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If we're going to open a new dialog on this:

Has anybody noticed the drastic decline in quality of links and comments in the last month or so? I think one of the problems is that, without comment scores, new users don't have feedback from the community on how they're supposed to act. There's no way for them to learn the culture.

So it's September, but with no way to tell the new students to mind their manners.

Bad comments are still grey.

People can see their own comment scores.

HN is still in decline, but I don't think it's worse than when it had public scores.

Meanwhile, not having up-to-the-minute scores makes the site more pleasant to participate in; one isn't prodded to make statements in reaction to ludicrous (and likely ephemeral) voting swings.

I would like to see some evidence of this decline.

Here is my alternate theory:

It isn't obvious that 'the decline' is really anything other than selective memory. The good posts are memorable because they are good. The crappy posts are uninteresting and forgotten.

So if you look at HN and you see a bunch of stuff that you are not interested in on any given day, you compare it to the good stuff (that you actually remember), and you say 'what is all of this crap.'

This is exacerbated in older users, as they have seen more really great posts that they can compare everyday crap to.

It is like comparing a single random day of your life to the combined highlights of the last 4 years of your life. With that comparison and no perspective about what you are actually comparing. (So its kind of like being in a committed relationship).


So I can't honestly say that I have hard evidence of a decline in HN.

There are a few things that annoy me about internet discussions in general, on sites like this, which I would like to eliminate. These are on the level of pet peeves, however. I'll give a few:

1.) Rapid back and forth of 1 liners and memes.

2.) I spend 1/2 hour or so composing and editing a rather in-depth post, and no one sees it.

This happens either because that thread has been pushed off of the front page, or the thread is already filled with comments which are only a couple lines, and while they may be reasonable and appropriately toned, seem to me to be a superficial analysis...

3.) Multiple articles on the same topic, all making it to the front page, even they don't really add anything to each other. It would be cool to merge articles/threads on the same topic.

4.) Blog links that do nothing but redirect to another blog or article. i.e. "x y has posted on y z; here's a link"...

5.) edit: Here's another: Karma is directly proportional to how early you post in the thread (by virtue of time being linear and people only visiting a thread a certain number of times).

There are more, but I can't think of them at the moment.

> 5.) edit: Here's another: Karma is directly proportional to how early you post in the thread (by virtue of time being linear and people only visiting a thread a certain number of times).

Though not perfect, an incomplete solution to the timing issue you mentioned is already in place. A new comment can show up at the top for a while, but the karma and age of the account may be weighting factors to prevent trolls from getting the top spot. The position of the comment degrades over time, and of course, how fast it degrades depends on points it receives. This doesn't work perfectly, but it's better than nothing.

That explanation works until you see crap that categorically would have been voted to -8 and beyond in the old days. Crap like this in particular: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2534082

> Meanwhile, not having up-to-the-minute scores makes the site more pleasant to participate in; one isn't prodded to make statements in reaction to ludicrous (and likely ephemeral) voting swings.

I feel the same. The change makes the site a bit harder to consume - particularly, skimming-quickly-for-a-couple-good-points is harder.

But it makes the site much nicer to participate in. First, I don't feel the need to reply to mean, nasty, or incorrect replies to me unless I have something to add. Second - and I think this is really nice - voting has become less about promoting an argument or viewpoint and more about saying "thanks for this" or "less of this, please" - I find myself voting up thoughtful stuff I disagree with more often now, and voting less frequently overall.

Personally, I'd say the site is harder to consume efficiently now, but more pleasant to interact with.

Agree completely.

If you think about it, "harder to consume quickly," as annoying as it is, is exactly what was needed to fix "the decline of HN." It helps filter out the linkporn because the people who participate are the ones who stay to enjoy the whole experience.

I'm finally finding more links on the front page that lead to lengthy articles I actually want to bookmark on instapaper and read later.

If you think about it, "harder to consume quickly," as annoying as it is, is exactly what was needed to fix "the decline of HN."

I have to disagree. I used the comment scores exactly for this, to "consume quickly". Well, yes, there's only so much time I can spend on HN and being able to figure out which posts seem to be highly valued was helpful.

