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Tell HN: Let's Be Civil
671 points by raganwald on Oct 27, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 138 comments
The release of the iPad Mini and the Microsoft surface have brought with them a rash of uncivil and inappropriate threads. I can count on one elbow the number of times I have seen the word "fanboy" or its faux-hipster alternate "fanboi" used in a comment that led to a productive discussion.

Everyone has opinions about consumer electronics. Everyone's entitled to them, even when they're wrong. I owned and liked a Windows Tablet PC at one time! But truly and honestly, are we discussing things that gratify our intellectual curiosity when we attack each other or the authors of the fine articles for their bias? Are we really bringing fresh insights to the table when we complain that the marketplace is capricious and sometimes values things we think are superficial?

As hackers--and I include in this definition those who hack software, hardware, social behaviour, and marketplaces--our mission is first to UNDERSTAND and then second to INFLUENCE. When we read a review, no matter what we personally think of its flagrant bias or the comments of others on the thread, we should aggressively throttle our temptation to wield the flame-hammer. We need to ask ourselves, "What understanding would my comment add?"

The same is true when we see someone else violating these precepts. The downvote (and flag, where available and appropriate) are the right tools for the job. Most of the time, calling someone out for diluting the discourse simply adds to the noise while simultaneously feeding the troll.

(This is one of the reasons I have a personal policy of either responding or downvoting but never both. If it deserves a constructive reply, why is it worth a downvote? If the reply would not be constructive, I downvote and move on.)

If we as a community are unable to throttle the bile effectively, then perhaps we should ask the moderators to do it for us. There's no shame in deciding that non-technical articles about iPads or surfaces or what-have-you are better off in /r/technology.

I know that in a few days or a week these articles will go away as the novelty of newly released products fade. But the reason I am speaking out regardless is that the echoes of this type of discourse last much longer and I fear they will spill over into other threads. I believe that forums like this need a zero-tolerance policy towards the kind of divisive incivility I've read lately.

I'll close by misappropriating an old joke: "Do you know why the flames about consumer electronics are so vicious? Because the stakes are so low."

The root cause is not incivility, it's inanity. Why do we have threads about these not-exactly-revolutionary things sitting all over the front page? Who votes for this stuff?

The Surface one up there is just some guy's blog review. It's not poorly written, but why are we reading randomly selected Surface reviews? There's an entire post right now that is basically a Samsung press release via CNET, describing some (totally unquantified, of course) minor uptick in sales for the latest Android phone. There is literally nothing to talk about there except to proffer essentially baseless flames, praise, or speculation.

I would have no qualms asking the moderators to fix this. I can't understand any metric by which these are useful posts to have on the front page. There is lots of much better stuff sitting on the New page which is being crowded out by noise that I could go read in two hundred other places. "Intellectual curiousity" is not referring to what you have every time a phone comes out which is 20% lighter and 10% longer.

It contradicts the definition of civility to say that the root cause of it is things that annoy you. Civility only comes into play when things annoy you.

The HN frontpage has its ups and downs and has for a long time. If you don't like the stories, it's not going to improve the situation to be uncivil in the comment threads. It just provokes people to reply in kind. And a fluff story on the frontpage (assuming it is) is not improved by having a flamewar appended to it.

Things that annoy us may end up teaching us more than things which we love and feel connected. Civility is a precursor to learning opposite and different things. That said, I see a different reason on the flame wars on gadgets and OSes here.

On HN, some people's connection to their OS or gadget may seem to stem from their love, emotions or their distorted consumer perception. However it may indeed be the sign of a "fierce struggle" among different ecosystems on who will dominate the future. Operating systems and hardware ecosystems are the bases on top of which, many other technologies reside. A lot of people here, have invested time and money in certain technologies. Some of us have even started companies focused on certain technologies. For example, if iPhone5 or iPad Mini or Surface is a success, then an iOS App or some Windows skills may pay back better soon.

In conclusion, the loss of civility may be the result of an intensified struggle in recent years, for returns on investments on different ecosystems.

How about "this doesn't belong to the front page" flag for the stories?

Clearly it takes very little effort to upvote a fluff story to the front page and to keep it there. It takes substantially more effort to pull an interesting story up from the New page. For example, I am routinely disappointed with the Front page content, and yet I am very rarely browse the New page. Moreover, this is not going to change, because I know myself. I am guessing I am not alone. There's lot more people who would be willing to clean up the front page from the fluff than those who'd be willing to patrol New page in a search of fitting submissions. Just give us a chance.

The problem is that the 'fluff' category is subjective. Obviously the upvoters didn't think it was fluff - or they wouldn't have upvoted it. If we had the doesn't-belong flag I can guarantee that we'd rapidly see different flagging cliques like:

* anything apple related

* anything microsoft related

* anything not related to coding

* anything not related to startups

* ... and so on ...

Take the MS Surface reviews for example (bias disclaimer: I'm a Linux/OS X guy). I personally found the pro- and anti-reviews that made it to the front page both interesting, but I'm guessing you'd class either or both reviews as fluff.

Not because though either class of review was 'right' - but because of what they revealed about the product related to the reviewer's values. In the same way that I can read Roger Ebert one star film review and know that I'm going to love it (or a four star that I'm going to hate). Reading different reviews from people with different perspectives is interesting to me - not fluff.

I, personally, think the surface is going to be a huge success since MS seem to have been bright enough to make a tablet that's not aimed straight at the iPad, but with some strong design values that are going to meet the needs of a certain chunk of the market much better than the iPad does.

That - to me - is an interesting conversation. I've been chatting to folk on these topics elsewhere. But not here since it's filled with the equivalent of "You're a fanboy", "No - you're a fanboy"...

Which is sort of sad.

What about allowing downvoting of stories (maybe not below 1?). Upvoting is subjective too, and while flagging may be to strong for something so subjective and ill-defined, maybe it would help if people could downvote a story so that it disappears from the front page faster.

It seems likely that downvoting won't help any more than upvoting or flagging. All would be done on people's personal preferences. All would result in lists that will annoy some folk.

As I see it the problem is not that 'fluff' gets to the front page. The problem is that the hackernews community is now sufficiently large that there are groups who have very different ideas of what 'fluff' is.

Of course it would be personal preference. But the way it is now people still upvote certain articles based on personal preference, but there is no way for the "opposite" group to express their personal preference by downvoting, thereby potentially cancelling out the people who upvote out of personal preference. So you get a sort of upward bias for these emotionally loaded articles.

I'm not saying that allowing downvoting will perfectly cancel this out, but at least it may do so to a certain degree.

"Fluff" is all that relates to the mainstream tech news. Basic Litmus test - is it something that Engadget/Arstechnica/etc would pick up? If yes, then I'd rather not see it here.

Alternatively, since the comments on HN can be of a value - have a separate section for mainstream tech subjects. Like the Ask page. And call it Fluff :)

Basic Litmus test - is it something that Engadget/Arstechnica/etc would pick up? If yes, then I'd rather not see it here.

And that's a perfectly reasonable litmus test for what you consider fluff/non-fluff.

It doesn't work well for me (for example - I personally like the arstechnica stuff I see here. I don't follow, and don't have the time or interest to follow, most of the arstechncia stuff that gets published. The stuff I see here tends to be the stuff I'm interested in. On the other hand I could quite happily never see a techcrunch or verge post ever again ;-)

I'm sure there are a bunch of HN posters who would disagree with both of us (and a bunch more that would agree).

To misquote Walt Whitman - HN is large. It contains multitudes :-)

If I was going to bet - I'd say that HN is going to end up in one of three places:

1) Things stay pretty much as they are. The admin folk add in new tweaks around post promotion, voting, karma displays, voting on new posts, etc. The community continues to grow. As it does the majority view of what the site "is" will change. This will annoy some folk who preferred the 'old' majority view. Where this ends up - something like slashdot.

2) HN fragments. Tagging / sub-groups / whatever. Some way for folk to focus on the stuff they're interested in and ignore the rest. They'll still be trolling/flames - but it'll be more obvious since folk will need to explicitly search it out rather than having stuff that runs counter to their world view hitting their front page. This ends up more like reddit.

3) YC/PG/whoever decides what HN should be. We acquire moderators with banhammers of doom - possibly recruited/promoted by the HN community. Much more focussed submission guidelines. Lots of self-policing and strong and rapid responses to closing/flagging posts. Associated accusations of bias / censorship.

I suspect we'll get (1) or (2). Especially with us being a rather geekish site - and us geeky folk do love trying to solve social problems with technical solutions ;-)

How about "this doesn't belong to the front page" flag for the stories?

Anything belongs to the front page by virtue of getting to it. You can argue that the community is broken because it upvotes stuff you don't want to see, but that's a battle you just can't win.

Basically, you're suggesting that in addition to there being a button for "I find this interesting!", there should be another button for "No, you fools! No!".

