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HN is Becoming 2005 Slashdot
404 points by uuilly on Aug 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 252 comments
I never left slashdot. I just stopped going there. HN was a big part of that. I wanted my tech news to be thought provoking, funny and innocent. I had plenty of sources for "real world" news and I wanted tech to be an island away from that.

Slashdot became more about the legal issues surrounding technology than about technology. It had a militant, fanatical vibe that soured the taste of its brilliant gems.

HN is starting to feel like a place where activists hang out. The topics are certainly important and worth discussing - but the tone takes away from the lightness and fun of technology. It's like eating cheese and drinking orange juice at the same time. The two are good on their own, but they don't go well together.

I agree completely. I've been on HN for almost six years now (sidenote: wow!), and I'm in the top 40 users on the site by karma. And, despite the exhortations to not think that the site is becoming Reddit, the community is absolutely changing for the worse.

There are a few things that I've noticed that I never used to see:

* More politics. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a crazy flaming liberal, and I still don't want to see things like the Ayn Rand story that popped up earlier today, even though I agree with it. I have plenty of sites I can go to to get political news and discussion. I've traditionally liked the fact that HN isn't one of them.

* All Edward Snowden/NSA all the time. Yeah, ok, I get it. It's a big story and a big deal. But, at this point, there's nothing new to talk about. I see what amount to the same comments posted day in and day out on these threads. And it's really boring.

* Incredibly racist comments. On a number of occasions lately, I've seen people post comments that are totally unacceptable in civilized discourse. e.g.: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6041616 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6005314

As a result of these, I've seriously considered abandoning HN, and likely will just like I did with Slashdot years ago. I really don't want to, and I know it can never 'go back to the way it was,' but the overall level of civility needs to change dramatically (and this is the responsibility of everyone in this community. Call people on it when you see it and make it clear that this is totally unacceptable).

Maybe there needs to be a new section of the website entitled "Aaron never has to click on this link" (or just "Politics"), where we can sequester (ha) everything politics-related.

Anyway, to sum it up: the community has absolutely changed, and generally for the worse. And it's our responsibility to fix it, but we'll also need some help from pg.

I think I pinpointed the exact moment HN's decline started. It was when my inane, rage induced comments about the NSA were getting upvoted.

Let's not ban politics, let's just drastically lower the amount of noise in political threads.

Interestingly, the toxic nature of political debate was what lead to the creation of subreddits - r/politics was the first!

The underlying problem is one of reflection and restraint. Many comments and posts are made very quickly to get the "frist post" or count coup in some other way.

There is a lot more to discuss about the Snowden/NSA brouhaha. It's just not regurgitation of existing bits of information that have already been posted hundreds of times. We burn out on the repetition and get annoyed.

What is relevant, and in my eyes disappointing, is that there has been little deep discourse on the topic. Every article starts at the basic "OMFG" and doesn't take a broader view of new developments.

There is some incentive that is driving the decline of quality content and interaction on the site. Whether it is attention, karma, or whatever, site members have responded with a focus on shallow quantity.

For example, there hasn't been a deep discussion on why privacy is a right. There've been a few comments, such as Schneier's "What's your salary?" that evoke the fear of having privacy violated, but people who are afraid of negative stimulus will override their fear for a more meaningful or important goal. Why is what the NSA doing bad, from basic philosophical principles, and what will the impact be on business, technology, and society in the coming years?

Solving the problem is not simple or trivial, but I'm sure Paul has given many approaches significant thought. It's difficult to implement them without changing the essential simplicity of the site.

There is the Reddit path of subreddits and the various "this thread moved to IYFCategory" forums. I'm not sure that helps. However, there is a natural clustering of some of these topics. While a "politics" cluster is too broad, some shorter-lived and more specialized clusters, such as Snowden/Angular/whatever grouping, would afford discussion among those interested, encapsulate the babble storm, yet give an indication of activity so that individuals can determine their own level of involvement. "I see you're posting a link to a story about Edward Snowden. I'm adding it to the Snowdenball."

Another approach is to limit karma. The people who post karma-bait will top out very quickly and either lose interest, or focus less on the score they have accumulated. It could just be another exponential function of up votes. 1:1 when getting started, then decrease the karma adjustment of each vote over time. Then one has positive and negative feedback, especially among "newer" accounts, and less of a desire even to look at the number past 2,000 or some arbitrary figure.

It's a tough problem. We can self-regulate by avoiding the xkcd 386 impulse. Stop giving votes to shallow thought. Stop posting one-line replies that are obvious and superficial.

I'm a newer member and even in the two years I've been here, I've noticed a change. I think part of the problem is that it's too easy to create disposable accounts. Do you think that adding some sort of accountability system when signing up would help?

What are the decent alternatives? Or else, let's try to make this into something better, by flagging instead of commenting, and downvoting racist, sexist, bigoted crap instead of feeding the trolls.

If you're fine with more general topics and about a day's delay in "breaking" internet news (re: stuff that doesn't matter), I've found MetaFilter to be good. The pay wall filters out bottom-barrel trolls and the community is mostly nice enough to shame bigoted and extremist bullshit.

I've become a fan of the micro-paywall. A one-time fee of $5-10 is an amazingly powerful filter.

Metafilter, as you said, is one example. Another is the Ruby Rogues Parley mailing list (now Discourse site). I can only imagine what a HN with similar filtering-of-the-noise would be like.

Oh please. This just breeds exclusivity. What's to stop another site or individual filtering HN?

I think it'd be interesting if any account less than a year old had their comments put into the 'pending' state pg has been talking to.

Sites that don't let in new users are as bad as sites that that themselves go completely to pot.

It's possible to have civil political discourse, but it takes a lot of effort, much more than maintaining the entire rest of a site. You can't do it by tweaking things here and there, you need active moderators who can maintain cool heads themselves about topics they are passionate about.

I don't think it's worth HN spending that effort, and what's more important it doesn't look like HN wants to spend that effort.

If you want a swimming pool, you have to maintain it. If you can't, fill it in. HN should either invest a lot more maintenance on political posts, or take a very very heavy ax to them.

newscomers will stop comming because they wont fell welcome, and that space is not really democratic..

this will eventually degrade to more elitism, like (now just people with a big karma)

HN is like a collective mind.. more pop ot gots, more of the average mind it will represent.. its something i fell about facebook too.. with the first open-minded friends, it was a good environment.. than.. the thing get popular, and your news feed look like a toillet flush..

i think whats bother some, its what attract others.. for me particularly i dont mind some political biased posts.. more than i do for the startup mentality stuff..

but then both of them get they fair share of the HN front page.. i think people here at HN do a very good review of things that are important, also for the moment, for the modern times.. live in broaders and bigger communities is this.. the average collective IQ gets lower.. but it make sense to say: "i dont want to grow anymore if thats whats grows means?"

should we kick off the average and make they fell unwelcome?

maybe i am the average, how can i possible know that?

As far as I can tell, this is the third major shift in the tone of the site. When it first started out there was a lot more technology discussion, but quickly the whole VC/fundraising aspect became very prominent. Recently, legal issues have become very prominent.

I think this reflects a real-world trend in what's relevant to "hackers" right now. The financial aspect of the whole technology industry really seemed to take off after the Wall Street meltdown, after other financial avenues darkened (remember all those articles a couple of years ago about "why we're in a bubble/are we in a bubble?"). Right now, a number of legal issues are impacting technology (software patents, NSA spying, etc) and hackers are unsurprisingly interested in discussing them.

I don't think these are necessarily bad trends. I think you're seeing a bit of the maturing of tech industry and you're seeing that reflected in the discussion. But there is still a lot of great technical discussion on the site (the front page right now has a great story on a scanner bug, a compilers blog post, a theorem-prover as programming language article, etc).

And at the end, what happened to Slashdot is that reddit happened and all the smart people left, and what happened to reddit is that Hacker News happened and all the smart people left. Until there is a credible alternative to HN, I think you'll still see a lot of signal, even if there is more noise than there used to be.

