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Ask HN: HN Political News Overload?
206 points by EzGraphs on July 29, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 149 comments
There has been a noticeable increase in political topics since I joined HN a few years back. The HN Guidelines lead off with the following:

"Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon."

Some of the stories posted are indeed of specific interest to community. Very few are evidence of some "interesting new phenomenon". Most are a rehashing of the same old topics.

One of the most admirable things about hackers is their ability to accomplish great things without - or in spite of government. The recent preoccupation is a bit sad. Great minds could be focused on better things.

Any thoughts on solutions to this concern? Yes - one would be to ignore political posts and move on to others of interest. But based upon comments I have seen by numerous respected HN members, I am not the only one seeing this. Any thoughts on how filter/tagging/flagging might apply?

I've written a lot about this topic, but let's see if I can sum it up:

* Politics are way more important than most of what we talk about. So if we talk politics, we could easily fill the front page with it, and crowd out all the unimportant tech stuff. Who cares about Bootstrap when people are throwing bananas at a minister in the Italian government because she's black?

* People don't seem to get that you can compartmentalize: I care deeply about politics, but I also like having a high quality tech site that is about tech and startups. On these threads, people say that if I don't want politics on HN, I must not care about politics at all. Couldn't be farther from the truth. I also love to follow professional cycling, but I don't want politics on those sites either.

* Way more people care about politics than the stuff that makes HN HN. If we open the floodgates, it will attract lots of people who will dilute the site. As noted elsewhere, I think this is something of a feedback loop.

* I don't like the divisiveness of the subject. There are frequent posters here who have said they are Republicans, and given their statements on religion, maybe they're even in favor of $a_very_divisive_issue. I do not want to get into that discussion with them. It won't help anyone, will likely alienate people from the site, will probably lead to hurt feelings, and so on and so forth. I want to talk with these people about tech and startups. That's what we have in common.

* The quality of many of these discussions is not high, and for anyone who has been on this planet for a little while, little of it is a new or interesting contribution to the subjects under discussion. You can find the same topics discussed all over the internet, in every language.

* I think that the site has been "holed below the waterline" by the NSA stuff and the subsequent flood of articles, as well as the "outrage" articles about various grave injustices. Those tend to get a lot of upvotes and heated discussion too. I do not think that it will recover unless PG & Co start moderating it in a more heavy handed way.

Nobody could have written this better; I agree with every word of it, and note also that the "feedback loop" of people drawn to HN to discuss politics is a testable assertion, and the testing I've done has backed it up. When you see a political story on HN, click through to its submitter, and look at their history on the site. Not always, but often, the people behind these stories:

* Are relatively new to HN, and

* Participate in HN practically exclusively on political stories.

Another point I might add:

* Political stories drive low-quality sources up the front page. The people running sites like Techdirt and RT know exactly what to say to gin up pageviews, and so it's those sources you'll see anchoring political stories on HN. On controversial topics, people barely read blog posts as it is. But on political stories, not only do we have to deal with knee-jerk comments from people who haven't really read the source, but also with the fact that even reading the story carefully doesn't produce informed commentary (Techdirt, for instance, has a habit of linkjacking and editorializing stories from reported venues like Mother Jones and the Washington Post).

I, for one, believe that political issues like warrantless wiretapping and SOPA cannot be extricated from other news that is deeply important to Internet-based startups.

While politics can be deeply divisive and can suck all the air out of the room, this is not strictly a requirement. People can respectfully agree on issues that matter to their businesses.

Most entrepreneurs know that it is critical to their business that foreigners not avoid doing business altogether because their country spies on their customers. They also understand that big businesses would likely abuse laws like SOPA that harm small startups who cannot enforce its provisions and benefit big players who can.

While I understand the desire to avoid overtly political topics and debates, I find that burying your head in the sand does nothing to protect you from issues that affect us all. There should be a clear distinction to classify these issues are pertinent or not pertinent to this site.

How many meetings have you had at your workplace to discuss these issues? Surely you must have nestled a meeting or two between standup and sprint planning to discuss SOPA or the NSA?

I'm guessing none. And I see it similar to HN -- these are topics that are important and affect you, but they're not relevant to what you do. Personally, I come to HN to discuss technology, not politics.

If you work at a startup, SOPA is more relevant than Sarbanes-Oxley ever was. It's only relevant, however, to people whose function is directly affected by it.

In that sense, it's similar to any serious, macro-level issue that affects your company, but which goes unnoticed by the rank-and-file engineers. That doesn't mean you can ignore it.

There are "not relevant to what you do" because most of the people you meet at work probably don't give a crap about anything else than the end of their (short) noses. It's common in people in general.

I actually tend to bring out issues like SOPA or NSA at work regularly, only to find them losing to topics like "what's your opinion on the last Game of Thrones episode".

Even in a situation a company could take a meaningful stand, the issue typically gets dismissed as "it doesn't affect the bottomline". And it sucks to be the only person around who cares, so at some point you just stop bringing issues up.

What makes HN HN is different for different people. For me it is, more than anything, the community norms that structure the way discussions play out. The topics of those discussions only need to be mildly interesting - i.e. a well written book on ancient Egypt is objectively better than a mediocre book on Perl.

Starting with that attitude, I am less likely to forecast the HN apocalypse than someone starting with the converse view. In the end, it's a matter of faith. Mine is that despite change, HN will evolve in a healthy way. One of those ways that I am seeing made manifest is a greater emphasis on developing programmers into hackers without the baggage of startup ideology. I see this as something which reflects HN's broadening base.

I would freaking love it if we were having discussions on well written books on ancient Egypt.

I'd even freaking love it if we were discussing mediocre Perl books - so long as people were pointing out the mediocrities and better ways to do things.

I agree that the community norms help a lot with HN. I think that these norms are being diluted. I've seen some comments that would have been downvoted a year ago that are now upvoted. I've seen more obvious downvoting for disagreement (not saying that's bad, just that it's a bit more obvious).

As someone who hit the downvote threshold with a lot of help from well timed snark in the days of public comment scores and who used to rage inside at days of front page Apple fanboyism leading up to and following every Apple event, I am of the opinion that HN is, in many ways better than it was, not all that long ago.

This is not to say that I like the political stories. I am not shocked-shocked when I find gambling. Likewise, HN has always rewarded certain flavors of poor comments, but the floor keeps rising.

I don't view it as an "apocalypse", but as a very gradual settling under the waves. I still find good articles and interesting discussions here, but I'm on the lookout for 'the next thing', too.

The problem creating a site which beats HN is not chicken and egg. It's bulls. Assuming, I add something to HN, it's still not a user like me that makes or breaks HN. What the link to YC brings is an endless September. What retains freshman to become sophomores is the top of the food chain. How do you get Spolsky and Grellas and MattCutts etc. [e.g. PG] to leave - this is what is working for them.

Ships holed below the waterline don't slip beneath the waves except apocalypticly. Otherwise, wood plugs swell, compartments are sealed, the pumps manned, and a patch applied when time permits - and patching when time permits lends a certain aptness to the analogy.

The time I spend on HN is in part freed up because I have to some degree moved on from other online communities. Some like alt.architecture because they degraded, others because it was "suggested in aboslute terms," and others, more recently because I enjoy less spending with people who engage in more traditional internet behaviors and abide by a different set of norms. In part because, those norms influence my behavior.


You know what? I'm glad that all these political stories are making the front page. You may not care about privacy on the internet but I do. I care about it _a lot_.

Though I am a flawed being in many ways I would love to leave this world in better shape than when I got a hold of it. That's not going to happen if we bury our head in the sand when the shit gets real. And it's getting real.

I have spent years being a free and open-source software evangelist. That means I care deeply about the freedoms surrounding computing platforms. Turns out governments were doing an end run round all that. Big deal, so I can connect my shiny new freedom-loving Linux box to the very non-free internet. The internet is _the_ computing platform that binds us all together. The spooks are destroying the internet.

This is not just any old politics. This is all about privacy on the internet. It's about wiretapping the internet pipes. It's about snooping on everybody's conversations. It's about mass surveillance.

We've almost got our very own panopticon.

And you want to yack on about yet another web framework or javascript library or css library or whatever. That kind of stuff excites me too but right now maybe we got more pressing business? We are the people who actually understand the capabilities and implications of these political news stories. Your average Joe on the street doesn't know his RAM from his hard-drive.

These recent political stories are at the intersection of a lot of stuff that I care very passionately about. Code + philosophy.

HN has not been "holed below the waterline". Provocative and poetic and all as that image may be. And what do you advocate? Political (self)censorship. Really? If HN gets censored I suspect many will leave.

It'd be nice if the "political" stories were confined to discussing the code+philosophy of privacy and Internet freedom. But the majority are puff pieces or knee-jerk outrage articles that contribute very little to the overall discourse, except to fan the flames.

There are tons and tons of ways to discuss privacy and security in ways that are topical to Hacker News. Tools, methods, counter-measures, threat models, secure protocols, best practices, crypto, anonymization, companies and startups engaging in such, etc etc etc. These are topics that HN's core audience can engage with, while still being relevant to current events. Even the legal stuff (FISA and warrant compliance, legality of wiretapping, etc) is interesting, especially as it relates to our startups and the companies we deal with.

