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Evolution of Hacker News (techcrunch.com)
333 points by sriramk on May 18, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

I get the feeling that at the very top of every Hacker News comment thread, there's someone who claims that the author of the article is an incompetent idiot because they found a factual error somewhere in the article. Often this leads to a pedantic discussion of some insignificant details.

With all these extremely knowledgeable people from different fields, I wish I found more big picture insights in the comments here.

Yes, this is one of the problems I spend the most time thinking about how to solve.

FWIW, my current theory is that the problem is not the comments themselves, but the upvotes. There are often moderately stupid comments far down the page in any given thread, but they're comparatively harmless, like someone walking down the street mumbling to himself. The problem is that there's a type of stupid comment that attracts upvotes from a certain type of user. If we can recognize either the comments or the upvoters, we can solve the problem. I've been collecting a corpus of them for a while; it may soon be big enough to be useful.

The Advogato trust metric sorts users into four kinds, "seed" (the built-in trusted users), "good" (those the algorithm assesses as both behaving well and certifying well), "confused" (those the algorithm asseses as behaving well but certifying erratically), and "bad" (assessed as badly behaved).

I think the problem you describe is in essence the need for an automatic trust inference that recognises that worthwhile participants often certify badly and knows how to "prune" the set of tolerated participants down to those whose voting activity is high quality.

Advogato hasn't really been successful overall (Steven Rainwater suspended new account creation a year ago), but there are many successes in its history (it has been run with very little intervention for over 10 years, and generally succeeded in separating spammers from free-software types for most of that period) and its experience is probably worth studying.


I clearly remember stages in my life and particular forums in which I have been exactly 'bad', 'confused', and 'good', and this seems like a useful distinction.

It requires much more forum experience to identify what kind of comment causes insipid comment threads than it does to write a good comment in the first place.

That said, you could probably just measure someone's comment quality and their vote quality independently and get a lot of the benefit, with fewer errors from rigid categorization.

> There are often moderately stupid comments far down the page in any given thread, but they're comparatively harmless, like someone walking down the street mumbling to himself.

I see that you deem these comments to be comparatively harmless, but nevertheless to combat this one relatively simple idea is to implement a 'Request deletion' feature, sitting alongside the 'flag' link on comment headers, that would notify the user that the comment they've made isn't very useful/substantive/thoughtful, and if they delete it (as other users have requested) they can re-earn any karma points they may have lost (as an incentive to encourage them to go on with the comment deletion).

I think something like this would be very appropriate for a lot of occasions, it's something between a 'downvote' and 'flag' in intensity -- a downvote is too soft; 'flag' is too strong. I think it would send a good hint to have one reconsider what they've said, and have a lasting effect on the kinds of comments they make down the line.

> I've been collecting a corpus of them for a while; it may soon be big enough to be useful.

If you end up doing this I hope you only take into account the first few critical upvotes that send a particular bad comment to the top of the page. Because, I think 'upvoting' is a very passive, sometimes thoughtless action to a lot of people: if a comment is at the top, they'll read it first, and if it has non-zero substance to it (i.e. it attacks the article on a minor nitpick (which is your definition of a 'stupid comment' in this context, I think)) they may very well upvote it making the cycle complete.

Request Deletion sounds rife for abuse.

Since it's a request from the clicker to the commenter, and since negative karma can be recovered by deleting, I see it as self-regulating.

The reason they attract upvotes, or at least not downvotes, is because the ethos of the site seems to encourage all views of a argument to be expressed and allowed.

I know I personally have dismissed down voting several "middlebrow dismissals" in the past because they seemed like valid counter arguments whereas outright useless comments like "lol this sucks" are easy for me to clearly distinguish. Maybe the rules just need adjusting to discourage mean comments whether or not the argument is valid? Is that the core problem?

I understand why you're against having "advanced" features and flair, but being able to collapse the thread that follows those comments would help enormously. It's almost the same as sending the thread to the bottom of the page.

Once I've decided not to read a subthread, it's a little frustrating to try to guess where to scroll to find the next constructive comment.

Thread collapsing helps each person who chooses to collapse a thread, but does nothing to help upvote / downvote the posts in that thread.

If collapsing can be linked to voting or thread positioning it'd be useful. Collapsing a thread means it's not very good[1] and thus should be further down the page.

There is an extension / addon somewhere that does thread collapsing on HN. A web search should find at least one.

[1] or maybe it just means that you're read it and are keeping the page tidy.

I'm not sure that's entirely true. If being able to collapse a thread means that more people actually read and upvote threads that are below it, then that in itself will help push the offending thread down the page.

Yep, thread collapsing is a huge help for avoiding entire subtrees of pointless comments and limits the damage of having a "middlebrow dismissal" as the top rated comment

I think having multiple buttons for making positive votes about a comment might be useful. Something like insightful, agree, useful correction. These could then be weighted differently.

Additionally, if people mark as insightful things that are obviosly inane, that might help to hellban the voting rings, whereas hellbanning people just for agreeing with a particular kind of stupid comment might be less fair.

I've once or twice realized some longer term implication of something overnight after reading an article on HN; unfortunately, I don't remember at this point what the article was or what I realized in terms of the bigger implication. But in general, it seems like HN's structure makes it unlikely that you'll get a discussion if you comment on the article a day later. The solution may be to write a blog post and try to get it upvoted at the story level, but I'm not sure if that's the right answer to preserving the structure of which things are related to which others.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5731734 has an example of something where I realized something sometime after I first saw a (somewhat) relevant story on HN.

It is a common rhetorical technique, equivalent to ad hominem in that it attacks the message rather than the argument (I guess that would be ad messaginem :-) The general form is <fact>:<error claim>:<ad hominem> but to detect such you might need to extract a list of claims in the source article compare them to find the singular intersection with the comment, and then the ad hominem insult as well. Multi-fact/claim messages would get by of course.

Rather than having a single numerical up/down, some kind of multi-dimensional list of fallacies?

So what we're talking about would be a +1 on the "Affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent" anti-pattern, more or less?

Wikipedia has a nice list of fallacies which would make interesting tags.

One thing I know for certain is people like to imagine they personally invented their own fallacy, and get all outta whack if you identify their wisdom/insight as merely a poorly implemented manifestation of fallacy type #34 with aspects of type #11.

For example discussions of scalability always seem to devolve into steaming buckets of pragmatic fallacy and it would be interesting to filter out because its pretty tiresome. Someone who's a total noob might actually want it because a poor map is better than no map at all, or at least they can skim some definitions out of context. Or, personally I think amphiboly is hilarious and I'd filter it up by +100, although it adds absolutely nothing to a discussion other than joy in my life, however I can see how someone could get sick of it and want to filter it out if they were looking for actual knowledge rather than a rare laugh.

Here's a system I've been thinking about. Separate users into classes. You could deputize a hand full of trusted users who can deputize other users with their up votes. If X number of deputies give an upvote to a user's comment Y number of times, that deputizes that user.

The further away a user is from an original deputy, the more X and Y increase before a new person is deputized.

Hopefully, this will give you a class of users who tend to vote intelligently and comment with information that adds to the converation. Votes by these users would carry more weight than the general community.

Edit: It also automates the process so you don't have to hand pick more than the original deputies.

It's possible that giving someone the power to give someone else power could be abused. A person could deputize their friends in order to upvote a link in which they have a vested interest, for instance.

