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Poll: Do you find article title changes annoying?
107 points by markokocic on Feb 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments
Recently there have been a surge in title editing. Do you think this is annoying, appropriate, or you just simply don't care.
Yes, very annoying.
398 points
Somewhat annoying.
150 points
I don't care.
93 points
I did't notice.
84 points
Not annoying at all.
77 points

There was recently a link to a register[1] article covering a scientific study[2] where not just the title, but the whole URL got switched to the original study. Now, I'm not disputing that it probably would have been better to link to the article titled "Empathy among students in Engineering Programs" originally, but the Register article contained quite a bit of satire. It's title was "Engineers are cold and Dead inside".

The Register article contained slang and sarcasm aplenty, and most of the discussion revolved around that. When the URL changed, most of the comments suddenly became not only irrelevant, but incredibly confusing if you hadn't seen the originally linked register article.

So, I don't have a very strong opinion on article changes. But I'm pretty strongly against actually changing the URL. Yes, a lot of the time the submitted link is blogspam. But a lot of the time there's some added commentary or color, and people start discussing it. Changing the URL is like pulling the rug out from under the people who already commented. I know it's intended to elevate the content on the site, but it just ends up being kind of rude.

[1] http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/01/21/engineers_cold_and_d...

[2] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03043797.2012.708...;

Well ideally URL changes are to get rid of blog spam, in the case that a site is doing a terrible job reporting and has less data. I'm okay with them usually.

But these nigh-automatic title changes, 90% of the time, are taking a title that had context added or explained the relevance to HN and reverting it to something generic and less useful.

I also find it irritating when people call everything "blog spam". Many blogs are fluff, but either we go with the votes or we don't. If a link to a blog article is posted and someone thinks it's "blog spam", they should post another link to the original content, if the original content is better, more informative, more complete, it will get voted up. If it doesn't, the "blog spam" was "better" content, as voted by the community, like everything else is supposed to be over here. There should be no need for the patronizing moderation.

If we don't trust the votes to select better content what are we using them for?

The problem isn't fluff, it's blogs that act like a broken copy of the original with chunks missing, providing no commentary either. The voting system isn't a very good solution: it requires the front page to be inundated in duplicate articles followed by people reading both versions and voting up the good one. And what if they already upvoted the spam blog because they liked the information it had and didn't know it was a cheap knockoff?

The voting system lets you compare different articles, but it doesn't let you compare two versions of the same article submitted at different points of a day.

I would be fine with the Register being blacklisted, personally. Never seen anything worthwhile on it.

The rules have been changed underneath us. Once upon a time, writing better titles was OK. The rule on the HN guidelines page was:

You can make up a new title if you want, but if you put gratuitous editorial spin on it, the editors may rewrite it.

Proof: http://web.archive.org/web/20120222184108/http://ycombinator...

Now, oddly, that's gone and instead it's suggested you fix a few annoying things about titles but otherwise stick to the original, whether it's good or not.

It's always an awkward situation when a community's moderation and, well, community go out of sync.

It is somewhat annoying when a link's "natural title" is not good and the submitter improves it - only to have it reverted.

It is somewhat annoying when a link has a misleading "natural title" but is not changed.

In short, I like editing when it makes sense and don't like it when it doesn't. Hence you cannot please everyone with either absolute, so I would say err on the side of least effort - therefore no editing!

This is exactly the problem. A good title on Hacker News is itself a valuable piece of content. A good title here will concisely convey the point of an article, so that each of us can decide if we want to check it out.

Often this is directly at odds with the purpose of a "natural title", which is designed by the author to entice and tantalize in order to drag eyeballs to it. Not to communicate, but to manipulate.

If the natural title is also good as a HN title, great. But if not, and if the submitter made a good effort to construct a good HN title, then it should not be changed.

I would go as far as to say that title changing by admin is lying to the users. Submitter decided on title, submitted with that title, and suddenly, 20 minutes later, the title is changed while submitter name stays the same. That created false impression that submitter said something what he didn't said.

Why stop at title, why not change comments also, if admins think they are not good enough for HN standards?

If title in bad, the article will be downvoted, or not upvoted enough. That's all regulation that is needed.

If you have to change the title, at least state clearly that the title is not written by the submitter, and leave original title available somewhere.

I believe Hacker News users would find more utility out of descriptive titles that let them know whether or not they are likely to want to read the article, rather than the copy the editor's title.

Generalizing that, I think it's a problem with the Reddit/Digg model of titles only (which HN followed), versus the Slashdot/Metafilter model of short blurbs. The former gives no space to explain why content would be of interest to HN, so is biased towards content where it's obvious from the headline, which in turn both favors fairly linkbaity things, and discourages most people from reading the /newest page at all (because you can't really tell much from it).

I've occasionally found longer articles where I think HN would be very interested in some of the discussion in a way that isn't obvious from the title, and might require 2 or 3 sentences to explain. I rarely submit those, though, because there's no good way to convey that.

Did I already look at this? I don't remember this title... Why's it grey? Oh yeah, I did read this!

This website isn't really a democracy. We, the users, can complain all we want, but until a) people are taken into the back alley when they bring it up, or b) enough people at the top get fed up with the complaining that they stop doing what they're doing, nothing will change.

Not that I care in slightest (not my problem, I'm happy as a clam), but the admins are actively doing something that many people don't particularly like, which seems like it would be easier on both sides if the action stopped (unless the admins enjoy the work).