There is an argument to be made that surveillance/wiretapping programs require a political/legislative fix, not a technical one. But on the whole, I'd prefer that discussions involving the minutiae of such (and the events which propagated them) not be conducted here, at least not in recent quantities.

I hear what you're saying and I agree with you to an extent. Sometimes the flames need fanning to get people thinking and engaged. This is one of those times I would submit.

> There is an argument to be made that surveillance/wiretapping programs require a political/legislative fix, not a technical one.

Remember when Stallman couldn't fix his printer? Do we have an analogy with what is currently happening? Our fellow techies have enabled a system of mass surveillance over us all - just like techies churning out proprietary code for corporations. Look how long it has taken for free and open-source software to make a comeback. Thirty years one could argue. That social ill never got a political/legislative fix. The GPL was a hack. Perhaps we need some kind of Stallman-like hack to act as a catalyst/seed to start pushing back against the erosion of privacy and internet freedom. Until we know for sure that the fix has to be a political/technical one then maybe we should keep the ideas and discussions flowing here. But at the same time I agree, maybe you are right, maybe this is not the right forum. But then, where is?

> You may not care about privacy on the internet but I do.

Did you read what I wrote?

> If HN gets censored I suspect many will leave.

HN is already censored. By a 1%'er, nonetheless.

If you care deeply about privacy on the internet why don't you want to follow and participate in the discussions here concerning the unfolding drama about the erosion of privacy on the internet?

I want to do a bit more than just read about this topic. I want to discuss it with my hacker/geek/nerd/techie peers and that sure ain't gonna happen in the comment section of the Guardian website.

I also want to do more than discuss though, I also want to change things. I'd like to help out a bit maybe. Donate to the EFF or something, anything.

Witness the news about Tox - I'm not gonna hear about that on the Guardian. I suppose I could go back to /. ^shudder^

In what way is HN censored?

Your argument here seems to be that if he believes what he says he does, he shouldn't be saying other things that you don't expect him to say.

If I'm reading you correctly, your comment is a nice encapsulation of David's points about politics on HN.

If I could parse your first sentence and wade past the snark in your second I might be able to come up with a cogent and fitting response.

But I can't.

I'll translate.

Thomas is restating your argument thus: if David "cared about privacy on the internet" then he'd be eager to have the conversation here. Since he actively objects to having the conversation here, he must not care.

If that's an accurate representation of your argument then it's a little disingenuous. David's comment was six bullet points explaining why he doesn't want to have the conversation here even though he cares a lot about online privacy. You don't even acknowledge that, which makes for a frustrating and counterproductive conversation.

And, well, that was exactly David's point.

P.S., you kind of did the disingenuous thing again when you didn't take the time to comprehend Thomas' comment. It was perfectly understandable.

This is beginning to seem like a concerted effort to silence me.

If you read his comment you'll see that David did indeed say that he cares deeply about politics. But in fairness, by way of example, he mentions some story about a politician and bananas? A story which seems strictly political.

I don't think merely political stories should make the front page of HN.

I'm only talking about the online (i.e. tech-related, techies built and understand and are subverting the internet) privacy (i.e. liberty related) issue here. I see it intimately linked with the free software issue. I can't see why if you we talk about one why we can't talk about the other. What about all the patent issues? About all the copyright issues? Can we not talk about them either? They are political issues and yet they are topics that come up again and again in the hacker community: reverse engineering protocols, DMCA, torrenting, software patents.

Sorry to labour this but to me it is important. My possible conclusions are that David (and others):

(1) do not see the online privacy issue as a tech issue and/or (2) only see it as a political issue and/or (3) do not care about it as an issue and/or (4) are ok-ish with mass surveillance and/or (5) have reached saturation point on it and/or ...?

I jumped to conclusion 3. I don't know why. Again, I see it as a tech issue, not solely political -- I think that it is an extremely, world alteringly important issue -- we should not be able to reach saturation point on it, it's too important.

Nobody is trying to silence you. You're being uncharitable and people are pointing it out. One of David's points is that he doesn't like political discussions on HN because people hear what they want to hear and the discussion becomes, well, uncharitable.

And yes, there's obviously stuff you're missing, but it's hard to believe you're being sincere since what you're missing is exactly what David spelled out, quite clearly, in his original comment. If I were to give a title to his original comment it would be "Why I Don't Think We Should Talk About NSA Surveillance on HN Even Though It's an Incredibly Important Conversation." Some folks would rather not have a conversation at all than have an unproductive conversation. The conversations that happen on HN around this issue are unproductive.

He's not arguing that those conversations shouldn't take place. He's arguing that HN isn't a good place to have them. To be honest, this conversation is likely not productive and I'm beating myself up a little for continuing it.

There's nothing wrong with people like David, Thomas, or anyone else advocating for higher quality discussions. The fact is that the discussions around anything involving politics or the law on HN are (IMO) very low quality and just downright tedious.

Nobody is trying to censor anyone. Saying what I just said above isn't trying to censor anyone. You don't need my permission to talk about these issues.

By silencing I was referring to the downvotes.

I'm sorry for not giving David the benefit of the doubt and jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Ah, well, that's part of it what David is talking about, too. I don't like it, either, and think upvoting/downvoting is not good for surfacing, implementing, and sustaining community norms.

BTW, Reddit has (largely) solved this exact problem with sub-reddits. Once a community reaches a certain size it naturally becomes less cohesive. You preserve that community one of two ways: by limiting who can become members of the community or by allowing the community to form sub-communities with their own norms.

Think of, e.g., http://reddit.com/r/politics

The tension in this thread is an inevitable consequence of how HN is designed, honestly.

I know this thread is getting reeeally long but I want to say that it bums me out as well. I ain't no karma whore but I do become a sad panda when the clock runs backwards and not forwards. I've self-censored on numerous occasions because I felt that I'd take a hit -- usually wisecracks, I'm a lot more jokey in real life and on other forums.

I've never used Reddit. I don't know if I want HN to turn into a kind of Reddit. I thought HN would self-limit because the type and level of discourse. If people feel that the politics stuff has gotten out of hand (I still would maintain that it has not, just that in fairness the Snowden thing is pretty big news) then maybe we could implement a technical solution. Like tagging. Then you could have a list of donotshowtags [politics, religion, kitten(s), ...] If a story contains a tag in your list it is hidden.

Although Reddit is often seen as the land of trolls, there are many subreddits where the level of conversation is orders of magnitude better than what happens on HN.

Reddit is not monolithic in the same way HN is. This means you'll see subreddits with much crazier conversations but also ones with much better conversations. It's not about tagging; it's about having a community robust enough to support different and sometimes-conflicting norms without disintegrating.

See http://reddit.com/r/science, http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/, http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians for quality subreddits.

See http://www.reddit.com/r/politics for politics.

See http://www.reddit.com/r/onetruegod to pay homage to your One True God.

> some story about a politician and bananas

Here in Italy, politicians have been saying all kinds of hideous, racist things about Italy's first black minister:


That kind of thing makes my blood boil and I think that, objectively, it's a more important story than the new Bootstrap or most other tech news.

Ciao David,

Yeah, that's some ugly stuff.

I'm sorry for not giving you the benefit of the doubt and jumping to the wrong conclusion.

Perhaps we should have a separate section or tab on here for political news if it's very important to some people.

I, for one, like HN because it doesn't have all the usual political news nonsense that mainstream news has. The privacy debate is great and all, but it doesn't substantially help my or anyone's lives on here. In 400 years, it's not going to matter whether the NSA read your emails or didn't read your emails. And realistically, reading another article about Edward Snowden impersonating Tom Hanks in a Russian airport terminal isn't going to push the meter toward or away greater privacy an ounce.

However, if you find informative, non-buried-under-political-stuff articles on HN that contribute to you building your business empire that changes the world for the better a little bit... that probably will still matter in 400 years.

PG (and others) moderate it, which is a polite word for censoring. He is a member of the .1%

This kind of censorship is not bad. It's needed. That's why we have a word "moderation", to distinguish that process from a similar one (but stronger), with negative connotations.

I understand that. In what way, is what I'm asking.

He/they sometimes kill stories that they don't feel belong on the site, or don't add anything to it.

> I'm glad that all these political stories are making the front page. You may not care about privacy on the internet but I do.

So to you "story about privacy on the Internet" == "political post". Perfectly fine, but I suspect tons of people define "political post" differently.

Which is exactly why I was asking for a definition for "political post", before the discussion even started. Sadly, almost nobody seems to care about finding some sort of common definition. And this won't help to get a tangible result.

We're talking about the political stories that have been hitting the front page. That is what the griping is about. These stories have been mainly about internet surveillance, censorship and filtering in the US, Europe, India, China, Russia and beyond (shout out to my peeps elsewhere, you know who you are.)

It's funny cuz I used to follow Greenwald for quite some time in Google Reader (Reader used to be this really cool RSS feed reader back when Google cared more about open standards, you may have heard of it) when he was at Salon. Then he moved to the Guardian and I thought, "good for him. Bigger audience". Then along comes Mr. Snowden and now it appears Greenwald has followed me to HN.

