I'm going to define a state for comments between living and dead called pending, and I'll give everyone over a certain threshold of karma and/or age the ability to promote comments from pending to live.
Pending comments should be promoted if they (a) make a positive contribution to the discussion, and (b) are not unnecessarily harsh or uncivil.
I may try this out on individual threads before switching the whole site over.
"That idea is terrible. X is bad, Y doesn't work. We already have Z." While hostile, it's sometimes the best and most useful advice someone can receive. People who believe their idea is awesome and end up with positive reinforcement, even a simple "looks good, just work on Y a little" can become a major life changing event if that is the most hostile feedback they receive while living in a dream world.
In short, I see no reason to force sugar coating on HN. I'd rather have a 'flag' button on individual comments for getting people banned who are being insulting to a person rather than an idea. As it stands, a genuinely useful but 'harsh' comment may never get seen even when it should be.
I have never understood, and probably will never understand, why so many people on HN seem to think "critical" == "insulting" == "harsh". It's possible to criticize someone or their idea without being a dick, but too many people seem to think that "being a dick" is somehow necessary to give "critical feedback". I don't think it is.
Rational, reasonable people can disagree and debate, even disagree vehemently, without anyone needing to resort to the kind of comments that often get attacked (the ones where the criticizer is just being a dick).
I don't think anyone on HN wants to eliminate constructive feedback or even "negative" comments. The goal is to get the constructive feedback and the criticism while remaining civil. We don't need sugar-coating, we just need people to practice basic manners and remember the Golden Rule. Walk a mile in the other guy's shoes, etc. Have some compassion and empathy.
"That idea is terrible."
Taken by itself, that's a terrible comment - even if it's true! It's terrible because it lacks any explanation or exposition on why the idea is terrible and, as such, amounts to just an opinion (even if it is, coincidentally, accurate).
Why not say instead:
"I don't think this idea is going to work, because XXXX"
where XXX might be "there are already 374 competitors doing exactly the same thing", or "it takes very specific industry connections to break into that domain", or "it violates the second law of thermodynamics" or whatever?
I think that's the influence of California culture on the startup community. I'm a New Yorker, so harsh for me is telling me if my brother were still alive my app would give him cancer all over again. In California, I've been told I'm being overly critical and harsh for saying I think using node.js wouldn't work for the application and we should try nginx. Some managers I've had even thought I was mad at them because I didn't smile at them enough during the day. For better or worse, people on the west coast are more sensitive to negativity than people from the northeast. Maybe it has something to do with the winters (or lack thereof). :)
The point being, the dividing line between destructive and constructive criticism can vary greatly depending on the person and the culture they're from. I guess that's where the voting from pending to live comes into play. It'll be interesting to see where that dividing line lands for the community as a whole.
I think what you are describing is criticism, which is fine, if civil.
It's incivility that should be eschewed. I would actually be more inclined to vote civil arguments up if I knew such a system was in place.
I also think your hypothetical would-be founder is more likely to get criticism of a higher quality under the circumstances that PG is proposing.
"X is bad"... I'd imagine might give way to something more like... "X is requiring three clicks to get done, and at the end, it does Y instead. You guys should look at that funnel." Which is much more helpful.
"Y doesn't work"... I could see morphing over time to something more like "Y doesn't work on my Vaio with 8GB RAM running Firefox 23 on Windows 8." There's a bit more information there, and it's still a civil comment.
I'm interested to see how it plays out. I could see it being ESPECIALLY good for things like feedback.
e.g. your example can be shortened to "X is bad, Y doesn't work. We already have Z." And the opinion "bad" could be replaced with its factual/reasoned basis.
Of course, praise is sweet and criticism bitter. Let's not sugar-coat it - but let us not poison it either.
In my experience, people in a dream world usually are not very deterred by what other people tell them, anyway. It seems that they need to go through a series of realizations for themselves.
Presumably the sub-audience who finds such comments productive to discussion enough to upvote them will happily flip them live, too. It seems like the only reason to think otherwise is if you think that most people who have high karma are not guilty of upvoting these types of comments.
The phenomenon that bolts fatuous vitriol to the tops of threads requires no such deliberation.
I have no idea if this is going to work, but I'm psyched to see it play out.
This could be a step in the wrong direction.
To be clear: what he's saying in this thread seems to support the idea of a karma-limited feature for showing comments. The score (not the content) on a comment would have been negative; the comment, in context, was a superficial negative comment that commanded the top spot on a thread.
I thereby feel the need to point out that using a system where the comments are promoted by being viewed inside of the thread has the potential to worsen this effect, as the pool of people available to promote comments will decrease over time, even though the potential value of the comments in question increase over time (as, again, they will be able to have been better perfected, with more research, better wording, and careful thought). I might, thereby, put more weight onto your idea for putting the comments on a page like /newest, in order to better force them to be seen after-the-fact (which, I understand, may be one of the factors you are already thinking about: I'm just attempting to show that someone else might be thinking about that sort of thing).
(This issue has an interesting effect when combined with the Eternel September + Evaporative Cooling interaction effect that this site seems to have: I have found myself "taking a pass" on the first time something is posted, instead working on a comment that I post when the same thing eventually comes up later to a sufficiently-different set of people that it can again accumulate enough votes to hit the home page. FWIW, I would then make the argument that this problem of "good content takes time, and HN is setup in such a way as to discourage things that take time" is a more fundamental cause of the "misinformation due to comment blight by people who don't really know what they are talking about" issue.)
Also, there not being a 'notify' feature more or less ensures that anything not on the front page is almost certain to die, although hnnotify.com does a good job of filling this feature in, that the service exists to me suggests that it could be useful as an actual feature for the site. And I know it's been discussed and passed on, but still.
I also worry about how the effect of weighting votes based on karma will bias conversations (though that would kind of be the point I suppose.) I guess we'll be seeing a lot more crypto stories bubbling up in the future...
I've often wondered if this could be applied to the homepage too: rather than relegating submissions to the "/new" URL, show them to a random subset of users right on the homepage until they've hit a threshold; then show them to everyone.
I imagine that this could end up adding additional friction to discussions, as it sounds like the older/more karma'ed people will have to essentially vote-in new comments--out of sheer laziness, I think this could cause the overall comment volume to decrease.
Perhaps an automatic acceptance change just to keep things interesting?
But I thought users with high age upvote similarly to the whole, as shown by news.ycombinator.com/classic (and presumably similar for high karma, high average, etc)... Is the reasoning that a "gatekeeper" or "mod" role will encourage a different perspective and therefore results?
I'm excited to see how this plays out. At the very least it should filter out a lot of noise.
I doubt there is. The problem is that no one judges the judges. That is, you don't lose karma points by making bad judgment calls. The same problem exists at my work. People become managers by being good engineers and by having been there a long time, but no one is judging their management skills.
If the plan is for you to personally investigate promoters' promoting habits and make the call to take away the right, then I guess that would work but I don't know how it would scale. My skepticism is based on the idea that this could be done automatically.