This particular case is very mild-- more confused than dismissive really. It just struck me as funny to see it get upvoted so much.
The upvoting often bothers me more than the comments. There are often individual stupid and/or mean comments languishing down on HN threads. They seem pretty harmless as long as no one upvotes them, like cranks shouting on streetcorners. But when large numbers of people upvote such comments, you start to have a mob. And to see a mob persecuting someone who tries to do something new is much worse than seeing an individual bully do it.
There are still a lot of things to be figured out about forums. I predict the world will evolve techniques and customs to protect against this sort of thing, and look back on our era with pity and horror because we didn't have them. But it will probably take a while. I know how hard the problem is, because this is the aspect of HN I most want to improve and spend most time thinking about, and I rarely make progress.
If I were to buy a tshirt for HN, which I might possibly do - I'd want it to show off a message rather than it looking like it could be for anything. This doesn't feel personal to the brand to me – I could buy this anywhere for a number of reasons.
And of all your description of what you want the community to be - do you want it full of snark like your response? Your response was far more 'schoolyard bullying.'
We're adults here, if we can't take critique without crying foul - the internet isn't for us.
(And this is not me attacking, or having a go.)
You're mistaken about the design though. It's both funny to make the design so minimalistic, and yet simultaneously a pretty bold assertion of brand power. And since we don't want HN to grow fast, we don't need to send any messages to anyone who doesn't already recognize the shirt.
Communication is hard.
Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" might be appropriate reading here. :)
I 'got' the design because of the description, but if I had seen it randomly on the street, I'm not sure I would have immediately associated it with HN.
Not sure that any of this matters, but the marketing/branding side of me finds the whole color scheme thing an interesting discussion.
Some people will like the shirt and buy it. Some people will not like the shirt, and will not buy and and not make any comment on it. Some people will offer some kind of critique, which is sort of fun but kind of futile (the shirt is made and being sold. It's too late for critique unless you're going to make and sell another batch in future.)
But what to do about the people who don't like the shirt and loudly tell everyone that they don't like the shirt in ways that are not interesting or useful? Do downvotes work for that?
Do you need to give a small group of carefully vetted people a super-downvote button? (This would be based on your knowledge and trust of those people, not on any karma scores). ((I've wanted to start a hoax about the HN secret pages for high karma users. I've resisted because that kind of meta drama can be pretty harmful, and there are other places where it'd be more fun.)
I've experimented quite a bit with it and have some theories about when it works and when it doesn't, but it's still not completely predictable to me.
In my experience when people ask for a critique of something completely new, they're asking (usually without knowing it) for the high-bit: Does this completely suck, or should I keep working on it? Unfortunately people too often respond with only the low-bits, forgetting to add "but these are nit-picks, the overall idea doesn't suck, and you should keep working on it". At best that's frustrating, because you only hear low-bits when you wanted the high-bit. At worst it's a disaster, if you misread low-bits as high-bits and give up on something promising.
I always think about saying it to someone as I talk to them.
The truth is that it's easier to critique in person than online. If you don't know someone's personality and can't read their nuances it makes it a lot harder.
But thats a very good critique advice.
HN is undergoing the transition that every community undergoes, from ultra-exclusive and underground to more populist. There's always gnashing of teeth from the entrenched userbase as a site becomes popular. That said, right now HN still has an interesting balance of technical and non-technical content for me, and an amazing group of commenters, I don't see it going anywhere soon.
Well yeah, and in my IMHO the teeth gnashers are right. Every community that undergoes this transition turns into a wasteland, at least by my elitist tastes. I'd hate to see Hacker News go the same way.
A full-time programmer could try to design new features to stave off the decline. For instance, maybe up-voting power could be adjusted based on karma, so that the mob has less power to up-vote the nasty comments to the top of every thread. Maybe a better flagging system could be put in place so commenters could be warned when they are breaking the guidelines, but warning a way that does not create a long thread discussing the flagging. There are many ideas, it would take a lot of time to figure out which ones actually worked.
There have often (OFTEN) been times when I've wanted to ask someone if they truly thought their comment contributed to the discussion, and if not, why did they post it? At the very least, ask them to reflect.
I almost never do, because then I'm just cluttering the forum with more posts of my own that aren't contributing to the conversation.
And really, it's not my place to do so, regardless of whether I think it would help or not.
I do try to ask myself that question, and have edited or deleted comments as a result. I'm not perfect about it, but I'm better than I was, and the only reason I started making the attempt was because pg (the owner of the board) has indicated he'd like to see that.
But it would be interesting if there were some sort of feedback mechanism from active moderators that did the same thing, but only to the poster, not in the discussion.
I honestly think if you had respected mods who did that sort of thing you'd see a notable improvement in the quality of this forum.
Most of the time my comments get a couple up votes and left in the middle of the thread. Sometimes the founder responds and we have a little conversation that is hopefully helpful to both of us.
The one time I've ever posted a comment that could come off as mean spirited (I pointed out a pretty glaring design flaw), it became the most up voted post I've had on HN. I felt bad because the founder responded with his reasoning and it seemed perfectly valid.
I wonder if it would be plausible to self down vote a post (that is weighted heavier than just a single down vote)? I know I didn't want that post to be the first thing someone looked at when they clicked on the comments; that was not my intention at all.
Just something to think about.
I think I might have unknowingly contributed to the problem by carelessly upvoting a negative post because I didn't realize it had so much support behind it already. It's a lot easier to see the danger of a mob and decide not to support it when you can count the number of people.
Side note: have you thought about more drastic approaches, like automatically upvoting or increasing the weight of comments with positive sentiment?
I only upvoted it because you said it would be funny if it was the top comment. "Righto," I thought "up vote for that then."
Thinking about it that's a pretty dumb upvote, but I doubt I'm the only person who voted for that reason.