sometimes my points are totally missed.

4) Maybe I've outgrown the site. Many concepts that were new to me when I joined HN are now familiar, and many discussions have already been had. RiderofGiraffes describes it well in the linked comment.

I owe a lot to HN, and I really want it to succeed, so I stick around and hope that things will change. But for now it's from a less engaged position.

I just got back from a two-month (well, 85000 minute) noprocrast-enforced HN break, and while I've been browsing the front page for the last few days I haven't felt motivated to comment on anything. I think there's been a drop in the quality of stories as well as comments.

Now, maybe it's just me, but I used to like the science-type stories, or other stories that taught me something interesting and novel from some branch of human knowledge. But I just checked the first 90 stories and there's nothing matching that description. Instead there seem to be an awful lot of "gossip" and "personality" type stories. Tesla vs Top Gear! Tech CEO shoots elephant! Trollish "What I hate about facebook" stories! The interminable "Is it a bubble?" discussion!

On the other hand, it might just be my opinion... obviously somebody is interested in the current front-page stories or else they wouldn't have been voted up. Do other folks think that the interestingness of the stories has declined?

Is everyone who believes there is a lack of quality stories out there finding and submitting quality stories?

My main thought every time this topic comes up is "Community quality don't maintain itself."

So vote on comments you like or don't like, every time.

Check the "new page" and vote up stories you like. I know very few people do this, because I find good stuff overlooked there all the time.

And submit stories you want to see here. Someone has to do it or they'll never show up here.

> Check the "new page" and vote up stories you like. I know very few people do this, because I find good stuff overlooked there all the time.

This is the biggest one IMO.

One of the problems with new stories (for me at least) is when they are submitted. I often see something interesting in the rss feed that was submitted several hours before I got to it. Upvoting on a story that old is useless, if it hasn't reached critical mass by some time threshold, no one will see it.

It is a good filter for low quality content, but it also filters out things I find interesting.

It's the same with comments. I usually join discussions several hours late. Mostly because I live in Europe. Usually I get 1 or 2 up/down votes and almost no answers.

So I generally think that good stories shouldn't decay as fast as they do. And maybe also when there is some activity on them.

Maybe also we should have some category like "best stories of yesterday", putting some fresh attention to the good ones.

> Check the "new page" and vote up stories you like.

I wonder if it wouldn't make sense for the front page to have a few "new" articles show up as well. Like, sprinkled throughout the list, or maybe just show three of them at the top. Get them in front of the whole audience, rather than just the small subset of users that visit the "new" page regularly.

Long-time lurker here. I really would appreciate that as I'd rather check a couple of new stories while at the same time glancing over the current top-stories. Reducing this by one click (I know, I'm lazy) would be great!

If you're using Chrome (or any other Chromium based browser) - you can try this extension - http://bit.ly/dTI5Oq - it displays new & top side by side.

It might be that the people that are reading the "new" stories and thus effectively making the decision which stories get at least a brief chance to see a wider audience, are not actually interested in the same things that the core is interested in.

This means that the community-at-large is effectively given the opportunity to vote on a sub-optimal selection of the submitted stories.

This can perhaps be fixed by briefly flashing all new stories towards the bottom of the top news page, to give them a brief chance at wider exposure. One way to do this would be to make a queue, and put every new story on the bottom of the front page for 5 minutes barring a certain number of down-votes for moderation.

This might really effect which stories actually end up on the top news page (though perhaps only for stories submitted during peak times).

Somebody may be interested in gossip, "IT celebrities" and cheap-prediction stuff, but why they started it here? There are lots of sites offering exactly that.

For me the only solution is to allow down-voting submissions by top contributors - because the lack of good comments is a byproduct of the lack of good submissions..

I have said this at least a few times and I will say it again -- a story and comment moderation model based on the way it is done at reddit truly would help.

I find it really odd that you cant downvote until 500 karma, and it appears you can never? downvote stories?

And then there are comments in this thread that say "its a really hard problem to figure out" -- no it isn't, you just need to have faith that moderation power will be used appropriately by the site's audience and give them the appropriate ability to do so.

Just like on quora, they seem to have blinders on to systems that work because they want to believe that only their design team could possibly come up with something novel and in that novelty find the best solution.

I think that a part of the reason nobody's receptive to that idea is because we've seen the community quality at Reddit.

Without trying to insult them, I know that it is a very close-knit and strong community, but the intellectual barrier is very low. The comment quality is very low. The notion that there is anything there that can help us is likely being spurned because, right or wrong, that's not what we're striving for.

While I was a little shocked to hear PG clarify that HN is a place for hackers and not startup founders (I kind of expected the opposite,) I think we can all agree that this isn't meant to be a site for the lowest common denominator.

I personally believe that quality control starts with the submissions. The higher quality submissions, the higher quality comments they'll attract. But that's just me, apparently.

Your argument is that the ability to submit, upvote/downvote and deep-thread comments affects the community?

I dont follow.

I am saying that having a better system for your community to converse allows the community to thrive.

You may think the intellectual barrier to entry is low, or the intellectual quality of what you read on reddit is low - and I would counter that maybe your looking at the wrong subreddits for you.

There are a ton of subs that I cant stand, dont read, dont follow etc...

I simply ignore them - but I am talking about the mechanics of the forum. The ability to have ongoing conversations, up/down vote comments and submissions and the ability to categorize content via the submission process.

You're talking about the community being beneath some HN standard, where I am talking about the characteristics of reddit's infrastructure that allow the community to interact.

For some reason, people think that we need automated tools to weed out those that would be beneath their interests, but I don't think that is possible.

Also, how would you accommodate people who are just learning, trying to learn or are experts in other subjects yet are trying to expand their base? You cant say that the intellectual barrier is too low such that people who don't know what we are talking about cant participate...

Your argument is that the ability to submit, upvote/downvote and deep-thread comments affects the community?

Actually, yes, I am. I firmly believe, for better or worse, that the more popular a site becomes, the more interests it has to cater to. Somebody else posted in the thread that the three options for a community to stay true to its roots is to either exclude newcomers, aggressively moderate newcomers, or succumb to newcomers.

Allowing everybody an equal share participation on the moderation capabilities panders to the latter. If everybody can moderate out, and the site continues to grow, then I think it's only a matter of time before the harder-to-understand articles are filtered out in favor of more easily digestible pieces that appeal to a broader majority.

I think the main difference between here and the notion of subredditing is that effectively, HN IS a subreddit, targeted at Hackers. I'm obviously not the say-all authority, but I suspect that splintering it further is not only unnecessary, but runs contrary to the concept of a focused community.

In fact, that there are subreddits that work so well (again in my opinion) speaks primarily to the fact that subreddits aren't very easy to find or discover.

As for the people who are just learning? I honestly don't know how to handle that. Though HN has worked really well with a diverse group of experts. There are lawyers, doctors and professionals of all sorts that are able to contribute to the areas they are knowledgeable in -- the trick is in somehow enforcing the restraint for them to not comment on things they know little about, or at least to not comment unintelligibly. The more aware of the community ideal everybody is, the more easy that becomes; but the more diluted the population grows to be, the harder that becomes to enforce.

Like I said, I don't know all the answers, and I certainly don't mean to impugn anywhere else in favor of HN - Reddit has plenty of perks, I'm sure, but it is the rare community that is able to subsist through popularity. The closest that I can think of to have lasted is kuro5hin, and they certainly had their own communal warts as well.

>HN IS a subreddit, targeted at Hackers

However, we are talking about how the scale of HN is getting to the point where people are complaining about S/N ratios and as you say:

>exclude newcomers, aggressively moderate newcomers, or succumb to newcomers.

I think this is shortsighted, elitist or both. First, you/whomever posted this has clearly left out a better option; ADAPT to newcomers/scaling.

While I agree that HN may have been like a subreddit, with a target audience, HN is growing, entrpreneurship is growing, the startup ecosystem in the valley is growing, our knowledge base is growing.

Eschewing newcomers and growth is to operate in fear of progress.

Taking the spill-over and iterating what HN is to accommodate is not to "lose its cred" so to speak...

Further, I am not advocating a straight adoption of reddit, but I do feel that HN can learn a lot from how they enable the community.

I had written a bunch of suggestions in my first reply, but deleted them, but I was suggesting some options along the lines of:

Validate SMEs in given areas and give them high-level moderation/influence.

