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Poll: HN readers, where's your residence?
775 points by sasvari on Dec 1, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 470 comments
So fellow HN readers, where have you set up your residence?

(I'm aware of the fact that the majority is located in the US, but it might still be interesting to see if the HN community is getting more international.)

(Edit: NYC and SF area choice; England -> UK; split up Asia;Australia/+Oceania)

(Rest of the) United States
2377 points
(Rest of) Europe
1835 points
United States - NYC and SF area
1572 points
646 points
567 points
342 points
304 points
(Rest of) Asia/Pacific
285 points
South America
209 points
94 points
90 points

Being from the (rest of the) US, what disturbs me about this poll is how much entrepreneurial talent we might be missing out on.

At current count, ~2/3 of readers are from outside the US. These results seem to be backed up by pitdesi's post.

Since HN is so centered on startups, that's quite a few founders and potential entrepreneurs who could be working on the next Google. And all things being equal, there is a 2/3 chance that that next Google won't be happening in the US.

The Valley is amazing, but it's nothing without talent. Making our immigration law more amenable to founders obviously won't cause a mass migration of founders here, but surely some will be attracted to our awesome startup hubs. And we need every edge we can get.

We really need a startup visa.


Edit: A couple of the responses have misinterpreted what I was hoping to convey. Of course I don't think everyone is dying to come to the US. What I am simply arguing is that 1) HN is a decent proxy of the startup community, 2) much of that community is outside of the US, 3) is there anything the US can do to attract some of that talent?

This is a question every country should be asking themselves, because startups are engines of prosperity. For the US, I think the startup visa is a good solution.

"We" don't need a startup visa, "the USA" might. I'd prefer that Indian entrepreneurs capitalized on the excellent opportunities available at home. I support the startup visa in the spirit of supporting choice, but I resent the implication that the whole world should send its talents to the valley.

I'd like it if India and other Asian countries had a 'start-up visa'. Currently its usually too difficult to start-up a company using business or tourist visas for most Asian countries, let alone the police registration issues for even short-term residency and the actual legal registration of a local business (which can take longer than the longest available visas), if that's pursued at all.

I have tried start-ups in several Asian countries, and have assisted friends with other attempts, so have faced these issues repeatedly.

How about singapore? They have programs like EntrePass and a very good K-12 math program.

How about singapore? They have programs like EntrePass and so on.

We did begin one start-up in Singapore, though not using EntrePass, as that required paid-up capital of at least S$50,000 and actually an operating company with bank account before applying for Entrepass. Unless there is a local partner willing to set these up ahead of time, makes using this program more difficult, especially if you want to do a low-cost start-up. There is also usually the requirement of paying the founder(s) a minimum salary to qualify for the visa, so that can artificially increase the amount of paid-up capital required in advance, some of which is then lost to govt coffers. I'd prefer to not pay myself & founders a salary and use my current/chequing account to pay those expenses.

SIN was one of the easier places in general to operate. Through the use of long-term social visas and frequent travel to Malaysia (JB for an hour or a day) for monthly tourist visa. Registering a business was quite easy too.

As an entrepreneur from India, the only issue is a lot of these payment gateways, and licenses of different kinds are easier to get from US. If those become more global I personally would prefer starting and running from India.

This seems to be a good opportunity to create a payment gateway based in India. There's clearly a need here.

Hey Kingsley, do you consider yourself from India, from the SF Bay Area or from both? Note, I don't mean ethnically ;)

Definitely from India. The bay area has been a huge influence, as has the US in general, but it didn't change my sense of identity significantly.

Conversely, not being based in the US comes with lots of disadvantages, such as terrible payment gateways, unfriendly tax and small business legislation, and smaller networks of entrepreneurs. Here in Ede, the Netherlands, I feel pretty isolated, and I imagine a lot of people in Europe also do unless they live somewhere like London or Amsterdam.

Not being based in the US comes with advantages as well.

For example, I don't have to worry about getting health insurance for me or any employees or contractors.

This makes a big difference to startup costs and getting people to work for you.

the other advantage is the lack of software and process patents in Europe meaning less of chance of being sued out of existence. I think this will become more obvious over the next 10 years.

I live in Peru but created my corporation in the US in Delaware just to get the gateways and other US services.

This sounds like a business opportunity all by itself: "virtual domicile hosting" for offshore companies to get access to US services providers.

Would you mind emailing me with a bit of info on how you go about doing that? I assume you're not a US citizen? I'd really appreciate some pointers. davedx@gmail.com :)

I would be interested as well - mattmccor@gmail.com

I've also done this, it's not too hard. There are plenty of online services that let you setup an LLC in Delaware, LLCs have good benefits for non-residents.

You can then setup a business bank account as a non-residents using your LLC EIN, but I had to visit the US in person to do this.

Aside from the trip, what were the costs of this? That's something I'm considering doing...

Sorry about the slow reply:

US LLC Incorporation and registered agent ~$300/y

Everything else is essentially free, I have a registered mailbox that redirects my mail and a US Skype Number attached to my iPhone. You'll need a US address to setup the bank account initially.

