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A proposal for improving HN : it should cost a user Karma to post (slidetocode.com)
365 points by steeleduncan on Sept 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 268 comments

My Hacker News account is 1859 days old (just over 5 years). Over those 5 years, I've gone through several stages of my entrepreneurial career.

HN has been there from the time when I just was dreaming about launching a startup, through the gut check when I finally quit my full-time job to found a startup, selling that startup to another company, being fired by that company, and finally joining a friend's startup as CTO. I've changed throughout, and I've seen Hacker News change as well.

The problem I have witnessed with Hacker News is that over the years, it's transformed from a place where civil and intelligent discourse can be had to a place where each comment seems to be made for show. Rather than making solid arguments, each person seems to want to be seen as more intelligent than the rest of the commenters. This phenomena is the reason for what in my opinion is a breathtaking level of pedantry about the most mundane topics.

For example, there was a post on the front page yesterday about scalability at GitHub. It was an interesting and insightful article from a knowledgeable author. The top comment was something along the lines of, "I can't believe they wasted so much time making the UI look this good." HN used to be a place where insightful articles were rewarded with intelligent conversation and debate. What happened?

Another example. Someone launched a site earlier this week involving the sales of hobbyist electronics. The site was definitely interesting, and they experienced a large volume of traffic from HN and Reddit. The top comment? Something along the lines of, "when a startup can't keep its site up, it makes me question their abilities." HN used to be a site where you would be congratulated for launching. What happened?

It's this kind of stuff that has to go. I don't think Hacker News was ever perfect -- and maybe I'm just rooting for the site because of the potential that it has -- but it's definitely gotten worse over the past few years.

As a community, we need to stop the posturing and the pedantry, and get back to civil and intelligent discourse. We also need to act as the site's immune system, and stop promoting content that is clearly written to be seen but adds nothing to the conversation.

I am new to Hacker News. I have to say that I too despair at some of the comments posted on the site. I believe that open discourse and communication is great, but when someone posts in jest it belittles what we all desire from a community like this.

I find myself filtering comments on HN. I still go and read them (as opposed to Reddit where I don't read comments), but this is a location where comments should be meaningful and less of the "Herpty Derp" we get on YouTube. I don't believe HN is comparable to YouTube, but at the same time I can see where content in comments could be improved.

I would be in favor of a system that taught new recruits to listen and watch the community before commenting, much like what this article suggest.


I personally think the problem isn't with HN but us Developers.

We tend to be analytical by nature and hence whenever you show one of us something, our brains are always go into "Yes, but..." mode.

It's that "but" that says we are always looking for flaws. Looking to show others we can find a problem with their plan.

Example: The biz guy tell the devs"we need to get this done for the client"? The devs immediately look for flaws in the plan such as "what about this...", "not sure if it will work because...", "yes, but what about...".

Some of us have seen this too many times.

The minute a Dev starts on the "Yes, but..." path they remain defensive and on the look-out to be smarter than everyone else. Looking for problems. Looking to show we know best.

We do this all the time. In my company I have barred my Devs from "Yes, but..." conversations.

Instead get you mindset into "Let's explore".

It just changes the whole tone of the conversation when we Devs start with a "explore..." mindset and not a "but...".

Try it. Go back and read the top 10 HN posts and keep thinking "let's explore" when you read a post. What kind of post comment can you then come up with then? Much more helpful I would say.

I feel that you are talking about an issue that is MUCH BIGGER than HN story replies. Society, as a whole has become much ruder. I attribute it to the passive-aggressive frenzy that is Social Media. All of a sudden you can call someone ANYTHING YOU WANT without fear of direct (and many times indirect) retribution. This phenomenon has saturated our daily interactions. Now, instead of a courteous phone call requesting my presence, my boss chats me "come here". What?!?! Am I a bad-dog? C'mon people ... remember your manners!

Your all caps typing could be considered rude, unless you are actually meaning to shout those words.

Touché. Caps were just meant to share my frustration ... no yelling.

Italics tend to come across as much less imposing to readers, I use them heavily now.

Italics and other text modifiers are essential for clear communication using only text. However, as a new user myself I was frustrated by a lack of documentation for comment markup. As far as I can tell, the only text modifier for HN comments is italics which are specified by surrounding a word with asterisks.

I wish there where more text modifiers (like bold and underline), as well as some kind of documentation for them.

The downward spiral feeling comes from after reading HN for a while, you start to reread the same articles and same comments.

It does not mean HN gets worse and worse, it means you extract less and less value.

I feel like this is closer to the root cause. People start out and everything is new, and they have this huge sense of wonder about what is going on around them in the valley, and then after a year or two you realize that bigger picture moves more slowly, a lot of people re-invent the wheel, Etc.

But the conversations are actually nearly the same quality, they are just re-hashes of conversations you already know the answers too. Sometimes you'll get someone who is quite disgruntled from the it and that will be a pain until they stop but for the most part it seems to be ok.

That said, if every submission only had one comment 'see link to previous discussions of this form' that would be pretty boring too.

... wonder about what is going on around them in the valley ...

Why does it have to be mainly about Silicon Valley? I like to think that there are a lot of interesting people and companies outside Silicon Valley.

In my opinion, there can be a lot noise here, but the quality postings and comments are much, much better than anywhere else. And, yes, the bigger picture moves more slowly than a lot of us would like. But isn't that the way things work?

It does not mean HN gets worse and worse, it means you extract less and less value.

Maybe someone (me?) should write "HN: The Book." Chapters might include:

1. Silicon Valley life.

2. Structured/conventional education versus self-education.

3. What you do with your tools is more interesting than the tools themselves, and many people have used bad tools to make cool things, though that in itself isn't an excuse for bad tools.

4. Problems with politics.

5. Commenting on commenting.

Actually, I started this list as a joke, but I'm starting to wonder if it shouldn't be. . .

I'm relatively new to HN, and also learning to program. I don't comment much. I rarely submit. But I read pretty much everything, including the comments.

And when I see posts about improving HN, I must admit that I just don't see it. Yes some comments are not constructive, but you'll always have that. I'm surprised we don't have more of this to be honest.

So is there a correlation between time spend on HN and your personal view of it's quality? Good question. How do you measure quality then? How do you separate yourself out?

I thought the negative perception was due to the effect of nostalgia for old times, but this is an even better explanation. Everything is exciting and more stimulating at first, that's how the brain works. Of course after a few years, that feeling of freshness is going to be lessened, even if the actual overall quality is better.

I couldn't agree more. Also, there are plenty of run of the mill "news" articles from tech crunch et. al. But there are still more than plenty of interesting programming/hacker articles and nuggets of goodness posted.

Comments with so little value that they get downvoted already cost the commenter karma.

Most posts that have not reached the front page yet do not reach the front page at all. Comments on pages that do not reach the front page have much less opportunity to receive upvotes. This proposal risks discouraging comments on submissions that have not reached the front page; since some submissions only reach the front page because of the comments, this would harm HN.

You also don't want to penalize comments on articles that have dropped off the front page. They're useful to people who get to an article through Google. These readers are much less likely to be logged in and thus, much less likely to upvote.

Surely that can be addressed by weighing comments differently base on the position of the post or the number of page views etc.?

I thought the main problems on HN were

-Linkbait articles rapidly accelerating to the front page while good stuff like questions or Show HN gets lost in "New".

-The slight trend in the community towards vitriol and nasty criticism, which there was a lot of chatter about two or three weeks ago.

In both cases, in my understanding, there's a lot of upvoting of the controversial links/comments from new people with low karma, which is how they're kind of taking control of the community.

I came up with some ideas in the shower about this. First, I thought it might be a good idea to create some logarithmic mapping of karma value to vote weight. The weight wouldn't give the user more karma for being up-voted by a high-karma person, but it would factor into the site's systems. That way, people with more karma have more of an impact on the community.

Second, I thought that the quality of a user's previous submissions should factor into their reputation or something on this site somehow. Maybe HN could look at the trend of votes earned on recent comments and the ratio of downvotes:upvotes or downvotes:views (since controversial comments get upvoted a lot, we want to look at how many times they were downvotes, not the total score since that will probably be very positive regardless of how many downvotes there were) and use that information to somehow affect the user. i.e. if someone is getting a lot of upvotes for mocking someone's project in a nasty but particularly clever way but also getting a considerable number of downvotes, the system should say hey, this guy writes posts that a lot of people don't think belong on our website, and then take action on that somehow.

Note, I'm "new" (198 karma, joined about a year ago) so I may not know what I'm talking about.

You can test how well this would work by collecting a corpus of whatever sort of comments you think HN could do without, and then checking to see how many of those commenters would have run out of karma using whatever combination of initial karma and cost to post you have in mind.

I'd be open to experimenting with charging karma to comment if someone did a study of that type and showed that it would work.

(I realize it's not a perfect test, because people would make different comments if they knew comments cost karma. But that is a desirable direction to have error in.)

I was going to modify my HN natural-language search engine to try to build this dataset for you, but then http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4491894 just happened (the submission from uncrunched.com where Mike Arrington weighs in on the whole stupid Google Ventures tempest-in-a-teapot).

A bunch of those comments are adding absolutely nothing of value to HN. A bunch of them are just picking on Arrington as a controversial figure. And, of those, most of them are by accounts with close to 100 karma, or less.

For what it's worth, I've thought for quite a while that forcing users to spend karma might be a worthwhile experiment, mostly because of comment threads like that one. One of the big failures over at Reddit is the huge number of people who can create an account and post a completely vacuous comment in a matter of seconds; on a popular thread, there can be thousands of comments voted to 0 or less, just crowding out any good content that might be left.

On the other hand, karma-as-currency potentially encourages further gaming of the site; it could conceivably lead to e.g. fewer unpopular-but-not-wrong comments, and more popular-but-not-insightful comments.

I think that there's also a chance that charging karma for a comment could also alter the quality of discussion here on HN. Although it may reduce comment "spam", commenters would have a stronger incentive to follow popular opinion to ensure that the cost of posting a comment is recouped. This could potentially reduce the number of dissenting (yet still intellectually provoking) comments.

This hivemind mentality is a major problem in many online communities, but I do think that the hiding a karma on is definitely a step in the right direction.

IMO one is trying to do with karma what Google are doing with SERP positions - reward valuable content.

If you do what they've done and personalise results then gaming the system becomes a lot harder; the only real way to win has to become producing quality content.

Metrics such as rank, average, sd, account age, up & downvotes could be combined by the reader in order to personalise story listing and comment rank/display on the story page.

That way if I want to reward a persons comments with a karma boost for average comment karma I can do so, but you could just do upvotes or just rank on inverse of downvotes or whatever.

This way the site users generate competing algorithms, algorithms will be adjusted and 'evolve' to generate the prefered ranking of comments. Those who dont want to write one can pick a recommended or default algo.

If user written algos are too expensive to use (though I'm thinking it would be client side in js) then a selection of algos could be offered by the site.

Users also might try to nest their comments under one of the top comments instead of under the submission where they belong.

I think it would be good to do a targeted posting rate eg. 30 posts per hour[1] or something of that nature.

