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Ask HN: How to stave off decline of HN?
465 points by pg 2182 days ago | hide | past | web | 680 comments | favorite
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.

The problem lies within the deeply nested threads that continuously go back and forth between a few select people. Most of the mean/dumb comments on the first level thread are downvoted or flagged and moved to the bottom. This makes it easy to read the high quality comments - just look at the top.

The problem occurs when you start reading into a nested thread of comments. Users will sometimes argue 4 or 5 times back and forth, often becoming mean and uncivil. What results is a somewhat personal discussion among a few people that doesn't fit in with the rest of the thread. While the quality may actually increase the deeper you go into a thread, the relevancy to the original thread decreases (which matters most).

I think that this behavior is what is hurting HN's overall quality. Uncivil and deeply nested threads like these are hard to keep track of and deeply get out of control.

The solution:

  - hide deeply nested threads (greater than 3 or 4 comments deep) and
    let the users choose to show them

  - promote commenting in higher threads (this will come as a result 
    of hiding deeply nested threads) 

  - hide or lessen the visibility of threads consisting of comments
    from only 2 or 3 people

Occasionally intelligent discourse only begins several comments in. We wouldn't want to exclude that.

If "karma whores" drive the system, then the incentives created by this change would drive them away from commenting on sub-threads. I guess "kw" probably already post something snarky right under the top comment (and probably time it).

The third of your points is your best idea (imho). Comments among just a few people are less likely to be generally interesting.

When I see a ping-pong subthread, I just scroll past it. It seems to me that UI changes will create incentives to spread the ping-ponging around to other threads.

Make voting on comments cost karma. Alternately, make new story submission require at least 100 minimum karma level. I suspect the effect here would be to reduce the number of frivolous and spammy submissions. When more high quality submissions are the topics of conversation, the quality of comments will go up.

Slippery slope... I think Digg is the ultimate example of where the "elder statesmen" become the only people that matter.

Anyone who's smart should be able to contribute w/o passing some sort of exclusionary bar.

"Anyone who's smart should be able to contribute w/o passing some sort of exclusionary bar."

The difference is that to get even one or two stories a week on the front page of Digg, you basically had to devote your entire life to the site. Whereas getting 100 karma doesn't take more than a couple weeks of casual use.

> new story submission require at least x minimum karma level

This seems to have worked well for stack overflow. Just spitballing here pg, but what if you extended this to commenting as well? HN could be open to browsing, but to comment, you needed to be invited by another member with x karma? You could quantify this by requiring 10 karma to comment and 100 to post, and allowing a user to gain x karma by getting an 'invite' from an existing user with 100 karma.

Of course, without data, it's hard to draw conclusions about the fundamental issues.

A real part of the value of HN is that you often get comments from the people involved in the story itself - whether it be the author of a post or the developer of a piece of software being discussed or Matt Cutts giving the lowdown on Google's policies.

Some of these people just create an account to make a few contributions on specific threads and then they're gone. Having an invite system would increase the friction in being able to do this.

I live in Argentina and I usually speak in Spanish. So when I want to make a comment I have to switch to English mode, write the comment, run a spell checker and then submit it.

I think that an initial 100 karma level for submissions will make the site more difficult to use for the not native English speakers.

I like this idea, but it would need some tweaking before being used.

If voting on a comment gives karma to the commentator and it takes karma to vote, then people would need to comment to vote. I think this type of zero sum game would increase the number of poor comments from people who want to vote and an increase in poor comments is what we are trying to prevent.

Extracting a requirement from the question, you have

Define bad comment : A comment which has either or both of the properties 'mean' and 'dumb' and is 'massively upvoted.'

Define Hacker News Health : The ratio of non-bad to bad comments.

In previous systems this function has been addressed by moderation whereby a speaker for the culture has the authority to remove comments deemed to be 'bad' and thus by gardening the experience make it more 'good' for the participants. Not a system that scales well.

I see a number of comments "Is this just another Reddit?" which suggests that from a culture perspective there are immigrants from other groups who bring a different definition of 'interesting' which has enough support from the group to prevent them from being pruned early.

That suggests an experiment.

Add east west buttons to comments, and perhaps topics as well. Notionally the value of 'east' is 'more like Hacker News' and the value of west is 'more unlike Hacker News'. Let readers vote on what they see as being more or less what they expect to see. Track their 'east/west' karma (perhaps we could call it there 'wings' with a nod to left-wing and right-wing).

One could imagine then creating a 'fog' effect much like trending topics are moved to the top of the page we could move top left topics to the top of the page and top right topics to a new page. In the ideal world people would self select which page they were more interested in, and HackerNews could in fact develop a community much like Reddit algorithmically with their own start page and their own high karma posters.

Could provide an interesting space to explore if nothing else. Probably a publishable paper in the results if someone were so inclined to go there.

When tptacek flags a front page article (and tells us he did), I can't think of a single time I have disagreed with him. Yet, the story usually remains, for hours or indefinitely. So, find more people like tptacek, and give their flags more weight.

In other words: Moderators who enforce the spirit of HN and have the ability to just kill stuff. I'm really surprised this isn't happening already. If I go post some derogatory remark on a heavily moderated blog or forum, it's get's junked almost immediately.

Actually that's something I've already changed. A few hours ago I made flags have a lot more weight.

The old weights were ok for the more engaged users we had a year ago, but now the ratio of votes to flags on a fluff story tends to be a lot higher.

So that's why my submission plummeted so quickly. One person made a reasoned argument for it not belonging, lots of people piled on and flagged it, hey presto, gone.

Giving flags more weight is not necessarily the answer. Punishing people for making bad comments is, I think, more important. Equally important is punishing people for upvoting bad comments.

But now it's late here, and starting tomorrow I'm really not going to be here for a while. Good luck PG, I hope you can find a way to reduce the mean-spiritedness fluff, and make HN more pleasant again.

> I hope you can find a way to reduce the mean-spiritedness fluff, and make HN more pleasant again.

I think this last sentence is very telling. Low quality is only part of the problem. What really makes people want to disengage is having their feelings hurt.

You could make flags scale concavely.

Come to think of it, maybe upvotes should scale concavely as well.

Have you done the same for comment flags? I tracked my flags for a week and none of them had any effect. Here is a sample of the things I flagged:




I should also be allowed to pick at least 1 of the startups in each YC batch.

Strong moderation is the key to a successful online community. The number of high quality users on HN, it should not be difficult to find a few that would be willing to do a good job of strong moderation.

a group benevolent dictators is needed

I was writing an open letter to HN on my blog for this topic, but this now seems a more appropriate place to reply (apology about the style which seems out of place in a comment):

Once upon a time Hacker News was called Startup News, it was a place to share links and discuss between people passionate about startups. Good links and discussions stayed around for days, every aspect of startup life was discussed.

Sadly that time has long gone. As I write this, on the front page of HN there are maybe 4-5 stories out of the top 30 that relate to startup topics.

Articles relevant to startups are being pushed out by generalist tech and programming articles that are better served by the many many subreddits on these topic. While it's open to debate whether these are on-topic on Hacker News or not, HN is far less about startups than it used to be.

Many contributors to HN don't even see it as being about startups anymore, even contributors who've been involved in HN for over a year are talking about it as a tech or programming site. The startup stories that reach the frontpage tend to be on technical topics, the non-startup tech audience of HN now means stories focused on the non-technical aspects of startups such as marketing and raising money make it to the front page far more rarely than they once did.

I remember complaining at one point about the number of stories about A/B testing on the front page. I wish I could complain about that now.

Take a look at Gabriel's Ask YC archive - it was created to address the startup questions that frequently turned up on HN, for many of these topics I can't recall when I last saw them discussed on HN.

There are a hundred social networking sites that serve the tech community from proggit to dzone, what differentiated HN was the focus on the startup community. That focus is dying out, and we're becoming just another tech social news site.

I don't think we can make HN be more about startups again, the audience has changed too much for that, and it wouldn't be fair to the non-startup tech community that's come to rely upon HN.

So instead I'd like propose that HN stays as it is, but pg creates a new HN called Startup News, which has startups at it's heart as HN once did.

Presumably the name changed to reflect the fact that there are many things unrelated to startups that the founding "hackers" wished to discuss. HN isn't entirely about startups now, in the same way Amazon is not purely about books any more.

You seem to dislike the non-startup material, yet those older members who were around at that time must have liked the discussions sprouting from the "more generalist tech" posts, else the name wouldn't have been changed.

Thus, I reason that it is not the range of topics submitted that is the problem, but the quality of the posts and subsequent comments. I believe the older members valued intelligent discussion on any topic (centered around tech-startups).

I think a solution should concentrate on improving the discussion of topics, promoting those that spark the "best" (for some definition of "best") conversations. Therefore I suggest:

More liberal use of the downvote button by those that have the ability (over 500). Number and score of comments should play a (larger?) factor in ranking stories. More aggressive moderation of "off topic" or vacuous submissions and comments.

When the name was changed to "Hacker", the term Hacker wasn't used in the tech sense but rather in the same sense that it's used in the YC application form. As in a clever unorthodox solution to a problem.

But over time people took it to mean hacker in the technology sense of the term, and thus we now get reviews of Ubuntu on the front page, which you would never have seen a few years ago.

It was certainly more interesting then; I wonder if it's because the community was smaller or because the topics were more focused.

I don't value HN as a resource for entrepreneurship anymore. There are some interesting technical conversations here still; but you can find those all over the place.

(Of course there is still a lot of information of value for entrepreneurs here... it's just buried under the flood of everything else.)

So, rename it from "Hackers News" (which to me has meant "Slashdot that doesn't suck" because that's the type of posting I've observed here) and back to "Startup News." I'll bet most of the non-tech-startup-biz nonsense will go away.

A final thought: If you don't discriminate between the actions of the vast majority, and the actions of those identified as being aligned with your desired intentions for the site, nothing will work. I can probably "prove" that.

I think any solution will require the identification of individuals whose actions are "more trustworthy," and giving them greater weight, or more powers.

Anything else can and will be swamped by the majority, whose intentions you have no control over, and no reason to trust.

Yes. Simple karma = democracy = power in numbers. That worked when the majority were exemplary. That's no longer the case, therefore democracy now works against the site. The solution is to equalize by giving asymmetric power to the exemplary.

"I think any solution will require the identification of individuals whose actions are "more trustworthy," and giving them greater weight, or more powers."

Yes, but the greater weight they get need not apply indiscriminately to all users of HN.

The simple act of voting on a comment implicitly indicates which other users a given user trusts and thinks should have greater weight. Namely, they are the other users who voted the same way on that comment.

A system could be developed which takes advantage of that information to give each user a personalized view of HN comments and articles.

I describe a scheme to do just that elsewhere in this thread:


I think it is in part the comments but also very much the articles.

One very simple suggestion: an 'off topic' tab where stuff that does not fit the HN bill can be moved to. An 'offtopic' link similar to the 'flag' link for users with more than 5K karma, that answers the questions 'what do you get for karma' nicely as well too.

Not having sub-HNs is refreshing. Introducing them would be to simultaneously give up the fight and alter the nature of HN forever.

Yes, but since the content is there anyway you might as well give it its own spot and stop it from cluttering the homepage. Those that want their junk food can have it and the rest of the readers get theirs too.

I'm not advocating 20 different subjects, just one, 'offtopic'. The place where threads go that get too many upvotes to flag (because apparently they do interest people) and that do not contribute to the topics of 'startup' or 'hacking'.

It's either something like that or much more active moderation of the content.

Looking at this comment page it's clear that there is an absolute deluge of excellent ideas waiting to be implemented. The bottleneck here is pg. pg doesn't scale. As far as I can tell, he's the one who does the vast majority of work on Hacker News, and as the site grows -- and as YCombinator grows -- pg's (already huge) workload is only going to increase. This is, of course, similar to the "Linus doesn't scale" problem faced by the Linux kernel, to which the solution was git. [1] I expect a similar distributed solution is needed for Hacker News.

Re-writing the software in a language more people understand (e.g. Python) could be a good first step here. But I don't know if pg is willing to give up on his silver bullet (arc).

Turning Hacker News into a business might help. Create a situation where exceptional people can make lots money by figuring out how to make HN great and let market forces do the rest. Although figuring out how to make money off of content could be a pretty tough problem.

More generally, I think pg should be thinking less, "How can I improve Hacker News?" and more, "How can I create an environment where other people can improve Hacker News?"

I mean... investing in startups is a full-time job, running a high traffic website is a full-time job, building a programming language is a full-time job, raising a child is a full-time job... trying to do all four at once probably isn't going to work.

[1] http://lkml.indiana.edu/hypermail/linux/kernel/9809.3/0957.h...

Stop showing people other people's comment scores. They stimulate argumentative comments.

I do like that idea. I think I tried it a while ago, but users complained that without comment scores it was too hard to figure out what were the most interesting comments in a thread.

Is there some other way to show what the most interesting comments in a thread are? How about if I displayed the point totals for subtrees, but not for individual leaves? Would it solve the problem if you could follow other users, and see their comments graphically distinguished in some way?

Another problem is that people use point scores as a guide to voting. It's clear from voting patterns that many if not most users vote not to express approval or disapproval, but to cause the comment to have what they believe is an appropriate number of points. If I didn't display points, people couldn't do that. Perhaps that's not a problem. But if it turned out that that's what voting was for, then this could break voting, which would in turn break the sorting of comments, which would be a problem now that there are so many.

>Is there some other way to show what the most interesting comments in a thread are? How about if I displayed the point totals for subtrees, but not for individual leaves?

How about dispaying the rounded log(score)? You give some indication of how well a comment is doing but it's hard to vote strategically.

Not that easy with negative and zero scores, obviously, but those usually aren't the comments people are looking for.

That is a great idea.

No offence to pg, but why did this comment get upvoted 9 times?

This makes me think it would be good to remove the name of the commenter as well as the number of points a comment gets.

pg's comments aren't differentiated in any way, but on discussions of potential new features, I'm very interested in seeing his comments. Even if they don't add on to the ideas being discussed, they're of interest because they indicate possible new features or changes to the site.

Also, username hiding is a good idea in some cases, but I think it's worse overall. It encourages snarkiness, some posters are actually worth looking out for (grellas on legal threads, pg on HN, etc), and it makes back and forth discussions difficult to follow unless you give each user a unique ID per thread. Impersonation can also be a problem. Overall, I think it adds up to more problems than it solves.

Names are important because they allow you to use your own internal karma system (I will read comments from certain people no matter what their score). One problem mentioned is the overloading of what an up/down vote is - what about separating "good/flag" and "agree/disagree"?

Upvotes are sometimes used to indicate agreement.

Yes, but in this case the upvoters could have simply upvoted the parent comment pg was replying to.

Short "i agree" or "i disagree" type of comments are usually discouraged on HN, as they don't really contribute to the discussion. Usually.

I upvote comments if I am interested in reading them. I'm likely to be interested in reading anything that pg writes because he runs this site. The bar is set rather lower for pg than for any other user and for good reason.

> Not that easy with negative and zero scores

Started logs. [f(x) = log(x+1) or log(x+3)]

users complained that without comment scores it was too hard to figure out what were the most interesting comments in a thread

I was one of those complainers. And that was then; this is now. I'm not sure I'd complain if the points went away again.

Today I find that comment scores are no longer a reliable guide to anything I care about. Something has changed -- most likely just the scale of the whole system.

You could show a simplified indicator of Great Comment, Good Comment or Bad Comment (or a similar set of values) so that users can skim a thread effectively. It's hardly a model community, but I think Engadget used to have a system like this.

Take it step further and show 4 different smiley faces, a la 37signals.

This is basically an extension of limiting the display of negative votes to -4. I like it.

Perhaps there should be a "best comment in thread" indicator or something as well?

Gut: anything that reduces the number of comment scores shown on a thread will to some extent reduce the number of dumb comments. It's a knob. I suggest you turn it. I'd turn it to 11, but 5 might do nicely.

What if comment scores aren't related to karma, but rather the position of a comment within the context of the story. You up or downvote a comment to move it up or down. The effect would be to rank comments based on their perceived value rather than score.

If you turned off gravity for comments, then ranking would indicate their relative votes. Users could vote to create what they believe is the appropriate ranking.

I also think quality was higher without gravity for comments. Now, I scan comments to find the highly voted ones. Do you think gravity for comments was a net gain?

BTW: Is it possible to objectively measure the impact of changes, as opposed to be being persuaded by articulately argued complaints?

> Is it possible to objectively measure the impact of changes, as opposed to be being persuaded by articulately argued complaints?

Yes, if and only if "good" and "bad" comments are defined (intensionally or extensionally).

Hybrid: the first comment by hotness (as now), to give up-and-coming comments visibility.

> Is there some other way to show what the most interesting comments in a thread are?

a vague indicator instead of discrete values. People enjoy seeing their karma for a comment tick over from 3 to 4, but seeing a little thermometer rise by 1px is less noticeable and isn't so much something you can keep track of.

When you see your comment score increment, you know it's because a real human decided it was interesting - that's a good feeling, but it can encourage karma-whoring/playing karma like a game.

Maybe a refinement of this idea: show me the precise number of votes on my comments, and a vague log(score) or good/medium/bad grade for everything else.

I think people can figure out for themselves what an interesting or useful comment is on their own without points. We need to give people some credit. The use of points to rely on what others think is valuable, useful, helpful is irrelevant. At least for me. I can give a darn what other people think is useful. Maybe I find some insight useful where everyone else doesn't.

So you have two problems: users need to be able to figure out what are good comments to read, and correspondingly you want users to vote on comments that make good reading.

Have you thought at all about discerning between vote value based on some metric? You'd need something that doesn't disproportionately disadvantage new users.

Elsewhere in this thread I proposed a scheme that meets both of your requirements: it discerns votes based on a metric (how closely the voters vote to your own preferences), and it doesn't disadvantage new users:


I'd find a way to show what was a good comment with something besides points. Show that flag, but still hide the number of up votes. This flag would tell you whether it was a good comment, but not exactly how good. That's what karma points do well

I like the idea of showing point totals for comment threads. Entire threads (and subthreads?) with the highest total points could be near the top, which would indicate that those are the most interesting without revealing individual comment scores.

If you remove the vote count, that doesn't mean you've removed the sorting by vote, right? Isn't that enough information for people to find interesting comments?

No, the software would still know the scores, and use them to sort comments. The scores would just not be displayed.

How about adding a star to the top log(n) comments in each post?

would displaying them just like the links on the front page not work? are they not currently working like that anyway?

3 words: Bayesian Comment Filter. Just does the opposite of what the spam filter does. Use the corpus of great comments from the past to find great comments of the present.

I'm only half joking. Fundamentally, the thread is about a filtering system.

That could work, actually. Instead of focusing on discouraging bad comments, maybe the answer is to promote good ones. Plus I have some code I could use for that.

Have you considered Reddit's 'best' ranking for comments?


""" Most of the time, you won't notice that there's anything obviously different (it doesn't affect threading or anything -- don't worry!), but it should improve the quality of the top comments immensely. """

But it raises the question, do you have a way to single out the corpus of good comments from the past? If past up-votes were reliable I don't think this thread would exist.

I could train it on stuff from "the good old days."

What if I get a bunch of good comments from the good old days, train a Bayesian filter on them, and then make a comment bot with bias in my favour?

Perhaps you could give everyone a comment bot, like a green/red bar that says whether the comment looks like low quality or high quality as you're typing it. A lot of people might edit the comment to make it better, or simply delete the comment (you could design UI to encourage this ... eg RBM's can highlight which words look like they're causing the problem, or offer a Kill Comment "X" when the comment is far into the red).

You could also train the bayesian filter on (graphwise) voting patterns, rather than on comments as bags of words.

He could use up-votes from a trusted subset of users.

The problem is that word features are not really that good predictors of quality.

I have done some research on this (unpublished), and I got a really good performance on predicting hacker news votes by just counting how many new words (not stopwords, not very-high-frequency words) a comment was adding to a thread. Just using a few variations on this theme predicted better than word counts or bigram features.

Fundamentally, though, I disagree with machine learning- based approaches as they can only _reinforce_ present behavior, and we'd like to shape voting behavior.

alextp, what if you use ML on voting patterns instead of comment words?

(also what if the ML only provided feedback while one is typing the comment?)