Post a clear HN-etiquette that delineates posting format/commenting format that the stie wants.

Earn further features/user abilities through karma - such as allow SMEs/high karma users to only create HN-subs.

There are a lot of things we can do, but to cry in the corner over newcomers is never a winning solution.

There are a lot of things we can do, but to cry in the corner over newcomers is never a winning solution.

I'm not suggesting that we do, obviously. However, newcomers have the disadvantage of not knowing the history, the ethics, the goals/ideals. They only know what it was like 'when they joined'. When I joined, I was corrected a few times for missteps I made. The growth rate makes that less and less feasible. It isn't that I hold a grudge to new people, they are just disadvantaged when it comes to the communal etiquette standards.

I find your post to be exceedingly confused.

First, you say that you don't recognize that behavior is influenced by things like up-votes, down-votes, and deep threading. In the next breath you argue that a better system has a positive impact on the community. I don't see how you can have one without having the other. Making a community “thrive” is changing it. If you disagree with this please explain to me why communities like thriving, but don't like not thriving. If they are the same than they shouldn't care either way. If things have changed than you agree that the changes had an affect. Also a better system being better is something that I find to be true by definition.

Next you argue for downvotes, by saying that reddit has proved itself in virtue of subreddits. I don't think this is the case. I think that subreddits are harder to get to, creating a selection-bias in which only the people who are interested in that subreddit end up contributing to it. In other words I think you can explain the success of reddit's subreddits with subtle elitist bias. This creates a huge amount of irony, since your post is actually arguing against elitism.

You also claim that some people think we need automated tools to weed out things that our beneath are interests. This is another point that is sort of funny. We not only need those tools, we have them [1]. They are built into our minds.

In the end you ask rhetorically: can you ask someone who doesn't know what your talking about to not contribute to your discussion? This backfires too. Plato said: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” Proverbs continually tells the fool he should shut up (I'm almost done, really). The idea that you can ask people who don't know what they are talking about to be quiet isn't new or immoral.

I'm probably misinterpreting you, but that irony made my brain happy and I wanted to share it.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention

Definitely. I used to see many stories that had long, in-depth analysis or insight into problems; stories that wouldn't find it onto the front page of any other site but HN. I remember being able to check HN front page once every morning and fill my instapaper queue with about 5 lengthy but interesting stories I could read throughout the day. Not so much anymore...

I don't think that the number of interesting stories have declined, but I think that they have become much harder to find because the number of non-interesting stories have definitely increased. Among the non-interesting stories, I often notice the same usernames over and over. Would limiting the number of story posts per day help the situation?

Uninteresting stories seem to come either from the same old accounts or from brand new accounts. I'm not sure why brand new accounts aren't banned from submitting stories until they get (say) 100 comment karma.

It it possible that the average quality of material on the net is dropping for the same reasons that we think post quality is dropping here?

Emotionally charged rants get attention. Careful reasoning gets eviscerated by pedants. So people are learning to write for the audience.

Sometimes I scroll down the "new" page and vote up all the hard tech stories I can find. Often I find none.

What's interesting is that we all KNOW what the answer to the problem is, but no one is going to go out on a limb and say it. So let me do so - HN needs a paid, full time, editor who will go through the submissions not to approve of what he/she likes (though you could go with a council of three if you're really worried about that), but to make sure they are real links to real articles - and that have the time to do the research to insure that the article is what it claims it is about, and hasn't been posted 20 times in the last week under slightly different names.

I always found the boards I enjoyed best back when I ran a C-64 BBS (yes, that was a BBS running ON a C-64 with a 1200 baud modem and two floppy drives) were the ones with appropriately benevolent "dictators" who used a light touch to keep things real and on track. I can't say I've seen anything on the internet to convince me that there's been a notable improvement on such.

I didn't feel like I knew what the answer was, so I was very curious to see what it would be.

I'd actually been considering hiring someone to run HN, though not to moderate it in quite as hands-on a way as you're suggesting. Interesting idea though.

Hey PG, have you read Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody? It has lots in there about the problems inherent in big communities, especially in how they function on the internet.

The later parts of the book (chapter 8 and beyond) seem applicable to the problems HN is facing.

PM me if you want, I'll send you my copy of the book.

I haven´t read that book, looks interesting.

On the topic of moderation I would suggest the ability to somewhat "follow" good commenters, and even perhaps block bad submitters. This way, reputation is not only karma, but quality of followers.

Please get in contact with Matt Haughey, he's the best possible person to talk to about this, having run Metafilter for over a decade.

Be warned, he's going to strongly advise you to set up a backchannel for public metadiscussion. Jeff Atwood resisted it vehemently at first when another metafilter moderator was a guest on his podcast, but they did eventually set up their meta subsite in the same vein.

Yes, please do that! Reddit's turnaround from slow decline might have happened because they hired a full time community manager.

What's interesting is that we all KNOW what the answer to the problem is, but no one is going to go out on a limb and say it. So let me do so - HN needs a paid, full time, editor who will go through the submissions not to approve of what he/she likes (though you could go with a council of three if you're really worried about that), but to make sure they are real links to real articles - and that have the time to do the research to insure that the article is what it claims it is about, and hasn't been posted 20 times in the last week under slightly different names.

Isn't this the role of Slashdot's editors? Or do they choose the stories as well? Either way, Slashdot has almost no interesting stories these days.

That could simply be what they are chosen to look for isn't what you would consider interesting. If you had an editor here you could define what they are looking for.

Metafilter uses this, so it is a valid model. I'm supporting you on this.

EwanG, this seems contrary to the democratic spirit of community news sites. Who is to say what's good and bad? I don't trust a dictator (editor).

Pure democracy doesn't necessarily scale, which is why we elect representatives and have electoral colleges and such in real life. Maybe HN's reached the point where a pure vote system is not enough.

Don't want to start a political argument, but isn't the way to make democracy scale more to do with federalism? And sub-reddits do just that.

"1) The obvious one: Signal to noise ratio in the comments is way down."

One possible solution: depend more on credentials, and give people who have useful things to say / special background knowledge priority. Weigh their votes more and give them karma bonuses. Someone from a YC startup might be given more weight than someone who opines on large-scale, amorphous social problems from a generic position ("outsourcing: economic doom or natural phenomenon? Let's flame!").

I think the big thing, more than anything else, is the learning aspect. We tend to learn more from people who know a lot of stuff and have unusual experiences or abilities. Those people tend to cluster, then less smart people cluster around them, eventually leading toward decline. One way to counter that: identify those people and give them a louder voice. I don't think there's a technical way to do this that won't be gamed, unfortunately, which leads to a major scaling problem.

I mostly try to follow this rule: I mostly comment on areas related to schools / teaching / universities (I'm a grad student in English lit at the University of Arizona), books, or literature. I try to make comments that are as rooted as fact in possible; for example, when someone a while ago said there were no laptops with IPS screens anymore, I left a link to an Anandtech review of one and didn't say much else. Problem is, I don't have any good way of systematizing that or rewarding it except on an individual level.

I disagree that credentials are the answer. Weighing with credentials doesn't scale broadly, which is what is needed here, and in fact may aggravate the problem when the expert has a bad day or their authority is applied to inappropriate subjects.

A better solution than "giving the smarter people a louder voice" would be to "give the louder people a smarter voice."

My suggestion below is to add a good way to discreetly provide feedback. Encourage people to send messages to you about what they think of your post, with the goal of encouraging everyone to improve the quality of their posting, and also to be more thoughtful about up/down voting.

As a relatively new user I'm genuinely interested: which 3 or 4 types of comments and posts do you find interesting or representative of the old HN? I'm willing to change what I comment on or just move on, but I'm just not clear what the old HN did consist of? For an example of my confusion, I find current HN threads can mistake disagreement for originality, so "I disagree" comments are much more respected than "I agree, and also" comments. But then I read complaints about HN and it seems some users actually want more of an always-disagree culture and not less.

Hmm, when I first joined, being a silly high school kid who wasn't really good at being mature online, I learned how to interact in the community via trial-and-error. It was really just that.

One specific instance was when I submitted an XKCD shortly after joining. I eventually realized it wasn't really what people here were looking for. When elections rolled around, I submitted a Wapo editorial that was really off-base, and the reaction I got in response was deservedly negative.