Nice .. Im going to chile in a couple of weeks and i was thinking about opening in deláware to .. Can you please add me to skype: j_camarena to chat a little?

I really think that we in the EU should start lobbying the EU Parliament and Commission to get a better environment for (especially web) startups. It will take time, but if we don't start doing that, it will take even longer...

I started a new poll on this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3303323

You're not that isolated. My brother was born in Ede and I still have family there.

Here in France, the web is highly concentrated in Paris (I'd say 80% of all the activity), so it's not uncommon to have geographical disparities.

I'm only willing to work remotely at the moment and lately I've noticed more and more American companies only willing to deal with remote workers inside the US.

What stops you from moving to Amsterdam?

Family commitments.

Two things:

1. It's awfully presumptuous for you to assume that all these people are just raring to come to the US and the only thing holding them back is the lack of a startup visa. Perhaps people don't live in the US because they want to live where they are?

2. Sheer numbers don't mean shit. The Valley has the best concentration of engineering talent anywhere. Opening up the floodgates to anyone and everyone isn't necessarily a good idea.

All things being equal, there is a 2/3 chance that that next Google won't be happening in the US.

In this case, all things are not equal. Being located in the US and specifically in Silicon Valley makes a lot of venture-backed startup life easier, whether you need cofounders, investors, advisors, or employees. It's not a coincidence that Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zynga, and Yahoo are all in the same area.

"It's not a coincidence that Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zynga, and Yahoo are all in the same area"


I kid. But seriously, come to Ireland startups! Tax haven! Economy in ruins! Need jobs!

I might move to the states but it seems counter-productive to me to move from one insane theocracy to another.

Regarding your edit - I can't understand why anyone doing a startup wouldn't want to be based in the US!

Better executive talent, great engineering talent (but perhaps expensive given demand), plenty of VCs, angels etc & importantly, exit opportunities. As another commenter mentioned, the sheer amount of successes (in the Valley especially) isn't coincidence.

The Startup Visa initiative is a great idea, but is that ever going to happen? The current US immigration system is an extremely good filter at keeping generally law-abiding entrepreneurs out, but letting in the exact kind of individuals it purports to protect the US from.

If you're going to keep potential job-creators out in this economy, why let anyone in?

In this regard I love what Chile is doing with Startup Chile. You guys seriously need something like that, where you just grant visas to smart founders.

I still wouldn't like to live in the US, but I totally support that you become more open :)

Didn't read all previous comments, but your last sentence is really cool.

Here, in Belarus, we have a startup challenge called "Belarus Startup" and the prize is a payed trip to the Valley :)

Startup visa is a cool idea

For what it's worth, I didn't coin the phrase. AFAIK, pg started the conversation with the founder visa post: http://www.paulgraham.com/foundervisa.html

And it has since evolved to the startup visa campaign: http://startupvisa.com/

I mistakenly bumped-up the NY/SF answer, thinking (in haste) that it was all-inclusive of the U.S. I'm in Omaha.

Alternately, they could always just SSH into the US. Much easier, faster, cheaper.

My first thought when I read the poll was, "What about everything between the US and South America?". I think the way these polls are written tells more about the person writing the poll than anything else. I can't imagine the usefulness of splitting the US into NYC/SF and everything else. Likewise with splitting the UK and the rest of Europe.

The UK is definitely a special case cf. the rest of Europe. For one, there is common language to consider. Secondly, it appears the UK makes up the next largest userbase after the USA. It is as if to say 'why separate Canada from the US'. Similarly, NYC and SF are the prominent start up areas. Knowing who is in and out of these has uses.

My take was that the OP would like to do every country, but obviously must limit numbers to something sensible.

Je suis @ Mexico aussi. We are North America!!!

I am in Mexico too. So either North America if you go for a geographical division, or Latin America, if you wish to characterize culturally.

Same here, from Baja.

Do people post this stuff just to earn karma points? What use would this half-thought through data set provide? and who would use it?

Can we NOT repeat the same polls again?

I suggest creating a Hacker News 'polls' section which lists a permanent list of polls ideally with a public data API and bonus points for a pub/sub mechanism to help 3rd party application developers build something that might actually be useful...

I'll even build it for you, but only if there is a purpose to it all.

I posted a high-karma-earning poll once ("Do you know C?"). I suspected if it caught on, I would earn a bunch of karma, but I posted it because I didn't think as many people knew C as seemed to be commonly assumed (and because I couldn't find a previous poll on the same topic). Sometimes you just want to know how reality aligns with common belief.

Nevertheless, I think your idea is great.

I think there should be a log softener applied to submission karma.

ha ha ha ha !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The timing of this poll is definitely going to throw off the results. It's nearly 2AM on the US West Coast, and most people are going to be asleep.

Since you'd like to get reliable results from all over the world, there's hardly any single suitable timing for such a poll. The only hope is for it to stay visible for close to 24 hours.

