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What's produced more value: Y Combinator's investments or Hacker News? (github.com)
60 points by cgcardona 1718 days ago | hide | past | web | 43 comments | favorite

One of the other commenters brought up an interesting point: the audience for HN and the teams YC pick are completely different demographic groups.

I don't think it started out that way; in fact I know it didn't. But over time we went from "watercooler for hackers" to "stuff that interests hackers" to "stuff that interests hacker wannabes" to something-else, not sure what to call it. Maybe "stuff that hacker wannabes like and most techies are interested in"

That probably sounds overly-critical of HN, and I apologize if I could have said it better. I just don't think the comparison works the way this author intended it to.

The key issue here is this: does HN have a progression? Is there some sort of goal where after consuming it for a while you become a better person or learn something useful about the world or yourself? (useful enough to offset the time you spend here) In YC there's a format, a goal, clear steps, and you're going somewhere. HN -- anymore? -- it's a hangout. A place you could spend all day picking up little shiny things.

I believe it would be very easy to find more value added by HN, here and there. One guy learns how to program, one guy hooks up with a founder, one guy learns critical things about startups, and so on. And I think if you added up all of those cherry-picked cases, you'd probably end up with more value than YC (for some definition of the word "value"). As an aggregate, however, it's a no-brainer. YC wins. They teach teams to have a clearly-defined external goal and then teams begin a journey towards reaching that goal.

(Note that you can't do this analysis with numbers. This is an entirely subjective question along the lines of "Do you like ice cream?" and should be treated as such)

Every time someone tries to assert that HN is by now a low-quality "hacker wannabe" hangout I can't help but feel offended.

Probably like many of us here, I'm a hacker in the sense that I love writing code. I like to have stimulating discussions with smart, like-minded people who offer new perspectives. And while I'm at it, I like startups, too. While I have no personal connection to YC, I like hearing from their companies first hand because they are interesting. I think it's great that people doing startups (YC or not) sometimes post their demo online here on HN. I also love to hear from hackers who did nifty one-offs on the weekend. And open source projects. And in-depth discussions about programming. And hacker culture. The whole thing.

I am also clearly not one of the Old Crew. You have been a fan of the band since before they became cool and I have not. I get it. But for all that talk about evaporative cooling, let's not forget that every community needs fresh blood to survive. More often than not, I feel I'm in the right place here. Even if that perception turns out to be false, there are countless other new users who definitely are enriching this community immensely.

Could HN be improved? Absolutely. But every time someone like you suggests that this is a nearly meaningless and diluted forum where inane wannabes try to sell stuff to each other, I feel like you're attacking me and, more importantly, other users who provide exponentially more value than I do.

If you want to "add value" to HN, excellent, please work on doing that. A first step would likely involve stopping to make it and its users look bad. What you are doing is simply sabotage from the inside and it's exacerbated by the fact that you are one of the most influential users around here. By making it appear desolate, you participate actively in dragging it down. We can agree on the need for continued improvement without suggesting that everyone but the Old Crew are idiots.

There is something else in your comment that just rubs me the wrong way. It reminds me of that time-honored trick where someone first totally demolishes the worth of a person or company, only to portray themselves as seeing the hidden "potential" seconds later and then magnanimously suggest how they're going to rescue said person/company. I apologize if this is unjustified, but it is the impression I got from your post.

By the way, I believe one of the easiest ways to improve something right now is by committing yourself to vote down snappy low quality one-liner comments that add nothing to the discussion.

I usually don't reply, but your comment seems heartfelt.

1. If you want to be offended, be offended. Can't help that. My statement was full of qualitative generalizations. Nobody meant you in particular, but you're welcome to feel that way if you like.

2. I never said HN was useless or should be avoided. In fact, I feel just the opposite: I like coming here and posting and commenting. Too much, in fact.

3. Things have good qualities and they have bad qualities. Simply because I like coming here doesn't make HN good, and simply because it has bad qualities doesn't make it not worth visiting.

Look, I'm just calling it as I see it. I've spent a lot of time here - some useful and some wasted. I've thought long and hard about the role of technology and online communities in my life. These are the conclusions I've reached.

As I said, this entire question is a value judgment about personal opinion. I like ice cream but parts of this ice cream suck. You love ice cream and love everything about this ice cream. It's silly to get emotional about discussions like this -- they are simply opinion questions.

Thanks for your comment. Sorry if it rubbed you the wrong way. I should have been more diplomatic, but it's how I feel.

ADD: "nearly meaningless and diluted forum where inane wannabes try to sell stuff to each other" -- I did not say this, and this is not how I feel. I simply said that participating in the community, where people find things of interest and share them can become something you do all of the time instead of doing something useful with your life. HN is not meaningless and does not exist to sell things to people, although it does look a bit like a platform for YC PR, which is fine with me.

If you're interested in more of my premise, here you go: http://www.whattofix.com/blog/archives/2009/02/technology_is...

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

> Nobody meant you in particular, but you're welcome to feel that way if you like.

I know you didn't mean me in particular. I was merely trying to show you that you're not just attacking a faceless mass of people or some abstract phenomenon. Whether intentional or not, you are attacking people for participating in this forum.

