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Discussion of HN at 4chan's /g/ (4chan.org)
143 points by leftovers on July 29, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

I actually managed to find an insightful comment on that 4chan thread which I've edited slightly for clarity. I'm reposting it here because I think folks might find it an interesting perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of HN. It is also an opinion I happen to agree with.

Anyways, the appeal of Hacker News is the occasional interesting technical story, and the high quality comment threads that accompany it. Here's the LuaJIT author talking about implementing interpreters in C vs. Assembly:

http://article.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.lua.general/75426 and the accompanying discussion I remember reading on Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2588696

You'll have to take my word for it, but there's a high technical barrier to appreciating this story, and it's accompanied by high quality discussion. If you enjoy reading about that kind of thing, it's well worth sifting through the startup launch pages, endless vim bullshit, reposts and blogspam, limitless iterations on "women in tech", and "how we scaled dick.ly with node and mongo" fluff pieces to find that delicious technical meat.

I've been wondering, is it possible the fluff pieces are paid content? Especially the "scaling dick.ly" and blogspam types.

They aren't paying YC for most of it. I expect those types of pieces rise due to excitement about the process or the particular technologies used

For example, some posts talk about Puppet or Chef in the title. I didn't recognize those the first time so I look. Having learned something, even though others may know all of the embedded content, I up vote. The next time I may skip over it, having already went through the discovery process, but other people come across it and derive value. Hence the cycle continues.

I doubt they're actually paid, but it's wise to remember that Hacker News is intimately connected with Y Combinator. It's partly a vehicle for the companies to get feedback/criticism, and thus to some extent, promote their products. YC companies are allowed to post job listings which aren't able to be flagged or commented on. It's just a part of the culture here. Whether it adds value is a personal matter. For me, it generally doesn't, but the overall discussion is of high enough quality that the small amount of noise those generate is worth it.

The thing about 4chan (all boards) is that, even when an anonymoust poster makes a good point, it's usually wrapped in hyperbole and meanness. It's not a requirement of being anonymous, but it's a part of the culture of imageboards: you're expected to be brash about anything you don't like. If you don't, you come off as a newbie.

This is why I think anything that happens in 4chan should stay there: because the very culture of 4chan only makes sense there. When you take it to a site like HN, where anonymity is less common, you make the discussion unilateral. A HN user is probably not going to say everything they think about /g/ under an username that's associated with their real name elsewhere. So we have /g/ telling everything that's wrong with HN (with the usual hyperbole) but not HN telling everything that/s wrong with /g/, either for fear of reprisal or fear of a ban.

I don't really frequent /g/, but I suppose that we could point out their flaws and stereotypes too, like they do to us (that HN is too supportive of Apple, that we're entrepreneur wannabes, that we take ourselves too seriously, that we're "design hipsters" (?)) but since we don't have the absolute anonymity and brazen attitude of 4chan, we'll never make this discussion truly honest.

As for their complaint about our pretentiousness: when you're writing under your name, or for your company, there's no way of not being a little pretentious and taking yourself too seriously.

So are you admitting the downside of such severe moderation?

It's not really a competition about who can criticize the other the best, though. They don't even try to be the same: one is a BBS where news is welcome among other things, the other is a news aggregator. But, in any case, criticism about 4chan is welcome and more relevant on 4chan (in the very thread this story links to, if you want) than here. I think it's natural that Hacker News gets criticized elsewhere: people have high expectations of a news aggregator (especially with a reputation like this one) - of 4chan, not quite.

Nobody hates 4chan more than 4chan users.

The article they refer to wasn't upvoted because the HN community thinks it's a good insightful article, it's because they (we) agree with it, and obviously because we care about it.

Upvoting because you agree and downvoting because you don't is still the biggest problem with ranking posts and comments . If it can be fixed, the fix would have to somehow remove the emotional aspect of voting.

That said, I don't fully agree that the article didn't deserve to be on the front page of Hacker News. For me, and possibly other startup workers HN is a source of inspiration.

Any article related to problems, solutions and technology themes in general might serve as inspiration to a great startup idea. Wether it's the millionth article about bitcoin, or a post about Timmy stuck in a well.