However, in this process of learning to be a more civil and well-reasoned person (which I do credit a lot of to the good folks here on HN), I've always found a measure of grace. I don't think the reactions I've gotten for anything I've submitted or commented with have ever been really mean. Criticism has always been positive. This is the main aspect of HN, besides being intellectually stimulating, that I've come to appreciate most. It has really helped me to grow (I'm a college sophomore now and I really am grateful to the kind people here who've taught me so much since high school).

I agree with pg's general observation that things seem to have become a bit meaner and less constructive. I'm not sure how to fix the front page, but the type of comments I find representative of the old HN are informative, well-reasoned, and forgiving comments. I entirely agree with your bit about "I disagree" comments, though I don't think it would be as much of a problem if it were done a little more nicely. It's okay to disagree with an article, but the tone that some people take, mehh. That said, I almost always read the comments prior to reading the article, because I count on the contrarians to shed some light that I might otherwise be ignorant to.

I think everything would be okay if everyone just reminded themselves to be civil and not to use downvotes to disagree.

Ids are sequential, so there's a time machine at your disposal: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=

Hmm... so what can we deduce from the quality of the commentary here? ;-p


mixmax' point 3) reminds me of State the Obvious. Maybe saying something in known agreement promotes consensus (with the speaker). Also anything past the first page won't get as many eyeballs so what's there will get more upvotes still.

Look at http://gamedev.net - they've grown their community from a few active users to more than a hundred thousand and the quality only increased. They had to go through a period of significantly decreased quality as the community grew, and faced all the same problems as HN. I believe a combination of the following changes would fix things: (from most to least important):

- Upvotes need to be weighed by karma, and karma of exemplary members of the community needs to be seeded by you (and other exemplary members). This way cliques of mean/non-insightful users can upvote each other to their heart's content without making any appreciable difference in their karma value.

- The above would fix the quality of articles on the front page, not just the quality of comments. Our most successful blog post to date was "will the real programmers please stand up" (http://www.rethinkdb.com/blog/2010/06/will-the-real-programm...) which is at best a provocative rant. The actual technically insightful content isn't nearly as successful. TechCrunch mastered the art of linkbait headlines. Weighed upvotes will solve this problem.

- Anonymity breeds animosity. If I don't know someone it's much easier for me to say mean, dumb things (see: YouTube). The solution is somewhat controversial, but I strongly believe the downsides of threaded discussions strongly outweigh the upsides (ability to carry on multiple discussions at a time). Removing the ability to have threads will force people to pay attention to who they're talking to and have a coherent discussions instead of snarky oneliners.

- Moderators need to be able to lock down threads that are getting out of control.

- When the article is off the front page, the discussion quickly dies off with it. There needs to be a "hot discussions" tab that allows people to continue the conversations. This encourages people to get to know each other and participate in a coherent discussion that spans beyond 24 hours.

> When the article is off the front page, the discussion quickly dies off with it. There needs to be a "hot discussions" tab that allows people to continue the conversations. This encourages people to get to know each other and participate in a coherent discussion that spans beyond 24 hours.

The decay constant should also be decreased, so that interesting submissions stay longer on the homepage. I usually don't comment on old submissions, because it feels like no one reads or votes on them.

I am willing to sacrifice the number of good articles on the homepage each day for the quality of comments on each article.

(edit: added last paragraph)

This seems like it could help. I tend to read a submission, and maybe a few of the early comments, and then it just stews in my brain for a bit. Maybe an hour or two later I will suddenly have a fully formed idea to share, but by then the story has already left the front page, so I just don't bother commenting. It's not that I only want to comment if I think I am going to get points, but I only want to comment if I think someone is going to read it. I don't really see a point in just shouting out into the void.

Also, having the stories leave the front page so quickly encourages people who are just interested in getting points to throw out whatever garbage they can in hopes of grabbing a few upvotes by being one of only a few comments on a given submission.

"There needs to be a "hot discussions" tab that allows people to continue the conversations."


That's cool, but nearly invisible (I certainly didn't know about it) - if you write to be read, active isn't going to help much.

I haven't been to GameDev.net in a while, but I certainly remember some fantastic, stimulating discussion in the game design forum. The fact that there were teenagers making threads about how to create an MMO didn't really detract from that.

I really agree with your last two points. I don't think there are any examples of a large community effectively self-moderating; you need someone willing to ruthlessly delete the crap.

I'm thinking about it, and I can't really see any advantage of the Reddit-style format over a traditional forum if you're trying to build a thoughtful community. In online terms, there's only been one non-forum where I've really felt part of the community, and that's a slow-moving blog with a smallish group of great regulars.

You could even have everyone's HN be seeded by his own upvotes/downvotes. Everyone would then get their own HN with stuff they like on top and stuff they don't like on the bottom. A tagging system would also help a lot. People who are interested in politics get politics, people who are interested in science get science. I'm not sure if these are good ideas however, because you might get multiple ghettos (and it would be hard to implement).

If I don't know someone it's much easier for me to say mean, dumb things

Sooo, use facebook for auth? :)

I think HN is an ideal place for personally identifiable comments, we're all professionals here right?

Let us not be too hasty in proposing solutions when the problem isn't really understood. At best they are shots in the dark. Even after you ship them you wouldn't be able to tell whether the fixes actually did anything or not.

If this were my product then I'd try to gather a corpus of bad comments, selected outside of the vote system (because the problem is that voting might be broken). While I was at it, I'd also find out the good comments, because promoting good comments might be just as good and easier than getting rid of the bad comments. After that, I'd try to figure out what counts as a good vote or a bad vote, because the problem probably doesn't really lay with the comments themselves, but rather how people vote against them. Bad comments aren't really a problem if the vote system does a good job of spotting them.

Then I'd take a careful look at comments and votes:

- Is the distribution of good comments / bad comments even throughout the set of commentators, or are there users who are dependably good or dependably bad? If it is a lumpy distribution then you can use that. I'm guessing that everyone makes dumb comments, and there is something with the system that inflates the scores of bad comments compared to good comments as more people can vote. But I'm also guessing that only so many people are capable of leaving good comments too. Get the data and find out for sure.

- Do the vote scores that these comments get a reflection of the quality? If the votes are, then maybe the system isn't as broken as you think. If they aren't, then you've got a lead on the problem - you can look at the bad comments that get lots of upvotes and try to suss out what is going on.

- Do high-karma voters do a better job of finding good / bad comments that average? If they are better, then maybe you give them more weight. If they aren't then you'd have to shelve that idea.

- Are there people good at commenting but bad at voting, and vice-versa?

- Are there people who are good at upvoting, but not at downvoting, or vice-versa?

It's all sort of tedious, but basically I'd advise leaning on the data and make decisions based off of that. I'm pretty sure that if you dig in a bit something is going to really stick out in a big way. Once you've found that, then you can build a feature / change around that.

One problem I know is a problem because I see it all the time is people getting downvotes and not knowing why. If even a fraction of the people who have this problem complain, that's a lot of people who don't understand the unwritten rules.

Perhaps things need to be spelled out explicitly. If someone says something that gets a downvote, they need to be offered constructive criticism. "Here's why you were downvoted, and what you can do in the future to prevent it from happening again."

This is very time-consuming to do, however. Writing a detailed response is costly and repetitive. Pressing "downvote" is easy. You punish the commenter, but don't tell him/her why; it's up to them to figure it out on their own, which is sometimes difficult/impossible from their perspective.

An idea:

If you downvote, you have to pick a reason why you downvoted from various options (e.g. drop-down list, checkboxes). If you pick something, your downvote is cast. If you don't do anything, the downvote isn't cast.

In the options, you can list ~10-20 reasons to downvote (too mean, off topic, etc...). Select one or more items from the list, and submit it. What was selected appears in a "voting stats" page/section for said comment. Then the user can then get the gist of why they were downvoted, perhaps with a generic message saying how they could improve in the future.

The downside is that it might required a re-direct if you downvote (might be annoying on iPad/mobile devices), and it'll also take longer to downvote. I don't think the latter will be an issue since downvoting is rare, and I'd imagine people would be willing to fill out a quick web-form if they really think something deserves negative karma.

This is a proposal going that direction: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2404513

A hard ban on politics and current events, instead of the wiggly one we have in the site guidelines now.