By voting patterns, what do you mean? Features like how many times the user has voted in this thread/hour/day? How many times the comment has been voted, the replies have been voted, and the story has been voted? I didn't try those; maybe they'd work, but I have no intuition saying why they should.

Using ML to provide feedback is a bad idea. Most ML techniques latch on to surface features of the text rather than the deeper structure, so it'd just make it really easy for people to reword their mean comments ("this is just stupid" becomes "What an incoherent piece of gobblydegook" or something like this, which might make things funnier but I doubt it would help).

By voting patterns I meant

1) who votes on good comments 2) who votes on whose comments 3) who votes a lot / a little.

But mostly (1).

I take your point about ML being superficial. But if it's being used at all, shouldn't the users be informed about what the robo-brain thinks of them?

Your excellent example of a rewording might fool a lot of humans too (see pg's article another commenter linked to ... Ctrl+F "DH4").

Perhaps you could train a Bayes classifier on users' voting patterns (beginning with a corpus of good and bad comments) and use that to a) decide how to weight users' votes and b) classify further comments as good or bad. (This makes no attempt to classify comments by their content--that'd be done in the construction of the original corpus.)

Cf. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2404283, http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2404459

First, thank you for acknowledging this as a real problem. The quality of HN is a function of the community. This doesn't just mean who's here - it means who's here, and how they act when they're here. While tweaking the "game variables" on the site may help, I believe it's more important and to the point to reinforce community standards somehow.

When I first discovered HN, I quickly learned by various cues that this is not a place to drop sarcastic, one-line zingers, but rather a place to act as you would in a real-life business setting. The cues included both the example of the dominant commenters, and their chiding of non-conforming commenters. Over time, with the growth of the site, there are proportionally fewer commenters setting a strong example, and more commenters lowering the bar and getting away with it.

We are conditioned to feel that democracy = good, but in online communities I do not believe it is the case. Rather, when there were more "good" commenters, democracy was on your side. The "good" commenters had the power of numbers. Now, increasingly, the unconditioned, lower-quality commenters are beginning to gain the power of numbers. In order to counter this, you must provide the "good" commenters with a some other type of power.

You could hand select a number of members, based on your personal knowledge of their historical comment quality, and how much you think they reflect the HN that we want. Give them the ability to super-downvote. This status does not need to be public. It's not a status-symbol. As a bonus, this could give the exemplary members some small incentive for sticking around, by making them feel like they can do something meaningful to fight for HN, beyond just complaining.

Also, Eliezer has dealt with this problem quite a bit, rather successfully, IMO. Maybe ask him.

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

Find a few examples of comments that are unambiguously (a), (b), and (c) and have either you personally or someone you trust flag them as such. Next, take the set of all people who upvoted the abc-flagged comments. Their votes now have a 50% chance of not counting towards vote totals from now on, but in a way that the user isn't shown that their votes aren't being counted -- perhaps with an artificial "offset" vote that appears a few minutes later.

There's fun parameters one could throw in there too, like exponential decay on the likelihood of a vote being magically offset that spikes back up every time the user votes stupidly.

Unfortunately I know that won't work because I've already tried that experiment. For about a year I've been annotating such comments, but when I analyzed who upvoted them, the upvotes were very broadly distributed.

Would it be possible to make public a data set of heavily up-voted comments that suck and challenge the community to come up with algorithms that can predict whether a given popular comment sucks or not? I'd think you could get a fair amount of mileage just by measuring frequencies of certain technical noun phrases.

I paused for a second at the privacy implications of this, but honestly all comments are submitted here with the assumption that they will forever be visible and subject to moderation or critique.

Even the best of us have been tempted to toss out a snarky comment or mean response from time to time. There are comments I've made that I wouldn't have posted if I had been challenged to improve it before posting. Since there seems to be a correlation between one sentence comments and snark, perhaps a "Are you sure you want to post that?" prompt would help for short comments. Maybe show the same prompt for comments that contain certain words?

This is probably 300 comments too late, but I mocked up a solution:


It's something I've suggested before, getting rid of downvotes and replacing them with flags.

An interesting idea. But, unfortunately, it's very open to abuse. There is no guarantee the flagged comment has been flagged correctly.

Really, you're stuck with the same problem: just as there could be mass upvotes of "poor" comments and mass downvotes of "good" comments, there could be mass flagging of "good" comments as "spam", "dumb", or "mean".

It shouldn't be too hard to limit abuse. Set appropriate thresholds, give less weight to new accounts with low karma, ignore flags from users who frequently flag inappropriately (this last one could be automated by comparing upvotes from a list of "known good voters" against the flags. For example, if you flag stuff that pg upvotes, you're probably flagging inappropriately).

I think that having more content on the front page that isn't shallow industry gossip would have a positive effect on discussions overall - they tend to drag down the other threads, and bring in a lot of people who don't understand / follow the commenting culture here.

The new page is out of hand, IMHO - there's a huge incentive to be the first to submit an article (and no cost), so new content is continually posted. Many interesting posts fall off the bottom of the new page within an hour - a post has to quickly appeal to lots of people, or it's gone. This leads to lowest-common-denominator submissions.

Instead of moronic "first post!" comments, we've got a plague of "first submission!"s.

The sum of the scores on the new page divided by the oldest's age may be a good metric. Currently, the total is 217, and the oldest two say "1 hour ago" and "2 hours ago", roughly 90 minutes. That's only 2.4 points per minute, and this thread (118 points, 1 hour ago) is a major outlier; without it, it's 1.1 per minute.

Whether you make submitting articles cost karma (3-5 points?) and/or add a penalty for posting an article that was subsequently flagged and deleted, fewer dull submissions would improve discussions. (It would also help with spam.)

One potential solution to this problem is to distribute the load of evaluating the new page among the community. Look at StumbleUpon for an example of how one might go about this. All new links go into a pool. The user clicks the stumble button and a link is selected from the pool using a weighted random algorithm -- urls with lots of upvotes are more likely to be selected, new urls are more likely to get selected, etc. The user votes on the article, then requests another.

Maybe users should have to vote on X links on the new page for every Y links they view on the front page.

While that makes some sense, I'd rather see the firehose turned down a bit - otherwise the site is implicitly skewing itself toward the tastes of people who have time to sit and rate links all day.

I don't know but maybe get rid of Karma that caries over from article to article. This is what drove me insane about Reddit. The mean, smart ass, slightly funny but useless comments made it to the top while other more useful comments where completely ignored or buried. The problem with democracy is "Bandwagon" + "herd mentality".

I myself tried this on TechCrunch and got up into the top 5 most "liked" commenters. All I did was post snarky, rude ass, criticizing, comments that appealed to the sarcastic douche bag within us all. It was easy. My faith in humanity vanished over that time period because it was so easy to do.

Idea 1. Charge for memberships like Metafilter.

I believe in the Quaker rule, "Only speak when you can improve the silence." Other people think speech is like squatting on land. You have to speak to gain footing. By charging people for the privilege of speaking, you make them consciously decide whether what they have to say is worth the $5 to join. They will probably say no.

> You have to speak to gain footing.

I suspect that this is true, however. The earlier a comment is made, the more time it has to accrue upvotes before readers move on. I suspect there would be measurable correlation between the time of posting and the ultimate score of comments.

When you say for memberships, shouldn't you mean charge for comments? It wouldn't affect the site much if I could still sign in, save threads, set procrast etc. Which would still be useful to many users.

You could make the charge wall control:

  * posting a comment
  * voting on a comment
  * submitting a link / question
  * voting on a submission
Each of those are debatable. For instance, submission voting might be open to all but comment voting is not.

An interesting variant: You can 'keep' a link without paying, but if you are paying, your 'keep' is the counted as a 'vote'.

Complete the fledgling environment of selectivity in one fell swoop and explicitly say, in the guidelines, that low-karma users are no longer allowed to participate. Remove the ability to vote, comment, and perhaps read from all users below 5,000 karma. These meta posts, the how to vote posts, the discussion here and in other threads, the lamenting about comment quality in general: all of this aggravation is dancing around the central issue, which is low-karma users turning Hacker News into something that the high-karma users do not want. Period.

Just look at this thread. One person has eight separate top-level comments on this item, and is winning popular support. A large number of them have almost the exact same number of upvotes. You might as well rename HN to Shaped in the Old Guard's Image and wall it off. Just get it overwith so people will stop:

- Writing tired farewell pieces, and calling it a good thing because they're respected and high-karma

- Then turning around and churning out blog content that is front-paged daily on the community just departed from

- Complaining about HN's slow decline towards Redditdom

- Downvoting comments because they disagree with them

I know this sounds like snark, but it's totally honest. You have a big choice to make here: either you foster and encourage new users to participate, or you wall it off and keep HN in the bubble of functionality and community that the old guard reminisces about.

As a relatively new contributor, I've never felt more unwelcome on a site than I have here at times. It's not even about me. It's certainly not about disrespect to those high-karma users who believe in this community the most. It's about the community. If you want your community a certain way, then lock it to the people who made it that way. I also intentionally set the theoretical karma limit above my karma, because I'd love an excuse to not come back.

Aside: All of this meta crap recently is setting up for HN to be disrupted by a new community. I also find it telling that in the time it took me to submit my comment and upvote the parent post -- say, ten seconds -- I was already at zero.

> Remove the ability to vote, comment, and perhaps read from all users below 5,000 karma.

This is hardly a good example to all the aspiring startup folks on how to treat your users.

Perhaps the old guard/high karma users keep posting here in part because they know they have a large audience. What makes you think they would stick around if the site were walled off?

Edit: Removed the accusation of trolling, apologies for that.

If I were trolling, would I expound upon my suggestion as I did? If you stopped reading at that quotation, you're right: I'd be unsure if I were trolling as well.

This is about what the community wants and needs. pg and the other long-term users want the community to stay a certain way, hence this item itself; closing off that community to only those that participated in the development thereof will allow the community to remain where it is desired.

> Perhaps the old guard/high karma users keep posting here in part because they know they have a large audience. What makes you think they would stick around if the site were walled off?

The same thing that made them stick around when the site did not have a large audience.

Upvoted back to one point. Whether it's right or wrong, someone downvoted it because they disagreed with the premise.

HN used to be full of stubborn individualists arguing amongst themselves with excellent writing, interesting experience, and data. In the last year or so, it just feels like everyone is trying to avoid saying anything outside our little bubble.

When I used to debate, we talked about how it wasn't if the judge agreed with you that won you the debate. It was how persuasive you were and how well you said your piece. This comment made a point and it made it well. Don't try to vote it away just because you disagree with the point.

A less totalitarian way would be to give each user a karma slider that would act as a threshold for just their view.

HN is beyond the point where you can improve comments with small adjustments to the comments or karma system. History (on other sites) shows this. The problem is sheer size.

There is only one real solution, which is to reduce size.

You can do that by closing new signups, which is a little bit like tying rope around a girls feet to prevent them from growing. Not great, and probably leading to rot.

Or you can do that by fragmenting up the conversations. Reddit has the rather primitive subreddit system. It works somewhat. A better system is Twitter's follow or Facebook's friend systems.

In either case, if you do this, the result would be something quite different from the old HN. The uproar would be great, and lots of people would leave.

The alternative is the slow death of online communities with scale. I just don't think that tweaks in the comment-karma system are going to solve this problem.

Good luck!

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

a) If a comment is truly mean, a personal attack on another community member, delete the comment and subtract from the user all the karma that the comment gained. That is something that can only be done by someone with curator powers here, but the rest of us can be encouraged to flag such comments more, and reminded not to upvote them.

b) If the comment is dumb, make a better comment in the same thread and downvote the dumb comment, especially if the dumb comment already has significant karma accrued. Anyone who has downvoting power (and user who has made many upvoted comments) can do all of that, and anyone who can post a comment can do some of that. Again, the curators can remind users from time to time to maintain those standards.

c) All users can browse the bestcomments list


to search for massively upvoted comments that are still within the downvoting time limit, and downvote those that are mean or dumb. Curators can delete those comments as needed.

Example and reminders go a long way. (By the way, because I, and I suppose most users, don't read this site exhaustively, I'm not fully aware which recent comments may be the most problematic. But definitely feel free at any time to provide me or other users with advice on how to raise the quality of comments here.)

After edit: another comment from another user in this thread prompts me to ask whether all new users who sign up see the site guidelines automatically or not. That might also help a little, if it isn't already done. Posting links to the site guidelines in threads with problems might also help.

"If a comment is truly mean, a personal attack on another community member, delete the comment and subtract from the user all the karma that the comment gained."

Even better, deduct everybody's vote on it from their karma. So downvoters get +1, and upvoters get -1.

After edit: another comment from another user in this thread prompts me to ask whether all new users who sign up see the site guidelines automatically or not.

That is interesting. Take it one step further: if this is set up (or if it is already), requiring them to pass a short quiz can ensure they actually read it with comprehension.

The nuclear option: Periodically take the site down for a while and then rebuild the community (kind of like the Matrix). The quality people will likely stick around.

That's a really clever idea, I've no idea if it would work, but that's some great sideways thinking you've got there.

Perhaps only users with a certain level of karma have it roll over to the next version of HN. Everyone else gets reset (or even loses their account).

I think I'd be more tempted with the opposite. Either way a week's break for HN a year would certainly have an interesting effect on the community.

Like the Erlang "bombs" of past? I haven't noticed them in a while:


A couple of things I have commented on previously/elsewhere on HN:

A) My understanding is that "formal culture" is the historical human antidote to trying to interact with large numbers of folks they don't know all that well. Older, more densely populated parts of the globe tend to be more formal than American culture. Yet American culture is the primary influencer of many online communities, including this one. The assumptions made by a less formal culture and the practices which grow out of them start to cause problems when you don't actually know people that well and it simply isn't possible to know everyone here all that well with 100k uniques a day.

B) "Greet people warmly at the door": The general assumption that the ill-mannered newcomers are The Problem tends to promote the problem. Greeting people warmly who are new to the site and speaking with them gives them opportunity and motive to learn the culture and try to fit in. Talking trash about how they are mucking up the place and studiously ignoring them until you are ready to chew them out gives them every reason to behave badly or to assume no one really notices or cares what they do and little opportunity to learn to fit into a polite culture. They don't ever even get to experience the polite culture. All they experience is rejection, insults and such themselves. "Eternal September" isn't because there are new people. It is because the new people don't get inculcated. Hating them on sight and giving them a hard time for simply being new (which is the undercurrent of a lot of posts here) is a major fail if you want to preserve a valued culture. Culture is not preserved by just hanging on to the old folks. It is preserved by teaching it to the new people and helping it grow in a healthy manner.

I'm sure there's more but that's what readily comes to mind and, right this very minute, I'm not up to giving it more thought or time and effort.

I hate to be unhelpful, but I think this problem is intractable.

The fact that these meta discussions predictably offer a wide array of solutions -- many of which are at odds with one another -- leads me to believe there isn't a solution. In fact, it seems like many of these discussions devolve into:

    1. I have an idea!
    2. Yeah, but that won't work because...
    3. Oh, in that case we could just...
    4. But, then...
The "quality" of HN and it's community is a function of many variables. It's hard, maybe impossible, to tweak the site and expect predictable results (and, there are always unintended consequences).

It doesn't help that the feedback cycle is so long.

Let's have a hypothetical. Suppose, we decided the problem was that HN had become to design-centric. We want fewer designers and more programmers. So, let's make HN ugly. Really ugly. Then all the designers will leave and we'll be left with programmers. How long after making the site ugly will we have to wait to see the results? What if the designers retaliate by making a client-side css hack to make HN look even better? Do we end up with more or fewer designers? Did we do damage to the population of programmers who also happen to be designers? And, how do we account for outside influences? What if a prominent designer linked to HN the week of our changes and our tweak is overwhelmed by the flood of incoming designers?

I hope I'm wrong. I've been here 1467 (!) days, I'd like to stay a long while longer.

The fact that these meta discussions predictably offer a wide array of solutions -- many of which are at odds with one another -- leads me to believe there isn't a solution.

I don't agree at all. Just because many people disagree does not mean there is no answer. I think the problem is that this is a hacker site, hackers like to put together technical solutions for moderating a forum, and forum moderation is primarily a people-problem. Thus the best answers here seem to get largely overlooked while people debate endlessly how to tweak the voting system (or some variation thereof). I don't know what the solution to that issue is but that doesn't mean it cannot be done.


This was a long thread, and I have no idea whether my response will be noticed. But I've been around a lot of online communities, for a lot of years, and there is one thing that I have noticed. The key to sustaining quality seems to be barriers to entry.

It doesn't much matter what the barrier is. A commenting system that crashes and destroys conversations occasionally, driving away people who are not sufficiently invested. A focused remit that drives away most people who see the site. A small group that does not advertise. But I've never seen any community sustain itself in a form that I want to be part of without some barrier to limit who gets involved in that community.

I'm not entirely clear on what the reasons are. Is it that we can only track a certain number of people? Is it that communities can only sustain themselves if turnover stays low? I don't know. But I've observed the rule in multiple places.

Given that, I've been surprised at how well HN held up. It started with a good seed. People who find pg interesting have a reasonably focused remit. The site lacks a lot of silly bells and whistles. People mostly find out about it through word of mouth. But still in the end without some barrier to entry, any sense of community is doomed. At least if my experience/opinions/etc is accurate.

Relatively new user here...

I found the site when someone submitted something and asked me to upvote it. I didn't know what that was, so came here and made a stupid comment and got downvoted. I didn't know what that meant or why it happened, and no one went out of their way to explain it.

Months later, I have almost 1k karma and still didn't know who RiderofGiraffes was, and don't find myself caring.

The real issue here is culture, and the cultivation of it. There is a culture, but it's tough to find, and it's far from discoverable. Most of the links new users need to know about, such as the top 20 list, are hidden deep in the site. There aren't any avatars, and because of the strange nicknames, I never know who I am talking to unless I click through and they happen to have listed a URL or Twitter handle.

Point being - if you want people to act a certain way, I think you need to do a better job of describing it. I say that to the entire community.

I don't get the feeling of a nurturing environment here, and because of that, it's sort of a "fend for yourself" environment, which leads to the sort of behavior we see.

Just my .02, but this is what I'm picking up here.

I still love HN.

"... The real issue here is culture, and the cultivation of it. There is a culture, but it's tough to find, and it's far from discoverable. ..."

The best place to start is read pg's essays ~ http://paulgraham.com/articles.html I got the feel for HN before HN existed through reading.

"... I don't get the feeling of a nurturing environment here, and because of that, it's sort of a "fend for yourself" environment, which leads to the sort of behavior we see. .."

One quick hack I use is every time I comment, find a good comment or story I background check the user, find their twitter id, follow them and add them to my contact list. I'll twit my HN list for you.

I think I am too late to the discussion already, but I think all of pg's a), b) and c) are caused by people who think that this is OK-behavior.

I think a new user should, by default, get "read-only" access. Once the account ages, so the user sees what is acceptable behavior, should you get write-access.

Another idea is to actually make good the name of the site (Hacker news). EITHER a) Show us you actually are a hacker-- do you build things, or just troll? Is your relation to technology deeper than "I read techcrunch?" This could be a simple matter of adding a text-field or a mandatory homepage/startup URL field, and asking (say) 3 longtime HNers to decide if the "applicant" is interesting enough to the HN community.

OR b) get invited by a long-time HN-er to join (There should be a strong disincentive to invite indiscriminately: for instance, everytime a person you invite gets downvoted, you lose 0.2 karma points).

I know, this scheme sounds elitist. And it is. Yet, I can't think of a single interesting HN-er this would filter out.

I know you're talking about comments, but I did a quick snapshot of the front page and color coded each submission by it's category

    blue = hardcore hacker stuff

    turquoise = industry-related light reading

    biege = acceptable entrepreneur/political commentry

    red = fluff, stuff we could do without

    black = meta (eg. this thread)

That's a pretty healthy mixture if you ask me. Only about 10-15% or the articles are unworthy of HN, and even that's debatable. The majority is technical stuff, with a few valuable pieces on business/economics in general sprinkled in.

So although some people seem to think the quality of comments is declining, I still believe HN provides phenomenal quality in its capacity as 'news for hackers.'

I'm not sure if changing the rules will do much good; it might have the opposite effect. I think there's pro-active measures we can take which might prove best, like: finding interesting people and inviting them to HN. Quora would be a good recruitment ground.

