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Ask HN: How Can We Help Make HN a Better Online Community?
60 points by tokenadult on Oct 30, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments
Here's an open-ended question for all of you. I saw the recent thread on the main page about "honeypot" submissions, including a comment by pg, the site founder, that the quality of comments on Hacker News has declined. What can I do about that? What can we all do about that? What voluntary cooperation can we engage in as users of Hacker News to make HN a more useful, friendly, and informative online community? I invite open discussion of this issue here, with any and all suggestions welcome, including suggestions directed specifically to my own online behavior.

One suggestion I have made before is actively to upvote comments that either 1) ask for follow-ups with more details or facts to clarify or back-up a parent comment's statements, or 2) provide asked-for details or facts (especially with links to reliable online sources or citations to dead-tree reliable sources). I also like to silently upvote comments in which users are polite and say "please" or "thank you," as a measure to promote civility. What else is good to upvote? How else besides upvoting good comments and asking follow-up questions can each user here promote better comments?

Thank you for any ideas you share here. And many thanks, of course, to the dozens of users here whose posts and comments make HN a valuable community to me and to other users.

Not submit or upvote stories which are fundamentally about politics (even politics within a thirty mile radius of a computer!), because they predictably descend into value-free flame wars. That destroys the sense of community even on good threads: after seeing "you're a fucking idiot" on some article about how the TSA is cracking down on Wall Street music piracy, people often think "Did you read the fucking post?" is acceptable discussing minutie about a particular startup's use of Redis.

In that vein, I think the guidelines (http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) are too wishy-washy:

"On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. Videos of pratfalls or disasters, or cute animal pictures. If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic."

The guidelines grant too much leeway here and make it difficult to educate new members about what's appropriate. Off topic should just read: "NO politics, sports, crime or general news stories." Full stop, no excuses.

Likewise, the on topic section provides too much cover for people to submit just about anything (hard to get more broad than "anything that satisfies one's intellectual curiosity."). I'd rather see tight, specific rules and let the community decide when it's appropriate to bend them.

On the topic of guidelines, the purpose of the up- and down-vote arrows is not well-defined. Are we supposed to use them as "like" and "dislike", "agree" and "disagree", or "adds-to-discussion" and "doesn't-add-to-discussion"? Even "flag"- is that for spam, for rude posts, or for offtopic posts?

I've seen these things discussed, and pg has given his opinion on some of them in comment threads, but we should decide and put the answer in the site guidelines.

Yes please. The 'anything hackers would find interesting' line is a loophole to introduce politics. I think emphasis should be placed on the 'If it appears in the evening news it probably doesn't belong here' line.

I'm more optimistic. I think most HN readers could pass an ideological turing test. Nonetheless, in the context of political discussions it's often socially acceptable to be obtuse.

I've had a few discussions with people on HN that have bordered on political (mostly around Wikileaks and Terrorism) and I think these discussions have left me more rational, as any good discussion should.

Not submit or upvote stories which are fundamentally about politics

Hi, patio11, I'm sure I'm one of many users who appreciates your comment here. I'll definitely try, in light of your comment and other comments posted here, to broaden my definition of "politics" to exclude more submissions and more comments that I might otherwise make from HN. (I have a good group of Facebook friends of diverse political opinions who civilly and thoughtfully discuss politics with me there.) There seems to be quite a broad community sentiment, which perhaps needs more reflection in the community guidelines,


that political posts and commments have no place on HN.

That said, looking at the guidelines, I see on the one hand a statement

"Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon. . . . If they'd cover it on TV news, it's probably off-topic."

I'll interpret that statement broadly and both reduce any tendency I have to post political stories or make political comments, and also flag political stories and both downvote and then flag political comments. I'm trying to listen to community consensus here.

I see on the other hand in the guidelines the statement

"On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."