If last 20 min when regressed predict under 30 posts in the next hour it should cost 0 karma to post. However, for every post/hour over the target rate should cost the user some karma eg.

    karma_loss = floor(alpha*max(PREDICTED_RATE - TARGET_RATE, 0))
where alpha is a tune-able "cost" constant.

The posting page should of course warn the user of the karma loss and confirm that they really want to post.

[1] 30 posts/hour stands for whatever target rate you want


it occurs to me you could apply a learning algorithm to learn what alpha should be based on experience of what yields the closest posting rate to the target rate. you could also reward people for posting when it gets slow.

Don't forget second-order effects. Your proposal encourages people to post quickly, to try to get in before the costs start kicking in. Encouraging people to crank posts out faster is probably not a net win.

I've noticed that trying to engineer communities isn't entirely unlike trying to secure software. You're not defending against straight-line attacks, you're defending against a hostile adversary with more time, resources, and collective brainpower than you, who will actively react to any move you make. The miracle is that any community ever works at all/any software is ever secured at all.

Any solution relying on karma is doomed to fail imo.

Karma is easy to min-max. I've gotten good at it. Only ~1200 karma but I'm averaging over 10 per post. It's easy with a bit of practice.

None of my comments are particularly good. They typically express a mostly safe opinion in a mild manner. I don't like to make non-root posts as they rarely get upvotes and I hesitate to post in a large thread (like this one) as it's easy to get buried.

I don't even know why I post this way to be honest. I was mostly just curious to see how high I could get my average. The bar to get upvotes on HN seemed really high at first and I wanted to be a good poster. Now I see the road to karma is paved with safe, fluffy comments.

I will corroborate this, from the POV of someone who has been here a long while. (> 13000) Commenting and downvoting has gotten less thoughtful around here of late. I especially note that there's a lot of knee-jerk downvoting by people who seem to read carelessly.

Wow that is very insightful. I 'm surprised that even here people are willingly conformists to gain acceptance.

I think it started with the 500 karma requirement for downvoting. I wanted the ability to downvote so I min-maxed my comments to get there quickly. After that trying to increase my average is just a way to see if I'm improving.

I don't view it as conforming or trying to gain acceptance. It's more like a silly game. It does have potential value as it's good practice for interacting with the media and making company blog posts.

Don't be. People conform everywhere, all the time. HN isn't that special.

I don't think the fact that people conform is surprising. What is, possibly, surprising is that someone laid it out there - that they are being a conformist.

Typically, in my experience, people aren't that honest with themselves.

Yeah I noticed this too.

Sadly there also seems to be an emphasis on style and tone, instead of the content of the message.

On the bottom of every page is a clearly defined link for everyone to make whatever "Feature Requests" they want:


The owner of this site, pg, helpfully provides that thread for feature/meta discussion, and kindly requests for feature/meta discussion be placed there.

If you had searched for and read all of the previous meta discussion on potential HN features, then you'd know your suggestion has already been proposed many times and debated to death in near endless variations.

The only important question is why you decided to ignore the polite request of the person who created and pays for this site with your attempt to grab attention for your feature request proposal?

You probably had good intentions, and were overly excited by your idea, but you just didn't stop to do the needed homework and think things through completely. Don't feel too bad, everyone has "Fire Aim Ready" moments.

I have never seen this, thank you for pointing it out - I will use it, but to be honest this is precisely the kind of valueless bureaucratic comment that irritated me enough to write the blogpost.

This is an internet forum, not a hashtable; uniqueness is not a design requirement, conversation, discussion and thought are, so I intend to have many more "Fire Aim Ready" moments.

If I think about something strongly enough I will write about it, often post it and if people are interested enough in it, they will discuss it. I'm sure most ideas problems and potential solutions have been mentioned somewhere in mankind's 4000 years of written words, but context changes over time and many conversions are worth having as many times as necessary before a problem is solved.

So you are part of the problem - repetitive content - that you seek to eliminate? The suggestion you made was also made over 1600 days ago. The problem you claim is new was happening before you joined!

Maybe the hints and tips for new users could repeat every couple of months?

Sorry for grumpiness if this post sounds grumpy.

Yes, your post does sound "grumpy". If you're aiming for civil discourse, then there's no reason for you to phrase your attacks as condescending rhetorical questions.

I hope you've cooled down a bit in the last two days. I pointed you towards a resource that you didn't know about, and I gave you the benefit of the doubt on your intent, but you still replied as if I had intentionally stepped on you puppy. I didn't deserve that.

I probably should have recognized your frustration with HN and been more empathetic in my response. I was also suffering from my own perspective; when you have a deep fascination with the design and implementation of discussion forums, finding and researching all of their features is a lot of fun. I just couldn't imagine someone caring enough to write a post like yours never seeing or reading or researching the docs/features already available on HN.

Another part of the problem is HN itself; many people here tend to be contentious rather than helpful. Many ask tough questions in impolite ways, but others take the time to make sure there are no barbs present in the tough questions they ask. Taking a bit of time to look through the posting history of the person before responding to will give you a lot of insight, and will often identify those who are just looking for a pointless brawl. --There is a good reason for the 'delay' field in user profiles. It makes your posts not show up for "X" minutes to give you even more of a chance to think and edit rather than responding too quickly, and often, too harshly. Personally, I actually don't bother with setting the 'delay' since I learned to take my time long ago.

If you are interested if forum design and the group psychology behind it, I'd be happy to share with you the resources I've collected over the past few decades. Some of it, like this whole submission, are tough reading with a lot more noise than signal. Other parts are far more succinct and better researched. My email is in my profile if you're interested.

I've been here for a few years and never noticed that link. I think the OP can be forgiven for having missed it.

I get frustrated when I post a massive comment on an article which never gets read, I don't believe it would add to the environment of the website to have it cost me 'karma' also, it would effectively take away my inclination to comment on new topics.

I do care about Karma, it's how I know I'm doing a good job, that regardless of my opinion, people agree with my reasoning and the argument I've put forth, I put thought in to my posts, not just posting for the sake of it and it would be a shame to see that go to waste by being penalized before I've even had the chance to be heard.

This aside, I believe that HN doesn't need improving, I'm a long time reader and it annoys me when people seem to see some kind of downwards trend in the content, it's a news aggregation site, in essence, so perhaps this "downwards trend" people seem to be observing is merely the winds changing direction in terms of news.

HN has always been start ups, HN has always been popularity contests between brands and programming languages, the fact that it seems to be consumed these days by Apple-Samsung etc, is because that is what is in the news at the moment, eventually that will change to some other dominant topic and people will claim they are sick of seeing that too.

As I said before, this is a news aggregation site. The sum of all the content in a particular genre is the overwhelming majority of content on here. That only changes when some other trend starts to emerge, until then we have to wait.

For the record, I for one am also sick of reading about Apple-Samsung, but I'm more than content to sift through it to find the quality content which exists on here (not that the content isn't quality coming from Apple-Samsung, just that it is fairly monotonous now.)

I have been reading HN for years, and I disagree with the premise that there is a "downward slide". For people like me, it might be helpful to provide some sort of evidence to support your claim.

The solution you are proposing also would silence users accounts permanently without any chance for redemption, those users would become disaffected and resentful, and with the trivial nature of account creation here, might cause new problems.

HN is a community, and I think a system that promotes corrective behavior (like the current one) works best when it exerts negative social pressure for "bad" posts and helps new users integrate themselves into the community.

If you've ever seen the movie "Hackers", the character "Joey" is a total noob, and the other characters are constantly giving him negative feedback when he does something stupid, eventually he learns a few things and becomes more useful.

Over the past few days I have had (mostly) intelligent conversations with people I have never met on JSON, DNA testing in 40,000 years old bones, Scottish independance, and salary needs of contractors.

I simply cannot imagine doing that anywhere else.

And I doubt that any of my comments rate as insightful or beautiful. Yet stopping me making them would have killed those conversations.

I can agree that the submissions seem less interesting than 5 years ago, but the conversations engage me as much as ever, which is fine - HN has changed - it has become more necessary to participate - it is not wikipedia - its not supposed to be a passive read.I have been a lurker here longer than my username, and in the past year it has been noticeable that HN is more like a conference - the interesting stuff happens talking to people in the corridors.

My 2 cents suggestion - hashtag comment threads. Then the best comments, most insightful, most summarising, can be extracted on any given hashtag subject - a living FAQ if you like.

But don't make huge changes - the real stuff is about talking with other interesting people. Thats great - lets not risk it with big unproven changes.

I think we should concentrate on

1. Submitting better articles

2. Upvoting better articles

3. Posting better comments

4. Upvoting better comments

5. Add to the signal

6. Stop worrying about the noise

This approach didn't work for Slashdot, Digg and Reddit, which are all fallen civilisations. If we don't try anything new to solve the problem, this civilisation will fall as well.

Reddit actually has extremely high quality subreddits - it is just the main tags that have degraded.

Reddit's front page look like neon lights of a cheap brothel, how can we know there is a great experience waiting for us in a dark room?

Because it's as easy as going to a subreddit (r/linguistics is pretty interesting). It's a free and open website: the barrier to entry is practically non-existent.

Oh, this is the European approach to startups versus Americans:

Make it super difficult to create your company(or post a comment) so only good companies will be created(or good quality comments posted). Right?

In the real wold if you make risk threshold too high, new people do not enter because of fear. That is the reason most of the tech startups in the world are Americans.

In Europe investors will require you to have a degree, if so they will ask you for your experience, if so they will ask you for your business plan, if so they will ask you for market research for your b.plan, if so they will ask you for profits you already have, if so...why the hell I need you if I already have all that?.

The problem, as with all great communities, seems to be the abundance of new users and, thus, the widening of scope on submissions and comments.

To me, it seems obvious that to improve HN, the community needs to stop expanding as much and get its main user base back to a niche.

The only tried and true method (that I know of) would be to follow Something Awful and start charging for an account. Something trivial, like $2, would be fine.

Of course, this will never happen. This isn't really something I want to happen, but, to me, it seems to be the only way of limiting the user base in an effective manner.

Why not just have optional pro accounts that people can get for a fee? "Pro" tags would be a quick way to make "serious" posters visually distinctive.

I feel that this creates elitism. Anyone can buy a 'Pro' tag. What makes a person's comments, who is willing to spend money, better than one who is not?

I think that brings up new problems, e.g. dealing with someone with a paid account/subscription that submits enough posts or comments to get that person banned or hell-banned. Or a scenario in which a hell-banned user wants to upgrade to a paid account.

Although what's $2 for a site that I check every day?

I disagree, it has to be something substantial, at least $10. The more you charge, the more value it has.

I can see your point. But the objective is to just create a barrier, no matter how small. Many people wouldn't pay $2 for an account on some internet forum.

If it's too little, people will feel it's not worth the effort to pay for such an amount.

This is interesting but I am concern that people with no enough karma to post would abandon the account (because would be useless at that point) and starting creating new ones. Or worse, as they could have dummy throwaway accounts for potentially risk comments in which case this mechanism would not achieve its goal of getting better quality post.