If it stays in the first page for 24 hours, the final result will be significant enough.

(in)significant enough, yes. "(Rest of) Europe" goes out through the roof and now guess which of the EU-countries.

Do non EU countries qualify for (Rest of) Europe ;)

Nope, countries like Switzerland, Norway, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey certainly don't qualify... </sarcasm>

Only countries that qualify for the eurovision contest count ;-)

Israel then?

Pretty much any country kinda close-ish to Europe.

We're currently 24 hours in. Saving results for posterity:

United States - NYC and SF area 1473 points

Canada 519 points

UK 590 points

(Rest of) Europe 1632 points

Australia/Oceania 271 points

South America 181 points

(Rest of) Asia/Pacific 247 points

Africa 76 points

(Rest of the) United States 2220 points

China 71 points

India 294 points

The timing isn't really the issue. As danmaz74 said, it needs to be on 24h.

If you would start it during the day in an US-timezone, other time zones would be underrepresented.

that and I almost clicked united states half awake, before realizing the other united states (the rest of the states) was way down below.

Although many Europeans are at work and may not be on HN, I'd expect to see the most votes from Asia.

"Although many Europeans are at work and may not be on HN"

Uhm, that's exactly why I'm on HN.

:) indeed.

OT, but frankly such attitude is recurring and I can't imagine how it is compatible with HN "ethos".

If you're at work, be effective there or change the work. What's to be so proud in slacking during work hours? Would you want such people working in your startup?

Different ways to look at work ethic:

Mercenary (sneaky): "They're getting the exact amount of work from me that they manage to extract."

Mercenary (quid pro quo): "They're getting what they're paying for. If they want increased work ethic, they have to increase their pay ethic."

Mercenary (clever): "I will go above and beyond the call of duty in ways that get noticed by my boss."

Work ethic (intrinsic/weberian): "Work in the sweat of thine brow from dusk till dawn. I sleep well at night knowing I always do my utmost for my company."

Work ethic (LessWrong.com / game-theory): "It's utility-maximizing in the long-run to pre-commit to being the kind of person who has good work-ethic, even if there is no utility to be gained in a specific concrete situation."

Work ethic (soldier): "I'm a professional, I get the job done."

Hostile: "Fuck 'em!"

Snake: "Fuck 'em! But pretend to like 'em so I get a raise."

Survivalist: "Anxiety. Depression. Gastric upset. Make it through another day. They took my red stapler."

Ruthless prioritizer: "It's really too bad that I'm slacking off at work. But time/energy is scarce and my own projects have to take precedence, sorry."

Conscientious objector: "I'm not going to work hard for my company, 'cause they're at best neutral and at worst actively harming humanity."

Attention-span challenged: "[refreshes Reddit]"

Wow! Great list!

I find that in a discussion it's best to avoid the trench warfare of "you vs me" and instead try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

Intelligence: understanding a given perspective.

Knowledge: knowing of many different perspectives.

Wisdom: choosing the perspective that is most right under the circumstances.

No one can work 100% all day every day. You get 4-5 hours of good, solid productivity before you burn out. Take a break every now and then, you'll live longer.

I don't think reading some news after lunch, or while having your morning coffee, is that bad for your productivity ...

When someone claims that he's on HN "exactly because he's at work", it's not sounding like some innocent morning coffee break.

I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't sign up for any ethos and I don't like policing other people's "innocent coffee breaks" either.

If we're now shunning people for not maximizing productivity, you can count me out.

Your comment keeps getting up/down-voted like crazy, which seems to indicate that there is a strong and opinionated divide on the topic of proper work ethic.

It would be a lot more interesting if people actually stated their arguments, though.

HN isn't that bad because you can read articles on how to improve your coding skills, learn about libraries that can help you be more productive by not reinventing the wheel, and so on. As long as it doesn't get in the way of work that has to be done, there's much worse ways of slacking off.

Most are not in startups I guess. For me it is the duty of your boss/company to give you enough interesting work that you don't even think about checking HN.

Cologne, Germany. I'm running a 3d printing workshop on the weekend here. If you're interested, have a look at http://dingfabrik.de/2011/11/24/3d-drucker-an-einem-wochenen... (same info in English at http://blog.reprap.org/2011/11/reprap-prusa-iteration-2-buil... ). There's only a couple spots left though.

If I was near Germany at all I'd go to the workshop. I'm building my first Prusa with some friends this weekend. Hopefully everything will go well with our build. Best of luck with your workshop :).

Get on the #reprap IRC channel on freenode. We're there to help.

An e-buddy of mine that would probably be interested in meeting you: http://www.richardspindler.com/ (he runs his own hackerspace)

Dang. We should've met before I left, I guess.. Ah well, I'm fairly certain I'll end up in CGN again in the forseeable future :)

That's pretty cool. Do you know of a similar place like DingFabrik in southern Germany (BaWü)?

Yes! Where are you? I can get you some contact info.

That'd be nice. I'm close to Stuttgart. Don't they have a website? My contact info is in my profile.