One last point, I think the role of the founder/leader is very important to online communities. I've been in other forums which went to absolute shit once the 'pg-equivalent-person' ditched them in favour of Twitter. More essays from Paul Graham, perhaps ones talking about online behaviour/ethos, would be a big benefit :-)

I too am not really worried about the site. I haven't been around as long as some, but I've noticed more than anything that topics about startups that used to be exciting are now getting stale. We've learned new things from HN that leaves us looking for more and we aren't finding it yet. I trust in the community and those writing about technical topics to keep pushing the limit and teaching us new things. I don't want to see the mechanics of HN change too drastically.

1. Set up a Twitter-like directed graph of users, so users can provide HN with people they'd like to "follow". This graph need not be public.

2. When someone upvotes or downvotes, all followers of that person upvote or downvote the same submission or comment by proxy. If a person follows multiple people some of whom upvote and some downvote, or upvotes or downvotes himself, then cancel their proxy vote. This proxy voting is the sole purpose of the follow graph, eg. "I want to vote the same way tptacek, cperciva and pg do".

Perhaps publish a leaderboard of top followed people and their voting history to try and avoid a Digg situation.

Perhaps limit the number of people one person can follow. This would help with performance as well.

Perhaps the number of proxy votes would need to affect the score of a comment or submission logarithmically instead of linearly.

Edit: there may need to be a minimum level of karma needed to proxy vote to avoid sockpuppets. Perhaps limit it to active accounts, too.

I don't think this really solves the problem either.

The problem is that popularity is not indicative of quality.

Your proposal is just another way of staging a popularity contest for comments.

Only instead of having "direct democracy" ("rule of the mob"), you propose a "representative democracy" ("rule of the elites").

While there's something to be said for the "representative democracy" approach (namely, that at least the elites are familiar with the community's norms and mores, unlike some random newbie) they are just as susceptible to making poor decisions as the mob is.

In other words, just because some guy is popular does not mean he makes good decisions.

> The problem is that popularity is not indicative of quality.

Doesn't this apply to every voting system ever designed? If you want to avoid this problem, what can you do apart from get rid of voting in the first place? Without voting, what will be left of HN?

> Your proposal is just another way of staging a popularity contest for comments.

Again: isn't that what we have right now?

I'm merely suggesting a way of improving it. I perceive that part of the problem is that the exceptional people who made HN what it is in the early days now have little say compared to the newbie masses who are dragging it down. The people in the middle (eg. myself) are a big number who increasingly become disenfranchised and are less active, thus voting less, thus exacerbating the problem.

> In other words, just because some guy is popular does not mean he makes good decisions.

Here, the "follow" list would be private and only specifically there for you to nominate who you think make good decisions. This gives those who reduce their activity due to quality an equal voice rather than a lesser voice.

I don't see how you can separate popularity as you do. Why would I have a popular person in my list if I didn't trust their decisions? He could still be popular, just not in my list! Perhaps I should have called it a "proxy vote list" instead of a "follow list".

A user who is in the list of many other users need not even be told who or how many there are (the upvote total may need to be delayed or something like that to achieve this). People shouldn't be writing solely to seek popularity.

"Doesn't this apply to every voting system ever designed?"

Indeed. That's why HN is struggling with this problem, because HN chose to build its system around voting. So now it has to deal with one of the inevitable downsides of voting. Namely, that popularity is not necessarily indicative of quality.

"If you want to avoid this problem, what can you do apart from get rid of voting in the first place?"

Read through this thread. There are many suggestions.

"Without voting, what will be left of HN?"

Comments, articles, and community.

But I should note that I am not suggesting we get rid of voting.

"isn't that [a populartiy contest for comments] what we have right now?"

Yes. That's why I said your proposal was "just another way of staging a popularity contest for comments".

"I'm merely suggesting a way of improving it."

I'm not so sure it is an improvement as much as it is a different way of getting the same result, as it doesn't change the fundamental dynamic of the lack of quality in highly rated comments.

"This gives those who reduce their activity due to quality an equal voice rather than a lesser voice."

I suppose that's true. But why should less active users have as much of a voice as more active users? Would that necessarily lead to an improvement in comment quality?

To me it seems the only thing your suggestion would lead to is that popular users would become more popular, and the voices of less popular users would be drowned out even more than they are now.

"People shouldn't be writing solely to seek popularity."

But plenty of them are. That's part of the problem that having a karma score at all or rating/sorting comments based on votes at all. People will write to be more popular (which karma is a measure of).

> I suppose that's true. But why should less active users have as much of a voice as more active users? Would that necessarily lead to an improvement in comment quality?

Because users who don't upvote because there's nothing good to upvote are still active users.

If they are active, then by definition they are involved in the site (though not necessarily by voting, they could also submit stories and make comments).

If they're not active, why should HN assume otherwise?

If there really is nothing good to upvote, then I don't see what the adoption of the system you propose will do, as the extra proxy votes won't be used (there's nothing good to upvote, remember?).

The other major problem with your proposal is that it will be very open to gaming the system. Users could just create sockpuppet accounts to give their primary account the votes of the sockpuppet accounts.

Of course, even with the present system users can create sockpuppet accounts. But at least with the present system, voting from the sockpuppet accounts has to be done manually rather than automatically being aggregated in to one account by HN itself.

I think the main problem is that there are too many comments: The number of comments has increased, but the number of comments that a person can reasonably read, reply to, or vote on has stayed the same. Thus, comments receive less moderation, and less of it from long-time HN users.

Part of the problem is the increase in the number of users. And there's not much you can do about that other than to actively drive users away from the site. (Difficult captcha? Erlang Fridays? Comic Sans?)

The other part of the problem is that the karma system rewards commenting. It isn't considered appropriate to downvote a comment unless it is overtly offensive or incorrect, so mediocre commenters don't receive signals when they are contributing almost nothing to the conversation. In fact, a mediocre commenter will comment more, because more comments mean more chances for random karma. And others see the mediocre comments and reciprocate. There is no way to reward someone for not commenting, even when it improves the site.

A number of the solutions already mentioned would help decrease the number of comments. One additional one: Make more of the site's behavior conditional on a high karma/post ratio rather than a high karma.

I agree that there are too many comments. Perhaps a fix would be to discourage users from commenting by asking them politely not to. For example, the "add comment" box could be removed from the story page, and you might need to click on a link to add a comment, just as you usually have to do for a comment reply. Then a note could show up every time reminding the users that they should not comment if they do not believe their comment will add something valuable to the discussion. I would think that most users come here because they enjoy the quality of the discussion, and if reminded that their actions are reducing that quality, they might hold back on commenting. Many times I read a comment after writing it, see that although it does add a little, it does not add enough to the discussion, and just close the tab without posting the comment.

One thing I wonder about is whether accumulating personal karma is a red herring: trolls don't seem to care about their karma, and good folks may not care either.

Perhaps the most important thing about upvotes and downvotes is how they affect visibility. Everyone wants their voice to be heard, and some people want the opportunity to influence whether other people's voices are heard or not, e.g. by flagging stories or killing comments through downvoting.

If the big deal here is visibility, then I would concentrate on the algorithms that decide when a comment thread is rendered gray or invisible and the algorithms that decide the ranking of comment threads. I would look for patterns of votes or commenting that might help distinguish "popular but fluffy" from "popular and thought-provoking."

Also, and this is really obvious, I would try to quantify the value of each position on the front page. Given an "average" story at #1, how many votes does it get? How long does it stay at #1? The answer is probably a curve of some sort, or a surface, but the general idea is that if you know what the typical #1 story gets, you can look at a story and determine whether it is outperforming stories in #1 position or under-performing them. You can do the same for all the positions on the page. You can determine the historical likelihood that someone looking at the front page will upvote a story in position #5

This data is interesting because now if you randomly perturb the front page, say by putting a new story in position #5 and lying about how many points it has. Show this perturbed page to a small sample of users and see if the story beats the historical averages or not.

If that kind of thing worked, it could help correct for the phenomena where a popular story stays popular just because it's popular. You can now rank stories by how well they take advantage of their "real estate" on the front page. Those that underperform the average sink, those that outperform the average rise.

One hitch. This might not work if you tell people you're doing it.

I think karma is a red herring. I don't think we need better algorithms, we should just remove personal karma.

I can't help but think in the case of RiderofGiraffes particular case karma might have kept him in the community longer than he should have, or burnt him out. Getting to the point where your contribution to a site is the auto-posting of popular content is probably a failure of the system.

In general karma serves as an incentive to contribute, but its a fairly shallow kind of contribution, and I don't this site needs that anymore. Hopefully comment and submission score without accumulation give enough encouragement to quality without encouraging quantity.

I'm surprised this book hasn't been mentioned here yet:


If you read that book and then look at HN, it's clear how its design encourages behaviors that are not aligned with the goals of the community managers.

diego, would you mind summarising for us what's wrong with the design?

I'm playing by ear, but the one thing that stands out after reading the book is the display of karma (user / comment / post scores). One thing the book emphasizes is that if you display karma prominently, users will feel motivated to perform actions that will improve their numbers. This means perhaps going for a witty one-liner instead of a comment contrary to the community beliefs that could be downvoted into oblivion. More here:


Many people have made interesting feature suggestions. However, the core problem isn't features. It's developing a general understanding of how to scale up online communities while preserving quality. pg has written before about the benefits of essay-writing as a way of deepening one's understanding of a problem:

"If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything... Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them... Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well."

So why not write an essay on how to build large online communities?

Have comments start at -1.

(Or, better yet, -thread_depth).

That would probably make things worse. Populist snide remarks would still get lots of votes, but intelligent slightly longer comments that just don't attract attention would carry a risk.

I like this. Have both comments and submissions cost you Karma. This way you would think twice before adding your 2 cents.

That's kind of a "my amp goes up to 11" kind of thing, isn't it? You're just changing the label for "no votes either way."

No, it assigns a cost of 2 points to commenting.

It could discourage dialogue. Some very good, troll-free, threads are also very deep.

Perhaps after a certain number of comments in a thread, it would no longer cost karma to make additional comments? For the first one to three comments, it requires a 2 karma down payment, following which you're free to have open dialogue.

The problem with this is new users. When you join the site, you have 0 karma, and so would go negative if you posted a comment (assuming, of course, that you can go negative. I'd rather not experiment with that).

Of course, pg could make new users come in with 10 or so karma, just to get them started.

Now that I think a bit more about it, this could be a really good idea. It would limit new user's ability to comment and influence things until they have gained community approval of their comments and thoughts. And if they don't get that approval... too bad. If they aren't adding anything worthy of some upvotes, they are adding noise, which detracts from the experience of everyone else.

You'd get a lot of people creating multiple accounts to game this.

Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for explaining. My assumption was that, since the initial "1" doesn't add to your rep now, votes would still be the only thing that actually affects you.

I think the root cause is inherent to growth. As the number of naive new users increases exponentially (assuming this is happening), the more experienced portion of the community has a harder time swinging vote totals for quality pieces. It's not that new users are stupid or malicious; new users are simply uneducated about the type of comments and content that are most fitting with HN. With more new users, the community gives affirmation of mediocre content through votes.

I've been fairly active on HN for about 6 months. A year ago, I remember submitting articles and making comments that, while at the time I thought were fitting, I am now embarrassed of. (This also may be the case 6 months from now for my current submissions).

Sure, I perused the introduction, FAQs, and other comments and articles. However, I didn't get a real sense of quality until recently. Just like with software development, the best way to learn is by doing.

Here are a few ideas:

- Enforce some sort of social contract that users must agree to before submitting articles. Describe appropriate usage to give users a sense of pride in the community.

- A combination of account age and page views could be used to ensure new users are experienced enough to participate. There are the obvious negative side effects of this.

- Allow high-karma users to send private messages (previously mentioned) to users that submit inappropriate content informing them of the reasons why it may not be best. Down-voting and public comments are too cold. A warm private message from a 5 year HN veteran explaining how I can be a better member would be welcoming.

The bottom line is that the quality decrease isn't from malicious users (rude and negative comments aren't necessarily malicious in those users' eyes) but from naive users.

Add "Assume Good Faith" to the guidelines; this is one of the few Wikipedia rules that I think really helps.


The comment flag button could be changed to really mean something; for instance: sufficiently flagged comments can stop collecting upvotes.

That wouldn't do anything currently. Only really atrocious comments get flagged, and they always have huge negative scores. Though of course if flagging had more effect, maybe more people would do it.

Another thing I've considered is having specific types of flags on comments, and having them have different effects. E.g. there could be a flag for incivility, and if you got enough of those (maybe in proportion to your total number of comments) you'd actually get kicked off the site temporarily.

Make flags public, and their outcomes. "16 people flagged this comment." "16 people flagged this comment, and it was tagged uncivil. User was banned for 2 days." "3 users incorrectly flagged this comment, and have lost flagging privileges for 2 days."

alex is right that automatically escalating based on #flags is a blunt instrument. You'd need to perform the escalation manually, you'd need multiple people doing it, and you'd need the decision-maker to attach their name to it ("kn0thing marked this uncivil") so the watchers can be watched in a lightweight manner.

There's a lot of discussion here about comments and votes, but only one or two remarks in this thread note the clearest differentiator I see between "old guard" and newbie users: the meaning of the up/down arrows.

Old guard would prefer to vote on a "Contributes/Detracts" axis, while new users vote on an "Agree/Disagree" or "Like/Dislike" axis.

Arguments about this erupt in threads, with newer users generally saying, "It's a democracy, this site is what the majority want it to be, and if most of us want it like this, your loss." But such an approach devolves into pop pablum.

I believe most other ideas here would be unnecessary if the meaning of the up/down arrows could be resolved either socially or algorithmically.

The "correct" solution would be to offer a quadrant, with contributes/detracts on one axis, and agree/disagree on the other. But that would require a rewrite.

Instead of a rewrite, I'd experiment with temporarily changing the arrows to say something explicitly supporting well reasoned comments:

  17 points by uptown 1 hour ago [ contributes | detracts ] link | parent | flag
Some would undoubtedly still interpret these as a rightness axis like "agree/disagree", so perhaps an even more familiar pair of terms:

  17 points by uptown 1 hour ago [ content | spam ] link | parent | flag
However, the term "content" might lead to voting up every valid content remark, so the positive word should be something with more of a value judgment, while still being a word that can apply to points of view with which one disagrees:

  17 points by uptown 1 hour ago | interesting* | spam | link | parent | flag
The idea with the vocabulary choice is that a neutral comment would not be clicked on, and "interesting" is directly in the HN charter.

I think this type of vocabulary is more in line with the desire to see well reasoned or contributory discussion flourish.

* Mouse over the word "interesting" could tooltip: "This comment made me think."

// This account is ~400 days old, but a prior anonymous account is ~800 days old, giving some perspective on the trend over time.

One transition from "current" state to "flag does something" state might be to make the flag button more obvious, to make it have a more immediate effect, and to encourage its use.

My perception of the flag button now is that it's the bat-signal; it means that something is so bad that it actually warrants individual admin attention.

When I see something dumb and/or mean that has been highly upvoted, I don't consider flagging it, because I don't think it will have any effect.

However, I don't see an algorithmic way to use flagging in such a situation. The new control mechanism would be subject to the same problems that led to the comment being upvoted in the first place.

I'd like to see the mods experiment with a more authoritarian approach. When a comment sucks, I want the mods to impose their will upon the populace, informing everyone that the comment sucks, regardless of its upvotes. Flags could play a role.

One of the Dutch news sites I frequent also has qualitatively different forms of upvoting. E.g., you can upvote for humor, upvote for insight, upvote for new information. By applying different metrics to different kinds of comments, it might be easier to create the kind of balance you want.

What site is that? I'm curious.

Something to keep in mind though is that, as the size of the user base here grows, there's going to be an increasing number of people who feel comfortable using "this button will contribute to banning this user"-type controls less than judiciously.

I think the idea of categorizing comments is good. I would cite as a somewhat-working example Wikipedia's article flags. Wikipedia has a serious problem with deletionism, but they have ways to mark articles in meaningful ways, like too long, or too short, or irrelevant, or excellent, etc. They can also mark individual contributions as "citation needed" (a flag I would really like to have on comments, see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2423582 as an example of a citation-needed comment getting, I feel, way too many upvotes).

Would also be nice if the flag button were visible without clicking the comment.

Sounds like it might lead to abuse. If a comment is -that- bad, it should be worth taking the time to flag it.

That would probably end up like the "report" button on reddit. Instead of being used to report spam or inappropriate content, it's often just used as an additional downvote, thus devaluing it. Keep flags difficult to use makes sure that the user really wants to flag a comment.

Maybe flagged comments could be killed in a similar manner as flagged stories are, rather than just stopping them from getting any further upvotes.

Commenting is almost no-friction and there is an immediate psychological reward in getting your voice heard. This makes it extremely easy to knee-jerk. Perhaps you can A) make commenting cost more or B) delay the reward long enough to force a re-evaluation before the comment goes public.

For A you might try making commenting cost karma in certain situations.

For B I've got no ideas. I'm thinking about how I sometimes will write an emotionally charged email and then wait a day before sending it because I know I'm unable to think clearly. Emotions will have cooled by then and the email looks like it was written by a crazy person. There's not any way to force delays on commenting that I can think of since the articles and discussions here move so fast.

Thank God you've noticed. I seem to recall that you brushed off this observation for quite some time.

One thing I've noticed repeatedly in the online communities that have scaled succesfully (in a cultural sense) is that the founders/owners/admins tend to take a very active role, both proactively by being role models and also by stepping in and settings things straight whenever they feel the community is straying too far from their vision. Reddit is a good example of this. Joel's forums at joelonsoftware, which fostered a very tightly knit entrepreneur community, were also heavily influenced by the omnipresence of the site owner.

Unfortunately this is not an elegant technical hack, just simple hard work on the part of administrators.

I'm fairly new here, but I've been in a lot of different internet communities for several years now. This seems to happen to every major growing internet community and maybe this is a way to both filter out the bad content and encourage the good content.

What if user's had the option of investing karma into a submission/comment? If a user wants to comment or send a submission then they have to spend some of their karma points in order for other people to see it. This would bring the submission/comment more default points but would be negative points toward the submitter. That means it will appear higher on the page dependent on the amount of points they invest in the post. When/if a submitter's post is upvoted enough to pass the amount he invested, the submitter would gain karma.

I think this would work better because right now people can basically post what they want without worrying about their karma going down very much. This would do two things, firstly it would reduce the karma inflation, and secondly it would encourage higher-quality submissions and discussions.

I originally said this here http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2403085, but I think this would be a better place to say it.

I think I have a simple fix:

When you hover the up arrow button a tooltip should say "This comment ADDS to the discussion" and on a down "This comment DOESNT ADD to the discussion". Too often I think people just click the arrows based on (1) the username (2) "oh ya I agree, I hate that too!".

Up/down voting should be an extension of the community's ability to assess whether someone's opinion is adding to the community thought process. We often forget that (I do myself).

Allow commenters themselves to publicly flag their own comments to prevent them from accruing karma. Call it the "sincerity" flag. Actually, this is my #1 top feature request for HN, period.

Do comment flags currently have any affect beyond signaling to pg and the moderators that the comment should be looked at? Specifically, does flagging a comment (perhaps enough times) actually prevent that comment from obtaining any more karma?

Hmm, can you elaborate?

The parent to your comment, my original comment, is currently scored at 1. I would like to push a button to make 1 the ceiling score for that comment. I would actually like a button to make 1 the ceiling score for all my comments, too.

But how would this help improve comments? Wouldn't the worst-behaved also be the least likely to hit such a button?

One reason comment threads get tendentious is when people think other people are commenting to game the thread and collect karma. The karma-ceiling flag tries to say "this is a good faith comment".

So by implication the rest of the commenters who haven't so flagged their own comments are not commenting in good faith?

Why not just make 1 the ceiling karma for all comments across the board? Or, in other words, why not get rid of karma all together?

I guess I'm still confused by how your proposal will solve anything.

It seems pretty clear that those people who really are commenting in good faith and aren't doing so to accumulate karma won't be swayed by whatever karma they may get (positive or negative).

So what does explicitly limiting the karma those good-faith commenters get achieve?

Ok, I see. I haven't noticed that phenomenon of gaming the thread. Is it so common that this would be the best way to fix comments?