> Anything belongs to the front page by virtue of getting to it

I'm not sure I buy that argument. A simple counter-example is duplicate submissions. Yes that story may be front-page news, but that doesn't mean that each submission about it should be. There are probably some other trivial examples too, and personally I think that low-quality news is low-quality regardless of how many people vote for it.

> there should be another button for "No, you fools! No!"

I have that button, it's called "flag," and that's exactly what it's for: Posts that are popular but toxic. If a post was unpopular, you wouldn't need to flag it.

Beware. I got my "flag" taken away a year ago, because I too thought what you think.

I haven't flagged any of these posts.

Why do you get to be the arbiter of what is "toxic"?

Whoever has enough karma to flag posts is as well.

Why does anybody get to vote in the first place?

An upvote says "I find this interesting", but you're only speaking for yourself. If you deem something "toxic" to the community, it implies you know what's best for everyone involved.

What frustrates me the most is a bad blog post about math or science that makes it to the top 5 on the front page with no comments.

Clearly no one is reading the story, and is just upvoting it because they want to believe that it's something they're interested in.

Isn't cooperation the real basis of civilization? Rules of civility/politeness help of course, but without a basic respect for others, it's not enough. A civilization that stops cooperating soon stops existing. I think the dismissive top comments are a symptom of this lack of cooperation and respect.

I think a second difficulty is that HN has both the "intellectually gratifying" and "startup news". Unfortunately, almost any technology/market news is related to the latter. I suggest bifurcating the frontpage, into something like fascinating NewScientist/Atlantic/Slate/Feynman/Hamming etc vs. pragmatic technology/market. Though some would qualify for both, it's usually very clear when a story isn't intellectually gratifying. This clarity makes it easier for HNers to upvote/ignore appropriate material. Good fences makes good neighbours.

"Isn't cooperation the real basis of civilization?"

Yes and no:


Human interaction and human civilization exist across multiple layers of abstraction, and different layers have different properties and operate on different principles. (To give what has to be the most vague and least useful answer possible.)

Look. It's not that hard. Don't like the story don't click the story.

It's actually people like me who are the problem, and I have to learn to control myself.

When I read a great essay by Marco, or Gruber, that is substantive, well written, and speaks to something I truly believe in, I have an instinctive twitch to upvote it. This is particularly true when I recognize that a lot of effort has gone into an essay like Gruber's recent "MacBook Pro Retina Essay", but, I'll even admit to even doing it with marco's silly blog entry about his trip to the Microsoft store in the mall - that really had no place on HN. (And, I say that coming from the position of listening to every one of his podcasts, reading his blog, and as a loyal instapaper and "The Magazine" subscriber)

I (and, I would kindly suggest), others need to learn to control our base urges to do this, or I agree, we'll need to lean on moderators to fix it for us. Save us from ourselves.

Just because we (sometimes strongly) agree with it, we find it interesting, and it's well written, does not mean that it's fodder for HN.

And, we need to learn to write more like grellas, or patio11 when contributing to a thread - put some time, effort, and research into providing information on something that we know about, and can really educate others, with new, or insightful information that people are universally interested in.

Our (my) tendency to feed the echo chamber only brings the level of discourse down, and there are (many) other outlets that would be more appropriate venues for such threads.

I don't think it's useful to ask people to talk like someone else. Patio11 and grellas are but facets of the conversations that go on here. I personally, and I stress the personally bit, rarely find any value to either of their views or writings. I, again personally, think they are the echo chamber. I frequently find myself almost diametrically opposed to their viewpoints or find what they say to be inane or obvious or just a brain dump of nonsense.

But that's not what's this is about. I understand others find what they say to be enlightening and excellent. I understand that there's plenty of people here who enjoy what they write and there are lots of people who highly value their contribution. And I completely admit they'll write something that I find thought provoking and interesting. Something that might challenge my world view. And so I appreciate reading it even if sometimes I think 'stop upvoting these HN celebs just because they spoke'.

What I'm trying to say is that you and the OP shouldn't presume to say what the HN audience wants. The point I'm trying to make is that we all like different things.

What determines what we like is upvotes. That's just the way it works. Some things get upvoted that you don't agree with. Hard luck. We have no better way.

The only components of grellas's/patio11's writing I was suggesting we emulate was "put some time, effort, and research into providing information on something that we know about, and can really educate others, with new, or insightful information that people are universally interested in."

If anything, I think it's important to encourage writers having viewpoints and positions diametrically opposed to mine, but at the very least, a broad assortment of clearly presented information from a diverse community is what's important.

The "universally interested in" part was trying to address the habit we sometimes have of writing from a position that only those, who are of the same political/bias realm will appreciate. I'm not suggesting we drop the Haskell, or financing-startup articles just because not everyone on HN is interested in them.

But if you do write on, say (to take something that I hope nobody is sensitive about), financing startups - don't write something like, "Only complete idiots will accept a cap on convertible notes right now" - recognize there are other perspectives and contribute in a way that brings the level of discourse up, not down.

  > What I'm trying to say is that you and the OP 
  > shouldn't presume to say what the HN audience wants.
That's exactly the decision that up voting gives us: Each up vote is a tiny fragment of a dynamic editorial policy, and the result of that policy is the top stories on the home page. While each individual can decide who the HN audience is (either themselves alone or some idealized audience) they are making that presumption.

Very thoughtful comment. I think this instinct comes out in spades with politics: people feel very "rah! rah! Go team!" about some articles, but in reality they just lead to flame wars.

Well I for one vote for Surface reviews and similar articles. And I think there is a lot to talk about with Surface, both on the product in itself and on the product as a signifier. Surface is a major product release, and iconic of a big shift in corporate strategy by one of the largest tech companies in the game. Surface is Microsoft's first step as an Apple-esque high-end device manufacturer. It speaks to the evolution of Microsoft specifically and to the continued development of post-iPhone UI and consumer tech in general. So there is a lot of interest riding on how Microsoft has executed the Surface, how well Windows 8 lives up to its promise, and the problems, potentials and future development of the platform. And Marco's review touched on all those points, as well as the issue of Microsoft's retail strategy and the Microsoft-Apple rivalry. Then consider that all of these issues plug into even deeper trends of the growing relationship between IT, everyday life and popular culture, including Apple's successful fashion-isation of technology (always a hot button for the traditionally specs and functionality oriented IT enthusiast crowd.)

So it's not surprising I think that people are interested and emotional about these issues. It would be surprising if they weren't. But just because they are appear populist does not mean they aren't rich potential sites of inquiry - it just becomes harder to explore why they are interesting when the debate so easily spins out of control.

Yes, I agree that there are things to talk about related to Surface and to Microsoft. But I disagree that either Marco's review (for reference: http://www.marco.org/2012/10/26/an-alternate-universe) or the currently popular review talk about them. Neither of them discuss Microsoft's general strategy hardly at all (Marco slips a few paragraphs in at the end, but it's not exactly the focus of the piece), and they sure don't talk about deeper trends regarding anything cultural whatsoever.

You're being extremely gracious by describing Marco as having "touched on...Microsoft's retail strategy" -- what he actually did is insert about ten jokey comments showcasing what he perceives as their incompetence. It was pretty funny, but if you re-read it, I don't think you'll honestly claim that you learned something credible or useful about Microsoft based on his description.

If you want to write a blog post connecting Surface to other components of Microsoft's strategy, and you have some interesting things to say about that strategy or about culture or about whatever, that sounds potentially cool. But these posts are really, really not that.

These articles just serve as arbitrary entry points into specific topics. The article itself is irrelevant, it could just as well be a (link-less) "Tell HN" post saying "Discuss product/event X".

If there's a insightful article worth reading about X, good, post it. But I think people often actually prefer to have articles that aren't inherently worth to serve as a blank slate for all kinds of (stricly speaking) off-topic debate about a certain product.

Well, then we're at our point of disagreement. I value HN primarily for discovering high-quality writing and thought that I might have missed otherwise. As for discussions, there are lots of technical posts on HN in which informed experts come and participate, and those discussions are great. But I have no interest in either participating in or reading "off-topic debate" about a new consumer electronics device, which is going to involve a lot of people who are no more informed than me rehashing arguments made five years ago. I doubt I am speaking only for myself by saying so.

I'm sure you're not. But I think neither are the other guys. In either case, I've found it fairly easy to tell into which camp an individual story falls. A generic product review or a link to the manufacturer's device home page isn't going to be an inherently valuable article and so I skip it when I'm not in the mood.

In fact, a large number of comments is usually a bad sign, regardless of the article, it's the stories with a few dozen comments that tend to have the most interesting discussions.

This is an point which should be considered. Contra the middle-brow dismissal of every article as a useless mud-bog, some might ask: is there a lotus flower 'round here somewhere? To do so, though, you probably need the right environment, a bit of imagination and/or some good seed.

Sorry, I was speaking generally about the interest surrounding Surface, not trying to imply that Marco's article is a thorough investigation of all this stuff. You're right, it isn't. Re-reading it, what strikes me is that he is quite dismissive, cruel even, of everything Microsoft is doing - jumping to see the negative and showing very little willingness to see anything positive. Perhaps I was too quick to defend him in the original thread, though maybe some of his points were valid and the negative response from HN was a bit too strong a counter-reaction.