Most of the time I would read the discussion of the article before the article itself. Sometimes from the discusson I could see that the article would not interest me. Sometimes the discussion was so thorough that there would be no need to read the article at all.

Now I generally read the top comment and decide on that. It's good, because it saves even more time. It's bad, because I'm most likely missing on a lot of content.

Maybe eventually I'll get to the point when I open HN once in a few days for a few minutes and close again. That will save time, but a lot of interesting content will be missed.

Could you please explain what you mean with 'linkporn'? WikiPedia doesn't know the term and Google gives only links to porn (which is probably not what you mean).

I can speculate, but I might be wrong. Maybe you mean something like 'liberally littering articles with links' or even 'linking to one's own blog, even when the link is irrelevant'?

I was thinking more like what you would see on Reddit, a lot of temporarily attractive/gratifying links that hold little long-term value. Great for attracting the masses and short-term traffic, but the exact reason people have been leaving this site in droves.

Also, a lot of people on Reddit blatantly talk about their intent to farm more karma with their posts.

Not that I have anything against reddit - I do frequent the site - but when I come to HN, the type of content I'm looking for is quite different than when I go to reddit.

And I think that's exactly the reason points shouldn't really be shown...

Yeah, but there's no context for the new users. I know that a +20 comment score is really good, but I only know this because I've been around for longer than the removal of the scores.

New users wouldn't have this feedback. They might think they're making good contributions at +2-3.

People talk about "group think", but when you've got an intelligent group (like HN), a bit of group think can be a good thing.

I can see why you'd want feedback that worked this way, but HN comment scores never did. Also, +20 isn't a "really good" comment score. Depending on the thread, it's:

* A comment made by someone with name recognition whose comments are read in RSS by 20 people.

* A comment on a political thread that states a clear polarizing opinion for people to glom onto.

* A mystical winged unicorn "good comment".

* A mediocre comment on a buzzy thread ("TechCrunch Says Apple App Store Approval Process Makes iOS Better Than Android!").

My best comments on the site are not, as a rule, my top-scored comments.

Meanwhile, public scores clearly do create problems: they promote groupthink, they prod reactionary voting or, worse, reactionary commenting, and they act as nerd pheromones driving tangential discussions to the tops of threads.

The harm of public scores outweighs the good, in my opinion. Reasonable people can disagree about that point. But I'm not sure they can disagree that there's nothing bad about public scores (which is not an argument you made).

My best comments on the site are not, as a rule, my top-scored comments.

My best comments usually get about 5 points. That's because the best things that I write are usually on very specific topics that I know a lot about. However, the way that breaks down is that there's a tiny number of people who also know enough about those things to know if I'm just talking out of my ass or actually saying something useful. And even if they could tell, there's often not enough backstory for someone who doesn't at least have a passing interest in those areas to make sense of them.

On the other hand, my 50+ point comments tend to be some combination of well-timed, snarky and generic. Basically, they're the sort of thing that HN wants to discourage. As such I'm generally a fan of the scores being hidden.

Strong agree.

One of my highest-rated comments (inexplicable; I'm embarrassed by it):


Meanwhile, here's a comment I actually had to do research to write. Skim it and take a guess how its karma relates to the previous comment:



Why are you embarassed by the first one? Targeted specific criticism is fantastic and hard to come by. The world needs more "this is bad -and heres why-" and less "yo Dawg I'm just not feeling it Dawg"

Can we just suffice it to say that I think the scores on these two comments should be --- at least --- reversed?

Of course the scores should be reversed on a place called "Hacker News" but you know the reason why the scores are the way they are; As the popularity of this site increases, the average skill set of the users deceases. Your "embarrassing" post is comprehensible to unskilled people, but your beautiful post is well beyond the skills of most users to understand.

Perhaps HN actually prefers "infotainment" over genuinely difficult information? Or prefers things that are within or near the shared knowledge to things it knows little about?

It clearly does prefer infobullshit over real information, which is why the top of the BankSimple thread is about Dave Fayram leaving the company and not about BankSimple.

Yes, that was painful.

+1 to this.

Among my first comments to HN was a single word: "Yes." http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1533506

It has 34 points.