I discovered this site by following links from Paul Graham (pg)'s personal website, which links here and also hosts very interesting online essays,


which are the first way I became aware of pg's career. The first pg essay I ever read was "Why Nerds are Unpopular,"


and in his later essays "What You'll Wish You'd Known"






"Is It Worth Being Wise?"


among others, I noticed that pg seems to have a certain interest in education policy, which is one of my strongest reading interests. You too, patio11, tend to make comments about education policy in HN threads, and those are particularly valuable for American readers because they are informed by your time abroad. Thus I hope it will still be considered fair game here to discuss reform of education, whether in the private sector or the public sector, as long as we are honor-bound to seek facts and verifiable information about the subject of how education works and how it can be improved. I think education reform can provide start-up opportunities for hackers and is also of interest to anyone doing business in the modern world, especially anyone with a growing business who wants to hire competent workers.

What do the rest of you think about leaving scope for the possibly politics-connected subject of education reform here, as long as we take care to submit good sources, make best efforts to post thoughtful and civil comments, and don't gratuitously drag partisan politics into the discussion?

I agree with the politics ban, but the big problem is always going to be that, well, politics and life are technically inseparable. We must try to factor them into separate buckets, but it's not going to be possible in the general case.

Consider, for example, the terrible problem of The Virtual Currency That Shall Not Be Named, which until recently was like a plague here on HN. It's hard to argue that it was off topic for hackers: It was a system built by a hacker and employing fun cryptographic hacks. But it was also a sort of terrible wedge by which absolute torrents of drivel arrived on the site.

IMHO the way to handle politics is to empower certain individuals to delete political threads. Then the definition of politics will be subjective. That's fine. There is no other way. And an advantage of the subjective boundary is that it will be naturally fuzzy, which is good. An absolute ban on submissions about The Currency That Shall Not Be Named would be too extreme. What we need is an occasional foray into that world, followed by corrective action if the experiment starts going wrong.

In the meantime I flag things that I think go over the edge, as tptacek does.

I, too, am very interested in education and policy, but the devil hides here:

as long as we are honor-bound to seek facts and verifiable information about the subject of how XXXX works and how it can be improved

I like other political discussions (of XXXX) here- when the above is adhered to- because I seem to find the facts more quickly here than on any other site. The diverse points of view and contexts of experiences of the people here nearly always makes me realize something I hadn't previously considered. But I think the broader consensus is that too many people won't feel bound to adhere to the facts, and the conversation will tend to devolve as patio11 suggests.

I "personally" would prefer that such discussions still be made available, but that people have an easier way to block those if they don't want to discuss that (or at least don't want to discuss that at HN).

You can Greasemonkey the threads but you can't Greasemonkey the culture. This is why I favor "we make effort to keep HN focused on what it does well and imposed a collegial, supportive tone by consensus when possible and fiat when not" rather than "we'll allow the tone that prevails on Slashdot/Reddit and implement a poor imitation of Reddit-esque interest filtering."

The fact that you are getting downvoted is part of what stinks. It is a perfectly valid viewpoint. I happen to agree with patio11's response, but I respect your views and want you to feel like you are entitled to share them here.

Absolutly no politics, current mainstream news, or anything that comes near them. No OWS crap that keeps getting submitted. There's a lot of pieces from the Atlantic, Vanity, and other places that are being submitted and upvoted that are essentially political in nature but seem to be viewed in a good light simply because of their publisher. Cut out all that and the biggest problems will go away.

Promote civil discourse and find a solution to all the pedantry. There's lots of threads now where people are arguing for a long time essentially over semantics. It's really bone-headed and doesn't reflect well on HN.


OWS as in Occupy Wall Street?


I'd like to see more people on the "New" page. I'm not sure how much attention it gets compared to the front page, but it seems like very few people are taking the time to wade through all of the submissions and upvoting the gems. Essentially, controversial topics are much more likely to garner the necessary upvotes to make it to the front page, and thus receive a lot of attention, while technical ones often fade into oblivion.

It's my understanding that HN's algorithm rewards articles that have lot of comments and discussion. I've observed that I typically enjoy articles that feature a high upvote to comment ratio, while I'm unlikely to enjoy articles with more comments than upvotes. I would be interested in seeing what the front page would look like if articles were penalized for having more comments than upvotes. Maybe this is just a personal quirk, I don't know.

I'd also like to see the community flag more comments than just those that are spam. Personally, I flag any very mean comments/ad hominems. I've been on the receiving end of such often enough that I know that those kind of comments can easily ruin somebody's day. I think, as a community, we should actively discourage comments that are mean. All criticism ought to be constructive, otherwise what value does it add to the discussion?