Honestly, for me articles like this are really an ersatz susbtitute for actually going to Microsoft stores/using the Surface/getting a closer look at Microsoft corporate culture. Not living in the States and not having much disposable income I take what I can get I suppose. I'd write that blog post but without such experiences and resources I don't think I'm qualified enough for anything other than internet armchair pontification ;)

>I would have no qualms asking the moderators to fix this. I can't understand any metric by which these are useful posts to have on the front page. There is lots of much better stuff sitting on the New page which is being crowded out by noise that I could go read in two hundred other places.

Those threads are not useful in the sense of spawning civil discussions, but they may be useful in the sense that it keeps people heavily engaged on HN. I can imagine someone running HN thinking "Hmm, the site is kind of dead when the front page talks about Haskell but the site explodes when Apple and Microsoft fans wage war."

From the point of view of someone (YC) trying to get as many possible eyeballs to look at their stuff (YC investments), allowing this sort of thing to continue seems like the logical choice. Are the raganwalds of HN going to leave because of flaming Apple threads? I doubt it. So it'll probably continue.

Alright, enough conspiracy for one afternoon. :)

There is no need to artificially keep people engaged by encouraging useless, off-topic content. If it's necessary to dilute articles about intellectually worthwhile subjects in order to have them here at all, then this community should shrivel and die and let another better-designed, better-focused or better-populated one take its place. HN doesn't even run on ad money.

I think Y Combinator is probably one of the worst things that ever happened to hacker news, as a common noun. HN (the community) ends up being flooded with startup and consumer electronics articles that are completely useless for hackers.

Marketing and business are not hacking in any sense of the word, and diluting the term by applying it to these multitudinous fields (see e.g. lifehacker.com) frustrates communication of its original meaning: those who are passionate about computing and stretch it past its limits.

It should be noted that Hacker News used to be called Startup News. That special blend of 'hacking' (programming) and entrepreneurship is what makes HN unique and worth having around. Once you leave that behind all you have is /r/programming.

I'm aware of that, but programming is not the same thing as hacking.

I've never been able to truly differentiate between what some people would call hacking and what others would call programming. Most of what gets called hacking is "tinkering" that directly involves programming.

I sometimes see people use "hacked" as in "I hacked the city bus to give me free passes by only paying X amount on X day after I told the guy I'm eating ramen noodles." In those cases hacking is about some kind of process or tweak that caused an unexpected or rare thing to occur. It's an ill-defined word to say the least.

To expound a bit more on what I said in my earlier post: the way I see it, hacking could be described as the 'outer edge' of computing/programming. Hacking is getting systems to do things they weren't intended to do. When that overlaps with a social environment the line does become very fuzzy, but for digital systems it ends up referring to programs that have some surprising and unexected attribute (examples include being tiny, being exceptionally fast, running on obscure, difficult, or new hardware, using new techniques or algorithms, being written in 'alternative' langauges [like brainfuck], performing unintended tasks [like privilege escalation or tetris-in-sed], and various others), and is more specific than "programming", which is increasingly often a very practical topic, as computers are embraced by more and more industries and fields.

A "hack" is almost by definition, then, not for profit and not well-funded, because it is on the edge of what's possible and quite often far outside what's useful; good business knows better than to invest in high risk, low-return projects. Compare this with the idea of Y Combinator, which if I understand correctly funds companies with high-risk ideas in the hope of achieving high return-on-investment via runaway successes. But most YC companies I hear about have minimal technical progress associated therewith. Social progress seems more their goal, in the majority of cases.

And please don't let it seem that I'm denigrating either mainstream programming nor funding ugly-ducking companies for social change. Hackers don't pop out of nowhere, and most can agree how important social change is. But I think it would be great to have a place to discuss hacking, and Hacker News definitely attracted many (myself included) via the implicit siren-call of being such a place. Given that it is so-named, we can work to make it live up to that standard, unless there's some other community I'm missing where such things would be more appropriate. If this is still exclusively Startup News: let pg rename it that, and don't waste hackers' headspace and search engine result space.

Personally I come to HN every time a new thing comes out because I specifically want to know what this circle of people think of it. There is a unique and informed perspective here.

People identify with brands and criticism is taken as a personal attack on one's own value system.

So-called objective reviews are in truth more like the proselytizing words of rabid fundamentalists.

You can hide the discussion but you can't moderate the religious flames of consumerism.

Does the first HN guideline still apply? There has been a significant increase in political submissions (not about some new phenomenon):

"Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon."


It is possible to click "flag" on them, but I try to only flag things that are blatant; this seems more like naivete.

The balance between user voting and mod/admin curation is a tricky one.

One of the smartest things why the lucky stiff ever said (in my opinion): "When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. Your tastes only narrow and exclude people. so create."

Notionally, this is a forum for creators, but it seems increasingly pre-occupied with utterly unproductive posturing over whose tastes are 'better'. It's a troubling trend.

What you find troubling I view as inevitable.

Tastes define what we create and how we create it. Tastes inform what we choose to compromise and what we protect in the process of making things.

So as we venture into new worlds – Surface vs. iPad vs. Android vs. Kindle may superficially be consumer products but more crucially they are platforms for building the future for a mass audience – it's natural that we're going to have to spill a lot of thought figuring out what's most important to us.

Will there be disagreement? Yeah. Will it be perfectly civilized? Almost certainly not, given rarity of good manners, social skills and healthy conflict management.

But that's life with the apes.

I think you could argue that taste often gets in the way of creating things. Those pre-defined censures you impose on your creation before it's even an embryo: "It'll be like this and sort of like this, but definitely not like this because that is so unsophisticated." It's your ego trying to deal with insecurity and fear of failure before your brain's logical centre has even had a chance to analyse the idea. Sorry I'm just babbling, I have no real-world examples of this but it's just a thought and it might or might not be true.

Troubling and inevitable should not be viewed as mutually exclusive.

> Surface vs. iPad vs. Android vs. Kindle may superficially be consumer products but more crucially they are platforms for building the future for a mass audience

What I find crucial is that the way this competition plays out will determine who is permitted to create, and what. Open tools encourage clever human beings, while crippled appliances give consumers learned helplessness. This is far more important than how shiny or expensive our gadgets are.

Thank you, that's insightful.

I dunno, I sometimes meet people who are so consumed by the specificity and effort required to create whatever it is they're doing that it makes it impossible for them to spend any time looking at different things, keeping up with developments, keeping an open mind, etc. I'm not saying one always leads to the other, or that it's even common, but it happens. So being an almighty creator is not necessarily a panacea.

I agree but it's inevitable. The creators are busy creating, and the fact that there is no shortage of "non-creators defined by their taste" (who also have an abundance of free time) - means it is a bit of a hopeless battle maintaining the integrity of the comments.

just for the quote, +1

A reminder: let's be civil, not just in tech discussions, but in all of our discussions. Even when someone touches on a pet peeve, don't give in to the temptation to bend the rules a little bit.

In particular:

* yeah, I know you really like [company] and really don't like [competitor], but please don't say mean things about those who disagree with you, and especially don't say mean things about the staff at those companies without very good reason

* it's election season in the US, which means more than the usual number of offhand derogatory comments about the other side's politicians and voters. Please refrain from this.

* I've seen a few shots taken at other peoples' religions. Principled disagreement is OK, but try to resist name-calling.

* There have even been a couple of recent arguments about nationality that have involved some unnecessary name-calling.

* As a final heads up, remember that even deleted posts may be cached by various external services that grabbed them via the API. It's good to think better of something after the fact and take it down as soon as you can, but it's even better to avoid posting nastiness in the first place.

As a community, let's do a better job of controlling our own posts first and foremost, and let's do a better job of downvoting and flagging when others cross the line.

I think there is a reason why consumer electronics conversations get so heated that is even more important than what you've mentioned: the nature of the products forces us to choose between them. And we spend a decent chunk of money on them.

The multiplicity of products that we have to choose between and the lockin we experience once we've made the purchase (we have a contract for the phone and have made significant monetary commitment to the devices in general) mean we have to make a hard decision and then try to feel good about it.

Once we've picked, if we admit that another device is better, then we're saying that we made the wrong choice and that we have to live with a subpar device for another few years. Most of us tend to get defensive about our purchases instead, even when we are trying to be objective.

The truth is that there are trade offs between all of the devices that are related to our priorities, our personalities, and our social circumstances all of which make us feel personally invested in a gadget decision. This makes it hard for us to come from an objective place to talk about some of our favorite topics. Many of us are looking for validation more than information (I've definitely been guilty of this).

The trick, then, might not be to try and be more objective, but to take criticism of the products less personally. Headlines are meant to get clicks, not express thoughtful opinions. The intricacies of the tradeoffs are worth considering, but you won't find them in most tech coverage. Save your hate and try to understand why the competition is valuable to others and what your product could learn from.

