"This isn't HN getting some sort of preferential treatment, this is just the effect of having a userbase full of hackers"
Of course it's preferential treatment. And if you scan the last month or two of Matt's comments they are general in nature and not specific as in:
"I think I know what the problem is; we're detecting HN as a dead page. It's unclear whether this happened on the HN side or on Google's side, but I'm pinging the right people to ask whether we can get this fixed pretty quickly."
You don't think "pinging the right people" and "get this fixed pretty quickly" is preferential treatment?
He's done the same thing for nearly everyone that's asked about something Google-related here. So yes, everyone on HN gets special treatment.
Answering people's individual questions doesn't scale to the entire Internet, so Google really has no choice but to address problems on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Matt reads HN and personally wants to solve the problem. That's the only way Google could possibly work, so that's how they do it.
The preferential treatment is kind of annoying TBH. I've seen sites disappear from Google's listing for months as a result of simple issues such as a change of domain name (with all the required redirects in place).
Yet here, a website owner is purposely blocking the crawler and they jump with solutions to try to fix the problem. Sigh.
All these years, you thought you were working with machines, and finally it turns out coding is a "people business". Did they change, or did you? Is quality less important than networking now because social networks make quality the equivalent of good networking? Or because of some corruption in the pure bootstrap capitalism of code=web=money=power?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I am concerned about being told to accept the output of raw logic and algorithms as holy writ, only being told a bit later that everything's negotiable if you have a personal relationship.