Which one would save more of humanity's time - all the time spent complaining about title changing, or the time spent changing titles?

There are three titles in play: the article's original title, the title used by the submitter, and the title after a moderator change. I'm not sure if the poll is discussing changes by the submitter or changes by the moderator.

My datapoint on rewrites: I've had several of my blog posts submitted under a rewritten title. Usually I find the submitter's title is better than mine and I change the blog title to match.

This poll's options yield unproductive results.

Like most people, I believe misleading or content-less titles are bad. As such I'm in favor of keeping descriptive titles and editing bad ones - same as almost everybody else. There is no programmatic approach to this, and I doubt we can come up with rules that improve the process. In the end it's always going to be a human being making a judgement call.

One thing we reasonably could talk about, however, is whether the current bias towards keeping/restoring the external title is healthy. If we can agree that it's mostly detrimental, it would make a convincing appeal to emphasize more moderatorial restraint.

I haven't noticed a recent surge, and without evidence I'd be skeptical that there has been one.

That said, my general feeling is: it's probably anti-annoying most of the time (an option which you've left out), and sometimes somewhat annoying.

It's annoying when the submitter improves on the original title and a mod reverts it. But it's anti-annoying when the submitter uses a bad title and a mod edits it. I don't think I've ever explicitly noticed one of those, but I'd still guess they're the majority. (I only notice the annoying ones when someone complains.)

I am slightly sad when a title is edited, but far sadder when an article has a bad title which either makes no sense or fails to get the amount of attention it should.

I wish bloggers/etc. would just make better titles for their original content, then there'd be no debate.

I agree but I really don't want to see even more crying about "linkbait" titles then there already is.

Edited articles (whether the title, URL or anything else was changed) should at least show who edited it, when, and what the previous content was. Then you can see that the username associated with the post did not really write that content (making it more authentic), and any comments relating to previous titles/URLs can still be understood by seeing the previous content (making it more relevant).

I noticed, but I don't consider it overmoderation (yet). Most often than not it appears to me as the middle ground between sterile titles and Your Average Aggregation Site (TM).

In a perfect world there might be separate polls to vote for the best title for each submission. Of course I don't assume it would make sense to implement such a fringe feature on HN.

True story, the Huffington Post's CMS either did or still does A/B testing on all headlines within 5 minutes. Authors enter two headlines for each story, and after 5 minutes, the headline that's garnered the most page views becomes the singular hed for that article.

For me it depends. If the new title is a better description of the content, then I'm in favour. If the new title is a poorer description of the content, then I'd rather it wasn't changed.

When I voted for this the question was "Do you find keeping the original article titles annoying"...

To be fair, usually when a title changes post submission it's to rename it from obvious link bait to something more reasonable. If people are discussing the link bait title instead of the actual content then that's all the more proof that editing the title makes sense.

If done well I much prefer an editorialized title to the original title (providing the original title is not a good fit as per the guidelines.)

Could you give an example of an edit you found annoying?

This one did annoy me, fwiw:


The original submitted title was "Minecraft's Monster Profits". Minecraft was something I recognized and was interested in. When I tried to find the thread again to see what people had been saying, I couldn't see it and had to hunt around for a bit. Mojang meant nothing to me, and my eyes even kept misreading "Mojang" as "Mahjong", just to add another layer of confusion.

When the actual text of the article doesn't match the title.

Link Bait.

In these instances, the submitter to HN can use a more appropriate title for the content.

Here's a potential change. Track the original title and the editorialized title, and show both when the original submitter has rewritten it.

Or: allow voting on whether the title is good or not. Only rename posts whose titles are voted down on otherwise upvoted content.

I commented in the Mojang thread -- my top-voted comment was bumped down to the bottom of the page after about 20 minutes. Actively discouraging meta-discussion of HN is a terrible precedent to set, in my mind.

Rarely do the title changes appear to be an improvement.

I don't find title changes nearly as annoying as people complaining about the title changes.

What I personally find most annoying are the people complaining about the people complaining about the title changes.

I don't understand why this would be annoying unless it was a significant change.

There have been many cases where an edited title completely changed the meaning of the article it linked, or became worthless for subsequent searches because of misspellings.

I wonder if the mods will change the title of this poll to something likely to be completly ignored by HN - something like "Super Bowl predictions" or "What's new in .NET 4.5".

Most annoying is we have technology to show information better.

We could show our original titles next to officiated, moderated, adworded language.

We could give first words and ad words equal life.

Do we have any more senseful, mindful technology that might represent title variations as diverse as real life?

Is our loved accessibility only for special interests? Why can't technology show common ground, without hiring and firing info like we are out of space, in a world we can use real psychotechnology to truly fit more people, more info, and more views.

Likewise Quora represents as community-powered self-moderation but deletes and censors by closed, secret committee vs. first giving real representation to what users really said... like I ask http://www.quora.com/Editing-Questions-on-Quora/Could-showin... and elsewhere.

If it is annoying admins to show more/less words based on eachothers diverse contexts, maybe let people who want to see moderated words see it so. Too, let us all otherwise real life readers see what people really submitted as their first words, first.


If you copy the article's original title and it was sensationalist horse shit then you deserve everything you get.

If you manually enter the title yourself and it's sensationalist horse shit then you deserve everything you get.

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