The problem with that is that it's hard to say exactly what counts as politics. E.g. is an article about economic inequality like this one


politics? I don't think so. Economic inequality is a very interesting social phenomenon, though it is often written about in a heated/political way.

politics? I don't think so. Economic inequality is a very interesting social phenomenon, though it is often written about in a heated/political way.

The comments should count as much as the articles do in determining if a particular topic is allowed on HN or not. Because the comments are just as important. To me, at least.

A big part of why I first started reading HN is the the comments in the articles. I could find the articles in half a dozen other places. Still can. But, the comments here aren't usually anywhere else.

And the best comments are typically better than the article itself. If the comments turn political and into people arguing politics with one another, thats not interesting to me anymore. I don't usually find the article being commented on to be very good, and the comments are even worse.

Seeing people argue politics just makes me close HN and find something else to use to kill the next few minutes. I've actually avoided reading articles that I likely would have otherwise found interesting just to avoid seeing the vitriolic comments that inevitably follow.

> Economic inequality is a very interesting social phenomenon, though it is often written about in a heated/political way.

I think that if you look at the resulting conversations on those sorts of articles, it usually retreads extremely familiar territory.

Also, 90% of that kind of article I've ever seen tends to be someone "broadcasting" a view they agree with ( "hey, this guy's right on!" ) rather than presenting actual new research in economics.

Also, any article like that tends to be something anyone can have an opinion on, tending to attract people that are more interested in those sorts of discussions than about "hacker news".

IMO, at least.

I don't actually think articles on "Economic inequality" belong on hacker news. In fact, it's articles like that which are a big difference between this site in the early days and now. I'd prefer a site that stuck to technical and startup business topics but perhaps that isn't hacker news anymore. The fact that these articles get voted up implies that I must be in the minority.

Technically it just means you're in the minority of people who upvote things.

Hang out on the front page more and vote there, like RiderOfGiraffes mentioned in his farewell post (or the ensuing discussion, can't remember). It is really important that if you are dissatisfied with the quality of HN (as I currently am) you should do something about it.

We could have choice, would have to be in conjunction with either a tagging system or a completely separate list like subreddits. With tagging in your profile you could have things to opt out of like politics and current events and tech gossip.

The when these submissions popup all you need is someone to tag them as one of these things. You could either assign people to do this or weight it by karma or something.

Require articles about (say) economic inequality to be scholarly.

tptacek, it would be great to require everything on HN to be "scholarly" or sufficiently serious, no? But the question is how to do that.

Simple; they would need to be published in journals, or have bibliographies, or have a cite record. "Scholarly" isn't really a subjective term.

I believe scholarliness is not simple. Examples that muck up a naive attempt at defining "scholarly":

. Econophysics, fuzzy logic, systems theory -- are those really serious fields? Could they become serious? The answers are subjective.

. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning -- too specific? is this just a journal that someone started to enhance her reputation in a self-defined field? how long has it been around and how long will it be around?

. Douglas Hofstadter -- scholar or dilletante?

. the blog of Terence Tao -- it is serious but is not published in a journal

. http://arxiv.org/find/math/1/au:+Jormakka_J/0/1/0/all/0/1 -- a guy who claimed to solve more than one Millennium Problem and is widely considered a crank. Articles were published in journals.

. http://arxiv.org/find/math/1/au:+Perelman_G/0/1/0/all/0/1 -- a guy who did solve a Millennium Problem. Articles were not published in journals.

Listen to Frank Wilczek talk about his feelings about not having his genius recognised: http://www.learnoutloud.com/Catalog/Science/Physics/The-Univ... (Q&A at the end).

Academics play the karma game with much higher stakes.

What about adding a separate "flag as politics" option to stories? That way, if enough people feel that it is off-topic for the HN front page, it could get banished to a separate news.ycombinator.com/politics area. Not deleted, just removed from the front page and easily accessible to anyone who wants it.

I really like your suggestion. It could be extended even further.

If readers are willing to tag stories not just as "good" or "bad" but with categorical labels, then suddenly the news aggregator "knows" a lot more about the data its serving up. You could have categories at the top, preferential sorting for users, and more.

I came here to say this and can't believe I had to scroll down so far. All you need are accurate tags and a way to filter by them. There is no point punishing people for submitting or voting up something the community is not interested in. Just make sure they tag it correctly so that it can be found or ignored according to reader's preference.

Note this discussion is exactly akin to deletionism on wikipedia – if we can categorise information effectively, why reject any of it?

imo the "anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity" guideline and related submissions add a lot of value to HN.

Besides, I don't agree with the notion that mean-spirited or dumb comments or ideology-based downvoting/upvoting are limited to politics and current events. Any thread about iOS, Android, Microsoft etc. is also likely generate a lot of those comments and ideology-based up/down voting :)

Facebook / Twitter analysis, if it has 10,000 shares on Facebook/Twitter chances are we can find it somewhere else. Would any of us have missed that Color raised $41 million dollars? Probably not.

maybe ensuring the articles are at least a week old, that instantly removes 99% of the current events which are generally irrelevant and if it is relevant it will still be so in a week.

You might want to consider just shutting it down for 2 months, the great users will likely come back. It will definitely lower the dunbar number quite a bit.

Just a ban on "current events" (aka news)?

Past political essays, e.g. by Cicero, will generally be intellectually interesting.

I would also add that topics about problems with possible software solutions are also relevant.

Problems in politics have led to startups like Votizen and OpenCongress.

Where there is a problem there is a startup. And where there is a problem that people are willing to pay money for a solution there is a business model.

It's interesting, but is it useful for a busy founder?

Or to make that more concrete, would you forward that link to multiple portfolio CEOs and suggest they take time out of their day to read it and discuss it?

Not sure what 'founders' and 'CEOs' have to do with hacker news.

Hey, when I joined it was called "Startup News".

I assumed that the target market for HN is people in startups and people about to start startups.

That said, if the target market is just 'hackers', just modify my question to refer to 'hackers' rather than 'founders'.

HN is for hackers, not startup founders. There just ends up being a disproportionate amount of stuff about startups, because YC is in the startup business.

And therein lies the problem. As HN and Y Combinator itself have grown, as well as the general startup climate, HN has become increasingly startup focused to the point where many would describe it as "for startup founders" rather than "for hackers". And there are a lot of new users who like it that way (or assume it's supposed to be that way). But then you have the old guard like tptacek who would like nothing more than to see HN filled with only hard tech/science posts. That's a gap that isn't going to be filled with any algorithmic tweak or new comment layout.

I would strongly prefer an HN that only had startup posts. I think this part of the thread is going off the rails, though. The problem is, "how do you improve comment quality on HN". We can probably avoid debating the premise of the question, and just focus on the (plentiful) ideas themselves.

Clearly not everybody reads the site guidelines. Perhaps enforcing that periodically would help.

This tiff seems to highlight what's perhaps the problem: is there really agreement & understanding on what HN is supposed to be about?

It's interesting, but is it useful for a busy founder?

Aren't founders as busy as they are in part because they hope to reach the top 1 percent of income in their country? I would want to know what my country's policies are toward high-income people, and what social trends are influencing those policies, if I were pursuing a high-wealth business result, as at least some founders are.

I think political stories and economic trends that relate to startups would also be appropriate (for example startup visas, growth of middle-class in China) as these are area that impact startups in the long term.

Obviously if the discussion on these threads is purely political then they probably shouldn't have a place here.

I don't see a guideline saying something has to be useful or forwardable among CEOs.

I'll go ahead and suggest, since it's on topic in this thread, that passive aggressive snark like this is one source of HN's decline.

One can disagree without being snarky and disagreeable.

How was it passive aggressive or snarky?

Perhaps it was intended as a non-snarky, non-aggressive statement, but I still have trouble reading it as anything other than passive-aggressive snark, especially given the context of the conversation.

I find myself wishing I had a 'meh' flag for both your comment and my reply. Not quite a downvote or a report, but... "meh... this is not a useful addition to the conversation."

The downvote button is the "meh" flag! Why would you hesitate before downvoting such a comment? Slay evil instantly!

I would say: yes, that's definitely politics, and it should definitely be banned. I'd be prepared to use a fairly broad brush in determining what "politics" is.

I second this - the politics posts do get a lot of hits, but HN needs to decide if it wants to be "awesome" or "popular"

I can't see this working, but heck, I'm willing to give it a try.