But I think what you're essentially talking about is user reputation - the idea that the opinions of certain people weighs stronger than others. I think there's merit to that.

The upvotes of a person with a high reputation on HN would weigh more than someone else. Reputation could be determined by any number of ways (has authored comments of high value, is manually designated by HN as reputable, has been active in the last N number of days, etc).

"It's possible that giving someone the power to give someone else power could be abused. A person could deputize their friends in order to upvote a link in which they have a vested interest, for instance."

The X in my equation accounts for that. You'd need several different deputies to upvote (endorse) a user before it'll deputize them. You couldn't deputize someone on your own.

The Y in the equation means that each deputy would have to have a history of upvoting someone more than once. So you couldn't immediately deputize someone.

There should also be a time limit. Only upvotes cast within Z hours would count in the system. Also, only 1 upvote counts within A hours. This prevents someone from going into a comment history and upvoting past comments.

Even though I think that I'm accounting for cheating, I also believe the system should be hidden from the users. This way no one knows if they've been deputized and they also don't know how to deputize someone else.

"Reputation could be determined by any number of ways (has authored comments of high value"

The trouble with a generic reputation system that values only votes is that it allows for people with any kind of comment (pedantic) to get reputation. My deputy system gives power to a few trusted users and allows that power to slowly trickle down. Hopefully, it'll sculpt the top comments and posts to what PG envisions for the site.

I can understand why pg sees this as a problem that needs to be solved, but personally I see it as a natural extension of the point / counter-point dynamic, in which the obvious counterarguments or oversights of a particular article are brought to bear in a pithy comment. This doesn't take any great deal of intellectual effort (and is justifiably called a "middlebrow dismissal" ) but I personally am guilty of upvoting many of these comments simply because (particularly on articles which I don't read) I appreciate someone pointing out the obvious deficiencies.

That said, I do think they often take away from detailed and serious discussion of the article, and there may be some problem with the way that they absorb upvotes and end up at the top of the page, but I don't see the general dynamic as particularly troublesome (unless you are trying to produce conformity in opinion among participants, the often problem of benevolent overlords who don't like to see strife amongst their minions).

> there's a type of stupid comment that attracts upvotes from a certain type of user

It might be awkward to call someone out, but I'd love to see example(s).

I wonder if you could make early upvoters have some skin in the game. Maybe an early upvote could cost a little bit of karma (say .1 points), but if others agreed (as measured by follow-on upvotes) and the thread didn't devolve into a flame war, then that karma would be regained, possibly with a bit of karmic upside.

I think this is a fantastic idea for the New page. Give people some incentive to monitor it looking for good content. If something they are the first person to upvote makes it out of there, give them residual karma.

My rate of upvoting things out of there that hit the front page is obscene, at least 50%. Assuming that is typical, that means very few people are monitoring that page. I personally would probably not do more of this for karma but I'd imagine many people would. And it may instantly solve the problem of hitting the frontpage being a lottery or determined by manipulation/voting rings etc.

A problem is that people upvote when they agree with the comment. The upvotes should be based on whether the reader found the comment useful, even though a downvote is OK in case of disagreement. I see comments from other people stating the same [1-2], but also with alternative opinions [3].

It would help if there are official guidelines on up/down votes just as there are on submissions and comments.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2365964 [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1420725 [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=117171

Have you tried penalizing comments based on the rate of upvotes it's receiving? If that rate exceeds a certain threshold, the comment is pushed down the page because it is likely either a) too short to contribute any real value and/or b) being upvoted more for its emotional effect. And in the case when it's neither of those, this gives other less popular opinions a chance to rise to the top.

Would you be willing to publish your thoughts and findings on how you've worked to maintain a quality community someday? I'm sure everyone who is trying to do the same would find this very valuable.

Multiply upvotes by log(karma) or similar? Perhaps log(karma/time) in the spirit of the reddit upvote algo?

I'd be curious on others' thoughts on schemes like this.

I believe I have two or three "upvotes" in my voting history where I meant to click parent. I'm pretty sure I was not authenticated then, so maybe those upvotes were discarded, or maybe not...

It's perhaps also worth noting that the "bogus upvote" problem is in some way related to some other social problems which we struggle with. Spam, and the wrong person using a password, both seem to me to be a reflection of social problems reflected by system design.

For spam, there's no way to ask the supposed origin mail server "is this from:, to:, message-id: combo a plausibly legit in-flight message?" Because some systems cannot handle that functionality efficiently, mail standards people have rejected it (and similar approaches, perhaps identifying a sequence of mail servers, perhaps involving multiple queries when mailing lists are involved) for the multitude of cases where it makes sense. But note that you do not need perfection here, to massively reduce spam volume. Note also that there are efficiency arguments, here, but the original protocol worked fine on machines with <64k memory and ~1MHz clocks.

Passwords and authentication protocols and buffer overflows are a more complex issue, and I'm drifting dangerously off subject already. But that's another issue, I think, where "design efficiencies" and "overly focussed thinking" sometimes bite us. (And perhaps sometimes benefit us, but how can we even measure this?)

Anyways, trying to get back on topic, personally, I have little faith in upvotes here, not even my own, so mostly I rely on friends to point out if there's anything worthwhile here, for me to read.

It's a triangle, someone clicked on it. Counters are a good first pass, for filtering bulk raw information and indicating things to focus on, but they are not the end-all and be-all for good ui design. Borrowing wholesale from stack overflow might be good, or maybe some variant would also be plausible (like, maybe: when replying, let people with parent posts weight child posts under theirs that they found helpful, giving some fraction of the total weight of upvotes in any child posts of their parent post to posts they want to highlight. This should be adjustable, in some simple way, or we live with accidents. There's also an issue when one person has multiple parents but maybe it's best to default to the top level eligible parent.)

My above parenthetical suggestion is not perfect, but it might help for distinguishing between some sincere and insincere replies. Another approach might be to give the user some "downvote" ability - abiding by the original site design, these need not be preserved for others (it's a personal decision, after all).

Ultimately, to really get this right, I would want to be able to segregate other voters into "agree" / "disagree" / "irrelevant" buckets based on a label which reflected my current point of view, and have the content displayed based on that categorization. But that's a much harder problem.

In Bill Ayers book "Fugitive Days", he says during the Days of Rage, some of the people marching were a little apprehensive, but then someone broke a window and the riot he desired ensued. Social research has shown this beyond that case - when an angry mob gathers, they often still repress their hostility, but when a window breaks, that is when things go into a free-for-all.

I think it's the same here. People can have opinions, but once says Microsoft is great and open source sucks or something like that, you're already past the point of no return, it's inevitable the thread or sub-thread will devolve into a flame war.

Certain threads are this way starting from the original topic. Like the threads, amidst the recent threads of falling programmer salaries (or perhaps mentions of the historically high unemployment rates) of the desire of the SV barons to raise the H1B cap. This again is guaranteed to degenerate into a flame war.

My unscientific study of HN is that someone can get a lot of karma for saying why they think Obama is good or bad or the like. A post on that guarantees a dozen upvotes. Someone making a cogent comment on how a company should limit the scope of what parts of C++ they use is not going to get as much karma.

I have been on BBSs since the 1980s. The real problem of a forum is this. It has a handful of very sharp, interesting people who like communicating with each other and who write good posts. Then you get some blabbermouths who post and post and post and fill the boards up with junk. Then the good people leave. The good people leaving is the problem.