It's about differing visions of the software industry as well:

* Apple's centrally-planned vision of how software should be managed versus Android's more anarchic vision

* Apple's leveraging of the software/design patent status quo as a business weapon versus the Android ecosystem's more laissez faire attitude towards the exchange of ideas

Whoever eventually wins in the market will set the tone of the software industry.

I think that this perspective certainly has validity. But I've also noticed a tendency towards making it too simple and this can lead to the sort of seeing-your-interlocutor-as-one-dimensional that OP is referring to. When it comes to ceding control of our devices to an authority, the choice hasn't always been between controlled and open, it's between Apple or HTC/Motorola/Samsung/Huawei and the mobile carrier. The situation may be improving, but it's still not great. For a host of reasons, some of them aesthetic and/or idiosyncratic, I'd rather give up a lot of control to Apple, because I know they won't give an inch of it over to Rogers, AT&T, or Verizon. It's true that buying an unsubsidized Google Nexus device sidesteps some of these problems, but large parts of the installed Android ecosystem seem to be more like feudalism than anarchy.

Too often I think the people on the Android side of the discussion assume that iOS folks just lack an entire collection of values around openness that they personally consider really important. The reality is that the market is big enough for similar values to be catered to differently. I don't like that I can't delete Newstand.app from my iPhone, but just seeing a pre-installed and undeletable "Rogers Anyplace TV Live" icon on a friend's Android phone makes me die a little inside. A lot of folks don't seem to mind so much. There's no point in trying to convince each other which is worse, it seems mostly dispositional.

But a lot of people don't care about that. It's fine to say "I don't buy Apple products because their policies are X, Y, Z". It's not fine to tack on "And you're [insert insult] for not realizing/caring and buying anyway".

>But a lot of people don't care about that

Not in the general population, but on HN a lot likely do.

>It's fine to say "I don't buy Apple products because their policies are X, Y, Z". It's not fine to tack on "And you're [insert insult] for not realizing/caring and buying anyway".

Of course.

I would imagine the audience of HN to care more about larger concerns more so than the general population, but I don't know how much higher those numbers would be.

I don't buy Apple products for the very reasons you cite, but there is considerable passionate support and occasional vitriolic ass-hattery for them here on HN.

I completely agree, you see this a lot with other similar type purchases where a person has to put in research work and it costs them a decent amount of money. Things like purchasing a house or purchasing a car.

I think the psyche does a bit of self justification for the purchase which is hard to hold back when someone challenges it. That's just my personal observation anyway...

And many of us have a lot more than just the purchase price invested in Microsoft. Maybe this is why there is so much contention.

The replies about iPad vs. Surface vs. Android tablets have reminded me of nothing so much as the kind of silly arguments that console fans have over Playstations, Xboxes and Wiis.

I think that the reason is the same: when you spend money on one, you buy into a community and an ecosystem. You become a part of a tribe and naturally begin to see the world in an us vs. them paradigm.

It's worth noting that this is an irrational behaviour set, and best avoided if you want to learn anything objective. In typically-emotive arguments like these, you have to make the decision yourself and realise that, whatever you choose, you'll likely justify it to yourself afterwards however you can. Once you start to realise that, you begin to realise how inconsequential "what type of tablet or console you own" is, and the less likely you'll be to fall into that destructive us-vs-them mindset.

Was I the only one who saw the irony that the author asking for civility didn't even make it one paragraph without having a dig at people who use the word "fanboi" by calling them faux hipsters? That's not very kind now is it?

These threads remind me of reading newspaper articles that discuss how uncivil our current political discourse is compared to the far more civil past. And you can read essentially the same article from a 1880's/1950's/2012 newspaper archive.

You are not.

> Everyone has opinions about consumer electronics. Everyone's entitled to them, even when they're wrong. I owned and liked a Windows Tablet PC at one time!

This was also telling, as it was itself a pretty clear insult, going so far as to call an opinion wrong, buried in a plea for people to be more careful with their arguments.

(In fact, I flagged this "Tell HN"--not that I imagine it will matter--as I believe that it is actually worse than having the threads of people arguing with each other.)

This comment seems odd. You are suggesting that being told you're wrong is equivalent to being insulted. That's your opinion and you're entitled to it, but it is wrong. And no, I'm not insulting you. People differ about all sorts of things, that's the way the world is. And people have strong opinions.

I'm very ok with people telling me I'm wrong. Sometimes they're right about that, sometimes they're, how shall we put this, "mistaken" about my being wrong. But that doesn't mean they're insulting me. I could only be insulted if I have tied the idea of infallibility to my self-worth, if being found to be wrong is some kind of social shame.

If I had that idea, I'd vigorously dispute anyone arguing with me, like I'm doing right now :-)


Ok, I've had my little joke. In all seriousness, I did own a Tablet PC, and I liked it, even if many people told me that I had overpaid for an underpowered laptop with a flakey pen interface and a lack of decent software. Was I wrong? maybe, maybe not. But I certainly am not intending to insult anyone by suggesting that their worth is somehow connected to whether I agree or disagree with them on the subject of Tablet PCs.

I am perfectly happy if someone tells me that I am wrong on a matter of fact, especially if when I ask there is some argument to back it up. One of my IRL "catch-phrases" is, in fact, "touche, you win this round, my good man ;P".

However, that's not the kind of statement you made. To demonstrate this with a concrete contextualized example, instead of writing this response, I could have instead said the following: "well, people are entitled to their misunderstandings about discourse; I mean, I actually used to have the same wrong opinion you currently do, so none of us are beyond reproach".

Of course, that statement would add nothing: by your own criteria (We need to ask ourselves, "What understanding would my comment add?") I would have made a comment whose sole purpose is to throw in a bit of rhetoric for which the only realistic goals would be 1) to play towards audience members who agree with me and 2) to fluster you by belittling your opinion in a highly flippant manner.

In the case of your comment, it was even weirder, hence the response to the person pointing out "irony": you seriously took an article you posted about how people were making pointless comments over something you claimed wasn't important and used that as an opportunity to make an equally pointless comment about the exact same topic.

This, in one fell swoop, both demonstrated that you actually felt someone can be "wrong" on this specific topic (which is exactly what the people in these flame wars believe and is why they bother to spend so much time arguing with each other instead of just saying "that is your opinion, I have mine; opinions are awesome!"), while at the same time making it clear that you felt that a specific one of the two parties you were arguing about was on that "wrong" side.

I will then go so far as to say: how much more "ironic" can one man get?

(Note: I am pretty certain I have not participated in a single iPad Mini or Surface discussion; looking through my history, the last comment I made on a similar overall topic was in regards to the iPhone 5's larger screen almost a month ago, and I was commenting on a specific sub-argument, taking no overall stance on the high-level war people like to wage. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4609243 I say this to disclaim quickly that I am not "in the middle of one of these arguments" and thereby emotionally flustered at being called out by your overall article topic.)

I can't go along with "You win this round," as this isn't really a debate for points but rather a coöperative game where we're all seeking some sort of optimum experience for HN.

In that spirit, I will say, "Nice move!"

> That's your opinion and you're entitled to it, but it is wrong.

Surely an opinion, a wholly subjective point of view, cannot by it's very definition be wrong. Being insulted (or not) is also a fundamentally subjective experience. Anything can be insulting or non-insulting to a given person. In my opinion, it is hurtful to tell someone that their being offended is in some way wrong since it disregards how a person legitimately feels. I'm not making any statement on how a situation like that should be handled, merely that an offended person is indeed offended and that acknowledging the fact is the best way to move forward.

I've always wondered if the down-vote should actually just be an arrow pointing sideways. People use the down-vote like it's a thumbs down. If they don't agree with an opinion, then it's a thumbs down. But really the cancerous comments are ones that, in an offline conversation, a group would quickly and politely move past and ignore. The sideways arrow would represent brushing these comments aside.

Besides, you're supposed to up-vote comments you don't necessarily agree with so long as they are well argued. That is what a good debate is about.

I agree, but there's something of a psychological barrier to upvoting something I disagree with. Perhaps two sets of arrows -- one for if we like it or not, and another for if we think it adds to this discussion. This would make it much easier to not feel "bad" for upvoting or downvoting something against our personal tastes, since we know the button is specifically for it.

Maybe there should be an "x" for hide. The comment's would disappear and it would register as a downvote.

Maybe a 'Z' for end of the line. ZZZZZ...etc. Like take a nap.

That's a really interesting idea. Perhaps in a very small way it would also help to break the binary mode of thought (upvote/downvote, like/dislike, promote/demote) that people bring from other online forums.

I'm not a big fan of a lot of people's suggestions to change how this or that works like what you're saying about the downvote button. I don't think there's anything that needs to change on HN as far as buttons or rules or design go.