I would use this feature for any instance where I try to explain to a new user what kind of tone our community strives for. It would be a way to assure them that I'm explaining this to them for the good of the community, not to garner more karma.

And can you elaborate on why you would like to have that? (Except for having enough karma?)

I see two issues in comment threads:

1) Despite guidelines, people vote up comments they agree with. If they have enough karma, they vote down ones they disagree with. There's little you can do to change such a situation

This is inadequate — sometimes you can see interesting and informative posts up the top; sometimes interesting posts have a relatively low comment score, simply because they are controversial. The more specific and detailed a post is, the more chances they have to offend (or just not overall agreement), and the more chances they have to get a downvote/not be voted on. If a comment is very general, (eg "How awful.") it will be a lot less controversial, and thus more get more votes.

On the other hand, it can be useful to see comment scores as a barometer to popularity — which framework/language/cool solution for a specific problem is upvoted the most can be genuinely useful information.

This is a problem that many sites that implement "voting" have. I'm not entirely sure of what a solution can be. One might be that there be two metrics — one for interestingness/helpfulness/what the guidelines are for anyway. The other for whether you agree with a post(/find it funny). There are potential problems with this idea, for instance, it complicates voting (the simplicity of a vote increasing a comment's score is one that everyone can understand). However, I think that the benefits would outweigh the costs.

2) Comment threads that try to be increasingly funny, with signal to noise ratio decreasing with every increase in depth. I often find myself scrolling down past a lot of uninteresting and unimportant comments to get to the next comment that isn't part of the first thread. This is a little harder to tackle, as sometimes good comments can be revealing deep in a thread full of mediocre ones, making it difficult to just fold comments part a certain level. Perhaps only fold when most of the comments are under a certain threshold (like 5 points)?

You could help people discover good comments by allowing them to collapse comment threads. A simple [-] button by each comment should do the trick.

I like this idea-- you might even start with comments collapsed so users can quickly identify threads of interest. Here is a simple mock-up of what I'm envisioning:


Allow us to mark certain accounts as "friends" or "favorites". Then on every comment and article, display points originating from "favorites". Like "77 points by pg / 15 points from friends." This preserves the democratic aspect of the site, while giving users valuable information they can use to skip boring content.

Here's one you suggested to me: have people pay to comment.

If this were any other website, I'd suggest simply requiring a Facebook or twitter account to log in. Worked for Gawker et al, but it won't fly with this demographic.

So just charge people $1 to activate their account. It'll reduce the shite, and 99% of the commenters won't care. What happens to the edge-cases of people who don't have a credit card is an open question, but I suggest validating them some other way (solve a problem in Lisp perhaps).

I don't think this solves the problem.

It just restricts the site to those people who can/will pay.

There are plenty of people who'll gladly pay for the privilege of trolling or posting garbage. And the more they pay the more entitled they feel to post whatever the hell they want.

And then they are kicked off, and must pay again.

Limit comments? I think that commenting must COST the poster something, which means that for a comment to be worth while, it must justify the cost.

Karma might be worth it, but a: I don't think posters value it THAT much, and b: this doesn't prevent stupid comments that are likely to gain popular support. In fact it might encourage it.

Instead I would say that a user gets a limited supply of comments to post. Then, the user must decide if their 'lol this made my day' comment is worth giving up a portion of a limited resource.

Determining the appropriate way to limit comment supply without a major negative impact on positive replies is the tricky part. Karma, membership length, submissions and comments could calculate into the figure. Is the figure reset every day, week, month? I don't know. Hopefully this works as brainstorming food.

How about weighted votes based on karma? After a certain karma threshold, your vote value is doubled. The system could also have multiple levels. For e.g. at 2k karma, when you upvote/downvote a post, it gains/loses 2 points. At 5k karma, 3 points and so on. Or maybe the user can choose his vote value, limited by his maximum vote value. Perhaps we can also use the average karma somewhere in this equation.

Another suggestion is the ability to downvote submissions after a certain karma threshold. We can use the weighted vote system here as well.

Yet another suggestion is 12 hours/24 hours/1 week bans.

Another problem that I admit facing is the unwillingness to post something with the fear of it not getting upvoted and thus affecting my average karma, even though it might have added value to the discussion.


You could have people who have over X karma (or people you hand pick) have disproportionate abilities to downvote or nuke comments/stories that are mean or dumb.

It would be easy to train a small circle of people how to moderate well. It seems nigh impossible to train the entire userbase of HN to do it.

HN already has hand-picked moderators (mostly YC alums, IIRC) with the power to kill bad stories and users. This seems to have worked well for stories, but I guess it hasn't scaled to comments.

If we have moderators, it's preferable to disallow commenting from moderators. Moderators should act as the facilitators. Having mod power and be able to comment just giving too much powers to a few people to voice their opinions.

A hard limit on the maximum upvotes a comment can get. Say, 25.

Also a limit on how much Karma you can get from one article submission. A lot of times it feels like luck when someone submits something and gets hundreds of Karma for it because they posted it first.

Good idea. Also maybe a hard limit for how much a user can earn from submitting articles.

A turkish message board (www.eksisozluk.com) with about 200k users faces the same problem, and uses moderated user acceptance as a quality filter.

First of all if you want to create an account you have to wait for the mods to announce application submission dates.

If you can manage to create an account during that period, you are made a 'rookie' and what you submit to the message board is invisible to everyone, except mods. You are only allowed to post a total of 10 messages.

When you are done posting your first entries, you wait for mods to read and evaluate the value you bring to the platform and if you keep within the format & legal limits of the board. If so, you are made a normal user.

A similar process would especially prevent the bots spamming this place.

Lots of good suggestions, forgive me if my suggestions are a dupe that I missed.

1)For certain high-profile domains, assign no karma to submissions. This would probably a hand-curated list of domains, but would probably include: Techcrunch, pg essays, avc.com, etc.

2)Allow users above X karma (500?) to vote to give any other user a "time out". At some threshold (25?) of votes, that user is muted for 1 week.

3)For any users that submits more than 5 articles from the same domain/subdomain, either suspend karma accumulation or suspend their ability to submit until they reach some mix of other submissions with an average score above 10

4)Create an article tagging system, and/or a way for users to ignore submissions on certain topics and/or from particular domains.

Don't make submissions give the submitter karma. Currently, the fast way to gain karma is to be the first to submit a big story, and duplicates abound because everyone tries something different.

If there's no incentive, there's no race.

I, personally, also like the up-votes costing karma. It'd make the act much much more costly to perform, so high voted comments will be more likely to be selected on content than laughs.

I think so too. I don't know whether submissions shouldn't give any karma, but in my opionion it should be limited. For instance they could start out with 0 points and the submitter gets a point for every 50 upvotes the story gets or something like that. Another possibility would be to seperate submission and comment karma and may be have them limited in some way as well. There is currently a big mismatch, you'd need ~5 highly "appreciated" comments to get the same amount of karma one medium apple story "earns" you. This makes karma as - some sort of metric - less useful.

Regarding the "laughs" I don't really understand what the big deal is. I like a funny/sarcastic (read: not stupid) comment that shows at least some insight or understanding of the matter or just pokes fun at a particular view. This is necessary and healthy for a discussion.

It sounds like Hacker News needs a reason for being. Who is the audience? What is the value proposition? Shouldn't the needs of the audience and the "problem" HN is solving be the answer to this question?

For me, I came to HN for:

* A free, online location where people can exchange ideas and commentary relevant to tech startups, that welcomes newcomers and experienced alike.

Perhaps it's different for others:

* A place to collect points to boost one's ego and sense of self-worth in front of peers.

* A paid site for members of a small community to exchange topics in a way closed to outsiders

* A place for those who have earned a role as experts or taste-makers to evaluate and/or judge the ideas of others.

Looks like there's no consensus, hence the reason for HN's decline.

rexreed, I really like where you're going with this. Without clearly stated goals (what to achieve and what to avoid) as well as data on what has already happened, and a theory of why various groups of commenters behave as they do, a solution is unlikely.

Consider starting (or merely sanctifying) a HN IRC channel or webchat. I think a lot of people comment and visit HN now just for something to do; they are bored and want to do some intellectual sparing.

If there was a irc.ycombinator.com with real-time chat topics, it might help separate "the wheat from the chaff," so to speak.

E.G. #japan-nuclear-chat

If not a chat, I'd say focus on something that doesn't fight the size of the community. Personally, I'd prefer if HN was shrunk to like '08 levels, but that's not going to happen. I think adding a service that allows for water cooler talk but keeps it isolated from deep technical discussions would work better than karmic tinkering at this point.

Check out #startups on freenode.

Idea 3. Enlarge space. There are too many people in the common agora, so split up the community into smaller, more focused spaces, akin to Reddit. For instance, there are natural categories here around news, programming, business, science, and politics.


Limit the number of upvotes to 1 per thread. So the user has to choose the best comment.

This adds a cost to upvoting just like the "N upvotes per day" ideas (which I like a lot).

We could penalize commenters not using their real name.

Techcrunch comment quality has improved by an order of magnitude and trolls have been largely wiped out since they started requiring people use Facebook or Yahoo accounts to comment.

I'm considering that, possibly without disclosing on the site who the user is; just having to authenticate oneself at all would probably help.

I value my privacy. If I was required to use my real name here, I'd wish HN good luck and move somewhere else.

That's why I used the term "penalize", rather than "require". We could for example give comments from named users a higher default score.

This reminds me of how Slashdot allows unregistered users to post under the monicker "Anonymous Coward" (AC), and by default gives all such posts a score of 0, while the posts of registered users start off with a score of 1.

Combined with Slashdot's default filtering (only comments highly rated comments are visible by default) and the huge flood of comments that popular stories get, very few people ever read the posts of AC's.

I've never had a Slashdot account myself, and have always posted anonymously. I haven't posted a lot, but I feel the posts I did make were all carefully considered, polite, and contributed to the discussion. But, because of Slashdot's discrimination against anonymous comments, they were rarely upvoted (and therefore rarely read by most users, who have thier comment filters set to only read higher rated comments).

Which is kind of sad, when you consider some of the utter garbage that gets upvoted there all the time, and considering that every comment (no matter how awful) made by a registered user starts off with a higher score by default.

Now that's not to say that Slashdot doesn't have good reason to rate anonymous comments lower than the comments of registered users. There are plenty of anonymous trolls of Slashdot, and that's one way of dealing with them.

That's also not to say that on HN, giving lower default ratings to pseudonymous comments than to comments left by authenticated users would necessarily be a bad thing.

But it should be noted that there are many high quality pseudonymous comments on HN right now (as only a relatively small minority of people use their real names here), and I'm not so sure how the HN community would react if the people who've revealed their names started to dominate the discussions, or if the comments by pseudonymous users were penalized by default.

I suppose that as long as pseudonymous posts weren't censored (as AC posts effectively are through the filtering mechanism on Slashdot), then it wouldn't be so bad. But I have a feeling that such filtering (and effective censorship) will inevitably come to HN sooner or later. And then pseudonymous users would become even more second-class citizens. And to that I'd really have to be opposed.

There are better ways of dealing with the decline in comment quality than penalizing pseudonymity.

Flag comments (essentially public shaming). Look at how Quora does it. If a user's reply is not in line with the question, other users flag it as "not helpful" (and explain why below).

So the more the people who flag stupid comments (instead of just downvoting), the more these comments should descend to the bottom, regardless of number of votes.

The problem with these posts on the declining quality of HN is that people can't agree upon what the ideal comment quality should be, just like they can't agree on what stories should be on HN.

I propose we have complete transparency.

PG, please start by giving 10 examples of the kind of comments you are most worried about, so that you define the problem in very clear terms. There might be disagreements and we need to surface those before suggesting solutions to a vague problem.

Extending the idea of transparency generally, make all votes public, such that everyone can see who voted what.

Weight upvotes differently as they come from different people -- or, play around with displaying different "top" content to different users.

Some starting places might be:

* upvotes from someone who reads regularly but votes irregularly count more

* upvotes from IP's that have not clicked through count less

* using a collaborative filter on upvotes to guess which stories are more likely to appeal to different readers

* randomly putting a few threads or stories out of order for each user

* users who, early on, vote-up comments that are voted up later are rewarded (f''<0 or just a ceiling on the reward like 10 upvotes) with their upvotes being worth more

* modal version of the above, using a pagerank style algorithm to calculate the helpfulness of users

* upvotes from people with more karma are worth more (again f''<0)

* mess around with sub-thread weighting. I don't know how you do it right now but it seems like a good comment on a lower sub-thread is less likely to be seen than a mediocre comment right below the +43 top comment.

* mess around with page-placement weighting. The very top is most likely to be seen and voted on. 3/4 of the way down is very likely to not be seen -- so a vote either way means more there.

* limit the number of upvotes each user gets. Could be per time, per story, per karma....

I didn't use HN a year or two ago, but it seems to me that across such social news sites the following types of content are unjustifiably upvoted:

- confidence

- lists of books

- slams (mother###ker)

- references to high-IQ stuff

- certain lengths are preferred [must be 2-3 para's long to get hugely upvoted, 2-3 sentences has a higher prob. of just a few points]

If you do some more research perhaps you could just decide on what are "bad" kinds of comments, such as negativity, and use text mining / sentiment analysis to detect them and hold back their points.

Using any of the - ideas would force HN designers to commit to what actually constitutes bad content, rather than social engineering (* ideas).

Let moderators mark a comment as "not useful". And everyone who voted for that comment earns negative karma. This will make people think twice before voting for a comment. Dumb and mean comments won't be voted on.

This allows you and the mods to set the tone for comments.

Of course, the weak point is - moderators bias may show up. And a worthy comment may be marked as not useful occasionally. So depending on the number of moderators you have, you could make it so that the minimum criteria is x number of moderators have to mark a comment as not useful.

The problem is that as a group of geeks get diluted by newbies the intelligence level of the group goes down. As the intelligence level decreases the ability for this group to filter for the conversations previously highly voted decreases. More intelligent people filter for more intelligent stories and comments. (Is reddit a worse community? No. Does it have a different audience? Yes. That is what is happening here.)

I know this is an offensive idea, but you simply have to decide whether to cater for the elites or the lowest common denominator. As time progresses the people just joining now will look back on this time as a golden age of HN -- it will get worse -- and in the future there will be a new wave of lower intelligence HN'ers. That is how it always is.

The solution I would prefer is (1) allowing users to curate their own experience with far greater granularity than allowed on a site such as Reddit. That is, use twitter like ideas of followers and lists. Allow us to choose who we see comments and stories from. I care about the votes from these people much more than somebody who just joined a couple of weeks ago and hasn't programmed or owned a startup company. (2) giving users with popularity in the community, moderation power similar to the kind found on StackOverflow. The power to close topics. Respond to bad usages of the vote button. Respond to flags. Perhaps even the power to moderate comments.

How about notifying people when their comments have been flagged and pointing them to the site guidelines?

It's a significant change, but I think the way to solve the problem generally is to have move than one dimension to vote on.

As social sites rise in popularity, common denominator posts such as humor or common circle jerking are going to rise to the top.

The answer, I think, is to allow people to vote on multiple metrics: 'cool', 'funny', 'good idea', 'hacker porn'.

With those separate signals it would be easier to tweak the algorithm to get the front page looking 'like you want it to,' or the users could choose how they want their posts to be ranked.

Make it invite-only to post threads/comments and quietly associate the inviter with the invited person.

Thus ensuring that we don't get spontaneous comments from e.g. the UX guy at Zappos on that story about Zappos. A non-starter, I think.

That could be worked around, contributing could be invite only, but also allow a non-invited contributor to post but their post would be collapsed (or at a negative score) by default until an invited contributor voted it up.

There will be pros and cons to every system. How else do you think we can decrease the growth rate of the HN userbase, which is probably the root cause of the decline in quality comments and threads

Won't it make it just an echo-chamber that would increase group-think? I like the idea that new people can join and contribute or learn from others without having to first curry favor to get invites.

That will certainly ensure only the acceleration of the decline. The ecosystem will be isolated and perpetuation of 'preaching to the choir' will ensue.

How would have all of the now-members of both HN and the greater 'community' have stumbled upon this resource if it was invite-only?

HN would still be open for everyone to see, commenting and submitting threads would be invite-only.

This is a fairly classic problem of forum scale. If people don't have an investment in their profile and what it stands for, they won't care about that persona, and you quickly fall victim to the Law of Anonymity.

Number of suggestions to solve it:

1) Put a real value on user accounts. Charge $5 for them, or otherwise make them hard to get -- perhaps invite-only from users with a certain rating -- so that they are felt to be valuable.

2) Active editing. Assigning a numeric value to everything a user does only goes so far: eventually there has to be a consequence for their posts (greater than it going grey). It's OK to ban users who are all noise, after a fair warning.

More controversially:

I think threads re-ordering themselves make it incredibly difficult to follow a conversation. Because comments move around, when you return to a thread you either have to re-read or re-skim multiple comments that you've already read. The alternative is to treat threads as one-shot jobs. Visit once, don't come back. That's death to conversation, and conversation is the heart of a community.

It's this reason, I suspect, people don't often post meaty comments in threads once they already have a good few comments in them -- they know they'll never get the traction of upvotes to stay near the top, so why bother? The fix:

3) Flat threads. Don't rearrange, don't indent. Show scores if you will, but don't order based on them. The longest-lived web communities, the ones with the best conversations, from the Well to Metafilter, all have this in common.

It would be a big change, but enforcing real identities could help. Very few top commenters on HN are anonymous, and people are much more likely to be rude or intellectually lazy when no one knows its them. Given HN's readership there is a big incentive for most users to appear smart and nice through their HN activity - if potential co-founders, investors and clients could dig up my mean/dumb comment (or my upvote of one), I would be less impulsive in commenting and upvoting.

I'm afraid I can't get behind this idea.

First, we've had excellent "Ask HN" submissions in the past which tried to discuss private startup-specific problems that a partner or founder was having. These discussions were timely and relevant, and we were only able to have them because the poster felt they could present their issue anonymously.

Second, I don't believe you've thought through the overhead of your suggestion. Does pg hand-approve new accounts, requiring a faxed copy of a driver's license or other state-issued identification? Or do we wait until someone flags an account as "possiblity not a true identify", and, again, burden pg with chasing that person down until they prove they are who they claim, and with dealing with the complaints it will generate?

Regarding your first point - you could enable a special Anon mode and have the user jump through hoops to comment anonymously. I believe impulsive upvotes and comments are the primary reason for declining quality and making real identities the default choice would avoid that.

Regarding your second point - tying into existing identity providers like Facebook would have little overhead beyond the initial implementation. If you wanted to go a step further, you could create an automated phone verification system, like the one Google uses for new accounts. Again, the intent would be to make it harder to comment or upvote anonymously, not impossible.

Get rid of the whole point system. I go to HN for the community, not to collect points. It seems to provide incentives for the wrong behavior, even tho I understand that it was originally intended to do the exact opposite.

A community stands or falls on the quality of the interactions. Therefore to a certain extent, you have to let it thrive or die on its own.

Solely my opinion, but I see points as getting in the way, motivating bad behavior, and not relevant to why I come to HN.

Karma can also provide a subtle (or not so subtle) incentive to good behavior.

For instance, I've seen many instances of newbies making an "lol" or "wtf?" comment only to be quickly downvoted in to oblivion.

Hopefully it doesn't take much of that for them to get the point.

Also, the downvoting provides a quick and easy way for the community to express displeasure at someone violating the community's norms, without needing to write a long post explaining just why a comment consisting solely of "lol" or "wtf?" isn't appropriate.

On the othe hand, it's clear that karma is not a panacea, that it can be gamed, that it can encourage an echo chamber effect, and that it scales poorly when a site becomes as large as HN.

Perhaps some logic, during new thread creation, that looks for similar, older threads? Prompt the user to comment in an existing thread if it's very similar. Much like StackOverflow, if I recall. This may reduce duplicates.

It appears to me that most of the URL submissions are just tech blog websites using HN as a tool to drive traffic. There are even users out there that just wait for a new blog post by jacquesm so that they can post it for free karma. I think in situations like this, karma and voting become less useful because people will up vote just so that something might land on the front page, for traffic.