I don't think flames are the only thing to be concerned with. Blabbermouths who have nothing to say kill boards as well. Have flamewars killed the Linux kernel mailing list? Just as long as things are kept under control. The NetBSD/OpenBSD flamewar got out of control.

Slashdot is a board that was good and had its founders leave and is all corporate and user-view baiting now. What are its topics right now? "Google's Nexus Q Successor Hits the FCC". Who cares? "John McAfee's Belize Home Burns To Ground". I can survive a few weeks without an update on McAfee. "NetBSD 6.1 Has Shipped". Something only the dwindling remainder of NetBSD fanbois care about.

Certain topics and upvoted threads, once existing, are going to turn into a flamewar no matter what. It has to be rooted out early on for anything to be effective.

Maybe if you -50'd every such comment, people would quickly learn. How long would that superpower take in the REPL

It's the HN equivalent of a cat picture. It's superficially interesting, easy to agree with, and takes no effort to digest. For all of the successes reddit's voting system has had, its key vulnerability is a tendency to regress to the LCD. On reddit, it's image macros and cat pictures. On HN, it's tangential criticisms in the guise of an actual counterargument.

We also can't ignore the fact that there is no downvote button for stories. So, if you dislike the article or disagree with the author's conclusion, the easiest way to register your disapproval is upvoting a critical comment.

(I see this as a sign that the flag link is properly used to mark dupes, spam, and inappropriate content, so there is a silver lining.)

Yup. That's one of the reasons that voting as a decision mechanism is largely worthless. It's good for tie-breaking and for moving things along when they're otherwise deadlocked, but in practice it's used for quantity over quality, in both positive and negative aspects.

You're not the only one - pg has called these posts "the middlebrow dismissal": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4693920

The problem is that HN actually incentivizes commenters via a feedback loop of upvotes to make this kind of comment. HN loves facts and disagreement with facts is like playing trivial pursuit, you can show off your knowledge with 0 risk because you don't need to take up any position other than pointing out a flaw.

As they say, you don't have to play the violin at all or as well as Yehudi Menuhin to be able to point out that he just missed a note. Criticism is easy, creation is hard.

And just to prove your point, I'll nitpick a little. Creation is hard, but criticism can still have value.

In general, I found that the first reply to the first comment (which is more often than not a counter-dismissal) is an excellent indicator of the quality of the rest of the comments.

> there's someone who claims that the author of the article is an incompetent idiot because they found a factual error somewhere in the article. Often this leads to a pedantic discussion of some insignificant details.

I think it's important to note that comments can point out (even minor) factual inaccuracies in an article without being dismissive or insulting. I find that type of comment tremendously valuable for articles with topics outside of fields I am learned in.

I agree, and I also often find that the attached discussion that follows almost always takes up about half the page.

Usually directly skipping half the page takes you to the actual discussion. I think it could be interesting to add a pivot that moves that comment and it's discussion to the bottom (but probably above downvoted comments) when it reaches a certain length. It could still keep it's votes and so on.

Those comments are unfortunate. Downvote them. Upvote good comments.

> With all these extremely knowledgeable people from different fields, I wish I found more big picture insights in the comments here.

The signal to noise ratio is still pretty good, and sometimes there are great posts.

Better flagging (and less upvoting) of the stupid politics / news dross would help.

I feel like people complain about this too much. Yeah, there are some bad/exaggerated comments, but overall I find mostly intelligent tech related conversation here. There will always be people who want to put down others for some selfish reason, but I don't think that defines HN. I've certainly learned a lot from the comments.

I wonder to what degree these people are gaming the system to get on the front page in the first place...

I'm curious about the degree to which decreasing quality is a consequence of dilution in which "less desirable" individuals lower the mean quality (or some other holistic measure), versus the social effects due purely to size.

I'm curious because a large community will probably change the behavior of all individuals, regardless of quality. One such effect is they way discussions happen. In a village, town halls can have discussions with every member. An idea is brought forth, multiple people make changes, it gets amended, reworked, changed. In short, topics have some amount of "persistence", and opinions have more dynamism.

In a city, discussions are more like a broadcast: any member might be able to speak, but they're not sparking discussion, they're broadcasting a point of view, and with so many points of view broadcast at any given moment, it's hard to have a discussion that lasts more than a few hours before the next topic of interest is brought forth. In short, topics seem to have little persistence, and opinions have far less dynamism.

It seems much more rewarding in a city to make comments designed to convince the audience of how intelligent I am, because I only have the city's attention for a moment. Perhaps this leads to the preponderance of middlebrow dismissals or other "how can I look smart here?" comments. In a village, by contrast, these comments are much less lucrative. If I walk around and the only comment I can give to others is that their new crop idea might not work, I'm probably not going to be very valued, because people will notice over time that those are the only comments I give.

It's difficult for me to articulate quite what I mean, perhaps someone could help.

I think of this as conversational intimacy. If too many people are involved, the intimacy is lost.

It's still possible, even on the HN of today. Focused technical articles, which are not conventionally controversial, often produce the most valuable discussions to me. They may only have on the order of 30 comments, but those commenters are either interested in learning about the topic, or knowledgable of the topic.

Something I've observed on both Reddit and to a lesser extent HN is as popularity grows, the comment UI rewards speed and brevity if you want to get your point of view heard. If you're one of the first posters and manage to say something provocative with few words, you get more attention.

Someone who takes more time (relative to the time the link was posted) to make a reasoned argument with many words (a paragraph or two) will start lower down and have a lower chance of getting up votes as it takes more effort read the entire comment.

In other words those that take more time to consider what they post are effectively punished compared to those that post quickly and wittily.

A way to resolve this might be to branch more aggressively. Reddit does this with it's /r/*s.

There's nothing wrong with subdividing a group that gets too large, the problem is there is no obvious impetus to do that.

I agree, but on the other hand, wouldn't that make HN effectively Reddit? There is some value in the whole group being together.

no ones suggesting to actually have subreddits, just subdivision.

How about just arbitrary partitions? Create random sub-communities of 500 active users, show stores submitted between those 500 first, then those top stories to the rest of hacker news. That kills three birds with one stone: You get smaller community thinking, people are more willing to submit stories to smaller groups, and people are more willing to see new stories.

There's tones of ways you can subdivide a community! I am envious of their opportunity to try something. Hacker News is free, they can do what they want! They should have some fun with it.

Can I be in the partition with patio11 and tokenadult, please?

HN is like democracy, it is flawed but it is the best we've got.

While I agree that democracy passes "it's flawed but it's the best we've got," I don't think that's a good analogy for HN.

HN is good because of the quality of the submissions... which is still slightly questionable at times, and I've only been around here for a couple years, not long enough to assess whether it's dropped dramatically.

Average quality of comments drop with the quantity of users; that's something anyone who's run any number of web forums knows. Unfortunately, because the users also curate HN's content collectively, despite any weighting that might go on, a higher number of users leading to a lower quality of content will also lead to a lower quality of curation.

This is why Slashdot's article content varies with the quality of the editors, largely independent of the quality of comments. HN doesn't have that advantage, or any of the disadvantages that come with it. They're interesting foils in this case.

HN hellbanning is just infuriating, no upsides.