The problem isn't how things work. The problem is that people are ignoring the guidelines, interpreting them differently, and sometimes the guidelines aren't enforced. Take the downvote for example. There are a few trains of thought on that button. Some truly think its there for comments they disagree with. Others believe (as I do) that they're there for comments that do not add to the discussion. Still others have different interpretations. Some people use it generously and others dont. I've heard people talk about flagging as if it were something we should use liberally. I think flagging should be reserved for the very worst of the worst and should be used sparingly. In almost 3 years here I've only used it once (I know my profile says I've only been here a few months but I had another account hellbanned after over a year because someone used the flag button quite liberally).

Beyond that, the larger problem is that there's been a huge influx of new members and the quality of comments has been diluted partly due to some newer folks wanting to be heard and doing so by being asses in the comments. When you're new it's easy to think the way you fit in here is to automatically disagree with everything and try to be the smartest person in the room.

In the end, the current system would work if only people abided by it and it were enforced more. There's no doubt in my mind that the community has changed and it really has been diluted. I'm not anti-newbie but I still can't deny that it's the newbies that have diluted the quality of discussion here. I think that since HN became hip everyone who flocked here wanted to fit in and frankly I don't think everyone can. I think there's a lot of great examples of the Dunning-Kreuger effect here. HN is known for very smart, best of the best kind of people. Therefor those who come here believe, rightly or wrongly, that they too are HN caliber people. The problem is, not everyone can be. But in this new self-centered world where self-esteem is so important and everyone including the loser gets a medal no one has any kind of realistic picture of themselves anymore and everyone thinks they're the best at everything always and belong everywhere. I lurked for over a year before joining because I felt I wasnt an HN caliber person. Even now I'm not sure if I am but I'm at least confident that I can add a bit to some discussions. I really doubt that everyone who creates an account here has that kind of restraint or is capable of that much self-examination.

I concur. HN suffers from ye olde bike-shedding: people argue about trivial things, because the hard stuff is beyond their ability and/or inclination.

I regularly see long and technically strong articles sink with less than ten votes and zero discussion, while those lambasting Apple yet again get dozens of votes and comments. Add hair-splitting with strong passive-aggressive undertones, and what's left is vacuous and mildly toxic.

Thank you for writing about this. Bickering about biases that an article or commenter might have is the least productive thing imaginable. We all have biases, we all have one product that we prefer over another. If you have a well developed reason for that preference, I want to hear it and hope that you'll share it. But, when I come across a post/comment that is clearly of no substance, my first reaction is to ignore it and move on with my day. Life is too short to waste time and typing on attacking someone for sharing something of little value.

"Uncivil"? "Inappropriate"? "Bile"? "Divisive incivility"?

Those are pretty strong words. All I've seen is a few geeks trading opinions about--ultimately petty--consumer electronics issues.

It's all just opinion. Nobody's said "Person X is ignorant waste of consciousness and they should kill themselves" (which would be uncivil, inappropriate, bilious, and divisive.) They just have opinions about products. Products that in the grand scheme of human achievement really aren't that important.

You're just causing even more drama with this self-righteous post. It's all, like, your opinion, man; take it easy, let the geeks bicker (relatively politely) about fruit versus miniature eiderdown, and save the outrage for things that are truly worth it.

Edit: I'm not going to upvote this parent meta-post, and neither should you, dear reader, for it itself is the one causing drama, not the majority of posts on HN in the past few days.

> "Uncivil"? "Inappropriate"? "Bile"? "Divisive incivility"?

From literally the story directly under this one, #2 over all at the moment:

> Its an appeal to the Apple sycophants who troll this web site: "oh no who dares best my beloved Apple?!? I'd better click!"


As I post this, the karma on that comment is currently > 0. Comments like that didn't used to happen "back in the day". Then they happened infrequently but pretty much everybody downvoted them into oblivion. Now they happen as a matter of course and get voted up instead of down.

The level of discourse has unquestionably gone downhill.

Oh, please. That comment is in reply to one at the very, very bottom. (As I'm viewing it.)

Cherry-picking a single--frankly, not really that rude or terrible--comment isn't proving anything.

In either case, the "good old days" never existed. See: http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/social-software-sundays-2-the-...

I get it, though. It feels good to be self-righteous. So let's go nuts, let's have this little drama in this thread and give PG and the mods another headache they don't want or need. As the owner of a social network for over five years, I feel for them.

> I get it, though. It feels good to be self-righteous.

This is, to put it mildly, uncharitable. If you're only interested in being part of the problem, I don't think we're going to find anything useful to say to each other, and I'll bid you adieu.

Here you go, I made this just for you:


But my comment really ties the forum together, man.

EDIT: Also, I was thinking of r/politics, where they have a neat rule: Mo self-posts M-F. It would be interesting if we followed the same dictum and allowed all sorts of meta on the week-ends but were strict about content on week-days.

I'd be happy with no truly meta-posts at all.

I've been running my own social network for the past five years, and in my experience it's been the meta-posts that are the ones that actually cause the drama.

Person A and person B have a little innocuous spat, but sort it out amongst themselves.

Self-righteous person C decides that person A committed a heinous atrocity and that it's symptomatic of a deeper festering infection in the site as a whole, and they make a meta-post about it to call people out. Next thing you know what was a minor, inconsequential, and ultimately solved issue becomes a site-wide rally-point for false outrage.

It sucks. HN is better than that, and the OP needs to chill before dragging the entire site into a false tempest in a teacup.

Edit: Oops, the OP is you. I wrote this reply thinking you agreed with me. Oh well!

Raganwalder is one of those lonely social phobics whose entire social life is a collection of blogs and forums. If your entire social life happened online, you might be tempted to try and improve the wall paper as well.

The simple fact of the online world is that people express their true feelings which are always harsher, more negative, more hostile than their offline polite/fake feelings, so the online world is a harsher, more negative place. Some people who live in it perpetually also want to fix it. As soon as they fix it, however, all the users will just flee to a more anarchic site because the human spirit craves freedom and the internet liberates us to express our genuine hostility and negativity without being socially punished.

People love the strong emotions of the Apple vs Android debate. The emotions are the POINT of the socializing. The strong feelings are the PAY OFF, and if you don't let people have their feelings, you'll just have a tumbleweed town.

Raganwald's online utopia will be a dead and boring place. Not even Raganwald himself would go there; there would be nothing to get all self-righteous about. Nothing to complain about on his dramablog.

If Raganwald actually wanted a perfectly sanitized experience, he would go to a forum that provided it. But actually he doesn't. His purpose in life is to find a forum without that sanitization and promote it on there. The promotion itself is a pay off for him: in terms of the feelings he gets from the socialization and in terms of the traffic he gets to his blog.

People love the strong emotions of the Apple vs Android debate. The emotions are the POINT of the socializing. The strong feelings are the PAY OFF, and if you don't let people have their feelings, you'll just have a tumbleweed town.

Don't people enjoy expressing strong emotions about online freedom, startup life, the ethics of various companies, and many other subjects on the front page as well? Could we not have strong emotions about tablets and phones without calling each other names?

>Don't people enjoy expressing strong emotions about online freedom, startup life, the ethics of various companies, and many other subjects on the front page as well?


>Could we not have strong emotions about tablets and phones without calling each other names?

No. Why do you want to Jesus-ify Hacker News? Isn't this a place for Hackers? How many Hackers go through life trying to avoid offending people? Blunt criticism and ranting is part of Hacker culture.

The censors and net-nannies may succeed in shutting down discussion about certain topics, but they aren't going to succeed in their quest to sanitize the internet. As soon as a place becomes sanitized people flee.

You're just a miniature form of the Grand Inquisitor, upset at the sin you see all around you. To save the poor sinners from their sin, you start a crusade. You appeal to the most powerful people--the authorities--to join you in shutting down this sin. For the good of the users.

Why are you so fucking hung up on civility? What is it about you that can't handle a little incivility? The smartest people I know are not civil in private conversation. Their real opinions are full of strong emotions and incivility. They scrub their personality clean in public to avoid being ostracised or punished, but when anonymous and online, they let loose because all humans crave authentic expression.

This authenticity is too raw for you to bear so you make these pathetic pleas for "civility" as if Victorian England was a good place. You want to return to some ridiculous sanitized culture where people sip tea and drop their monocles at the slightest provocation.

This is no way to live. Instead of being a culture crusader, a net nanny, why not examine the roots of your discomfort with incivility? Why can't you handle incivility? This is an area of psychological growth for you. Learning to accept your own negative feelings as well as those of others. Learning to enjoy the negative feelings.

>>Could we not have strong emotions about tablets and phones without calling each other names?


Sure we can. Your comments have set off emotions in me. Behold: I can still be civil, because doing so is in the guidelines of the forum and I'd like to support the relative oasis of civility that exists here. I don't feel any need to break them because I'm quite able to make my point without doing so. I'm a member of multiple fora (trading, mountain biking) and just don't need to make any of them fit what I think they should be. If they have written or unwritten rules, so what? When I drive in a foreign land, it's just easier to drive on their side of the road than insist that mine is better because it allows more self-expression.