Albeit witty and appropriate in context, I think we can agree it's highly overrated. Meanwhile some of my much longer (and I think better) posts sit with only 1 point.

Comment timing and choice of article to comment on are huge factors for how highly rated comments are.

If you manage to comment relatively early on an article that winds up being popular, your comment is much more likely to itself be upvoted (or downvoted) a lot.

The later you comment, and the less popular the articles you comment on, the less chance your comment will be voted on at all.

I've often commented on articles which were "old" (by HN time) and on articles which I personally found interesting but which which hadn't received many upvotes, and those comments were very rarely up or downvoted (probably because most people never even saw them).

Comment placement is another important factor. "Top-level" comments (ie. comments without any parent comments) are more likely to be voted on than comments buried deep within a thread. Though replies to high rated top-level comments are often more likely to get voted on than top-level comments which appear later on an article with a lot of discussion going on.

Amen, brother.

Most of the comments where I feel like I said something insightful or genuinely useful end up with a score of 5 or 6. The others are higher or lower (depending on timing.) I don't have any 50+ comments though, I haven't posted much and I try to avoid making the kind of low-signal comment that I expect would get that kind of result.

I agree that there isn't a proper correlation between score and quality on most comments, but it's comments about specific topics that I don't know a lot about that I would want to see scores. How am I supposed to know if you're talking out of your ass or actually saying something useful if I know nothing about the topic? The scores allowed me to quickly determine the trustworthiness of a comment.

I think you just missed the whole thread of people explaining why scores did not allow you to determine the trustworthiness of a comment.

There is a subtle difference between quality and trustworthiness. It's possible I missed the thread you're talking about, but as far as I can see, most of the discussions here are discussing quality. Like I said, I agree score does not correlate to quality necessarily. I was simply pointing out that in the case of specialized topics like wheels mentioned, even a score of 5 is a useful signal in telling me that it's trustworthy, versus reading a comment with a score of 1 that could be complete BS and should be taken with a grain of salt.

even a score of 5 is a useful signal in telling me that it's trustworthy

But that can be a false signal. It's quite possible to have eloquent writers make total crap written in an authoritative style sound believable enough to have 5 people nod and upvote. Having no scores forces people to do their own research and form their own conclusion about trustworthiness, which is more work, but better.

Agreed. We have been through that argument a hundred times: a high score means the comment is a must-read. Period.

Why anyone wants to hide useful information is beyond me.

Here's a comment I made with +41 points:


This isn't a joke, nobody recognizes my name, it's just a comment that I did a bit of research on before posting.

I'm sure there are plenty more like this. Of course some comments get upvoted "incorrectly" (A comment on made about "Winklevoss" being a verb got a lot of points).

How does hiding the points negate this? In my opinion, it does the opposite. If you can see scores, you can decide that a comment is "high enough" and ignore it.

Be cruel about someone else's infographic and see if you can't quadruple that score.

> People talk about "group think", but when you've got an intelligent group (like HN), a bit of group think can be a good thing.

Disagree. Intelligence doesn't undermine groupthink; in fact, the veneer of intelligence seems to make people more prone to groupthink because they'll say, "hey, this group is pretty smart, so they must be right!" Critical thinking is what is necessary, and I don't see enough of that on HN. Also, comment scores are not always indicative of quality, they're indicative of how many people agree. Don't conflate the two.

If you want an echo chamber, go to Reddit.

Also, comment scores are not always indicative of quality, they're indicative of how many people agree.

I want to go on record as strongly agreeing with this.

One of the textbook examples of groupthink, used in just about every classroom that covers the topic, is the Challenger explosion. If it's a problem for rocket scientists, nobody is immune.

> there's no context

Hadn't thought of this. Really good point. How do I know what's a 'good' score if I only have myself to judge against?

I agree that it makes the site more pleasant, I feel the scores were too often distracting from the actual meat of the comments. Today is a better balance between too much information and too vague: better scores still go up and negative scores are grayed out.

That said, I agree some more context would be useful. Maybe the balance could be adjusted by including some more information. A page could include some overall statistics, for example the top and average score for the page, and/or maybe other useful info that is not hidden but complicated to access, like the top and average karma, etc.