It need not end an illustrious posting career...the mods are not unreasonable and if you aren't a complete shithead you may be allowed to 'contribute' to the conversation once more.

Are there any actual hellbanning tragedies on HN?

> Are there any actual hellbanning tragedies on HN?

Yes, https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=there

Story: https://jcs.org/notaweblog/2012/06/13/hellbanned_from_hacker...

And there are plenty more incidents like this.

The HN link to jcs's story:


tptacek's comment also mentions another hellban tragedy: 'Paul Graham personally hellbanned Maciej Ceglowski for calling Sebastian Marshall a "prolix douchebag". Maciej's comment was not a high point of Hacker News decorum and in that instance probably degraded the site slightly, but no reasonable person could have looked at 'idlewords comment record and not come to the conclusion that Maciej is someone we want on the site.'

Story: "Very well-established user complains - because the mods thought the complaint was made in an improper, rule-infringing manner, the user was slowbanned, without dialog" - yes, that does sound like a tragedy.

Has this tragedy been told from another viewpoint? Joshua's telling characterises pg/ the modocracy as being almost implausibly high-handed.

Imagine the saddest, loneliest, weirdest, most obnoxious kid from your elementary school. Maybe you were that kid. They go up to every little clique and say something, but no one listens. They invite everyone to their birthday party, but no one comes.

Would you wish that on anyone, even if they were annoying or angry or wrong?

Yes. Well Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism.


The jump from complete ostracization to having your HN posts hidden is pretty damn large.

What would you suggest that we do with posters like losethos, if not hellbanning? The guy knows he is hellbanned, and has at various times made new accounts (which also get hellbanned). A regular banning would just have him creating new accounts anyway, so you may as well just let him keep his regular account. In elementary school people like him would be removed from the normal student population and given special attention/treatment, but that is not an option for HN.

Isn't losethos proof that hellbanning doesn't really work?

If a hellbanned user is supposed to get frustrated by the lack of replies to their posts and then go away, then it doesn't. You're not supposed to ever know it's there, after all, and you're not supposed to be willing to put up with it.

In the case of someone who might not care about being replied to, or who just doesn't notice they're never being replied to (entirely possible if they don't post often), being hellbanned doesn't work. It's security through obscurity.

And as a result of hellbanning, people can become paranoid about speaking their opinion because they never really know if they're actually participating in a conversation or if the system has decided to make a silent mockery of them.

It doesn't matter if losethos gives up and leaves or not because he is hellbanned.

That is part of the beauty of hellbanning, if you realize you have been hellbanned, give up and leave... then great! If you realize you have been hellbanned, don't care and keep on posting... then great! If you realize that you have been hellbanned, come back with a new account and keep it up, you'll be hellbanned again (and quickly. losethos's new account was hellbanned again with its first comment... so great!) If you realize that you have been hellbanned, come back with a new account and clean up your act... then great! If you don't realize that you have been hellbanned... then great!

Hellbanning is not about security; it is about removing people from the conversation. For that it works wonderfully (though I would argue that it is actually too hard to become hellbanned).

By default, I have configured HN to show me hellbanned posts - because someday, maybe I'll be too, and because time to the time I still find some interesting content!

IMHO, hellbanning is both cruel and damaging - the community may lose potential interesting contributions.

For example, I've watched a bit of what losethos wrote for his 64 bit OS - it's an interesting approach. There are not so much at the time, but he seems to submit articles time to time.

I sometimes even read losethos comments, which sound to me like hybrid talk from Galactica. Words linked by references obscure to me, but which still might have a sense (the old greeks did believe in Oracles, so do I. My fault: I shouldn't be a believer, and just accept the traditional medical theory who claims it's just nonsense)

He has done some pretty fascinating stuff, but aside from discussions about that particular stuff in particular I think we would gain nothing from permitting him to spam^Wcomment as a normal user.

I also have showdead enabled, mostly because I like to look back in hellbanned posters histories and see why they were hellbanned. In very few cases do I find someone for which I don't understand the hellbanning. In those cases I usually try to give the person a heads up, but in the vast majority of the cases I realize that the person was excessively abusive, spamming their pet project, participating at a stereotypically "reddit" level, or otherwise submitting crap.

(Also, I am pretty certain that losethos's comments are computer generated. He thinks that a god talks to him through a RNG when he initializes markov chains with the bible or something... Any meaning derived from what he says after "god says:" is likely just apophenia)

  > Hellbanning is not about security; it is about removing 
  > people from the conversation. For that it works wonderfully 
  > (though I would argue that it is actually too hard to 
  > become hellbanned).
How do you feel about the banned person who responded to you below? He appears to be banned because in an addendum to single post he stated his sincere opinion that Groupon was a pump-and-dump scheme and implied that Andrew Mason was a psychopath. Is this cause for banning or not? I can see the argument either way, but the arbitrariness of the decision does make my uncomfortable.


clobber 8 hours ago | link | parent [dead]

As someone who is posting from a recently hellbanned account, I can say you easily know you're hellbanned when the site becomes unbearably slow (by design as that's what hellbanning also does) and in the case of losethos, he just made a new account: SparrowOS. Why not just "hide" those posts but still let people reply to them if showdead is on? It's really cruel in the case of someone like losethos. For the part about "removing people from the conversation" - what about when it's a single post or one that rubs a moderator the wrong way? Or say your comment was made to a friend/partner of a VC and they didn't appreciate the dissent? I've seen some very old accounts hellbanned that racked up thousands of karma and were stilled wiped out from a single post, maybe because they didn't want to toe a particular line.

The fact that HN is tied to YC and not independently/transparently run by users means it's open for conflicts of interest and possible "abuse" as it is certainly no democracy - and the rules could never be applied evenly or fairly. Since it's grown into something more from when it started, it should be spun off from YC the same way reddit was made (somewhat) independent of Conde Nast.

There is no "beauty" to hellbanning. It's a bad form of censorship and moderation and only leads to resentment. It's worse than downvoting without a reply because you've essentially told someone to "fuck off" when a mod disagreed. I've felt this way about hellbanning way before I was hellbanned.

I think that he should consider: "If you realize that you have been hellbanned, come back with a new account and clean up your act... then great!"

Insulting your downvoters and calling people psychopaths is toxic. He would be wise to refrain from doing so in the future if he wants to continue contributing here.

Also, as far as I know most (all?) hellbannings are triggered by downvoting, not mods. It certainly seems likely that in his case it was triggered by downvotes.

I presume you have "show dead" on and are seeing his responses directly. But for those who don't, he points out below that his post had a net score of -2, making it seem unlikely that the downvotes triggered a ban automatically. Perhaps the ban lies to you about the score? My previous belief was that 'flagging' brings the post to the attention of moderators, who then decide whether to act, but that downvotes are independent.

calling people psychopaths is toxic

I agree, and this is what makes it tricky for me. But I think the problem here is with the opinion itself, rather than the way it is expressed. I don't know Andrew, and don't wish to insult him. But some reasonable recent research suggests that 4% of CEO's are clinical psychopaths. Is this possibility simply off limits to discuss here? Maybe it needs to be, or maybe there is some way it can be approached more tactfully.


Hellbanning is not about security; it is about removing people from the conversation.

We'll have to agree to disagree about whether that kind of censorship is ever really 'great' for a forum or not. I find the whole idea cynical and offensive.