Funny old world. Just goes to show. What exactly, I'm not sure.

No, most of 'these stories' have been about the minutiae associated with Snowden's asylum requests. Reading one of these stories or the associated discussion is like watching an old episode of Three's Company - the details might be slightly different from episode to episode, but you already know the general plot. These stories take the place of articles that are more interesting, degrading the site as a whole, and do absolutely nothing to help any sort of political cause - in fact, because most of the stories are so content-free, they probably cause people to skip over the rarer more-meaningful ones. It's all really rather tiresome.

I've suggested it before: why not compartimentalize? (much like Reddit).

I'd love it if there was a "Politics" tag on top and articles and discussion was moved there, much like Ask HN's are moved.

For me, the value is discussing with a group of interesting people (the HN crowd), it's not the same going to another forum for these discussions.

Also, politics get a lot more discussion, everyone has an opinion. I can't comment on getting 60 FPS on Chrome because I don't have enough relevant information, but I do comment a lot on politics.

At most i would want a separate area which also allows us to push topics too it, because as evidenced by another famous tech site I used to be a fan of, there are groups who seem to think its their duty to ram their politics down the throats of others and they use all sorts of stories to do so.

However to be honest, I would just prefer a hide button next to the flag so I can bury it for my display only. Then I can tune out the zealots without throwing a flag

> However to be honest, I would just prefer a hide button next to the flag so I can bury it for my display only. Then I can tune out the zealots without throwing a flag

Great idea. I'd also like to see articles get a label if they are political so that I can simply filter all political articles off the front page.

After a while you'll have people joining HN just for the politics section. The HN crowd you speak of will no longer consist of people interested in tech and startups

Good post. What tends to happen on other forums I read (and even Usenet back in the day) is that the community would split in some way if this type of topic overload occured. i.e. too much politics talk = create a new politics subforum (or newsgroup, or subreddit) to siphon off the people that want to discuss those things. This hasn't happened on HN yet and probably can't since HN is really just a simple list of links w/discussion and not something that supports subforums (and at that point you're just cloning Reddit). So I'm not sure how you solve the overload issue without stringent moderation of some sort.

Excellent summary. The lack of quality couple with the large number of essentially rehashed discussions is what makes things particularly bad. I've started using the "new" tab a lot more than before as good submissions aren't making it to the front page.

I agree with everything you said and I also think that it cannot be automated and/or self-regulated.

At some point a conscious decision will have to be made to either strongly moderate political topics or to let HN slide to a different land.

> People don't seem to get that you can compartmentalize

There is probably a difficult-to-find balance to define for this, regarding technology.

The reason why:

- Technology is everywhere and a separation is difficult. Even the human body is technology.

- Technology exists in order to solve problems. These problems grow everywhere, in all aspects/areas of our life. And they must be discussed by technologists as much as everybody else so adequate solutions can be created (be they a business or a non-profit project).

But that ignore the other kinds of discussion, where there is nothing deeply interesting being said. The discussions where people enter with fixed views, and argue from those viewpoints, and cherry pick the data that supports their viewpoints, and ignore the data that argues against their viewpoints.

The intensely, but shallowly, interesting articles are harmful.

I like the light-touch user moderation applied so far, but maybe it's time for a few trusted long time members to have a down-vote hammer - a button that gives between 3 to 10 instant downvotes - to help moderate unsuitable behaviour, and a megaflag - something that gives super powerful flags to move stuff off the front page.

I agree. Well-kept gardens die by pacifism [0]. It's not the "political" topics per se that should be eliminated, but the "discussions where people enter with fixed views, and argue from those viewpoints, and cherry pick the data that supports their viewpoints, and ignore the data that argues against their viewpoints" - these should be constantly and consistently downvoted to hell and below.

[0] - http://lesswrong.com/lw/c1/wellkept_gardens_die_by_pacifism/

While I agree with the compartmentalization for content on HN vs, say, the type of content one would get on Reddit, I personally feel the NSA issue is intrinsically tech based and fundamentally tied to the DNA of HN: we are at the heart of the tech community in Silicon Valley and the NSA's issues are at the heart of tech globally.

You cannot talk about "the internet" without consideration for the NSA IF the NSA is slurping literally all global communications an storing them for either real-time, current or future analysis.

If the tech community doesn't feel that the NSA spying on the world via exploitation, coercion, secret court mandated wire-taps, direct/indirect access to the worlds largest tech companies systems or data is "tech related enough" or that this information is not important, then we are screwed.

I have actually had the opposite opinion of all these stories on HN: Utter relief that so many people with the technical capability of actually understanding the HOW of the NSA spying are actually engaged, paying attention and showing their disapproval of such systems.

> Politics are way more important than most of what we talk about

Talking is cheap, I'd hope to see more execution and implementations, especially, code.

Ok, so where do you go for higher level political discussion. And with people who have a wide variety of political beliefs, have agreed to a practice of attempted meaningful discourse, and who might be able to do something about this stuff?

I eagerly await your links, so I can move my politically minded comments over there.

Slashdot and Reddit both have channels dedicated to privacy: http://slashdot.org/tag/privacy http://www.reddit.com/r/privacy

They also both have a channel dedicated to politics: http://slashdot.org/tag/politics http://www.reddit.com/r/PoliticalDiscussion

Those sites will be no better and no worse than HN when it comes to your criteria.

I think that this...

   > One of the most admirable things about hackers is their ability to accomplish great things without - or in spite of government.
... is really a pretty sad, small statement. If anything, government is of more importance to us because it is the hacker mentality itself that is under attack right now. The reason, I think, that so many of the recent issues have salience with this community is that what various governments are trying to do is to shut down disruptive economic and social activities, the lifeblood of the hacker community, in order to protect entrenched and well-connected interests.

At some point we all have to stop saying "well I'm a {baker, hacker, librarian, truck driver,...}, why should I worry about these problems?" and realize that this is world-altering stuff happening, and if you want your little corner of the world to survive, you have to mobilize to protect it, even if that means doing a little less of the things you normally do.

So I'm OK with more political posts, as long as something actually comes from the emotions they generate. Frankly, I've noticed a change in myself. Twelve months ago I didn't care one bit about cryptography and networking, they were just useful plumbing that worked (or didn't). But now I'm moving to learn more about these topics because of recent events and a desire to at least better understand what is happening. HN was partially responsible for this shift in my attitudes, so good on you guys!

Exactly. Technology and especially things like cryptography and hacking, can potentially get you thrown in jail again, after a decade of peace. Does anyone even remember the immense legal problems that Phil Zimmermann had with releasing PGP? What about Kevin Mitnick? They put Mitnick in solitary confinement for years because the US government convinced a judge that "he had the ability to start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone" (as per Wikipedia). Guys, this is what we're dealing with, except now we have Guantanomo Bay where US citizens can be thrown into indefinitely with no due process for potentially being a terrorist.

Are we bound to repeat the same mistakes again, because a generation of "hackers" don't want to educate themselves on the importance of politics and concepts like "freedom"? Or is all you want to do is sit back, and fantasize that you will create the next Facebook, and you won't have to care about things like freedom, the Constitution, etc?

Guys, this is what we're dealing with, except now we have Guantanomo Bay where US citizens can be thrown into indefinitely with no due process for potentially being a terrorist.

It's just this kind of hyperbolic nonsense that is polluting the discussion here. A modern day Mitnick could not be "thrown into Guantanamo Bay" for "potentially being a terrorist". That would require the system to have broken down far, far more than it actually has, and indeed if it were that screwed up, anything we "hackers" on hn could do about it would likely be too little, too late.

One important skill engineers require is the ability to see the world as it is, and craft an appropriate solution. Maybe there's a certain thrill to imagining that "Big Brother" is here and we can band together to rebel against him, but that's a romantic fantasy, not reality.

I will grant that the specific mention of Guantanamo is a little off. AFAIK there aren't any US citizens there. On the other hand, Bradley Manning has spent, what, two years being tortured (solitary confinement, forced nudity, sleep deprivation). Is it so unreasonable to think that Mitnick might have been subject to similar treatment today?

Additionally, the US has actually extra-judicially executed at least one US citizen abroad. It also isn't entirely crazy (IMHO) to think that an appropriately "scary" "hacker" might be declared a terrorist and violently suppressed.

All you can say is that he would not be thrown into Guantanamo bay. Under current law, he most definitely could. I suggest you read up about the NDAA.

Hyperbolic nonsense? I suggest that you educate yourself on what is going on right now. There is no hyperbole, there is no pollution, there is only uneducated folks like yourself that don't seem to understand that things have broken down.

Obama signed off on the execution of known American citizens via drone attacks. These are American citizens that are protected by the US constitution against things like this. We're not talking about Pakistani citizens, or Afghanis. They were American citizens. Sure, they may have been terrorists, but they deserved a trial. Just like the Oklahoma Bomber, and the Unabomber. If you think it's okay for the US government to target its own citizens for drone execution without a trial, then we really don't have anything to discuss here.