The problem for me is that the political stuff has perfect substitutes that I can easily go to, but I don't know of any alternatives for the skeptical, intelligent tech+business discussion.

That's an interesting way of putting it. I first came on here to learn about Arc. It was just tech. Then it became tech+business. What you're seeing is simply that at scale, politics is inextricable from tech+business, just as, at scale, business is inextricable from tech.

I first came on here to learn about Arc. It was just tech. Then it became tech+business.

It was tech+business before it was tech: The site started out as "Startup News" (which is when I personally have my fondest memories of it).

I like that name better. There's nothing "hacker" about this.

For me, the issue is that the legal and political (and to a growing degree, the business) discussions here are totally uninteresting; I'm not particularly interested in engaging in those sorts of conversations anywhere. But there are so many really great posters who have such strong, smart technical opinions that I keep coming back.

Tagging might help, at least at the story submission level.

HN needs tagging or even general categories, so we can filter topics out.

Almost like... subreddits!

Indeed! This exact same conversation happened on reddit several years ago. The community became diverse enough that a large group of users didn't like the posts the other groups up votes to the homepage. There were initial suggestiona that tags were the best solution but the reddit gang put together subressits and it's been the greatest change to the site since it started.

Looking forward to subscribing to the best sub-hackernewses.

Each Reddit post only goes on one subreddit, but if HN allows posts to have more than one tag, then it could be active in several sub-HNs, one for each tag.

This is the same difference as between traditional email folders and gmail tags.

Wait, I can put a message in 2 IMAP folders... So how are tags different?

Maybe more like how lobste.rs allows you to filter out topics you aren't interested it.

It looks interesting, but, what is it?

almost like every publishing media ever. the general design of HN is to be simplistic, but with the current popularity it doesn't scale.

IMO even [strictly tech] [everything else] would work, although I'd prefer a more advanced option to filter out stuff.

You mean like hubski?



Heh. But to be fair, different technologies encourage different usage patterns, and it's reasonable to investigate how, given a goal, technological solutions could be applied. I'm plenty leery of "solutionism" [1], but that's not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[1] Evgeny Morozov's coinage, see: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/05/evgeny-morozo...

I'm a fan of Morozov too, and yeah, topic organization on discussion boards is a task that can actually be solved with technology :)

I can discuss politics with politicians and economics with economists, but I still like to discuss both with people I like for no other reason than because I like them.

It also offers a different perspective.


I can't think of anywhere that I can read a discussion on technology politics that's actually dominated by informed, educated technologists. With the best will in the world, the Guardian Comment Is Free section or /r/news doesn't have the quality of commentary.

You have it backwards. For the first few months of existence, Hacker News was called "Startup News."

I think this is all true, and I try not to confuse the inevitable drift of the zeitgeist away from my interests with a value judgement of the site as a whole. Things change; raging against the dying of the light isn't really worth the heartache; some place else will arise, organically (e.g. not through a "Show HN" link) and those of us who want to move on, will.

Yeah, from what I can remember political stories on Slashdot weren't narrowly focused on technology-related issues like they generally seem to be on here.

What was the theorem-prover as programming language article? I can't seem to find it.

I was wondering the same. I think this is the one the OP meant: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6156016

I realized a long time ago that indignation about political issues was for forums what bad currency is in Gresham's law. We actively compensate for that in various ways. Sometimes when an issue seems a genuinely big deal and/or of particular interest to hackers, we compensate less. It's always a judgment call. But don't worry, if HN declines through indignation about "issues," it won't be by default. We've fended that off for years, and I'm optimistic we'll continue to.

You do it with the stories, by weighting them manually. You do not do it with the commenters. But there are factions of commenters who are introduced to the site by following stories onto it, and they stay, they promote bad sources, and they inject both politics and a particular inflammatory mode of debate into all the threads.

There are overwhelmingly more people on the site saying quality has degraded sharply --- most of them citing politics as one of the reasons --- than there are people defending it. Also, a close look at the people who do defend the current quality of the site might be instructive.

Could not agree more. I lurked on HN for ~2 years before creating an account, also a 4-digit refugee from /. For the last 3 months I've been quietly mourning and seeking out a replacement for HN. It could be I'm no longer a target demographic and it's simply time for me to go (I'm a reserved cofounder of a profitable startup who has an angel investor and in my 20s).

In addition to the politics, I've noticed what feels like a bifurcation in age or maturity with stories and commenters. My working narrative is that much of the negativity is immaturity from HN's endless september of college and high school students, although I know that's likely incomplete as many simple narratives are. Also, something about reading a blog post with a "Discuss on HN" link at the bottom irks me to the point I feel like the content isn't so much about improving understanding as it is to generate clicks and drive traffic. I am not a fan of personal brands or personalities in any industry, though it feels like many come here to create one.

The issues I see are related to people and their behavior in the community and not the HN site or features. I believe the best way to nudge the community back to neutral is with more people correcting or excluding the negative behavior.

> Also, something about reading a blog post with a "Discuss on HN" link at the bottom irks me to the point I feel like the content isn't so much about improving understanding as it is to generate clicks and drive traffic.

Offtopic, but I've considered adding such a link to my own blog before--not to "generate clicks and drive traffic", but--since I don't have inline comments--simply to give people something to click through if they want to comment on a post of mine without breaking flow. If you know where "the" discussion for your post will be happening, why not just link to it?

It's a presumption though to assume that the conversation will be happening over there. Or it seems to me a little lofty to suggest that a discussion should take place amongst those people. I get where you are coming from, from a springboard perspective - allowing people a forum for chat, but the thing is these chats could be happening all over the place.

In the good old days, there was usenet... and it felt nice that there was only one place to discuss say a particular subject - and meet with those interested, and specialists within that realm. I couldn't stand the scurge of online forums as it scattered the conversations all over the place. And you also end up with the same conversations and realisations happening in different places. This could be negated if you did a little online homework, and posted a link to someone elses comment that perhaps was inline with yours. Kind of like a +1. But hunting down other comments and trawling through forums isn't efficient or particularly easy so I guess this isn't really that practical.

Anyway the point is that these conversations are happening elsewhere all over the place. So how do you seed/promote the piece and the ensuing conversation in the first place? And how do others know where the conversation is taking place. You could possibly provide a search for backlinks to your article.

It's kind of a shame that everyone doesn't have their own blog, and within their blog they just make a comment referring to what they've read elsewhere, and that link becomes available to read somehow from your article. This could be handled by the browser alone, it could do this by default - in a 'Elsewhere' panel for instance, by doing something like searching for backlinks etc. Pingbacks go some way, but they could be quite distracting.

I'm not sure how eternal HN comments are. Not hosting comments yourself puts you at the mercy of others.

Plus I'm not sure how polite any of this is. Hey myself and others are coming over to your place to discuss matters.

Further, I can see why you'd prefer say a conversation to happen on HN then say on Youtube! Being able to comment too easily can make for dull and worthless ill thoughtout comments. But breaking down that barrier is also a social lubricant.

I personally don't have my own blog, I just throw comments into the wind on the web. If I were to host my own blog, I probably wouldn't add a comment system for fear that I'd want to censor or moderate them! But I'd welcome feedback.

My preference may be to have people email me their thoughts and for me to then add feedback to articles at a later time. This might be a little burdensome and not practical whatsoever.

To many the discussion is in part the article. And it feels too difficult to be at every table at the same time.

You could be absent from the conversation and leave your right to reply for a post mortem on your posts. You could do that by hunting down comments and discussions after the fact.

Who'll go back and how will they know to read your post mortem anyway?

It reminds me why I'm not a blogger or a journalist!

It would be good to see some data. For instance, how is the trend of average upvotes per user per month looks like? It is however clear that HN is attracting lot of marketers and activists. While I don't know all the efforts going in to fend this off, the ones I know such as banning specific URLs, dead stories etc look unorganic/bruteforce as opposed to clean algorithmic solutions. One clean solution would be to simply enable downvote button and increase the expressiveness of the community. I however has no idea why HN does not have downvote button.

