It is hard to imagine that the site guidelines you write years and years and years ago when this place was tiny are, intact and without change, the optimal guidelines for the site in 2012.
It's also the case that the things you say to guide the tone of the community, for better or worse, have a huge impact on how the community works.
If it should be a norm of HN that criticisms be kept constructive, and that the community should have a default position of supporting entrepreneurship (and, more generally, of supporting attempts to build anything) --- and, that should be a norm. --- why can't you just say so? Not in comments, buried in random threads, but in somewhere prominent on the site. Like, for instance, the guidelines. Which you need to update. Please.
I say "surprisingly" because, like a lot of tech hackers, I often think about a technical solution before I think about the simple social one. But I've noticed time and time again just how much effect the simplest changes in user-interface can have on the entire "mood" of a community. And "simple change in UI", includes the guidelines, or--I don't know--there's actually a lot of space for a notice below the comment submission form where you can give people the "right" idea (what you want to see in this community).
The personal anecdote goes a little something like this: We have a real solid group of mod/admins with a hands-off approach (way more hands-off than the invisible ones at HN, but that's a different gripe), so we had our fun with the innocent tiny changes, like changing the descriptions of individual sub-forums ever-so-slightly, like a pun, or a little in-joke. After a few years however, all of the descriptions had mutated into something that was not at all descriptive anymore. All the "old" members (which includes the mods of course) knew perfectly well what the sub-forums were meant for. But the new members did not. As new members look to older members for social context, there was a sort of generational loss in relevance, and at some point people almost entirely just posted whatever, wherever. It was chaos! And so I had the brilliant idea that, hey we can change those descriptions so that they're both descriptive and somewhat funny (utter genius, I know).
The amazing thing is, that it took only about 2-3 weeks before people starting posting on-topic things in the right sub-forums again.
The moral of the story is: people really tend to respond really well to just flat-out being told what to do. Really well. Amazingly well. Frighteningly well.
Better than some tech solution that tries to subtly "guide" them, in particular (or at least much easier to implement).
One of these days, I'm going to make a chapterwise summary of that book so that I can remember the experiments and behaviours at a glance.
Also, in the Army we had the Warrior's Ethos, the Army Values, the Soldier's Creed, and the Creed of the Non-Commissioned Officer crammed down our throats daily. While are some awesome people in the Military, I've run into just as many dishonorable people as I have in the general population.
Or, more likely, they might be somewhat worse, for some reasonable definition of somewhat.
Can you think of any group this would not be true for given a sample size or population as large as the military?
Honest, decent people who join the military (or any other group) will likely remain honest and decent. Dishonest people will most likely remain dishonest until their actions prevent them from getting what they want.
Perhaps those values from military doesn't have/had any resonance because they weren't, in fact, good? Or, told in a good way? (I'm thinking now that tyranny in teaching generates repulse not acceptance)
Also, if we consider that the teaching was correct (both as content and form - I dunno of course) who knows if the "soldiers who didn't change" would be worse if this teaching would be applied?
I think that the human being is the victim of influence and good influences play a determinant role on his behavior. But now what means "good" - this is entirely another chapter...
Secondly, I don't think the ideals help if you don't agree with them. You choose to become an Doctor and remember the Hippocratic oath. Same with Engineers and Lawyers. If you find half way through, that you don't want to be an Engineer or a Doctor, you can always bail out and switch. But with the military, bailing out is completely out of the question.
While people may or may not like what the military does, most of its creeds/values are for the most part positive things. The Army values for example are Duty, Loyalty, Selfless Service, Respect, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage - pretty generic and not nefarious at all.
But since you asked, why would one have to have experience with that exact group of people prior to coming to a conclusion? I agree that it would be ideal if that was the case, but there are many studies considered to be scientifically valid that use one group of people who come from similar circumstances as a control, while only testing on another group. In my example I suppose the control would have been the people I know from outside the military. As I stated though, my comment was just an anecdote from my personal experiences, not a peer-reviewed, published article intended to expose the author of the other study as a fraud.
But solid software, really? I give them one thing: it works. Can't recall encountering any real big bad bugs either, so yeah in that sense, quite solid.
But given that you contributed to it I assume that you've seen the code? I've had to make some modifications/hackery here and there myself and the amounts of time I've cursed at it for being a tangled and obscure mess... combine that with the childish language in the comments, urg.
I guess that's one important thing it taught me: never be flippant or rude in your code comments because it'll invariably end up making you look like a fool. Kind of like that "Muphry's Law[sic]" someone quoted in another thread. In "production code", but I found it easier to change my habit to "in general" because you never know who's going to see your code, and even your 3-months-future-self might as well be a different person when reading code is considered (except future-me does tend to share my sense of humour).
Because of that, all my own modifications ended up looking like rather ugly hacks as well because there was simply no "coding style" to join in step with.
(and the templating system (that is neither). and the amount of semi-duplicate subroutines and their names!!. "post", "post2", "message". And trying to guess in which of the five "/∗ probably the most important module of SMF ∗/" giant includes you're going to find a certain routine is about as predictable as trying to guess the name of a PHP library array function without reading the docs ... I really should stop, sorry :) )
It does work very well, I must repeat that. But only as long as the original magicians are still there taking care of it I'm afraid.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points
out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds
could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man
who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who
comes short again and again, because there is no effort
without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive
to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great
devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the
best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and
who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring
greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold
and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Examples from :
Metaphor: Argument is war
I shot down his argument
He couldn't defend his position
She attacked my theory
Love is a journey:
Our marriage is at a crossroads
We've come a long way together
He decided to bail out of the relationship
Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s
how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re
rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in
the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or
initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off
like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the
conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration).