UK and "Rest of Europe", got to love this point of view :-) You might as well go ahead and say "UK" and "Europe", wouldn't be too far off the mark.

On a (loosely) related note, dividing Europe to West/East (perhaps Central) is purely political (it follows Berlin Wall[1]). For example, countries of V4[2] are in the middle[3] and yet they are called Eastern Europe. Another reason might be that most of the East is covered by Russia.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visegrád_group

3. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/Europe_po...

dividing Europe to West/East (perhaps Central) is purely political (it follows Berlin Wall[1])

There has been a long history of splitting Europe into East/West, starting with when the Roman Empire was split into East & West. Though the definition of what's east and what's west has changed since then.

the division could also be based on the population density. in the west it's higher -> the east-west boundary is to the west..

I would say "UK" and "Continental Europe".

Where does that leave Ireland and the Nordic countries?

The Nordic countries (except Iceland) are technically part of Continental Europe.


"Techincally" yes, but up here in Sweden we usually exclude ourselves from Continental Europe as it doesn't feel like we're part of it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Europe#Scandinavia

Ok, you are right.

Ireland is left in the same bin as Mexico. You can see it up there, can't you?

seems like the poll divides the world into SF(&NY), English speaking areas, China, and the rest of the world! :)

One of these days I need to run a survey on my Hacker Newsletter (http://www.hackernewsletter.com) project, but here is the top 15 locations based on known locations via MailChimp:

USA 41.6%, United Kingdom 8.0%, Canada 5.1%, India 4.3%, Germany 3.7%, Australia 2.9%, France 2.0%, Netherlands 1.6%, Sweden 1.5%, Brazil 1.4%, Italy 1.2%, Poland 1.2%, Spain 1.1%, Portugal 1.0%, China 1.0%

When you say "England", do you mean "UK", or do you intend for residents of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be included under "(Rest of) Europe"?

Edit: Thanks for updating the poll option.

Cant HackerNews just publish the Google analytics stats for this?

Agreed. This seems like a more accurate representation.

It would be interesting to compare the results of this poll with the access statistics from the server...

UK here. It is interesting to how the poll was segregated! can I ask where you are from?

I've always thought that a lot of people from the UK are guilty of thinking US, UK, Maybe France, Germany, Spain, RoW (Rest of World)

Thankfully the internet and travel have made the world a smaller place and these opinions are starting to break down!

the reason I made this distinction was mainly due to the cultural similarities the UK shares with the US (not only the language), which should result in the UK being overrepresented in this poll (compared to the rest of Europe).

I didn't want to split this up too much, and because of the (kind of) US-centric nature of HN I just wanted to get a rough estimate about where people reside.

Which cultural similarities that would lead to overrepresentation in this poll do you mean? The tendency to spend long hours on the internet?

I voted Africa, being from South Africa. When I clicked on the up-arrow, the number of points did not increment immediately. I had to refresh the page to see the new number of points. Poor user experience.

Sup buddy? Lagos Nigeria here.

Are you in Capetown? I heard that is the SF of these parts.

I'm from Cape Town. Some parts of it might be like SF, but maybe not so much in the startup sense.

More than Joburg, methinks. You have Silicon Cape, Google Ventures, topless models, great mountain biking and a local government that has some interest in your continued success.

Having lived in both Cape Town and Joburg (presently), I've noticed an interesting difference between the city cultures. People in Cape Town seem to start up creative and popular but small businesses, whereas people in Joburg seem to leverage off the huge business network here to create more 'serious', traditional businesses that tend to be more profitable but less 'cool' or popular.

Furthermore, in Cape Town it was rare for me to actually meet people interested in doing a startup whereas in Joburg EVERYBODY wants to know what you do, who your contacts are, if you're keen to get in on something, etc. I'm actually a bit overwhelmed here by opportunities compared to Cape Town.

Seen everything but topless models here.

I am also in Cape Town! Groetnis...

I am in Pretoria.

I'm in Douala, Cameroon... So, when's the Africa HN Meetup? ;)

Big continent.... :-)

Hello fellow South African!

One more for Joburg.

Kenyan here, from Nairobi. Most of my more geeky friends are HN lurkers.

Okay, where would you put Turkey here? Europe or Asia? We're not totally Middle-Eastern, nor totally European. In fact, if you believe there's a cultural cliff between the Middle East and Europe, Turkey is that cliff, which makes it a cradle of contradictions and thousand-year-old battles.

Lacking the option to vote twice, I'd imagine the HN crowd from Turkey would consider themselves closer to Europe.

The time zone database, however, has this:

    d243875439adb3b667e82af04ad8be63  /usr/share/zoneinfo/Europe/Istanbul
    d243875439adb3b667e82af04ad8be63  /usr/share/zoneinfo/Asia/Istanbul
which is twice more "accurate" than whatever vote I'd cast on this poll :)

edit: Ah, turns out one can cast two votes. Anyway...

It depends... on which side of the Bosphorus are you? ;)

Not Constantinople?

