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.
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.
If we don't trust the votes to select better content what are we using them for?
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.
You can make up a new title if you want, but if you put gratuitous editorial spin on it, the editors may rewrite it.
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 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!
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.
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'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.
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?
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.
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.
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 wish bloggers/etc. would just make better titles for their original content, then there'd be no debate.
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.
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.
In these instances, the submitter to HN can use a more appropriate title for the content.
Or: allow voting on whether the title is good or not. Only rename posts whose titles are voted down on otherwise upvoted content.
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.