I disagree with 'tptacek on the number of actual users plaguing Hacker News like this, but I think it's fairly undeniable the phenomenon is there and it's strong.


You don't need data. I know, that's an unpopular phrase to say on a forum like Hacker News - but seriously, if you were alive at the keyboard on HN during the NSA debacle, you shouldn't need to ask for data. Whether there were 100 or 10 people poisoning the discussion with political strife, they were certainly the most vocal and noticeable. Their comments were easily upvoted because they were full of pathos and emphatic calls to action. As I wrote in my reply to pg here, I don't think it's enough to do what's being done now with stories - there should be a user filtering system. Restricting posts somehow could be good, but I also understand that we don't want to turn the forum into some sort of elaborate rule system.

I also believe the problem is intimately related to karma farming, and also intimately related to overpopulation. Hacker News is a fond ideal, but I don't believe it scales. Not without changes at least. I know that might be an unpopular opinion, but I think it's true.


I strongly suspect he means stories.

Agreed. I came here to be learn about technology and to be inpsired to one day make the leap from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur. I don't come here to read about politics.

What happened to my spelling there? Jeez.

The decline is because there are more people on the site, not because of politics per se. The same thing happened to Reddit: success leads to growth leads to lower average user IQ.

> The same thing happened to Reddit: success leads to growth leads to lower average user IQ.

Are you sure it's IQ, or as another user suggested, some kind of mass hysteria?

The mainstream news exploded with the whole NSA thing, and then HN did too.

Is that a function of IQ?

>Are you sure it's IQ, or as another user suggested, some kind of mass hysteria?

What's sort of mass hysteria has been suggested?

>The mainstream news exploded with the whole NSA thing, and then HN did too. Is that a function of IQ?

My IQ reference was about the general decline in HN/Reddit comment quality, not about concern with the NSA on HN/Redditm which I think is a healthy thing. Being interested in the fact that someone is collecting one's private communication is a rational security concern.

I wouldn't use the term IQ, it can be a bit misleading. High IQ individuals can squander their time arguing about frivolous nonsense (I went to school with a couple of guys like that). Average IQ folk can be thoughtful and engaging.

What's happening is a kind of evaporative-cooling effect- specifically, the very natural rise of cheap wit and sensationalism. These things trigger upvotes more easily. Pithy answers and responses get rewarded quicker by larger crowds, and this discourages the carefully-evaluated-and-reasoned answer.

We don't have to bring IQ into the picture when making sense of this phenomenon, so let's not do that.

True, IQ wasn't the word to use.

With respect, pg, three things:

1. Why is it not a cause to worry if Hacker News declines at all? It doesn't matter if it happens by default when it does happen. It might not be reversible.

2. Corollary to that, I believe it has happened. During the NSA scandal, I tried to do what I could to dispel what could best be described as hysteria. I don't believe the majority of people on Hacker News can be described by hysteria, but a hugely vocal minority can be, and they direct the movements of the front page.

3. I am not pessimistic about Hacker News, I don't like to believe the forum is succumbing to the inexorable march of time, or some such. And I'm not going to soapbox comparisons to reddit. However, I don't think optimism is enough. You don't seem to be particularly concerned about this, but I see sentiments of concern at least daily in some form or another.

I understand I'm not a powerhouse of karma and influence here on Hacker News, but I've tried twice to raise proposals for some sort of change to the political atmosphere of the forum. It hasn't worked. What else do you have but optimism, to put it bluntly?

EDIT: When I joined Hacker News in 2011, I wasn't as savvy to the mechanics of the forum as I am now. I thought that the front page being dominated by political fads every few months or so was just regular. But in being here to the present, I've seen that it has only gotten worse from 2011 to 2013, and in reading archives/the comments of senior members, I can see how this pattern developed. That's why I've tried before to submit a proposal to the changes thread.

I submit that it doesn't matter if politics can be intellectually gratifying or even relevant, as per the guidelines. It's categorically unrelated to startups or technology, save for being indirectly so in occasional cases when those two topics scale. Whatever benefit comes with political discourse is eliminated by the sheer level of scathing derision that comes from combatting sides debating the topic.

I've read through (some of) your essays on HN design and think that, ultimately, you will have to introduce a little more complexity to handle posts that relate to identity cleanly.

The best option that I can see is to allow users to mark a post as 'off-topic' in addition to 'flag'. Subtract the off-topic count in some fashion and generate second set of rankings. Then allow users to chose between the normal front-page and the filtered front-page.

It would not split the community into have/have-nots and it would enable a little self-selected filtering. It feels like a general enough case that it would have merit across a wide range of posts.

It would also provide a lot more information upon which to make judgment calls.

Fascinating site you've got going. This is the only place where I can actually stand to read the comments.

I'm not so sure Hacker News succeeding is the top thing in the world of important priorities to me.

And while overly emotional topics are certainly bad currency in a large group -- no doubt about that -- I find it weird that we think we can talk about helping people suffering from starvation, slavery, lack of electricity, and all kinds of other problems and not be able to discuss the impact of the technology we create in the privacy and anonymity realms. I'd go so far as to say it's purposefully myoptic. Seems like all sorts of things are fair game -- as long as it doesn't show us the results of our own work too closely. We'll talk about any problems but the ones we helped create.

I wish HN the best of luck, and I certainly don't want flame wars or policy advocacy here. But hell, we're not morons. Or robots. If you want all that gossipy SV crap on the front page, you're going to have to take some other stuff you don't like as much. People vote based on emotional impact of stories. I can't see how you "fix" HN by continuous tweaking, making the system non-intuitive and frustrating.

Perhaps the best thing to do is go back to just tech and business. But even then, I find it impossible to believe that we can continue to live in some kind of artificial bubble where uncomfortable topics from the outside world never appear. If that's the plan, good luck with that.

Do you monetize HN, or the data generated? That's something I always wanted to know.

Not counting talent acquisition and buying/investing into startups


I agree. The content on HN became quite politicized after the NSA scandal. This may, honestly, have something to do with the fact that pg himself, and the moderating team, were concerned enough to allow these topics to be prominent and widely discussed. Perhaps it was okay for a time, but if the board is to be politically mobilized on occasion (eg SOPA) it should be very infrequent and it needs to end at some point.

We have simply discussed the surveillance scandal enough. There's just nothing more we can say or do that will matter right now. When Americans here go vote in November, maybe they will remember. Maybe they won't. Either way, the horse is long since deceased and partially liquefied.

My suggestion may sound silly at first, but I think it serves a real need. We, as in Paul Graham, the moderators, and the community consensus, have twice now (first SOPA, then spying) decided that such-and-such political issue is important enough to the technical community that it deserves to be discussed and mentioned. When that happens, the the moderators can slightly change the board style to indicate that discussions relevant to the present crisis are acceptable -- maybe a black border and lettering on the Y symbol at the top-left. When the controversy ends, the board style changes back, and just this second signal is the important one: it means that we are done, it is over, if you want to keep discussing politics do it somewhere else.

I, like you, appreciate the possibility of a board devoted entirely to technical content, but the reality is that sometimes it may just not be feasible, here, Slashdot, or anywhere else. It is far better to have a system in place to keep such discussions under control than to pretend they won't happen at all. Because they have, more than once, and they will again. Occasional, specific discussions of events involving the tech community may be important simply because, in small amounts, they facilitate cohesion among the members by drawing our attention to things that may affect us as a whole. But the important part is occasional and specific.

Any community devoted to research and development, like HN, faces the challenge of living in the present while building the future. Our priority should always be the latter, even though we are part of the present world, and occasionally we find the present needs us. But the future needs us more.

>We have simply discussed the surveillance scandal enough. There's just nothing more we can say or do that will matter right now.

The opposite is true.