However, I think it still would be possible to do something similar, like proportional weights for upvotes and downvotes depending on the karma. Also weighting your posts with your karma could help making to grow faster those posts coming from a reliable user.

We could go even further, making the karma as a rating instead of a linear accumulator and update it using something like an Elo rating system where we could compare the actual score (upvotes points) with an estimate prior score based on the actual karma (pretty close to what happen on chess actually)

I don't know.. I am just writing down some crazy ideas that came to my mind when I read the post. Any insights?

One of my frustrations about the perceived downhill spiral (as a relative newb, having been here just over a year) is all of the proposals for improving HN which keep making it to the front page, and inevitably spawn the same set of suggestions in the comments.

Am i missing something? If it costs karma to comment and you have no karma, how are you supposed to earn enough to start commenting again?

Not that, how are you supposed to comment the first time? I guess a new signup gets 10 karma or something.

But then if your karma is reduced to a certain threshold and you can no longer comment, how are you supposed to build your karma back up to comment?

What's stopping this bad apple from just creating another anonymous account? It's not like you're losing money if your HN account becomes useless.

Also, OP says

> I have a suggestion for improvement: it should cost Karma to comment, and when your Karma drops below a certain threshold you can no longer comment.

HN already does almost this. If I post a lousy comment people will down vote it, and I will lose karma, and if my karma drops below a certain value I will no longer be able to comment.

Well, you could acquire it with the passing of time. Say for those with a karma below 25, they get 1 point a day until they reach 25.

People (like me) often sign up initially because they have something to add on something right now (a space-flight article (my field) in my case), and rarely because they anticipate being moved enough to comment in 25 days.

This proposed mechanism would especially preclude contributions from the people whose content is being featured, which you often see ('hey, author here, thanks for the interest...' etc) who sign up just to answer questions about their blog post or the bit of software they've authored that has got to the front page.

To me this stuff has often has higher value than 80% of the comments from career commenters, just by virtue of the SNR to the discussion at hand. It would be a disservice to the community to preclude it, I think.

I don't care about (HN) karma, and i believe (a.k.a. untested hypothesis) most HNers don't care about it. In conclusion i don't think that adding / subtracting something most people don't care about will solve ... anything.

I do care about karma.

I care because it's a measure of whether what I say is agreeable or disagreeable. It's not about fitting in or following the herd, but if I say something that loses me karma I want to understand why. Maybe I'll end up with the same opinion anyway or maybe it teaches me to think more before I talk. Mostly, karma helps me reflect on my opinions and question those opinions.

The only thing I would do with HN is to _force people to comment when they downvote_

If you agree with me, then an upvote with no commentary is fine. If you downvote me, tell me why. Maybe I could learn something, maybe I get the chance to explain myself better, maybe an open disagreement on a point enriches the community.

... And much of the time, I think asking for a comment with a down vote is a good idea.

Except, there are obvious trolls. Or someone else has already explained why the comment was inappropriate.

It happens enough that the reason for the downvote seems—to me—facially clear ... so while I agree it's a good courtesy in most situations, I don't think enforcing it would help. Maybe a UI change could encourage this behavior (e.g., highlight "reply" on downvote), but this loses some of the clean look of HN ...

Maybe if it's out of band somewhere. If comments are not worth reading (IMHO the purpose of downvoting) I would usually prefer not to plow through subthreads explaining why.

The only thing I would do with HN is to _force people to comment when they downvote_

How do you prevent a: 'Downvoted for being moronic->No, you are' kind of thread?

You mean in a situation where a comment is out of order, abusive, or some other obviously bad comment?

I guess if comments were forced on downvotes, let's say "I downvoted you for being a moron" than instead of leaving your own version of "you're a moron" you could add your weight to the first downvote-comment.

So like downvoting with a comment, but kind of adding your weighting to someone elses downvote for the same reason.

Despite occasional complaints from users being down-voted, I have appreciated that in most cases when a user is down-voted and asked for an explanation he is given it.

I don't care much about karma. But, I do care about having the freedom to post stuff that I find interesting. Now, I am assuming that most of the noise will be either from new members or from members with low karma. If they are penalized something like 5 karma for submissions (and they can't submit if they don't have 5 karma), then that will both passively and actively discourage spamming. A karma threshold can also be applied to new users to encourage them to first participate int he discussion and understand the ethos of HN.

Edit: I want to clarify that I am in favour of deducting karma for new submissions. The comment system is already fairly balanced thanks to the option to downvote. What I am suggesting is essentially a mirror image of the parent article.

i think the idea is more like stackoverflow - where your points (karma) gives you access to certain things. If you have 0 karma - you cant comment. If you have low karma - you want to 'save' your posts for valid comments that are likely to get upvoted, thus giving you more karma to make more posts etc.

i.e. people who post 'crap' and get continually downvoted will eventually be silenced.

I think that HN already has Karma thresholds below which you can't downvote (or change the colourscheme!)

Presumably part of the change would be that accounts with 0 karma would not be able to post? Perhaps the grandparent could elaborate.

Yes, the OP explains that positively voted submissions would be necessary before voting.

Apologies, thought that this was an "Ask HN thread" and missed the OP article.

For the most part HN is far from being in decline. I say this from the perspective of going back to very active participation in various lists back in the days when USENET and private BBS's were your only choices. I've seen a lot, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I do feel that some tweaks here and there could be useful, and I suspect that this is happening on a somewhat regular basis. My own pet peeve is that down-votes ought to cost you something and that down-voting should require a comment. Down-vote comments could be hidden by default so as to not pollute threads too much.

We are all guilty to some degree of adding pollution. This is a group of human beings, not algorithms. It will happen. And this is normal.

As a libertarian and real working entrepreneur who has founded and run several companies, succeeded and failed, I tend to react negatively to very liberal views and views not necessarily rooted in real entrepreneurial experience.

On the political end, some of the younger minds on HN have been politically polluted by the liberal bend of our universities and mainstream media. Until they have a collision with reality they then to simply parrot what was driven into their heads because that's all they know.

On the business end, there are a lot of people posting on HN that have never actually started or run a real business, leased space and equipment, hired and fired, had to deal with the various corrupt liberal labor boards, had to deal with taxation and regulation, the agony of business problems and the exhilaration of business success and a myriad of other real-world forces that a business has to face on a daily basis. Yet, they'll come to HN and think that because they read the internet they understand business.

All of this is OK to some degree or another. As I said, it's human nature and this is a group of human beings.

I like HN and want it to remain a high-quality source of interesting discussions relevant to the tech entrepreneur (and not just about which LISP is better!). I'll do my part and try to refrain from reacting to some of the aforementioned posts unless I can truly add valuable insights. Maybe others should also take a moment to re-examine their behavior patterns and see what could be improved. It's probably that simple.

  Down-vote comments could be hidden by default so as to not 
  pollute threads too much.
I really like the idea of private comments for this case.

Wild tangents, pedantry, grammar/spelling corrections, personal questions, (constructive) criticism could all be optionally made private and avoid clutter in the threads

I have no opinion on this, but I do have a meta thought: I wonder if the "quality" of posts is the wrong way to frame the discussion of trends about a community. As an example, it's linguistically like describing an activity as "fun": it means a lot of different things in a lot of different contexts. For instance, the "fun" of having dinner with friends is a lot different than the "fun" of a roller-coaster, but we use the same word for both even though we're really talking about very distinct emotional states. Same thing with "quality", maybe we shouldn't just talk about if posts are better or worse, but rather what trend they're moving towards (if they're moving at all).

I havent been there in years, and I only ever lurked, but I felt like slashdot came close to getting this right, in that you could rate the qualities of something on various axis (ie funny/insightful/interesting), which made scanning the comments really easy. If I didn't want snark I could skip over that easy enough, whereas if I was in the mood for it I could just go all out reading that.

If I were to notice a trend, I would say the site has moved from being a little bit more positive but echo-chambery, to a bit more critical/negative but with more diversity of opinions. I have no opinion on whether that's better or worse, it just feels like a shift of tone to me.

If I were to make a criticism of hacker news though (and it's a minor one -- I'm still here after all), it's that this community is maybe a little too self-serious, out of a terrible fear of becoming redditesque.

If everyone who made a big pronouncement about HN's sad demise instead submitted a great article, went through and up-voted every story and comment they thought was interesting, and left some thoughtful comments, we would probably be in much better shape.

A thought on requiring Karma to post:

What is the point? Looking at it, the idea implies a requirement where a scarce resource is depleted in order to contribute.

The hopeful goal is that quality of contribution goes up, since you are spending a scarce resource.

In order for this to matter at all and drive behavior, the amount of that scarce resource required to be spent must be significant enough to matter, -or non-trivial (what that amount is I don't know, but that is immaterial).

Here is the problem:

While the goal is changing posting behavior for the better, this system might have unintended consequences that have the opposite effect. Users may just start posting lowest common denominator (Hacker News version of it anyway) posts in order to just snag upvotes so that they always have plenty of karma to post. Essentially, it could encourage "karma-whoring" posts, and comments across the site could devolve in the aggregate if this behavior is adopted in any significant amount.

We all know about certain other social sites and the kind of chaff karma-farming brings in. HN mitigates this my keeping karma hidden among other things. This idea though, seems like a different mechanism that could easily encourage that behavior.

Personally, I like the idea of an "HN playground" of some sort: a series of mirrored HN sites, where each attempts to implement and test a different/new community mechanic.

Whether it be having to spend karma in order to post or some other scheme, I think it certainly would be interesting and allow people to tweak and provide feedback at a more massive scale.

Have to disagree.

This has already been mentioned elsewhere but comments with little value are already penalized when people downvote them.

If you notice more crap comments that aren't being downvoted that's because a) the community standards are changing and b) there's no good way to penalize all crap comments anyway - some will slip through the cracks. And as a result of b) great comments will slip through the cracks, which means people will lose points needlessly even when they're not trolling.

I'm not saying your proposal wouldn't have an impact on trolls. But there would likely be an awful lot of collateral damage.

I'm not sure how submissions like this are still showing up so commonly or how they arrive at the top of the list. If ever there was a community of people capable of solving the problem of "improving HN", this is the one. I supply a problem statement and solution below.

Problem: HN has problems which seem not to get fixed despite recommendations made to the maintainer(s?). Why? I suspect it's because maintaining HN is one of the lowest priority jobs to the maintainer of HN. The guy is busy! Fixing problems or implementing possible features quickly would have very low ROI to such a person. This isn't to say that he(they?) doesn't care - just doesn't have time because his other responsibilities are actual responsibilities, not a hobby. This is the equivalent of hiring an independently wealthy person to work for your company. The person may really like working for you, but you can't rely on them. They have little incentive to stick around if they get even slightly bored.

Solution: Make a new one. Someone make something better. You know where your primary audience lives (here) so you know where to find users. Monetize it in some way so that I know you'll keep working on it. Make it your full time gig. With the number of users you could get, you wouldn't have to ask for much. A donation model would probably pay you a pretty good salary. Be nice to the community and make reasonable attempts to fix the issues they bring up. They'll probably even help you fix them if you need them to.