Two main problems: 1) everything is politics and current events. That is, everything touches in some way on what's going on in the world and how you feel about it. Maybe I'm applying too broad a brush, but I can see politics and current events in every post on HN -- and always have. About the only exceptions would be the driest of technical articles. If you want a board of Erlang innards, go for it. Other than that, it's always going to be Steve Jobs, EFF, which VC trashes which other, etc -- all gossip. (And gossip is just a broad term for current events and politics)

People post, comment, and vote based on emotional response. You can pretend to cut that out by banning, say, any mention of political parties or politicians, perhaps any pending legislation, and past legislation, how economics prevents or helps startup creation, etc -- but I think you'll just trade one monster for another.

2) I've been thinking about this for a while, and the key problem here is that the commenting system promotes learning how to fit into a community of hackers, not actually doing anything useful. We think of the system as being some sort of logical function to take all kinds of input and provide the "best" stuff for hackers, but it's exactly the opposite: it teaches hackers how to get votes from other hackers. In other words, spend 3 or 4 years on here, like JacquesM did, and if you're lucky you become an expert on what to say and do to make large groups of hackers agree with you. The karma system and large crowds isn't training the material to be more targeted to hackers -- it's training hackers on how to target other hacker's response with their material: how to fit in, what to post to get a rise, how to succeed without really trying, etc.

You can blame the topics for being too emotional, but I think it misses the point. We've always had all kinds of issues on here. What we're getting is a larger pool of people actively gaming the system in hundreds of ways: what kinds of snide comments might sneak by, what's the best time to run flame-war submissions, who to praise, what topics to champion or deride. That's a function of forum size, not system parameters. And that's not even getting into the fact that with a large enough audience, somebody is going to get pumped about just about anything that appears on the front page.

There's nothing nefarious about this. It's all just people being humans. After all, if you are in a conversation, do you speak in order to provide factual information? Or do you speak based on your current emotional state and to effect the emotional state of others? Why would we expect HN to be any different?

Nyah. That proposed rule -- if you could somehow miraculously define it with the precision required -- wouldn't give you the results you desire.

> What we're getting is a larger pool of people actively gaming the system in hundreds of ways ...

We're getting politics, in short, even if by a different name.

Especially, a ban on "startup news". e.g. AngelGate was not intellectually interesting, but it was important industry news.

Eliminating the exciting news of the moment would make the site less entertaining for those not seeking intellectual stimulation. It would also make the site less popular. Both are good.

A ban would logically include YC company launches - revealing the conflict between YC's business interest and intellectual interest. It would be a defining moment, for what HN is.

"Startup news" could be a sister site, if important.

Perhaps HN could ask the submitter to include a short justification as to why a busy hacker should take time to read this article.

Gotta agree.. I sometimes fall into commenting on or upvoting politics threads, but that's really not what HN is about... a harder line against that stuff would probably help.

Going after a specific topic misses the point a bit. A general ban on topics that tend to be driven by emotion would work better.

Talk to any startup founder or early employee about the emotional roller coaster they went on. It's an important part of it.

Start up and hacking are emotive subjects.

And things where discussions are occasionally productive. You can be emotional about BSD, but it's possible to have a productive discussion about BSD vs. another OS.

Have you ever seen a typical political debate? Those are driven by emotion. They're full of catchphrases and insults, and nothing of merit.

Unfortunately a lot of discussions about technology are driven largely by emotion.

There's more than enough hacker-appropriate linkbait to fill the front page, if that's what the readership wants.

Politics, I'm definitely with you. "Current events", though, is an extremely broad term -- what exactly did you intend it to mean?

The guidelines currently say "if they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off topic". The predicate should be clarified, and the word "probably" removed.

Can we say use common sense? They'd cover Facebook IPO on TV. Yet it would have an impact on a lot of small startups that frequent here.

"Common sense isn't all that common"

The problem with this is tv news is uneducated for the most part. People end up posting things to HN that don't fit well, because it doesn't get discussed in other venues. So yeah, you're right though. It's got to be a hard line.

Wouldn't that ban a lot of tech companies' current actions? Ie, isn't everything happening now in Silicon Valley etc a <i>current event</i>?

How does that address comment quality?

There is no scarcity with upvotes. If I have an infinite amount of money to spend, I will spend it without prudence.

Cap the number of upvotes that a user gets each day and give explicit feedback on how many upvotes that they have left.

Past N votes in a day, a vote should cost a karma point.

Perlmonks does this, and based on your total karma you are given a higher daily limit to spend. Works quite well.

"... Perlmonks does this, and based on your total karma you are given a higher daily limit to spend. Works quite well. ..."

I always think of the Perlmonk progression as a good idea. It will require a radical departure in use/interaction and might be seen as too controlled. PM had the advantage of doing this from the start (as far as I know) PM #244776

Perlmonks had that as part of the structure from the time I arrived there. Which was in the first few months.

"... Perlmonks had that as part of the structure from the time I arrived there. ..."

It certainly works. I always go there ready to really think twice before I post & you learn. HN appears to be more OpEd a lot of the times.

Perlmonks certainly works. However I don't think that the level system is the reason. My opinion is that the real reason is that a good community was established early, and then a focused remit maintained it.

Ironically that is one of the reasons why I lost interest. My interests moved on. A small fraction of the conversations taught me anything interesting. And so I drifted away. However the focused remit is essential for maintaining that community as it is, even if I am no longer that big a part of it.

Incidentally I am http://www.perlmonks.org/?node=tilly there, and http://www.perlmonks.org/?node_id=754085 describes some of the early history of how it came to be as it is.

I think this is indeed a low hanging fruit. Upvoting should have some negative side effect or limit that makes you think for a split second if you really want to do it.

In articles: personally I only upvote only those articles that I really want to see in my "saved stories".

So one might make voting comments clutter something for the voter and I think that most hackers like to keep things beautiful, clean and searchable if possible. Might work better for articles than comments though.

A privmsg feature, available to people who cross a karma or karma average feature, that would allow gruseom to tell people offline that their comments are dumb. Sometimes it's good to make an example of a dumb comment, but other times it just begs for an unproductive fight.

Interesting idea. That would be pretty easy to implement: it could be an ordinary comment, but that would only be visible to the sender and the receiver.

I was thinking about this in the car and came up with the same thought, that it could just be a comment that no one but the OP (and mods, perhaps) saw. I am definitely guilty of posting some bad comments as far as the HN definition goes. I blame living on USENET in the late '80s and early '90s and the WELL, but the reason is immaterial. The problem is that many times I don't really see the comment as particularly bad, or I haven't thought about how someone else might interpret it, didn't realize how I was being dumb, or I simply forget the tone of the venue I'm in.

When someone points one of these issues out, I often feel bad about it. However, I usually don't edit my comment to remove or reword the offending portion because I think it's rude to the person replying and, oddly enough, those who later read it. Because they've made a good point, if I fix up my post it breaks continuity, possibly makes them sound like an idiot, and feels like I'm trying to cover up my lameness.

If I got a similar note that was private I'd feel free to make the changes without as many of those worries. Especially without concern for how they'd take it as presumably they're looking for me to shape up not score points on my misbehavior. I also think that some people that might say something are loathe to reply publicly in fear of just making it worse.

Of course it could seriously backfire if people used it just to be mean back without fear of the community observing. But it seems like it might be worthy of trying.

Note that this won't "fix" the comment problem, but every time it is used, more likely than not, it's going to improve the comment threads, because the alternative is publicly calling someone out.

Please label it "the gruseom button".

You've called me out in public before. Shame is an effective teacher.

Except with sufficiently snarky/provocative comments trying to shame the commenter might look from the outside like something very similar to petty disagreement.

I think some people here are learning that hugely self-confident, strongly opinionated, obvious writing tends to spark a strong agreement reaction on the readers, who quickly upvote a comment that adds nothing to a discussion. These are a problem, as they encourage snark and posing over effectively arguing things out, but they are very hard to treat as disagreeing with them is likely to cause knee-jerk reactions in many upvoters.

> Except with sufficiently snarky/provocative comments trying to shame the commenter might look from the outside like something very similar to petty disagreement.

While I agree with the general case, in my specific case I called somebody an "idiot" out of anger and tptacek called me on it. It was quite mortifying and I've tried to watch my words since.

Strongly agree with where you're going here. Every time I see a "senior" or "better" HN handle call someone dumb, I think: well, who says you're so smart? Who makes you the dictator of "good" comments?