Not Europe, if you ask a lot of Europeans :P

Also see http://hackrtrackr.com/ - a locator of (for?) HN readers. Put yourself on the map too!

Asia/Pacific should be split up more.

One vote category that covers 60% of the world's population and 30% of Earth's land area is not very specific.

Australia has 22 million people and Canada has 35 million, while Asia (Oceania not included) has 3,900 million, yet the former two get their own country-specific categories.

Agreed. As a New Zealander I guess I would technically fall into 'Asia/Pacific', but I can't bring myself to choose that because NZ has next to nothing in common with any Asian nation. Consider providing the regional option of 'Australasia' or, better yet, 'Oceania' instead of just the single-country 'Australia'.

We're oceania..

Yep, that option was added after I posted.

While that's not unreasonable, it's also IMHO not unreasonable for an English-language site to offer more specific categories for English-speaking regions than non-English speaking regions.

China is split out, which is 30% of population in of Asia.

I find one fact quite interesting.

All 8 Israelis have added Israel separately rather than voting up, commenting under existing one.

I wonder what doe this say about us.

First. Learn to use Ctrl+F :)

There should be a "Middle East" option.. Asia/Pacific is too wide to be really meaningful

Japan - only the 3rd largest economy in the world, gets grouped with "(Rest of) Asia/Pacific", while India, Africa, UK and Canada get their own spots ...? :)

Nordic would be an interesting breakout; I get the impression they are overrepresented

Because of the timing of posting this poll, I imagine the results to be skewed towards Europe too.

Where is the Caribbean on that list?

Kingston, Jamaica!!

Everything down the USA seems to be South America in the OPs eyes.

Cheers from Argentina!

I'm a SF expat in Rio so not sure how to handle that. I clicked South America.

And from Corrientes!

from Buenos Aires!

Kingston, Jamaica also, and the Caribbean is NOT South America

Sure, but there's no "Rest of World" option in that poll.

Do tell...are you a Ruby developer by any chance?

no mostly Java with smatterings of C, Perl, PHP, Python + Obj C

Perhaps PG could post a Google analytics chart?

HN does not use Google Analytics or any other kind of analytics tracking for that matter. I think they used to use mixpanel and had the mixpanel logo at the bottom of the homepage before though.

Hmm... Europe leads.. would be surprised if US did not come out on top by tommorrow this time..

- provided poll stays on top of course...

Looks like i was biased towards america after all.....surprising to know that, given that am in India..Hmm

Israel, which makes it (Rest of) Asia/Pacific

Would you mind updating your entry with how many upvotes you have? I would take it to represent roughly how many others are from Israel as well.

Not necessarily. I'm not sure most people will see the post, it's too far down.

E.g., idan's post "Israel!" lower down the page (at the moment).

P.S. I'm Israeli too.

Not sure it will work, since I've seen at least 3 other mentions of Israel, /before/ I posted mine.

What about Central America? I guess we are few in HN, but if it's not part of poll, we never know :( This happen in almost all the demographics polls here...

Can you add this option sasvari?

Indeed. We, central, are always "merged" into south america or Mexico depending on who you ask. I don't blame them though since in recent centuries we have not been a major world player.

Los gringos normalmente consideran Sudamérica a todo lo que esta por debajo de EE.UU. inluso México como en este caso.

I'm from Mexico to .. Please use english. HN's standard.

You're right, I wouldn't like people to speak other languages but English in HN, sorry.

South Africa :) And visitors always welcome!

Just got back from holiday there. How do you get any work done in that heat!?

I just got back to the UK from a 2 week holiday in SA. We went North of Pretoria where it was 38 degrees, but didn't feel too bad since it was a welcome break to the miserable cold in the UK and it was reasonably dry heat. I'm from SA originally, you get by with aircon in the office and in the car. Try having to wear a suit when the car's aircon is broken, it sucks.

It doesn't get unbearably hot, at least in Pretoria, and the winters are really mild.

yeah it gets damn warm here! cape town (where I live) has a sea breeze so is a bit more moderate, though.

Air Conditioners ?

Nice seeing some fellow countrymen here!

Greece. (we are fine)

Even if the poll is posted for many hours on HN's front page, we shouldn't rely on it for an inference of where HN participants live, in the level of detail shown in the poll. Just three days ago HN had a good thread about gaps in statistics knowledge even among persons with a university education,


and polls like this on HN are a good illustration (in the comments) about what people think they know about statistics that just isn't so. I've even prepared a FAQ on this issue, especially for HN polls, and here it is again for anyone who didn't see it last time.


As I commented previously when we had a poll on the ages of HNers, the data can't be relied on to make an inference about the age distribution of HN participants, and similarly here we can't make a valid inference about the geographical distribution of HN participants. That's because the data are not from a random sample of the relevant population. One professor of statistics, who is a co-author of a highly regarded AP statistics textbook, has tried to popularize the phrase that "voluntary response data are worthless" to go along with the phrase "correlation does not imply causation." Other statistics teachers are gradually picking up this phrase.