At day's end, though, the most effective way to influence the community is going to be leading by example. Long-time members of the community need to show newer members what is appropriate. pg needs to show the community "this is good" and "this is bad" and he has to participate. The entire tone of a community is decided by its most senior and most active members. The majority of a community will follow the lead set by those few.

I visit new and upvote good articles. I also visit (http://news.ycombinator.com/noobstories) and flag a lot of submissions.

I agree about "Be the change you want to see".

Hacker News seems to be evolving and becoming many things to many users. Why not leverage that instead of trying to restrict it? Regardless of whether things are "on topic" or not, the site has two things going for it that other communities often strive in vain to build: traffic and a definable culture.

My suggestion: a column down the left with a topic marker: startup advice, network technology, programming tips, hacker culture, VC firm news, economics, politics, military tech.... whatever the topics are that people are actually posting and upvoting.

Classifying a topic could be done by a voting algorithm, weighted by karma... the poster thinks the topic is economics, then it gets marked as economics. If enough commenters feel that it falls under politics instead, then their clicks on that topic classification (submitted as part of the comment form) will reclassify it as such. Those users who want to see only certain topics can filter as desired.

The spirit of respectful and collegial debate that pervades the site is a huge draw and could just as easily be applied to the "off-topic" as the "on-topic"... and there is a synergy in having both available. It keeps things fresh and interesting and there is intellectual stimulation available here that you can't get anywhere else, regardless of topic.

I guess I am saying that the pool can be bigger and still be clean, and it can have a shallow and a deep end, fast and slow lanes, and serve a wide range of swimmers... but still be known for its overall high quality.

I think that would work well (especially if the grouping could be largely automated). I personally would like to see a category for articles that are purely intellectually stimulating (e.g. stuff equivalent in thoughtfulness to pg's essays).

On the other hand, I think it would be useful to have strict limits on how far the culture stretches. We should try to preserve the geeky, business-y, thoughtful culture, rather than going the route of reddit where everyone's allowed to do what they want.

This is a great idea.

The other thoughts I had on this subject are a little more radical but I'll say them anyway: why not get rid of downvoting entirely? I'm a new enough user that downvoting isn't even an option for me and I can't say that I miss it.

This site is already radically different from other online communities, why not go full-bore and just make it based purely on a the-cream-rises-to-the-top model?

I would imagine the flag feature is enough to get rid of the spam or junk topics. If someone really likes a topic or wants to see it stay on the front page, they can burn up karma with upvote boosts (to a limit).

It seems the focus here is already on the community finding and upvoting topics of intellectual value and fostering stimulating discussion. Why not just bring that to a laser-like focus and drop all efforts at "punishing" or otherwise disciplining members of the community.

There's a big difference in motivation between thinking "what can I add to the discussion that will be appreciated and upvoted" versus "gee I sure hope I don't get penalized for saying this"... and that thought loop feeds back into the culture of the site. Right now I would (subjectively) say that 85-90% of the effort people put into the site is positive, while maybe 10-15% of it is negative (downvoting, indulging in a bit of flaming, etc.). If the architecture of the site was further refined to reduce channels for negative action, it would seem that positive effort component could get upped to 90-95% and make this place even more of a standout than it already is. HN could be one big proof-of-concept that a large, diverse, open community on the web can still be a highly evolved and civil community.

why not get rid of downvoting entirely?

Dissenting opinion (from someone who generally believes in positive reinforcement as the best policy): I tend to be a very controversial figure, wherever I go. I have dropped out of a lot of communities in part due to the degree to which I get attacked. Some of my comments here get upvoted, downvoted, upvoted, downvoted. It can be entertaining to watch it. It usually doesn't result in some pissing contest. I am content with having people who don't like me/my opinions vent their spleen by viciously giving an entire downvote to my comment and then moving on. I'm very cool with that. It beats the hell out of anything else I've known so far.