This leads me to another trend I see a ton in #startups. Somebody will create a new submission and link it on IRC and ask for free up votes so that it gets more visibility. Once again, this is where up votes aren't being used properly. But, I also think it highlights a potential difficulty for valuable new submissions - it's difficult to get that initial visibility and up votes. Perhaps to remedy this, make the "/newest" section be the default section, and move the highest voted to something that you have to navigate to. This will at least highlight new entries for people just hitting the main URL.

I see this is a question of group culture. We learn by looking around and imitating. We all acknowledge this behavior when advising startups to ship products and learn on the way. This group is no different; the main difference is, that it grows too fast to learn from old members and reading a guideline can be compared to reading a book about startups versus doing it. Here are my suggestions I hope they will be helpful:

for all new users and all existing users with karma<100

* on create account page give link to Guidelines to read and before signing up give us a quiz with 20 questions to assess our understanding of the most important ones. This would also give us a clear message that attitude and quality is very important on HN.

for all users

* rename "comments" to "thoughts" and add "chat" link to convore/wompt for a relaxed discussion. From "chats" users can deduct quality material to "thougts" for history value.

for users with karma<100

* include explanations on down-votes so we can understand our mistakes an learn from them. Give us a chance to become better rather then killing us and wait for us to reappear as yet another troll.

* make submit button on "thoughts" to countdown 10 seconds (with bail-out option) to give us time to rethink if the post is really useful

"... fixing the decreasing quality of comment threads on HN ... Anyone have any suggestions? We're on mostly uncharted territory here. ..."

In any group of people where the cost of joining is minimal and the freedom reins are loose, you will see behavioural changes mutate in ways resembling Golding's "Lord of the Flies". The big problem with HN is the founder assumption that we (users) will be a) civil b) willing, positive contributors and c) thoughtful. Maintaining this requires some means of natural selection. At first it was probably a combination of being curious, an early adopter and nerd-like. Some (quick & possibly stupid) ideas:

- intellectual paywall: add a penalty of a kind that selects readers/contributors

- classifier: run a classifier that categorises users by type and apply rules (behaviour modifier)

- change focus of HN to News with sub hacker focus (radical focus change)

- add a real minimal paywall sending $ to something like EFF or other hacker friendly charity (penalise by currency - bad)

- stop HN altogether (deny)

- wipe the slate clean & build a new HN like community but with http://perlmonk.org like progression of privs by tasks (enforced discipline) at start of user creation.

Display percentages instead of points relative to sub-tree total. This way points are hidden but relevance stays intact. Then use colors instead of numbers to indicate "good" sub-trees so that people have to convert hexadecimal values to extract the relative karma. Then add a hidden karma-boost mode where a up-voting "short term good commenter" indicates the presence of another "short term good commenter". Add another view called "contested" where down voted links can get a second chance. This might reduce group-think and content-shaping. Let "short term good commenter" double vote on contested links. Add a content merge option to reduce or group duplicates.

I think people are mean because they get down voted a lot by people who "play" HN like WOW and everyone non-omg-erlang is a target. And lots of people here think KARMA == FREE TRAFFIC SPELL. Because spending most of your life on HN showcases how busy you are making money. Although.. nobody will ever read this comment because the thread is already two hours old and the in-crowd has already started writing meta posts that will take over the front page two hours from now.

Or maybe this is all about.. hello TechCrunch readers !

Bias in favour of upvotes from the bottom of the page.

Everybody scrolls from the top down. Those who vote for lower-down stories are less likely to be amplifying the hive mind.

Let's make karma actually worth something. To do this, change these items:

1) You can submit one link a day. Additional submits cost karma.

2) Costs karma to reply to any comment. Top level comments seem to already filter okay. If you get downvotes on the comment you made the karma cost is a multiple of that.

I also think some things would help in general:

1) Title/Domain Regex - Allow me to specify a regex to exclude things from the frontpage. For example /Apple|iPad|techcrunch/.

2) You have to have 10 or 20 karma to do anything besides top thread comments. It would be easy to get that with a little effort, but it would pretty much eliminate all the spam and low hanging crap.

3) Have a option to (turned on by default) to collapse comments using the common +/- interface and display the total score for that thread. I think then you would be able to focus and find the good threads quickly. Coming into this discussion 5 hrs after the fact like I am doing is where this is really needed.

4) This is a big one, but I will throw it out there. Create an API. With that I think a LOT of smart people (instead of a few) could play with all of this and maybe find somethings that no one here is currently thinking of.

I don't know the solution, but let me offer a suggestion as to what the cause of the problem is.

I think the issue is that the things that seem insightful to relatively unskilled programmers seem obvious to very skilled ones. A lot of the blog posts I see on sites like this rehash issues that I thought were settled a long time ago, but what's happening is that people understand things for themselves over and over again. And it's actually helpful when they write it up, because their writeups then lead other people to understand these things. Thus there is a steady stream of posts about the same set of ideas that are always helpful to people, but are still clogging HN.

The trouble is that there's no way for people who have already understood something to stop seeing the same old posts. I see three options: - get rid of the less-skilled people - keep the less-skilled people, but stop them from learning from these posts - somehow let people opt out of seeing posts on things they understand, but keep them around for other people to see

It seems obvious that the third solution is correct, but I don't yet know how to do it.

Another possible response to this problem would be to have "sticky" ideas that somehow define what HN is about. Ie, if you're new here, read some of this stuff before you start commenting.

I understand this is primarily about comment quality, but I had an idea for keeping story quality high: Score votes via bookmarklet as higher than a standard vote. That'd be one way to ensure that someone actually read a story, rather than just upvoted a catchy headline.

Naturally this would have to be kept secret, since it'd invariably lead to a potential voting ring issue.

How about a basic API (make comments/votes/users available as JSON objects) so people can build different filters and see what works?

Hand out short-term (up to 24-hour) mandatory noprocrast vacations (i.e. bans) freely, visibly, and arbitrarily. If somebody makes a stupid comment, they get asked to leave for a while, and everybody sees it. Simple and unambiguous. It also puts the onus on the user to modify their behavior in a way that lengthy meta-commentary threads about just how bad their comment was tend to not.

One problem with this is the perception that being banned (however temporarily) is a severe punishment reserved for major infractions, and that people might react strongly against that perception. To some extent that's the point: you want to drive away the people unwilling to change. On the other hand, you want to give those who are so willing the reason and opportunity to do so, and I think the occasional "time out" provides that.

It may still be an indelicate instrument for addressing the problem, but I think it's justifiable when the status quo is that known-good people are leaving voluntarily.

A suggestion could well be to not have threads like this one (not trying to be disrespectful!) An interesting thought is the idea that punk music was dead the first time someone said punk's not dead.

I could see that being the case with a trend/fashion, but it's not so much of a problem with other things.

Borrow a verse from the book of MetaFilter: people need an area for meta discussions, and it's better for the signal:noise ratio if it's in a separate but equal space.

In fact, there's lots to be learned from MetaFilter. Two long but useful videos containing Mathowie's wisdom:

- http://vimeo.com/11916466

- http://vimeo.com/21043675

With respect, the meta of late has been extraordinarily aggravating, and I do think it is a problem here.

I may not be a long time HN user, even less of an experienced one, but I think that the race for Karma may be responsible. The core mechanic of HN is to function through Karma, but unfortunately it is also the source of this problematic. If users are obsessed about obtaining it, why not make that every action on HN costs some.

Another problem is what the comments are about. It's more a matter of Objectivity vs Subjectivity. At first the point of a comment is to give a point of view about the article and then discuss about it. I have found that now it is more a matter of who has the best point of view and that if it is contrary to the majority; it will fail. Thus resulting in multiple pointless comments, giant upvoting for the one who "blasts" the one with a different point of view and so on.

Filtering may be a solution, but if the problem can;t really be solved with an algorithm due to the human nature, it is a matter of a longer brainstorm...

I'm not sure about it, but some of the comments about no karma have kept me thinking about "no karma for submissions". For any submissions.

As I see it, HN is about the conversation. I don't care who brings up a topic, if it's interesting. And then, I'd prefer to see discussion focused on that one submission thread, instead of spread across 3 or 5 or more follow-on submissions, particularly those placing #, ?, etc. at the end of the URL.

If posting does not bring karma, maybe this would help reduce the number of threads and increase their concentration of ensuing conversation.

I'm not sure, though. Something subconscious tells me I'm not seeing the other side(s) of such a change.

Also, if possible, I think the duplicate checker would benefit from being enhanced to detect at least the more obvious/prevalent workarounds, e.g. those same #, ?, etc. Of course, this, of itself, likely leads to an arms race. But maybe it would have at least some temporary value.

I think the answer is fairly clear. If you remember Digg before it got popular, and Reddit before it got popular, you understand how these sites lose focus when they increase readership. The devistation of Digg, and now the serious problems at Reddit, are forcing more general-readers to HN.


1) Reddit staved off this effect for a while by both re-tuning the karma ranking computation, and wiping everyone's karma back to 0. The effect of hyper-people with too much power is problematic. I don't think that will work here, but it's possible a re-tune will help.

The general idea of a redo on the karma system was stated above: the right answer is to take a look at "good comments" and "bad comments" and look at new threads.

2) HN as invite only. Anyone can read, few can vote/comment. I'm not sure I'd make the cut if you were to have certain blessed voters/commenters. I like the suggested improvement of having this calculation be hidden, and never to show karma.

3) Moderators. The community I live in with the longest lifetime is "chowhound". They don't have a voting system (or good web technology), they have ruthless monitors. Monitors are never supposed to remove for quality of post, but they do simply nuke from orbit "that's what she said" post chains.

4) Look, there's one real fact here. As someone who, myself, sells a database product aimed at people like those who read HN, I have a huge incentive to get an article into HN. It could make or break my company - no fooling. Once you incent bright people to break your system, it will be broken. Socket puppet rings will rule. Eternal vigilance - that is, a moderator-like junta charged with looking at quality every few months and ruthlessly implementing whatever solution is correct at that time, is the only way to continue HN's spirit.

5) I will guarantee you that if something isn't done, there will simply be a slow, sure slide to mob rule and ignorance.

I don't think you really can. This site is a community and the users matter above all the features. If the user quality takes a nose dive all you can do is hold off the inevitable with new comment rankings. Every site has a point where it gets so big it declines in quality, reddit hit that and now those who want the old reddit back are coming here.

The only way to truly guarantee it would remain high quality would require credentials to use the site, or require invite/referrals, but then that has a whole host of its own problems.

I'm relatively new so I don't know what HN "used" to be like, but in the short time I've been here I've noticed it decline. It seems to me that more and more people who aren't knowledgable or have insights to offer are joining and people like jacquesm and riderofgiraffes are leaving. It was inevitable and has happened in every community I've ever used.

A community can grow only so large before it has to provide some personalization so it is not trying to be everything to everyone.

Reddit has subreddits and you can choose the ones from which stories appear on the front page. HN can start with allowing users to 'frontpage' other users aka whitelisting by showing stories from only these users on the front page. The next logical step is allowing blacklisting. Version 2.0 of this would allow whitelisting and blacklisting of content-sources (sites), in addition to users, so that I could blacklist certain blogs if I wanted to.

This will result in some fragmentation of the community, but in my opinion, it will keep HN interesting for everyone. This may also reduce the need to answer subjective editorial questions such as - we don't allow politics, but is open-source-politics politics? Is coverage of world-changing-elections allowed?

An explicit voting protocol may help. Personally, I would like to see "No downvotes for disagreement" made official.

Allow every user to have downvote suggestions. Allowing people to suggest that a comment should be downvoted allows those with sufficient privilege to hone in on the bad comments and it lets other users be more involved. Possibly, track a user's 'discernment' level - increase it when a suggestion is acted upon. Use this to weight how much that user's suggestion effects a comment's "downvote-suggestion rank" as it is shown to the trusted users. Promote users to trusted status when their discernment reaches a certain point. This discernment level would both measure a user's interest in maintaining the site as well as predict how good they would be at it.

Maybe even do this in general (for up and down votes): all users cast only suggestion votes. Trusted users cast the real votes.

I've generally found a strong correlation between forum quality and the difficulty of gaining admission. One of my favorite forums put me on a waiting list for three months before they let me post.

So I'd prefer the addition of some sort of barrier to entry. Either an invite system like the private file-stealing sites use, a sign-up fee like Metafilter uses, or a vetting process for potential members.

Ideally, I'd love to see Paul Graham take a couple hundred of the best users and start a new forum. After they had some time to establish the community, people like me could apply for membership, which would involve submitting a written case, and waiting a week for the existing members to vote on it.

*This was originally a reply to lionhearted, who deleted his perfectly reasonable post.

> I've generally found a strong correlation between forum quality and the difficulty of gaining admission.

There's a well-research phenomenon that people believe that a group is more valuable if it was harder for them to become a member. It pops up everywhere from YC to skull & bones to young men being ritually injured in the deserts of central Australia.

This is true, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm incorrect in my assessment. Compare the average Metafilter comment to the average YouTube comment. You'd have a difficult time making the case that there wasn't a discernible difference in quality between the two.

> This is true, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm incorrect in my assessment.

Right, but as the subject of a membership ritual I have to discount your assertion.

Sometimes membership rituals do increase value. But they increase perceived value regardless of what follows.

Aren't you engaging in the genetic fallacy here though? Pointing out a possible origin of my belief does not mean that you have disproved the belief.

As developed through this discussion, my point would be that we need an outsider's perspective on the quality of a community. Perhaps a "passer by".

NuclearPhynance doesn't block entry, but displays the community rules next to your first 10 posts. They quickly ban "bad guys" and IP block sock puppets / hidemy#ss.

[PS you mean a strong _positive_ correlation, right? ;) ]

Add more moderators, put them on rotation duty, and, instead of having them kill comments (except in the most egregious cases), have them patiently educate the people who put up the mean/dumb comments, as well as the upvoters. Write software that makes this process efficient.

Apparently tptacek suggested something highly similar here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2403750

The question is in two parts: (1) Why do people add bad comments and stories?, and (2) How do we keep those from getting upvoted?

1) When newbies first see the karma system they begin (like in any game) to work hard to raise their numbers. They watch closely to learn what kinds of comments will get them points. Ways to address this: -Make new users read the guidelines and address this issue more directly there. -Make Karma look less like a competition.

2) Like other comments have said, figuring out who upvotes bad comments requires data-mining. A serious question here is whether democracy is a viable option any longer. What is the site meant to be: a mob, or a tight community which a mob may watch? Do we educate the problem-voters, or do we dis-empower them?

Create positive and negative moderators but make the roles mutually exclusive.

The positive mods can promote stories and comments beyond normal up-voting and the negative mods do something similar with down-voting/flagging.

People can become 'supermods' based on karma, election, or something more arbitrary.

* more comments than upvotes seems to correlate with low-content articles, because everyone feels qualified to comment

* articles with disproportionately few comments per upvote are sometimes the most interesting

if you can get low-content articles off the front page faster, and more interesting non-pop articles visible longer, it would probably attract the hacker community more and the pop community less.

misc ideas:

* remove all system incentive to submit links

* change UI to increase visibility into user history, so that reputation becomes even more important, and low-quality activity sticks with you for a while

* fix the new page! incent people to upvote new links, or a creative UI hack like a single new submission at the top (e.g. "sponsored" on reddit)

If I were to rephrase the question on this thread, it seems to me that it could also be stated as "how do you keep HN comments from turning into Slashdot comments"? I don't say that in jest - I used to read Slashdot, but after a while I got really sick of 1) the vitriol and 2) the inanity of the comments that were on the first page. Granted, some folks had really interesting things to say, but truly funny/insightful comments seem to be a rare commodity.

But look at it in a positive light - the comments on HN could never be classified in the same - or even near the same - bucket that comments on sites like YouTube and Yahoo! News.

Decompose commenting score into a two-part system representing up-votes and down-votes:

Up-vote score = sum(karma of up-voter)

Down-vote score = sum(karma of down-voter)

Score is displayed in both absolute and relative terms. Absolute score would be the same method as we're currently using. The relative score is presented as a part of the whole.

Something like [+++++++|--] could represent the ratio of the positive score to the negative score (which are the weighted scores based upon karma).

And, as a possibly added benefit, taking this approach enables the ability to reduce the karma level before allowing of down-voting, making people feel like they're able to participate more-fully earlier.

Thanks for bringing the problem up. I never contributed too much but dropped in whenever I felt I had something insightful to say. Recently it has been getting less frequent but I think it's just that many of the front page stories aren't as interested as they have been and there is a good amount of duplicates. Since the community is large the comments tend to drop down faster as well so it's more difficult to get a discussion going.

A possible idea is to put up a dump of the HN data somewhere for users to download. Maybe the community can analyze it and find interesting patterns/behaviors and possibly solutions?

A few thoughts

A. "flag" for comments? Whether that just brings them to the editor/moderator's attention, or kills them based on some algorithm, would be an open question.

B. More moderators/editors - drawn from the pool of people who have shown themselves to share the "HN spirit" (or whatever you want to call it), who are empowered to kill stories and/or comments.

And maybe some limits on what new accounts can do? Maybe go so far as requiring new users to lurk for some period of time, before being allowed to post? Or some limit on post / comment frequency, until you've demonstrated some sense of alignment with what's appropriate here?

You can already flag comments. Click the "link" or "reply" links by a comment to see it.

Cool. All this time here, and I'd somehow failed to notice that before. Thanks!

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

I'm surprised to hear someone as experienced as you say that. I've only been online since 1997.

All successful internet communities seem follow a common life cycle:

* Early adopters seem to be good

* They attract more users

* Someone pines for the old days

* Earnest discussions start about how to "save" the community

Here things bifurcate:

* Descent into infinitely recursive navel gazing with site population following a visible half-life; OR

* Equilibrium is reached after a certain number of the early adopters leave.

I imagine this can be modelled as stocks-and-flows. It would be interesting to see if there are any predictable tipping points or at least observable, predictive metrics.

You might also check out this thread, which pertains to submission karma and its distribution: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2387873

Institute a one-time $5 fee to participate.

Users from non-first world countries would suffer disproportionate from not being able to participate.

Well, we want something expensive to discourage people. How about we make it $100, or you can solve a problem in Lisp. Alternatives for both the cash-poor and time-poor.

Do we have any data to show if that's a real issue here?

To solve the 'third wold' problem, decrease the cost to activate the account to $1 and allow members to activate other peoples accounts. So hackers in developing countries could ask their western friends to help.

Experiment suggestion: Upvotes are weighted as today, but downvotes are heavier weighted when you're downvoted by a user with high karma. I'd probably say that weight can't send a comment negative.

I'm making an assumption here, but maybe the original folks who made up HN are voting less. so you might have newer people doing more voting, and they may not understand the quality of comments before upvoting.

similar to how google looks at more than just keywords in a document before it ranks it highly, maybe you can weight each vote. a vote cast by an early HN user isn't so binary, maybe in reality it counts as 2 or 3 votes while we call it "+1" there is a weight to their vote based on how long they've been on hn and their karma?

It seems that both reddit and metafilter seem have stronger meta discussions than HN. Reddit seems to have meta posts on the frontpage every once in a while, while metafilter has a fulltime forum (metatalk) dedicated to meta discussions.

Though there are meta discussions once in a while on HN too, they tend to be more general in nature, not specific to a certain comment or post.

I think an active meta discussion community would help with continuous small corrections, and eventually improve people's opinions on what kind of comments are good or bad.

I think the larger problem is that comments that aren't emotive, but are reasonably insightful get ignored. HN quickly trains newcomers not to bother with them, and to go for pithy zingers.

Indeed, this is pretty easy to notice. When I look at my posts, and see which ones are upvoted, it's mostly the ones that are short and emotive.

The ones in which I really put some effort into explaining something, looking up some information, or explaining my point, usually get only one or two upvotes, if any at all.

Make downvotes worth more against massively-upvoted comments.

The point of downvoting a 1-point comment is usually to let someone know their comment was inappropriate. A downvote against a 60-point comment is supposed to mean "This is not that good. It's just hivemind / good placement."

Taking one point away from a 60-point comment doesn't change its position, however. Maybe downvotes should increase its gravity or maybe they should have a greater push-back, even if it's not 1.1*count(downvotes) but rather (count(downvotes))^1.1.

Pick as many active users whose judgment you trust as you can find, train a Bayesian classifier on their votes, up and down, and use that to score the voting patterns of users. Set ignore for the ones with the worst scores. Even if it turns out not to help much, at least you'll have had some fun doing it.