For too long the minimal to zero reporting these issues have received in the majority of news outlets was met with an abundance of silence and indifference. Outside of a few communities on the net (and fewer offline), there hasn't been discussion on these issues. The Guardian finally breaks one story that manages to have legs for a week or two in the mainstream press and we're done here?

No. Just no.

>I, like you, appreciate the possibility of a board devoted entirely to technical content...

This has never been the case for HN, nor was it ever an ideal for HN:


From the first line of the first question about submission guidelines: On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups.

While most (read: not all) political posts are discouraged, the discussions around surveillance have been more technical here than anywhere, and it would be hard to conceive of a discussion with a political element being more on-topic and imperative than the discussions of late.

That's not true. In fact, this site has been embarrassingly bad about the technical issues of surveillance, for reasons ranging from gullibility to capriciousness. Witness for example several weeks of intense belief that Google had allowed NSA logins to its own servers in order to pull information off of them, the certainty with which people argued that NSA must have been helping the FBI track pressure cooker searches, the security implications of hardware random number generators, or, my personal favorite, the belief that Palantir must have a key role in NSA surveillance because of In-Q-Tel and I mean just look at their name.

And let's not get started about the legal acumen of the site as a whole.

This site has basically one method of digesting technical information about surveillance: catalog the competing claims, choose the one that assumes the most spectacular abuse by the state, and fiercely defend it regardless of evidence. It's also trivially game-able, which is I suspect a fact not lost on commenters like 'mtgx. The site isn't merely the boy who cried wolf; but rather a boy with a wolf-oriented case of Tourette's.

> And let's not get started about the legal acumen of the site as a whole.

This has been disappointing, not because I expect everyone to be lawyer, but because I expect HN commenters to be able to use an internet search engine. It'd be one thing to miss details that you need years of training to understand correctly, but a huge proportion of the comments in these threads strongly suggest that the person posting them has not spent even five minutes researching the subject they're posting on, and yet has somehow arrived at strong opinions on the subject anyway.

Yes! It's like reading and tracking down sources is a kind of superpower here; sometimes, it feels like threads treat that as a kind of unfair advantage. In fact, if pressed, I could cite examples of commenters on threads asserting that.

I don't have time to hunt for sources, honestly. I'm not attempting to be a bastion of truth when I interact on the Internet, I'm attempting to explain my take on an issue, or ask a question based on what I already know.

Maybe I'm the problem, but I'm not going to change. I just don't have the resources to be 100% right every time I say things online.

Tracking down sources are not always as simple as spending a few clicks on a search engine. I particularly find talks to be problematic, as the content is not indexed, nor is it easy to remember which n'th talk the speaker said a particular fact. You basically have to re-watch them all, which for a few comments I have done.

Worse is legal case findings which for whatever reason, the media did not pick up. Take the statement that in Swedish law, people who produce or run a webservice can be made liable if the majority of users use the service for illegal purposes? That facts is basically impossible to find using a search, even through it is written plainly as a simple Q&A in the appeal court judgment of the TPB trial. If the case had been that I forgot where I read it, a search query would not have helped me in tracking it down.

The site has been equally embarrassingly bad about taking certain claims at face value, like, "no direct access to the servers", when it is painfully clear to anyone running a colo how NSA PowerPoints could talk about data direct from BigCom servers at the same time as BigCom denies giving direct access to its servers, with both 100% "technically true."

What HN could use is a bit less knee jerking towards belief based discussion, and a bit more analysis: we have these two claims, assuming both parties are self interested, could both be true, and if so, how.

I see "of course Google is/isn't giving server logins" but I don't see as much "here are ways a third party could get data directly from servers, for these various definitions and implementations of 'directly'."

That stuff does get said here more than other places I'm reading, but still clearly not enough as I haven't yet seen that kind of analysis get noticed and picked up by the reporters increasingly sourcing their tech digests from here.

This comment neatly characterizes the kinds of discussions we have on this issue; it starts with innuendo about how the NSA could have what any reasonable person would refer to as direct access to servers, then retreats to a broad, abstract position crafted to make the innuendo harder to rebut.

Thank you.

You seem to frame it in a very odd light. I don't see anything in that comment could be refereed as an "innuendo", nor do I see any source for comment to be crafted as to make something harder to rebut.

From that, I can only ask if you are arguing against a honest intellectual discussion, based on facts as well as rational arguments in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive?

In this specific case of "direct access", the facts are the few press-release made, the leaked slides, and any contributing leaked report. The rational arguments is mostly around the definition of "direct access". The truth is thus depended on the quality of the facts, and the derived result of discussing the rational arguments.

Is this bad for HN, and if so, what should be done about it?

Thanks. This thread is a meta discussion about HN, not a technical discussion on concrete data collection methods.

I agree NSA's slides are not innuendo. Neither were BigCom denials. To me it seems reconciling those is neither a rebuttal nor a retreat, it's advancing the conversation from two disputing sides (NSA lying vs corporate collusion) to a third "this is likely what's meant, as seen in multiple concrete cases from 2006 to today, and makes sense of currently available info."

The 19 July story by Pete Ashdown, CEO of XMission, disclosing one in flight data capture practice well known to the data center community, was not abstract. The latest xkeyscore reveal fits this model as well.

"Are they or aren't they" isn't the most productive debate to have anyway. If they aren't, they could, and if the end result is the same, what should we do about it?

As you suggest, the discussions in this area I do appreciate at HN are on what honest rational policy should be, and on how technologists can assist in ensuring trust in confidentiality and non-repudiation in the cloud of services HNers are building.

>In fact, this site has been embarrassingly bad about the technical issues of surveillance, for reasons ranging from gullibility to capriciousness.

Poor analysis by some of the users (there are a lot of non-technical commenters on here) doesn't negate the higher degree of technical discussion that has indeed been present here. Just because opinion and fallacious arguments are present doesn't mean that good technical discussion isn't. Outside of dedicated infosec communities, I am not sure what online community has had more purely technical discussion on these issues over time. Feel free to list them though, because without sarcasm, I would be happy to know of them.

I don't think tptacek is saying that good posts don't exist on HN, of course they do. The problem is that the signal-to-noise ratio is so low nowadays that it's hardly worth wading through all the hyper-politicized vitriol just to get to it.

The amount of horribly bad posts on HN has reached a proportion where they're no longer exceptions, they characterize the site as a whole.

Personally I've noticed my participation drop in the last few months because of this. There are fewer and fewer people interested in engaging in a discussion, and more and more religious zealotry where it's clear poster has zero interest in opposing views, and will stoop consistently to hostility and fundamental indecency when confronted.

The problem is that many HN users think that because they are qualified to talk about tech, they are also qualified to talk about everything else. In reality, they're often not qualified to talk about anything.

While I agree with you that all of those things are ridiculous (and I was vocal in arguing against them), is it fair to characterize the entire forum as being so easily swayed by ant-state sentiments?

During the two week "freak out", I saw a lot of linkbait about the NSA having massive conspiracies, but I saw relatively fewer actual comments where people were clearly being swayed by anti-government sentiment. For every comment I read that was outlandish, fallacious and clearly media spoon-fed, I have to say I can recall a thread of people saying, "No, that doesn't make sense, you're trying to disprove a negative", etc.

tl;dr - My point here is that I think the baseline intelligence of Hacker News is higher than we might think it is just by observing the front page, and that there are actually a lot more savvy people gaming the front page who are just driven by a relative few who act as the passionate, vocal majority.

That's just my opinion. I could be wrong. But I like to think there's a lot of under the radar intellectual activity, and people are just being really opportunistic for karma or some such.

As for legal acumen, I agree completely - I don't have nearly as much as, for example, 'rayiner. But that's exactly why we have people with niche expertise or domain knowledge. It's a real problem when people get frenzied and decide they know Constitution without having read it.

I haven't been here as long, but I believe that we have sampling bias from the hugely outspoken minority who know it's trendy to be anti-state.