I propose that HN hold a contest a la Netflix whereby identity-sanitized user activity is made available for various parties to run algorithms on in order to improve the general quality of comments and articles.

Basically, the contest metrics would be:

* Given ALL identity-sanitized user activity -> Predict the average voting behavior of individual users.

I've watched online forums deteriorate for almost 3 decades now. It's a shame to see HN following the same pattern of trolling, populist reputation seeking, post-spamming, account spoofing, and just generally immature behavior.

> This way comments with so little value to the community that they are ignored completely or just downvoted would reduce the commentator's Karma

If a comment gets downvoted the user already loses karma on it, does it really matter if you award one extra karma penalty point? And given that downvotes are free above the threshold I don't see how a comment that adds very little value would not get downvoted by someone, I think that comments that get no downvotes and no upvotes aren't inherently malevolent.

> My reasoning is that the trash comments we all hate are kneejerk criticisms with little thought put into them, which I suspect are largely made for the sake of saying something and collecting Karma.

If collecting karma is the reason they are made not getting any upvotes would already be a deterrent, no?

IMHO this suggestion makes no sense, all it does is deter people from posting on long threads, because few people tend to read those and posts there often end up with no upvotes or downvotes, and to comment articles with many comments, because the pages after the first one are effectively inaccessible.

But I also think that Hacker News has been improving in the last year, so we probably disagree. What I would fix is the "new" page, which is getting filled with trash and too fast moving, decoupling submission karma from comment karma would help. Requiring a minimum comment karma to submit entries would help a lot too and it would single-handedly kill spambots too.

This was discussed a while back as well http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3842554

And my thoughts "Here's an idea: Have karma and voting tied together. Your Karma is basically how much votes you get to give. If someone makes a good post, people upvote it, spending their precious karma. The person made the post, collects the karma and and they can use it to vote other posts. We can limit karma by having new users start off with 0. And they only way they can vote/get karma is to contribute positively with quality articles/posts. Now it works the other way too. Make downvoting take away karma of the OP too, thus making people put more thought into their posts. The downvoting action will cost a vote, so people don't running around downvoting everything without thinking. Basically let Karma/Vote be a resource that can be used to promote positive contribution and dissuade useless contributions. The tricky part is balancing the karma in the whole system. Downvoting siphons votes/karma from the system, we need a way to introduce additional karma/votes into the system. Maybe a monthly replenish method where say everyone gets 10 votes each month. But in order to qualify for the monthly bonus, you must first contribute enough (get the up votes) past a certain threshold (say 100 upvotes to your posts/contributions)."

I think the system at HN works as is, and I disagree with everyone who says that the quality of comments have been "sliding" downwards.

I'm a long-time slashdotter, and a recent reddit convert, and I still think that HN comments have the highest signal-to-noise ratio of any other forum.

Of course you're going to get opinions you don't agree with, and some of them may be harsh, and that's perfectly ok. I haven't seen the type of garbage I've seen on other sites like reddit where they start developing their own inside jokes and a thread spirals off-topic. HN keeps a good job in making sure most topics stay on target.

If we're talking about improving HN, the only minor comments I have are:

1) I wish pg would add collapsing comments on threads, like reddit. Having the ability to collapse comments means that I can exit out of a thread immediately if it starts to degrade in quality.

2) The other thing I would do is not allow throwaway comments to post for 24 hrs. This way you don't get people coming in and shitting all over a thread, and leaving with impunity.

3) As a "nice to have", I wish I could "close" articles on the feed so that more of the 2nd-page articles trickle up to my first page.

> 3) As a "nice to have", I wish I could "close" articles on the feed so that more of the 2nd-page articles trickle up to my first page.

I use the HN RSS feed, with Google reader; I never look at the HN front page ever. This works pretty well for me; I can very quickly skim though all new articles, and those I've seen are gone (but I can mark those I want to come back to later as "not read").

I think part of a perceived drop in quality is that the older forum members have been there, and done that.

I caught a glimmer that HN might be getting good again the other day. There seems to be a surge in article about how to be an entrepreneur, while balancing family, new children, and a real, adult life. Those topics are much more interesting to me these days than articles exhorting me to get things done.

Some HN members know other HM members in real life. You have business or personal relationships with others that also read, post, and comment on this forum. Some of you have never met any other HN member in real life, but do consider some HN members as friends and acquaintances.

I, on the other hand, have met none of you and don't carry on a virtual relationship with any other HN member. I consume your news and up-vote articles that I want to see more of on this forum. And on rare occasion I will post a comment.

All that said, besides PG, I absolutely don't care what the USERNAME is of the original poster.

I do scan the front page to see if there is any article is an extraordinary number of POINTS or COMMENTS. POINTS and COMMENTS are probably 75% of the reason why I click on a link of the front page. And the more comments a link has, the most likely, I will click on the COMMENTS thread before I even read the article. 25% of the time I will click on a link because it contains a keyword (to include the URL snippet) which is in regard to something I care about.

Metafilter is on of the very few internet forums which maintains high quality. It costs you $5 to join and if you abuse your membership you will have your membership cancelled without refund or appeal.

It is actively moderated by 'staff' who delete egregiously off-topic posts (and their followups) and you can't post new topics for a week after joining.

Some of this doesn't apply to HN but penalties only work if they hurt. I mean who cares about losing karma? It only appears when someone checks your profile and it confers no advantage whatsoever (that I know of, perhaps I don't have enough).

And really, isn't some of this just people getting old who should have moved on? Like your grandpa going to the bar he frequented years ago but complaining about all these young people and their loud music. Perhaps the complainers should reflect that HN is no longer for them.

What are cost free impediments to trolls and spammers? Impose a time delay between joining and being able to reply, and a longer delay before being able to post new topics.

I realize I'm pretty late to the game on commenting here. I don't comment often. I've been on HN for 1558 days and have a karma score of 7. But here are my thoughts.

I use reddit for entertainment purposes (for the most part) and I use HN for educational and inspirational purposes. That was why I started using HN and it is still why I do.

Sure, as the community has grown, there have been more comments that add no value - but they are just more obvious now. It isn't that hard to ignore them and to find the meaningful or useful comments.

On the surface the "cost karma to post" idea sounds great - it certainly wouldn't have much effect on me - but I agree with the various others who think it would discourage unpopular but still very useful and (at times very correct) comments.

If the price to pay to get a well rounded discussion is the presence of vapid commentary - then I'm willing to continue to pay it.

There are always ebs and flow. The community is less niche now than it was a few years ago, so naturally the ratio of stores on the front page to stories I choose to read has gone down a bit.

But I still find that there are many exceptional comments and so even though I now consume a smaller percentage of overall daily content than I did a few years ago, I don't think the quality of the content I consume via HN has gone down at all.

There are occasionally threads that appear to have no interesting comments in them, and those are usually the sort of vapid, TechCrunch stories or tabloidesque personal interest stories that many of us find annoying.

For what it's worth, I also find it annoying to read weak technical blog posts written by people who are clearly just trying to generate blog traffic and don't really have anything interesting or motivated by a real startup problem.

The people who leave comments that spoil hacker news don't care for karma, they'll just sock puppet to get their way. I don't think there's an especially large issue here, bad comments get down voted to the pits anyway.

Plus getting a down vote is often useful to help keep in the community guidelines.

I like the custom filters http://hnapp.com/ provides. I have one that sets a point threshold stories must pass before they show up in my feedreader. If the signal/noise gets a little too low, I raise the threshold. Works for me :)

Wouldn't that mean there would be loads of crap posted to HN rather than just crap comments?

I think the karma penalty for commenting is not a bad idea, but I think taking away the ability to comment is untenable. As others have pointed out, it's too easy to game by making a new account.

A possible alternative would be to take away voting privileges if the karma score drops too low, but even this should be done as a local drop rather than a global one. Otherwise, established members with lots of karma can slide into mediocre commenting without penalty.

However, if you take away voting privileges for losing karma too quickly, then new users must not be able to vote. Otherwise, once again, it is simply too easy to create a new account when you lose your privileges.

Why is karma any significant to the quality of a post?

It already costs enough to create a post (in time and effort); if that doesn't have any effect on the quality, it is not clear why an additional cost in karma would make a difference.

HN is not a personalized news feed. If a story has been upvoted sufficiently to float up the ranks, that means there is sufficient community interest in the subject. Given the way HN works and the size of its audience, there is simply no way you can magically fix the posts to fit a particular definition regarding the topic, quality or the tone without strict monitoring; and if you do add admins, etc. that wouldn't be HN anymore.

Is this where we compare slashdot ids, I mean measure account sizes I mean account ages against each other?

If you don't like the quality of stories on HN, you can change it. Go out and find/write good content, then peruse the submit button.

All this will lead to is gaming the system by trying to post material which will gain karma, i.e. currying the favor of the majority, vs posting things that are legit interesting. It will bury gems and minority opinion.

Really all I feel we need to regulate is the blatent keyword/SEO spam and link bait from various online publications. Other than that, I find most of the content on HN hasn't changed all that much from a couple years back when I started reading. There's already a flag button on the interface, but perhaps some kind of spam score or feedback system would help the community point out misleading articles and marketing efforts. I don't know if registered users in the community are the ones from which to demand karma unless they're known to post such links repeatedly.

Interesting idea. Instead of simply saying people can't post if their karma is too low you could take the users total Karma relative to 0 and add a sorting feature filter that sorts based that. Only problem is new people would get buried pretty quickly and it may feel like they are trying to get someone's attention from across the room while in the middle of a pack of screaming monkeys. Adding a sort by "new" feature could help new users get their voice heard and voted up or down accordingly. Just a thought.

I personally think this thread is full of great discussion. There is certainly a certain character of pedantry on Hacker News, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in terms of feedback. Compared to a lot of other forums, Hacker News gives a lot of good feedback, and the stories on it have been very helpful to me.

Just my take. I personally don't care about karma on this thing. However, I must admit that I cared a little more when it was displayed! Public reputations seem to do wonders for keeping people well-behaved.

The main way I'd improve HN is more aggressive moderation of stories -- there are just many which often lead to bad comment threads. Either bounce them off the site entirely, or lock/hide/prevent comments on those stories (like on some job posts).

Right now, the first page of stories are all "good", but often there are 50%+ bad ones.

The other thing would be some way to coalesce multiple stories on the same topic into a single entry -- when Steve Jobs dies, it's nice to have a front page post, but no real need to have 30 of them.

This is actually a pretty bad idea because it would discourage people from commenting on anything but the top posts on the first page. Commenting on something interesting that's 3 pages deep would basically mean throwing away karma unless that post manages to get up-voted, which is never a sure thing. Of course, some good discussion is often what gets good material upvoted! This change, while it might improve comment quality, would drastically impair the upvoting process.

I think all these approaches lead to elitarism and blackhat KEO tactics (Karma Engine Optimization). Maybe a form of the pretty common the-forum-used-to-be-better-syndrome? :)

I think this could possibly work if HN was a paid-to-post service, even if it was just $1 p/m. The only problem I can see otherwise is this would open the possibility of an underground currency for karma. It might result in user accounts who exist purely for karma collection, getting upvotes from droves of dummy/spam/bot accounts, then posting spam. It would be possible of course to try and detect this, but not trivial I would think to avoid false positives.