>one isn't prodded to make statements in reaction to ludicrous (and likely ephemeral) voting swings.

You can see your own score, so I'm not sure why you think that's true?

It does mean that hivemind voting is negated, but I've not really seen that as a problem on HN. Some analysis of voting patterns etc before and after the change would be great to see from PG.

I think hivemind voting is pretty evident at times. You will see certain users with a much higher upvote (based on placement) than someone who had a far more insightful, far more thought and discussion provoking comment that was posted much earlier - and those certain users are people with names the community knows and respects (often rightfully so). This doesn't mean that those users should be upvoted just because of who they are.

Granted I have no facts to back this claim up - but I have seen it happen again and again - just the way certain popular blogs always reach #1 regardless of their content.

Bad comments are still grey.

Well, I would only want "good" comments to have some colour too. Say, those with score over 20 or some other arbitrary number should have a different colour. Maybe even more than one gradation - change of colour at score of 20, another at 50, maybe one more at 100. That would make me a relatively happy user.

Couldn't agree more. A quick scan of the first sentence of a comment is enough to tell me if the rest is worth reading. If you need other people to tell you what you should think then there are other sites you should consider.

"In decline" suggests it can go any lower.

Bring comment scores back, HN is getting even worse than before (which is really saying something) without them.

here's another point to consider, since the debate is open again.

I just counted how many replies there are to each comment on this page and this is the result:

21 replies: 1 thread (main thread)

13 replies: 1 thread

6 replies: 1 thread

5 replies: 1 thread

3 replies: 1 thread

2 replies: 8 threads

1 reply: 39 threads

That means the 39 comments that are the only comment in a thread I have no idea whether they're good or bad, save my own judgement. The threads that have 2 replies don't fare much better: Since there's weighting towards users with high average karma, time decay, etc. it's hard if not impossible for me to infer whether these comments are good or bad according to the community.

In other words, in this thread there are 55 comments where I have no idea what the community thinks, and since they're all children to other comments they might show up anywhere in the thread. I have no way of parsing these comments without reading the whole thread through, including all the fluff.

The comments that are replies to comments with 3 or more replies count to 48. This means that in this thread more than half of the comments might as well have been without votes. It makes no difference - you can't see the vote, the comments doesn't rise to the top since there isn't anywhere to rise to, and it might appear anywhere on the page.

This begs the question: If you can't see the votes and can't parse out the interesting information inferred by these why have voting at all? I'm encouraged to read through the whole thing. Voting is then just a token gesture with no real effect. And then you're back to newsgroups...


The alleged weighting of comments within a thread is a complete failure because of that exact reason. I actually get a headhache from the frustration of knowing that weighting is done so I have to take into account the size of the thread to decide if something deserves my special attention. What a pain.

So here's my observation of what I think has changed.. I think the hidden scores have made the comment scoring higher in contrast.

By that I mean that I think the standard deviation in scores has gotten much higher, and the top few posts end up with higher scores than they used to.. for better or worse. I've had comments that were useful but far from brilliant end up with 40+ points, and I think the biggest reason is momentum. I think being able to see the scores was probably giving people an opportunity to say "10 points, yep.. that's a 10 point comment" and leave it alone.

So.. if that's true (and it'd be great to see numbers to back up or refute it).. then I'm not sure if it's better or worse.. but I'd tend to think it's not a great thing, since it makes it more likely that early useful comments are voted better than later brilliant ones.

At any rate. That's my take on a flaw that I haven't heard anyone else mention.

A suggestion that has been given (which I second) is to have 'bucketed' scores above some threshold:

-4,-3,-2,-1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5+, 10+

I've noticed that myself. Asking a question got me a 10+ point score on a comment that would have previously garnered only 2-3 points tops.

I don't really bother to vote that much anymore; I realized that I had previously only upvoted good comments that had low scores.

I've noticed more new users making poor comments, but I feel like I've also seen fewer joke/one-liner comments at the top. I think it's more an influx of new users than just a decrease in quality. Perhaps the guidelines should be made more visible, and updated some. For one, the community norms about humor/snark aren't actually in there (from what I recall), but they're an important part of how to comment on HN.