Kevin Mitnick was thrown into prison, and suffered years in solitary confinement because of lies told by the US government. The 8th amendment to the Constitution is supposed to protect American citizens from this, but because of lies and delusion, they subverted the Constitution because they "feared" that Mitnick would become a nuclear terrorist and destroy the US. By saying that the US needed to be protected from Mitnick because he could start a nuclear war with whistles in a phone, they essentially charged him with being a nuclear terrorist, before it became chic. Yes he committed crimes, but they were social engineering crimes and electronic hacking. Nowhere did he even have a hint of wanting to destroy the US, and yet somehow his charged were trumped up to nuclear terrorism. This was 1995. You don't think today he would be thrown in Guantanamo or some other military prison indefinitely at this point? I have NO confidence that the current US government would give him due process in this day and age.

If you missed this news article, 3 religious nuclear protesters broke into a poorly guarded nuclear facility and set up a protest. Over the course of a few months, their charged escalated from trespassing to charges of sabotage and "intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155, punishable with up to 20 years in prison."


They are now jailed because "the court ruled that both the sabotage and the damage to property convictions were defined by Congress as federal crimes of terrorism".

And, of course that poor kid who was thrown in jail for making a terrorist threat for uttering a stupid "joke" online about killing kids.

Now, explain to me again how what I'm saying about Guantanamo is "hyperbolic nonsense"? Do you really believe that in this environment we're living, that Mitnick wouldn't be charged with terrorism? More importantly, is this really the US that you want to live in?

You don't think today he would be thrown in Guantanamo or some other military prison indefinitely at this point?

No, I don't, because Kevin Mitnick wasn't a member of the U.S. military like Manning, and it would be manifestly unconstitutional to transfer a U.S. citizen from U.S. soil into the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The habeas petition to the Supreme Court would take about nine seconds.

If you think the Obama administration no longer feels bound at all by the Constitution even in the face of an explicit ruling from SCOTUS, then, as I said, debating about it on hn will accomplish essentially nothing: We're already way too far down the slope. You apparently think that's the case, but that should be a fringe position in any community I'd like to participate in. Sadly it seems it's not.

I think people are getting personal here and the substance might be getting obscured. I will express my concerns differently: although you are probably right, technically and specifically, about relocating a prisoner to Guantanamo, I think the details are obscuring the gist. The US government acts with impunity, and really always has, against declared threats. Of course there is always a "reason" and a legal mechanism, and people who are concerned often articulate the details of the mechanism incorrectly, this doesn't change the substance of the concern.

Look at Waco, the MOVE bombing, consider that US officials have been unwilling to go on record against the legality of drone strike assassinations against US citizens on US soil, I don't think much hampers the executive branch from acting. Regardless of the label or legal doctrine they use to explain it.

Afterwards, there is always a narrative in the media that describes the people on the receiving end of these acts as crazy, weird, threatening, etc. This makes it appear only natural that the government acted with overwhelming force against its citizens ... but that just means we've fallen for the "rights are only for people like me" fallacy which underscores every system of oppression and exploitation.

Ok, who down voted my laboriously typed (on an iPad!) and thoughtful comment. Really?

Oh you mean unconstitutional, like executing an American citizen without due process, like Obama has already done?

Being a member of the US military is completely irrelevant, you really have no education on this topic. I suggest you read up on the NDAA, and the other crimes against the Constitution that have been committed by Bush and Obama. Whether or not they transfer citizens to Guantanamo is irrelevant, they could send him to some military prison indefinitely, which is the real crime.

If you don't feel like participating in this discussion, and spreading your "hypobolic" poison, then feel free to completely drop out.

And unlike you, I don't have a defeatist attitude. Even though people such as yourself refuse to be educated, I think there is a real chance, especially after the anti-NDA vote, that people will get their message across to the politicians. My hope is that politicians that actual believe in things, like Rand Paul, will get voted to lead this country, as opposed to phonies and shysters that want a fat pension.

I agree with this. I don't think an observant hacker can just sit back and pretend it's 1995, and that what's going on isn't going on. A lot of freedom that was taken for granted is under rapid encroachment by the US Government and other foreign governments as well. That includes the vast intrusion upon privacy online by the NSA.

People that work in technology need to be very politically active right now (I'd say hackers, but it's so much more broad than that). Tech is one of the few segments of the US economy still doing very well, there's a lot of money there, and politicians listen to money; it buys influence (as sad as that may be). Let this opportunity to push back against the abuses going on slip, and it might be a generation or more before another good chance exists, as abuses today become accepted norms tomorrow.

That all having been said. I think HN needs a strong balance against junk political discussions. Leave all of that to HuffingtonPost or thehill or Politico and so on. That is, it's the difference between having discussions about Anthony Weiner, and the NSA issue/s.

Agreed. Technology is having such a profound effect on the bigger political picture that, as technologists, I think it's important that we, as a community, are both sharing the information but also figuring out what to do about it.

I appreciate the political posts here primarily because hackers seem to be less afraid to post about and discuss some of the more awkward political events happening right now so there is more candid and open information sharing.

I think having some threads about politics--at least the main issues most people here care about--is very valuable. HN provides a particular perspective that is fairly hard to find outside other tech sites. Sure, the comments are not always up to quality and are sometimes quite extreme, but they offer a very interesting and often reasonably well-supported perspective.

The real problem is how many different articles and threads get upvoted on the same topic. One or two Snowden threads? Great! But ten or twenty? With more than one at a time? It's all too much. Not only does this take spots away from other relevant topics but it also fragments the discussion. And so we get repetition. Repeated comments, repeated ideas, repeated arguments... ad nauseum. I only have so much to gain from reading the same opinions over and over--especially if I agree with them!

This happens with other common topics as well, but it seems particularly endemic with certain political themes. Moreover, the political articles tend to be fairly similar to each other in nature and content. Sure, we get a fair amount of Go and Haskell articles too, but at least the articles themselves tend to vary quite a bit.

Of course, a very important aspect of HN is that everything is ultimately implicitly decided by the community. So here's my plea to everyone voting on articles: try to vote for fewer political articles, especially on "hot" topics. Don't completely ignore politics, but try to avoid having more than one every couple of days or at least more than one at a time.

Now, how do we actually go about doing this? I actually have no idea. Hopefully somebody else can come up with something :).

The problem with self-moderation is that it's not a stable solution. Political stories draw in people interested primarily in politics, and since it's so easy to be interested in, it draws in lots of people who are primarily focused on that.

Anyone can have an opinion on politics, whereas finding people to discuss actors vs CSP vs threads as methods of concurrent programming is much tougher, and sacrificing that to reenact liberals vs libertarians for the 37898289261st time on the internet is a tragedy.

Self moderation is augmented by the cycling of stories off the front page.

HN is in a news cycle where there is a nexus between the business of "high-tech" and politics playing out in a new way - or the same old way, depending on one's cynicism.

As always the solution to a low ebb in HN quality is to post interesting content, or even better to write some.

> As always the solution to a low ebb in HN quality is to post interesting content, or even better to write some.

This is an economics problem:

* Posting an outrage story written by someone else, or a political article: cheap.

* Writing good, interesting, and thoughtful content yourself: expensive.

The relative quantities of the two goods, without any intervention, is left as an exercise to the reader.

One solution is to write something really fucking great. Doing so is left as an exercise for the writer.

Those economics are not restricted to stories about politics. Remember the days when the front page would be flodded every time the MacBook Pro got longer screws, a couple of megahertz processor speed, and a bigger base hard drive?

There have always been cheap and easy stories. There always will be. If you run a zeitgeist, it comes in the box.

> One solution is to write something really fucking great.

No, it isn't. I thought the logic was pretty clear:

In the time it takes one person to write a great article - assuming they're capable of it, which not all of us are - another person can submit 100's of low value links, some of which will get a lot of votes because they're about high-passion, high-profile topics.

The logic was clear and its ongoing attractiveness as a first approximation of HN empirically demonstrated over the years. Sometimes, I find it an attractive first approximation.

However, I recognize that my dog, Scarlett, is an animal and therefore to a first approximation an insect. Yet, I do not squash her when she's in the bed with me, nor spread chemicals to prevent her entry to the house, nor scrupulously remove all potential food sources.

We agree that there is an endless supply of HN submissions. Though we may disagree about which is which, we also agree that some are better and some are worse. We also agree that there is virtually no barrier to entry in regards to becoming a supplier of articles to HN.

The points at which I find dissonance in the market model are:

() The supply of karma points is also unlimited. I can create a karma point for another HN'er. Of course, I can destroy a karma point for another HN'er, but only to a more limited degree; at least I understand that there's throttling in the software.

() Karma points are not fungible. I cannot exchange them for anything - except in a limited sense snark that I am willing to have downvoted, a practice in which I have occasionally engaged.

() Thus, if there is a market of the sort amenable to economic market theories, it is the sort of market which is for all practical purposes entirely illiquid. I don't know enough economic theory to suggest that such markets are not the subject of voluminous academic research, but supposing they are, that perhaps still suggests dubiousness in the first order approximation.

Teasing out the interesting facts about HN requires, in my opinion, a better abstraction.

I prefer a political model. HN has some democratic institutions - like one account one vote. It even has some aspects of Athenian democracy where the mob gets to vote on daily decisions regarding articles, and as in Socrates day, rhetoric oft sways the passions and ballots of men (and unlike his day, women).

