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Yeah, I realized as soon as I posted that that I'd have to explain.

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.

While the idea sounds good, care should be taken that it doesn't mean HN turns into an echo chamber. Sometimes having your idea shot down is the best thing that can happen. Doing a "Show HN" and getting only positive feedback can convince someone to quit their job and work on this new idea full time to disastrous consequences if the idea wasn't that great.

"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.

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 have never understood, and probably will never understand, why so many people on HN seem to think "critical" == "insulting" == "harsh".

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.

Good point. I'm an East Coast guy myself, and not real in-tune with California culture. Maybe that is a big part of it. Hard to say...

I have to agree with PG here. I guess I just see criticism and incivility as two different things.

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.

It's possible to be critical without being harsh or uncivil.

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.

On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg might've been told "we already have tonnes of social networks; MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, etc."

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.

Can you explain the reasons why you see this as being an effective way to filter out overly-pedantic or critical comments? These comments seem to be the focus on HN not just because they are common, but also because they get upvoted to the top of the discussion, perpetuating the theme.

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.

Because there's a karma threshold attached to promotion, a user who has some demonstrated engagement with the site will have to make a deliberate decision to grant a forum to limbo comments. That person will have to believe the comment makes a positive contribution and maintains civility.

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.

Seems similar to slashdot moderation; also enables meta-moderation.

I'm not sure I'd be interested in that level of meta here on HN--consider the existing bickering about bannings, title rewrites, and off-topic stuff.

This could be a step in the wrong direction.

Meta-moderation enforces groupthink, which is why I left slashdot. If it happened here I'd go back to 4chan.

You've simply assumed that engaged users are less likely to vote up fatuous vitriol. That remains to be shown and I'm skeptical.

In another thread not long ago PG stated that this was exactly the case on a few comments he found vitriolic. If he measured the votes of only high-karma users, the comments would have been negative. You can search through his history to find his report on the subject (it was around three weeks ago, IIRC).

Here's the thread:


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.

At the very least, the intuition seems to me that if you have a high enough karma score, you've learned by example what is an acceptable and unacceptable comment and know how to compose comments that are acceptable, and should be able to tell the difference. Beyond that, if you set the knob high enough, you're going to capture people who have been around for a while and have been able to witness the rise of the pendants and armchair-experts compared to yesteryear so won't dismiss these things as "normal."

If this is the case, a good optimisation might be to weight the value of a vote according to the karma of the person casting that vote. This seems like a simple idea to me, and I don't know if it's used elsewhere, so please forgive me if I'm being a bit naive here!

This was one of the options discussed in the thread tptacek linked to.

Have you changed your stance on "down voting when you disagree with a comment" (you have previously stated that it was OK)? I personally think it would encourage civil behavior if it was frowned upon. I often see comments that I disagree with but that are interesting nonetheless and I'm happy to up vote them for the sake of fighting our tendency towards groupthink.

I might be misunderstanding the way you described this, but wouldn't this increase the noise for people with higher karma since they'll see all of these pending comments? Or is this going to be an option similar to being able to see dead comments?

There are several possible solutions there, and it may take some experimenting to figure out which is best. I may not display pending comments in the threads where they live, but only on a page like /newest. Or I might give the people who see pending comments a way to say they've seen them and don't want to promote them, upon which they won't see them again. And of course after some time and/or number of views, pending comments will die if not promoted, and then no one will see them except with showdead turned on.

Hacker News already has a flaw that conversations tend to be too short-lived to put any real thought into a comment. To describe what I mean by this: in order to do some real research, or to perfect the wording of a comment, might require a couple hours of time: right now, unless you are willing to spend all of that time frantically and immediately when a thread is posted, by the time you have managed to contribute something of real meaning the activity on the thread has died down because everyone has "already read it" (and won't return) and it may, in fact, have already dropped off the home page (and so will get no new traffic).

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.)

There seem to be a number of features in hacker news which presume longer threads tend more towards noise than signal. The threaded format as implemented, for one, makes it difficult to follow conversations in long threads, particularly in replies to the root post if you're linking from the latest comments page. The further into the nesting you get, the more crunched the text becomes. And, apparently, posts take longer to show up.

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...

This is so true. Karma and other scoring metrics just magnifies the problem as the number of people and therefore also the potential karma points decrease the later the comment is posted. It's not an easy problem to solve because people naturally gravitate towards the newest items.

as i was not quite able to articulate below, it feels to me that forum comments, email and todo-lists lie on the same protocol manifold but not quite at the optimal point. (RE: your yesterday's comments... i use browser tabs as a to-do lists.) The obvious axes are synchronicity (temperature) and information (related to entropy) but probably this is still not the best frame to think about this problem.

You could try probabilistically showing pending comments to users who moderate. Then those comments will only be shown to a random sampling of others until they have been promoted. I've always wanted to build an algorithm like that!

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.

You could call the sate between living and dead "limbo"

Or, theologically consistent with "karma": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bardo

I think the web is moving in this direction in general. A small group of peers to provide feedback/proofread drafts before publishing was the start. This may be a bit out there, but I for one would enjoy fanning out my tweets to 1% of followers and immediately ramp up to the rest if it surpasses a threshold of engagement or views. That way I only publish interesting content.

So, will this be for all comments, or will having a certain number of comments approved cause yours to automatically be in, or what?

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?

Awesome - I was hoping it would be something like this. I've found that new comments on new links tend to be lower quality and from newer accounts. When a thread is started with these kinds of low quality comments it can be hard to recover from, if older accounts or high karma accounts can prevent this from happening naturally that would be great.

And presumably invisible to other users.

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?

Interesting. Are you suggesting that some/all comments would enter in a pending state until they are promoted? What sort of rules are you thinking for which comments go straight to live vs. start as pending? Or would it be user based... as a probationary step before getting hellbanned?

Presumably only the potential promoters can see the comments before they are "live" for everyone?

Probably I'd make them visible to users with showdead turned on.

Another idea: have 2 scores. One score controls life/death and the other score controls karma. The life/death score is based on the votes of users who meet certain criteria. This way, its essentially a vote of the the class instead of a singular person.

I'd be interested to know how you'll decide which threads to pilot this feature on. If it isn't random, I think it may give us more insight into what topics/biases you feel draw out this kind of behaviour.

Whoa! This thread suddenly got a lot more interesting.

I'm excited to see how this plays out. At the very least it should filter out a lot of noise.

Gawker does this.

possibly oblique but not tangent: how is the email-as-todolist thing going? streak seems to be the closest to that but comments-with-state sounds closer... and how does this fit into your periodic table?

This assumes there's a correlation between karma/age and the tendency to promote fairly (i.e. due to civility and positive contribution, rather than promoting what one agrees with).

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 people promote a lot of bad comments, we'll take away their ability to promote them.

What if some comments have a bimodal distribution (in how the community views them) between good and bad?

How do you recognize that, though? Your heuristic can't be "promotes comments with many downvotes" because the problem at hand is bad comments with many upvotes. If your heuristic is "promotes comments that others don't promote", how do you know you're not punishing someone for a minority viewpoint?

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.

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