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No New Accounts Today
718 points by pg on Jan 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments
Traffic is unprecedentedly high today, presumably because Reddit is blacked out. I don't want to repay them for their impressive stand by stealing their users, so I've temporarily turned off the ability to create new accounts.

I am surprised you would think of it as 'stealing' users. More likely you are trying to avoid too many of a certain type of user that is only on HN because reddit is down.

I imagine that too many new users on one day is a troublesome idea regardless of what site they’re from or why they arrive here.

It’s as simple as noting that new users are new and still learning from everyone else around them. When everybody is new, it’s hard to get a feel for the current culture and style.

I imagine that it would probably work on a permanent basis to gate new accounts to a certain fixed value per day or proportion of new to old accounts, e.g. .1% per day or whatever.

Personally, I came here from Reddit 1,791 days ago, so I will be the first to say that I hope we don’t have an “anti-Redditor refugee” policy, whether express or implied. Far better to demonstrate through action and voting what we value as a culture and welcome as many people to the site as we can handle without diluting our ability to teach by example.

The idea of the percentage based gate was implemented on Slashdot to guard moderator privilege and it worked well.

"new users are new and still learning from everyone else around them. When everybody is new, it’s hard to get a feel for the current culture and style"

More could be done to explain the culture in addition to what is now on newsguidelines.html and the faq.

I am surprised you would think of it as 'stealing' users.

This is almost surely an example of euphemism in the service of politeness. My favorite example of Paul Graham wording in the service of saying something firm nicely is "When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. 'That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3' can be shortened to '1 + 1 is 2, not 3.'" I love the use of "can be shortened to" there, as if pg's only concern is saving people extra keystrokes. I think the polite phrase "stealing users" here similarly leaves another idea unexpressed.

I assume he wrote it between the lines to be less offensive. It's not that we want to push people away, just signal that they should think before posting more than on Reddit.

Adianoeta is my latest favorite vocabulary word.


This appears to be what is referred to in politics as a "dog whistle": http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog-whistle_politics

That implies that the message was intended to be interpreted in that way, and this is all not some hypothetical misguided intellectual class warfare burbling to the surface.

It seems to me like a gesture that Reddit will probably appreciate (though I don't know whether they'd say so out loud, politeness probably requires them to say something like "Why, PG, good sir, you didn't have to do that!") and so I see no reason to question the truth of PG's stated motive.

Wasn't there something in Methods of Rationality about this? A discussion between Quirrel and Harry, if I recall correctly.

The relevant thing here is not whether pg's stated motive is consistent with his actions, let alone whether reddit will appreciate his actions, but whether the mind-states corresponding to that motive are the most probable of those that would result in his saying what he did.

A good reason to question his motive is the fact that HN and reddit are not necessarily substitutes for each other; another is the fact that he's well aware (as others have pointed out) of differences between the two communities that he wants to preserve.

I never really liked how some HN users like to distinguish themselves as 'not Reddit'...

...but the two aren't mutually exclusive. After all, if Reddit users permanently migrate here, it actually does mean that Reddit's owners and admins are paying for their stand.

I couldn't agree more--I browse both HN and Reddit. I think the purpose of the two boards are different and I'm fine with that.

one is for trolling, one is for conversation...

My mind is blown by the self-negation of this comment. If it was deliberate, my hat is off to you.

I have a hard time telling which one is for which, sometimes.

sadly, this too seems to be true much of the time:

one is for fun, one is for pedantry

No it's not stealing users. It's copying users. You see, stealing implies....

There's something cheeky about it, almost-- "Well, we wouldn't want to steal any of your users, haha!" wink

All in good fun, though, I suppose :)

Better then Erlang posts, I guess. Also having this as the most voted post kind of ruined the subtlety of the gesture...

Yes i guess that was a wise move but i think i would consider myself to be what you would call "Reddit crowd". But not all of them are like that. Its about culture and it usually takes some time for people to adapt to a new "culture".

I'm in the "reddit crowd" too, but I carry myself differently here. I imagine most people who visit both sites would agree. Here, I use my name, I avoid memes, and I think much harder before I put my opinion online (largely because I'm using my name). I make silly jokes all the time in real life, because that's just part of what I do, but this isn't the forum for it. reddit can't have a thread without it devolving into silliness, which is fun in its own way but not what I come here for.

I think it's a good point. When Mashable creates articles to help people thwart the Wikipedia black-out, I personally find that despicable.

Of course, the main difference is that allowing users to register would be a passive act, whereas Mashable is actively "profiting" on the SOPA black-out.

It can't be "stealing" since Reddit accounts don't expire when one opens another account on HN...