Also, there's currently nothing reminding users of the ideals you want them to uphold just before they submit a comment -- i.e., right next to the submit button. It never hurts to ask.

The simpler ideas I have are to aggressively kill any snarky or pun-filled comments and raise the downvote karma limit (again...).

A slightly more interesting idea would be to temporarily ban any member that does very anti-guideline things from posting for a little while, coupled with an explanation as to why they were banned. Even an hour-long ban may be effective. The GameFAQs boards do this, and while they have their own problems, not following the guidelines isn't one of them.

Find some way of qualifying upvotes by who made them, at what point in the lifetime of a comment and each upvoters upvoting frequency. Use these factors to adjust the score, rather than just a score+=1.

A user who upvotes ten comments a day should have far less impact per upvote than one with very high karma and a high average score who only upvotes infrequently (and is not involved in the thread).

I realise that you're asking about comments; I think that this applies equally to story submissions.

This is more or less me thinking out loud, but why allow upvoting for new users and not downvoting? Does it not make sense to have a barrier to entry for each? Maybe the ability to upvote only happens after you've been here for 3 months and downvoting after 6 months? (I personally like tying those abilities to seniority vs. points as I tend not to comment often, but can easily identify a snarky comment that adds no value -- with no ability to downvote it).

Reddit solved this problem by splintering into different communities, and let them self-select.

For (c): create a limit to the amount of votes a user can use, for example, make it impossible to vote on more than 5 items in 24 hours. Story votes, comment upvotes and comment downvotes would all count towards this limit. This would be useless if there is a large number of users who vote up negative comments, and would only work if the problem is caused by a smaller number of users who upvote a lot of frivolous comments and stories.

What would happen if people could see both the upvotes and the downvotes on a given comment, rather than just its total karma score? I've used sites (not social news) that worked like that, and I've found that e.g. seeing +6/-0 on one of my posts is more satisfying than seeing +15/-4. If you implemented downvote visibility I think the overall effect would be to discourage comments that get lots of downvotes. (The current policy, in contrast, encourages any comment that'll get a net positive karma score.)

I'm pretty sure that on the whole that would be a very good thing. Downvote visibility would certainly discourage dissent, which sucks. But I think the kinds of posts it would most strongly discourage are, in order, mean comments, stupid comments, and contentless (e.g. snide) comments -- which are exactly the things that have been dangerously proliferating recently.

And I don't even think it would much reduce the expression of minority opinion; there's a certain pride that comes with dissenting that makes it tolerable or even enjoyable when other people disagree with you. Whereas when you make a cheap joke, being able to see all the people who found it stupid or crass is a major buzzkill.

Comment collapsing ... with 260 comments on this submission it's such a very long page that the voting activity is going to be concentrated in the first thread/s.

I think it's a problem inherent in the larger audience - it's a different dynamic with less intimacy. To restore the intimacy that begets the high quality, I recommend introducing ways to customize my experience, whether it's sub-HNs, categories, following, or something else. That way people can create clusters and privacy for themselves and control their experience.

I don't think this can just be solved by tweaking karma logic.

I am a bit late to comment but here are a few thoughts

a) Staying on top of HN and current with articles and comments is becoming a fulltime job. Contributors who are productive in their non HN life will overtime realise that they are spending a disproportionate amount of time on HN. Something needs to be done to the mechanics of HN to change this. The only thing I can think of for this is highly unusual but here it is - Do not allow people to comment on stories by default, only vote for them as ontopic and offtopic. Later after a certain amount of time - stories become available for commenting or disappear entirely. This effectively decouples a story into two phases - is this story worthy of discussion on HN and second how good is the commentary on it. Doing this split will allow you to attack the story and comment quality in a more granular manner. Also sometimes its tempting to open an offtopic story just because it has 80 comments, hoping that some HN stalwart has added non trivial analysis to an otherwise trivial story. By not allowing discussion on offtopic stories such wayward curiosity on part of readers like yours truly could be avoided. b) Remove the indirection currently in place to flag stories and comments. Downvoting is more convenient currently, perhaps flagging should be a bit more convenient than it is currently. c) Turn HN into a fully customised experience. People prone to gossipping will overtime find themselves in a version of HN where gossip is abundant, ditto for technical users. An implementation is left as an exercise for the determined reader. d) All changes dont have to be live on news.ycombinator.com. You could try out multiple versions with different incentives, maybe different sub-communities will find different local optima. e) Force people submitting stories to write a comment longer than a certain threshold about the story.

You need gardeners. Which is work. But you don't ask just anyone to tend your garden. You ask a gardener.

Another way to think of it: a university needs teachers in the classroom. You can't just do research and have an open admissions policy. Someone has got to be providing training and feedback to the newcomers. Which is work. And you can't just have anyone do it. You need someone who's already had some training. A couple of thoughts:

1) You could feed those vested and proven folks with say, 1000 karma, 20% of their stories with top-level comments in non-descending order:

-- in randomized order instead of rank order, or

-- in inverse order, so they presumably have less cognitive burden to those undervoted great comments. Presumably it is less of a burden to skip over crap than decide if the 59 pt comment is really not as good as the 12 pt comment further down.

2) You could also add a more pre-emptive burden to rep: eg, you can't earn more than 10 points a day unless you vote on 10 new stories first. Feed a daily cookie to them with a popup with the policy, and encourage them to do it.

If you want an experimental focus group to pilot on, feel free to include me.

Simple upvoting/downvoting can't handle the herd voice. Too much text. No time to read it all. Make something actionable to better filter and engage us. Please!

Personally, I want information to inform my actions. I want to make better predictions. Please give me info I can use. Help me sort it. Make me act on it.

I want statements I can agree with, or not. If I'm not sure which, please provide me access to distillable arguments for and against any such statement.

First, I want to very clearly understand what any statement intends to say. Please provide ample means for clarification of such a statement. What is said? What does it mean?

Next, I want to sort and compare reasons to agree or disagree with any such statement. I want to see who agrees or disagrees with such a statement. This is much more valuable to me than the herd voice.

Make it systemic: let broad statements rest on supporting statements, where each statement provides for debate to define whether it is True or Not, Unlikely or Likely.

Something like this might suck less than the bloviating blog/comment/infoglut of yesteryear, especially as the next billion users go mobile.

Plenty of good suggestions here. I just want to add one thing: I've been here since the very early days and still think the site is great.

Yeah, it's become a much bigger community and there are more of every kind of post (good/bad/ugly). Overall it's still a great site and it has been successfully maintained.

So please do tighten things up some, but avoid any drastic change for now. The system is working pretty damn well.

In point I don't think it's a decline, just more of a noise issue. Many of the articles are interesting but I am noticing more submissions that have only a abstract connection to qualify for "Hacker" news.

I don't have any well though out answers to the question. I do think the more questions out there that could help solve this problem.

I'm thinking the commenting is more of a symptom than the underlying issue(s).......

Perhaps make it so that posting a comment actually costs karma (maybe based on your comment karma average for some subset of users with low averages) making people only comment when they are sure they are adding value. This makes it hard for new users to get started though.

Edit: appears I'm not the only one that suggested something like this. searched the page for "cost karma" and found a few comments.

What about giving more weight to users that (a) have been here longer, or (b) have more karma?

I feel like this would add some "drag" to the rate of change.

This site has been my go to place for reading material for a year to more. The other day I finally got an account, to test the waters of participating in the comment section, which often times are more interesting than the articles linked to. I hope my participation maintains the expected levels, but there in lies the problem. Anything based on a community, is bound to that community, like democracy, freedom to choose doesn't necessarily mean, the people are going to choose well. One universal truth through out human history, what rises, shall fall, when it involves a community of people. I figure, if my participation isn't rewarded, its not the place for me, so I'll move on, or just refrain from creating more noise. Its hard to convince people to self regulate like that, which is the only way to deal with it not becoming an over generalized, overly watered down link repository, that lost its niche in a flood of popularity, which would be a shame.

I don't offer any solutions, but I can offer a cause of the problem.

HN has become important. I know people IRL who will get their friends to help mod their submission. I likewise see stories that just scream, this person has friends who probably modded them. These won't stay on the front page for long at all, but they do increase the signal to noise significantly.

The real problem is that it's difficult to encode social constraints into a system. StackOverflow tries it, and i think that they have erred on the side of restricting contribution in order to preserve their system.

It is far more effective to have members of the community, particularly people who are representative of the ethos that HN has had to point out bad behavior, and recommend more responsible courses of action.

In so far as we are a community, we should encourage behavior as a community. Ultimately the point of writing comments and posting links is for others to see them, karma is worthless otherwise.

To that end, i think there's interesting things that could be done with average karma. If we're trying to encourage hill-climbing behavior towards better karma, why not highlight comments w/ higher average karma than you have? If we are trying to encourage leadership, then perhaps we should point out who is leading, and the behavior which we should be emulated.

Okay, I've given this a little bit of thought and think that like many problems, game mechanics can be applied to control human behavior here.

HN Karma can be retooled to give people a certain number up/downvotes as well as a rate of regeneration. Perhaps new users will get 3 upvotes a day and no downvotes. Upvotes need to be rebranded so that users understand that they are not the mechanisms of popularity contests or flame wars.

This is my vision, feel free to take from it what you will: "HN tokens are for you to use to make this is most intelligently crowd-curated site known to the English language.If you find a post or comment that helps you to solve a problem, see another point of view, or expand your thinking, drop a token in to promote it. However, if you are found among those using your tokens to add fire to flame wars or to reward comments that have no creative or intellectual value, your token regeneration rate will be reduced. Choose wisely."

Rather than making the site invite only, how about some means of differentiating read and write access, i.e. the amount of times you can upvote or submit is tied to your karma.

That way the information is still accessible to everyone, and if someone new has something to interesting to contribute, that info will still surface if it's picked up by vetted users.

There has been much talk of better days, better comment threads and such.

I've been here less than 2 years but I ask if anyone can spare the time and dig up some classic examples of stories and threads, and great back and fourth comment based conversations...

I realize this is difficult given the non-archival nature of HN but can anyone show a "then" versus "now" difference?

This feels like a demographic problem of a larger population dragging down the average. If that's the case, then some sort of curation (vote-weighting or otherwise privileging certain users' input over others) is probably necessary, because the overall level of dumbness, meanness, or mediocrity just isn't going to change that much in response to anything HN does. (I'd much prefer to be wrong about this. Any elitist solution seems regrettable.)

I wonder if this could be tested. Even something as simple as http://news.ycombinator.com/classic applied to comments would be interesting. Or let PG pick, say, a hundred users and let each of them pick an additional two or three. Could the software show us the site as it would appear if those users' votes counted for more? It seems to me it wouldn't take long to get a feel for whether it had helped or hurt.

Implement something like a recommendation system for comments.

Any time any two users vote on the same comment, the HN system should create a number representing the "affinity" between the two users.

This affinity should increase if the users voted the same way on that particular comment, and decrease if they voted differently.

Then, instead of displaying the number of upvotes or downvotes next to a each comment, what should be displayed should be the number of upvotes and dowvotes weighted by the affinity of each user who made that vote.

Comments should rise or fall using the formula HN uses now, except it should use affinity-weighted upvotes and downvotes.

In effect, in this system the other users are making "recommendations" on the comments they vote on. And their recommendations are weighted by how similarly their previous votes were to the votes you made.

This scheme results in every user seeing comments customized in a way that automatically infers their preferences.

So, if you prefer deep, insightful comments about technology, you'll presumably upvote those comments, and the affinity between you and the other users who upvoted those comments increases, and when they upvote future comments, the comments they upvote will be more likely to show up on your radar as they'll probably be closer to the top of the page and have a higher numerical score.

Conversely, those people who prefer brief, funny comments would similarly have the comments they see be displayed in a way that caters to their preferences.

Instead of trying to please everyone in a one-size-fits-all top-down approach, this is a more distributed approach which "recommends" to each individual user those comments which are likely to be preferred by that particular user.

Of course, this scheme is more computationally intensive than having the current system of simple, unweighted upvotes and downvotes, or even of manually curated/moderated comments. It also requires active upvoting and downvoting of comments by users for it to work well.

But the advantage of this is that the more users upvote and downvote, the more accurate the system gets in "recommending" comments to them. So implementing this system would provide an incentive for active participation.

It's also an automated, algorithmic system which should scale much better than proposals that require manual human intervention, such as implementing moderation/curation of comments.

A similar scheme could also be applied to articles, such that the HN backend would weigh articles based on the affinity between the user viewing the article list and the users who've voted on those articles.

After giving this a bit more thought, I realized that this scheme could be made even more decentralized by simply de-anonymizing votes and providing an API to HN that would allow fetching of the voter lists for each comment (and article).

Then each user would be free to use software running on their own machines to implement the comment recommendation scheme as described above.

In fact, HN wouldn't even need to de-anonymize the votes for this to work. All the HN servers would need to do is make available a list of unique user id's of the upvoters and downvoters. How those user id's map on to usernames wouldn't need to be revealed. But the user id's should remain consistent from comment to comment and article to article, so that the affinity number described in the original proposal could be consistently updated.

So, in this new proposal, each HN user would be assigned a unique id, and when they vote their id would be made available via the HN API along with the comment(s) they voted on when a given story's comments are downloaded for viewing.

Software running on a given user's local machine would then use the user id's and information on how those user id's voted to create a measure of affinity as described in the original proposal, and then sort, rate, or recommend comments accordingly.

I was just going to suggest decentralization. The core of HN is summing votes- a popularity contest. As the number of community members grow, the likelihood of a popularity contest working declines.

First of all, change is inevitable. The worst response is too much worrying about it and talking about how you would like things to be how they used to be. Users come and go so it will never be exactly the way it used to be. A good response is to embrace the change and make it work.

In this case the problem seems to be an influx of new users that don't completely understand what the site's about. It seems to me the best response is to more actively encourage good commenting from new users. My suggestion is inspired by stackoverflow. Over there, below a certain karma threshold, users must submit their edits to be reviewed by others. It might be beneficial to do the same thing for, say, a user's first 10 comments. They would submit a comment, a more experienced user reviews it and gives feedback if necessary. That way new users are forced to learn a little bit about what the community values in a comment.

I think it is about whether the identity of the HN community remains in tact. HN can survive as long as the identity (even if it morphs) remains something specific and associable. Reddit, for example still has a distinct identity/culture even though it is a very different one today than in 2007. Digg, for example, had less of an identity and culture. It was more of a "mainstream place". Reddit kept its quirks and its colorful users which made the place unique.

As long as there is an identity that people find distinctive at HN, I don't think it will die.

All of the suggestions here kind of fit into that paradigm for me....how do you control/preserve identity?

- You could give old timers more control (downvoting)

- You could give newcomers less control until they prove themselves (no account creation just to upvote your friend's post)

- Enlist help in keeping tracking/managing the pulse of the community (like reddit, which has multiple admins on the lookout for issues)

A well implemented following system could solve a number of problems. The most important feature of this would be to automatically create (or suggest) "follow" connections based on your upvotes. If I upvote someone a few times, suggest I follow them. Then, display comments from people I follow with some sort of marker.

This would give comments context. The site would in effect be saying "hey, you've read four or five comments by this person and thought they were sharp." or, "don't waste your time with this comment, you haven't liked their others." I don't know how many times I've read smart comments without actually connecting that they were all being written by the same person. It is only extremely good and prolific people who I actually recognize by hnname. This would help me find more.

This is really a reputation/karma system, but scoped per user instead of site wide. You can go further and trickle votes down the follow chain, so that the people who I follow follow also are part of my personal reputation network. This would help cut down the amount of interaction I have to do to make the following system useful. This is essentially page rank.

With this in place, HN can become a more personalized aggregator wherein the links and comments that are liked by the people you like are more often presented to you. It is quite possible this could create the equivalent of subreddits organically as the site's membership creates following chains interested in different things.

Now, this is a very technical solution to the problem, which means it probably isn't merited. I think that metafilter is probably one of the right guides to watch and that for them careful moderation has been key.

Also, there are a number of real problems with this solution, the first being that it significantly increases the risk of the echo-chamber as people start to be split in to like minded groups. I've thought about some ways to deal with these issues, but I don't feel like this post is the place for them.

I think that part of the solution may be to introduce a feature that would give users that reach certain karma thresholds the ability to give more and more points to a comment when upvoting.

For example: a newbie would only be able to assign one point to a comment he's upvoting, but a user over a certain threshold could assign two points. The user that has even more karma (and is over the next threshold) could assign three points and so on. Users should be able to decide how many points they want to give to each comment.

The same should apply to downvotes. Prominent HN users should be able to make their downvotes "hurt more" if they want to.

Also, these thresholds could be used for "downvoting penalties". For example, a newbie would lose 4 points when downvoting, but a user over the first threshold would only lose three and so on. Users with karma above one of the thresholds would no longer lose karma when downvoting.

I've seen this feature in other communities and, given enough time, comments get +10 or 0 in a 0..10 scale. So in the end it's basically the same.

Perhaps you're right about this, but the main point was to give prominent users more power when upvoting and downvoting. The idea was to make upvotes and downvotes of those on http://news.ycombinator.com/leaders count more than the votes of newbies. The reason why I suggested that users should be able to decide how much points they want to assign when voting is because, there may be situations when you find a comment interesting, and want to upvote it, but not so insightful that you would give it your maximum amount of points.

Every article from techcrunch and about techcrunch should get an automatic ranking penalty. Seriously. Techcrunch occasionally posts an article that's useful and warrants not banning them completely, but I don't think the community would lose anything by not having the average techcrunch article that gets posted here.

My previous comments on this issue:


I think the primary accelerator in the inevitable slide towards 4chan is anonymity. I've seen this in my own experience: I'm anonymous on reddit etc. but use my own real name (easily googled) when posting on hackerne.ws. And the difference is potent: on reddit I am much more of a jerk than I am on HN. I think this is fundamental nature: anonymity gives you license to release your inner jackass.

I think you should require all posters to use their real identities except with special permission.

I know the standard arguments against this: how to verify identities, valid reasons for being anonymous, etc., etc. But I don't think they're enough reason to avoid a simple measure which would keep the site much more relevant, polite, and personal.

I disagree that the quality is declining. I think you're just suffering a misapprehension of the quality of old.

Comments are certainly declining in quality. For example this thread from a submission I made a year ago:


The quality of discussion was much higher than on most posts today. And that was only a year ago.

Depends entirely on the post. Esoteric technical issues (as in the business model of advertising) have a higher level of debate than more relatable articles.

Compare it to some of the recent articles on Paywalls, there's almost no discussion of business models left.

Instead you have people ranting "content should be free", "paying is an outdated model", "the nyt are stupid" without any kind of coherent argument.

The way to save HN from its own success is to take it to the next level. You need to spin it up into a commercial enterprise. Improving the quality of HN, as it stands today, requires expenditure of human effort, either in the form of professional moderation, or some sort of AI-ish enhancement: pruning of message threads, credentialing users in more sophisticated ways, finding ways to bubble up story submissions that otherwise get lost.

No doubt some will find the commercial option distasteful, but I think the pure crowd-sourced option has run its course. Commercializing HN would allow further expansion, for instance splitting it into several areas of interest. Stackoverflow/StackExchange is a model for this. There is much value that can be added on to HN, as many Hackers have shown in the past with various projects.

Except that HN already has a commercial purpose: It serves the needs of Y Combinator in some ways. You cannot fill out an application without including your HN handle, everyone on the app has to have one (or get one if they didn't have one already), and Paul reads a lot of the comments here and often is familiar with the person to some degree via their online participation here and that influences decisions concerning who gets into Y Combinator. So whatever gets done here probably needs to be done with an eye towards not undermining that agenda. Making it a commercial enterprise could so radically change the game as to make it useless or even counterproductive for its existing business-related agenda. How much would HN have to be worth to make it acceptable to lose that? I think only PG and the rest of Y Combinator can answer such a question, and possibly only to themselves rather than publicly.

There are all sorts of ways HN could be monitized (which is what I meant by commercialized) without at all impacting its usefulness for evaluating Y Combinator applicants. I just think it will take real investment to upgrade HN, and if it's not monetized it's hard to justify that investment.