Generally speaking, I don't mind the Apple fanboyism in the articles because it's relatively well-balanced in the comments. (And because at this point I recognize the Marco/Daring Fireball/etc group of domains well enough to avoid them)

The one complaint that I definitely have about the HN quo is how it feels like conversations are trying to be transposed onto the medium; someone posts a PHP/Apple/Olympics rant and then half the top links are swallowed by thinly veiled 'responses'. It seems like the wrong approach, splitting multiple conversations on the some topic.

>someone posts a PHP/Apple/Olympics rant and then half the top links are swallowed by thinly veiled 'responses'.

Love it or hate it, it's the new self-promotion/branding via blogging. If a controversial article makes it to the top of a popular or niche internet forum like HN, and you have something of substance to say about it, it's infinitely better to post your thoughts on your own blog instead of in the comments of the social news submission.

The niche forum sees it, and you can claim credit in the comments, associating your handle with your blog. But more people may see it - potential clients, employees, funders, cofounders, employees, etc - and it's good way of beating writer's block and adding content to your professional blog.

Additionally, there's a soft limit to how negative you can be in the comments, where you can be downvoted. Submissions can only be flagged, not downvoted, and if you flag more than two submissions a day, your flag button is disabled. (It looks like it still works, but your flags no longer affect the ranking of a submission)

If you are an apple fan, then it seems balanced. On an absolute level it is not balanced. You notice this subtle bias everywhere, most likely because many people use macs.

I've seen questions about how to do something in linux/windows downvoted (replying to people who suggested homebrew or macports)

For what it's worth, I have an iPhone and iPad but no plans to switch from my windows laptop.

And I have a macbook, and no plans to switch from my android phone. Still have a windows partition though.

I don't think upvoting-on-agreement problem can be fixed technically. It's a cultural problem, and it should be fixed by internalizing the better model (see below), and then spreading it loudly enough and discouraging the default human reaction ("upvoting those who think like me"), because it ruins the signal-to-noise ratio in most of online communities.

The best rule on whether to upvote I've seen is this:


"Please do not vote comments up or down based mainly on whether you agree with them, unless the comment consists of a proposal and you wish to register your opinion regarding the proposal.

"Instead, vote on comments to the degree to which they improve the accuracy of your map. For example, a comment that you agree with that says nothing new should be voted down or left alone. A comment you initially disagree with that causes you to update some in favor of the author's opinion should be voted up."

"I don't think upvoting-on-agreement problem can be fixed technically."

I think there is a technical fix: two orthogonal upvotes. One upvote/downvote pair for agreement, another for whether the post/comment added value. It's a pretty simple fix and I think it would work, but it could have other unwanted side-effects.

People would just hit both down arrows.

Very good point.

This could still perhaps be solved technically, although it would take a lot of effort and is probably not worth it.

You can detect cheaters. People who give up/downvotes on the "value add" dimension that are not well correlated with the community's opinion of value add would be detected as cheaters, or at least detected as users who do not share the same values as the community.

Much harder to do, but possible, is to detect cheating in agreement by analyzing trends. Users who agreed with story A, B, and C may have a 90% chance of agreeing with story D. A user who bucks these trends enough can be detected as cheating or randomly voting.

A few people would, but many others would be able to say "This is a quality comment, but stupid idea".

The site could display the "down-correlation" number, which will be high if someone consistently hits both down arrows at once.

I'd like the quoted text in the berekuk comment enabled as a tooltip on the uparrow, as a mouseover.

I'll contribute $10 for somebody to add this feature. Where's the "tip" jar?

I'd be interested to see if downvotes were only allowed along with a comment explaining the downvote.

I'd just like to see how that played out.

That would lead to general inflation. You need to give comments on both directions.

What I'd like to see is article downvoting. As it stands there is no user-inflicted punishment for posting a sensationalized or otherwise terrible article

Which just shows how few people up-vote articles. Getting front page of HN easily gets you 5-10k pageviews if not more, yet your average top story has 100 votes. Most people consume without contributing in any way.