Ever heard of "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"? Avoiding both insults and violence is probably a good strategy, until we really need them.

You're entitled to your strategies. Why do you have to push your strategies on me? When you do that you turn from a tolerant civil example into a Christian missionary pushing his beliefs on everyone.

Civility is completely in the eye of the beholder and I'm pretty sure what Raganwald considers civility would be considered by most Hackers to be a lame net nanny kind of censorship that misses the forest for the trees.

To me, strong opinions and emotions are not uncivil. Even commenting on individual people is not uncivil. I put civility on a similar plane as intellectual honesty and argument in good faith. I don't consider civility to be self-censorship to conform to the stifled emotional norms of Puritan America--where the slightest amount of passion or strong opinion causes all kinds of moral crusaders to condemn you and teach you with their ridiculous religious parables.

> You're entitled to your strategies. Why do you have to push your strategies on me?

Not me. PG. The principles I'm trying to adhere to on this particular forum mirror PG's. He set up the forum and asked that people be "civil". His word. You're the one wants something different to that [1], not Raganwald. And if you now say you support civility but reserve the right to redefine it, you're straying from the dictionary definition:

(Synonyms: civilian - polite - courteous - civic - mannerly)

> I'm pretty sure what Raganwald considers civility would be considered by most Hackers to be a lame net nanny kind of censorship

I don't know anything about Raganwald or his principles. But his post got 650 upvotes. While I'd never claim that proves "most" HN-ers prefer his position, you're making claims about him, the perspectives of "most" HN participants, most hackers, etc...entirely unsupported by proof. And you're redefining words to suit your argument.

[1] "Why are you so fucking hung up on civility? What is it about you that can't handle a little incivility?" http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4709310

I said, "why can't you handle a little incivility"

It's not that I think this place would be better with less civility, it's mainly that I think this place would be better without self-righteous whiners complaining about incivility and demanding censorship.

In life, I believe there is a time and place for both civility and incivility. I also think different people have different standards of politeness. Overall, I would say hacker news is extremely civil to the point of being a haven for tight ass stifled pedants who contribute nothing aside from nitpicking and out of proportion Wikipedia-style anal retentive rule policing.

There are too many cops and not enough protestors. Everyone wants to be the douchebag who posts "correlation != causation" or "you said a dirty word! How rude!" and no one wants to be a contributor with a PULSE who actually writes something original or interesting or informative.

I have literally written up cited essays for HN and the typical response is some fucking idiot who wants to nitpick without giving an ounce of good faith or original brainpower.

I would much prefer a forum full of passionate hackers with strong opinions who express original ideas in an uncivil way, than a forum full of raganwalds whose purpose in life is to be a Boy Scout and follow all the rules while watching their neighbors like a hawk ready to report them to the Scout Master.

There are so many people on HN who make no original contribution other than policing other members. They get a lot of up votes because there are a lot of people who enjoy being holier-than-thou. But this does not contribute anything intellectual to the forum--I think it drives the most original contribution away. At the very best, it makes this place a fake environment full of passive aggression. At the worst, it chokes off any interesting discussion which is by nature controversial and passionate.

> I said, "why can't you handle a little incivility"

I echo PG when I say that it's a slippery slope. There's no value N for incivility that someone won't take to N+1. Besides, why are you the person to measure how much incivility should be allowed? Just be civil. Not hard.

> self-righteous whiners

> tight ass stifled pedants who contribute nothing

> anal retentive

> douchebag

> some fucking idiot

> Boy Scout

> holier-than-thou

> passive aggression

Is that a little incivility? That's just a bunch of angry attempts at belittling others, based entirely on your perspective and zero facts. We can fill HN up with that, but I'm not sure it would improve the place.

> I would much prefer a forum full of passionate hackers with strong opinions who express original ideas in an uncivil way

1) Doesn't compute. HN is full of passionate people. Raganwald seems to be one, but you reject what he's passionate about. So must people only be passionate about your ideas, or others?

2) You've told me various times how you would prefer this or that. It's not about you.

So, summary:

Your points are all about what type of boy-scout-god-fearin' bad men are restricting your self-expression, and how you'd prefer a forum which was a free-for-all. There are many fora for self-expression and ranting and just sticking it to the man. But rather than posting there, you stick with the one with a stated civility policy and alter it to suit your preferences. I think that's what you accused Raganwald of. You're doing what you despise.

It's okay to follow some rules. These ones are so easy to follow and it doesn't affect my day at all to do so. I'd rather find the real issues in the world and fight those, or break rules that really matter.

Don't assume you know me, my background, my religious beliefs (or lack thereof), why I'm doing something or anything that has no basis in fact. It sounds nice and angry, but all you're doing is arguing against some picture in your head, but diluting your core argument about the facts. Besides, you might find I'm closer to your opinion on most of the issues you post about. Just not this one.

In any case, this is my last post on the issue. Bigger fish to fry.

This whole discussion is about personal preference and opinion. The original post and all of the posts that followed. If you think there is any objective fact to be had here, you're crazy.

I'm a long-time user of HN, reporting my experience, and so it is about me, just as much as it is about raganwald's desire for people to be even more civil than they currently are.

P.S. I'm not literally calling anyone Christian. Equating a behaviour to Puritanism is a rhetorical device to illustrate a point. I think you and I may be communicating on completely separate dimensions...

Dammit, I hate breaking my last-post rule.

> If you think there is any objective fact to be had here, you're crazy.

FACT: PG asked us to be civil.

FACT: the dictionary defines civil.

FACT: you're not being civil according to that definition. A moral relativism escape attempt doesn't change that.

FACT: Raganwald's post requesting more civility got 650 votes and stayed on the front page for ages. There are many who would like more of that.

FACT: many other websites don't mind how aggressive you are.

FACT: you're resorting to name-calling and generalisations rather than arguing the point.

FACT: you said this:

>> Could we not have strong emotions about tablets and phones without calling each other names?

> No.

Well, I think I can claim as a fact that we can have a debate while I remain significantly more civil than you have. I don't think it would have been a better one if I hadn't.

Those are so NOT facts. You're such a bean counter. Civility is totally in the eye of the beholder. It's defined as politeness, which is a disgustingly relative concept.

Perhaps there is some gradation of civility, where you are holier than I am, but the question for HN is not who is the holiest, the question is where the threshold is, and what action to take.

My argument is that censorship is far more objectionable than the problem it supposedly solves.

Let's grant that you're more civil than I am. Does that make you RIGHT? Does that make you BETTER THAN ME? What is your payoff for that? Are you going to Heaven and I'm going to Hell?

pg asks people to be civil, therefore civility is more important than intellectual contribution, civility is more important than quality content? Civility becomes a higher value than the PURPOSE of the forum? No.

Civility is at best a 3rd order value. The primary value of the forum is interesting content, and lame ass Wikipedia editors DO NOT provide that.

I'll take 1 tptacek, who is passionate enough to tell complete idiots to STFU, rather than 100 perfectly civil but dry and worthless unoriginal pedants who quote the Bible and worship rule books.

"NEENER NEENER I'M MORE CIVIL THAN YOU!" Congratu-fucking-lations. That's really not much of an accomplishment is it?

I'm counting beans because you've made so many stunning logical errors it just makes sense to call you on them.

For example:

> Let's grant that you're more civil than I am. Does that make you RIGHT? Does that make you BETTER THAN ME? What is your payoff for that? Are you going to Heaven and I'm going to Hell?

Well, no. There's no relationship between civility and being better/worse/heaven/hell/correct/incorrect. Why would you even ask that unless you're casting about for a strawman?

> "NEENER NEENER I'M MORE CIVIL THAN YOU!" Congratu-fucking-lations. That's really not much of an accomplishment is it?

A worthy accomplishment would be a more rational discussion, which might be easier to find if there was less bile to wade through. Are you sure you speak to people in real life like this?

You're counting beans because you have no faculty for grasping nuance.

>Why would you even ask that unless you're casting about for a strawman?

It's called making a point. My points fly way over your head. I'm making a point through insinuation, suggestion, and demonstration.

>A worthy accomplishment would be a more rational discussion, which might be easier to find if there was less bile to wade through.

If you wade through the bile you're doing it wrong. The bile is part of the message. You have to drink it.

How does one communicate an abstract intuition to a robotic mind?

You are the type of person who reads Heraclitus and says, "He's contradicting himself!" Or you read Kierkegaard and say, "This is logically offensive!"

My whole point is that there is more to Hacker Culture than dry, trite, known knowns that can be widely agreed on as objectively correct. When you try to make a culture or community fit into some dictionary definition you strangle it.

I was also trying to communicate that civility is not the highest value of Hackers. Who really gives a shit if you're civil? That is very minor compared to whether you are original, interesting, right, or even wrong. Even having wrong comments here is more important than having civil comments. Wrongness is therefore a higher value than civility. An HN without people saying things that are wrong would be a terrible place.