EDIT: I want to submit my experience about the site being gameable - it's true it's easy to get the top comment for news stories that are heavily politically loaded, but I have to say it's easy to karma farm even if you're not anarchist/cynical/conspiracy mongering. I do not try to game the forum to get high comments, but I can still personally attest to having some top comments in the high 40s during the NSA scandal while being incredibly vocal against the "popular opinion" that Google was directly aiding the government. I probably had the top comment on at least half of those stories, arguing against the tone of the story profusely. I don't have a sockpuppet ring, so those numbers of people who upvoted me are to the best of my knowledge genuine. They may not have been as vocal in their agreement with me as the detractors who replied to my comments, but they certainly exist.

I guess I just want to try to dispel pessimism. I don't think all is lost regarding the political climate of Hacker News :)

Sometimes I wish comments were shorter so you could easily tell what's going on in a discussion.

The parent comment says X, the one below says the opposite, and then someone says X again. Do people click and write mainly to get karma? Should posting also cost karma?

The longer you write the easier it is to say something that's not true and harder for people to follow it accurately.

(I know I'm guilty of this.)

Haha, I'm assuming you're speaking to my comment length...sorry, that's pretty par for the course with my comment history :) I like to write with a level of verbosity.

But...I do agree with you. It becomes harder to sift through facts when a post is very long. I do it because I enjoy writing long prose on topics I'm interested in - I don't think it's particularly correlated with getting high karma. I've seen very high comments that consist of a little paragraph (albeit packed with technical information).

But I think a lot of people do just click and write for karma. As long as there is a karma system, this is somewhat unavoidable. I really wish we could do away with the entire karma system entirely, but your suggestion about posts "costing" karma sounds really neat, I'd definitely test that on a small forum...not sure how you'd deal with throwaways though, and how would new users accrue karma?

One problem with posts costing karma is that it would all but guarantee to stifle long discussions amongst any but the highest karma members -- especially if you end up autobanned when you run out.

That could be a good thing. It's very rare to see a deeply nested thread actually worth reading.

I know pg's added things like a progressive delay to the reply box further into threads. The curve of quality going into a thread is an interesting problem, I can see how the subjects of discussion would go from general to specific (and thus likely less interesting to general readers) the further down branches you go, but also sort of by definition those branches become more and more relevant to the people involved. Maybe a flat or hybrid flat/tree layout would help keep discussions more linear?

I don't know if giving that much more power to older posters is necessarily the answer, although it might help reinforce the perception of the community maintaining a certain tone in discussion, if the same posters are more likely to be heard and heard more often. On the other hand, with that scenario, karma would actually mean something (though that just brings up the possibility of karma-farming posts.)

I understand what you're saying. You're suggesting that I might (perhaps unintentionally) be cherry-picking. I disagree. I think the kinds of commentary I referred to aren't outliers, but rather characterize the site.

They characterize the site now, that's for sure.

But it didn't before, as best I can tell. The switchover seemed to happen in 2013, but it wasn't Snowden's leaks that caused me to notice the change.

Fair enough. I did mean unintentionally.

> For every comment I read that was outlandish, fallacious and clearly media spoon-fed, ...

If you look at the timeline, the CIA had such a spectacular failure that an ambassador was raped to death and Hilary Clinton kicked to the curb. Almost simultaneously the IRS was caught embezzling money from anti-statist campaigns.

Every time those stories threatened to gain traction, every leftist organ would run another 48 point headline about Snowden or the NSA. The coincidences piled up until it is impossible that the NSA story's popularity was not largely a political creation, and just barely might be a false flag operation to punish the intel community.

Likewise, I was downvoted to oblivion every time I pointed out that the NSA story was not a revelation, that it wasn't even news. My first awareness of the NSA was their Echelon spying efforts, where it was openly discussed that they wanted to vacuum up all the worlds' communications. The weakness of the DES cipher was widely recognized to be a NSA plot to make it easy to intercept domestic comms. The Clipper chip and key escrow programs were a naked domestic snooping plan. This was widely covered by the trade press, a fair bit by the mainstream media, exhaustively by Slashdot and Ars Technica, and obsessively by the Computer Underground Digest, the Hacker News Network, the Cipherpunks, Telecom Digest, and many others.

Hacker News has also started importing the Reddit Censorship ethos. Downvoting rings censor many politically correct or just unpopular comments, comments that in many cases are correct but counterintuitive. The endless September seems to have finally arrived at HN.

Politics on HN, Exhibit A for the prosecution.

My comment is a non-partisan analysis of why most of the NSA story is astroturf. Astroturf can only be debunked by describing the conspiracy. This does not make me a partisan either for or against the astroturfers. If HN stories were showing up simultaneously and with the same headlines as press releases from the John Birch Society, I would direct my flamethrower in their direction.

And you ignored the other half of my comment, about how the NSA story is not news. It is merely new to excitable young people who mistake unfamiliarity for exposé. If I can convice them to take the red pill, they will learn that parts of signals intelligence are profoundly more important than even the astroturf claims, and at the same time more mundane.

Still, I think Thomas is right: your comment is an example of what needs to be avoided to prevent further devolution. The issue isn't whether you are right or wrong, whether the comment is political or non-partisan. Rather it's whether HN or any online community can take on such issues without destroying itself. Historically, the odds are poor. If we want to keep quality of the technical discussion high, I think that comments such as yours need to be reserved for elsewhere.

If we had a vi-versus-emacs debate, most people would know not to state their views too strongly. Or even if someone did, other people would refuse to take the bait.

With politics, there seems to be no such restraint.

Perhaps. Infosec is critically important to our society, and HN appears to be responsible for radicalizing a large fraction of practitioners. It is not even a radicalization of substance, but collateral damage from a forgettable unrelated political campaign.

Now it is just about too late. For the next 10-20 years, national infosec policy will be driven by the radicals' memory of their principled stand against the NSA "revelations". "Abuses" will be "curtailed" without regard for legitimate security needs.

The is no elsewhere to reserve this discussion for. If HN is credulous enough to believe staged CNN sound bites, there is no hope for other venues.

> If you look at the timeline, the CIA had such a spectacular failure that an ambassador was raped to death

That's doubtful. http://www.snopes.com/politics/military/stevens.asp

> that the NSA story was not a revelation, that it wasn't even news

I still disagree on this (but wouldn't downvote you for expressing that opinion).

I now design and review systems with the assumption that the GPA (global passive adversary) is real. It's not a political thing; it's an observation of technical reality.

To explain why that is a shift in thinking, note that basically every web-site password reset mechanism in the world (apart from those that employ 2FA) is broken in this scenario.

Sensible people cannot expect Tor to provide the fig-leaf of safety it seemed like it offered.

GPA was not a default assumption in threat models before.

How recent do you think this shift is? I don't remember when I learned how juicy a target international telephony is, but it had to have bern the late 90s. Certainly defense contractor salesmen have been treating the hotel telephone with great suspicion for a long time.

I did't realize that anyone outside of movies even used hotel telephones anymore (except to call Housekeeping or the front desk).

About the other stuff, I only recently realized that the IRS scandal, the US spy who was caught in Russia, and Benghazi have basically disappeared from the news, while the one thing that the White House has the least control over and is the most distanced from is the one that is now most talked about.

Another thing to think about is that when the IRS story broke, a lot of new agencies were calling it a "controlled or planned leak" meaning that the white house and IRS had coordinated on how and when to break the story, timing it with new info on Benghazi for information-overload, and finally Snowden was just a freebie, while I'm sure they're not happy about the facts coming to light, nothing internally will really change, they'll continue spying on us, they'll just be more careful who they allow to access the information.

Well, since Snowden. Name a site with secure password reset.

I am so fucking happy someone people may listen to has been able to articulate visibly what I've been thinking for months now.

>The site isn't merely the boy who cried wolf; but rather a boy with a wolf-oriented case of Tourette's.

I almost hate coming here now, for that reason. Which makes me sad.