More specifically, I prefer the republic - in the platonic sense - as an abstraction for modeling online communities. Ultimately there is a sovereign with whom we form a Hobbesian compact. Participation in a compact with HN requires us to give up certain rights in exchange for a particular form of security. The rights we give up to HN's sovereign and the security we gain are distinct from what we give up and obtain from the sovereign of StackOverflow or MSDNtechnet, or a professional cycling website.

The security we gain is largely that of reasonable norms. But among the rights we give up is that of not being subject to unreasonable policies at the extreme and policies with which we may niggle in the common.

so ... if you wrote the original, you get karma, if you just post the original, you get 1/x Karma?

seems, interesting.

Would encourage less posting, more thoughtful commenting.

Perhaps amending to that a filter to that which gives less upvotes for submissions that are repetitive based on url, page title and article keywords during a certain period of time. Though the only problem with that would be if early submissions are of less quality and get upvoted while ones that come slightly later are of higher quality.

I would go for the brute force approach - write your own good articles, write your own good comments.

Otherwise, its just "hey look world this one is interesting" with nothing back

Have a look at my recent submissions.


Some of it is guff that shouldn't have been subbed. Some of it is interesting and it got ignored. Some of it is not particularly great, but it got a few upvotes then got many more as it hit the front page.

Items 3 and 4 in the list were posted very close together in time, and were unlikely to have been subbed by anyone else. One got no votes, the other made front page for a while and got comments.

     * How to Almost Build an Engine With Only Parts From the Hardware Store [video] (howtolou.com)
        87 points by DanBC 21 hours ago | 44 comments
     *Programming the Vintage Intel MCS-48 Microcontrollers (theresistornetwork.com)
        1 point by DanBC 22 hours ago | discuss

And then there are the articles that get upvotes, and also get flags. The responsive URLs article (11 in the list) got 6 upvotes, but was flagged to death. The Wikipedia loo roll article got 9 upvotes, and two comments (with a 3rd comment asking why the hell it had been posted) but was also flagged.

I don't claim my subs are any good, or that they shouldn't be flagged, but it is confusing.

It's a combination of quality and luck.

I've gone to bed posting something I thought was mildly relevant and woken up to a big bump in karma.

I've posted something I thought was incredible and seen it wind up with one upvote.

Then again, why do I submit articles? Mainly because I think it will contribute to HN. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I tend to achieve more consistency with my writing anyway, and that's a more valuable skill to boot.

I've had the idea for a while for a new thread-management model for social bookmarking sites like Reddit or HN, and I think it would help to avoid this quagmire.

• In the new model, multiple "posts" (outbound article links or textual self-posts) could be attached to a single comment thread. The thread, not the post, would be the root-level object tracked by the system: Thread HAS MANY {Post, Comment}.

• New, hot posts which were started as their own threads, but which "should belong" to an existing thread, would get merged into that existing thread by the mods.

• The combined thread would then appear, under the title of the newest "post" in it, on the index pages, with a single aggregate score from all the posts merged to create it (though any "freshness"-based calculations would presumably look at the age of the newest post merged into the thread, not the age of the thread as a whole.)

• Clicking through from the index page would always take you to the thread page, not directly to the outbound link URL of the newest post.

• On the thread page, you'd see a header section containing all the actual outbound links and/or textual self-posts, newest first; and then a single unified comments section (also merged from all the post-threads.)

• Comments would be encouraged to take all the posts in the thread so far as prerequisite reading for their comment, rather than just the newest one. In other words, to speak to the accumulated knowledge of the thread so far.

• Older topics, still attached to the thread, would remain open for dicussion; you'd never have to rehash your old comment about X from the old X thread in the new X thread, since your comment would still be there in the new X thread (it being the same thread.)


So for example, in this model, there'd only be one "Snowden/NSA/PRISM" thread. When new articles came out regarding all that, they'd get attached to the thread, the thread would pop to the hot page (to roughly where the article-on-its-own was trending), and the previous discussion in the thread could be continued in light of the new article.


Forgive me if I'm missing the point, but it looks like it's just a complicated description of tagging, with commenting on the tags instead of the individual articles.

That said, it could still be interesting. The problem is, unless you're commenting on specific articles, you'll just end up with extremely general, "cheap" comments filling up the tag, with no specific topics to produce genuinely interesting conversations instead of blathering pontification.

It would be interesting to see a system like that. I think it would require some very strong community norms to keep it in check, which is fundamentally unstable (e.g., HN today is very different than it was a couple years ago, when I started reading).

> You'll just end up with extremely general, "cheap" comments filling up the tag, with no specific topics to produce genuinely interesting conversations instead of blathering pontification.

I think that's the problem with a lot of the submissions to HN.

Something happens, and 8 different tech blogs cover it, and 3 different newspapers, and 5 different bloggers. All of these get submitted to HN. Some of them make it to the front page, where people have the same discussion.

What I was going for was more like a traditional message-board design with "forum threads", each on a given "topic" that drifts over time along with the conversation. (Tags keep a discussion pinned to what the tag is "about", whereas a thread is just a cluster of posts, and the cluster's "topic"--its center of mass--can drift as more points are added to the cluster.)

Except, with this "message board", some posts (text posts or links) could be granted a special status and "promoted" up to a pinned area at the top, to serve as a collection of "prerequisites and resources for discussion." The thread's "preview" on the index would then show newest pinned stuff.

Thanks for the clarification - that does sound more nuanced than what I gathered originally. It actually sounds like a quite interesting way to do discussion - I'd love to hear more, if you've fleshed it out any further.

Erm, not to be silly, but how'd you get that nice bulleted list?

Unicode bullets. Here are some to cut and paste: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

> often reasonably well-supported perspective

That's the part that's unfortunately often untrue. HN posters on political topics seem much less informed than on technical topics. On technical subjects, someone who's offering strong opinions while obviously not having read much background material will typically be sidelined, but in political discussions, people don't seem to feel a strong need to do background reading or support their claims with evidence.

My problem with political topics on HN is that the focus is (in 90% of the cases) completely US-centric.

Hearing what US people think about their health system, their education system, their immigration system, or SF roads is pretty uninteresting to me, since it doesn't affect me. I can tolerate them once in a while, just to be aware of the general opinion, but I have zero interest in diving in detailled discussions on the details.

And the political context and problems in my country are completely different, so they can't even be taken as example or something.

For better or worse US is still the most influential country in the world with disproportionately big military spending and the cradle of the majority of tech industry giants. It is important what goes on there. US also is one of the big bastions of freedoms at least on paper. The erosion of rights and liberties there is scary.

US also is one of the big bastions of freedoms at least on paper.

If you want to know what the biggest issue facing Americans right now, you have just summarized it nicely by this line of thinking. This mythology of the US being a forward-thinking model of how to run a country may have been true in the 18th century (arguable), but since then the rest of the world has caught up. Today, on the world stage the United States is a nation like any other.

In fact, there are many nations where people are just as free, if not more, than in the US. As one example, while the myth of the "American Dream" is about social mobility, especially inter-generational mobility, in reality the US ranks fairly poorly by that measure. It is not enough for everyone to be de jure free, if their parents' race or socioeconomic status strongly determine the choices a person has available to them and their eventual success in life.

The US has deep social, political and economic problems, all of which impinge on an American's practical freedoms. Until Americans recognize these problems facing their country, and cease with this "bastion of freedom" bullshit, those problems cannot be addressed and will continue to fester.

I have no problem with political issues on HN if they're issues inherently relevant to technology: US immigration, censorship, secret spying, DRM, CALEA, CISPA/PIPA/SOPA, etc. Things related to startup financing (JOBS Act and equivalent) are cool too.

Borderline are probably general education (edu tech or tech specific education are fine), maybe investment tax laws to the extent they influence startup investments. Healthcare is generally not relevant except as there are tech solutions (which is highly relevant); healthcare for startups or individuals working in tech is maybe borderline.

Unrelated political issues (gun control or gun rights, politicians in general, tax policy, war, ...) seem better suited for other forums.

What we really need is "meta headlines" where the ~10 daily articles about Snowden can get consolidated into one post with shared comments. Same thing happens whenever a new product is launched, too -- it's not specific to the content.

Yes. There is far too much political nonsense on HN.

Most people do not downvote it. Most people do not flag it. A few people who have flagged it have lost flagging privileges.

Some of the new users brought in with political stories are using behaviours learnt elsewhere.

I've noticed a few long time users are missing. I don't know if that's got anything to do with the atmosphere on HN, or if they're just too busy at the moment.

But please, flag content that should not be here. Down vote comments that should not be here.

And please stop feeding the fucking trolls - While it's possible to have a discussion on the finer points of climate change science there are a number of climate change denialists[1] on HN, but there are also people happy to feed those trolls. It's disruptive and harmful.

[1] Also other wingnuts.

I started flagging stories last month when everything on the front page was related to Snowden walking across the airport and taking a dump, and other rehashed outrage at the NSA over and over and over, and it appears my flagging privs have been removed.