Read through losethos's history and tell me if you really think that we would be better off with those posts being visible. His hellbanning is basically just saving everyone else the time it would take to downvote his crap to the bottom manually. Either way it will be sent to the bottom; may as well automate the process.

I'm not going to get into a big argument about something subjective. There's already a showdead option and people willing to point out to hellbanned users when it looks like they've been inappropriately banned, so i'm happy to see that the system is being at least somewhat subverted.

I don't think that Losethos should be the standard by which we should judge the merit of hellbanning. Yes, seeing his posts plain would probably be irritating (though I have showdead on and I can see them anyway.) No, his being hellbanned still doesn't prove that it does more good than harm, because most hellbanned users are not necessarily like him.

From slashdot to resdit to forums to hacker news, one thing is clear.

Forum health is not about free speech.

And the people who are most upset are this are those who genuinely believe in free speech. I did too.

It's only after seeing many forums devolve that its clear to me and many other mods, admins, writers and foru users that forum operation, forum discussion health and real world free speech do not overlap perfectly.

As a moderator on a popular forum I entirely agree.

Free speech is great so long as it doesn't descend into anarchy. And when that happens, you're effectively in a situation where nobody really gets chance to say anything because the forum is flooded with hate. So it sometimes takes a little weed killing to allow comments to fully blossom.

We should also bare in mind that there's a difference between hateful comments and trolling - which are only posted to offend, and unpopular or incorrect statements. Sometimes unpopular comments will lead to heated discussions; it's a pity when that happens, but that's sometimes unavoidable because humans are often passionate beings. But generally such comments shouldn't be down-voted (instead the helpful, insightful or correct arguments should be up-voted). The only comments that should be down-voted are the hateful and trolling remarks. And when it becomes clear that such remarks are inducing anarchy, then it's clear that stricter moderation is required to restore the balance so that everyone else doesn't have their freedom of speech removed due to the lack of an open discussion on the forum.

It's a flawed analogy. They can go to a different site, or to no site at all, but they cannot go to a different school without divine intervention (parents). Also, commenters here are older, old enough to know better.

All analogies are flawed to some extent. I'm responding to this one because, by putting it in emotional terms like you have, you overemphasize the harm to the one, and don't take into account the loss to the rest of the readers of the site.

That's not a tragedy, or at least not a hellbanning tragedy. Losethos might be brilliant, but he's also completely insane and cannot usefully contribute to the conversation. I'm pretty sure he knows he's hellbanned and doesn't do or want to do anything about it.

The answer seems obvious. Create another, read-only version of Hacker News. To get permission to post and comment you need to aquire n karma. Voila.

Another subtle feature addition: a flame-war detector. Graham has been consistently deploying and updating proprietary software that determines whether there is a flame war, where people argue heatedly. When these flame wars take place (which Graham says can often get ugly and personal), the story in which the commenting is taking place is moved further down the page.

Remember the above the next time someone claims that a rogue contingent must be flagging stories on a particular topic because it is further down the page than other stories submitted at a similar time and with a similar number of points.

It might just be me, but this seems like the kind of feature you wouldn't want automated. How do you algorithmically tell the difference between a flamewar and a spirited debate?

It would go a long way to partly explaining why Apple stories get buried so quickly while ones related to Google get to the top and stay there. For whatever reasons Apple engenders strong emotions, positive and negative, while Google does not, at least to that degree.

Did you see the stuff related to Google demanding the Windows Phone Youtube app be removed? Massive threads, accusations of shilling all over, along with claims of organized flagging. At least 2 of the major contributors to those threads/flame wars (recoiledsnake and CloudNine) have been hellbanned, and the whole thing was rather unpleasant to read. It also spilled over into most other Google posts on HN, which was quite a few as it was in the middle of Google IO. Along with that there is the inevitable comment on every story about a Google service suggesting that Google will shut it down in 6 months. There is a sizable subset of HN which isn't crazy about Google.

His solution was to put flamewars further down the comment list, but if almost all of the comments get flagged as flame war, then it's free to flourish.

Maybe what HN needs, could be some way of giving people who want the heated discussion, a way to express these seperate from rest. Maybe a tab that shows controversial comments, so you can switch between the "calm" and the "heated" discussions.

There are other forums for flamewars, HN doesn't need to be another.

Most of these problems aren't a big deal on a case by case basis because, really, what's the harm of one more google vs microsoft flamewar in the scheme of things. But they're a problem in the example they set to other users, especially newer users who are still malleable. They'll write better comments if they think that this is a forum for good comments. At least that's the philosophy.

> Maybe what HN needs, could be some way of giving people who want the heated discussion, a way to express these seperate from rest.

I like this idea. I'd say all who are hellbanned should see other hellbanned users' and they can nuke each other from the orbit in their own little sandbox.

You can set "showdead" in your profile to see hellbanned users. But you still can't reply to them (that's kind of the point).

Paul Graham wrote an essay in 2002 advocating the use of Bayesian classification for detecting spam (http://www.paulgraham.com/spam.html, http://www.paulgraham.com/better.html). I bet he's doing something similar to detect flame wars, but with more modern techniques and more CPU power.

Given how little attention Paul Graham seems to give to HN's tech, I very much doubt there is anything sophisticated there. Apparently HN is a single-threaded Arc process with in-memory state [1] and flat files, running on a single server.

It's so low-tech that HN runs a log tailer that bans your IP if it sees a "suspicious" number of requests, the threshold being something like 4-5 reqs within 1-2 seconds. Personally I don't do anything weird (I just browse in Chrome on my Mac and on my iPad), but still I manage to get my IP banned frequently. Instead of fixing the algorithm, Graham added a way to unban your IP [2].

A hypothesis was put forward recently that Graham has intentionally designed HN to be technologically backward to attract serious hackers and repel everyone else. In that light, everything -- the "unknown or expired URL" errors, the impossible-to-hit-without-zooming-on-a-mobile-device up/down arrows, the IP banning, the awful UI, etc. -- makes perfect sense. I am not convinced that it's all intentional, though.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3623268

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4761102

My IP has been banned on occasion because I tend to read HN by opening a bunch of tabs. When my browser inevitably becomes unresponsive and has to be restarted, that rush of a couple of dozen new requests as the tabs all come back online triggers the ban. Makes me think twice when presented with Chrome's "restore the pages you had open" button.

It's funny how the stability of modern computers and operating systems has allowed my reading and research habits to evolve toward the representation of state in the form of open browser windows and the groupings of tabs therein.

HN is the most ruthlessly prioritized software project I've seen. It wouldn't surprise me at all if pg thinks anti-flamewar Bayesian classification is more important than fixing the URL expirations.

> the impossible-to-hit-without-zooming-on-a-mobile-device up/down arrows,

One unfortunate effect of these is that I tend to ignore the single downvotes, and rationalise those away as accidental clicks.

Really, I need to train myself out of that. When I get a downvote I should re-read my post to see if I've been clear, and to see if I said what I meant, and if I still mean it.

I have downvoted by accident only once in my time as a HN user, and it was on an iPad.

These days, out of fear of clicking the wrong arrow, and because zooming in and out is a chore, I up/downvote sparingly when I am on a mobile device.

> Personally I don't do anything weird (I just browse in Chrome on my Mac and on my iPad), but still I manage to get my IP banned frequently

Me too, with s/Chrome/Opera/ and such. I avoided it by setting the maximum number of connections to news.ycombinator.com to 1 rather than the usual 128 in Opera, which seems to avoid this problem for me.