I actually very rarely upvote stories at all. Both here and on reddit.

What if you had to add your opinion everytime you up/downvoted?

Self-reported opinion is terrible. That assumes people would be honest about it ...

I have a mixed opinion about hellbanning.

It works. I see that it works. It helps sustain a community. If you browse with showdead on, you don't run across a lot of dead content that doesn't deserve to be dead.

However I've personally been hellbanned by an automated script. (I think the problem was that I was posting fast enough to be mistaken for being a spammer.) But it turns out that there are people who browse with showdead on for kicks. One of them saw that I had been hellbanned, replied to me saying that I had, and told me to talk to pg about it. I sent pg an email, he confirmed that I had been hellbanned by accident, and he undid it.

Unintended mistakes happen. I am proof of it. If a mistake happens to you, it really helps if you are an established member of the community. But the automated scripts are improved over time, and I suspect that the error rate goes down over time. And I think that the mechanism on the whole does improve the site.

The threshold for hellbanning at HN is way too low. I browse with showdead on, and I regularly see a good post per topic of a hellbanned user. For example, the very last topic I was in had this guy:


As far as I can tell, he was hellbanned for 2 bad comments. Both are bad, yes, but he's regularly been posting well since. Having other users tell them to email PG or make a new account is not a sustainable solution for this.

We should have an "unflag" option for wrongly hellbanned users if they can be autobanned. The community of HN generally drives away trolls by its very nature. I rarely see banned troll posts, because they simply don't bother here. I do see banned posts by decent posters who simply made a mistake or two at the start.

The nature of hell-banning means you aren't able to mark exactly when you were hell-banned, therefore the algorithms never improve because there isn't a "this caused a false-positive, let's fix it" feedback loop. Unless I'm missing something.

All fixes to hellbans go through site administrators (eg pg), and therefore he is aware of the false positives. He has access to data on when and why it happens, and is therefore able to track those issues down.

If you don't post frequently you can pinpoint where you got the mark. Search posts by your user and see where the auto-dead begins. I did some trollish posts on my first account, but got a ban because of a front-paged duplicate instead.

Details on my profile. I felt cheated because I had no heavily downvoted comments.

Hellban: good idea.

Hellban by script: very bad idea.

I usually find interesting content on showdead. I believe the time it takes me to skim/read dead content is worth the effort (the sn ratio is still better than slashdot).

I still feel bad about losethos. Wish we could help him/her somehow.

They're making good points.

One thing that sorta bugs me is karma arbitrageurs. Stuff that runs on HN turns up within a day on TrueReddit et al and vice versa.

If there was a buck in it I'd write a bot to do it.

They are mostly rehashing old arguments against HN (still valid, just not particularly insightful): Apple fanaticism, the fact that there are less code-related news as time passes, the hellbanning system, etc.

I think the real story is that as usual anything that involves 4chan gets upvoted to the top here, indicating there might be some significant overlap between the two userbases, as much as they might both dislike it.

Here's a link to the archive in case it 404s: http://archive.installgentoo.net/g/thread/26490724

Arguably, a community has a problem, when meta-discussion of the site keeps cropping up.

At this point, criticizing Hacker News is low-hanging fruit - and as a result gets a lot of karma.

If that's the case, then HN has had a problem since nearly the beginning! You can find posts from its very first year (2007) worrying about whether it's overlapping too much with reddit, how to avoid redditization, etc. (Example: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=60767)

I gotta say, the stuff you can get hellbanned for here is petty beyond belief. Last time I got hellbanned for saying "heh." in response to a comment bashing Noam Chomsky in the most knee-jerk and ironic way; I was genuinely left speechless. Sure, "heh" is not a valid response, I didn't expect anything but downvotes -- but hellbanning, for that? Really? And don't even get me started on the whole "pg is the father I never had" stuff, it's nauseating. Sometimes this site feels more like a cult than anything.

Well, if this comment even shows up, I guess that's it for this account, too. Oh well. To each their own.