Once Reddit turned into a liberal orgy I left and found HN which for a long time haven't been occupied by political discussions. (and I am not a republican)

Now it seems that the same tendencies are trending, which is sad because it's very hard to not see how this can spin out of control and attract the "wrong" people.

We should discuss things like healthcare, snowden, patent law etc. but try and keep a focus on the mechanics of these things, rather than the morals.

I suspect that PG has given up moderating Hacker News and currently sees HN mostly as an effective marketing channel for YC startups. Lately most replies from PG and many founders seem filtered to prevent the inevitable backlash. The raw opinionated discussions likely happen elsewhere and i miss reading those.

I think the reason HN has seen more politics recently is that the topics directly relate to every-day life of hackers. Most of the things happening on the political scene are pretty much irrelevant to us (or to anything, really), but when someone is trying to break the Internet, we take notice.

pg actually described this quite nicely in 'The Word "Hacker"'[0]

[0] - http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

To quote:

To hackers the recent contraction in civil liberties seems especially ominous. That must also mystify outsiders. Why should we care especially about civil liberties? Why programmers, more than dentists or salesmen or landscapers?

Let me put the case in terms a government official would appreciate. Civil liberties are not just an ornament, or a quaint American tradition. Civil liberties make countries rich. If you made a graph of GNP per capita vs. civil liberties, you'd notice a definite trend. Could civil liberties really be a cause, rather than just an effect? I think so. I think a society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win, rather than those sponsored by the most influential people. Authoritarian countries become corrupt; corrupt countries become poor; and poor countries are weak. It seems to me there is a Laffer curve for government power, just as for tax revenues. At least, it seems likely enough that it would be stupid to try the experiment and find out. Unlike high tax rates, you can't repeal totalitarianism if it turns out to be a mistake.

This is why hackers worry. The government spying on people doesn't literally make programmers write worse code. It just leads eventually to a world in which bad ideas win. And because this is so important to hackers, they're especially sensitive to it. They can sense totalitarianism approaching from a distance, as animals can sense an approaching thunderstorm.

The another, more mundane reason, would be that political topics are very conductive to flamew^H^H^H^H^H^Hdiscussion, and we fall prey to this like everyone else.

As for my personal feel, I do think there have been a bit too many political articles here recently. Not because the topics are bad, but because most of them don't add anything new to the story.

Maybe it's time to start posting about Erlang again?


As for other solutions, maybe let's just wait 'till the Snowdengate blows over while aggresively flagging any political non-topics that tag along for a ride?

"They post about it, because it affects them" is a pretty big subtle indictment of the community, I think.

Not that I necessarily disagree, but it's something to think about.

The times we could tinker with the Internet and no one else cared about those 'bunch of geeks in their basement' are now over. The Internet went mainstream, everyone and their dog uses it for half of their life things. The Politics, once mostly irrelevant to tech, is coming for us, whether we want it or not.

I believe that Software is the new literacy. As such software will / is becoming a vital operational part of all parts of modern life, from drone operating systems to 911 call centres.

The new literacy has the capacity to bring marvellous new benefits - mostly if it comes with the attitudes that foster that literacy (most literate people do not advocate burning books, most software-literate people advocate net neutrality). (see pg (http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html) thx to Temporal)

Like it or not, what we do for a living will impact everyone, and carries with it a political overtone for maximum success. That means hackers have a political role to play (not in the partisan sense, but in the broader life of a polis.)

And so we should do what HN does best - demand evidence. Agitate, vote for and lobby for empirically driven politics. Demand a law that requires every national or federal political decision to have a 95% confidence value of working. Seems simple :-)

There's a few way to improve content without altering the system (which can take much longer and have positive/negative effects).

One way to instantly get more diversity in content is to frequent the "new" page more often. I find myself doing it more lately to vote up unique/interesting stuff that might otherwise get passed over. There's actually quite a few articles that are front page worthy that get passed over, but it takes time to go through and look. I just take a small break from working every now and vote a few up instead of waiting for them to hit the front page.

Another is to be more discriminative with what one upvotes. Avoid upvoting things from questionable sources or those that fall into being link bait/deceiving.

A third suggestion is to submit content that's accurate, informative and more diverse in hopes it gets upvoted. Try to find articles that you generally wouldn't find on another community.

Fancy algorithms and solutions aside, content on a forum is mostly a reflection of the current state of the community, for better or for worse. Alternatively implementing restrictions/policies would irritate some percentage of the community, but mostly that comes down to whether it's a percentage the community that one wishes to cultivate and maintain. As a community grows larger, interests become less focused more watered down as the community becomes more widely known. No major online community thus far I know of has been spared of that.

Addendum: I don't come to HN for the politics really anymore than I would come here for sporting news. I came here originally for the hundreds of insightful hacker/technology related discussions I have bookmarked and found more useful than any previous forum I have frequented. When discussions stray over into other interesting things at times, that's okay, but too much of any topic, tech/hacker related or not, becomes trite and repetitive.

When I started working with computers, nobody had one. People who programmed computers wore suits, and went to work in special air-conditioned rooms. Then we went through a stage where anybody engaged in commerce had a computer. My dentist had several computers. Finally, we're at the point where everybody in the world has computers -- many times several of them.

My point being that it's very difficult to distinguish between a computer story and a dentistry story. Computers are everywhere. They are part of everything. Likewise, people who hack and busy hacking everything. As hackers, we are involved in most all of the world's activities.

As several other commenters have pointed out, it's not that hackers are suddenly interested in price subsidies for turtle farmers in rural Texas. It's the other way around. It's that politics has invaded hacking. Political-types are taking the tools we have developed to help people and are using them for massive surveillance.

I think we do a great disservice to technology and ourselves if we view anything outside of technical, startup, and nerd-bait topics as not germane here. I think there is a difference between partisan bickering about some issue where one party is wanting to fight the other, for instance the issue of minimum wages in the U.S., and an issue like the extent of foreign participation in Echelon.

So sure, divisive political stories on social issues that only create strife and division? Count me out on those. Stories about how the tech we use and develop every day is being used to harm people? If that's not hacker-related, I don't know what is.

If HN wasn't interested in politics, the threads wouldn't make it onto the first page. If you don't like the post, then downvote/flag it. If you don't like the post, but your peers do, which appears to be the case, then suck it up. That's the whole point about crowdsourced moderation, you might not like what you see. Crying over the content of crowdsourced newsfeeds because it's not showing what you want is ridiculous.

Politics has been extremely important in the past several weeks to many Americans. It turns out that our hacker peers have been using technology to circumvent the Constitution. This isn't something done by lazy, government-level programmers. If you look at some of the other IT projects commissioned by the government, like consolidating government datacenters, those projects have all essentially failed. Instead, as Snowden demonstrated, you have a very, sophisticated mechanism to view everything about anyone. The programmers at the NSA are the very best of our peers. And they are working on arguably illegal programs that have made the US a worse place. It's certainly a worse place for foreigners who want to use services like Google, Facebook, etc. If I were a foreigner, there's no way I would use those services, since I have zero protection or privacy against the NSA. And if you are one of the 0.01% startup success stories and become billionaires, you will now need to face the US government and hand over all your user data.

Forgetting about politics, forgetting about things like the Constitution, and living in your bubble of a life is great if you're a kid, but the world doesn't work like that. Things like DefCon that remind people that sometimes you do have a reason to be paranoid is important. I was talking with an Ivy League 19 year old, and he didn't care that the US government was potentially reading everything about him. He said he had nothing to hide. This is the type of fate we need to avoid, having the seemingly best of the best being uneducated on things like like politics and ideas of simple freedom.

This of course leads to the question "What counts as a political post?".

The reality is: Everything is connected and interacts and we usually prefer to ignore this fact, because it "makes things easier" (only on the surface).

There is a huge link between technology and politics.

Personally, I believe it is in our future's interest that we learn to think more complexly.

EDIT: Can you answer the question "What counts as a political post?", so we're on the same page?

Here's my opinion.

"Political" would tend to mean something that people take a fixed view on, and where they're unlikely to change their opinion even if you present nice data to support your view.

"$PARTY has problems with massive IT project" isn't necessarily political.

"Dumb $PARTYians screw up yet another simple project!!1!" probably is.

It's probably best to avoid, even if there is a tech link:-

Israel / Palestine

Circumcision (ie, even if the story is "new laser robot performs safe circumcision" it's probably best to avoid it.)


Political processes as they're happening (ie, if the primaries are in progress, don't talk about them)

Anything more about Snowden or NSA or spying. You should have assumed your email was open to all, that's been common advice since email was invented, and we've been warning you about Echelon and similar since the 90's.

Global warming unless you can ignore the trolls

Sexism unless you can ignore the hateful trolls

etc etc etc.

I would seriously prefer to read tabs vs spaces or vi vs emacs than a lot of the stuff on the front page.

People use the meaningless term "hacker" as an excuse to submit and comment on everything in my experience.

The idea of letting users self-moderate on HN has failed, in my opinion. If admins allow these stories, albeit tacitly, then they won't go away. We've had countless of threads discussing this to no effect already, and nothing's changed.

Most of the political posts are related to the delay (or inability) in legal/social systems catching up with technological change. This is not really new but the frequency of these mis-matches are probably increasing as the technologies improve and get more widely used/deployed. There will be similar debates when each wave of change (3D printing, genetic engineering, etc.) hits the mainstream.