I never see "nice" tellings-off. A "nice" telling-off might be: "reader123, this comment is mean. please be nicer"

That is exactly the sort of telling-off I got. It was polite and to the point. After I edited and apologised tptacek deleted his remonstration.

My thought was to have a selection of canned responses that encourage this sort of feedback without allowing it to devolve into arguments.

But anything that encourages feedback and discourages defensiveness will be effective.

I really like this idea. It'd disincentivize trolls because they're looking for a public flamewar. Turning those flamewars/disagreements private would hide a lot of the noise.

This is by far my favorite suggestion, although I think that the messengers should be hand-picked, not based on karma.

I make a lot of lousy comments, because I don't really have a lot of respect for the quality of discussion here. But, you know, if I got private feedback a few times -- even from people who were powerless to punish me -- that my comments were bad, then I would actually stop.

Yikes, if my name is the pronoun for that behavior, I must be doing it way more than I thought I was!

You're just one of the people who I go out of my way to read, and among those people you're the only one who goes out of their way to help police thread quality. I'm sure there are people who do it more.

Perhaps a way to include a private note with a downvote, so that downvoted commenters can better understand why they were downvoted (without that meta discussion being public).

Maybe a 2D vote. The up-down dimension we have now, and another to say why the up/down vote. This would combine the up/down with a Slashdot-like Troll~Insightful dimension. That would be some useful feedback.

Sometimes I don't know if I am being downvoted because I am being too vicious (I get carried away from time to time) or because I am just completely wrong.

> A privmsg feature, available to people who cross a karma or karma average feature ...

I don't agree. You'll just create another incentive to game for karma and that's what I've seen at sites with karma-linked features.

I'd suggest that either

* nobody has the feature

* everybody has the feature

* only paying customers have the feature

Some policy/feature/system to aggregate related stories ("killing" stories that duplicate stories that already have active threads, and posting a link to the "duplicate" story in that thread, or something similar to that --- I'm being minimalist here).

A lot of dumb comments appear to germinate on threads that are the 3rd or 4th take on some tech news story about Facebook or Apple.

To me, this is the biggest problem with HN rather than comment quality. Tons of related, and even duplicate, stories happen all the time which fragments discussion. Not to mention the duplicate posts which happen a few months later. Thankfully someone usually remembers and posts a link to the previous discussion but that shouldn't be required.

I think it's an interesting idea to be able to "group" related posts that occur within a certain time range of each other. If five posts on the new iPad 7 come in within the same three days, someone can drag them all together into the "iPad 7" thread.

But this?

the duplicate posts which happen a few months later

Once we're up to a timescale of months, or even weeks, we're no longer being sensible. Instead we're exhibiting FAQ Syndrome: The irrational fear that someone, somewhere, is saying something that isn't entirely original.

I think the cult of originality is actually a big problem at HN, and other "news" sites as well. The important things in life are not particularly original, and they do not change particularly quickly. A site that is determined not to re-discuss previous topics is doomed to discuss nothing but ephemeral trivia. The great thing about celebrity gossip is that it is always new! We can manufacture celebrities at whatever rate is needed to keep the front page fresh. But we can't manufacture Knuths as needed; we've only got the one set of Maxwell's equations; new books on the scale of K&R or SICP don't come along every day. But if we discourage the constant reexamination of these classics they will get placed on the dusty shelves and we'll see nothing but discussions of the latest gossip and bling. You know, like we have today.

I always wished HN would feel more like academia, which cycles like the seasons. Every year, you discuss all the classics again for a new audience of newbs. After a little while, you've heard all the classics and are ready to graduate, or become a professor. This is what makes me miss the days when this was "Startup News" and was more explicitly tied to the YC cycle, the time when you could tell that a new YC class was starting by watching for the influx of new people.

"Constant reexamination of classics" sounds like bliss to me. I would love to see more of it. nostrademons' comment (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2403317) about feeling like he's absorbed as much as he's ever going to get out of 15 minute blog posts, and hungering for deeper learning, is one that deeply resonates with me. I remember books. The last 5 years, say, of internet use has retarded my learning, and I'm ashamed for letting it happen.

I wish there were places to go online to teach or be taught about topics in a discussion-forum kind of way. I'd love, for example, a Lambda the Ultimate for newbs. LtU is an awesome, high-quality site, I just wish I could understand more than 10% of it.

I tend to use HN when I'm too tired to work or just waking up. Those are also the times when I'm not interested in buckling down and studying a hard subject. But surely I could do better than the kind of learning I get from HN (and other casual internet use), which is random access to shallow, scattered tidbits, as if training for a massive Trivial Pursuit tournament you never signed up for. If only there were a community where people devoted themselves to teaching and learning classic topics in a sustained way, but that still had the social and casual aspect. News as such doesn't interest me that much. I'm mostly just consuming it by default. If anyone's read this far - my apologies for adding a mostly off-topic comment to an already crowded thread.

I think only time scale we need to think about is the front page.


ISTM you're thinking of merging duplicate content as a punitive measure. I think of it as a mostly positive thing: I wouldn't mind seeing a discussion on SICM once a quarter--but it'd be nice to have all the older insightful comments on it readily available.

Perhaps there should be a "hard merge" that prevents duplicates from sharing the front page, and a "soft merge" that multiplexes comments from duplicates at any time range under any of the submissions?

This plays into RiderOfGiraffes' experiment with leaving comments that tied together related (or identical) discussions, which I was rather sad to see him discontinue (especially in cases where two threads were discussing different aspects of a story). I don't recall, though; was he automating that, or was it a purely manual effort?

I suspect a "closed as duplicate" system, ala StackExchange, could work well here, assuming a high enough bar were to be set for who could do (or vote for) such a thing.

He mostly did it manually. He had started to pull a system together to automate it, but (iirc) some people rather resented it, so he discontinued that.

Maybe give high karma users the power to merge/suggest/link this stories, as Stack Overflow does, and make HN moderate itself better.

A related problem is blogspam. If the original source material was submitted a while ago but didn't get many upvotes, there is a huge incentive for people to mirror the content or link to a site that links to the original.

I think a more useful metric than "number of votes since submission" would be "number of votes in the past hour/day/whatever." That way an item could be submitted days in the past, but still get on the front page if it had enough upvotes recently. For testing purposes, this could be an alternate front page like http://news.ycombinator.com/classic

Another option would be to have moderators manually de-dupe stories or fix them to link to the original source. While they're at it, the mods could ban or reduce the karma of users who submit blogspam or duplicate stories.

I'd try to severely decrease total # of comments.

Really bad comments are not the root of the problem. Simply having large number of mediocre comments crowds out and discourages thoughtful discussion from starting at all.

I'd say:

* create some real cost to making comments

* make bad comments disappear/not display at all with time

* make things less democratic -- to encourage good behavior identify users who have this behavior and make this behavior more prominent programmaticly

Making it cost karma to comment would be one way to do that. I could also do something like slashdot and reddit do, and not show comments below some threshold.

If comments cost karma it would lead to less discussion, which I think would lead to better discussion.

Popular comments will make more karma than they cost, so users will still be encouraged to leave comments that will become popular.

It seems that a system like this will be even more sensitive to what community considers popular. For this to work well you'll need to make sure that comment being popular correlates with it being good. To improve on that you'd may need to further reduce inefficiencies (e.g. time-of-day vs popularity) and maybe implement un-democratic measures if "voice of the community" still doesn't correlate with good.

I'd split test this system (and any other change like this). Have some posts that have these new rules in place (this should be publicly visible) and some that don't. See how this affects the results.

> If comments cost karma it would lead to less discussion, which I think would lead to better discussion.

I disagree. I think it would lead to a mix of bland groupthink and fashionable rebellion, with no room inbetween for the merely thoughtful.

It also actively disincentivises posting constructive comments on threads few people are likely to read, as commenting has a negative expected value. A constructive suggestion in a page dropping towards the bottom of the Ask/Show HN might get an upvote from the author if they vote, has a negligible chance of garnering upvotes from anyone else, and yet is more potentially useful to at least one member of the community than any number of eloquently-stated opinions on the 'openness' of a particular platform, whether we're in a bubble yet or the idiocy of the USPTO.

> If comments cost karma it would lead to less discussion, which I think would lead to better discussion.