The public forum should follow democratic ways... I dont like the idea of costing karmas, when in such public forums, one have full right to speak freely for free...

One (major?) change I'd like to see is requiring the user to post a reason when they downvote something. This would not appear as a reply to the post itself, but rather be available for viewers in a pop-up box when they mouse-over the post.

I think this would really solve the problem with rampant downvoting of things people disagree with (as opposed to downvoting low quality content, which is what it's supposed to be for).

I suspect most of the reasons given would be "fdshjfdsf".

It would relatively straight-forward to filter out bogus input like that.

This raises the risk of posting even higher. As it is now, if your average comment karma falls below 0, your account is secretly perma-banned from posting. If you're at -1 karma by default, the amount of people who become "secretly perma-banned" will increase significantly. I'm sure that will improve some comments, but I feel we also will most certainly loose out on good posts in the future.

One change has been an influx of people who propose improvements. Another is an influx of people who care about karma.

Who, exactly, isn't going to post something because doing so will cost them karma points? (Hmm - maybe discouraging karma-whores is a good thing,)

Or, are you thinking that folks with too little karma wouldn't be allowed to post? Since karma can be earned by clicking arrows, that's not much of a cost.

It should cost a user Karma to down-vote and up-vote.

Many of the comments on the "Chinese company uses leaked photos to copy, patent iPhone 5 design" (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4487905) were disappointing / annoying / frustrating.

I am being the change I wish to see by not commenting in threads like that.

Visiting NEW and up voting great stories, and flagging garbage, helps. Maybe.

One trend I've noticed is that my best posts (which normally take 10-20 minutes to write) get much less of a response than witty one-liners.

I wonder how many people here have from time to time pointed to one of their own posts? You'd see that HN has a longer tail than just the one-day front page most people think it has. And this is true for submissions that get many votes as well as for those that get none. So thinking you know what people want is nonsense. You just know what you want.

To actually argue about the proposal at hand:

- It amplifies the echo chamber. Only if people like and agree with me, I'll get points. Only with points I will be able to post. Loop here.

- It punishes lurkers who only once in a while see the 'need' to comment. Not every comment gets up- or downvotes.

Want to 'improve' HN? Instead of this navel gazing post, why not post something worthwhile?

It is difficult to restrain users from posting too often when creating new accounts are free: how do you compete with free?

You can't make it worse than creating a new account because then the users will just create a tons of new accounts.

So somehow you need to make account creation "more expensive" to be able to have a working cost/rate-limiting on posting.

We should be able to invest on articles with our karma and get dividends when others invest. How about we add article karma options for posting to certain time windows? We could even start lending some karma, then wrap it all and bundle them as sub prime loan backed securities. Let's call it operation karmageddon

I only have one wish for improving HN: randomly rotate the top comment. As it stands, the discussion usually veers off into a meta discussion around the first comment.

At the time of this posting, the thread is 14 hours old and has 239 comments, so even if HN'ers agreed with me on this point, the odds are they will never see it.

I often make comments specifically not intending them to be discussed. Some of those might be interpreted by some as sniping a discussion board, but I don't see this as a discussion board, but a comment board with replies.

And I take some pride in being able to condense my thoughts and get my point across without detracting.

I’d like little avatar pictures next to poster’s names. They are much easier to recognize quickly and introduce an extra level of accountability and identity to posting. I wonder if the reason this hasn’t been done is because PG is too busy or it would significantly increase server load.

An alternative solution would be to hide (by default) posts that have no response and that have been made by users with karma below a certain threshold.

It would also be possible to compute the average number of upvotes for each comment thread and show the threads with the most upvotes first.

An interesting idea.

I'm not sure how well it'd cope with vote rings.

Unfortunately, most people vote up what they agree with, not what is useful. I don't want to come to a site to read a bunch of mild wish washy comments by people only saying nice things many agree with, that's a waste of my time.

There is no objective system that can deliver guarantees about subjective quality.

From the submitted blog post:

"I have a suggestion for improvement: it should cost Karma to comment, and when your Karma drops below a certain threshold you can no longer comment.

"My reasoning is that the trash comments we all hate are kneejerk criticisms with little thought put into them, which I suspect are largely made for the sake of saying something and collecting Karma."

I agree with the rationale for the proposal here. The bad comments are the comments that pg described in 2011


as "comments that are (a) mean and/or (b) dumb that (c) get massively upvoted."

No one should be upvoting a comment that the current author refers to as "trash comments [that] are kneejerk criticisms with little thought put into them" because such comments fit the definition of comments that are both mean and dumb. If you see something that is mean, absolutely downvote it. It's clear that our site founder and most veteran members of the HN community (and all of the most thoughtful members here, however recently they have joined) don't want any meanness or kneejerk criticisms here, so download comments like that ruthlessly. That's upholding the guidelines.

Dealing with comments that are dumb (in pg's words) or have little thought put into them (the OP's words) is a bit harder, because if I don't have domain-specific knowledge, I may not know what comments are dumb. Wikipedia has its own problems with lots of dumb content, so often looking it up on Wikipedia will only add stupidity to HN. But in threads about subjects I know about, I try to scan for comments that point to reliable sources (that issue is crucial) and otherwise show signs of thoughtful research before posting. Then I upvote comments that I know for sure to be polite, true, and informative (well, I try to do that routinely here anyhow) and I downvote comments that are shown to be dumb by the context of the discussion and reliable knowledge of the world.

We can all do the same, if we can upvote or downvote at all. Some users with accumulated karma can also flag comments that violate the site guidelines.


(To flag a comment, follow the "link" link text next to the comment, which takes you to the specific URL for the comment, and there you will see a "flag" link if flagging is enabled for your user account.)

Basically, every moderation problem on every forum (I have been a forum moderation on one forum or another since 1993) involves someone being willing to take out the trash. It stinks to have to take out the trash, but someone has to do it. If you have upvoting power, upvote the good. If you have downvote power, definitely downvote the mean ("kneejerk criticism") and downvote the dumb ("thoughtless") to the degree you can identify it. If you have flagging power, go to the extra effort of comment-specific flagging for the especially bad comments. But most of all, upvote the good. I have a slogan that I tell my children to help develop their social skills that "no one ever receives enough appreciation." So be generous in upvoting good comments, to drown out the bad.

And thanks for agreeing with pg's statement from last year


that both comments that are (a) mean and comments that are (b) dumb shouldn't gain karma, but rather lose it.

P.S. I see from the other comments in this thread that there is confusion about whether the original blog post, which has the title "A proposal for improving HN - it should cost Karma to comment" is about submissions of new articles or about comments to submissions by others. That appears to be related to the submission title here, which is "A proposal for improving HN : it should cost a user Karma to post" as I type this about an hour after the blog post was submitted as a new submission here on HN. I am only talking about comment rules in my reply here, not about submission of new article rules.

The problem is comments that are mean, dumb, and massively upvoted. Or, really, upvoted at all.

This suggests that at least part of the problem is the voters, who haven't learned that comments of that sort do not belong on HN. I submit the following proposal:

If a comment is sufficiently mean/dumb to be killed by flagging or moderators, everyone who upvoted that comment should be penalized and warned

Heh Wikipedia is the worst. I feel like half the time I post something intelligent I basically get a bunch of people calling me a faggot for reading books, more often than not with 'references' to Wikipedia to explain why I'm wrong.

The problem with Wikipedia is that you're not allowed to plagiarize. So if there are three reasons to believe something is true, you'll get three of them listed. But if there are 100 reasons to believe something is true, you'll still only get three of them. Which essentially means the more reason there is to believe something is true, the less likely it is that Wikipedia will accurately reflect that. Digital Maoism indeed.

Heh Wikipedia is the worst. I feel like half the time I post something intelligent I basically get a bunch of people calling me a faggot for reading books, more often than not with 'references' to Wikipedia to explain why I'm wrong.

I feel the need to point out that this is not, in fact, a problem with Wikipedia.

Maybe not entirely, but Wikipedia being wrong about lots of basic things is certainly a problem.

[citation needed]

If I recall correctly, there have been studies comparing Wikipedia and "proper" encyclopediae that suggest the error rates are about equal, and quite low in both.

'Wrongness' is an abstract concept that can't really be measured, let alone with something as simplistic as an error rate. An article can be 100% factually accurate, yet still be entirely wrong.

No, not at all. Wikipedia is not responsible for another person misusing it.

Of course not, but they're still responsible for being wrong in the first place.

I think that this would be a better solution to people submitting new articles. Set a cost for submitting new articles and spam bots will have a lot harder time.

EDIT: Reformulation.

How about giving more weight to upvotes from people with more Karma. I'm not sure if all upvotes are currently equal (I suspect they are).

I often wish HN turned into a child of c2.org wiki. I won't complain as I don't have the brain or knowledge to help much in the matter.

I don't want Hacker News to turn into Quora.

I don't think adopting a piece of someone else's best practices would.

I'd rather see it cost karma to upvote/downvote. Higher cost for articles, lower cost for comments.

hmm, to fight noise, make every char and click count. If you want to upvote, give up one karma point. Downvote? Minus one point from you too. And, finally, daily word limit, so that people give couple of thoughtful and conside comments.

How about restricting voting to users with more than, say 100 karma?

Maybe something like this is already secretly the case, at least for comments?

Why? When an article is bad it can be down voted appropriately.

Just like comments that demonstrate the writer is not lucid.

Am I the only one who hasn't noticed this huge drop in quality that has everyone bitching and moaning lately? The signal-to-noise ratio has dropped slightly compared to when I started reading about four years ago, but this is still a great place for technical discussion. Comparisons to Reddit and other such nonsense are baseless. HN does not need any major overhaul or whatever else. I think a lot of this is just old-timers starting to see the same shit over and again. Try giving it up for a few months, then come back and see if you still feel that way.

One thing that has happened, that I suspect may have ruffled some feathers, is that HN is not the objectivist echo chamber it used to be. This is still a board for entrepreneurs before it is a board for hackers, but some of the more out-there John Galt type stuff will now get picked apart and downvoted, or even just ignored, where before you either clucked your tongue in agreement, remained silent, or donned your flame suit.

As an old-timer who used to be very active but isn't anymore I agree with you. When I first created an account 1883 days ago I thought this place was amazing, and that I'd never seen such high quality discussion on the Internet before. Now I don't find the quality to be quite as high, but after thinking about it I've realised what has changed: Me.

It's been 5 years, and I've changed. I've become much more knowledgeable than I was five years ago (partly because of HN) and obviously the barrier for what I find insightful has been raised. This is a natural progression in life, and it happens to everyone. Chances are that if you look at what you did 5 or 10 years ago you'll find it to be naive, shallow or obvious.

Maybe it's simply time to move on.

Or maybe it's more like this:

2007. edw519: blah blah blah. Community: You should speak less and build more.

2008. edw519: blah blah blah. Community: You should speak less and build more.