I've just been browsing through news page and I stumbled upon this:


In one of the comments on reddit ascheinberg wrote:

Like every single site like this, the problem is that the public is ready to ingest content faster than content becomes available, or rather, faster than worthy news is made, so in the lack of real gripping news, things of general interest fill the gap

So maybe we should try to slow things down by limiting number of votes/submissions per person per day?

If someone could submit only one story per day maybe he would do that more carefully?

The same applies to votes - with limited number of votes available someone would consider more carefully what to spend his votes on?

And as additional benefit making things slower on HN could have positive effect on our productivity ;).

Make a graph containing edges from each user to the comments they voted for, and from each comment its author. Then run something like PageRank on it and show the resulting ranks of both comments and users.

It would help with comment quality because it would make people compete for approval from high-quality users.

Few suggestions -

1. On top of comments section have one which is for recent comment. I think lot of people feel that once the post is around for 30 mins (for a fairly popular post), even if they have something good to say, it will just not reach audience.

2. Remove karma points completely, just hide them some place where no one will see them. Use them silently in the background to optimize things, but dont bring them at the center. Generally new comers to site want to rise to top (of whatever) because that way they will be taken seriously. This incentive drives people to just write anything

3. No karma for submissions. People submit any article and get 10-15 upvotes but lot of articles do not add any thing to HN.

4. I think there is already some threshold on upvotes, perhaps increase it? Only so many upvotes/downvotes/submissions in a day or even in an hour.

I'll second the removal of karma points, at least publicly.

There are some aspects of reputation systems which are useful for identifying misbehaving participants but I don't see any evidence of such use cases on HN. Yet the karma system encourages karma whoring which IMHO significantly reduces the SnR of contributions (both articles posted, and velocity and content of comments).

Maybe as a starting point the karma scores can be hidden from public view?

Comment quality here is still vastly higher than it is on most other sites frequented by programmers, designers or entrepreneurs, and higher than any other site (e.g. Wikipedia) of its size or larger. It's just really hard to maintain the quality of a site as big as the HN of 2011 when there are no significant barriers to participation by anyone with internet access and a basic command of the English language.

I humbly suggest that for the conversation to lead to HN's doing even better than HN has so far will require the participants in the conversation to verify that they are referring to the same thing when they write "comments that are (a) mean and/or (b) dumb", e.g., by the participant's providing actual examples (with the author's name removed) of comments they consider mean or dumb.

Question - is a YC class currently in session, or did a selection round just end? I am an outsider and do not know the routine, but what if you are seeing a seasonal effect caused by increased activity by YC hopefuls and participants before and after these periodic selection events?

To help improve the quality of comments, what if the OP's vote was weighted more than everyone else's? Their upvotes could be worth 3-5 instead of just 1 point.

An OP is motivated to keep their comment thread awesome: having better comments leads to more upvotes on the story. And, on a personal level, the OP would be less likely to upvote snark against their own story.

The obvious downside would be that the OP could effectively censor opposing ideas. However, I don't think this would happen that often: counterpoint comments generally do pretty well on their own, and would probably still rise to the top even without the OP's help. (Of course, the best OP's would recognize the benefit of discourse and promote these comments anyways... but not everyone is perfect)

Make voting transparent. Provide access to who has voted a comment up or down.

The community will act differently if they know others can see their behavior. Then again this may have negative effects.

I think that in general I'd be more thoughtful when voting comments up or down if I knew others could see.

How many people are going to scrutinize the voter list, or keep track of which people voted which way over time? And how many of the voters are really going to care?

I've probably voted thousands of times on various comments and articles on HN. Am I really going to care if someone sees that I voted this way or that way on some comment or other? I don't think so. I doubt many other people will either.

1) Provide an api (or release a dataset) and let people experiment with new ranking schemes.

2) The influence of your votes on ranking could be correlated to your relative importance in the community. You could do this with a simple PageRank where nodes are users and edges are votes.

Hide the username and vote count for comments with positive votes. Show the username and vote count for comments with negative votes. Users will be able to see the profile and username of a positive user by clicking on a "see profile" link in place of the username.

Charge people a (modest) sum to participate in HN. Say $10 a year. I don't know many regulars who wouldn't easily pay that money, but I doubt too many trolls would.

Not sure what is behind the paywall, e.g. commenting only, or commenting and upvoting. You can try a few combinations.

The timing of this post is amazing.

I'm by no means a prolific commenter on HN. If I have something of value to add I'll try to ask; otherwise I usually abstain (but I'm only human, made a few dumb comments)

I just saw another article, http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2404157

and the two comments on it were either bashing IQ, or talking about penis size.

I feel like maybe the reddit/4chan community has started reading HN?

I felt like posting a comment on that thread asking, nay begging, for someone to post something interesting as a followup to the kids question in the video, instead we have.. I just don't know.

And after saying that, I have no useful suggestion. Any feedback system that is implemented can still/will be gamed.

Just based on observations, not numbers: Any member can upvote and HN is more popular. There will be more upvotes to be distributed among comments. Early comments seem to be receiving more upvotes than late comments, regardless of the community. So, unqualified comments will be receiving more and more upvotes.

Did raising downvote limit to 500 made any difference in unfair downvoting? If so, giving upvoting to more qualified people will also solve this for some time, means we can focus on measuring the qualification.

Maybe we should be able to mark individual comments as unfairly upvoted. Higher unfairly upvoted scores might decrease the value of future upvotes of voters on that comment.

Uh oh. Over the past 6 weeks I've had the feeling of being liberated from my years-long Hacker News addiction. Now you want to fix it and suck me back in.

I'm surprised to see so much focus on the comments. I think the front page is the primary problem. I wonder how much of the comment problem would fix itself if the front page had more signal and less noise. Maybe that's naive.

Personalization is most certainly the wrong answer for HN, but when I thought last week of my ideal solution to the problem this is what I came up with:

1. Personalized weighted point calculations. Each vote is multiplied by a number which ranges from 0 to 2 in .1 increments. Everyone starts at 1. Everyone who up-votes the same story as me gets .1 added to their weight. Everyone who up-votes a story I down-vote gets .1 removed from their weight.

2. New users can't submit stories during an initial probationary period. They also start out at .1 and get .1 added to their weight each week they're active on the site. After 10 weeks of activity they can submit stories.

3. Weights are applied to comment rankings but not derived from them. Comment rankings also need to be much harsher. We want fewer comments and higher quality comments. Maybe ((weight*2) -.5) for calculating comment points. But the floor is always 0.

I don't know if ideas along these lines could be successfully de-personalized.

These ideas I think are mistaken:

1. Any notion of explicit control. Such as: hard coded karma values, comment size, non-bayesian content filters, etc. (New user probation being the 1 exception)

2. Anything based on unweighted karma values.

These ideas I'm suspicious of:

1. Economic solutions. They strike me as having the same problem as micro-payments. I don't want to have to think about how I'm spending my alloted money each time I up-vote or down-vote. Also the purpose of money is trading, not creating artificial scarcity. And even assuming the goal of artificial scarcity is worthwhile (I don't) then it implies some kind of hard-coded explicit control to determine purse size, which will always be a mistake.

David, I was coming to the same conclusions as well. One downside is that to the new user, the articles appearing would be what is considered interesting by the "average" user.

One way to counteract this is to have the new user match, say, pg's profile.

Every N times someone upvotes a comment, prompt the person with a reminder that good reasons for upvoting a comment are x,y,z, not a,b,c. One especially important thing for the latter category is "You agree with the content of the comment."

How about using the ratio of points to comments as a signal for articles, and maybe the ratio of up+down votes (i.e. number of votes, not net points ) to sub-comments for comments.

This gives you some of the effect of what I think would be the best solution -- limiting the site's scope significantly -- in that it would give you things which people found interesting but weren't so general that everyone felt they could comment on them.

I think this would work well in conjunction with some of the other ideas in the thread which reduce the number of upvotes people are likely to give (specifically, a cap on the number of upvotes and a visual cap on the display of upvotes).

You're trying to control the character of this site. It started in a good position, but has been slowly drifting. You can wait for it to change its course and find its way back to the sweet spot. Or do nothing and hope it finds a new position. These are both long shots and not very likely. The other way is to apply force to move it back where it was.

The content of this site is the average of community activities. If you want to increase the quality of content, you have increase the average quality of activities.

Moderation does this: removing low quality submissions increases the average quality. You could be more aggressive in moderation. Remove more comments. Take away commenting privileges temporarily for repeat offenders. Ban bad users.

Another option is giving trusted users 'megavotes,' worth more than 1 point. They can downvote that admittedly-funny-but-not-constructive comment to a more appropriate point value and upvote that other comment that's downvoted for no good reason. These users work to increase visibility and rewards of high quality content and decrease the visibility and rewards of low quality content. Hopefully this would work in a feedback loop to increase the natural average quality of content.

Both of these suggestions can help force the decline of mean, dumb, and inappropriately upvoted comments.

However, I think many will be wary of these suggestions because it can lead to bad things. I'm concerned too. Trusted users can abuse their power and destroy the feelings of community that have developed. Mistakes will be made and people will be upset.

But it needs to be done. Mistakes are mistakes. People find ways to get upset here everyday. Valuable members leaving already hurts the community.

Technical solutions won't cut it. Hacker News could be about coin collecting and the software could be exactly the same. The software does little to shape the community on a larger scale.

Ultimately, the average of the community is pushing in the wrong direction, so you need to push back by fixing the average to your favor. There may be better ways of doing this then what I've described, but it's time to pushing hard.

Make votes public.

I like this idea.

Also perhaps if a comment was controversial (i.e. lots of up and down votes), a list of the first users who upvoted it could be added next to the comment, e.g. "userA, userB, userC and 27 others upvoted this". That way, a stupid comment would be like the plague, nobody would want to be one of the first to upvote it (and therefore put their name next to it), and so it would quickly sink.

I've always imagined that this is why Quora mentions the voters for a question. Another aspect to that display of votes is that it shows up in the list of a users activities. Clicking on a profile could display the articles and comments that the user upvoted/downvoted. This would cause users who consider their reputation to be important to think twice before upvoting something less appropriate.

How about rather than down-voting, you allow people (possibly with some minimal karma) to delete comments if they violate the terms? If a comment is deleted, there would be a trace showing that there used to be a comment that got deleted by John. John's profile could then show all the comments he deleted, just like it now shows John's submissions and comments and anyone (perhaps with the same minimal karma) would be able to revive a frivolously deleted comment. Hopefully, that would mean that people would not delete comments unless they can stand for it.

But I'm pretty new to HN, so my comment may not take into account its evolution.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, limit the number of comments and submissions per user per day... See discussion here:


How about only upvoting comments of at least DH4 [1]?

Comments that state their ranking in your disagreement hierarchy are allowed to be upvoted above a threshold (say 5 karma points) if these comments are at least DH4. The remaining comments are questions, clarifications, suggestions, or plain old mean and/or dumb comments; they would remain below the karma threshold.

You could add an optional DH tag to each new comment and only enforce the threshold rule in an alternative "view" of the HN site (until you are happy with the results).

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

Simple and easy suggestion: above the textbox on the reply page, add some guidance on tone and behaviour. Like,

    'Please refrain from making mean-spirited comments,
    we like to maintain a positive atmosphere at HN;
    and if you are planning to crack a joke, you might want 
    to think twice as jokes here are usually downvoted unless
    they're *particularly* amusing.
Or whatever you think's more appropriate. The problem to me seems that general bitchy behaviour is the norm on internet IT forums, so people come here thinking it's ok. Maybe they just need a little guidance.

May I suggest going back to earlier time of HN? Because of the success, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. You have to always increase the number of moderators as the input from users increases. We are all here to read/discuss pretty much the same news. Why not have a chosen few provide the links and start discussions. Maybe the moderators themselves? This will cut down on duplicate links/stories and it will cut down the noise tremendously. Those who are truly interested in HN, will stick around and discuss. Those who are not, will simply go find their news somewhere else.

430+ comments on a Sunday. One might say that for HN'ers, the quality of posts comes in at a close second to having this community of peers to converse with, argue with, share with and even make lame jokes with.

pg: allow more people to downvote. For example I have 409 points of karma, yet I do not have the right to downvote.

Or perhaps assign more weight to upvotes/downvotes from members with a high karma, than those with a lower karma.

I think it would be interesting to have to say why you up or down voted something, along with the vote. Make the reasons public, so people can see how the system is being used, and then publish guidelines based on the aggregate results that give people an indication of the best way to use the system.

It would probably not be ideal to publicly publish names along with reasons, since this might encourage flame wars about why people voted in certain ways. However, perhaps there could be more private means of dealing with people who consistently misuse/abuse the system.

What about making the points of a comment be multiplied for a factor depending on you karma?

That way comments from users with good reputation having comments with more points by default. I know this makes the rich richer, but that's the way PageRank works too. If your karma/reputation doesn't make you to be heard more, what's the point of karma anyway?

This isn't really a reputation system, or if it is, the reputation is comment-based and not user-based. I don't see the karma of a user when they comment. I would need to click on the link of their name, what I never do.

Something slashdotty -- i.e. qualitative moderation, not just quantitative moderation -- would help. If you had seperate upvote buttons for "amusing" and "informative", this could factor into sorting.

This is a separate issue, but one thing that is not perfectly clear to me is what an upvote/downvote is supposed to mean. Does it mean that I agree with the comment, or that it adds to the discussion?

I think it would be an interesting experiment to add clearly labeled agree/disagree buttons in addition to upvote/downvote.

I'd look at how different users respond to different articles? Do they click on the article? Do they comment? Do they come back to the site after they see the article? Do they vote for the article.

Next, you can correlate how various people voted with whether a specific person will like the article and/or comment. Finally, you should be able to tell who will like or not want something to get voted up. At this point, you can customize for everyone or weight the influence of people based on well correlated their taste is with the top karma people.

There's one problem that's similar to reddit. Although there are guidelines (or reddiquite) you need to go out of your way to find them. Sure, clicking a link isn't that tough, but it's not automatic either.

I wonder what would happen the guidelines or some sort of one-page community code of conduct were displayed when you actually created an account. Would that give users a better set of expectations? Or would they just click throug it like a EULA?

Maybe force existing users to click through it one time as a friendly reminder when the feature is introduced.

A guidelines link in the header would be a good idea.

It would be nice to be able to click a button to inform the poster, discreetly, that the comment exhibits negative qualities like:

    unclear connection to parent
    factual errors

Discretion is necessary to encourage people to address and fix the problems with their comments and style rather than provoking them to guard their reputation.

Sending individual emails is effective at this, but takes too much time and energy. Being able to click a button that gives a commenter specific feedback could be very effective.

Delete humorous one-liners vigorously, especially ones that get lots of upvotes.

Lots of other good suggestions in this thread but I don't see this one.

I hope you can turn it around, I've gotten a lot of value from this site.

Have you considered adding a down vote button like Reddit has? I know you can flag comments above a certain karma level but I think that either giving everyone the option to down vote or having a lower karma threshold to down vote would allow the community to regulate itself.

Just a thought, but it seems to have worked for Reddit. This puts a lot of responsibility on the community to keep the quality of the discussions up, but I think enough people on here care about the quality of the community to help out.

There is a downvote button - it too has a karma threshold. See: http://i.imgur.com/EBYAe.png

IMHO, that hasn't worked so well for Reddit.

Bayesian filtering for comments based on downvotes, with failing comments requiring moderation by a human. My guess is that most mean/dumb/ad-hominem comments use the same words/phrases as other mean/dumb/ad-hominem comments.

To prevent moderation becoming a bane on non-spamming users, the threshold could be set to .05 or .10. (or .95/.90, depending on which way you train the filter.)

It worked for email when spam was a massive problem; perhaps it can work for comments while they're still only s small problem.

As a user of HN for pragmatic (read: non-timewasting) reasons, here's what I want to see on HN in this order:

1) Useful plugins, technologies, tools, or resources for development. 2) New Platforms (hardware, app store, device) or policy (privacy) changes. 3) Inspiring projects, stories, or news. 4) Cool science, physics, math, or other explanations and stories.

TBH - most popular HN stories cause knee-jerk reactions but have little content.

Maybe a specific 'work' filter would prioritize links into these categories?

Get rid of karma.

I think the best you can do in news.arc is to experiment with various forms of throttling (i.e., the first link/comment vote = 1, the second slightly less than one, and so on). Beyond that, it might require you to play the role of benevolent dictator and kill user accounts that consistently engage in nasty behavior. The most extreme option would be to shutdown HN and spawn a small number of child HN-style sites, each with a narrower focus.

Base moderation on a points system, a la Slashdot. Grant a user one (or three or 6.5 or n) mod point every time another user replies to one of his comments.

The effect this has is twofold. It grants some incentive to posters who start comment threads, rather than making just single comments which are likely to strike more users' upvote chords. It also reduces the tendency to blindly upvote or downvote based on agreement or for dumb humor.

How about giving users two upvote buttons. The second one appears X seconds after the first one has been hit. Because really great comments, I've noticed, often provoke first: yeah, good. And then, later: wow, that was really really good. I wish I could upvote it again. (the second upvote can have a different meaning)

Google Hotpot does something like this, limiting the number of Really Great votes you can make with unlimited +1's.

Give high-karma users more power to downvote: if you downvote a comment, click the now-red downvote button again to add e.g. <your karma>/500 extra_downvotes. At any time, a comment with extra_downvotes has min(#extra_downvotes, max(0, #points) / 2) fewer points than it would otherwise have.

Some examples:

- "good": tptacek likes something and gives +1 point - he has no more power than anyone else to upvote

- "bad": RiderofGiraffes downvotes for -1 point

- "crap": RiderofGiraffes thinks a comment at -2 is mean, and downvotes twice. The comment is now at -3, since extra_downvotes do nothing on comments with zero or fewer points.

- "popular crap": tptacek double-downvotes a 17-point comment to 8 points. Two 2000-point (top-1000?) double-downvoters could also get it to 8.

- "ridiculously popular crap": tptacek and RiderofGiraffes hate a 302-point comment. tptacek double-downvotes it to 176; RiderofGiraffes double-downvotes to 150 (half of #upvotes - #downvotes = 300); lots of others also lend their extra_downvotes. The comment stands at 150 and upvotes have half effect.

I think this proposal strikes a nice balance: users with high (500+) karma can better help keep the crap out; extremely-high-karma users get a bit more power (only a bit - realistically, tptacek will typically remove something like five points from a popular-but-crap comment since others also have extra_downvotes).

More importantly, "normal" users still run the site (that 150-point comment is still at the top of the page, and no amount of extra_downvotes is going to dislodge it). If you're going to cry "democracy", remember that the only current way of dealing with popular crap is [dead] - losing half your comment karma is not that harsh. And, again, people with lots of karma are apparently interesting.

Note that points and extra_downvotes must be tracked separately; otherwise, people would want to wait until a crap comment has gained some points to make their extra_downvotes more effective.

Finally, two tweaks: it may be a good idea to let only comment karma count for extra_downvotes purposes, and it may be a good idea to allow extra_downvotes on submissions.

It's a pity that no-one is going to see this comment...

[Note: HN handles used for illustration only, I'll happily remove them if you'd like.]

pg, you could present cleaned data in a Netflix Prize-style challenge. Let the hackers see the patterns in the data (whether bad upvotes are coming from new users, from old users without a lot of karma, etc) and make the prize be XX minutes of your attention (or money).

It seems like a lot of the comments on this thread are asking for more information -- or at the very least working from very different personal experiences.

Vote scarcity. The way all these karma systems work now is that you, the user, have unlimited votes. But ask yourself, when did you ever value anything you had unlimited quantity of? There needs to be some limit to the number of up or down votes a user can cast in any given time frequency or other metric. The key point is to make votes 'cost' something.

Also, weighted votes based on the karma of the user casting said vote.

One idea is that you would only allow users with X month old accounts to comment. X is simply the time since you started noticing the decreasing quality of comment threads, with perhaps a small buffer added onto that time.

This would still allow everyone else to utilize HN as their source of news or as their RSS feed into the tech/startup world, while testing for the source of the decreasing quality of comment threads.

How about having an additional metric in terms of responses to a post? If it doesnt deserve a response, it probably doesnt add much to the discussion.

It's a solved problem already, a new /classic/ every two years. Looking forward to /classic/classic/, since /classic/ has really gone downhill lately.

