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Memo to All HN Members: Let's fix our problem internally, amongst ourselves
18 points by richardofyork on Sept 8, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 3 comments
Most of us are likely aware that we are being called out for our incivility to each other on HN. Indeed, the majority of us are well behaved and it is likely a very small minority who mixes things up a bit.

Because of our differing personalities and backgrounds, it is natural and to be expected that conflicts will arise, especially since we are usually in discourse on evaluating someone else’s work. Yet, we must improve on the way we treat each other.

The idea that we have to be forced (through stricter rules or programmatic restrictions) to behave more civil to each other, should be disappointing and embarrassing to each HNer. We cherish this forum for each other’s intellect and input, and we know that our fellow HNers make us better at what we do. We cannot afford to lose some brilliant minds (old and new members) because a few of us are rude to each other.

This post is a follow-up to the recent (and some not so recent) blogs and posts written about incivility on HN. here is one:

Here are some small things we can do amongst ourselves to change HN for the better:

— 1. Each one of us must make an effort to politely call out any uncivil commenter.

— 2. If someone insults you, do not respond with a rude comeback; instead, notify the offender respectfully that we do not tolerate incivility on HN.

— 3. If you have offended any of your HNer mates, send each person whom you have offended a small note, this would suffice: “[HNerName], I might have offended you with a comment I made some time ago, I just want to say I am sorry.”

— 4. If you have been offended and you in turn have offended the offender in a fit of self-defense rage, you should also send the note above.

—— Note that it takes a confident person to apologize for a wrong, so if you lack the confidence in yourself or you find it too cowardly or improper to apologize for a wrong, albeit a seemingly “small” wrong, then write this instead: “Good to see , [HNerName],” or “How is it going, [HNerName]?” That’s it. That’s all it takes to makeup sometimes. With that brief comment, you could turn an enemy into a friend, or potentially a client, an employee, or even a cofounder.

— 5. If we notice a first time poster on HN, we should welcome said poster and simultaneously notify him or her that civility on HN is of paramount importance, and that he or she must also make note of incivility by others and call out any offender, politely.

Due to HNers' differing cultures and first languages, things can get lost in translation, so here are some euphemistic alternatives to potentially coarse language:

— Bad: “That looks like a piece of shit” (or any such similar comment)

    Better: “I would not do it that way, I personally would have...”
— Bad: “You are any idiot...” (and the like)

    Better: “If you do it this other way, you would find some major advantages...”
— Really Bad: “Your are not smart enough...” (you know these offensive comments)

    Better: “You should try this book, ..., it will vastly improve your knowledge in...”

And I am confident there will be some brilliant ideas and recommendations to follow in the comments below.

If you agree or disagree on the proposal above, please comment below and help us to rectify this issue.

Your points below are well noted, and I am confident we can clean up our act before it gets out of control.

I did not know posts are more unlikely to make it to the front page, thanks for the tip. I will create a blog post from my HN post and I will submit the blog post to HN next week. I am hopeful we will get the participation of many HN users.

I agree with you, but thus far I have been reluctant to "call out" anyone, as we aren't supposed to comment if we can't add to the conversation.

Something does need to change though, just the other day someone responded to a post by simply calling the OP a "fag." While this type of behavior is common on many sites, I sincerely hope that it remains a rarity in our community.

I think these are great ideas. If followed, it's likely that we would all start seeing something closer to the HN we want to be a part of. I must say however that I don't expect this post to cause the change. Not because it's a bad post or has bad ideas within it but because it is just a post and will fall to the bottom soon and many people will miss it.

I think there are more fundamental problems with the site and the way it works.

I replied to this post http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4488561 yesterday explaining what I think the issues are. Because I think it applies here as well, I'll re-post it below.

--------- 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. ---------

As you can see, I think the problems are more low-level. For example, I don't have a lot of karma. I don't submit things but I do comment occasionally. I've never been in an uncivil argument on here and I feel I carry myself in a way that benefits the community. But because of how the HN application works, I can't down vote. I'm not saying that the ability to down vote would fix the issues, but it's one small part of it. Reddit gives everyone the ability to down vote and most comments/submissions which are considered inappropriate (mind you Reddit necessarily has a higher tolerance do to variety of content) get down voted out of site so that the majority of users never perceive it as even being a problem. This is all because Reddit arms it's users with the tools to make Reddit what they want it to be.

I could gain the ability to down vote on HN by getting more karma but I have no idea what amount I'm trying to get and I would likely find myself posting things just to get there which would also bring the overall quality of HN down.

Reddit also allows the posting of rules in a prominent location where everyone could see them. That's what this post needs. You've created good guidelines. Throughout the day, they will get better as people pick them apart and add their opinions. By the end of the day, these rules would probably be suitable for posting prominently in the side bar of all pages within the HN app. But they won't be. They'll fall to the bottom and be forgotten. It's unfortunate.

We could ask the maintainer to post it prominently on the side of the pages, but it's very unlikely to happen as it would take some UI tweaks, etc.. The point is, we need an application that lives and breathes. One which changes when it needs to. If for no other reason than to test theories about what may help. We need a HN that is the full-time job of someone, not a side project.

[edited for clarity and typos]

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