If there is a good reason for the rapidly-expiring links, I'd be interested to know. For me, it's the #1 biggest annoyance.

Flamewars likely have a mix of upvotes and downvotes that is very different than a spirited and friendly debate. For example, there might be two general groups of commenters, with most of voters upvoting one half and downvoting the other half.

Be careful with that one though: You'll get the same behavior when you have a group of people trying to engage in a serious discussion which is being trolled by a single poster with multiple accounts/IP addrs. In that case you would want to somehow distinguish one group from the other rather than penalizing both of them.

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries"

One non-NLP route might be to track the rates of votes on the posts in question. Flamewars probably elicit more downvotes than normal against all the comments in that subtree.

Bayesian text classification?

If a flamewar in the comments can be detected, why not demote the comment thread, rather than (or in addition to[1]) the article?

[1]In addition to because presumably the logic is that the article content is flame-bait.

SWAG: demoting the entire thread is the best way to snuff out the flame war. My personal observation is that part of the motivation for trolling/flame wars is attention seeking ... i.e. you don't have a flame war without an audience.

I too have noticed pg's growing frustration with HN a little bit. I joined HN almost 6 years ago -- then I was a naive teenager with a scattered view of the world, though with a ferocious appetite for intelligent debate. I used to do light design work then and usually shied away from hardcore backend programming. I have HN to thank for getting me to take the jump. I also have HN to thank for keeping me informed on various fronts so I could make right decisions that were key in seeing my first 'startup' project surviving (thanks patio11 for your instructive thoughts on a/b testing; grellas for legal stuff; potatolicious for thoughts on design, etc. etc. :)).

One thing I want to say is: I think it's okay to be ... well, a little bit mean sometimes. My favorite commenter on this site is rayiner -- one of the reasons I like him is he's never afraid to say what he really believes (sometimes in a slightly mean diction), even if it's going against HN userbase consensus. He's not out to get karma (as some other opportunist high-karma users here are sometimes... complete with amazon affiliate links in their comments, indeed, that is singularly the only thing that annoys me about HN). There's inevitably going to be disagreement when we're discussing important things we have strong feelings on. As long as the discussion doesn't devolve into corrosive name-calling and ad hominems it's fine, and I don't think we go that low very much. I think HN will be fine going forward -- there's a strong identity that is enforced by all users. Thanks pg et al. for keeping this hangout alive and rocking.

> If you are a YC founder, your username will show up in orange to other YC founders to enable these entrepreneurs to recognize and meet each other.

Silicon Valley is supposed to be this great meritocracy where it doesn't matter where you went to school or who you know, all that matters is how well you can build and "make something people want."

However, it always amazes me how much cronyism (for lack of a better word) there still is in Silicon Valley. Even Y Combinator is not immune to it. To their credit, PG et al are great at pattern recognition and identifying what separates good/great teams from the bad, but I feel like there is still too much cronyism, personal bias, and subjective judgment in their model that excludes a lot of entrepreneurs who don't fit their "type".

Given how influential PG's essays and YC's model have been on other VCs and angel investors, I wonder if it's becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and/or vicious cycle in the industry where because YC prefers a certain subset of successful founder, it causes many/most investors to also prefer that subset, which makes it easier and easier for this subset of founders to quickly get funding and access to critical resources and networks, while it becomes harder and harder for new subsets of entrepreneurs to break through this walled garden.

DISCLAIMER: I really like YC and I read HN every day. I just think that if e.g. Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins were VC 1.0 and YC was VC 2.0, a new VC 3.0 that addresses the shortcomings of the current model is way overdue.

I actually used to think a bit like how you do.

But humans form groups. That's what we do. And this group is pretty easy to join. You don't need a particular skin colour or religion. Just rock up and rock on.

I am happy HN is here, even if the small village has become a big city. On a given day, there is a decent percentage of the front page that I don't understand at all, and I enjoy reading the articles and comments. I find it an interesting way to learn new things.

Thank you PG for creating Hacker News. I read it daily.

This is exactly what drew me to it as well; I was awed by the opportunity for so much learning. Anecdotally I've found the focus of the front page has shifted a little from hard-core CS (my degree) and maths topics to more startup and web-development oriented projects and articles. However, there is still often one or two articles that give me the hn hit of old.

I don't often comment or submit links, and when I do I don't really care for the karma beyond hoping I've provided something constructive, but despite the shift in focus I continually enjoy the spirited, structured and technical discussion that hn provides. Like gregpilling I read it daily, and would like to thank pg amongst others for continuing to curate such an interesting community.

I like it here a lot, but I'm noticing that fewer submissions are interesting to me, and that the overall zeitgeist is moving away from one that I enjoy. But discussion here still tends to bubble up really good stuff and I still enjoy reading HN.

That I'm not as interested in the technical submissions any longer, and the non-technical ones continue to leave me cold is more about me and my preferences than the HN community.

It's sad and indicative of the quality of tech journalism when this line gets written by thenextweb and then quoted by techcrunch without being questioned:

> Having a big audience isn’t really the goal. In comparison, Hacker News’ inspiration and the first big YC exit, Reddit has seen as much as 4.4 million page views in a given day.

If 4.4 million page views in a given day were special for Reddit, it would not be the hugely successful page it is and tech journalists should have a rough idea of traffic figures like these. The same thenextweb post claims further down that Reddit averaged 3 billion page views a month in 2012.

(it was the Obama AMA subreddit that hit 4.4 million page views in a single day)

I'm a Brit, so take my token apology for calling you out on this [1], but the way you frame your comment is actually the thing that frustrates me the most about a lot of HN comments. So much negativity, which is often based on some extremely esoteric fact, that actually takes away from the original point of the article, and is just counter to any continuing discussion. Branching off is great. We get some really great discussions on HN that side-step the original point of an article, but when it's just for the sake of bashing, I can't ever support such comments.

[1] : We like to apologise for things

I'm not sure I agree with you unless I'm misunderstanding the point of what you mean by what the parent said that was "extremely esoteric".

The point seems to be that we are reading a story about hacker news and someone takes issue with what appears to be an example of lazy journalism.

I could find my own examples in the article. Right off the top there are only quotes from PG and tptacek when it would have been really easy to email other users and get some thoughts to round out the story. (Not to mention the fact that it left out a fairly important point - that tptacek has the most karma on HN other than PG).

What bothers me personally the most is the way in which downvotes seem to happen. Don't get me wrong, a lot of users downvote in a good way, so it's not all bad.

Still, I often find grey comments that are brought in a completely respectable way. I feel like these comments are getting downvoted because someone disagrees with them, rather than because they are bad or toxic comments.

The opposite is also true, I often find comments with a positive amount of votes that are in the "internet jokester" style and don't really contribute anything meaningful to the topic at hand.

Often if you go back later, you'll see that the downvote has been "corrected" by another reader. I'll sometimes upvote a reasonable comment only because it has negative karma. And I've... uh... in the name of science, made some relatively useless disagreeable comments that had downvotes, then upvotes, then downvotes,... before reaching equilibrium at +1, so other people do too.