>Witness for example several weeks of intense belief that Google had allowed NSA logins to its own servers in order to pull information off of them

At least HN is a place where (presumably) there are users informed enough to set the record straight, rather than having the theories perpetuate. As someone who frequents Reddit, I appreciate that much.

You seem to think you successfully defended Google and the NSA. My technical chops are just as good as your, if not better, and I found your efforts utterly buffoonish. If you don't like people disagreeing with you or criticizing the gov, time to pack it in.

While most (read: not all) political posts are discouraged, the discussions around surveillance have been more technical here than anywhere, and it would be hard to conceive of a discussion with a political element being more on-topic and imperative than the discussions of late.

I'm going to disagree with the highlighted portion. On pretty much any topic related to law and government, HN in the aggregate is willfully ignorant - people rarely take the time to do research or provide citations, but go about declaring this or that to be illegal or unconstitutional with no evidence and frequently without even fielding an argument. The discussions here are as bad as the comment section at, say, the Huffington Post. A lot of people seem to think that because they're handy with computers they have special insight into every other intellectual topic. This is, sadly, not the case.

You seem to have ignored the gist of this whole discussion.

As someone brilliantly put it in a recent thread: I assume you have taken some space from your company's meetings for discussing the NSA, SOPA and related subjects every day?

Your point isn't clear.

I don't believe I ignored anything, and where I was responding to the poster and the discussion, I quoted him/her so it would be clear what points I was responding to.

If you have something specific to say, spell it out and maybe I can answer it for you.

The "anything that good hackers would find interesting" line is not a free pass. The NSA discussion is way past the point where it's interesting to most people. I, for one, despite my interest, don't want to read about the US government, security agencies and it's political system every day.

Maybe more political discussion is needed, but Hacker News is not the place for this to happen. Where is the line drawn? Should we discuss alarming health issues like sodium consumption, GMOs, sweeteners? The military industry? The lobby complex? Violence and misery in Africa? Are these less important than the Prism scandal?

>The "anything that good hackers would find interesting" line is not a free pass.

Exactly. Which is why I referenced the FAQ which states that most political discussion is discouraged and articulated precisely how and why this debate is not one of those times.

> The NSA discussion is way past the point where it's interesting to most people.

I think you meant "to me." Judging from the post rankings, frequency, and comment scores, people in this community are interested and engaged in this topic, -more than most. For now anyway.

>Maybe more political discussion is needed, but Hacker News is not the place for this to happen. Where is the line drawn? Should we discuss alarming health issues like sodium consumption, GMOs, sweeteners? The military industry? The lobby complex? Violence and misery in Africa? Are these less important than the Prism scandal?

As detailed in the FAQ, this is precisely the place for this to happen. Political posts are allowed, and if you can't see how discussion about surveillance software that taps the communications of the entire globe is on topic here, even with the (completely within-framework) political element, then I don't know what to tell you. The problem isn't HN and the other users though. I think you're just tired of seeing it and will be happier in a few more news cycles when it likely dies down like it always has.

> I think you meant "to me."

Maybe. You also clearly have a bias towards finding these interesting, so it's a moot point.

Taking rankings at face value is not ideal; there is a feedback loop, political posts are likely to engage an audience that likes and upvotes them, and bring more users with that profile to the site. Taking that to the extreme, you could have porn links take over HN in just a few hours if you let them through. It's a matter of setting directions, not catering to everyone's needs.

>For too long the minimal to zero reporting these issues have received in the majority of news outlets was met with an abundance of silence and indifference. Outside of a few communities on the net (and fewer offline), there hasn't been discussion on these issues. The Guardian finally breaks one story that manages to have legs for a week or two in the mainstream press and we're done here?

I feel that you've highlighted a possible underlying cause of HN's present malaise, which is: many community members here are poorly connected on the Internet. HN is an open website, which means that it is very easy for someone who is new to the Internet to find and browse. If you've been commenting a lot in the recent political threads, I can make the following predictions: you've participated in online fora for less than ten years, and you don't pursue social connections much deeper than reddit user flair.

If you would like to take part in a lot of technical and political discussions regarding surveillance, you should consider joining a newsgroup or mailing list (if there still are any, I know politech and cypherpunks are dead) specifically devoted to this discussion. Usenet requires a modicum of effort (and maybe a subscription fee) to participate, which can help to limit the discussion to serious contribution by serious participants. You may also want to subscribe to and comment on blogs by people who know about these things, so you can get to know people and contribute to a discussion that, in order to be any good, must stretch on far longer than a single comment thread. There are communities devoted to this sort of discussion.

The content-link plus tree-style-comments format of HN is good for day-long free-form discussion on lighthearted issues of interest to technical people. It is not suited for deep, long-term discussion of complex political issues. HN can't be usefully political even if it wants to be, any more than HN can be used to design novel methods of quantum error correction. Some things just aren't suited for the HN style of discussion.

People didn't discuss it before because it only affected minorities.

>We have simply discussed the surveillance scandal enough.

Is there a clear solution to stopping it? No? Do we know the extent of what the NSA's doing? No? Then we haven't discussed it enough.

This is a historically unprecedented issue. In no period in history has any state has anything akin to this power. This issue is more important than your distaste at seeing content you're not interested in.

"The content on HN became quite politicized after the NSA scandal.”

To me, not as much. The most poignant catalyst, at least in recent times, to me, was Aaron Swartz. It’s just grown from there.

I can think of 3 possibilities:

1. HN has an influx of new users who are somewhat interested in technology and technology businesses, but do not have enough domain expertise to engage on discussion of technical subjects, or subjects related to startups, such as design, customer support, finance, laws (as in interpretation of legal code, not politics), etc. For them, it's easier to engage in political debate. [EDIT] As a secondary theory: politics is a subject which interests a greater number of people than an specific technical subject or business practice.

2. HN's format concentrates debate and attention on articles that get popular just after being submitted: because more pondered or technical articles take more time to get popular, they never reach the front page.

3. With no major shift in the industry in the past year, and with mostly the same players (all of which were implicated in the NSA leaks, for instance), legal issues sparked from executive and judiciary actions are getting more attention, because they make for fresher, more sensational news, and reveal unanswered questions.

"because more pondered or technical articles take more time to get popular, they never reach the front page."

That's a really interesting point. As much as I've generally enjoyed the quality of front-pagers on HN over the years, I am now wondering about all the really good stuff that never made it there -- whether because the posters didn't optimize the timing properly, didn't game the headlines, or simply posted material that took awhile to digest and sink in.

Overall, there's probably a strong correlation between material that makes the front page and material that this community considers upworthy. But timing plays a huge role. I wish there was some way to counterbalance the effect a tiny bit. I can think of a few -- most of which would, unfortunately, be just as likely to harm as to help the reading experience.

I can remember quite a few recent product/tool launches that received just a couple upvotes, while I'm sure they would have been in the front page for a whole day just a year ago.

> HN has an influx of new users who [...] not have enough domain expertise to engage on discussion of technical subjects.

I think that a simpler explanation is that politics is universal while technical topics will only be interesting to the subset of people that are affected by said technologies. Not everyone uses AngularJS/Python/Haskell/etc.

pg addresses this in his essay "Keep Your Identity Small". I think this is the root of the problem.


It is much harder to distinguish ignorance in current political discussions -- in part because nowadays political preferences often induce ignorance in those you'd think most capable to judge it in others.

As a result political discussions become largely unresolvable. People participate not to share information but to give witness to their particular beliefs, which inspires others to do exactly the same.

More technical conversations may grow for a while, as more interesting points and lines are opened, but after a while what there is to be said, has been said, and the conversation moves on.

With those dynamics, political conversations are likely to add noise around signal until they drown it out. Unless actively beaten back.

The real solution is to change the way people talk and think about politics. This seems unlikely.

I'm part of #1. I avoid commenting on/upvoting political stories though. They're definitely the easiest to talk about. I stick to issues where I have some expertise.

I'm a bit torn by these NSA revelations because most other sites seem to be ignoring them. But I feel they've become too prominent.

