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I think a lot of the growth problems might have to do with the devaluation of karma. The solution to this might actually raise the quality of comments and front page stories.

When I posted a comment here a year and a half ago, I felt like each vote was a real, actual smart person praising or agreeing with what I had said. Each point had a lot of meaning, and back then 5 points was considered a pretty good score. Now each point means much less for some reason. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I don't trust each individual person as much. For example, as I write this, the top comment is about someone using a script to submit this article. It's two sentences, and it has received eleven votes. To me, each of those individual votes mean less than they used to.

The net effect of one vote, for the whole culture of hacker news, has gone down significantly. This reduces the total perception of worth for each user, and, more importantly, for each voting action. Back in the beginning, I felt like I had some amount of power, in that if I voted something up it would literally rise in the list. In fact, I felt like I had some sort of responsibility. Now that active, obvious change in story rank rarely happens, so I feel like my vote is somewhat worthless.

I tend to mostly agree that the quality level of submissions and comments has stayed the same during the growth of this site, but the devaluation of karma has led to other cultural changes. There's something comforting about sharing ideas within a small group of people because you feel like you have real influence, and I think I'm starting to lose that feeling here. There are so many new faces that my perception of quality has gone down, even if the actual net level of quality for each item has stayed the same. Seeing many posts with 100+ karma on the front page recently has kind of solidified that feeling for me. Who are these hundreds of people?

I agree, and I think that the solution is simple: limit people's ability to give out upvotes. Maybe restrict people's weekly upvotes to c * ln(karma) + d or something. (Make d small!) Or have upvotes actually cost you like a tenth of a karma point. (Dunno if karma should be turned into currency, though, since then I could imagine people trying to game the system.)

This solves another problem that really bothers me: an upvote to a really insightful comment (like the parent) has the same weight as an upvote to a comment that's merely useful, or, worse, that merely shares my feelings on some topic. Insight (in my opinion) should always count for more than anything else, and I think limiting upvotes will make it so -- because I think most people actually do care about it most.

- EDIT - Another (even more dire, IMO) problem that might have a similar solution: comment threads are way too long. Only four or five months ago I could make a comment and I'd be absolutely certain that at least a few reasonable people would read it, and so it never felt like luck when my comments moved up; my good comments inevitably got upvotes, and my mediocre comments stayed where they were. Now comments get lost in the wash. I'm tacking this edit onto this comment partially because it's tangentially relevant, but mostly because I don't have faith that anybody will ever see it otherwise.

That's a huge problem, and I suspect that it is in fact the fundamental cause of the degeneration of other social news sites. When people know that their contributions will be noted, they act like they're participating in a conversation. When the success of a comment depends on a metaphorical die roll, I think people adopt the mentality of, "I'll throw shit at the wall and see what sticks."

My solution would be to limit weekly "root" comments (comments that respond directly to a submission, not to other comments) with a formula similar to the one above (c ln(karma) + d), though with the caveat that comments that get more than a few upvotes get "refunded." But frankly I'd endure any kind of unreasonable limitation if it would get rid of the feeling that this community is gradually but inexorably turning into a mob.

I think that's a good idea. When people can give out unlimited upvotes, it's like the government printing money non-stop. Karma loses its value.

I don't know if the ability to upvote should be related to a persons Karma score. That might make one group too powerful and reduce the egalitarian nature of the site. What if everyone was just limited to 10 upvotes per day? Do you really need more than that? The more you read HN, the more carefully you will have choose what to upvote.

I think, rather than a quota, the right to vote should be earned, for example by a history of quality submissions (determined by either of the algorithms described by PG). This is already partly so with the (more simplistic) karma threshold.

In the same vein, addressing the problem of too many comments, the extent of right to comment could somehow be earned. Say an unproven user can only comment in particular circumstances, maybe on threads that aren't already heavily commented on?

Let new users prove themselves in the lesser leagues, so to speak, before allowing them free reign on the site proper.

I don't think the problem is with upvote inflation as much as dilution of individual-to-individual recognition. Limiting upvotes wouldn't address that.