-----Original Message----- From: Paul Velleman [SMTPfv2@cornell.edu] Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 1998 5:10 PM To: apstat-l@etc.bc.ca; Kim Robinson Cc: mmbalach@mtu.edu Subject: Re: qualtiative study

Sorry Kim, but it just aint so. Voluntary response data are worthless. One excellent example is the books by Shere Hite. She collected many responses from biased lists with voluntary response and drew conclusions that are roundly contradicted by all responsible studies. She claimed to be doing only qualitative work, but what she got was just plain garbage. Another famous example is the Literary Digest "poll". All you learn from voluntary response is what is said by those who choose to respond. Unless the respondents are a substantially large fraction of the population, they are very likely to be a biased -- possibly a very biased -- subset. Anecdotes tell you nothing at all about the state of the world. They can't be "used only as a description" because they describe nothing but themselves.


For more on the distinction between statistics and mathematics, see




I think Professor Velleman promotes "Voluntary response data are worthless" as a slogan for the same reason an earlier generation of statisticians taught their students the slogan "correlation does not imply causation." That's because common human cognitive errors run strongly in one direction on each issue, so the slogan has take the cognitive error head-on. Of course, a distinct pattern in voluntary responses tells us SOMETHING (maybe about what kind of people come forward to respond), just as a correlation tells us SOMETHING (maybe about a lurking variable correlated with both things we observe), but it doesn't tell us enough to warrant a firm conclusion about facts of the world. The Literary Digest poll



is a spectacular historical example of a voluntary response poll with a HUGE sample size and high response rate that didn't give a correct picture of reality at all.

When I have brought up this issue before, some other HNers have replied that there are some statistical tools for correcting for response-bias effects, IF one can obtain a simple random sample of the population of interest and evaluate what kinds of people respond. But we can't do that here on HN.

Another reply I frequently see when I bring up this issue is that the public relies on voluntary response data all the time to make conclusions about reality. To that I refer careful readers to what Professor Velleman is quoted as saying above (the general public often believes statements that are baloney) and to what Google's director of research, Peter Norvig, says about research conducted with better data,


that even good data (and Norvig would not generally characterize voluntary response data as good data) can lead to wrong conclusions if there isn't careful thinking behind a study design. Again, human beings have strong predilections to believe certain kinds of wrong data and wrong conclusions. We are not neutral evaluators of data and conclusions, but have predispositions (cognitive illusions) that lead to making mistakes without careful training and thought.

Another frequently seen reply is that sometimes a "convenience sample" (this is a common term among statisticians for a sample that can't be counted on to be a random sample) of a population offers just that, convenience, and should not be rejected on that basis alone. But the most thoughtful version of that frequent reply I previously saw here on HN did correctly point out that if we know from the get-go that the sample was not done statistically correctly, then even if we are confident (enough) that HN participants are young (in the case of polls on age) and American (in the case of polls on location), we wouldn't want to extrapolate from that to conclude that the users of any technology site are young, or that start-up founders in general are American.

On my part, I wildly guess that most HNers are residents in the English-speaking developed world, because the concerns of Hacker News are concerns of people living in developed countries and the language of discussion here is English. Moreover, Hacker News was founded by people in the United States. So it wouldn't be any surprise if a plurality of participants on Hacker News live in the United States, and a majority live in countries where English is a routine language learned in secondary education. But we can't conclude anything from this poll, whether it is on the HN front page for one hour, one day, or one week, about what the overall distribution is on HN of participants residing in "United States - NYC and SF area" as contrasted with "Australia/Oceania," or any other bin the data are sorted into, because the data are voluntary response data and are useless for modeling reality.

Nobody argues that this is not scientific research, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting or useful. It also violates some of your expectations: the majority is not in the US, India is underrepresented despite English being their second language. And if i might add, despite their national focus on entrepreneurship, the UK numbers are low.

It also violates some of your expectations: the majority is not in the US

My tentatively expressed expectation was written in my post (grandparent to this post) as "So it wouldn't be any surprise if a plurality of participants on Hacker News live in the United States, and a majority live in countries where English is a routine language learned in secondary education." The word "plurality" does not mean the same thing as the word "majority." So far the poll results (which, for reasons I mentioned in the grandparent post, should not be taken as the last word on this issue) show the sum of "United States - NYC and SF area" and "(Rest of the) United States" comfortably outscoring any single country mentioned in the poll, which fits the definition of "plurality" for these purposes. But, yes, we have no idea where most HN participants live, and we have no idea who comes forward to answer yet another HN poll as contrasted with HN participants who use their HN time to discuss more verifiable factual issues.

As I'm writing this the numbers are 2186 for the US vs 496 for the UK. The US population is almost five times the size of the UK, so the UK is actually overrepresented compared to the US.

Numbers for India is low because Indians are just waking up now =)

You make a very articulate point, but let me disagree on this: It isn't true that a poll like this is "useless for modeling reality". It tells us the distribution of voluntarily given responses about the geographical distribution of registered users of HN who happened to see the poll and happened to want to answer.