> You love ice cream and love everything about this ice cream.

This is a gross mischaracterization of my point, and I think you know it.

>"nearly meaningless and diluted forum where inane wannabes try to sell stuff to each other" -- I did not say this, and this is not how I feel.

I must admit you got a bit of flak there as a (perceived) representative of a larger group. But for what it's worth, I do believe humility is healthy in discussions. That's probably what rubbed me the wrong way, and it still does with your answer as well. It's easy to misunderstand tone in written communications, so please understand that I'm not saying this in an emotional, vindictive way.

>If you're interested in more of my premise [...]

I think I remember that article, but I'll be reading it again. Thanks!

>I don't think it started out that way; in fact I know it didn't. But over time we went from "watercooler for hackers" to "stuff that interests hackers" to "stuff that interests hacker wannabes" to something-else, not sure what to call it. Maybe "stuff that hacker wannabes like and most techies are interested in"

Can you put some more arguments behind that? Like: HN is having more/less articles about XYZ, therefore it's less interesting for real hackers.

Also I am curious what your definition of hacker is. I have the impression that what you really mean is 'But over time we went from "watercooler for tech entrepreneurs" to "stuff that interests tech entrepreneurs" to "stuff that interests wannabe entrepreneurs" to something-else...'

I was just looking at some screenshot of HN in 2008 and I have problems to see a great difference.

HN is far from perfect but it's hard to think of a better tech forum with such a broad scope.

Most tech forums seem to devolve quickly into fanboy shit throwing fests (yes you can find that here but at least the shit tastes marginally better).

Some of the most interesting posts here often seem to hang around the bottom third of the front page I find.

I sometimes wonder if a small amount of categorisation might help though.

For example:

"General programming / computer science theory" , "practical platform specific development topics" , "startups specific news / advice" , "general tech news" , "other sciences and general interest"

Divisions will only dilute. Multiple threads on the same topic in different slightly overlapping categories etc. I don't use Scala but occasionally see something interesting that I read that I wouldn't otherwise. It is quite amazing that HN has held up as well as it has. I am of the opinion that the reason we don't have a mobile stylesheet is that pg is trying to subtley slow the site while still keeping it open to all.

I would say it is way more healthier if the community progresses and moves on to something else rather than HN changing.

Successful platforms desperately trying to expand their usefulness or audience has rarely been a good thing.

Which is what I like about HN. It's not the 800 pound gorilla in the hacker-community space, it's not desperately trying to find commercial success and it's not locking us in with value we cannot easily leave behind.

There is room for someone else to come up with something better, and if we all move there I'm sure nobody at YC is going to lose any sleep over it.

That's just par for the course with an evolving definition of "hacker".

All forums change eventually. Sure, you can nudge it in this way or that, but there's no way to steer it in any particular direction completely so it will go wherever the crowd dictates. Think how many times you've thought about what you're about to write will be received.

That hesitation is unfortunate.

That $45.2m figure was not the average valuation of all cos we've funded, but the average valuation of companies with known valuations (either by raising an equity round, being acquired, or dying, in which case the value is 0).

I realize that unless something is changing, the more recent companies that don't have fixed valuations yet should have the same sort of distribution. But that quote in Wikipedia still makes me a little uncomfortable, because it's not strictly correct.

Although what you write is not false, it is little more than a distraction from the much more important fact that the $45.2m figure comes from Wikipedia, which in turn got it from a NYT article written in February of 2006.

(I am not saying or implying that the distraction was intentional on your part.)

It's from a 2012 Forbes article.

My mistake. I will be more careful in the future.

Just a quick calculation leaves:

$45M * 380 * 7% = $1.2B split 4 ways?

Congratulations for creating so much value and giving so many of us a great community.

I know you mean well, but this sort of calculation makes my hair stand on end. I'd rather leave unhatched chickens uncounted. It also doesn't account for dilution; that 7% should be more like 2-3%. Plus we had LPs for a while, who will get some of the returns. (Also we've funded 511 startups, not 380.)

Does this mean there are no more LPs? Did all of that stop with the latest changes with the scaling back of the guaranteed convertible note from Yuri Milner?

There are no more LPs, but that wasn't connected to the switch from the Start Fund to the YC VC Program. We finished investing the last fund midway through the summer 2012 batch.

Hard to calculate, but personally, I would gladly trade all my karma points for some shares of Dropbox.

I think that more than hacker news, y combinator has funded reddit which has more far reaching effects and contributions. Also, wasn't HN created for y combinator people to discuss stuff ? As I see it, HN is an investment by YC because time was definitely invested in creating the community, this obviously further complicates the calculation of value considering they aren't completely independent.

HN is ultimately just a podium for YC companies to market themselves. I don't think there is much value to it beyond that other than a 'little reddit' kind of value.

As a tech news aggregator it's just OK, a lot of stuff is mainstream fluff that digg in its early years used to be full of - you could probably replace half of HN with http://web20.originalsignal.com/.

As a community of intelligent people ... there are some very smart and very experienced users who create companies that matter or at least matter for a while, but the average user is just here for average tech news.