Did you have a low-karma account when you made that useless comment before? If so, I don't see a problem with the algorithm. Lots of downvotes on a low-karma account is indicative of a spammer, a troll, or someone who hasn't taken the time to figure out the communication style of the site (it's not that hard) and probably won't ever. Hellbanning itself is a great idea; have you moderated a forum before and dealt with abusive trolls who keep coming back?

Nope, actually, I didn't even get a downvote for that comment -- I noticed the site slowed down not long after posting it, so I looked at the thread with another browser, it was fast as ever and my comment didn't show up = slow+hellbanned. The comment was still at 1 though, no downvote. Not even one. Plus, the account is still at 12 karma: http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=hopefully

The comment in question, the "Heh.", is gone -- and so is the comment it was a response to, something about Chomsky being about politics, not science, even more flamebaity than my "heh."

Not that it matters. It's their site: they can do what they want, I can try to get around it until I get bored of that. No hard feelings, but also not a whole lot respect.

> "have you moderated a forum before and dealt with abusive trolls who keep coming back?"

Have you ever been censored for disagreeing? Did that make you a.) more or b.) less of a pain in the ass? But actually, I just make a new account when I want to speak my mind on something, more often than not it's offering a correction or a link. So yeah, I keep coming back. And why not.

You can't just define anyone who gets banned as troll, spammer, or otherwise malicious. That's not what those words mean.

Here's the comment in question you replied to. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4291948 In order to see your own, you have to turn on "show dead" in your profile.

But fair enough. I can imagine a moderator seeing your comment show up at http://news.ycombinator.com/newcomments then either reflexively banning or seeing your karma is sub-100 before doing so.

> Have you ever been censored for disagreeing?

Are you saying your "heh" was disagreement? In any case, yes, and it makes me shrug--it doesn't affect my pain-in-the-ass attribute. If I want my opinion online and google-able, I have places to put it where it won't be censored. If I want to debate, I've found HN is useful for quite a lot of subjects but still shies from those which pretty much everywhere with a karma system shies from (so that includes academia)--HN is nevertheless fairly tolerant if you have a coherent point to make, at least for a while. Even moldbug (http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=moldbug) lasted for quite a while with all his controversy before he got hellbanned. His case of banning is one of several I strongly disagree with, but that's not enough to discount the entire concept of hellbanning. Of course it's not a perfect system--e.g. it'd be nice if HN users with >10k karma could reverse one.

That account hasn't been hellbanned. If it were, ALL of the comments for that account would be invisible, and would only show up if someone turned on "showdead" in their profile page. The site slows down all the time. Once again, that doesn't automatically mean hellban.

Most likely the system just lost that part of the thread. On a big site like this, performance is usually more important than data integrity, so the odd loss of comments is considered acceptable.

I'm very sure hellbanning doesn't affect comments prior to the ban--do you know something I don't?--but when new comments by that user are posted they are instantly marked dead. The slowdown is part of the hellban, the whole point is to make the site unpleasant so that the user leaves instead of coming back to harass. With the user believing the site is slow as tar and no one responding to them, it's quite effective. The downside is that it loses its effectiveness as it becomes public knowledge.

Interesting... I thought they did affect all prior comments. My mistake. He has indeed been hellbanned.

And as your comments show, the opacity of the rules and automated moderation is a problem with the way HN is run.

It's a problem from the point of view of a writer wishing to ensure that his writings will be read.

From the point of view of a reader, however, having information about what will likely get moderated be scattered rather than gathered in one place decreases a reader's exposure to text written by people who have not read a lot of comment sections.

Perhaps your poor experience here is because of the tone of your posts? From your own description, your posts seem to involve (a willful?) mental blind spot around the whole concept of politeness. The implication of your comment is that cleverness trumps all, and that insightful snark is entitled to some sort of social leeway. That's not how things work around here.

In short, your HN comment is a bit clueless.

In other words if you dont' have something nice to say, be passive aggressive about it.

When in Rome...

Downvoting should take care of these issues.

Mental blind spot? You're making stuff up, it's called strawman -- and then you accuse me of having a blind spot for your strawman? And that's not snarky? Irony duly noted and appreciated.