Time is a limited quantity for even the most prolific Redditor. Let HN not deprive them of it unnecessarily! :-)

I think that reddit would consider it stealing users as well as not wanting that type of user. I mean...can I combine those theories...am I allowed to do that?

Regardless of whether this was a kind gesture or a defensive move, I think it was very well stated, and an excellent example of diplomacy. I think I learned something from it.

"an excellent example of diplomacy"

I don't know whether it was for diplomacy or not (it could be but only pg can answer that). But if it was done for a reason other than the stated "stealing" what's wrong with just saying "we have heavy volume today because of other sites that are down including reddit so I decided to turn off new account creation".

That's honest and avoids any chance of double speak.

Edit (based on comment below which I can't reply to):

Saying that my statement is honest is not the same as saying what was done is not honest.

Why do you assume he's not being honest and then criticize him for that? Could it be that pg is trying not to be a dick?

pg, could you post the HN traffic stats for today as a post-mortem style post?

We got just under 1.6 million page views, whereas on an ordinary weekday we'd get just under 1.3 million.

What is the daily variance like?

I'd like to see this as well. I think a comparison against pre/post blackout trafic stats would be interesting examination of behavior during an outage.

I wonder if there's a startup opportunity in helping online communities avoid the Eternal September effect. Some would claim reddit has solved the problem (subreddits) but others would disagree, citing front-page quality decline. So it seems to be an unsolved, universal problem right now.


I wanted to look up Eternal September - but hit the Wikipedia anti-SOPA page for about the 8th time today. If nothing else, I bet a lot of people have learned how much they depend on Wikipedia today.

What the others said. Or, append ?banner=none to the URL.

As some haskell-cafe folk put it: because censorship only affects the innocent. Everybody else knows how to get around it.

If you (or someone else) hasn't managed to look it up, it refers to the days when the internet was primarily used by universities (i.e. home users were not a thing). Every September there'd be a bunch of freshmen who didn't understand the culture or etiquette, who would quickly dissipate as they got bored or figured out the rules. The spread of the internet into homes via AOL in the 90s brought about the same phenomenon previously only observed in September with frosh in that now there are continuously new/ignorant users on the internet who really don't get the "rules".

If I remember correctly the eternal september refer to usenet and AOLs decision in September to let their users access it.

I use Wikipedia as basically an extension of my brain. I'm in a history program at university, and so many of the names and dates that are essential to it I don't actually know. I realized this when I was writing something last night. I was writing about the English Civil War, and the Restoration, and I wanted to comment on the relationship between Charles I and Charles II, and I went to Wikipedia...and it was down!I had to go to my shelf and get a book. Who does that?

Do you have encyclopedia? how old?

If you hit ESC just as the page loads, you can get to Wikipedia content.

Enjoy :)

I don't think that's quite the point: I'm sure most people here know how to access the content, but clicking a link and having the anti-SOPA popup appear jarringly reminds us of how frequently we use Wikipedia for information.

Turn off JavaScript to read Wikipedia, if you didn't already.

Search on Google with javascript/instant enabled and view the cached version from the panel that pops up, when you click on the double arrows that come up to the right of the link.

Wow, you guys are much classier than I am. I've just been hitting Google's "cached" links for Wikipedia today.

Append ?banner=no to the url.

See MetaFilter for an example of a community site that suffered a decline in quality (starting around 2002) and then recovered. I'm surprised that MeFi's "MetaTalk", which segregates talk about rules and norms in its own sub-forum, hasn't been more widely copied.

Funny there is also a "Eternal September effect" with regard to domain names. To this day we always have someone contact us and want to know if they can register a really good domain for the base reg fee because "it doesn't come up when I type it in".

The truth is though that the effect is the way many of us make our living. By what we know that others don't.

Yeah, relates to the difficulty of members of congress to have a proper argument on the DNS provisions in SOPA, probably entirely non obvious to most.

I doubt software could handle the problem. It would likely require some sort of consulting SWAT team to handle the issue, since it's such a policy and behavior driven problem. The reason HN has been the most successful in fighting the ES has been through the culture the PG built. Trolls are not tolerated, and off topic articles are punished ruthlessly.

If you think about it too hard, it seems a little brutal, but you have to remember that this is just a discussion board.

Maybe you could enable people to build their own pay-for-registration high-quality communities, like MetaFilter or Something Awful, and take a share of the registration fees? Though, I'm not sure how many such communities the market can really support.

Fortunately the reddit front page is customizable for registered users, and at the same time the additional users mean more ad money.

This seems fair, but I'd bet Eternal September was on the minds of the people who decided this.

I would have thought that while the effect was due to Reddit (and others) being down, it was more a case of existing users refreshing for fresh content, rather than potential new users coming to register.