Kinda similar here. I dislike "me too" responses, and tend to be the devil's advocate because that's the point of debating vs "commenting". The funniest is when my comments get downvoted, yet acquire tons of responses [1] [2]. It's kind of interesting to see how the votes fluctuate until they reach their final (usually low) score.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3116043 [2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3125017

I wouldn't say I'm a devil's advocate sort. I just don't seem to fit anyone's ready-made assumptions/categories/whatever. I say something like "I lost a lot of weight and it's nice to feel better but I'm not entirely comfortable with all the invasive attention from total strangers". Someone gives me advice on how to avoid male attention. It hadn't occur to me initially to clearly state that the majority of the discomfiting attention is from women who want to be like me, not men who want to get with me.

I have a serious medical condition that is supposed to be killing me, and I do still have bad days at times, but I'm getting well when doctor's (and everyone else) says that can't be done (getting well is why I have slimmed down so much). To me, that is an ordinary fact and I talk about it casually at times online, the way I would to the two sons who live with me and know all the details. For other people, that's a headfuck and most folks divide up between being highly impressed or spitting in my face and accusing me of both making up crap and being a danger to others to talk about it (which makes me want to go "Okay, which is it? You can't have it both ways.").

In short, I guess I'm the anti-group-think wherever I go. AKA lightening rod for controversy.

You make a compelling point. But not everyone has such a thick skin or is that relaxed about getting vented on... maybe if downvoting cost karma and there was a karma threshold for being the recipient of a downvote? That could be interesting: battle of the karma titans. Meanwhile, new people could get their feet wet without getting pilloried for their mistakes.

Oh, I'm not thick-skinned. I sit at my computer and whine to my two adult sons with the voice of a 3 year old about how nobody likes me, nobody talks to me, I have no friends and I got DOWNVOTED -- when I may have 20 upvotes and 1 downvote. I just think it's the lesser evil.

I hadn't considered getting rid of downvoting entirely, but it makes sense, especially since we can't agree on what it should be used for. Some of us think we should only downvote vapid, trolling or otherwise lame comments. Others (pg included) think it's perfectly fine to use downvoting to indicate dissenting opinion. It would be interesting to see what happened if we just abolished it.

I like the topics ideas, as someone who is very interested in the ASK HN threads. I think this is a great start and a way to get new people more involved.

IMNSHO there are two things that would help HN be a "better" place - of course as with most folks who respond to this better will correspond to what THEY would like to see. So you should take any comment in this discussion with the requisite boulder of salt...

1) Hire a Benevolent Dictator/Community Manager. Usually the second title is just a euphemism for the first. I will go ahead and state that said person should have some history on HN, should be evaluated on a reasonably consistent basis by both pg and the community, and should have a commitment to be here more often than not. They should be able to cull some stories and promote others not only based on their personal interests, but also to the betterment of the community (even if the community doesn't always agree). I am also willing to put myself up as an applicant for said position assuming pg is willing to work with someone remotely - as much because I don't want to see the argument that no one would be willing to do it as that having run a few BBS and forums I have some reason to think I could actually do it.

2) A full-featured API that would allow members of the community to have more control over how much of HN they view and participate in. As any community grows you get more diversity, and it becomes harder to ascertain a common "always good". Instead give folks the ability (preferably through tools) to modify how they participate in and view the community. If there's a subject that always bothers you, perhaps it's best for everyone if you can avoid having to even see it. If there's something you're particularly interested, being able to see more of it is probably worthwhile.

My .02 worth for you :-)

> 2) A full-featured API that would allow members of the community to have more control over how much of HN they view and participate in.

That's nice, but the problem is that those people then don't know just how bad the stuff they're ignoring has got.

Maybe they'll start to notice some churn in users; they'll notice that a favourite commenter is no longer around, or that there are many newer members who are creating odd posts. And then BAMN - HN is suddenly worthless.

I agree with point 1. A Dedicated Full-time Community Manager could shape the community, chip away at the crap and support to cool aspects. Someone who knows HN inside and out, who listens to what the community wants, is willing to put their ego to the side when they are wrong and is stern enough to enforce rules.

For me, if there was a little text before the "add comment" button that said something like:

Does this comment contribute something to the general discussion rather than just trying to prove that someone else is wrong? If so, [add comment]

then it might stop me from making some of my more bone-headed and offensively off-topic comments.

Imagining HN as a large round table discussion full of very smart strangers that I was lucky enough to join in with seems to help. Only say something that adds to the discussion, moves it along, or points out a seemingly missed but valid and contrary point of view, and don't be so rude as to mention that guy's stutter, the foreign guy's poor pronunciation, or be a boring pedant. If it gets boring, go to the next round table.