How does this correlate to the absolute geographical distribution of readers? Or of registered, but maybe inactive, users? That is difficult to guess. But the information from the poll is, for me, already very interesting.

By the way, I'll add that even with polls you can always only measure voluntary responses, even if the sample is randomly extracted, and there is no way around this.

One professor of statistics, who is a co-author of a highly regarded AP statistics textbook, has tried to popularize the phrase that "voluntary response data are worthless" to go along with the phrase "correlation does not imply causation."

And look how successful the campaign to educate about correlation versus causation has been...

Just as you note, people tend to believe whatever the heck they want to believe.

Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but what is "voluntary response data"? Is the author arguing that the only statistically valid way to do a study is to put a gun to peoples' heads and demand that they take a survey? I can't think of many ethically sound ways to conduct a study without responses being voluntary.

Think about if the poll were (the horror!) political. The person who responds to that kind of poll is the intersection of:

1) An HN reader

2) Somebody who thinks politics on HN is a good idea

3) Somebody who is on HN / has free time TODAY, skewing the distribution in favor of certain verticals that are in a low point of their seasonal cycle or against startups in a coding marathon

4) Somebody who personally cares about politics sufficiently to have an opinion strong enough to want to be counted, this is likely to skew the distribution in favor of extremes

In contrast, if pg picks 1000 random HN users and personally asks them the poll question via e-mail, some of these biases evaporate. And you lose the "interested bystander" effect whereby more interested people tend to want to take the poll, because the only way to take it is by personal invitation.

They're still better than basing your opinions on anecdotal data. For example, I previously believed that the majority of HN users were in the Bay Area, mostly because it seems like users mention that they're there a lot. I was probably basing that opinion on less than a dozen data points.

Is it really better? You put a lot of anecdotes together in a non-proper sample, the result is still junk data.

> because the data are voluntary response data and are useless for modeling reality

Unless the reality you seek to model is regarding voluntary responders. Just pretend the OP said "those volunteering information to Hacker News (commentators)" instead of "Hacker News readers".

The primary use of online polls, these days, appears to be for news websites to generate hooks for articles, leading to all sorts of spurious conclusions and misleading headlines.

Oh wait...

Please make the list easier to process by rearranging the options in the poll so that related regions are adjacent, e.g. I have regrouped the relevant options:

United States - NYC and SF Area

(Rest of) United States



(Rest of) Asia/Pacific

Another option would be to arrange the options alphabetically. In that case, "(Rest of) United States" would become "United States - Excl. NYS and SF Area" and "(Rest of) Asia/Pacific" would become "Asia/Pacific - Excl. China and India".

unfortunately this is not possible once a poll is submitted (with additional choices being appended at the end)!

I would imagine that the Washington DC Metro area (DC, Northern Virginia, Maryland) has a reasonably sized proportion of that "(Rest of the) United States" total. The startup scene, and tech scene in general (largely thanks to defense contractors), are quite active here.

Maybe pg could release a picture of a few months of Google analytics or the like on a map.

"(Rest of the) United States" and "(Rest of) Europe" seem too broad, since they have by far the largest numbers of votes :(

There should probably be a separate poll for the US and Europe where regions within Europe and the US are differentiated :)

You should have put Chicago on that list.

It would be really awesome if all the countries were represented.

In Prague, Czech Republic, after abandoning the UK last year.

What were your reasons if I may ask?

I needed a change of pace and wanted to do something new and interesting, then I met a lady here on a trip, so I took the opportunity :)

Prague as well, at least we didn't have to mark it as eastern Europe.

Same here, out of the UK a couple of years earlier

cheers, me too, except I am from Turkey.

Czech, too, closer to Brno, though.

It would be interesting to see a split of 'London, UK' and 'Rest of UK' as I reckon there will be a big percentage of UK HN readers in London. Coming from Bristol myself, it would be good to see what the split is outside of London. There is a focus right now on TechCity in London, but I believe there are lots of great things going on elsewhere in the UK. Specifically, Bristol and Bath (OK I might be a little biased there...)

I'm in the (Rest of the) United States. I would like to move to (someplace else in) the (Rest of the) United States.

All I want for Xmas and all that. (Sigh.)

Cambridge, MA, but recent transplant from the SF Bay Area

Brazil, one of the few I think.

We're not that few.

That's great to hear... I said that because I tried to pull a Brazilian Hacker News meeting in Campinas or São Paulo and go 0 answers... :(

I'm in Vitória and I really doubt there's another HN user from around here.

Belo Horizonte here. We're too spread apart.

We're almost perfectly spread apart!

Rio here

I'm in São José dos Campos and would go to a meetup either in Campinas or in São Paulo (apart from SJC, of course).

It's great to see more people from SJC, I was born there too. I spend most of my time in São Carlos (undergrad at UFSCar) though.

I was born in SJC :D my parents still live there.

Porto Alegre here.

two of us then.

Three then.

Curitiba here



São Paulo here.

São Paulo here too.