There are a lot of responses to this question and I haven't read all of them, so I apologize if somebody has said this already, but the answer is dead simple: HN has gotten more popular! That's it. If I must state the obvious, this translates to a lower average IQ because the larger the degree of separation from the original creators of the forum, the lower intellectual density gets.

In the guidelines, ask people to write titles that try to summarize the content of the linked page. Think of titles as micro-abstracts.

You could even change the 'title' field in the submission form to 'description' (with its content limited to fairly small number of characters, of course. e.g. < 100).

Of course I'm just speculating about the potential value of this, but it might indirectly help a little.

(a) follows from (c), and (c) is trivial to fix by anonymizing the comments before they are voted on. Way, way, waaay too much fanboyism is going on HN and selected few users get all their comments voted up regardless of the merit. Fix this and the rest will follow.

PS. I'm 3000+ karma, 3+ year HN user posting from public terminal in a hotel, hence the anon account. My apologies.

on that note, i wonder if completely anonymous would be interesting. what would it be like if there was no notion of identity at all?

what if you had reputation presented per comment, but no public identity?


Threat upvotes/downvotes as currency and limit the amount of coins someone has in one day. If you have only five upvotes per day, you are going to start to think about how to spend them.

Closed doors, but glass walls.

Reading should be open to everyone, participating should not. No more new sign up unless they have an introduction or they submit a request and we can have a way of letting certain users approve.

There needs to be a better system of moderation. Perhaps highlighting moderators and/or allowing people to apply to become one.

Personalise the front-page? Add a weighting that pushes up contributions posted by users whos previous contributions I have upvoted, on the basis that there's a chance we share similar interests if I consistently upvote their contributions. It could also push up articles that users I've previously upvoted have commented on.

Add a mechanism that encourages people to think before upvoting, like a karmic bank account. Maybe someone could upvote twice for every once they were upvoted. It could reduce the common reflex of upvoting a short/witty comment; with only so many upvotes to give, you'd want to "invest" in comments that really earned it.

All of the suggestions listed involve changing some mechanic of the site. Some of them are quite good though (I think voting based on karma is neat).

My theory: Internet marketers descend on online communities that are popular. Possible solution: No follow on frontpage stories with less than X upvotes or no follow all frontpage stories.

Here's an idea I've seen on other sites: before a comment is approved, the poster has to go through a page that contains general posting guidelines. Often it seems people write something quickly, without stopping to think whether it might be offensive. This would give them an extra chance to censor their contribution.

How about a rotating group of admin users? Every 30 days a new batch of X users with greater than N karma get to bury/downvote/ban poor quality submissions/comments. This group would be forcibly rotated so that you don't get the "entrenched elite" problem.

It would encourage admins to be wise and for others to respect their wisdom.

Have you thought about scaling the effect of an upvote based on the number of words that a comment has? Of course there are implementation details that you would have to worry about but I could see that encouraging longer more thoughtful commentary and penalizing snarky 5 word answers that garner easy upvotes.

If I had a way to improve the quality of HN but that would require a complete overhaul of the voting system, extensive testing, and slightly more work by 5%-20% of users, do you think people would go for it?

My feeling is that things aren't bad enough for radical change here yet, but if the right 5% are, it might be possible.

I would recommend getting rid of up-voting and positive karma. People make pithy comments in order to get positive karma. Same reason for meme threads.

The real reason for a karma mechanic on HN is to filter out incredibly stupid comments. So keep down-voting. Things that are down-voted should go to the bottom of the stack.

On Maemo News we solved this by enabling downvoting of submissions (well, aggregated feed items), and by making downvotes worth 5 upvotes.

The unpleasant side-effect has been a slight tendency to shoot the messenger by downvoting relevant-but-unpleasant news. But in general it has helped with story quality

Comments that are legitimate and well thought out often get downvoted if they disagree with the popular opinion, but "me too" posts that agree with popular opinion get voted up.

HN should make it clear that voting should reflect the value a comment adds to the conversation and not whether you agree/disagree.

You may be doing this already as it seems pretty obvious to me, but you could give more weight to comments based on their length. In general the most insightful comments are longer than poorer dumb comments. Also be more firm on the shouldn't appear on mainstream news sites rule

Stop accepting new members for awhile.

Count clicks on articles.

I've found the title of the article is fairly representative of how much I enjoy reading it. If this is true for others, why try to force us to upvote articles? Just count the clicks and use that as a strong weight in rankings. Is it currently analysed at all?


Maybe the fact that there's no separation of topics is part of the problem? Right now it's just one big comment bucket. Maybe some categories of posts so that off-topic stuff can be ignored would be really helpful. Right now, it's just one big stream of consciousness.

Idea 2. Restrict memberships like Gmail invitations.

Give finite invitations to your YCombinator classes and alumni. Have them pass out invites to people they know. Give out more invites when you think you need them. At least this reroots the site back in the "Startup News" seed.

I upvoted this but disagree. My first submission to Hacker News was an Ask HN[1]. Since that day I have been working hard to follow the advice I was given there. I can't express how valuable the advice was to me. Under your suggestion, that would be impossible.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2069477

I just wanted to float this option out there for discussion to see if people thought a tighter clique would be better. I would also be cut out of the community if it were invitation-only.

I note that the /old experiment (a Hacker News whose voting data set was limited entirely to accounts > 1 year old) demonstrated no obvious improvement in quality.

It seems to be entirely a question of the public choice of what is acceptable content to submit.

How about calculating comment and submission scores as log(sum(karma of upvoters) - sum(karma of downvoters)), while the way individual karma is calculated would stay the same (that is, total number of upvotes minus total number of downvotes)?


Isn't that what downvotes are supposed to be for?

I don't think so. Up vs down is a 1-D dispute. Categories add dimensionality.


With an auto-flagging system, a comment might get stomped out by a small number of trolls.

I kind of like how YouTube does their voting system (showing both the number of upvotes and the number of downvotes).

The main issue seems to be that comment quality is decreasing, so you could always try my honeypot idea: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2352247 :)

I also think some varient of the honeypot might be worth experimenting with. Perhaps instead of blacklisting, pg should do something more forgiving like throttling their request handling to give them plenty of time to think about what they've just said.

Perhaps karma should be subject to gravity. Login is required to view HN. Submitting comments and links is expensive while lurking is cheap. Perhaps 5 karma points buys you a comment or submission; 1 karma/min to lurk.

Just as we [ought to] only make things customers would pay for, we should only submit things users would pay to read. While Hacker Monthly does do this in some fashion, I don't think we should have to pay with monetary currency--but in cpu time.

1/ The point of the karma system, as far as a user is concerned, is to increase one's karma number.

2/ External values such as "democratic" likely oppose the actual objectives of HN.

3/ Within HN culture, there is an element of gate-keeping.

having been here for a few years, i feel that any time i comment or post anything interesting it will be downvoted. unless your a rockstar having an opinion doesn't count.. expecting downvotes...

Explicitly ban bots.

This will get rid of some of the (b) comments from bot sock puppets.

Perhaps the karma for submitting articles should be separate from the karma for comments. I know when I was out to build karma I focused on submissions because there wasn't a downside.

Limit comments and/or submissions and/or votes to a few per day.

I really like the /classic front page view. Could we try a similar comment view as well, with votes only counted from users who've been here for at least a year?

pg, how much have you played around with simple weights of upvotes vs downvotes? Eg, making a downvote worth -1.1 and an upvote worth +1.0.

Add a story downvote at a very high karma threshold.

How about a "suggest an edit" button? Maybe senior members can suggest

# more polite language

# removal of irrelevant bits

# removal of memes

and hopefully this would encourage newbies to write better comments.

I almost launched a site that was meant to compete with HN. Here was the strategy to take you over:

Note: Thanks to Incubomber.com members and Aaron Burrow for coming up with these ideas.

The specific problems that were being addressed:

1. Karma is given for link aggregation instead of content creation. Consider the user that is lucky enough to be the first to realize that you have posted a new essay on PaulGraham.com. That user will instantly post the link on Hacker News, and is guaranteed to gain a ton of karma. But aren't you more deserving of that Karma?

2. Community bias crushes the little guy. It seems that a bot is constantly running on Hacker News that matches titles against the regular expression "`YC ?[WS]?\d{2}`i" and automatically adds karma until it reaches the home page. But what makes news about a Y Combinator startup any more interesting than another startup? Some power users have a similar effect on the community. This predisposition makes it excessively difficult for unknown users to establish themselves.

3. Up votes are given where up votes are not deserved. It’s hard to blame the users, though. If someone makes a hilarious submission, it certainly deserves some recognition. Similarly, if someone reiterates a widely known fact, it still feels right to express agreement. Unfortunately the only way to communicate these feelings is by placing an up vote, which is not the proper way to place votes and detracts from the quality of the community.

The solution was Anonymerit.com (Never launched, but one of us may get to it eventually.)

Anonymerit.com Eliminating Bias While Evaluating Credibility

What is Anonymerit? Anonymerit is a new type of community where submissions earn merit anonymously. At the end of each month, the top submissions will be compiled and published with their author revealed (optionally). (Kudos to Hacker Monthly, we may have swiped this from you)

How does Anonymerit work? Anonymerit is focused on content creation rather than content aggregation. All submissions and comments are the original work of their author, but Anonymerit will withhold their identity. Submissions are kept anonymous so the community can evaluate the content's credibility without introducing bias towards "noobs" or "power users," a symptom that plagues many communities as they become more established.

To evaluate a submission, users can participate in two polls with simple plus ('+') and minus ('-') options. The first poll evaluates the popularity of a submission. In general, this is used to determine if the community agrees with a post. The second poll evaluates the merit of a submission. For this poll, a '+' is used to indicate that the submission was thought provoking, informative, and insightful. A '-' is used for submissions that focus on widely known ideas, or are simply reposted content.

This separation is imperative because it allows users to quickly express their feelings at a granular level. The total scores can reveal that a submission is generally disliked but still worth reading, or that nearly everyone agrees but the content is already well-established and does not need to be reiterated.


A monthly publication combined with anonymous postings is awesome. The publication is required because it motivates people to post their original content on HN rather than their own sites. Entrepreneurs, knowing that investors will inevitably be reading the publications, would kill to write quality content that makes it into the publication. This same fact also serves as motivation to properly vote and comment on submissions. YC already has a huge name, but imagine how much bigger it can be with a renowned publication.

The anonymous aspect is good because it lets people post anything without the fear of being stomped on by PG. In the end, you're only really looking for the best, and you can still find that through the publication. It's a win win.

I like this idea.

Paul, what about using StupidFilter to filter out trolls?


Have a hard tech theme day once a month, like Erlang day. Let's do Scala Day tomorrow!

Why are mean comments posted? Answer: because they are massively upvoted. People like Karma, and Karma is a useful tool to teach newbies how to act, by giving them shining examples of excellent posters/posts voted on by the community.

Why are mean comments upvoted? Answer: I don't know.

People learn how to act on HN by watching what gets upvoted, listening to the tone of discussions, and reading the submitted articles. Presumably, the unwanted comments are being made by new members of the community. Somehow, these new members were not properly taught by the community. In which step were they not properly taught?

I would like to submit three possible problems, along with three possible solutions.

1) The problem is in the voting system. Mean comments are being upvoted, and the senior members of the community are largely powerless to stop these comments. Sure, they can downvote, but they are just one vote, and there are still many more junior members who will upvote the mean comment. If you believe that: Senior members know what's best for the community, these members are senior because they have high karma, these members have high karma because the community has voted that these people know best. Weighing a vote by the karma of the user who made that vote would solve the problem of mean comments being upvoted.

2) The problem are the stories that make it to the front page. Mean comments and the votes they receive are a symptom. The users who upvote are getting their social cues from the stories they read on the front page. Broad requirements on stories that are HN worthy allow for a wide variety of stories to get posted to HN. This is good for somebody who sifts through the 'new' section, but it also means that the only stories that get massively upvoted are stories that have general intersections between all of our interests. Evidence seems to show that the most common shared interest is gossip, which is conveniently unwanted by the community. The solution in this case, is to make stricter requirements about what stories are allowed.

3) The problem is that bad apples will always exist no matter what you do. At the moment, the easiest place for bad apples to exist is on the front page of HN. Unfortunately, this is also the place a lot of normal users like to exist. Perhaps a sandbox could be made for the bad apples to hate each other, and allow the normal users to exist in separate but equal lives. Unfortunately, this seems to go against the HN spirit, and I can't think of any useful ideas on how to implement such a sandbox without it sounding like a subreddit.

Finally I would like to add: I like that HN takes the time for these self analysis every now and then. But, I think it's important to remember that we don't know what's best for us. The mere fact that we will upvote the type of content we don't want shows this.

This leads me to reiterate a comment best stated by idoh: "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."

Have a captcha-like box at the bottom of "submit" with methods that need to be written for some giant program created by the community. The interface that gets implemented could be selected by the community.

I agree that the tone of comments is quite "mean"

what is the best example of a comment that is mean and/or dumb that got massively upvoted?

as a last resort you can always stall HN for 1 month.

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

This is a radical idea probably without merit but small incremental steps to improve the quality of submissions & comments are short term fixes to deeper problems. What are the root cause(s) of poor quality responses?


Good behaviour in any group is important if you encourage identity. I tried hard in any sites I've joined to stick by the spirit of the group because my identity is tied to anything I say. What would joining HN be like with no identity and zero reputation. A place where there is high competition for submissions and few examples of what is really expected of you? The only sign post I see is karma some FAQ's on behaviour - but who reads those? My behaviour is effected by those around me who in all reality want to improve their standing through karma. Progress is measured by a score that is derivative of what I do, who cares about the outcome. Make identity meaningful. SO does this well. Users are recognised and rewarded. The hard bit is HN isn't binary.


I join sites like HN because of the quality gap on the web. The only other way I can do this is directly interact with fellow entrepreneurs. HN fulfils this purpose. HN also is about things that interest hackers. That was the intent, discuss new ideas, intelligently. HN is a lot like the LME discussing the effects of X on Y, substituting copper for ideas, effects of conflict on price for execution of product. What happens when the purpose is subverted or unfulfilled?


Who reads and contributes in HN matters. I don't recognise the readers I started with. As the audience drifts the early adopters leave as the utility of HN drops. A lot of good hackers started here but will probably leave or have left. This is a real problem. Hackers leaving is a signal that things are broken or that the usefulness has been reached. Hackers are really sensitive to certain types of audiences, especially non-technical. Like frogs, Hackers leaving HN might be a sign the audience is polluted with the wrong type of users.


HN is fundamentally broken. We already know this. It's not a new problem. But something has to fundamentally change to address user identity and utility. Encourage good behaviour by looking at [Identity]: the need to fit in, contribute, improve and [Utility]: the reason users contribute and not get bored or get up to mischief, leave.


Entry needs to be set higher than it currently is. Where else of value is entry a handle, email and time enough of a measure of worth? I would put a concrete intellectual challenge in the form of some writing, say 500 words in their profile. For extra credit a link to a site the post exists. The purpose is twofold. Create a baseline set of information that can be classified through code and used to judge the quality of the HN user. Users could game this if they wanted but a quick check against a post on a users website could avert this. This benchmarks each user.


All subsequent posts are measured against their score. Submission scores are scored against their benchmark.


Make a real purpose for staying on at HN. Encourage interested HN users to also submit to apply to YCombinator, even if they think they don't fulfill the criteria to make them improve. Tie identity to purpose by making contributing to HN a part of submitting to YCombinator. Give some real purpose. Make being on HN way beyond just submitting links, making stupid comments and watching your score.

I believe the decrease of 'quality' is due to the failure of HN to create a society of like-minded people. This failure is on two levels. Firstly, the open voting system and comments drive has a tendency to revert to the mean. Secondly, HN needs to create hackers the way a school creates students. I realize there is an anti authoritarian streak among hackers but a geek club is pretty exclusive in its taste. New members have to be "schooled" into the ways of a hacker. In real life, it is impossible to have a town hall meeting where everybody talks at once, but HN is already bigger than a town hall.

I believe Quora does rather well in this respect because it encourages longer, considered posts. The (fast) rate of decay on the front page partially contributes to the problem because it models a news site, rather than a technical discussion site, where most techniques and approaches remain timeless.

Here are some possible approaches:

1. Encourage longer answers and comments at the top level. This can be either implemented as a simple word limit, or automatically placing longer comments at the top of the comments list.

2. Recycle old posts which have good comments. This should fix the disincentive for people to provide long-lived answers.

3. Make HN a "not" news site. This means that the incubation period is longer before posts make it to the front page. Unless something has a long term value, it will less likely be voted up because the reader would have already seen and discussed it on TC, Reddit, Digg etc..

4. (option to #3). Have posters classify whether the post is a news or a technical discussion one. News links will have a different rate of decay, and will occupy limited number of spots on the front page. Furthermore, these posts will not be recycled.

5. Require a link to be submitted with some comments. This is to encourage submitters reason like hackers do. Provide some guidance - e.g. does this news contain some data? What are the insights/inferences one might draw from this? Does this article discuss a problem domain? Does the post illustrate an assumption that is subject to hacking? What is your personal take on this? It also acts as a disincentive for people to submit links without giving the topic due consideration. I recall that eHarmony was very succesful in its early days because internet dating sites usually have more men than women. By subject the men to a barrage of interview questions, eHarmony was able to maintain a balance between the male and female participants. I thought this was a great hack.

6. Implement some sort of disincentive for upvoting of inane comments. For an example, do an automatic Quora-style follow, where you will start to see this person's comments at the top of the comments page. Make it difficult to "unfollow" (say three clicks). It will encourage people to be more careful about polluting their personalizations.

Simple, tie board participation more closely with YC application scores. What were you thinking?

Stop trying to rely on the hive to vote good stories to the top. Either the democratic approach doesn't work or HN is getting gamed - either way the site is now effectively broken.

A decision has to be made from the top about what HN is all about. If it's startups and business then that's the only type of story allowed. Everything else gets dumped. I don't need another Reddit.

Mods would need strict guidelines about what qualifies and everything even slightly outside of these guidelines gets turfed.

oh and get rid of karma. It's bs. Encourages hivemind like nothing else.

eli_s, I would submit that the hive is able to distinguish good from bad around the origin but once points get very high, votes are self-amplifying.

In other words, what gets 500 votes isn't much better than what gets 300 votes. But what gets 100 votes is much better than what gets 5 votes.

I think it is very likely that there are voting rings and sock puppets here on HN. If so, it would cause a distortion in the scores awarded to all the content, sometimes up or down, depending. Therefore anything that helps fight that would improve the site by more honestly gauging the quality of submitted posts and comments, which then improves the S/N ratio.

How to do this exactly? Not sure. But I'm confident that fighting it more will improve any site.

Admit defeat and just use the slashdot system. For all its trolls and failings slashdot still has the best crowdsource comment moderation system on the interwebs.

The Slashdot System

- Comments start at +1 and can range from -1 to +5 only

- Mod points are limited and distributed randomly as needed

- Only members with good karma are eligible for mod points

- Mod points must be used within 24 hours

I would distribute uniformly rather than randomly.

Make commenting cost 2 karma.

Comment scores should either follow the opinion of the elite (role models, learn-from-the-best) or your "peers" (like snide remarks? go ahead).

Currently it's the tyranny of majority. Suggestion for b (possibly intensive processing): Change comment display order depending on your previous voting.

The problem is the constant refreshing of stories on the front page. I need to visit a few times a day to have some idea as to what is going on.

If the refresh rate was slower, or the ability for a story to get to the front page would take longer then I would visit less.

At a guess most of the dub/mean comments get made by people who visit many, many times a day and comment out of boredom.

Some method to slow down the entire system would slow down all the posters and would result in longer posts rather than a bunch of witty one liners. Why would anyone go to the trouble of writing an in depth response to anything when it will be gone in three hours.

Increase the quality of the articles and you will increase the quality of the comments.

At least HN doesn't have youtube quality comments yet. :)

Agree that there is a problem with comments, but there is also a problem with terrible or duplicate articles getting to the front page. I'd like the ability to downvote articles and we should all patrol duplicates - only allow linking to primary sources, etc.

It's not all bad, but I've noted a disturbing trend of dogpile upvoting and downvoting.

What about taking away downvoting? It would change the dynamic, at least. I suppose it doesn't solve the problem of stupid posts and comments being upvoted.

Karma threshold for upvotes. Higher for topics than comments.

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