I'm a little concerned by the "citation please" two-word comment below someones long contribution for some reason. Not everything needs to be peer-reviewed here, there's plenty of room for well-formed opinions based on one experts own experience. I guess the problem is when they are crowded out by the poorly-formed opinions or dogma. A balance, like most things, I guess.

I think that the down-voting has gotten out of hand and have seen several instances where participants seemed to have issues with each other or were reacting to a dissenting opinion. Shouldn't we welcome dissenting opinions? Doesn't that actually make the discussion more engaging and valuable?

I'd like to see down-votes used only in situations where the comment poster entered the conversation in a manner that didn't further the conversation in any way. Perhaps a trick could be borrowed from the StackExchange sites and a down-voter would pay for the privilege with karma points?

I'd like to see down-votes used only in situations where the comment poster entered the conversation in a manner that didn't further the conversation in any way.

Quite a few users agree with this general opinion, with differing values assigned to "didn't further the conversation in any way." One problem is that many users who are not furthering the conversation don't seem to notice that about themselves, and then demand an individual explanation for each and every downvote, which seems too much to ask for in response to comments that are, in pg's words, "(a) mean and/or (b) dumb."


While many users share the opinion that downvotes should mean something mostly about contribution to the community rather than disagreement with the point of view expressed, the opinion that downvoting is okay when used for expressing disagreement with the content of a comment has also been expressed by many users over the years, including by pg, the site founder.


"I think it's ok to use the up and down arrows to express agreement. Obviously the uparrows aren't only for applauding politeness, so it seems reasonable that the downarrows aren't only for booing rudeness."

If someone who disagrees with me on factual or policy matters has made a thoughtful comment that introduces me or other HN participants to new information, I am happy to upvote it. But if a comment indeed doesn't contribute to the discussion, because it merely expresses one user's opinion with no verifiable information, it's within the current site guidelines simply to downvote the comment, so that the person who posted it is made aware that he or she should try harder to make a substantive, evidenced comment next time.

Downvote any post containing the word "fanboy" or any misspelling or synonym thereof.

There's no value in identifying and shaming people who are overenthusiastic about products. Just correct any hyperbole - and don't crow about the fact that it's hyperbole! - and move on.

That's the most topical one, but "idiot", accusations of poor reading comprehension, and mocking interrogatives are all things I'd encourage downvoting as well.

> Downvote any post containing the word "fanboy" or any misspelling or synonym thereof.

Seconded. I also believe, more generally, that the growing tendency to express negativity towards people (instead of ideas) is just as much of a problem as frequent offtopic threads. Luckily, this is somewhat easy to fix, because it may be easier to remind participants to keep a respectful tone than to define what actually constitutes a hacker-relevant topic.

$5 registration fee that goes to the EFF. Might slow growth to a more manageable level -- give people more time as lurkers, so they learn the culture.

Why $5 and not $50?

MetaFilter is $5 and the comments there aren't very good either.

And why the EFF? Can we just have it go to rtm's "buy more ram fund" ?

Actually all these problems have been solved in FIDO net about 20 years ago. There's usually a set of rules, updated list of off-topic subjects, a moderator, a set of co-moderators, public punishment, and ex-communication of repeat offenders. It worked fairly well for as long as moderators stayed on the ball.

I continue to be surprised that we have to re-learn all these things the hard way on the web.

One idea -- don't display the user's own karma score in the top right. It reminds me a little bit of an arcade game, and I confess it makes me want to earn more points.

I still think you should be able to see your own karma of course (click on your username), but that it should require two seconds of effort.

It seems that comment contribution dissipates after a thread leaves the front page. There are valuable comments hidden from weeks and years ago only in that they are out of sight to us. The only way to check if someone has replied to a thread you are interested in, is to check that thread for updates ( or actively search for a topic ).

I propose thread subscription. If I want to watch a thread for new comments it would be convenient to get a digit on my nav bar regarding how many threads I am watching that have new comments.

I believe this would keep threads more active. Perhaps it would encourage quality posts, rather than quantity ( people might submit often in attempts to get on the front page ( even if for an hour ) ).