Dito. I rarely comment or upvote as I feel I'd contribute to the change in quality I'm seeing myself even though I have only been here for 2 years.

A fourth possibility is that the growing user base has made HN a larger target for social media marketing.

Some of this is because the HN demographic is young enough that many readers have never seen anything like this before, and thus think it's the Worst Thing Ever. I base this on the numerous counterfactual statements showing a lack of historical awareness in discussions on contentious topics.

Of course, I think this is partly the result of not teaching civics in schools.

That's true. On the other hand, maturity often comes with apathy to real societal problems and abuse from bad actors, masked as greater insight: a sense of "that's just the way things are".

A lot of it is indeed the way things have always been, but that absolutely does not excuse allowing such actions to persist in the future. However, posts with a sense of naive shock that nations have only started doing unethical things in the past 20 years (or that a certain nation has changed) instead of realizing nations have always done unethical/questionable things is a hyperbole. Even the most civilized countries of every time period performed highly unethical actions and were derided by fellow countries of the time period. Unfortunately, most of the discussions are filled with noise related to this, instead of posts that are constructively looking for a solution to such problems.

I feel much of those sort of posts would be remedied if people were more interested in the history of the world going back more than just within their own lifetimes + 20 to 30 years. I'm still in my late 20s, but most people I know only have a passing interest in history (even less so when it's not about their country) and saw such courses in school as a burden, rather than useful. I was just lucky to have family that encouraged having an interest in history and how it shaped the world. To me, it's just as important as teaching one's children about Science, Programming and Mathematics.

News and information are also much more widespread now than they were 10 to 20 years ago, so many start to think this is a new phenomenon as it used to be more difficult to stay informed. History is just repeating itself with some additional ingredients mixed in and outrage is not useful when nothing comes of it.

The phrase "Why should I care about history?" never range more true when people express outrage over issues such as the NSA. The "good old days" are not as good as many people like to believe. That does not mean we should roll over and accept everything though.

Honestly, I blame the way history is taught in America. It's neutered any sense of class solidarity, riddled with retroactive ideological lensing and the worship of personalities.

It would be interesting to know who remembers the days when Slashdot was good

I remember when it was good, but I don't really remember a time that there wasn't a fanatical vibe to it. The content there has always been strongly pro-Linux and anti-Microsoft. There was a time where people actually used the phrase, "Year of the Linux Desktop" without being sarcastic. Oh and writing "Micro$oft" was popular too. And there was always stuff about open source and GNU and GPL and etc.

The thing that made it good was the camaraderie, the general helpfulness, and the quality of posters. You used to be able to find some really intelligent content in the Slashdot comments, since some the smartest people related to that particular topic were probably Slashdot users themselves.

I always thought "MICROS~1" was funnier.

I read slashdot from 1998 to about 2005, but I never once encountered MICROS~1. I wish I would have, I would have used it so often.

You used to find people like John Carmack in there... and electronics stuff was also talked about. Ask Slashdot's were answered with interesting insight. Now everything is mainly one-liners with stupid comments and only very few worthy users (eldavojohn and the like) remain.

Exactly. We remember the best comments, not the typical nonsense like first posts, lame in-jokes and the raise of online internet vapid celebrities.


I have fond memories of it, and a user id in the ~10000 range. But I haven't been back in ages, and I can't say I've missed it.

If you are an active Twitter and/or HN reader you are already reading everything that is posted on Slashdot about two days before it is actually posted there.

I have a 5-digit uid there and remember when it really was a great site. But the comments started to become pretty terrible almost immediately.

I still visit it every day just to skim the articles, but only about 20% of them are interesting/something I didn't see posted somewhere else.

Slashdot always had a large number of terrible comments (four digit UID here - right from the start the site had a huge troll contingent), however the moderation really did yield a better S/N ratio if you browsed the higher rated comments: On Slashdot you earned the occasional ability to moderate, with a limited ability to do so once you did. That resulted in more careful and considered moderation and I still believe it is an unmatched model.

I remember the days without trolls. (uid 872 here) The first one I remember showing up was meept. There's an entry for him on Everything2 dated Dec 05 1999, and it speaks of him in the past tense, so the troll-free days must have been few. I feel old.

Smarter moderation might work here in the short term, but ultimately the only thing that works is quietly sneaking off to a newer forum.

Some of this is because the HN demographic is young enough that many readers have never seen anything like this before, and thus think it's the Worst Thing Ever.

To them, it is. Humanity's progress depends in part on freshly disillusioned young people to overreact to life's shortcomings and fight to correct them.

> Of course, I think this is partly the result of not teaching civics in schools.

We have civics at high school (of course not in the Finland sense, sadly), and I somehow fail to see the correlation.

I had a civics class in high school. It was the same class as economics, and we truncated the economics class in order to teach to the AP civics test. My only memories of that class were seeing the yearbook students wandering in and out, because they used the same room, and learning and playing card games. I think it may have been mentioned that there were three branches of government at some point.

Which recent topics do you have in mind? I agree in respect to quite a few namely the nsa spying and aaron situation to name a couple.

Those issues in particular, which I think have been unfortunately over-simplified here.

I've never had an easier time getting karma, so that certainly drives my latest interest in HN.

In fairness, at least it isn't becoming 2013 Slashdot.

HN has always had a small smattering of political stories upvoted and discussed, with a specific focus on those that actually matter to hackers. Recent events have increased the proportion of political stories that get upvotes and discussion, but not across the board: there's a specific focus on NSA/surveillance stories, and in the absence of those I think the political content has not dramatically increased. Thus, I wouldn't conclude that the HN audience has become more political, but rather that HN has a higher threshold for wanting to talk about politics and recent stories pass that threshold far too often for comfort.

Politics on Slashdot has so little impact, because it shows up far too often. Politics on HN tends to focus on the most important issues, filtering out the noise. And the recent NSA stories are by far the most important news in tech politics in years. As long as the political stories remain confined to issues of that level of importance, and leave out the daily sources of new outrage, I wouldn't fear for the future of HN. (It also helps that HN doesn't have Slashdot's blatant editorialization to stir up those types of stories.)

HN may be an island away from real-world news, but that island still carries tsunami warning stories.

I have a theory that "upvote for visibility" instead of "upvote because it interests me" is when any up-vote-down-vote arrow community crosses a line that cannot be easily uncrossed. Every "awful" subreddit is a place where a bunch of people upvote a story because they want other people to see it, in some form misguided activism. And this is everything that is "wrong" with those communities.

The community is boring to people who want interesting things, but interesting to those who want to advocate some position. And the upvotey-downvotey nature makes non-activism and contrary opinions go away, since activists tend to be poor caretakers of the community itself, instead looking to push a particular position (ie, they downvote everyone else away).

I'm sure the whole gaming of HN has been talked to death. But it's not ever that clear to me as to what an 'upvote' actually is. In my mind a submission upvote means 'Interesting', and with comments it's less clear. Does it mean 'I agree', 'Interesting angle' , or what

Snowden/NSA articles frequently contain impassioned defenses about how relevant they are to the tech community at large, and I agree, but the problem with their proliferation is the topic bleed they lead to. Once political discussions feel normal, you get things like this completely pointless rehashing of "socialism" vs "Randianism" this afternoon: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6156035

I have generally come down on the side of considering complaints about the downward slide of the site as mostly rosy-painted nostalgia, but I do think an article as blatantly off-topic and political as that would have quickly been flagged as recently as 3 or 4 months ago.

I agree with you. In my opinion the crappiness of Slashdot accelerated with the politics-for-politics-sake tone of the whole site roughly about time of the 2004 US presidential election, which lead to a formalization-legitimization with the introduction of politics.slashdot.org. Undoubtedly this was because of the extreme polarization of politics due to the Iraq War, and political threads were far and away getting the greatest number of posts. Presumably this led to more ad revenue for slashdot, but it changed the tone of the site. Gradually, articles with little to no direct connection to tech or "nerddom" were becoming more numerous. They were provocative and just turned into giant flame wars.