The death of community happens when only the known knowns are allowed to exist. Tolerance for creativity must include tolerance for cultural creativity and novel emotional expression that is often judged heretical or ugly by the mass mind. When the mass mind ceases to tolerate the ugly and works to stamp it out, the mass mind ceases to grow.

There is no excuse for someone who comes to HN and just insults people in a really derivative way. That is not a contribution. These posts get downvoted quickly. But if someone stimulates thought and outrage by skirting the rules and is even able to get upvotes, why should she be censored because she fails to conform to some guy's interpretation of the dictionary?

I don't want a free for all. I want a curated experience that censors unoriginal thought. I want to censor people who are intellectually dishonest, who are trite, who are repetitive, who are pedantic in an unoriginal way. I want to do this because I believe this activity is a higher expression of Hacker Culture than the expressions expressed by reganwald.

The faction in my camp may be a minority. You may still want to burn us like the witches we are for--omg--being uncivil. Afterall, pg said incivility is bad and pg knows everything right?

In conclusion, when I said "congratu-fucking-lations" I was trying to communicate that being civil is not a contribution. It's not a worthwhile accomplishment or anything to be proud of. Getting 600 upvotes by echoing this sentiment is also not an accomplishment and also does not induce civility. In the example of myself, this "Tell HN: Be civil" comment actually induced incivility because I find this kind of trite shit offensive.

The bile is not someone who tells an idiot that he's an idiot.

The bile is the Jehovah's Witness who comes to your door and tries to convince you to be a holier-than-thou douche bag.

After being preached at I feel so dirty that I have to go buy a Bible just so that I can tear it up, light it on fire, then douse the flames with my urine.

Get that creepy moralizing away from me and from HN.

Hail Satan.

Well, I suppose it's better than "neener neener".

The discussion that surfaced the supposed incivility was about consumer electronics. Maybe there's a time and place to cast off our robes, wail at the moon and set fire to the castle, but...iPads? The counterculture is getting naked because of gadgets? I understand that we seek modern proxies for long-gone tribal battles, but I stopped arguing about whose toys were the best when the Amiga didn't take over. I'm still sad about that.

Civility doesn't exist in a hierarchy of which values are most important. It's orthogonal to originality, like choosing to wear shoes. You can do the same job whether you're civil or not. No relationship, so stop trying to link it. You keep bringing up irrelevant issues, creating links where there are none and fighting strawmen, all so you don't have to explain your supposed incapacity to argue a point (or even rile someone up) using less inflammatory language. I understand you think your language is the secret sauce of your message, but you're probably capable of using different language to similar effect.

At some point you'll find the bad people you're wailing at live in your own head, not on HN. You're still making personal appraisals based on an impossibly thin stream of information, and therefore drawing vibrant (but wrong) images of who you think you're talking to. I mean, go for it if it helps you work stuff out, but you're arguing with a mirage.

Since you insist that you're incapable of conducting a discussion without insulting the (imagined) other, all I do by continuing is offering you more opportunity for that. Or as Raganwald said:

"The same is true when we see someone else violating these precepts. The downvote (and flag, where available and appropriate) are the right tools for the job. Most of the time, calling someone out for diluting the discourse simply adds to the noise while simultaneously feeding the troll."

You can be right, and civil, at the same time. There's not a dichotomy here.

just because people "CAN" doesn't mean they WILL

3 binary dimensions:

  - original / trite
  - civility / rude
  - correct / incorrect

  leading to 8 kinds of people
  1. original, correct, civil
  2. original, correct, rude
  3. original, incorrect, civil
  4. original, incorrect, rude
  5. trite, incorrect, civil
  6. trite, incorrect, rude
  7. trite, correct, civil
  8. trite, correct, rude
6 and 8 are acknowledged as non-issues on HN, since they get downvoted and ignored.

7 is the most destructive force of all, because trite things get automatic upvotes. So if we must have these "Tell HN" posts, we should direct our attention to people who are civil, technically correct, trite, and miss the forest for the trees.

The greatest enemy of 7 is 2, and so if you outlaw rude people you outlaw 2 causing 7 to proliferate like a catchphrase on reddit.

2 may be somewhat objectionable, but since originality and correctness are higher values than civility for Hackers, their presence should be tolerated. Tptacek is arguably one of the most valuable HNers around and if 2s were suppressed he would no longer be here.

3 and 4 drive discussion and so are basically valuable. While 4 can be obnoxious and you wouldn't want to have a beer with him, at the very least his inaccurate but original sayings do simulate interesting discussion and provoke 1 and 2 to post.

A lot of very tremendous posts were motivated by the horrible statements of a 4. So 4s do have a kind of value.

Anyway, the worst thing this forum could do is encourage 7s and outlawing rude people would basically give the forum over to 7s. All the 1s and 3s would flee--civil people don't fight back against the invading zombie horde.

That's quite a lot of conclusion from a little theory. I'd like to think that civil, thoughtful people will continue regardless, maybe that's naieve.

There's a space-time component to this, so like most logic diagrams it throws a monkey wrench into the works. Suppressing rude comments may actually coerce folks (like me) into trying to be more civil than they might. This can actually breed more 3's from 4s for instance.

"Father," said the small boy after his temper has subsided, "Why do I get so upset all the time?"

"My son, we all have inside of us two strong dogs to help us hunt, to keep us company, and to protect us. One is warm and loveable and friendly, it helps us love and find friends and enjoy games. The other is mean and vicious, it protects us from enemies and it helps us hunt for meat."

"The two dogs battle for control of our heart, and the one who is winning controls our feelings."

"Which one is stronger, Dad?"

"The one you feed, son."


I'm not feeding you, my friend. I will give both of your comments upvotes for the effort.

You totally prove my point. That parable perfectly reflects the Last Man's desire for a dry and sterile life.

You want to live in a traditional society where people are stifled and controlled through social norms that outlaw all kinds of strong emotions and passionate human expression. You want to clamp down on the very stuff of life that most humans find most meaningful.

It's so delicious that you think this kind of parable could ever affect someone like me. To me, you are nothing but a small minded Christian moralist--an old spinster who tours the Salons condemning biscuit-eaters for their impropriety. "How rude! Why, why, you should be ashamed of yourself!!"

You think you aren't feeding the wolves like me, but you are. The drama you create is better food for me than any boring nerd fight like Android vs. Apple and so on.

Entrepreneurs are generally Type A personalities. Do you really think people here buy into your 19th century Victorian sensibilities? Fuck your idea of civil society. You are a rube--an uncultured pseudo-puritan. Your thoughts on culture and society are a fucking joke. In any venue other than the pseudo-intellectual blogosphere, your thoughts on culture would be laughed at.

Our values are so orthogonal that you actually feel morally superior when I attack you. This is how different we are. I insult you; you feel like Jesus for weathering my insults with Christ-like passivity. Pathetic.

Your internet penis is _enormous_.

This sort of bilious, spittle-flecked juvenile chest-thumping teenaged-courageous-loner noise is precisely why venues like Hacker News, despite the presence and attention of a good many smart people, have been rendered such sterile wastelands.

No matter how much you enjoy the game, it's not getting us anywhere. Your righteous incivility is, ultimately, profoundly _boring_.

>Your righteous incivility is, ultimately, profoundly _boring_.

All passions are boring to those on the outside. To enjoy the incivility, you need to join in. Now that you've jumped in, you must be having fun.

If HN decides to censor tech fights like Stack Overflow, I won't mind at all. As long as we can engage in meta-drama, my dramatic e-penis will have plenty of material to engage with.

That's pretty mean. There's a whole internet for personal attacks and I don't see why every forum has to trend to internet-level nastiness. PG mentions "niceness" many times, and HN's niceness has always been an attractive and useful quality. Arguing about the ball rather than the man forces people to think more clearly about the ball. That's a good thing.

I think PG's stated principles helped build HN. I don't know why you want to dilute them when everywhere-but-HN is already the forum you're pushing for.

The question is not whether attacking the ball is preferred--it is.

The question is whether the forum should censor topics that raise strong feelings about that ball.

Pg said that flat insults without intellectual content (e.g. "you're gay") are not an issue because they quickly get downvoted.

I believe in a curated forum, I just think meta-drama brought up by attention whores is the worst sort of drama--NOT the "uncivil" arguments about various platforms.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with your opinion or your comments, thanks for sharing your perspective.

"All I've seen is a few geeks trading opinions about--ultimately petty--consumer electronics issues."

But they aren't petty issues. This is the evolution of the computer industry. People are going to have strong opinions. Let me correct that: People in this industry should have very strong opinions. I marvel at the various claims that this is trivial / bike shed / etc, as a massive seismic shift of our entire platform occurs.

This impacts all of us in technology profoundly.

Thank you for saying this. The comments I saw on yesterday's post by Marco Arment really upset and concerned me.

Hacker News is usually a pretty nice place to hang out, but that comment thread reminded me of the ten minutes hate from 1984.