For instance, this is a great topic and I would like to subscribe to this thread-

I think the frontpage is great. That's probably because it's heavily moderated. I don't think there's a way to save the comments. Tragedy of the commons is inevitable when forums grow beyond a certain threshold. I 've even turned "showdead" to on as i 've found some great but controversial (read: thought-provoking) comments get completely buried under the usual HN popstars.

Might i suggest a crazy idea though: For every submission, ask 2 random members (who have a minimum but not high karma) to review it before it gets posted. If they disagree, ask a third. It's something i am testing out on my site, but i don't have sufficient user base.

I recently submitted an article about lemonade stands. Most of the discussion was political. I was disappointed - I thought people could talk about ways to promote entrepreneurship or to teach basic concepts like added value. So, I apologise.

I try hard not to respond to any political posts. Now I can downvote I might consider downvoting those.

I avoid anything that mentions Apple, or MS, or often Linux, especially if they're in the same thread. These threads could be great, but often they're content free bickering. I upvote good information. I will consider downvoting flaming.

I haven't submitted many articles. I notice some people submit very many articles - 10 per day. I don't know if there's some way to nudge people into only subbing good articles. Maybe once they've got over twenty submissions they need an average score of X (for the subs) before they can sub any more??

I'd also welcome more power given to people with high karma scores (and maybe high average scores (although I realise there are some problems with average karma)) to have super downvotes, or downvotes for submissions, or some such.

I read and enjoyed your post. Like you, I too was disappointed the conversation was political... I was hoping for more startup oriented conversation.

I think one of the main problems with HN is the way comments are displayed on the page.

Essentially, the way things are set up, every thread becomes ossified after while. It becomes this stagnant, rigid, structure that doesn't change much when new comments are added.

This is the opposite of what you want, if you want a vibrant, active discussion on an interesting topic that lasts for longer than a few hours.

Adding the option to view comments linearly by date would help a lot. Or highlight new comments since your last visit. Couple that with subscriptions that someone else mentioned and you'd have a much easier time keeping discussions going past the front page.

Effectively, HN needs some of the features that forums and bulletin boards have had for ages. There is a reason forums work so well for discussions.

Hacker news is near the optimum of what a site of this size and type can do. By type I mean the slashdot/digg/reddit social news format. Pg got a lot of things right to shore up the format. ui geared towards a certain community, strong focus on community, seeded with essay readers, slow scaling, quasi-non-profit so quality remains almost top priority. Its just that the format of squeezing the subjective realities of more and more people into an objective 'top intellectually interesting articles right now' list cannot scale civilly when everyone is subtly pulling in their own direction just that little bit. The tension adds up. Maybe limiting max number of users (one joins as on leaves) would do it but that is extremely drastic and probably defeats the point of hn.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts on how each participant here can help all participants enjoy a more useful, thoughtful, and informative online community on Hacker News. I find it interesting that despite the thrust of the original questions, many suggestions in replies are suggestions that can only be implemented by forum management. Forum management may or may not make future changes in the forum software or forum rules, but I was especially curious about what everyday users of the forum (like me) can today and every day to make the online community better, one user at a time, all for one and one for all.

Ditch the politics / mainstream news and HN will be a very solid resource.

Communities fall apart, especially large ones. Maintaining the same level of quality would be unprecedented, even if you had the exact same people they would change over time.

Also the minimalist computer science inspired upvote/downvote sorting system is a bit of a mismatch to human communication. Someone has to try a more complicated paradigm. I think tags on posts and comments would work better. Have a menu/autocomplete thing for common tags like [agree, troll, disagree, interesting, this, politics, hostile] and weigh submissions and comments through them. Should also be able to combine multiple tags and have a rating option for each tag. Label severity of disagreement, politics or suspected trolling.

This way when you need to tune the knobs you have more data to work with than just upvote/downvote, total karma and average karma. I don't expect pg to do these kinds of experiments though, he has minimalist tastes and limited time.

Also many times when communities fall apart, we have limited data to work with to see where things started to go wrong. Was it too many n00bs that chased experts away? Was it hostility? Did too many new people start voting on new submissions? I've seen some attempts at analysis of HN but don't remember them making clear conclusions.