This would probably work well if combined with the private messaging function mentioned elsewhere on the thread.

If comments cost karma, some users will just submit more stories to try to earn more karma so they can keep commenting. That could decrease the overall quality of articles. One option would be to stop awarding karma for stories so that they only way to earn karma is through good comments. That would conflict with comments costing karma though because you'd never be able to earn the initial amount.

You think it's a good idea to penalize people for commenting? How does this help people new to the scene? "Thanks for joining in the conversation, here's a penalty" This only rewards people who have been around in the scene for a while, while penalizing all the new people.

Penalizing comments is also a more graceful solution than invite-only, because I doubt Jason Fried or Joel Spolsky care too much about their karma score here; the only people this dissuades are people who are commenting to game.

It doesn't dissuade anyone who doesn't care about their karma, or who feels strongly enough about what they want to say.

A karma penalty is a very soft slap on the wrist, at best.

It won't stop trolls, or assholes, or anyone with an agenda.

Subtracting a fixed amount of karma also gets less effective the more karma one has accumulated. So people with a lot of karma will be able to get away with more than people with less karma.

This has an upside, in that it allows more valued members of the community to express themselves more freely. The downside is that they can act like assholes without much repercussion. If the community winds up rewarding them for acting like assholes (by, say, upvoting their assholish comment) then that's even worse.

Of course, any community that not only tolerates but encourages assholes is not a community I want to be part of, and I've left a number of communities over that sort of behavior.

But there are other solutions short of "love it or leave it". I describe one such alternative in another comment in this thread:


People who have been around longer also know better what the community expects.

It's not penalizing, it's just acknowledging seniority. Sort of like how on Slashdot you can't vote on other peoples' comments until you accumulate enough karma.

> acknowledging seniority

Why is seniority good in and of itself? Privileging seniority seems anti-democratic and anti-newbie.

One feature of Slashdot that I did like when I still used it was the option to sort comments by point value, which usually meant excluding everything below a +4. Great time-saver, for those who are not interested in scrolling through long threads. For those who have more time or interest in reading through the discussions, they still see everything.

This doesn't really address the main problem, which is that "poor quality" comments are being upvoted.

But that doesn't solve the problem of bad comments that get tons of upvotes, in fact it will probably aggravate that problem.

I'd be careful of comment thresholds at least to some extent. It's pretty well known across many of these services that if you reply quickly to a new story you're much more likely to get upvotes. Similarly with replying to a top post. If they need to be written quickly they often aren't as high quality or carefully considered, or may even fall back on some of the easy bad posting styles you're trying to eliminate. If you take the existing karma whoring incentives to do this and add to it that you may never even get read if you don't get in early that might cause a lot more people to play that game. And cause a drop off in participation from people who might only be able to respond to a thread when it's hours old.

I think in general you already have most of a filter in that bad comments get pushed down and the lower sections of comments seem to be read much less often.

Or a karmic penalty for upvoting a comment. That way you have to be respected by the community before you can upvote a thread. Maybe it would help curtail negative or snarky comments, if only because people upvoting have been around longer.

Stackexchange kind of does this. You need a certain (low) amount of karma before you can post certain types of submissions.

I think it's important to let new users have a visible voice, but giving older users greater powers for moderation might help preserve the older attitude of the site.

If it costs karma to comment or vote, then you also have to limit the number of submissions people make. Otherwise people will spam HN with controversial topics to accumulate enough karma to vote/comment. That said, if you could only submit one link per day, and it cost karma to up-vote or comment, I think the result would be much-enhanced. Also you'd have to give new members 100 points or something, but maybe they wouldn't be able to use them for the first week.

Risk aversion and loss aversion might lead to excessive silence if every comment cost karma. Maybe the cost could kick in above a certain speed/number of comments, or above some other threshold.

Maybe something along the lines of N free comments a day, or 1 free comment per thread, just to get the ball rolling.

I think you're right about mediocre comments being the real problem, and about identifying good users and rewarding them programmatically. I would take this a step further though and apply the same logic to story submissions.

For example, bloggers who write insightful stuff on a regular basis should get some sort of bonus when content from their domains is upvoted early on. Maybe each upvote would internally count as 1.5 upvotes for the first 100. Similarly, bloggers who have a reputation for writing linkbait should get some sort of penalty.

Right now you can easily spend ten hours writing an amazing blog post and have it not even make the front page. This provides an amazingly strong disincentive for intelligent people to contribute, especially when the front page is dominated by vapid current events gossip. The heart of the problem is that the current system is set up to reward people for submitting garbage from TechCrunch and to punish people who try to make thoughtful contributions of their own.

Similarly, content that takes longer to read should stick around on the new page for longer. Otherwise the front page gets dominated by fluff. Again, there are lots of people who would be willing to spend 10+ hours writing a 3,500 word essay designed to benefit the HN community, but they don't because they know that there is essentially zero chance of it hitting the front page. Right now by the time the first few people finish reading, it's no longer on the new page so any upvotes basically count for nothing. This problem gets vastly worse as the amount of content submitted increases, so if nothing changes then we're probably only a couple more iterations away from having the front page be dominated by pictures of cats.

On the other hand, I've been ridiculously productive the last few months now that HN is basically unreadable, so maybe the decline in quality isn't such a bad thing after all.

I would strongly prefer we not add features that make HN more echo-chamber-y. For instance, I like John Gruber's writing a lot, but I'm not so much a fan of every one of his posts being on the front page.

I agree, but I don't think that invalidates what I'm suggesting. I think the solution is just to not give Gruber a bonus, or else to even give him a negative bonus.

The idea is to reward people who are writing good stuff but who aren't making the front page, not to reward people who already have all their stuff upvoted.

How about giving reliably good sources 10 "soft upvotes" to start with so that they'll be visible, but not let their score increase past 10 until 10 users have actually upvoted it. That way, a story won't get much staying power on the front page until users have validated the initial assumption that the article is good.

One possible implementation is to scale the number of comments a person can make in a time period dependent upon his median comment score over some previous last time period.

I've got no citation at all, but I'd bet that people who have N comments left in the next week will be more miserly about using them. You could also make exceptions for replying to replies and that kind of thing, so as not to artificially limit back and forth (which is sometimes a good thing; for example, tcptacek and zedshaw always have good conversations, if a bit argumentative).

It'd cut back on people who shotgun "funny" comments and have them land occasionally without disrupting people who try to only comment when they have something valuable to say.

A set of super voters would also be good, but, again, not super democratic.

I agree with gleb and Alex3917 that a large number of mediocre comments are the true problem.

I used to participate in the comments because the conversations were stimulating and the community was small. The community's too large for everyone to talk now, but HN has been the best tool for the intellectually curious to date and that doesn't have to change. The bar for commenting just needs to be higher.

When I read the top comments nowadays I'm expecting them to be written by:

- the author of the submitted article - the subject(s) of the article - employees or close relations to the subject(s) of the article - experts in the subject matter

At the bottom I expect to find comments such as product feedback or links to the print version of the article and minor but useful stuff like that. Smart people with interesting things to say shouldn't leave comments here--the community's too big for that now.

I'm not sure how you programmatically enforce that. It might be as simple as changing the commenting policies and have the users adjust their self policing.

Great ideas. The act of commenting on a thread should cost you a few Karma points. Right now there is now down side to commenting. If you comment and it cost you say 5 points, and you don't get 5 back, you'd probably think about it a little more next time.

Also, on the 'less democratic' idea, up-votes from users with more karma could be weighted heavier. Quality comments would rise up faster.

Another option is to have some social cost to making comments. The easiest way to do this is to force real names - look at e.g. Techcrunch (but there are other examples) to see the impact on comment quality.

I can't see it working here, for a number of reasons, but it's an interesting thought experiment.

How would you know that someone's used their real name?

That might work when there are a small number of participants and everyone has met everyone else face to face or when there's at least someone to vouch for the identity of every participant, but it doesn't scale very well to a community the size of HN.

I'd suggest that there are more tiers to functionality than are currently in place. At the moment, after 500 points you're given the ability to downvote comments. Perhaps there should be additional barriers in place, such as this:

0 - Ability to comment on threads

50 - Ability to upvote comments

500 - Ability to downvote comments

1000 - Ability to submit articles/stories

2000 - Ability to downvote articles/stories

etc. While this may reduce the number of incoming stories, perhaps there could be a way for power users to sponsor stories submitted by those who aren't able to submit them to the feed themselves. The more I think about it, the more I like this approach - create a queue of "pending stories" that anyone can submit to, but only those who have sufficient experience on the site can approve them (or remove them from the queue).