Is there really that much crossover? I need to spend some time seeking HN-esque subreddits perhaps.

I agree. I'd be interested to see both:

1) The increase in uniques (pageviews don't really count)

2) How many of those uniques are new. That is, what percentage of those IPs visiting today have not visited in the past month.

/r/programming is good, but often redundant with what's on HN. However, I do enjoy /r/technology and hanging around /r/learnprogramming.

Are there ways to measure how much of the traffic is actually due to reddit being out. I bet there are other reasons for the growth in traffic, like the fact that HN has been making a great job at covering SOPA/PIPA for the past few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if part of the increase is due to natural SEO. I'm sure one could find other reasons too.

I'm not doubting pg's claim. I'm simply interested and curious: What are the tools available for the analyst/engineer/community manager to analyze the increase?

This is why Google is not blacked out completely, to avoid something similar with Bing.

Doubtful that's their only reason. Google going down would be akin to github going down: more harm than good, and the message would get lost in the chaos.

It's an excellent policy. If these new folks are actually interested in hn, they'll come back tomorrow.

I would suggest pg to write a special "from reddit to HN" guide. That would help and we can link that to people who seem to be new here (if they havent already seen it ofcourse)

I wouldn't call it stealing users. I mean if you knew the people from reddit and they asked you and you agreed then that's one thing. But in a true situation of a site being taken down this is exactly what happens. People go elsewhere. What would happen if reddit was taken down for real? Would you do the same thing and for how long?

What you are saying in a way is that a company or organization's competitor (if you want to call it that) can do something by free choice and decision, then you have to do something as well or you may be viewed as doing the wrong thing and viewed as doing something not politically correct.

PG, once again a stand up guy. Cheers!

Thank you. I don't mind rage comics and kittens but if I wanted to read about those, well, YC wouldn't be my normal watercooler. I spend time here because I want to talk about hacking apps, hacking life and the different start-up business cycles and modalities. That's why YC is my day-to-day watercooler.

It actually looks like somebody hacked "ugh" account. Seems a little out of character.



And this one as well:


It certain is not stealing IMHO.

There are plenty of places to visit, dzone is another good site and maybe techmeme but neither of those have even a black bar on their site in solidarity.

HN does feel a tad sluggish though so maybe lack of new accounts helps prevent a total crash.

Not stealing, but it is profiting from goodwill. Attention is the currency of the web, and while you can't stop people looking for alternatives, you can be respectful about not profiting from it.

I find it funny that people of reddit try and keep the "youtube" community out, and hackernews wants to keep reddit out... Who wants to keep HN out??

Bravo! Despite the folks saying, "It's not stealing," I think there is good reason to make a principled stand. Reddit is not a competitor.

I don't see it as stealing. reddit is a great community, but completely different from HN.

Yeah, we wouldn't want any memes popping up on HN now would we?


From what I remember, Digg was given a chance to fix the problems, but it was too little too late. Of course I understand Digg's point of view too, their hands were rather tied; going back wasn't an option.

pg, I'm curious why you haven't blacked out Hacker News today. Would love to know your thought process.

I expect it's something along the lines of "Everyone on HN is already aware about SOPA/PIPA, so what would be the point?"

The same could be said of Reddit, but it is a symbolic gesture and really encourages you to call up your representative.

I haven't seen anything about SOPA/PIPA on Reddit, apart from the warning that they were going to be down protesting against it. It's just not come up on the subreddits I read. I imagine it hasn't shown up on most non-politics non-internet subreddits.

luckily I registered an account 2 days ago.

I even went to Digg ! See what SOPA does !!

Regardless of the reason, I think this is the right thing to do.

you must be dumb!

This happens six hours after reddit blacked out. I'd guess the most eager redditors ended up here already, for better or worse.

btw I'm a happy redditor too, so I'm not against them. Closing registrations this late just seemed slightly odd, maybe even impulsive, to me, and I pointed that out. And I certainly do not wish to kick anyone out from here just because they registered today.

Let's make it retroactive.

I agree, removing all accounts younger than 371 days should help.

Classy move, :thumbsup:

Do you own shares in Reddit? Then I get it, as HN has no direct revenues. Else, what's the point?

Horrible stance.


No, no. Reddit users won't enjoy here. This site is for us, the enlightened ones. I am also on Reddit, but that's when I am not in a learning mood. You cannot steal Reddit users, coz most of them will come here looking for cats, and having found none will rather go to Digg. So your worries are baseless.


Edit: I’m happy to inform the HN community that your defense mechanisms at all superficial signs of redditry are in order and working. (One negative karma point per minute is damn impressive.) Whether those defense mechanisms also work against more subtle (and much more dangerous) redditry is, however, very much up in the air.

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