Does PG listen to the StackExchange podcast? There's some great information on there sprinkled throughout the various conversations they have. Jeff Attwood is very passionate about online community management and he and Joel Spolsky get into some interesting debates about some of the community-related problems that they have to deal with on StackOverflow and the other StackExchange sites.

The downvotes are horribly biased and uninformative. I think an interesting experiment to try is to force downvoters to also give a comment, so the parent knows why he/she is being downvoted, so as to discourage that behavior in the future. This is a great way for newcomers to stop making rookie mistakes, and to reduce the number of "Why was my post downvoted?" updates/comments that add little value, but is a question that understandably vexes the parent.

I sometimes make a comment that I don't feel is controversial/wrong at all, only to see it downvoted. Not only is it discouraging (and a great way to ruin my day), but it's also low in signal--I don't know whether someone just had a bad day and wanted to spread their hate, or whether I misperceived the controversy of my comments. I always want to ask the downvoters to let me know what I said wrong--I just hate the anonymous drive-by shooting, if that analogy makes sense.

Reasons for down voting would quickly end up in many arguments.

[downvote] [comment about reason] [what? you missed the point] [no, you said this] [no, read it again] [you can't write] [you can't read] [your an idiot?] [you're a bigger idiot]

This could work rather well if it is asymmetric: comment required to downvote, but downvote comments do not require additional comment before downvoting. It would rapidly punish people who are downvoting because they're just really passionate about their opinions, not so much understanding what others say.

Content should be limited to items of technical or scientific merit. Putting a political spin on stories has led to the degradation of quality in both submissions and comments on HN. Leave your personal grudges/beliefs at the door on your way in and stay on topic.

I would like to see more people linking to the original source article, rather than a blog about that article. (As per the guidelines.) Often the blog is silly or inflammatory or pointless.

Some method of de-duping might be useful.

Do what I do: whenever I see someone being rude, impolite, or inflammatory I point it out and ask them to behave. Like so:


When you see that someone already pointed out misbehavior (but no more than say 5 such opinions), add your own concurring opinion rather than upvoting - the offender needs to see the public opinion and they no longer see the vote count.

Also when I see a comment that does not add to discussion I downvote it.

Well we could bring the points back so that it would be possible to scan a long thread and find the good comments. The bad comments aren't gone, but they'll be easier to avoid.

Also, your point about upvoting certain comments will probably be moot if users can't see the result of their action. Without having seen the numbers I'll make a bold statement and say that overall voting per user has gone down significantly.

Many new users might not even know that the arrows are for voting since it isn't explained anywhere.

Re: Bringing back points for individual comments


* Saves the reader's time. This is incredibly important. I've been here pretty much since the beginning, mostly as a lurker. I've noticed that I used to look forward to the stories with the most comments, because the best comments in those threads were generally very good and generally easy to identify. Now I avoid stories that have received a lot of comments. I just don't have the time to read every comment, and the current ranking system seems too inexact.

* Simple, structural, code-based adjustment. Hacker News has a simple interface, simple rules, and a public code base. Bringing in a dedicated moderator might make some of us happier, but it would also be a tacit admission of defeat. I get the sense that PG would like to exhaust all simple, code-based solutions before getting to that point.


* Unintended consequences: chasing after karma. IIRC, this is PG's primary concern about comment scores.


* Maybe it makes more sense to hide karma for individual users than to hide scores on comments. There would still be thresholds of positive karma that would enable users to have certain privileges, but users wouldn't have access to that information. Admittedly, I haven't given this much consideration, so I haven't thought through the consequences.

* Maybe there is another way to make comments easier to scan. This could be done visually, perhaps using color or s simple icon. It might also make sense to offer another sub-HN, kind of like /classic. Personally, I don't rely on HN for news; for me, the value is in the comments. So maybe a /comments sub-HN could feature submissions that generate the best discussions. Defining best might take some doing (highest value average score? highest value single comment?) and would probably require a check or two to prevent users from gaming the system. But for those of us who think HN's value is most closely associated with the value of its comments, it would be great to have an interface that offered a more efficient way to find the most interesting comments.

I do not think chasing after karma is a problem. If there are people who want to do work (hunting for interesting information) in exchange for something (karma) I can make out of thin air, what am I to complain about?