For those who say that I'd be pandering to myself here, note that I'm at 620 points right now - with this proposition I'd be reducing my current abilities. However I think that it's a small price to pay to improve the quality of submissions.

I believe adding additional barriers would be bad. I currently do not comment very often. I feel that my comments would add little to the discussion, but by being allowed to upvote good stories and comments I feel like a part of the community.

By requiring some karma to upvote people would probably contribute more low quality comments hoping to gain the karma required to contribute in other ways.

This creates a powerful incentive to game the system. In the long run you would worsen the situation.

I don't think further restrictions will help. I'd prefer a fixed contingent of up/downvotes (or votes in general) per month/week/day which may be somehow related to your current karma level or will be dynamically altered each period and/or in addition for every 10 upvotes you get, you'll have an extra vote yourself.

Submissions should hardly give any karma. That should take care of most of the problems regarding submissions.

About the approval: It should probably be the other way around. Flagged submissions are added to a queue for review (maybe letting the community to vote once more and therefor reviving the submission) and duplicates with comments are merged.

Random mumble: I have the feeling that many discussions depend too much on the poster. Sometimes complete discussions shift because of a comment of an established poster or live and die with said poster. And it's from time to time not because of some valuable insight but rather the fact that it's him/her. I am probably the only one who feels like that and I don't have a solution (if it needs one). Hiding the username and having to do an extra click (profile e.g.) to see who's behind the post would probably minimize the problem. But it would make it harder to filter out posts (which would need another indicator karma/per comment ratio (e.g.) to make it at least a bit useful).

The problem with this approach is that then the users will instead choose to save up their points to submit their OWN stories, instead of spending them upvoting (and downvoting) threads and comments which help improve the content curation on HN (and is one of our main goals here).

This approach may work if there is additional points given by the system to the upvoter (or downvoter) if there is significant number of other users doing the same thing as that upvoter (or downvoter) too, which means his/her action is indeed valid and objective.

Users would then be more willing to vote, with the hope that other users will do the same thing as him/her too, and reap more points than what he/she spent for upvoting/downvoting. This enforces more thinking and evaluation of comments or stories before even upvoting or downvoting them.

I got the impression this was more of the Y! Answers option. You're in essence "leveling up" and with each level up you're getting more features unlocked. You unlock the ability to submit stories, or the ability to upvote/downvote comments. I didn't take that as point cost to perform action X.

Make it easier for new stories to get noticed before they fall off the new page. It's a crapshoot if your submission gets noticed, and (it seems at least) the stories on the front page come from the same domains and submitters, probably because people tend to vote based on name recognition.

I realize that doesn't directly relate to comments, but I think some of the declining quality of conversation owes to the fact that it's getting a bit stale. How many blog articles about productivity can we discuss without some decline?

I don't think we should ban political articles at all. In fact, I think less blog posts about "are we in a bubble?" and more articles on economics, science, philosophy, etc would make HN much more interesting. The median comment here is still of much higher quality than at sites like reddit. And although certain subjects can be sensitive, I doubt that banning these topics will actually reduce meanness, it will just make the change in decorum harder to notice.

Finally, a more extreme idea: why not add a second kind of vote? Perhaps we could vote comments agree/disagree in addition to up or down. These could be right and left arrows, to drive home the point that disagreeing with something ought to be orthogonal to whether it adds to the conversation. We could weigh these votes less, so that rankings more reflect how insightful we think something is, instead of how popular.

Would it work to make the new page longer?

No, do what reddit does. Pick random stories from the new page and show them in a separate box on the frontpage

I'd rather see a few items from the new page on the front page, separate from everything else.

As far as making it longer, I usually click over to the second page of new submissions before I give up. I have no idea if that's typical, though. Perhaps you could keep track of how many pages people usually look at?

yes, but maybe show things a bit differently as well. when items in /newest make their way to the frontpage, remove them from /newest. links with 0 upvotes and 0 comments should fall off the page faster, or rather, any link with at least one other upvote/comment should stick around longer to try to gain traction.

Perhaps a submission should only fall off the page when X unique visitors have clicked on that link.

That way good content with poor headlines still has a shot.

What about giving some fraction of the karma that the original submitter receives to the early upvoters to try and incentivize people to read the new page?

I think psawaya, boundlessdreamz and akkartik are on the right track.

To use a person anecdote, when I come to HN I immediately look to the top. I have come to expect good stories up on top, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that sentiment.

This being a likely user behavior, you could game that behavior by putting 5 or so of the newest stories in a thinly bordered box, above the normal top stories. That way when people go looking for the top stories, they see the new stories, and are more likely to read and comment on the interesting ones.

This will preserve the normal UI of the site, with minor UX changes, while giving exposure to each story as it comes in. If I were to guess, most of the good stories that come in and languish do so because of a lack of exposure. I'm willing to bet that most people don't look at the newest page very often, expecting others to upvote the good stories onto the frontpage for them.

Maybe give new stories space on the frontpage so the people upvoting them aren't self-selected?

- Make the new page longer definitely help. Low hanging fruit.

- Give more karma to votes on new stories to compensate the extra effort to leave the front page.

- Display one or two random new items on the front page to increase exposure.

- UI change on front page. When mouse moves over the random new item box, display a popup overlaying page containing the new items to allow for upvotes. When mouse moves away, hide the new item page. It's more complicate to implement and might not work too well on phones but should remove the mental barrier to go to the new page.

How about penalizing submissions by how often the title keywords and domain have been posted in the last week or so? This should push a lot of repetitive content down, and encourage the discussion to continue on the older submission.

Whenever there's some important piece of news like the japan earthquake we have highly redundant discussions on many different articles. This is wasteful.

http://www.previouslook.com/hnews/new takes snapshots of the HN new page periodically to let go back over the new pages easy. Feel free to try it out.

Limit us to N upvotes per day.

In other words - make votes precious.

That way people will think more about how to 'spend' their precious votes.

A similar thing works in poker. If you empty out your change jar and give everyone a fixed amount to start, and at the end of the game it all goes back in the jar, people play in a certain way. If you play for actual money, even just change, the gameplay does often change for the better, because their chips now have value.

At the moment we all have an infinite amount of votes to spend, so we can casually upvote anything we find briefly interesting - because our votes have no value to us.

By limiting the number available per day, we are forced to spend our votes more wisely.

Alternatively, making upvote decrement our karma will also add perceived value to the action of voting. However I think HN users care less about their karma scores so I think this approach wouldn't work as well as limiting users to N votes per 24 hours.

N can be fixed at, say 10, or increase with karma so 'better' users get more votes and thus more influence.

Slashdot does this with moderation, and I have a few problems with it. Namely, I don't know which of the comments I'm currently reading are the top 5 comments that I'll read that day. Perhaps it's a slow news day in the morning, and I spend all of my moderation points on comments that are "good enough". Later in the evening something big breaks, and insightful comments abound everywhere - suddenly I have no points to spend on those comments.

I think that instead of creating an atmosphere of better comments, this will instead create a site that has higher rated comments in the morning, and is stale later in the evening.

Various possible solutions:

1) When is 'morning', exactly?

2) Allow N votes per hour instead of N per day

3) If (2) would devalue votes too much, allow N votes per 5 hour period.

Agree with the poker analogy. I played a single player poker game and just went all in repeatedly because I could just restart anyway.

In the same way I can upvote everyone in this thread even though many wouldn't deserve it.

This has been suggested a few times, but I don't get it. How does limiting votes impact quality of comments? Seems like it'll just cause people who have run out of upvotes to post disguised and meaningless "i agree" comments.

Theoretically "I agree" comments should be downvoted, which should provide the required disincentive.

But I do tend to agree with you. Limiting upvotes isn't as important as discouraging useless comments.

You could get chips (er votes) relative to your average comment score.

gridspy, I thought about this as well. But does this create an echo chamber problem?

You would give lots of chips to someone who makes cheap "mother###ker" comments and then that give that person more power in controlling the site.

I'm hopeful that such a meme would quickly die off, leaving that individual back where they started. If they are good at riding memes, perhaps their comments have value.

But you make a good point.

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