2009. edw519: blah blah blah. Community: You should speak less and build more.

2010. edw519: blah blah blah. Community: You should speak less and build more.

2011. edw519: blah blah blah. Community: You should speak less and build more.

2012. edw519, too busy building to comment. Community: Where have all the old timers gone?

I've been around for 2,017 days. Number of comments has gone down steadily, but I agree with mixmax as for the reason.

Would any old-timer care to use the open-source HN code and create a vintage HN by automatically inviting anyone with an age of >N days?

http://news.ycombinator.com/classic is a version of the front page sorted only by votes from accounts over one year old. Generally the ranking is not too different, at least for top items. (I know this is not the same thing you're talking about; it just reminded me of it. Also note that /classic was created at a time when there were far fewer accounts that old; perhaps a higher threshold would be more interesting now.)

Source: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=607271

Personally I've been here for 1472 days (3.5 years) and on the leaderboard for much of that time. I feel like the quality has gone through several up-and-down cycles, though some of that is probably because my tastes have changed too. Overall it feels much as it did several years ago.

Even old-timers rarely browse the /newest page to mod those up. This creates a bias favoring the ranking produced at /news because said old-timers will upvote those more than the ones at /newest (or /classic)

The problem is not only the home page ranking: it's the discussions. I see a lot of low-quality (as in "it's more important to be right than it is to debate in civilized ways") discussions. I did not correlate that to account age.

"... Would any old-timer care to use the open-source HN code and create a vintage HN by automatically inviting anyone with an age of >N days? ..."

2024 days here @wensing, No.

Being here a long time doesn't confer any special status. All it really shows is curiosity and early adoption. Other than having seen a wider range of technology, topics, discussion and behaviour the one thing I've noted is the number of high ranking stories sans comments.

I'd really like to can articles limited to point threshold with no comments. No comments, no value & shouldn't get the chance to go up the story leader board.

Special status isn't the point. They're simply cohorts and it would be interesting to see what the conversation would be like when segmented as such.

"... it would be interesting to see what the conversation would be like when segmented as such. ..."

You already can. Just randomly pick a low item id, ie: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20111 and follow up the comments to the article head ie: "How to Build a Web 2.0 Dating Site in 66.5 Man-Hours " http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19988

The sig/noise was different, fewer higher qual comments.

2025 days! Woohoo! :-)

Sorry about that ... back to your regularly scheduled programming.

I've been a leach for 2023 days :-)

Yep. I remember that when I saw the initial announcement (don't remember where), I grabbed my account name just incase I ever wanted to try the startup thing, trying to make sure that I could get my name rather than "some31337d00d_27".

It was on the reddit front page when pg made it public a long time ago. Well, 2027 days ago according to my created field. The only way to have an account older than 2027 days (as of today) is if you were in YC before news.yc was public.

Arrgh, I'm two days off the maximum. Must have been getting slow in my old age!

And what might that "n" be that lets the last man over the bridge?

I just checked mine ... 1337 days seems like a good number :)

First of all : fantastic age - congrats :)

Secondly, I know your comment was tongue-in-cheek, but that would actually be a very appropriate age cut-off for what strikes me as a remarkably elitist endeavor.

I'm at 730 days and I can support 1337 days, so long as I can read. I don't mind waiting just shy of two to be able to comment so long as the comment and post quality is exceptional.

TBH I'm fascinated to know how the community would differ from HN of 4 years ago, since all the older participants would be 4 years more experienced in life and hacking.

Re: the TBH - exactly. I just might have to try this.

Think early TechCrunch. No tech stories, only direct links to products and services are allowed.


Is this your site? The search page prints PHP code at the top, just so you know.

correct. thanks for that, will fix it. have a great weekend!

  def cutoff():
    return min([leader.age for leader in get_leaders("http://news.ycombinator.com/leaders")]
I leave you to define get_leaders. :)

Or, as humans would say that, the cutoff could be the youngest of leaders.

However, that really doesn't answer the problem when you don't define what a leader is. If it's the highest amount of Karma past 7 days, then the youngest leader could even be a day old user. Please respond with solutions, not http wrappers.

If you go to the URL in the code, it defines what a leader is: the 100 people with the highest karma. By define get_leaders I meant write the scraper, not come up with the definition. Heh!

574 days and it's llambda

550 days. :)

There has to be some element of truth in this. If I look at a post about javascript closures, and am as mind-blown as I was 5 years ago, I have failed as a programmer (or vim, or erlang, or whatever...).

I can't suggest that we try upping the "super deep"/"good intro or midlevel" stuff ratio, since there are always new people floating around who need to see this content to learn about it. And there are still plenty of good deep articles that float through here.

I work in a college department, I watch grad students come in each year, and the best graduate and move on. I have come to realize that it is just a necessary function of community to have to go through the "boring" set of discussions to get the new folks up to speed. These are more or less always the same. Its after the intro stuff that new and interesting things are taught, and the perception of the pace slows down. New stuff has been happening at the same rate forever, its just that "new to me" stuff has started to approach the "actually new" stuff rate. This can lead to quality seeming to go down.

> It's been 5 years, and I've changed.

I think this is true of every "kids these days are less worldly" article and the oft heard "favorite music/newspaper/other media isn't as good as it used to be." The world hasn't gotten dumber, you've just gotten better taste, and better at spotting bullshit that has always been there.

Making the claim that everything is objectively worse, back in my day everything was golden, get off my lawn, &c. seems to be easier than introspection for a lot of people. We are not impartial observers, nor are we immutable—we tend to forget that.

I don't have a citation for this (maybe someone else can help out there), but apparently there's ancient Egyptian scriptures with people writing about the youth those days were going to be the end of society, or something like that.

You are seeing the quality go down because YC requires applicants to join HN so now you have thousands of applicants who would have never joined if YC didn't required it. I believe this plays into the quality going down but I could be wrong.

Perhaps a clarification from anyone downvoting you as far as why you are being downvoted which I assume is because of this statement "quality go down because YC requires applicants to join HN"?

Or is it "now you have thousands of applicants who would have never joined if YC didn't required it." (sic)

For clarification, per PG:

"The first thing I notice when I look at an application is the username it was submitted under. If it's one I recognize for making thoughtful comments on Hacker News, I give the application extra attention."


So I can fully understand that while joining HN is not a dejure requirement to getting accepted to YC it certainly seems like a defacto requirement based on the above statement.

IIRC, you do need a HN username just to apply for YC.

That's not a problem.

No one's complaining "too many usernames are taken"; people are complaining about the comment quality.

When you get a HN username to make a YC application, you're going to be hyperaware that you're here visiting pg's home turf. You'll either try really hard to post high-content, insightful comments, or you'll simply lurk. Either way, you're not likely to be wandering around urinating on the furniture.

tl;dr -- the requirement seems more likely to boost, rather than harm, comment quality - if it has any effect at all.

Maybe we just need an Erlang week. (or Haskell, which I'd prefer).

As people point out, HN may not have changed as much as people think it has. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to set the tone in the right direction in case there's any chance it has.

I have the impression the news is catered more towards silicon valley & YC people nowadays. Earlier HN was the best place for interesting tech & startup news. Now I don't really check HN that much.

To much dumb posts about something insignificant by somebody in SV or YC that are not interesting to me.

I do think that's their good right, to make their "own" new community ofcourse:) but then we have to look to other sources for quality tech & startup news.

Very good observation, mixmax. I've considered that too. Is my threshold heightening or is this material universally not of high quality anymore? We know, for certain, this DOES hold true in other cases. Falling in love is one example. In grade school, falling in mad love was much easier than it is now. Our level of awareness is much greater, and we consider many more things about a person (breadth) and whether we can see ourselves with this person down the line(depth). All this analytical thinking sort of prevents us from feeling and falling.

Back to whether the articles and comments on HN, as of late, are elevated enough to trigger intellectual gratification... to believe that after 1883 days, you've changed because you've soaked up all you can and must move on, is a disservice to yourself and to HN. If not HERE, then WHERE? It is the responsibility of our seasoned users, particularly like you, to keep the morale and the quality of this site as high as possible. Plus, users like you are what make this site valuable. You (and users like you) are the adequate benchmark beside which we can measure the quality of the articles. Moreover, the world of knowledge is a vast and limitless ocean, much of which (I'm sure) still remains for you to be discovered. And the nature of this web site and what it is intended for still works. All that needs to be done is to match the growth of the audience by growing the material proportionately. This proposal to use karma as currency makes a lot of sense. Before, the karma was meaningless anyway. This structure puts the karma to good use and forces everyone to contribute mindfully. Cheers to the original poster. I hope it's implemented.

Oldhead here as well. Yeah, the magic of discovering this place back then was incredible, and the discourse so intelligent. There was more of a kinship I felt with the old squad; I really cared what everybody thought and was much more engaged. I miss the old group, a very small village. There are newer posters who are just as intelligent, but the S/N ratio has definitely declined. Or maybe I've just changed.

This happens on many sites, and in many cases I'd attribute it less to a reduction in "quality," and more to a decrease in homogeneity: a successful site attracts more people, with increasingly disparate backgrounds.

For the original users, who were charmed by the fact that "everybody has (more or less) the right opinion, and we can discuss rather than argue!" this can be a shock, but I'd venture that it's often actually a rather healthy thing, even if you unfortunately also get more trolls and flamers along the way. Pleasant as it is to talk with one's close peers, one can often learn more by talking to people one disagrees with...

It can go bad, of course, but HN certainly doesn't seem to show the usual symptoms of an internet cesspool; based on my short time on HN (~1 year), the S/N ratio isn't bad at all.

I was thinking we could prove this with a blinded quiz: show you a post with no date or author, ask you to rate the quality, aggregate the results.

But it'd probably be too difficult to truly blind it; posts would reference startups or frameworks that didn't exist five years ago, or Obama, or other anachronistic events.

Here's a proposal. Add the ability to filter out users based on their membership date. You could theoretically use this to associate yourself with people who have been around HN as long as you have. Even setting a minimum threshold to something like 100 days or a year would definitely reduce a lot of noise in the "new" section.

One of the best parts to me is the data is already stored and it has a very high cardinality, so it would work exceptionally well as an indexed field.

Whereto? I appreciate your contributions to HN.

I post less too.

But: move on to where?

I feel like there was a fast slide to content-free echo chamberism a while ago. HN was starting to become painfully predictable if it didn't talk about:

- Apple in glowing terms

- a LISP

- how massive overvaluations were not a bad sign

Certain HN rockstars would receive hundreds of upvotes for the most minor of comments and the fanboyism towards a few specific companies, products and people was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Anything that even smelled like dissent was downvoted until you couldn't even see the comment with a flashlight and a 100' rope.

Then a few things happened and it seemed to slowly wind down and I think even reverse. The quality and content of HN seems remarkably improved in the last year:

- Karma became invisible

- Steve Jobs passed away

- Gruber posts started getting flagged

- Android came neck and neck with iOS then surpassed it, then Apple started suing

- a few overhyped, overvalued, overinvested-in companies popped in very public ways

In fact the discussions about the above things have been some of the most spirited, invigorating discussions on HN in a long while. But the other posts and discussions on other topics started getting better as well. Sure the focus of HN has somewhat changed a bit since the old, small community, days. But a few internal and external factors seems to have kept the ship upright.