It seems to me that conflict of this type arises when people are forced to make difficult choices between similar options with real but minor differences which have a large switching cost. Hence Nikon vs. Canon and Android vs. iOS. And of course religion.

The conflict doesn't arise when switching cost is low or the differences are too minor (e.g. Sony TV vs. Panasonic TV, Verizon vs. AT&T, Unitarianism vs. Baha'i fail to generate rancor on both counts).

The conflict would appear to arise from people struggling with cognitive dissonance. In other words, if an iOS or Android user were supremely confident of the superiority and perfection of their chosen platform there would be no dissonance and and no outward invective.

Just as Freud (correctly, for once) observed that the most passionately homophobic individuals were often in denial of their own urges, the most fervent boosters of a platform are probably plagued with doubts about it.

For whatever it's worth, I'm the guy who wrote the Surface review trending today. I love reading HN every morning while I walk my dog, and I was dumbfounded that my Surface review made HN. That was a WTF moment for me. It's not the kind of stuff I come to HN for.

Don't get me wrong, I was honored - but it's off topic.

As hackers--and I include in this definition those who hack software, hardware, social behaviour, and marketplaces--our mission is first to UNDERSTAND and then second to INFLUENCE.

Maybe I can help with the understanding part. Here are some things that I've observed, as a hacker, about humans:

1. (most) people like to form groups and then compete with other groups

2. (most) people enjoy feeling superior to other people

These are things that seem to have been true in any part of the world, throughout all of human history.

So what's our plan here? Are we going to turn hackernews into the only collection of humans to ever live that defies these rules? Is there some technical solution that will change fundamental aspects of human nature? Maybe getting rid of the voting arrows will remove all of the meanness and tribal thinking on the planet.

I say all this because I don't understand the impetus for your post. Of course it would be nice if everything everyone said made an insightful contribution. But you know that people aren't like that. No amount of blog posting or commenting is going to change how people interact with each other. It seems like your problem isn't with the hacker news community, but with the nature of human socialization.

This looks like a clear case of selection bias. It's hard to do good as a hacker if you isolate yourself in an ivy tower of ycombinator hackers and geniuses. Making things does take some understanding of the average person and how they behave. If you truly think that hackernews is negative when compared with just about anywhere else, then you might be out of touch.

Many people, including the primary demographic of HN, like to also learn and have insightful discussions. We can get our competitiveness and tribalism out at sporting events We can have nice discussions here.

You see, I had no idea of this current crisis until I read this thread. Really, what were reading threads about iPad Minis or MS Surface's going to add to my life? They are good products possibly but at this stage just small refinements on an existing category of device. So I never bothered to click. Sometimes I'm dismayed that people are wasting their time not just reading but writing long comments about these things. And not just new product releases but also nebulous, insight-free articles like that one about 'no more big ideas.' I suppose no one should be on their high horse though: few articles are 'essential reading' when it boils down to it.

It's because HN has become the defacto comments section on every blog that has turned off comments. The comments are pretty much the same, just moved to a different place.

If you disagree with the balance of stories on hn, the most useful thing you can do to fix it is visit /newest and vote up stories with interesting content. Nowhere near enough people do this and as a result many stories just slide off the new submissions page unread.

Re lack of civility, this is a normal feature of anonymous interaction which stems from lack of accountability - the only way to deal with it is to impose social sanctions on the users responsible. Everyone can do this by refusing to be baited, and calling out others for antisocial, insulting, or extreme comments.

Actions will have more impact that meta discussions.

Having a meta discussion about this community doesn't seem very productive. The community is what it is and asking people to be civil is a waste of yet more bytes on a server.

As is evident by the comment threads on the tablet releases, people have strong opinions, supressing these with calls for 'civility' are nothing more than asking for people to only post comments that you approve of, which seems extremely bourgeois to me. I enjoy seeing the comments where people express strong opinions because I am able to learn for example what kind of person is going to like the Surface and who won't. There's signal in the noise and in a public forum it's not about what you want to read. If I could down vote your thread I would because I find it extremely distasteful to see someone wanting to read just what they enjoy. It's really no different to me posting an ASK requesting that we focus more on Python or jquery plugins. Please, less of the high horse rhetoric.

So you're not happy with the current level of self-censorship in the name of political/social correctness, then? I find it far more than sufficient.

As for the issue you're talking about, this guy here is obviously a flaming Microsoft-fanboy: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4706624 .. I wanted to call him one, but refrained from doing so, mostly because I thought it would be met with a negative reaction.

But you know, talking to fanboys is really frustrating. Their posts are full of such obvious, annoying bullshit/misdirection that it's just really difficult to ignore, but on the other hand, going through the effort of shutting them up is pointless too.

That's why it's tempting to just call a fanboy a fanboy, instead of wasting a lot of time and effort in a civil discussion with them.

Amen - the launches of both Surface and iPad mini are to me terribly exciting events, and I am impressed with both Microsoft and Apple. One of my favorite parts of being a technologist is that I get to observe how people adapt the myriad of available technologies and software/hardware systems to their own unique needs, and this extends to even myself. I've been through Macs, Windows machines, and more Linux distributions than I can count, as well as handhelds from both the Android and iOS camps, and I've been happy each time I have switched setups.

As hackers, I believe we all subscribe to the old mantra that one should use what is best for the job at hand, and arguments about whether Microsoft Surface or iPad Mini or so on and so forth are the "right way" detract from the quest for knowledge in which all of us participate.

How about this? pg is not willing/interested in implementing stricter filtering - it's a discussion that has come up many times in the past, but nothing has changed.

So can someone create a 3rd party site that displays HN, but removes/hides these off-topic posts? Then everyone would be happy. There are already some similar implementations (like http://ihackernews.com for a mobile version), so it can't be that technically difficult. It would also be great for users to be able to specifically block certain domains (e.g., I could get rid of all Gruber and Marco blog posts from the list of links I personally see).

Edit: this could also be done with a browser extension, but that wouldn't work on mobile devices (I think)

The meta-commentary on here has become a parody of itself. Spend more time with your family, or outdoors, or doing just about anything else.

I am at a loss for these arguments, I like what I like and I make no apologies for it. I prefer one system over another for a variety of reasons and I am not a fan of a company as it is a company. I may use their products because of reasons that make sense to me personally.

Performance, cost, usability, etc. are all factored into the system I use, the phone, tablet, etc. are all purchased based on these factors. If you do not like a particular product just do not buy it and if for some reason someone asks for your opinion on a product you can give it without being fanatical about it, it is just a product.

The root cause is simple human tribalism. We are, in general, people that pride ourselves on our intelligence, but we often don't turn that intelligence towards our social tendencies.

Liking or disliking Apple or Android or Windows... well sure. people can have preferences. But self identifying or rejecting people based on their computing software? Being rude to people because of their technology preferences?

Ask yourself, why do we do that? Does it make sense logically? Not really. But at an emotional level, it feels good to have a group of people who one can feel part of, and a group of people that are outside it that one can disparage as not being one of us. Making moral judgements based on what tech company a person likes? Human tribal groups.

The truth is, we can do better then that.

On [Coinbase's announcement yesterday][1], I was concerned that the top 14 root-level comments were all focusing on the security implications of the announcement; it was as if there was nothing else to discuss other than that.

In many other discussions it seems like one controversial sub-topic ends up dominating as well.

Perhaps downvoting controversial comments isn't always a bad thing? There seems to be a big fear of the downvote button, but in some cases, even if a comment is useful on its own, in the end it sparks massive amounts of arguing back and forth which could be avoided if it were just downvoted instead.

[1]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4703443

OP mentions downvotes. Are downvotes possible on HN? Are they reserved to some users only? Being a member for 4 years with less than 300 points, I don't have downvote icons on my page.

Downvote comments kicks in at 500 karma.

I don't know if downvote articles is an options.. maybe I just don't have enough Karma.

It's not and it never was.

They appear at 500 karma.

Thank you for the clarification. So OP's point to use downvotes instead of (potentially flame-inducing) comments applies to users in that karma range.

I know there are a million and one people offering arm chair suggestions, but IMO it's about time that HN got sub-forums and moderators.

I'd like to see a /startup or similar, moderated by entrepreneurs to set the tone of what posts or comments aren't welcome.

For that matter, a /front-end would be cool too. HTML/CSS/JavaScript demos posted here grind my gears so much; the comments are all negative and totally not constructive.

>>"What understanding would my comment add?"

Agree - this should be the default in any comment. It would be interesting to see a "karma" score for those who hold their tongue when they have nothing constructive to say, but obviously, that's pretty much impossible in an online format. In a way, the karma on a forum encourages opinions whether vacuous or not.

Maybe it's because we're so pathetic that we actually associate ourselves with the gadgets we use, and thus, we somehow perceive any attack/criticism of our favorite tech as an attack on us.

Is Microsoft using people in some way to try and take over the psychology of HN'ers.


You're right, it's either an iPad Mini or iPod Touch Ultra with iOS 6 Home Edition, but not an iPod Mini. Thanks!

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