If HN is a merely ok news aggregator that is ultimately just a podium (?) for YC cos to market themselves, why do you use it so much?

For the same reason I used forums, Slashdot, Digg and Reddit before HN - these sites start off very interesting and addictive and then they gradually appeal to a wider and wider audience and in doing so become less interesting. Or maybe it's because I'm growing (or shrinking I guess). Either way one of us is not keeping pace.

If it wasn't a podium for YC companies we would see very few of them being mentioned because most of them just aren't that good a match for this audience, so it's forced.

If they aren't a good match for the audience, why are they being upvoted as much as they are? Not that all YC startups get heaps of attention on here, some pass by almost unnoticed.

  YC founders' userids show up in orange to one another, and
  there is a page where they can see one anothers'

But why are you still an active member then?

> HN is ultimately just a podium for YC companies to market themselves.

That's irrelevant for the question. The question is about the the value of HN regardless of its intended purpose (which is of course open to speculation).

To me, your tone seems a bit derogatory. I don't know if you intend to be that way, but if you were, please don't be. HN surely takes some effort and is hugely valuable to me, and I would rather have those who keep things running feel good about it. Even if it weren't perfectly altruistic, I'd say it's still a win-win for all of us, don't you think?

This was well intentioned, no doubt. But it feels like you just jerked off pg, hn and yourself all at the same time.

Without pg and Hacker News, I would still be coding Java in "enterprise", instead of Rails in startup. I would not know about Lisp, Ruby, Clojure and other cool stuff. And probably would have quit coding altogether in frustration.

HN comes up in discussion among startup types here in Berlin a lot - it's definitely having an impact with more reach than individual YC investments, but what that impact is seems like it would be impossible to quantify.

I know that I became an entrepreneur at least in part because I started reading HN in 2009.

Note: false question which is not really answered in the said post. Too bad, I was expecting some kind of valuation of HN.

I like the premise, but I felt let-down by the conclusion.

Really thought you had some clever proxy to calculate the value of HN.

I do agree that it is hard to quantify it exactly, but feels like you just re-hashed the Wikipedia article and copped out on the interesting part.

If we include all the second- and third-order effects, the "value produced" by both goes far beyond the measurable financial results generated by Y Combinator's investment portfolio and the personal impact Hacker News has had on its community members.

For example, many other "incubators" around the world have been inspired by, and are trying to emulate some elements of, Y Combinator's startup program. Similarly, pg's influential essays -- there's nothing else quite like them on the Web -- have inspired countless individuals around the world to become entrepreneurs and/or angel investors.

When measuring Hacker News's value, you want to know its marginal value: how much it adds compared to the next best alternative, since that's how much better off you are made if Hacker News exists and how much you will lose if Hacker News ceases to exist.

Hacker News and Reddit are close substitutes: if Hacker News shut down tomorrow, everyone could jump on a /r/HN subreddit and not be much worse off. So its marginal value is far smaller than a quick estimate from traffic or users would indicate.

Without YC, HN becomes less interesting as well though. I mostly come here to read "interesting stories from the world of tech entrepreneurship" and because the filtering for good tech stuff is nice as well because the technology discussed tends to be relevant for quickly moving/agile type of companies.

I don't really think it makes all that much sense to separate the two.

I agree with all of your paragraph but the first and the last sentence.

HN could do very well without the YC bias. (Not saying it necessarily should)

HN has build it's own credibility and community.

Author here—I changed the name of the repo that was hosting this .md file in order to set up a github 'pages' page and it broke the url.

You can find the article here: http://cgcardona.github.com/2013/02/07/whats-produced-more-v...

Well, Just hours back I attended a campus recruitment drive from a core development company(probably my last chance, in college to get in the industry) and I failed. I came home depressed of whatabouts of my future, I opened hacker news and all of a sudden, the world seems a bigger place with way more space, than it was a few minutes ago!

I don't think the question makes any sense: Hacker News wouldn't exist without the eco-system YC's investments have created.

Since cgcardona had to change the location of this file, only a day after submitting it, here's the new location:


Age 21: Get married. Age 22: Have first kid. Age 25: Have second kid/adopt Age 27: Have third kid/adopt. Age 29: Have fourth if you want. Age 47: Start business now that kids are out of house and you have experience.

The occasional worthwhile submission justifies reading HN regularly, but I consider the general signal/noise ratio rather low - some parameters ought to be tuned.

The parameters that need to be tuned are the participation types.

I think the strictly technical threads probably have better SNR ratios (number of useful comments/all comments?), and the value of comments in the more generic/generalist comments has dropped.

Right now, there is a thread where someone is expounding X, but no one has come in to offer him a good insightful rebuttal.

I think PG himself said he has noticed a creep of mid-brow dismissals in the comments. The lack of someone who can provide a high level discussion in the marginal threads, is something I seem to be feeling more strongly.

(A thread regarding something like Ortiz, or Aaron would usu. have good representation on the other hand)

I don't know about the YC companies but I agree that HN has been a great inspiration to me also. Got me thinking about companies and that it is possible!

Thanks HN.

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