This all points to a greater requirement for technologists to be aware of and indeed in control of the political aspects of what is being created. The days of tinkering for tachnologies sake are probably becoming rather limited.

Can somebody please answer the first question "What counts as a political post?"

- Is "Snowden" = politics?

- Is "NSA" = politics?

- Is "War machine" = politics?

- Is "Poverty" = politics?

- Is "Unemployment" = politics?

Let's first try to see if "everybody" has the same definition.

Then "HN management" can update their manifest so we actually do have a tangible result after this discussion.

EDIT: As of now, we still don't have an agreed-on definition for what counts as "a political post". Or am I taking this discussion too seriously? Please downvote if you feel it was a bad idea I signed up on this site, I'd like to know...

Rule of thumb: if you can quote Obama's point of view on something, it's probably politics.

(food would be a false positive, I suppose, but you wouldn't get so many other errors)

Fun fact: Obama also has an opinion on bubble sort.


The answer is "Yes" to all of these, IMO

All of those are, obviously. Don't try to avert the issue by redefining words.

All I'm asking for is a definition from as many readers as possible, because that's where a discussion is supposed to start. The (until this moment, at least) lack of a collection of definitions is actually horrifying, for me.

If we had a collection of definitions, you'd be surprised how different they all are (personally, I don't agree at all that "political post" can be defined by a list of words). Yet here we are, talking about something we haven't even clearly defined, yet.

Hacker News is reddit, reddit is Hacker News.

I think the only alternative is go create a competing site with heavier, visible moderation.

A non-political Hacker News might have enough people interest to garner a decent audience. I am pretty fed up with the screeds myself and would welcome any (well-executed) alternative.

I haven't seen any competing sites/CMSes that weren't incredibly half-assed.

You would need 2 competing sites.

One for the HN alternative, and one for the sub-optimal HN alternative. When people flood the new HN with poor material you send them over to the less moderated site.

There are plenty of sub-optimal alternatives - I just don't want to name them.

A lot of people who create alternatives have way too much confidence in "the launch". It's better if they actually have a good community to show for it instead of some glorified CMS with "potential".

Hacker News like success stories, so that would be a good angle to promote a new community with - rather than announcing an inconsequential launch.

Why a competing site instead of a subreddit?

You mean on reddit?

Subreddit don't have admins - only moderation. Better to have full control of the rules and the enforcement of them in your own place.

A quick summary of the discussion as I see it [#]

We would like politics threads on HN to be more heavily moderated (out of the way) because

1. HN is still US-centric, and US policy discussions are not the same as discussing the facts behind the politics.

2. We can get our political fix in (m)any other place(s).

3. The total number of political comments and discussions on HN that have add to the total sum of human knowledge is zero.

4. Finding articles that do satisfy ones intellectual cravings is hard and if it is not rewarded, will be done less and less.

[#] cos its had the highest signal to comment ratio for a very long time

If one more upvoted story talks about a possible controversial law that somebody doesn't like, or the latest development in The Snowden Drama, or a new article about how the FBI might be talking to the NSA about the CIA doing something somewhere, or how somebody in government might be doing some thing wrong, i'm going to bludgeon the mods with a LART.

We want hacker stories. Not the politico-news roundup for computer geeks.

I don't disagree that HN has been preoccupied with political issues recently.

Given the nature of these political issues (and their direct impact on tech) I'm not sure that this is such a bad thing.

As far as this thought:

> Great minds could be focused on better things.

I disagree.

I feel our focus on these things is extremely important. Don Knuth says it well here: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/iaq.html

> "If day after day goes by with nobody discussing uncomfortable questions like these, won't the good people of my country be guilty of making things worse?"

Of course, this is just a re-wording of Edmund Burke's famous (and oft-used to the point of cliché) quote: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." The point is nonetheless valid, however. If hackers don't commit to thinking, speaking and debating about political issues relating to tech - who will? Sure, HN might be an echo chamber where we preach to the choir until our faces are blue - but it provides a place for us to hone our arguments, build alliances and keep our fingers on the pulse of the hacker community when it comes to such issues.

All of that said, I couldn't agree with you more on this point:

> "Very few are evidence of some "interesting new phenomenon". Most are a rehashing of the same old topics."

I'd definitely like to see less than 7 articles on the front page every time Snowden opens his mouth, unless all those 7 articles each have something unique and interesting to add to the discussion.

I'm not sure how this can be reconciled with the fact that if 7 different posts about the same thing make it to the front page, then there is obviously a massive interest in the community on that topic. What about the wishes of all of these contributors, who have voted already in our debate by putting the content on the front page in the first place?

One possible solution is to implement some sort of clustering system that groups posts about the same topic into a single "uber post" (with links to articles and a single comments thread). I'm neither a NLP nor a ML guru, so I have no idea how feasible this would be to automate given such a small data set. I'm also not sure if a manual tagging / grouping system would carry with it more overhead than it is worth. Most of the time (when we are blissfully ignoring the NSA, censorship, etc.) the front page is reasonably diverse.

It's probably because everybody has got on opinion on political issues, whereas technical matters might generate less feedback...

I would say most people are just as opinionated about language, hardware and software choices as they are about politics. Though the participation threshold on most political topics is probably lower as politics tends to have a wider appeal and more inclusive than say a more narrowly used programming language or software tool.

> I would say most people are just as opinionated about language, hardware and software choices as they are about politics.

Err... go into a bar, in, say, Iowa, and ask whether people prefer PHP to Python. Then ask what they think of Obama.

Yes, but yareally's post was made in the context of HN discussions, I don't think the point was to be taken as a statement about the whole humanity.

There are no barriers to entry to take part in HN.

No explicit barriers yes, but many tend to participate more in discussions where they have an interest/opinion in the subject matter than ones there they do not. Even your previous comment about walking into a bar in Iowa reflects that as people that are generally familiar with whatever topic are more interested in discussing it than those that do not. Since nearly everyone, regardless of background has some opinion and knowledge of politics, the barrier for entry into those discussion is much lower and likelihood for such articles being upvoted.

> Since nearly everyone, regardless of background has some opinion and knowledge of politics, the barrier for entry into those discussion is much lower and likelihood for such articles being upvoted.

And thus more people who are otherwise marginally interested in the site can participate!

This is a feedback loop.

Yes, since looking at your other comments in the thread, we're in agreement. I just misinterpreted your original reply to me.

Yes, I was referring to HN discussions, not people in general. I wouldn't go up to random strangers on the street and ask them if they preferred php, python or ruby unless I wanted to perform some sort of sociological experiment :)

One could add a new political page, there is one for 'ask' and 'jobs', maybe there should be one for 'politics'.

It's a tricky one. I for one discover most of the political issues relating to "hacker stuff" here on HN. I'd be worse off if it went away since I don't have time to spend on other sites.

But I agree, purely political stuff that has no relation to "hacker stuff" should probably be kept elsewhere.

But then, we're hackers. We're meant to be the people who find practical solutions to complicated problems, and I think that political issues do present the kind of problems that hackers would like to take on.

I don't know. Like I say, it's a tricky one.

"But then, we're hackers. We're meant to be the people who find practical solutions to complicated problems, and I think that political issues do present the kind of problems that hackers would like to take on."

Well said. Politics is ripe for disruption, to use the cliché.

HN is currently the best site I know of for quality political discussion. It doesn't cover the broadest range of topics though, heavily leaning towards politics related towards technology. I'd actually like to see a broader range of political stories. HN has grown hugely over the last few years and I'm sure PG is resisting the urge to become more than a site for hackers. Having said that it seems to have become that already. Some way to tag and filter the stories would seem like the best way forwards. Any thoughts?

> HN is currently the best site I know of for quality political discussion.

That's indicative of just how horrible political discussions are on the internet, because frankly, a lot of the discussions here are rehashing stuff you can find in usenet postings in the 80ies. There is little that's new, interesting or thoughtful in a lot of them, and a lot of inanity. "The US is just like Russia and China!". Given that it's way cheaper to pull stupid statements out of one's ass than it is to do the research and careful argumentation to refute said statements, it's easy for cheap, junky commentary to surpass the more thoughtful, expensive kind.

Here's a theory: a lot of HN users are in their early 20ies, and haven't grappled with many of these issues before, so perhaps to them they really are new and interesting, and they appreciate seeing them hashed out.

People are passionate. If a subject comes up which ignites the passion and touches them, they will get worked up about it. It’s not a unique feature of HN. Its everywhere from Reddit to Facebook and YouTube comments.

I’ve come to believe there is a lot of group think when it comes to the nature of comments. It’s a consensus of opinion and if you write something which goes against the tide of the consensus, you will be down voted especially when its around subjects people are passionate about it. I don’t have a problem with this per se but it can be annoying when you just wish to give an opposing view point.

The fire, anger just touches some and the quiet ones shy away from posting for fear of down votes and those who just wish to give an opposing viewpoint, end up being censored by down votes and negative comments. To be honest, its seems Reddit has influenced a style of voting behavior. It’s a “hive mind” mentality.