But you're right, it's for example this passive-aggressive condescension by people who don't even know what they're talking about, but want to give their 2 cents anyway, I don't play very nice with.

> Mental blind spot? You're making stuff up, it's called strawman -- and then you accuse me of having a blind spot for your strawman? And that's not snarky? Irony duly noted and appreciated.

Note I did say "(willful?)" Thanks for clearing that question up.

Also, the irony of the functional similarity of your post and its parent is left as an exercise. (Though you're probably feeling too righteous to get it and would be furious if you did.)

To recap: I said "heh" in response to an all out attack on Chomsky's character and motivations, I don't get notified of having done anything wrong, but instead I get slow- and hellbanned. And I'm being impolite? Hellbanning isn't some kind of cowardly BS, saying "heh" is the real horror here.

mind = boggled.

indicating there might be some significant overlap between the two userbases

I am more than willing to out myself. The discussion is exactly proving the point why 4chan is such a fascinating place. Sure it has lots of "distortion" but in the end it is one of the few places that does not sugar coat reality and the absence of any "punishments" produce raw insights. That is why the only "communities" I am somewhat active on are hn and 4chan. One because it provides a more supportive environment, the other because it isn't afraid to go there where it hurts. I never could find a reason to join those in-betweeners ala Reddit.

Me too.

Well, I'm sitting on a 15 day ban right now, so I'm not a 4chan user at the moment.

>> absence of any "punishments" ...

> sitting on a 15 day ban...

Out of curiosity, what earns one a 15 day ban on 4chan?

Porn on a SFW board. (/co/)

I wouldn't go so far as to say that universally. There are different communities in the comments at each site and in some cases there is a healthy relationship between the different sites:

* This is what HN thinks, what does reddit think * LoL @ reddit, what do you think HN?

...when the communities are healthy, each has an interesting perspective to add.

They're right about HN taking itself too seriously. Trolling here is child's play.

>Trolling here is child's play.

If that is the case, you will have no trouble citing 2 successful trolls in HN comments.

"We've limited requests for old items. If you're running a crawler, you can get this data a lot more easily from http://hnsearch.com/api.

Google, Archive.org, and my best attempt at HNSearch API ( http://api.thriftdb.com/api.hnsearch.com/items?id=2534649... ) didn't tell me what was in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2534649 either.

On 4chan, people often set out intentionally to cause as many angry or indignant replies as possible or to otherwise derail a productive conversation.

I did not see evidence of that in your 2 examples. Maybe if you indicate which participant(s) you consider the troll(s), . . .

Maybe someone should tell pg to shut off sign-ups for the next few days ...

4chan sucks all energy from a person. I kinda aggree about the articles that are voted up those days though. ("Watch the Olympics"). The way to check HN these days is though Hackerfollow.

I wish everything had less information and traffic to consume.

My favorite quote:

What is this board populated with? Unemployed japanophiles and life failures

/g/ is an atrocious community, going there for just 15 minutes makes me ill.

I sense, a lot of posts are going to be grayed out in this discussion :D

I always find it humorous when one community claims that another community is "pretentious bullshit" -- don't you sort of have to be pretentious yourself in order to even make such a claim?

Not really.

So from Reddit nonsense to 4chan. A natural progression I suppsoe.

Would be cool if they would be discussing this discussion of their discussion, which we could then discuss. And so on - black hole warning?

I find it amusing that 90% of 4chan's comments are misunderstanding the term "hacker" as it is applied to HN & the Startup scene.

No, I find it about right. Everything is hacking and everyone is an engineer around here. Wake up at 5am now? Hacking your sleep pattern. Move a button to the right, Layout hacking. Learn what the html tag means, web engineer. Discovered vi, system engineer. Edit (find?) your .bash_profile on OS X, OS X hacking system engineer.

I see this all as nothing but the continued dilution of the terms to nothingness.

Thanks for a down-vote. I don't see where i said i agree with it. I simply said their definition is simply different from the one floating around in the startup scene and i found it humorous. Whether it is right or wrong is your personal opinion.