So, you don't seem to like posts about Apple but you do seem to like posts about Android. Isn't this the whole 'problem'? People only object to posts they don't want to see, so to a fandroid any post about Apple proves that HN is full Apple fanboys.

It's not posts about Apple per se. Apple makes fantastic stuff. It was the out of control community fawning and over reactionary responses to the slightest critical comment that was the problem.

A year ago even commenting that anything was wrong with any Apple product was met with derison, scorn and a flock of downvotes.

For whatever reason, the tone here has changed tremendously for the better so that this community can actually have serious, educational and productive discussions, and even present respectful competing opinions here. It was frustrating, but frankly it was boring as hell also.

I really think the turning point was the moment that pg turned off the points.

I find it extremely funny how any small of hint of criticism of Groklaw's 'analysis' or the sacred PJ was met with instant whiting out of the comment, but now that Groklaw took Google's side against Apple, comments, critical of Groklaw comments get a bunch of upvotes or at least are not flagged to death.

General rules I have noticed even after points stopped being show are (mostly regardless of the actual facts):

Take Apple's side(except if it's against Google) = upvotes

Take Google's side(except if it's against Apple) = upvotes

Take an anti-MS stance = upvotes

Take a non anti-MS stance: downvotes or no upvotes

I bet you can literally farm karma by following the above rules, based on seeing some posters' karma.

Mentioning religion is guaranteed downvotes, unless the thread is about depression or suicide. That's the reason that I am a 95% (or more) lurker rather than poster. I loved HN when it first came out, but the heavy anti-faith undercurrent is off-putting.

There are quite a few Christians here. I've made connections with many of them.

It's true that you are in a sense a guest of materialists in communities like these. I've found the only helpful thing is to make individual, atomic points or to write on a topic about which my conversant has no opinion. To say anything that is built on premises recognized and disputed by another is asking for a huge headache and yes, the CS training here greatly outpaces study of metaphysics.

Take heart and spend most of your time here talking about programming!


Most of my conversations here have been of a technical nature and that's fine, as I am both a geek and a pastor. I am just disappointed that off-topic conversations are welcome unless they enter the spiritual realm. Oh well, I have plenty of venues to show my spiritual side. I'll just keep it technical here, but it feels a little stifling to have to always keep it inside. Not that I want to bombard HN with matters of faith, but to never be able to mention it at all seems unrealistic.

I'll play by the rules.

Are you saying that it was more religion-friendly in the "old days"?

I don't think I've ever seen a single religion-related comment on HN, so I'm not sure where you see a "heavy anti-faith undercurrent". Isn't it more likely that religious discussion is just off-topic here, so we don't see much of it?

Any conversation that mentions evolution triggers it.

As for the old days, I don't recall it being an issue, but that could be because I have a bad memory or that previous work environments were hyper-sensitive about posting to websites (or some combination of both) so I didn't get involved directly.

> Any conversation that mentions evolution triggers it.

I've noticed the same trend. Even if no one questions or faults the point(s) being made re: evolution, a vitriolic jab at religion (particularly Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism) is quite common in the comments.

This is a loss. To quote Richard D. Alexander (professor of Zoology at Univ. of Michigan and an evolutionist):

"...indeed, at this moment creation is the only alternative to evolution. Not only is this worth mentioning, but a comparison of the two alternatives can be an excellent exercise in logic and reason."

I agree. It's a huge loss.

As an ex-atheist who previously believed in evolution and is now a young earth creationist, such conversations have the potential to be very interesting. Sadly, they end up with subtle (if you're lucky) or less subtle jabs about how believers are all anti-science and uneducated and just want to brainwash people, especially children. And that is generally considered to be the ultimate slam on creationists from which no recovery is expected.

I have a comp.sci degree, spent much of my teens getting excited about meta-physics and still love science, especially astronomy and am loving the Mars missions ... how's that for anti-science? :-)

Unfortunately even if you are willing to debate evolution intelligently, almost nobody else describing themselves as a creationist is. This leads to a general feeling of, how shall I say, beating our heads against the wall when talking to these people, because they refuse to accept any evidence we offer.

As always, people holding the most extreme views color the perception of the whole community - even if most people who believe in creationism are perfectly willing to have an intelligent conversation and have no problem with their kids learning science, the vocal few that campaign ferociously against science in education make everyone on that side look bad.

Unfortunately nobody in the "sane" segment of the religious community seems to be speaking up against them or reining them in, which is why it is so frustrating.

I am sorry you had to deal with outbursts against your religion however - it can't have been too pleasant.

Thank you for kind words.

Back before I was a pastor (5'ish years ago) I used to blog regularly and often got into tussles with atheists, so fear not, these guys are just big ol' pussy cats compared to them.

I guess the emotion I want to express is sadness, because I expected better from thinking outside the box hackers and startup founders. No worries. I'm fine, the Lord still rules the universe and I'll be done with being bi-vocational at the end of this month. Life is good! :-)

  > As an ex-atheist who previously believed in evolution and
  > is now a young earth creationist

  > loving the Mars missions
How on earth do you reconcile this? The mind boggles, although it might just be me missing a healthy dose of sarcasm here.

In any case: No, not all discussions of this type are in fact potentially interesting, enlightening, or fostering a culture of whatever. Telling yourself that is feel-good nonsense. Sometimes, debating the merits of creationism simply means lowering the level of discourse. Debating the merits of current evolutionary science is, of course, both admissible and valuable; considering creationism (esp. of the wildly implausible kind) a viable alternative is simply misguided.

Don't waste time when there are actual problems to be solved.

No sarcasm on my part. There is no problem reconciling any part of my statement. Why does it seem strange to you for a Christian to be interested in Mars? The scriptures teach that God created the heavens and the earth and the stars and by inference the planets. I find them very interesting, as apparently do the good folks at NASA and their sponsors the U.S. government.

The rest of your comment then wanders off further into the very attitude that I was commenting on, so thank you for illustrating my point. Discussing creationism does not lower the level of discourse, rather, dismissive attitudes such as yours, stifles intelligent discussion. You could have asked how I came to transition from professing evolution to embracing creationism, but instead you use words like misguided. I don't see any evidence that you'll care, but it was a thoughtful process and we could have discussed it. Looks like my personal policy of silence is the less misguided one.

Outside of my day job, I am a pastor (check my HN profile), so I also work on solving actual problems in my community and my congregation.

TorretFreak post = front page

It seems to me his problem is was not so much with the Apple posts (except Gruber's which he calls out specifically), but rather the quality of the comments in Apple related discussion.

(I cannot say that I have noticed an increase in the number of Android posts here, but there does seem to have been a change in the tone of discussion.)

An elegant demonstration of the problem.

HN consists of a lot of actively voting and flagging Apple and Google fans(and employees) with >50% using Apple products. Thus most posts critical of them get flagged down. Microsoft friendly posts, comments or even product announcements? Not a chance, even if they get a few votes initially, they get flagged off the front page, whereas negative news go straight up.

In fact, http://winsupersite.com (run by Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott) has been flagged so much that it is has been hellbanned even from being submitted at all for the crime of being a Microsoft inside news site. This would be hilarious if it weren't sad commentary on the nature of the HN community echo chamber.

"HN rockstars would receive hundreds of upvotes for the most minor of comments"

It would be interesting to test the same thesis that I have which indicates there is a halo effect on anyone considered a rockstar which allows them to get more upvotes than they would w/o the rockstar status.

This is of course the way life operates. The only question is to what extent it happens. People tend to pay more attention to someone who has the trappings of success and/or has had their ticket punched.

My guess is that a long thoughtful comment by a new user or non rock star would gain almost the same upvotes as the same long thoughtful comment by a HN rockstar.

However a short comment, I'm fairly certain, (and once again this would have to be tested) would generate more upvotes from the rockstar then it would by a new user or non-rockstar. The gap would be much wider.

I go back to the days when karma was visible and there was a clear and easily visible "rockstar" effect. I learned early on, from personal experience and watching other posts, to not disagree with a rockstar as it was likely to lead to being downvoted to oblivion.

I once disagreed with a rockstar member (someone currently in the top 10 or so on the all time karma list) and had to delete my comment quite rapidly as I was getting buried. My comment was not personal or flaming in any way - just a disagreement.

Since hidden karma I think voting is far more fair.

I too think that HN is better in many ways than before, although I would say the noise ratio has increased. Still easily one of my favourite news and discussion forums.

Maybe there should be an "anonymous week" where usernames are hidden. Just to see if there are any different patterns.

This is one of the few things that 4chan has right - by removing names, you take ego entirely out of the question.

Then, to avoid turning into 4chan, you can have posts be anonymous on the front end, but accountable to a user id on the back end only visible to the user themselves and the site staff.

It would be an interesting experiment.

But then it's nice to know you're at least talking to the same person over several comments. In 4chan you never really know, because anyone can claim to be op or to have written any other comment.

Poster ID's. A hash that's created based on your IP address and a seed that changes daily and per thread.

It stops people from claiming to be someone they're not, but I see your point about knowing who you're talking to.

A good idea but I think it would have to be random and blind where the poster didn't know when it would happen to them. Would take considerable work so most likely the admins would not go for it.

Perhaps a random anon on a comment here and there to test on a rolling basis.

I think Karma being invisible is a huge factor. While I understand the idea behind the decision, I think it prevents the community from really seeing what its broader sentiments are.

More than that, I don't want to read all the comments. I just want to read the good ones. Without knowing which comments are good, I read the first set and move on to the next story.

Agree completely. I skim the threads in each post now, which is a shame because I'm sure I miss some good points.

To fix this, I would like to see threads bubble up to the top based on total karma score for the thread. Read the top half-dozen threads and you have a pretty good synopsis of both sides of the topic.

I agree, I could easier skim through the comments by first reading the higher-voted ones.

"Certain HN rockstars would receive hundreds of upvotes for the most minor of comments"

Except this, I agree with most of your comment. Most of the time I just up vote a good comment with out my eyes sliding to the poster's name (it provides me no meaningful information in most scenarios). Still, the comments I do up vote end being from the rock stars you are referring to. It's possible that they are able to put their thoughts into comments better than others. Since most of the names don't trigger a face to most people I don't see how this could be due to bias.

Most of the time I just up vote a good comment with out my eyes sliding to the poster's name (it provides me no meaningful information in most scenarios).

I do as well. I rarely pay attention to the handles on the site. There's probably less than a dozen I can remember on sight. The reason I do remember the names I recognize is because they used to consistently and always be at the top of the discussion.

Still, the comments I do up vote end being from the rock stars you are referring to.

I'm certainly not saying the folks on http://news.ycombinator.com/leaders don't deserve to be there. By and large, I think most of the folks there provide tremendous value to this community (even the ones I vigourously disagree with on a routine basis).

But I've also noticed that it seems since pg turned off the points, the names I see at the top of a discussion are more and more ones I don't recognize, and more and more ones that aren't on the leaderboard (and even if the leaderboard members aren't the topmost comment, they usually show up near the top because they provide good comments).

