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Complicated question. Dismissive comments about new things bother me partly because there's an asymmetry that seems unfair. It's so risky to create something new, and so easy to dismiss it. At their worst, the people making such comments are like schoolyard bullies picking on someone who tries to do something different.

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.




I think it was valid critique. (Something I am sure you give the companies you fund.) It's not always easy to provide critique without knocking the cause - But I understood that's how jug6ernaut meant it.

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.)


Like I said, the original comment is really more confused than dismissive. And I do feel kind of bad for making fun of the guy. I should have known that saying I wished it was the top comment might make it so.

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.


Well, there you have it. The original comment prompted a large discussion, eventually leading to further clarification of the meaning of the design itself. I don't see what's wrong with that; conversations wouldn't be very interesting at all if everyone unilaterally agreed with each other.


More like I wasted a lot of time spelling out something that was already obvious. This is a bug in forums, not a feature, and one that has bitten me many times. You can't be concise on forums, because if you leave any possible room for misinterpretation, someone will reply with it.


That is true, but isn't it only revealing the problem that correct interpretation is not conveyed, not causing it? If it wasn't possible to reply, the same people would still hold the misinterpretation, but then the author wouldn't see it.

Communication is hard.


PG described a process by which the most literal-minded participants -- those with abnormally low tolerance for ambiguity -- drag everyone down to their level. I would welcome measures that neutralize that process even if the negative consequence you describe comes to pass.


Why is "100% clear communication" an assumed universal good? Some jokes are only funny because some people don't get them. And yet, this--as I might term it--"populist heartburn" at realizing one is in the not-getting-it majority, and demanding an explanation, ruins the fun of those who do.

Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" might be appropriate reading here. :)


which often evolves to a rather refreshing discussion that doesn't have to necessarily end with an agreement


I was going to post this elsewhere, but I guess I'll just drop it here... That's not what HN looks like to me. Why? Because like (I assume) most users that reached whatever the magic number is for a custom-color top bar, I've changed the default orange (a random shade of purplish in my case).

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.


who says the t-shirt you wear is/should be for the benefit of the random guy on the street?


Usually because random guys on the street see a lot more of the "logo area" of your t-shirt than you do (it's sort of outside of your regular visual field unless you're looking straight down or in a mirror). Though, admittedly, possibly-savvy coworkers see similar amounts of it. Depends which you spend more time around, I guess.


There are already a bunch of mean comments in this thread. You're right that instant-dismissal and unconstructive criticism on HN is a problem.

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 think the whole point of critique (esp. in this particular case) is to provide feedback. In both my and the OP's mind, the shirt was created with at least some mild hope that people might buy it. Offering what I consider to be a valid suggestion on how to improve sales is not futile. Now, if the shirt was posted with absolutely no expectation of sales then I would agree with your point.


I've seen sometimes that my downvote doesn't count (doesn't cause a fairly new comment to go gray, and to be even more certain, doesn't lower the poster's karma).

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.


Not quite three stripes simple, but still a pretty solid logo. In terms of apparel, the block graphics reminded me of Hilfiger. As an image, it reminds me a bit of Albers, Itten, and a similar strand in mid-century painting.


We're adults here, if we can't take critique without crying foul - the internet isn't for us.

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.


It is possible to get good public critique but it has to be handled carefully. There is an art to it. And even if you know what you are doing, it can still go very wrong. But how you frame it matters. Having an account here and the ability to request feedback does not guarantee that one knows how to ask effectively.


> I think it was valid critique. (Something I am sure you give the companies you fund.) It's not always easy to provide critique without knocking the cause

I always think about saying it to someone as I talk to them.


I'm about to launch a design critique site that I've been working on for months.

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.


Have you considered hiring someone full time just to improve Hacker News? You have built an incredibly valuable forum, and there is no other place on the internet like it. But the quality of the comments is definitely degrading over time. I worry that if serious time is not dedicated to fixing the problem Hacker News will go the way of usenet.


How do you pay someone to improve the quality of discussion? There is an open problem for lots of services, and yet everyone on those services is still complaining about declining quality.

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.


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.

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 are sites with full-time moderators that do the job pretty well, actually.

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.


I am a huge proponent for constructive criticism. It is genuinely helpful when I receive it so I attempt to give it as much as possible in 'Show HN' and similar posts.

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 guess you could always have deleted your comment, if you thought it was unintentionally harmful to the discussion.


I didn't think it was necessarily harmful to the discussion, but it wasn't as constructive as other posts in the thread.


Have you found that hiding the number of votes a post receives helps with this voting problem, or makes it worse?

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?


Let me suggest that you make the leader board 160 names long. The typical human brain can follow the complex social interactions of a group size of roughly 150-ish people. It varies some from person to person but you see social breakdown in groups larger than about 150-ish people. I think it would help recreate the sense of community that existed when I originally joined which seems to have deteriorated. It would be a core upon which to add social scaffolding.


> It just struck me as funny to see it get upvoted so much.

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.




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