Edit: Hmm, that gives me an idea. Perhaps give new users a few "sample comments" of what's good, and a few of which are bad. IE: "This comment by grellas comes from an informed background, and is free of snark despite contesting some of the claims in the article. Goofus sees the same article, and decides he can make a good pun on the title, and throws in an insult to the author based on something he sort of remembers hearing about a while ago. Be a grellas, not a goofus!" Well, perhaps less hokey, but you get the idea.

> fewer joke/one-liner comments at the top

One of us is misremembering the old HN. I remember joke/one-liner comments were a real rarity on HN. I might be wrong though.

I started reading HN about 2 years ago. Jokes and "Internet snark" were extremely rare, if I ever saw them at all. To me, that was the single greatest thing about HN - much more important even than the articles. Subjectively, I've noticed a gradual decline in comment quality starting about a year ago, and a much more drastic, rapid decline into a more Reddit-like culture going back only about 4-5 months.

I'm only a 2 year user, so I can't speak for old old HN, but I meant HN in the months before the change.

> I meant HN in the months before the change

me too, I'm about the same age-user as you.

I don't think I've noticed a decline in quality (yet), but I know for a fact that I comment less frequently (especially with root comments on a submission) and almost never up- or downvote comments any more.

I'd be interested to know if the votes per pageview have plummeted since the removal of comment numbers.

I would slightly disagree. I'm a new contributor, here, but I simply look at the comments on my profile and see the scores which helps me determine when I have, perhaps, strayed. It helps me refine what I contribute and how, based on the community response. Of course, I then have to interpret what scores are the result of my contributing something of value versus people simply agreeing with the sentiment of my comment, but that isn't too hard. I don't know that enough people would see public scores and derive what is good or bad before contributing to be a reason for tagging every post with them.

I think the way the system is, now, isn't ideal but it is decent. It eliminates the temptation of a lot of people to post with the intention of getting lots of points so everyone sees how awesome they or their comment are, but still provides the input on those comments for the individual to see. So it helps shape your quality, without making the "ranking" a public competition.

As for curating the live contents of an actual discussion . . . I don't think exact point numbers is necessary for that. If I only want to read the best top half of the comments in a discussion, I don't need to know that a set of comments got 12, 32, 48, and 119 points. I just need them to be displayed in such a way that I can discern the top-most content. Physically weight the comments (in color, boldness, placement, or other possible options) so that the top 20% of comments appear in one way, the next 40% appear another, and the bottom 20-40% appear in yet another way. Easy to visually discern and pick through, but the top comments are then tied to the top comments in relation to that exact discussion and not a hardset number of "anything over 50 points is really great - period". (For all I know, this may be how HN does it - I tend to read most comments already, so I'm not sure).

without comment scores, new users don't have feedback from the community on how they're supposed to act. There's no way for them to learn the culture.

Or more likely, the culture just changed. That happens sometimes, and when it does, there's no going back.

HN has become much more adversarial in recent months, and it has nothing to do with whether or not we see a number attached to the comment. You don't need that number to know whether the person who wrote the comment is someone that you probably wouldn't want to hang out with in real life.

My guess is that we're just all strangers now, and that it is human nature to implicitly treat strangers differently than we do friends. What's amazing (to me anyway) is that this change has affected even users whose names I recognize going back years. People whom I used to have a lot of respect for. It's not just the new users.

You either like debating strangers or you don't, and the people who relish these kinds of debates will pursue them even in the absence of a scorekeeper.

I just mostly can't get it in me to write long comments when there are so many more short comments that I can easily reply to. I also feel like if I do have something long/complicated/insightful to say, no one will see it anyways. I also have no idea who anyone is anymore -- but yes, early on, Hacker News was a bunch of friends, and now it's a really popular site on the internet that everyone knows about. It's way past my Dunbar number.

Actually I've thought the quality of comments has improved since points went away.

With too much gamification, everything becomes a game. Writing a comment should be about sharing experience or insight, not making a move to try to score points.

But, people still are making a move to score points. Your points still show.