I personally believe if you stopped displaying the total Karma for each comment and on your profile, it would stop it being a point scoring mentality. Quality content and discussion, not gaining karma points should be the focus. Keep the number internal. Sometimes people say something popular just to get points of Karma but there is no benefit of having a Karma total displayed, it just turns into a phallus measuring completion ultimately. With the total Hidden from profiles and comments, you will see in time a different dynamic.

> If a subject comes up which ignites the passion and touches them, they will get worked up about it. It’s not a unique feature of HN.

The unique feature of HN is that those topics are explicitly mentioned as things that should not be posted here.


> A crap link is one that's only superficially interesting. Stories on HN don't have to be about hacking, because good hackers aren't only interested in hacking, but they do have to be deeply interesting.

> What does "deeply interesting" mean? It means stuff that teaches you about the world. A story about a robbery, for example, would probably not be deeply interesting. But if this robbery was a sign of some bigger, underlying trend, then perhaps it could be.

> The worst thing to post or upvote is something that's intensely but shallowly interesting. Gossip about famous people, funny or cute pictures or videos, partisan political articles, etc. If you let that sort of thing onto a news site, it will push aside the deeply interesting stuff, which tends to be quieter.

I think if you look at submissions from a numbers standpoint, the main difference between political news submissions and "hacker news" submissions is the number. As annoying as it may be, there are more outlets (publishers/bloggers/articles etc) for political news than there are for hacker news. Therefore, when someone writes about his or her weekend project, there is one article; when a major security flaw is found in some piece of hardware or software, there are three articles/blog posts; and when something like news about SOPA/NSA/Snowden breaks, there are five to ten (or even more) articles/blog posts/news media pages.

If we generously assume that 100% of arrive on HN as submissions, then it makes sense that the distribution of submissions will weigh towards the more popular in terms of number of submissions for different articles for the same topic (visualize a histogram).

My solution would be to have a way to merge separate submissions that fall under the same topic (basically, one or more URLs per topic). How it would be implemented (tags, users marking submissions as "similar" or "flagged for merge") would be up for debate.


Maybe a single optional "political" tag with a profile setting and/or a separate subsection for submissions marked as "political".

"One of the most admirable things about hackers is their ability to accomplish great things without - or in spite of government. The recent preoccupation is a bit sad. Great minds could be focused on better things."

Government is certainly capable of excess, as we see on the front page of HN every day, but there's a tremendous irony (or blindspot, more accurately) in your statement. The computer industry as we know it, let alone the Internet, would not exist if not for the government. Many of us benefited from public education at some point in our lives, or were educated at universities by professors whose research is at least to some extent government supported. Let's not mythologize ourselves by pretending we build all of this great stuff on our own in a vacuum.

Like it or not, government plays a huge role in the hacker world. It can be both a huge force for innovation and an instrument of oppression. It behooves us to understand how government interacts with individuals and organizations, and current events. For me, the HN community does a great job of surfacing news stories at the intersection of politics and technology.

Overload? Hardly because HN is self moderating. If the community wasn't interested in those topics they wouldn't rise to the top.

I for myself really like to read what fellow hackers think about certain topics. And for that HN is great. Because I certainly won't get that from the washington post comment section or /r/politics.

I will add this:

I generally don't mind the news, but the discussion at these submissions are generally pretty retarded; and what is more scary to me, a lot of nonsence gets upvoted and a lot of voices of reason get downvoted.

But I guess we are just becoming new digg/reddit/(take your pick) and this is inevitable.

Surveillance, patents, DRM, and education have a direct impact on the technology industry. Getting these things wrong could destroy our industry. Health costs make it significantly more difficult to hire staff for new ventures.

If there was a problem with electric power in the US, we would be talking about that.

EzGraphs: just because you don't find the topics of...

- patents


- mass surveillance

- privacy

- censorship

...interesting, doesn't mean that others do not. These are all very real issues happening now and affecting the tech industry (you know, the livelihood of most people that post here).

I know, for example, many programmers start squirming when these issues come up because they're of the personality type that 'don't want to rock the boat' but technical and 'political' issues overlap in a major way.

Certainly you wouldn't find these recent posts more relevant than the topics at hand?

Dropbox’s San Francisco Office


Bootstrap 3 RC1


Politics is popular now because the hacker news crowd are like a bunch of geeky high school kids who obsess about the gang that's been bullying them. Their brilliant intellectual life is decimated by thoughts about the bully gang.

I'm going to have to point out that "One of the most admirable things about hackers is their ability to accomplish great things without - or in spite of government." is in itself a pretty political statement.

But I definitely think it would be nice to not have the entire front page blanketed with posts on the same current affairs topic. Not sure how to do that though, without introducing tags, or categories, or asking/forcing people to post links as comments if there's an existing post on the topic.

I eat sleep and breathe politics. It's what I do for a living, and it's most of what I care about.

That said, I don't come here to read about politics.

Yes! Over the past several months I've found myself wishing that I was in a better position to launch a site that is solely for tech links.

I think it should be left to the will of the upvote.

If people want to upvote it, they shall.

So if a bunch of Justin Bieber fans join HN and start voting - in the 1000's - every article about their idol, that's cool?

It's been a much more acute phenomenon lately, but that's what I'd expect when there is an onslaught of stories that are going to upset hackers.

"One of the most admirable things about hackers is their ability to accomplish great things without - or in spite of government. The recent preoccupation is a bit sad. Great minds could be focused on better things." What, what, what? Better things?

And I would be even more precise : US based political news.

Oh yeah, more articles about Bootstrap 3 please. I hear it got released or something, and it has flat buttons.

Great minds could be focused on better things.

For that, great minds would first need to stop patting themselves on the back, and be concerned about more than what's on their desk or in their bank accounts. Supposedly great minds built drones and surveillance technology the not so great minds get to clean up after. Oh so great minds are giving politicians who can hardly spell "web" correctly these fantastic toys because... hmmm, why, actually?

Maybe it would help if you defined "great mind" first? Consider Einstein, Russell or Chomsky, for example. Consider Socrates or just about anyone... If they had two brain cells to rub together, chances are good they cared about politics. Saying that politics doesn't have any place on HN is itself a political stance in a way, and it's hardly like all stories are about politics now.. we simply have those, too. What's so horrible about that? What kind of fucked up beauty sleep does it disturb?

Then define "great mind", define "better things"; put your mouth where your downvotes are.

Are you asking why you got downvotes?

I don't know, but perhaps it's because of tone.

> Oh yeah, more articles about Bootstrap 3 please. I hear it got released or something, and it has flat buttons.

There are different ways of saying that. The way you said it isn't awful, but it is adversarial.

You then have a weirdly aggressive paragraph about people patting themselves on the back while delivering toys to politicians, which misses the point that many people don't deliver those toys to politicians, they specifically opted-out of military or defence work.

Your final paragraph is, again, weirdly combative.

> What's so horrible about that? What kind of fucked up beauty sleep does it disturb?

Someone suggests that there are too many political articles on HN, and that it has affected the tone of the site. To respond like that is an excellent demonstration of the problem.

Your next post, asking people to put their mouths where their downvotes are, seems to indicate that you don't think the problem is with your posts, but with the idiots who don't understand you and who just downvote rather than discussing.

I don't know, but perhaps it's because of tone.

Ah okay, I just wanted to makes sure it wasn't something more substantial. ( upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/Graham's_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement.svg huh )

There are different ways of saying that. The way you said it isn't awful, but it is adversarial.

So pompousness about how "great minds" should have "better things" to do than care about politics is okay, injecting some reality into that isn't? If you don't notice such self-congratulary fluff, of course you'll find a response to it "weirdly aggressive and combative". If you don't consider the initial post adversarial, then of course my response must seem weird to you.

It's not that I want to pick on Bootstrap, that was just one example of a lot I could have made. The very concept of making a CSS framework might be a "new idea", the very first implementation of that idea is already kinda pedestrian, but further releases, or the 50th CSS framework? Not new, not intellectually stimulating. And you know what? I don't usually complain about any of that, ever, much less making submissions about it; until someone says that having like 5-10% politics is just too much, that "great minds" can do better. Then I mention it, because the disconnect is just too glaring to ignore.

You then have a weirdly aggressive paragraph about people patting themselves on the back while delivering toys to politicians, which misses the point that many people don't deliver those toys to politicians, they specifically opted-out of military or defence work.

Which in turn misses the point that many people did NOT opt out, which is why we're talking about this now.

Your next post, asking people to put their mouths where their downvotes are, seems to indicate that you don't think the problem is with your posts, but with the idiots who don't understand you and who just downvote rather than discussing.

Oh, so it's posts now, and you calling other people idiots on my behalf makes my posts "weirdly aggressive"? Good thing I don't get to act as some kind of scapegoat. And how is just downvoting instead of discussing not the equivalent of tone? How is it not way below that even? None of this adds up.

But sure, I don't eat chalk, I don't say "great job!" when I see a turd, and I don't care about the downvotes themselves; I just prefer their reasons mirrored into the medium of text where they are actually visible and can be responded to.

Still not a single word on what a "great mind" is, and what "better things" they have to discuss. Oh well.

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