I like the new frothiness of HN.

i still feel the hn engine is optimised for expounding rather than discussion. the threading is nice, but in the absence of a reply notification, and with the nesting depth capped, having an actual discussion tends to be difficult.

It's true. There's no use replying to a comment that's a few days old, because I won't expect even the commenter to page that far back on their comments page, so likely nobody will even read it (given that it's far enough down the page).

> - Apple in glowing terms

Not really. People on both sides are just repeating the same discussion over and over again. Somewhat guilty of that myself, too. (disclaimer: generally not on Apple's side)

(also, maybe I'm reading it wrong but is the Steve Jobs remark not a little bit in bad taste? no matter your thoughts of him or Apple... )

So people talked about Apple positively in the past. Now they don't. That somehow reflects on HN... why?

> Certain HN rockstars would receive hundreds of upvotes for the most minor of comments

Oh! To be one of the principate! What networking that would lead to ;-)

I've predominantly been a lurker here for quite awhile (my account is only a few hundred days older than your own) and I feel the quality is down from when I joined. Contrary to most people's opinions though I never felt the quality was all that high to begin with. I think the users here vastly overrate their contributions.

I enjoy HN as a nice source of interesting links and stories to read on my own time. Yet I find that I can't make it through even half of the comments on any given thread that is popular. It's too difficult to squeeze out the insightful stuff. I tend to just keep track of several regulars via their comments feed and try my best to avoid the chatter of the masses anymore.

My biggest personal pet peeve since I first joined here back in August of 2008 is when bigger threads devolve into tangential side arguments about who is using ad hominen, straw men tactics and other meta discussion methods. When half of the comments are about someone else's commenting technique the thread has gone into the weeds for me.

I'm relatively new here so I readily admit to having a very limited perspective: I used reddit years before I came here, and now I use reddit for just a few specific subreddits; HN has more than enough technical and bigger-picture pieces to occupy me. Certainly, the discussion threads are consistently of the highest quality, so much that I have to fight to read the OP first rather than jumping to the comments. I also admire the mod philosophy of discouraging off-topic, even if clever, posts...it's a fine line between cultivating fruitful discussions and being overbearing, but HN seems to do it better than just about anyone else.

I think it's a universal trait among communities to think that things were better back then. Maybe they were, but part of that mindset is out of a natural regret of years passed and nostalgia. But it'd be interesting to see more data about the quality of HN...obviously it's not easily contained in a metric, but some analysis of discussion length, upvotes per user, upvotes in a time period, distribution of top posts among domains, etc. would be a place to start.

A couple of months ago, someone started an epic discussion about how HN was going downhill. But the crux of his complaint was that people weren't giving him enough positive feedback, and he saw the non-glowing reviews of his two projects as negative sniping. I checked out his two sites (one was defunct, the other didn't seem to have much presence) and the various links-to-them that he posted. There was very little, if at all, sniping, and there were at least a few very constructive, helpful comments. It was disappointing to see so many users, including pg, jump into agreement with the disenchanted user. His overall argument may have had merit, but the reasoning and experience he used to get there were questionable.

But back to the OP: I think a -1 karma per link isn't a bad idea at all. OTOH, I think the (as I've perceived it) penalty for posting too frequently also fulfills that role.

Can someone summarize what the "penalty for posting too frequently" is these days?

lower "average" maybe?

I don't actually know how average works, so meh.

HN is definitely still a great place for discussion. I think the main problem right now is how impossible it is for the average user to get good feedback on their startup using HN. Many people on this site remember the old days when anyone could post a 'Show HN' and it would almost surely receive some really thoughtful, interesting feedback. When it comes down to it, that is what people are truly lamenting.

Today, 'Show HN' posts quickly fall out of the newest page (buried beneath an avalanche of a lot of useless link spam).

See my post yesterday, which fell off the newest page in under 10 minutes:


Or when people do comment on these posts, sometimes it is done so in a passive-aggressive way, more like a 'take down' than a thoughtful comment with advice and constructive criticism. This is not always the case, but it does seem more common than it did in the past.

I also haven't noticed a problem with bad comments. I've noticed a problem with bad submissions making the front page (political stories, mostly; we never used to see those), but the comments on other stories are still fine.

Right at this moment, actually, HN looks a lot like HN of old. There's one vaguely political article (Google fiber), but it's about a technical topic. There's nothing about BitTorrent, only one about Bitcoin (it's even technical!), nothing about Apple, and only this one complaining about how HN has changed. There are three Show HNs.

I think the comment quality is up to good standards in the current frontpage articles. For this reason addressing comment quality is putting the cart before the horse.

It seems like there should be some sort of corollary to "endless September" - an endless parade of suggestions on how to "fix" a community and nostalgia for the past.

This must exist! Meatball wiki has "insincere goodbyes" (http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/GoodBye), they also have the life-cycle of wikis (http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/WikiLifeCycle).

They must have something to describe the continual suggestions for a "fix".

You've got a point. I wonder if there's a good name for the cognitive bias that is captured by the joke, "Everything has always been getting worse." I have a pet theory re why this bias is so common: having been part of something before other people joined it is valuable identity currency. It makes you feel special and better. Best of all, it can never depreciate. Some things do get worse, but the discourse around it needs to be discounted – pretty sharply, I think – for this bias.

But it's kind of fun to see an HN metathread of the sackcloth and ashes genre in which the majority of commenters are being so sanguine.

Some have taken to calling it "meta".

I've been around for 1012 days and I can say that I still click on the "Comments" link before I click on the story link. Often the comments give me more detail or more meaningful discussion than the original article. After I read (some) of the comments I decide if I want to open the article link or not.

Compare that to reddit where I go to find links but never open the comments because the comments are useless and have no value to me at all. The comparisons to reddit are completely baseless. HN is still the best place I've found for intelligent discussion.

Am I the only one who hasn't noticed this huge drop in quality that has everyone bitching and moaning lately?

Possibly. I posted some examples here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/commenting-communit... and here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/comment-when-you-ha... , with the latter discussing how I try not to comment unless I have something substantive to say or ask.

Neither post is arguing that there aren't still some substantive comments on HN. There are. But I've noticed a lot of posts that aren't trolls but that don't add anything valuable. Those, in some ways, are the worst kind: not quite bad enough to ban / delete, but not good enough to add real content.

I've been here for nearly 3 years, and I've been fairly consistently active over that time. I completely agree with you. The quality of discussion here hasn't changed that much at all.

As a whippersnapper who only signed up 1141 days ago, I believe the quality of the best commentary is still as good, though the bottom has gotten bigger and worse.

So far, good filtering that bubbles the best comments to the top is working at keeping the discussion readable. I find I no longer tend to bother following the comments all the way to the bottom, since that's where all the crap accumulates.

off-topic: I though it was called _Hacker_ News because it used to be a hacking oriented board. Apparently it has always been for entrepreneurs, so where does the name come from?

If you read Jessica Livingston's "Founders At Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days" published around the same Hacker News came into being, the connection will become clearer. The founders interviewed in the book were (mostly) hackers who created notable products and companies -- it's their stories of how they became entrepreneurs.

This usage of the term predates even that. http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html#what_is

Originally it was called "Startup News". PG announced he was making a new site not focused on startups, since that got kind of dull. Instead he changed the name of this site and nothing really changed. My memory is kind of vague, but I believe that is more or less accurate.

Is there a compsci oriented discussion forum with comaparable quality as HN in terms of discussions without the entrepreneurship bias? I would love to know and start following if a such a thing exists.

Is this the moment to reflect on Slashdot? I have a few nontrepeneurial geek friends who still swear by /.

I still read Slashdot our of habit, but the technical content of the conversation is gone. It's mostly predestriant gripes about technopolitics and copyright/patent/microsoft/apple/google rantng.

reddit has a /compsci that is pretty good, and /programming gets pretty much all the same technical articles hn does without the entrepreneurship ones.

Are there any good subreddits for "patio11-esque" content? Not hard CS, not vc startups, not /r/SEO, but kinda the marketing/small-online-business thing?

Lambda the Ultimate is pretty good. If anything, I'd say the quality is higher than HN.

LtU is extremely academic -- they expect Ph.D-level discussion in the submissions and comments. Which is wonderful, but mostly inaccessible to non--progrmaming-language-PhDs

From the news submission guidelines -- "On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."

The original definition of "hacker" before it entered the media.

But its the media's interpretation that made it popular and widespread, which is the only reason any of us care to "take it back". Seems rather ironic to me.

This is not true, I think.

The self-identification with the term "hacker" (in the good sense) is pretty strong amongst a lot of people from "those days." The co-option by the media to mean something else was an annoyance, but really hasn't changed that a whole lot.

In other words, it's a personal issue, and nothing to with popularity per-se.

It's like you and a group of childhood friends called yourself "the bucket gang" or something, to the degree that this usage pervaded your personal communications. If suddenly the media started using that term to talk about terrorists or something, you and your friends would probably be annoyed, but it probably wouldn't affect your personal usage, because the connection is already simply too strong; you wouldn't suddenly start using this personal term more often because of the media co-option.

It seems to me that those trying to take it back now aren't the same ones that identified as (good) hackers 30 or so years ago (with a few exceptions I'm sure). The 20-somethings that are fighting for it now are too young to have known the original meaning. They are drawn to the word because of the power it has in our culture. But that power is tied to the negative meaning. It seems disingenuous to argue for its original meaning when the negative meaning is all you've ever known.

Only people who have some hipster-like affinity for the term I think.

"A rose by any other name..."

> HN is not the objectivist echo chamber it used to be

As long as 2-3 years ago, I still got massively upvoted at times for (thoughtful) criticisms of Ayn Rand. The real problem used to be the transhumanists.

It's just a function of the increase in topic breadth.

When you get to articles about technical details, I still see the quality comments as before.

It's just that there are more tech-fashion articles and "bitch about the policy of company X" articles and political articles where comments inherently trend much more toward the subjective and thus half the audience is certain that half the posts are 'crap'.

And the audience pulled in by that growth in topic breadth still reads the more-technical articles. So the vaguely political/tribal quips that I'd always noticed strewn about in even the technical threads are no longer politely ignored, but become points of tangential debate.

It's pretty much inevitable with growth.

I fully agree. Yet the OP and others like it keep getting upvoted (it's currently #1 on HN) some some people agree with the fact that HN is sliding. When I look at comments of that sort I see that they are generally based on "I feel", "it seems", etc. There must be tons of people on HN working on text analysis, twitter sentiment analysis and related, why doesn't someone come up with an analysis to back up that claim or to refute it. Then, at least, we would have something concrete to discuss like the methodology of the experiment and the HN data used.

These conversations about the declining conversation have been happening for at least the last 3 years since I started reading. I wonder how soon after the start of HN the first of these conversations came up.

> Comparisons to Reddit and other such nonsense are baseless.

Besides, in the technology/coding oriented subreddits, comments aren't that bad, either.

That will always happen with popularity. More idiots will inevitably jump on board and dilute the quality.

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