Maybe PG would like to chime in with some actual figures from the logs? That'd give a pretty accurate guide to where HN readers are coming from.

Kampala, Uganda. I'll admit I'm surprised by the geographic diversity. Maybe some traffic analytics would be interesting to compare.

Accra, Ghana-West Africa. I've always wondered where the hackers of the world were hidden. Theres a lot of them right here in Africa at www.meltwater.org

Nice to learn that Meltwater alumni are here at HN! If Francis and Samuel from Streemio are still there, tell them Linus said hi!

Being from the (Rest of ) Europe it surprises me how many we are and how little we know about each other here. I know there are some startup valleys in Israel or Estonia etc, but I shouldn't be visiting a US-centric forum to figure it out. Do European entrepreneurs have a similar forum?

Plus I d like to see whats the distribution in the EMEAs

Given the timing of this poll (and it's European-bias as of 10:30 UTC) I would have been interested in a breakout between the European subregions (Eastern/Western/etc.).

(Although I guess limiting this as much as possible is desirable, otherwise there will be too many options available and the poll will not be very user-friendly.)

Poll results roughly correlate with my web app visitors ("When is good time to post on HN?"):

  California + New York 2,516

  Rest of U.S. 3,661

  United Kingdom 797 

  Canada 618 

  India 364 

  Germany 293 

  France 233 

  Australia 221 

  Netherlands 133 

  Sweden 131 

  Italy 96

In Singapore, though I'm from the U.S. :)

Also in Singapore, but from Sweden.

Saw in your profile that you're bootstrapping, do you find Singapore a good environment for a startup? I haven't really looked into it, yet..

Like Derek said, lots of good support and interest in the SG community. The government also (from my newbie eye) seems to be genuinely interested in promoting startups and creating a startup community.

On the flip side, unless your startup's market is geographically agnostic, I think you'll have to constantly remind yourself to look outside the SG market if you'll want any kind of real success, since the SG market is kinda small.

As for everything else (like talent pool), I'm not really sure yet as I've only been here for a few months :)

Good points!

I was mainly thinking in terms of things like funding, visa and registering a company. Maybe it's time I check out HackerspaceSG. I've done some googling and checked SG government websites, but it's always valuable to hear others experience.

Anyway, my side-project(s) are not going to "startup"-phase anytime soon.

It's a pretty incredible community here. Hackerspace, e27, SGEntrepreneurs, Echelon, JFDI, SmartSpace, StartupRoots, FounderInstitute, F11, etc. So many startup meetups and events.

So if you need social/community support, there's lots of it in Singapore.

Thanks a lot! This is useful information!

So it sounds like we have enough people to do a HN meetup @ SG? :)

Sounds good, I'm in Singapore but from Aus

fo sho. I think the local hackerspace would probably be a good place for it (though I'm not a member)....

Me neither. Haven't been there actually. I was thinking a drink session might be better since most of us probably have never met each other?

Ping me if there's a gettogether being oranized. I'm in Singapore, too but from Sweden. :)

Sounds like a good idea!

Cool. Folks in SG, drop me an email so we can get organized. hboon@motionobj.com

I'd be up for that too!

#02 in Singapore, from Singapore though. :P

In Singapore as well, originally from Malaysia.

In Singapore too.

Any person in Nigeria here? I dey hail o!


Berlin, where there is something of a startup scene.


In the Solomon Islands on a 2G connection - to me HN is one of the most responsive sites around.

But that does not seem to be too good as the sites that are linked might not be that small in size.

It would be easier to just link to a website with ip location tracker. Maybe this: http://www.ipligence.com/visitor_extended/d2c1a444710bdca6d0...

Mexico (which is in North America).

It's a bit disappointing to see "Japan" (where I live) as part of "rest of Asia/Pacific" while UK gets a entry all for itself. Japan is one of the most active technological hubs in the world, it deserves to be treated a single location.

Here's a map of over 5,000 IP's referred from Hacker News: http://jmarbach.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Hacker-News-M...

Even as someone who lives in the UK, it would be interesting to split NYC and SF.

Interesting to notice that the poll will reach only people that:

* read the post

* want to disclose

* know how to vote :-)

It would be nice if HN exposed some stats like this, if you use GA I suppose it is quite easy.

What about a stats section with some general stats available to the public ?

From Spain, (Rest of) Europe

I would have preferred to see more options for the US. It's a big country. The Pacific Northwest region in particular, seems to be gaining some entrepreneurial fire, but maybe I'm just biased.

Only 70 from China?

I wander if they have their own HN, along with Baidu and Weibo :)

Wow! Few Pakistanis here! Quite unexpected for me,

I am from Karachi,Pakistan

Being that the majority of users are in the United States, it might be interesting to see a poll showing how many actually fall outside the NYC and SF areas.

I'm not sure the majority are from the US. Maybe it'll be the largest item but the others together may outweigh it.

Although I live in Dallas, TX, USA... still good to see my fellow Pakistanis here! As I write this I am actually visiting in Pakistan for a few days.

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