Jokester comments (I leave quite a few because I enjoy being a smart-arse) are hit and miss on HN. You can't overplay the joke and you can't use memes. That rules out a lot of easy jokes, so in practice the effective humour is a bit better than the stuff you find on Reddit.

this was precisely the comment i was going to post and you beat me to it :) you run the very real risk of having a bunch of comments that mutually agree to the same point being up voted, while the contrarian post or a different opinion is 'shouted down'. Taking the time to distinguish a comment that you disagree with (may be even dislike ) and a comment you think is unproductive to the discussion is our responsibility. I wish we did a better job at it.

A lot of people are hellbanned. The algo seems to take into account the lifespan of the account, and most such banned people have only existed a few weeks.

The article (perhaps ironically) neglected to mention an enormous volume of submissions exist just to harvest pageviews from this community.

There is a constant flow advertisements posing as articles where startups write random fluff to get their otherwise unrelated and uninteresting startups on the front page.

There is a constant flow of mainstream blogs and people meticulously tailoring content for this site.

There have been numerous large companies that have blatantly spammed the site for years undetected, and probably plenty more that still haven't been detected judging by all the 'submissions-only' accounts churning out generic links to mainstream sites.

I don't think routine exploitation fosters a healthy, happy community.

your points illustrate some reasons why I do not consider this a community,in a positive sense. there is a lot of interesting discussion, which is good, but it exists to serve and is largely constrained by the need to create a social engine for private investment in tech companies, and the ecosystem that entails.

HN is a testament to what happens when you make a thing for a very specific group of people and only them.

It sort of reminds me those companies you hear about every once in a while that say "No" to being sold in Wal-Mart. It seems crazy but there is value in passing on certain kinds of growth.

The only hiccup to this plan in HN's case is that the very specific community it is targeted to is itself growing and growing. So staying "small" might be impossible.

> It sort of reminds me those companies you hear about every once in a while that say "No" to being sold in Wal-Mart.

Speaking of which, I wonder what became of this one?


Apologies for deviating from the thread's topic, but I re-read that the other day and got to wondering.

Snapper/Simplicity ended up being bought by Briggs & Stratton, which apparently decided to back peddle a bit:

Walmart to sell Briggs & Stratton Snapper mowers http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2013/01/17/walmart...

Here is a forum comment apparently from Jim Wier ("The Man Who Said No to Walmart") regarding the Sears deal after his departure: http://ppecongress.com/showpost.php?s=b79ee2a3f907acf9594e26...

"Around six months ago, Graham brought on someone else, who he chose not to name, to moderate the site. He says the individual is affiliated with Y Combinator and is a 'prudent and thoughtful guy,' and has been doing a great job ever since."

I didn't know this. I think the prudent and thoughtful guy is doing a generally good job. I don't think anyone can read every thread here exhaustively, but there is some good signal:noise ratio here even after all the years of growth.

"I wish I could get people to stop posting comments that are stupid or mean" is pg's summary of what still needs to be fixed. I'm on board with that too.

I assumed that once you got enough karma here you started to get mod rights... maybe not though.

Mod rights as in flagging articles/users or downvoting? Those are all based on a certain amount of karma (with downvoting having the highest threshold since it can cause the most damage).

I think what I love most about HN is that PG (and others?) take an active role in trying to steer the tone of the comments in specific directions, and don't try to make it a super democratic site like Reddit where everything about the community is allowed to just grow organically in a hands-off manner.

I see lots of complaints about supposed censorship or excessive moderation or hellbans, and I understand why those things might frustrate people. Really, I do. But it's not like this is the only place on the Internet where people can go to post comments about tech news. The fact that HN isn't trying to be all things to all people, and isn't trying to be as fair as possible to everyone at all times, is actually what I love about it.

I'm glad that there's places like Reddit where everything is community-driven and the maintainers are totally hands-off as to the content of the site, and I frequently enjoy Reddit as well. But I'm also glad that there are places like HN which are actively molded into being a specific kind of site with specific standards of discourse, even if I don't always agree with it. I wish more news sites had such specific visions for content and comments. Not necessarily the same vision, just some vision other than avoiding even the perception of censorship at all costs.

I don't quite know why, but your post made me open up 4chan for the first time in years.

Maybe because it's cool to enjoy 4chan even though it is fundamentally effed up in so many ways. :) Just like it's cool to enjoy HN even though it's fundamentally effed up in a completely inverse way. I figure all of these places are great sources of information seen through different prisms, you just have to understand the prism to get the most out of it. I try to make up for it by hitting up a bunch of different places with different approaches to moderation and different kinds of communities.

He worries that Hacker News will become what he calls “an old crumbling building.”

I hope not. This is one of the best & brightest online communities I've ever seen.

I learn so much every single day from the content & insights posted on this site, I'm not sure where I'd be without it :)

> With 1.6 million page views a day (...) Hacker News

> Reddit has seen as much as 4.4 million page views in a given day

These numbers didn't seem right to me; reddit gets way more than 3 times hn's traffic.

Last December, reddit had 2 billion page views [http://blog.reddit.com/2012/01/2-billion-beyond.html] which works out to over 60 million a page views a day and over 30 times hn's count.

I don't get it either. 4.4 is way too low to be Reddit's current page view average. (Now, 44 would be closer.)

I for one am glad the community has been diluted to the point that I can participate.

I genuinely appreciate HN. I'm a convicted hacker and am nowhere as bright as some of you guys on here (I have my moments).

Being accepted by you guys really does help me get back into tech and do what I know best. THANK YOU!

hey Michael,

I've read your story the other day and I thought it was both amusing and clever, even if it was also clearly unethical. 5 years seems disproportional but great to see you on the outside.

If there is any way in which I can help you to jumpstart your career should you need it or throw work your way let me know and I'll see what I can do for you, email in my profile.

Thank you! I got 15months, the OP on that thread got 5yrs. Definitely, I appreciate the contact, I'll email you soon (programming right now).

HN is becoming my main tech related hub recently. Almost any article worth reading from the big tech sites will find its place here and comments are noting short of amazing sometimes. The depth on some technical topics surpasses even stackexchange.

Also if there is downwards slope in the quality it is very mild - for the two years I have been here it is quite consistent.

My main problem with HN recently is that we're getting way too much political crap on the front page. And, along with that, we seem to be getting more a skew to the "left" (in the modern, American sense of the term) which I'm not crazy about (being neither exactly "right" nor exactly "left" I don't want to see HN moving in either of those directions).

I also get the feeling that "groupthink" is a growing problem and that people are getting downvoted for simply having the audacity to go against the local "received wisdom", but that's pretty subjective and I may be wrong.

Almost any article worth reading from the big tech sites will find its place

Also, journalists find stories here. I've seen Show HN's that turn into news stories - even journalists that give the hat tip to OP within the originating thread. That's pretty cool :)

  On the backend, Hacker News runs on one core, and Graham calls this a “remarkable feat of scaling.”
Wow, Really? I'd say that is pretty remarkable, yes. Is there anywhere that goes into more detail about this?


There are a few details here. I don't know jack about servers and stuff but this was the only place I knew it was mentioned. From what I gather in the thread it is impressive.

More specifically: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5229548 (pasbesoin's comment)

I think it's also notable that HN is written in Arc, a Lisp dialect of pg's own devising. [1] All those "?fnid"s in the URL are pointers to functions.. Some sample code (HN might have morphed quite a bit from it - no idea) linked to in one of the comments referred to by hfsktr is on github. [2]

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arc_%28programming_language%29

[2]: https://github.com/nex3/arc/blob/master/lib/news.arc

That's actually a remarkable feat of not scaling.

