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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.

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