We could add 'whining about downvotes' to the list of things that are irritating about this sites community.

Since you're attempting to accuse me of something I didn't do, I didn't downvote anyone, I commented.

Stop whining.

Oh wow. This attitude is exactly why i don't post much on HN. Have fun being a dick.

Oh noes, I missed it :(

Somebody has noticed that we are nothing more than enterprise wannabes and Apple fanbois, with less to no hacking in sight.

Heh, interesting discussion about the word "hacker" in HN.

It has become a pretty diluted term.

I kind of feel like "hacker" used to be a title that you had to earn from other hackers, and could apply to people of any skillset; and now it's mostly synonymous with "programmer".

With the size of the internet these days, it was probably inevitable that the word would get diluted, but... I feel like we no longer have a suitable word to describe people who build things like "self-balancing unicycle" or "linux hosted on an x86 emulator in javascript" or "homemade airplane" or "UNIX". And that makes me a little sad.

When I came across Hacker News (recently) I was a bit confused why it appeared to be about startups and not about actual (security) hacking. Then I discovered "hacker" had in essence become a general term for "coder" in the startup community. This usage still doesn't sit well with me, for the reason you point out: it's not about doing something really cool and unexpected any more. When I see people advertising for "Ruby hackers", etc. I just feel like it's almost a parody (except it's not, people are calling themselves that mostly in seriousness). Oh well, I guess language left me behind.

Wait till you learn about the term "Growth Hacker" ...

Isn't that a fancy name for a gardener?

It made me sad once until I thought about it. It doesn't matter that "hacker" has been hijacked so long as there are still hackers around. If you keep your own definition consistent, and you don't stray too far from "the classical versions"[1], you see who are the hackers you might want to care about and who aren't. So when the media makes it synonymous with "cracker", whatever, you know better. When a rockstar ninja who only knows one language for one general task calls themselves a "hacker", you know better. When a hacker you already know about mentions some other people or their work, you might want to go check them out to see what you're missing and if they're another hacker. If you want to claim the term's former social signaling status, well, better get back to making neat hacks and sharing them with people whose respect and admiration you want.

[1] The main three authors of essays that I typically think of as classical sources on the term "hacker" are esr: http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html

rms: http://stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html

and, of course, pg: http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

Why do we need a label to describe someone who builds a self-balancing unicycle?

Labels like 'hacker' do nothing to further anything, and generally aren't impressive to anyone who doesn't assign the label to themselves. Build cool shit and that's impressive.

I used to want to be a hacker. What I want to be hasn't changed much, but now there's no word for it. It's demotivating. I don't know how demotivating. Maybe I would never have become a hacker₁₉₉₀ even if the word hadn't changed, maybe I still will.

It's not just me: I want other people to strive for a thing that no longer has a name.

I don't feel like I'm adequately articulating myself here. Perhaps it shouldn't matter that we're missing a word. But I feel like it does anyway.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it sounds like you want sort of a universal standard for technical excellence. Similar to (topical!) Olympic athletes; participating in the Olympics is pretty much an affirmation that you're one of the best athletes alive, no matter the sport.

Well, not just technical excellence. I want to celebrate and encourage "the hacker spirit", which embodies playfulness as well. It takes a certain mind to look at Brainfuck and ask "do we really need all those instructions?" [1], even if it's not particularly hard, once you've asked the question, to see that you don't. (Mind you, I never looked for ways to minimise them myself, so it might be a harder problem than I'm giving credit for.)

I don't feel like the Olympics demonstrate the hacker spirit, although it's likely that some of the athletes have it.

[1] http://esolangs.org/wiki/BF_instruction_minimalization

I think there has been an effective shift in what that word means to anyone born after a certain point say 1970-1975?

I nearly said "that's a good hack" about something the other day, but edited my speech in mid thought - I am sure the audience would have taken "hack" to mean "wtfpwn", which wasn't at all what I meant...

We still have "inventor" and "tinkerer"

And "programmer who likes his job".


d) All of the above.

Yo dawg, I heard you like discussing HN posts.

So I made a HN post to discuss 4chan's post discussing HN posts.

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