In the "old days," there was more-or-less agreement that the vote was for quality of comment -- feedback about the value of the participant to the community -- and agreement/disagreement was voiced (if necessary) in comments. As a rule I (and others) would upvote comments we disagreed with as long as they were thoughtful. There were exceptions, of course, as you have aknowledged, but this was a pretty good guideline.
Now I think things have turned around a bit, and votes have started signifying agreement/disagreement more than quality of comment. I think this takes the community in the wrong direction.
You seem to be thinking that this is largely trollish behavior. I suspect, however, that most of it comes from ignorance of the expectations of the community. I'm not sure there is a fix for the trolls. But for noobs that watch reality tv shows and want to come here and be the acerbic judge I think we can stop it by keeping the behavioral expectations in the forefront.
The flaw with the idea isn't what you say. I think it's important to expect decent, reasonable behavior. The flaw is, 'ok, we have two buttons. Now what?'
I would start with having the quality score 'float' the article and pretty much ignore the agree/disagree score in karma metrics. But I would probably keep that a secret.
Now personally I'd rather be able to tell jokes on HN than be able to veto. But then again I'd have to sift through the bad jokes that other's tell.
In any community like this it takes some time to learn the rules. I'm sure there are quite a few people who don't necessarily know who "pg" is for that matter.
And now I went and explained it. Sorry, tptacek.
If I am selling something and asking $1000 and the person comes back with an offer of $500 and assuming I am willing to take that offer (because I was shooting high) I need to offer some "kickback". This could be as simple as saying something like "well, if I accept can you pay within 5 days?" Or perhaps, "can't do $500 but I'll consider $600". Otherwise the buyer feels perhaps "hmm wow that was to quick and to easy" and might back out of the deal. Strictly my experience over many years.
Instead you should ask to be able to green-light one applicant per batch. That way, it would be possible for your contribution to be very valuable.
To support this proposal: When I first arrived here (from your homepage), I didn't notice anything about guidelines until I stumbled upon a comment which mentioned them. Then I eventually found them on the bottom of the page (which can be quite long), where I seldom look at.
I'm not keen to make a new account to test this out though.
The bad ones, I reevaluate whenever I see another comment, but I've never yet seen a good reason to remove someone from that list. Sadly they never seem to end up hellbanned. It's uncorrelated largely with agreeing or disagreeing with views; it's just that there are a group of people who are, as the OP said, really negative, irrational, and destructive to civil discourse.
The problem I see is - How do you know if a comment is negative or not? Surely, you can tell, but problematically that might be tough.
Maybe swap out the "post comment" button for 2 "commit" buttons 1 that says "Positive" the other that says "negative". (This could be done a myriad of ways, but you get the point)
You could then measure a users tenancy to post useful positive/negative comments based on the average votes that type of comment receives.
posters that consistently have low average scores for their comments could lose posting rights, for a period.
I disagree and find such a community engineering approach dangerous for the health of the very community it's trying to "save". I think there are two big problems with it: (i) It gives too much power to the gatekeeper(s), be it software or human, and (ii) it creates a bias for positive comments.
This is the typical dilemma: Bad comments and a free forum are two sides of the same coin. Although I hate snarky, nonconstructive comments as much as everybody else, I think that trying to curtail one may also damage HN's innovative and free atmosphere, which is its main asset.
Sure, I sorta agree, but ... there's snark, and then, well, there's snark.
Sometimes snarky, non-constructive comments can be really funny and/or satisfying. I don't want them to dominate the conversation, and a lot of snark is just sort of stupid, but ...
Whenever I think of a good example of a community that has managed to stay pretty high-quality for some time, I can't help but think of Matt Haughey's Metafilter. I'm sure the nominal charge for membership helps, but the (paid) moderators are very good.
You have to view an individual comment to get the flag option. I'm not sure what the down votes are for. "This comment does not belong on HN", maybe.
I have no idea what the flag is for. "This content is so bad it needs to be removed, not just hidden", perhaps.
I agree with your post though! I'd be wary about having too many options for marking posts.
My observation is that downvotes also signify comments that have one of more errors of fact. Of course "fact" is also open to interpretation and not absolute.
You could say "you can only be President for two terms of 4 years each" but someone could dispute that because Roosevelt was President for longer or because in their country that is not the case. Etc.
A downvote because of inaccuracy without a comment isn't very helpful of course.
I do most of my reading on Reddit (front page reddits are just cotton candy, but there are good ones to be found). I only started reading HackerNews about a year ago, and mostly just for the articles from lesser known blogs that don't get posted on Reddit. Being something of a HackerNews newbie I haven't been around long enough to notice a change, but I hope it doesn't go the way of Slashdot.
I know that the worst offenders won't read the guidelines, but a little faith in the rest of them would go a long way improving the quality of content on this site.
There is not going to be a "one-size-fits-all" solution to this problem. A multi-faceted solution including both technical and non-technical elements would likely work best.
The easiest part of the solution to implement would of course be the text in the vicinity of the comment box. This text would establish certain core tenets that we can all vote on with Paul.
The technical aspect of the solution could monitor how often certain users are being down voted. The down-vote history of an account could then be used to "weigh it down" somewhat, so that it takes more up-votes in the future to bring their comment to a higher position on the page.
So long as it is a group norm to do adhere to the guidelines those who don't will be downvoted and their conduct will have little influence on the community.