Taking away only other people's points isn't really solving the problem.

Now points represent a "personal Everest". The motivation to post is pure.

With the old system, I often found myself motivated to post b/c I saw that a snarky comment had gotten a lot of points and wanted to one-up it. It was an ugly, ugly emotion and thankfully PG has eradicated it from HN.

"Now points represent a "personal Everest". The motivation to post is pure."

Not as long as total karma scores remain visible to the world.

A user's total score represents a very broad measurement of his/her contribution to the HN community, and is unlikely to negatively impact an individual's decision to post. If anything, seeing an overall high score makes a user seem more worthy of respect and less likely to trigger a points arms race in a single thread.

To some extent, I think it's wishful thinking to suppose that improved algorithms can significantly forestall HN's reversion to the mean comment quality of the internet.

It's a question of size. With ten people in a room, it's likely that none of 'em is a complete doofus. But with a thousand people in the room you've got a bunch of doofuses. And hugh3's Fifth Rule Of The Internet is that doofuses will inevitably dominate conversations. They do this in two ways:

1. When a perfectly sensible article is submitted, some doofus will make a completely unreasonable comment about it. Three or four sensible people will carefully piece together responses detailing why the doofus is wrong, each of which sets off its own thread, and pretty soon the single dumb comment made by the one doofus is starting to dominate.

2. Other doofuses have agendas. They're not here to find out interesting stuff about all fields, they have one particular hobby horse that they really want to push. And that hobby horse is generally stupid, but if you've got a few people really into it then. (I'm not gonna name any names, but there are certain things which do show up on HN awfully often...)

Anyway, you can't force doofuses not to be doofuses. And you can't make doofuses go away. And you can't make the doofuses lose interest in the only outlet they have for their doofus ideas. So aside from starting a new site and hoping you'll get a few years before the doofuses take over, what can you do?

The problem is simply one of scale: communities don't scale up easily past a certain point.

Here's a heretical idea: you're only allowed a fixed number of posts per day, and you have to increase that limit by being a member of the site for a period of time, and be in good standing. It isn't a great idea, but I think we need to strike down the Web 2.0 notion that everyone should be allowed to talk at the same time. pg's realized (thankfully) that 'heavy-handed' moderation is necessary - no community can ever police itself, it will always degrade into memes and groupthink.

I wouldn't say there's no way. It's not as though people can't reply to the memes and aggressive or otherwise poor comments and say, "This is HN, and we don't do that here. And this is why." And I think that for all the new kids, a fleshed-out explanation does far more than votes can, and you minimize the bandwagon effect that they're so prone to as well. Since a lot of these newbies are probably coming from Reddit et al, I think that's an important thing to minimize, because not only are the cultures of those sites different, but the voting, in the context of each community, is as well.

I agree to anything that will kill the stupid Bitcoin articles.

You got downvoted for apparent snark, but for what it's worth: me too. It's pernicious, too, because those comments can germinate in any thread involving money, banking, cryptography, and markets.

Bitcoin's primary use case seems to be generating karma on HN. As a friend put it: "Bitcoin is ruining HN."

As it stands, I'm hoping that Bitcoin is just one of those waves like Erlang was.

Are they really that bad? The biggest problem I have with them is that most of the comments are from people like yourself, a disinterested individual complaining about the submission. That's not a judgment on you by the way, I've complained about submissions too. (For a hypothetical comparison, I might get annoyed with a certain level of submissions over Apple's new iShiny since I find Apple fans cult-like. It's newsworthy yet more popular than it seemingly ought to be.)

Moving to a different forum will kill the "stupid Bitcoin articles".

I really thought I was imagining a decline, but I have to agree. For the first time I've actually toyed with the idea of killing my HN rss feed. I still find the lack of points very annoying, for all the million+1 reasons already given.

I downloaded and installed this.

You don't need comment scores to know how to act or whether your comment is meaningful or not.

Points should definitely be visible after certain amount of time, if not in real-time.

From now on, I personally stop upvoting or downvoting anything at all. It will not be noticed by anyone, it just feels the right thing to do.

Agreed new users must be flogged into compliance. And the experienced ones should be rewarded for following the pack.

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