Scaling is surely about handling demand, which HN seems to do a decent enough job of.

It's an impressive feat of scaling by the engineers at Intel et al. :)

Doesn't he have to reset the whole thing every week though? How long would it last if he didn't?

If you are a YC founder, your username will show up in orange to other YC founders to enable these entrepreneurs to recognize and meet each other.

I've been aware of this for a while (a few YC founders I got to meet confided this to me), but it is the first time I've seen it being publicly admitted.

Along with the DMCA[1] link below, I'm happy to see this ever increasing level of transparency on Hacker News. I believe it is a great way to foster trust among the community.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/dmca.html

To those who have been here from the early days, thanks for letting us newer folks crash the party.

I don't have a lot of +50 comments, but I try to self-censor if I'm not getting more +2s than not.

No idea if or when eternal September kicks in here, but... I guess the upside is what pg has proved: anyone dissatisfied with online communities can just build a new one, use a singular purpose and a stripped-down ad-free interface, and people will come (for better or worse).

4 hours per day! Thanks, pg

It's interesting to hear that all moderation is done by just a few people. It's easy to knock mods, but I think the moderation is pretty good here.

I like the choice that people make here. People decide to be constructive and useful. It'd be interesting to see how that can be replicated in other places. Reddit has some good subs. Ask science and ask history are great. They have big moderation teams who frequently delete comments. (That's a good thing!). SE is good for their very narrow tasks - they really need to open an ad-supported open discussion version of the sites. At the moment there is a site, its meta site, and its chat site. Having a noodling discussion site would allow people to have that interesting chat stuff.

It's interesting that wikipedia, while being brilliant, is also really toxic and unpleasant for some people.

"The idea of a VC having its own news aggregator was a bit outlandish in 2007."

This coming from Tech... crunch/fund?

Interesting, the only thing I really learned though was the orange names between YC founders.

I might be mistaken but I get the sense that, especially to older members, it's not just "declining quality of discussion" (uninformed/irrelevant, discompassionate, outright rude, inflammatory comments) that is threatening the value of the site. There may actually be a less tangible/measurable quality, that of the early "feel" of the community, that was of great value to those members. It might have come from the particular set of voices that made up the bulk of comments in the early days, or the relative obscurity of the site. While discussion quality can be improved, I doubt some members can ever feel fully satisfied, without the old feel.

Also, there are many innovations in comment systems. Gawker's Kinja system is quite good at surfacing or organizing interesting comments, among other things. Post segmentation and comment filtering are techniques used by Slashdot and Reddit, which dampen the impact of growth on community "feel". But, despite the massive growth, there is strong aversion to incorporating any deep changes here.

I perceive two specific challenges: prominent voices might actually want a feeling that is (or appears to be) impossible to restore, and there's general apprehension about messing too much with the magic formula that brought HN to the point it's at today. With the influx of users, this appears to create an identity crisis for the site.

I wish I could suggest solutions along with these observations.

Edit: I do think it would be useful to understand what members of varying karma levels subjectively/qualitatively perceive to be the values and valuable traits of the site.

Man I miss Flashdot.

Flashdot was replaced by HTML5dot and now it's much better.

Perhaps she meant ſlashdot.


He's referring to the author of the OP, Leena Rao.

Oh. I'm half asleep. Mea Culpa.

It's not a decline in overall quality, just a decrease in signal to noise ratio. Which is a consequence not of user growth but of the startup culture becoming more mainstream and less nerdy.

Still my favorite site and primary source (directly or indirectly) of new knowledge.

I am brand new to HN (and reddit (I'm a noob)). I am a hacker though, I think, and love reading the articles that I would have no other way to read. I am trying to be a more involved member to the hacker/developer community. I think that more people is a good thing overall, it brings more view points and opinion to the site. I do see the downsides to the growth too, though I think that the good far outweighs the bad. I ma not a new member that is a troll or a bad commenter and I think most new users to HN are the same way. Just my $0.02.

If you want to see on which date you joined Hacker News, click your login name in the right top of the page (https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=Username) and note the 'created: 1397 days ago'. Then plug in this number into a date calculation:

  $ python
  >>> import datetime
  >>> print datetime.date.today() - datetime.timedelta(1397)
Interesting. I joined in the summer of 2009 ;-)


  >>> datetime.datetime.now() - datetime.timedelta(days=1894)
  datetime.datetime(2008, 3, 12, 16, 24, 16, 996897)
Time really flies.

If memory serves me right, there was a lot of discussion in the early days of HN about not being Reddit (when Reddit was much more low quality and getting beaten by Digg).

Reddit got a bunch of its initial users via a link or two from PG essays. Indeed, there are some of the early users there who I recognize as early users here, too. It was pretty good at that stage. And then reddit started growing, and linking to all kinds of stuff like Ron Paul, and lots of "outrage" stories, and other flamewar topics, and promptly went to hell in a handbasket.

I would like to see an article on The Evolution of TechCrunch.

>Could This Be A Business?

Without a doubt. In fact, if a prominent hacker in a non-english speaking country set up something similar, it will definitely become influential.

Hatena Bookmark of Japan used to be like the old reddit with predominantly hacker subject articles, but it grew and became mainstream, kind of like new reddit. Now the hacker community there is yearning for something like hacker news; something that is for them.

It's officially a business! It's called YC.

well I mean HN standalone.

You can tell that the quality of the comments (and hence of the community) is going down when you can just by looking at the title of a post, predict the type of negative comments that you will see inside.

However the question (which might not have a satisfactory answer) is whether you can keep the same quality standards while still growing. I think that forcibly keeping the community small can be worse than dilution itself.

Maybe a de-amalgamation is in order. I'm thinking a sort of inner ring system, where higher karma users contribute but lower karma have read-only. I'm sure this has big issues, just throwing it out there

What incentive is there for new users to stick around if they can't contribute to threads though? How do they reach the karma threshold where they can participate? You can't necessarily correlate age and karma with quality.

that said I did once have a fiendish (and probably terrible) idea for a similar system where you could only post if you had a certain amount of karma, but also, where you could buy karma points outright.

Without karma it's very difficult to submit links that anyone will see.

If lower karma is read only, how do you propose users gain karma?

Perhaps he means with only submitting articles?

Alternatively, there could be a time period before users can post comments or articles, though I don't really like having a time limit for posting comments, since that hinders insightful comments from throwaway accounts. It would also hurt users that only want to post because an article is extremely relevant to them and they know the subject well (or are involved in it). Really no winning scenario to this.

We could have some sort of user "turing test" to see if users are ready to post/submit on HN, but then one is left with answering "how does one know a user is ready and what are the qualifications?" On some of the Android forums where every user (hyperbole sorta) that roots their phone thinks they're a development expert, I always wanted to implement forcing users to look up various parts of the AOSP source (and/or answer questions about terminology) before they could comment in the development specific subforums. Though that is a bit more black and white than something similar applied to HN.

Thanks a lot for HN, PG.

I'd really like to see the YC alumns. in orange. It would make reading the comments so much more interesting : )

I think I might be hellbanned :/

Not yet.

part of me wants HN to remain somewhat of a "secret" so it doesnt become reddit.

Well, there goes the neighbourhood.

Is this a press release?

How can it possibly be?

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