It may be however, that there are people who have found ways to chase the karma they want by means that are detrimental to the community. For example, users might post almost duplicate links with more enticing titles, or they might (don't know whether this happens) up vote their own stories using fake accounts.

If there are such users, rather than abolishing karma, I think we should try and fix the rules.

If people are gaining karma, but harming the community, what are they doing, and how can we prevent them from doing that?

I think best thing we can ask pg to do is remove points altogether. Points are great for optimizing and ranking, but just let them go from display and keep them only in backend. May be keep average karma for comments but thats about it. Also if removing points is not possible, then punish people, in some way, who have less average karma for submissions. I think that will remove any incentive from submitting non interesting posts.

Don't downvote comments that are already gray. Just one or two downvotes is all you need to teach them a lesson. No need kicking someone when they're down.

> including a comment by pg, the site founder, that the quality of comments on Hacker News has declined. What can I do about that?

That's just part of having a bigger community. It always becomes more general over time as it grows.

You can't usually get around this as it's a natural part of the lifecycle of a forum/group/site.

Site fail when they refuse to recognize this and start mucking around trying to revive the past glory.

Who has time to read the comments when HN blasts us with so many uncategorized articles. Perhaps you should consider what percentage of comments are even read.

Actually, I read more comments than articles.

#1. Fix the fucking website. Seriously, what kind of half-assed aggregator gives a 9 in 10 change of getting 'missing or unknown link' when clicking to the next page?

It's to stop crawlers. Just refresh before you go to the next page, or open the second page straight away before the link expires.

What kind of crawler is it stopping?

Just makes our experience bad.

I think people need to re-read: http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html and really assess what Hacker News is.

Hacker News is a startup community which, and more recently users seem to be forgetting this. .

Which is why, I believe that along with the ban on "fluff" as highlighted in PG's Essay there should also be the same ban on Political Submissions. There are several reasons for this but just going into one of the reasons as to why there should be a ban on these type of submissions is because, if you go to any political thread you will see that they all eventually turn into flame wars and because there has been an uprise in the political submissions around HN recently and as a result of these flame wars, they have been spreading out into other areas of the site which have been reducing the comment quality.

Likewise, I think people should stop saying "This." - I'm not going to fully go into this as it has previously been covered - http://news.ycombinator.org/item?id=3153377 but its really of annoying when people just comment for the sake of commenting. I think that, if you are going to comment, then you should be commenting because you want to add your 2 cents and not because, you're commenting to say that you agree with someones comment yet don't add any other value because, this is what the "up vote" button is for. Maybe, some text could be added above the Add Comment button which says "Does Your Comment Add Value? If So:"

I might not have enough karma to do this, or it might be not available to users but like the down vote (which I do have access to) I think there should be an option to flag comments which are deemed unnecessary by users (this could be implemented via a certain amount of karma) to remove some of the unnecessary comments in particular the "This." comments and the ones involving flame wars between users.

Likewise, I also think there should be an "infraction" system used on Forums. I think there is already a system like this in place, as I know if you get a certain amount of downvotes then, the post will get deleted etc but, on Forums the users are clear of their infraction points and it encourages "good behaviour" on the site after they rack up infaction points - making them be more considerate etc. The infraction system could work in the sense that - if you submit something that is "fluff/banned on HN" then you would get +2 infaction points likewise, a bad comment would get +1 infraction points.

Infraction Points would last 30-45 days and if you get 10 infraction points simultaneously then depending upon your karma you would receive a punishment such as:

Under 200 Karma - 24 Hour Submission/Commenting Ban

Under 500 Karma - 24 Hour Submission/Commenting Ban + Loss Of Header Colour Change

Under 750 Karma - 24 Hour Submission/Commenting Ban + Loss Of Header Colour Change + Loss Of Downvote.


Users would be allowed to earn the ability to have the header colour change and downvote button back via the Karma System.

Likewise, repeat offenders of Infractions would get more severe punishments. Such as having a script which shows for certain users, where the site keeps messing around whenever they try to do an action for a duration of time they are on the website.

Whilst, there are other smaller aspects which could be improved around the site, I think if these were tackled then Hacker News would have its strong community over the long haul and we won't see, flame wars/poor comments off users as often.

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