Sounds like a textbook example of Dunbar's number.


Maybe a good solution is to break the community down into neighborhoods of ~150 people.

I've proposed this before: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=391292

The big question would be how to propagate submissions and comments between communities. Especially if each community develops its own unique character. I've thought about organizing each community onto branches of a B-tree and letting upvoted submissions move up the tree, though my intuition says that this might not scale, as one community might overpower the rest.

Anyway it would be interesting if someone builds it.

Nice. A more scientifically plausible version of the "monkeysphere."


It felt weird that a satirical website would have such a profound article; it's good to know that more serious consideration into the underlying concept has been made. (The above wiki article once made heavy reference to the term monkeysphere, but had it edited out over time. There's still quite a bit of text about it on the discussion page.)


With a smaller population of users, each interaction becomes an investment in an individual relationship that may pay off later (financially or otherwise). And if someone upvotes your comment, you know they are endorsing you, personally.

With a larger population, this dilutes to something like a branding exercise.

So there's some balance between having lots of diverse perspectives and skill sets (large population) vs. having individualized relationships (small population).

Similar to the idea that companies may have an optimal size, maybe there's an optimal size for social news sites. And for social news sites where utility is part of the draw (HN), this optimal size may be smaller than sites oriented more around entertainment (digg, reddit).

"The most dangerous thing for the frontpage is stuff that's too easy to upvote. If someone proves a new theorem, it takes some work by the reader to decide whether or not to upvote it. An amusing cartoon takes less. A rant with a rallying cry as the title takes zero, because people vote it up without even reading it."

When I read that, I was immedately struck with the idea that story votes have a "velocity in voting" and that a story with a "high voting velocity" is probably fluff, while one that has a "slow voting velocity" may be significant and perhaps some measure of this could be taken into account, kind of like the personal shields in _Dune_.

On the other hand, certain things that have an extremely high voting velocity might be necessary. Emergency posts from pg, news of some incredibly major political event on the order of 9/11 making it on the front page. Perhaps high velocity items should be referred to moderators?

After thinking about the topic for the past year or so I sat down and wrote up the major problem I found with using up/down voting for comments in a rather long blog entry


I would be extremely surprised if HN changed or even tried a different system, but hopefully it can be useful for developers who are creating the next generation social new site. The key point: The number of points a good comment gets is directly related to the number of users that read the comment.

What about borrowing the popular 'like' feature from Friendfeed? After a comment, it lists people that liked something, but it cuts it off at a certain point so it's not overwhelming. Perhaps one could sort the prominence of likes by how recent the like was (so that everyone gets a chance to show they liked something) and maybe the karma of the user, so prominent, active users can express enjoyment of a comment or post without having to add something specific to the conversation.

This would restore something of the personal feeling, too. As pg says, it's better for moral to know that one particular person deeply liked something than many, superficially.

Wow. Maybe karma needs to be more meaningful...perhaps a reflection of who voted for you and what percentage of page views voted for you. It's not that I want to see social stratification edified on HN; but if your comment is voted for by users who have earned more karma through their own comments, shouldn't that predict that your contribution is more meaningful to the community? It might be easier to just say 'a sort of collaborative filter for karma weighting.' Even something as simple as a Pearson correlation might be fun to play with.

I can't agree more about the power loss of the vote. I lost the right to upvote and for a while was disturbed by it. But then I thought "Who cares, it meaningless anymore. Not even worth petitioning for. As long as I get to hear about new ideas and whats going on with interesting tech and science, that's all that matters."

When you have more people voting, naturally each vote is worth less than when fewer people are around to vote.

I find technical news sites to be similar to how fashions work.

That is, a good model of changing fashion are some forerunners that starts doing something -- and then gets copied by lots of people. The ones that want to be fashionable then have to change or look like all others.

Technical news sites seems to be places with interesting discussion that gets overrun with wannabees that lowers the average quality. If this is correct, HN is doomed to be Diggified (the opposite of dignified). Like all non-invitation discussion sites.

(-: I also tried to be responsible for the average quality and only read, but now failed to keep my fingers controlled after a few months. :-)

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