These posts were typically defended in two ways: "politics affects nerds, therefore it is a legitimate topic" Bogus in my opinion, because I can go anywhere to get general politics talk, Slashdot derived value from being nerd/tech-specific; and second, "the motto is news for nerds, stuff that matters--politics matter, therefore it is on-topic"--for crying out loud, it was joking on the fact that gadget news or who is in the new sci-fi movie is largely inconsequential. The latter may not apply to here, but the former can, reframed as "this affects the tech/VC/whatever community, therefore it is relevant." It might be, but if you let it become the focus of the site, it will attract posters who would rather generate heat, and they will overwhelm the posters who generate light and would rather not spend their time arguing.

I don't exempt myself from this, I am a relative latecomer to HN. I catch myself many times resisting posting because I don't want to help this place to become another Slashdot. I know I'm doing it right now and I'm sorry :-(

It is official; Alexa now confirms: Hacker News is dying

One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered Hacker News community when Google confirmed that Hacker News market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all web traffic. Coming close on the heels of a recent Alexa survey which plainly states that Hacker News has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. Hacker News is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in the recent web community IQ test.

You don't need to be Paul Graham to predict Hacker News's future. The hand writing is on the wall: Hacker News faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for Hacker News because Hacker News is dying. Things are looking very bad for Hacker News. As many of us are already aware, Hacker News continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

Hope you are right, I hope that HN does reduce market share, and head back to its roots, as a niche site for hackers.


I was thinking the same thing! Unless of course that reduced market share is all of us that are looking for an HN replacement.

Go home Signal 11, you are drunk.

Is it the legal stories that are crowding out the technology, or is it the low quality content factories?

Here is a sampling of the worst of what I can see right now (sliding off the front page): over 50 points - http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/why-are...

over 50 points - http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/video-reveals-108-year-o...

over 10 points - http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-kindhearted-pe...

None of those belong on HN.

In any community, when the law threatens the existence or basic functionality of that communities interests, the law becomes the primary concern of everyone. Here, Python developers may not be interested in mobile UX design, VR hackers may not be interested in 40 year old PC hardware. However, they are all going to be concerned about legal issues that threaten their ability to operate and explore ideas -- be it laws that break and censor the internet, or laws that criminalize reverse engineering.

We have been under siege since the early 1990s. A few legal losses (in the United States) early on could have resulted in a very different internet than we have today. The level of education and understanding of the basic principles of information freedom and autonomy are poorly understand by many. If the community that builds the digital world turns its back on defending these principles, what we have will be taken away.

Slashdot was never very good. One big reason for that was that it actively courted "humorous" comments. This was a huge monkey wrench in their moderation scheme, it meant that even if moderation made it possible to cut out the lowest end of the comment quality spectrum it still did very little to elevate the other end. More so, the system didn't discourage spam and trolling it just made it easier to hide, so any comments on the site were always swimming in an enormous sea of mostly hidden crap, which made it difficult for later comments to be noticed and moderated up. The moderation system in general did a very poor job at fostering good discussion. At best you could hope for a few decent one off comments. Another problem that slashdot has always had was a very strong leaning toward a mob mentality and exclusion of contrarian viewpoints. If slashdot talked about Microsoft, for example, it was a flurry of Microsoft bashing, not a discussion.

HN, for all its faults, does a much better job fostering high quality discussion. And probably promoting interesting submissions as well, although I think the system is much more flawed in that regard.

Anyway, I think that a good chunk of "political" stories that have become popular on HN lately do belong here. Surveillance and freedom and how they pertain to the online world are big, fundamental issues of serious historical importance that we need to grapple with today. To remove those from our view because today it tends to be difficult to have a high quality discussion about a political topic is, I think, a mistake.

I think the issue is not one of whether or not HN should abandon talking about political subjects I think the issue is making sure that HN concerns itself with subjects that are legitimately important and conducts discussions that are mature, well-reasoned, and intellectually stimulating. And I think those things are well within the grasp of the HN community.

I do not think anyone will disagree with you, but what do we do about it? If you look through PG's comment history, you will see that it is indeed on his radar [1, 2], and as recently as a last couple months.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5935190

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5926081

Hacker news has never been 100% technical; part of why I'm here (and involved in the Hacker Dojo) is to hang out with those skinny-jean wearing hipsters who have, you know, social and business skills, as well as some technical skill. Broadens my mind, you know? but the thing is, there is something of a filter there; you need to be 'this technical' to enter, as it were.

How do you enforce this? I don't know. It seems to be... subtly enforced in person. How do you enforce it on a website?

I think we have a broader problem with politics; There are many people that I have a lot of respect for technically, who have political ideas I can only describe as 'kooky' - I mean, that's okay, but I don't really want to hear about it, you know? I /really/ don't want to get sucked into that discussion.

I am just as susceptible to the siren song of a political discussion as anyone else; I often find myself writing two-page rants, only to save myself at the last minute by hitting the delete button.

But this might be part of how this is enforced in person. In person, well, the level of vitriol that political discussions have is just not acceptable.

First time I've heard of hipsters "broadening" someone's mind.

Eh, I mean hanging out with business people who seem like they are at least partly human (and some of them technically admirable) is a good experience for me. It helps remove some of my more self-destructive prejudices.

How about a designated "policy" section, up there with "ask" and "jobs"?

It might be nice place to discuss the legal ecosystem for startups, too.

A noble thought, but given the way TechCrunch, et al. scour the site for something, anything to blow out of proportion, a policy section could be asking for trouble. Nothing worse than bloggers conflating your personal politics with would-be thought-leaders whose endowment of idle time is surely coincidental.

I think someone was working on an extension that filtered out stories with certain keywords.

To tackle it on the user rather than keyword level, I'd personally use a highlight/killfile extension for users, if one were available and didn't break things. Add some kind of highlight around the comments of users who are listed in the highlight file, and just remove the comments (and associated sub-thread) posted by users in the killfile.

At the moment I think I would highlight 10 users and killfile 2, and I think both moves would improve my HN experience.

Im tired of sentiment like this. I havent been here long but ive had the same feelings about multiple communities as they mature. Its part of them growing up and has a lot to do with the members growing up.

In this situation however i get the feeling it has more to do with the industry than anything else. I dont think tech can be what it was or at least ever will ever again. On the sidelines you see the news changing i believe the industry changing has more to do with it than the community.

If you have these feelings about the industry and no longer want to be part of it either take a break and come back like i did or start thinking about a new career. Tech computers and internet going mainstream is exactly what we all aimed to do. I get that you dont like the current state of things maybe you should become one of these activists you mentioned?

As for the rest of us i think were just fine being advocates of how it was and should continue to be.

>Tech computers and internet going mainstream is exactly what we all aimed to do.

Do you remember the first dot-com boom? In 1999, it sure seemed like we were going mainstream. Nerds were cool!

Of course, once the money stopped, we were thrown aside like a sticky sock.

I was a) too young and b) too sheltered from it we were only just getting consumer dial up in homes about that time in our country. But as i understand it yes although that was more like a gold rush in peoples living rooms. Unlike what we have today, a multibillion dollar industry walking around in peoples pockets every minute of the day. Dont gete wrong the desktop isnt going anywhere soon we just have a new poster child while the old one has mostly sorted all its teething problems out.

>a multibillion dollar industry walking around in peoples pockets every minute of the day.

- you are speaking of popularizing and monetizing the internet on mobile devices.

In the last dot-com, we were popularizing and monetizing the internet on desktops.

To someone that has lived through both? it looks pretty similar. Lots of dumb ideas that will crater, and a few good ones that will endure. (Of course, it's difficult to tell the difference now... but it will be clear once this business cycle turns downward.)

So yeah. Right now? there's a lot of investment hype (and thus a lot of media hype -- follow the money.) focusing on the folks who write software for the internet (or the internet on cellphones, now.)

Once the money falls back to 'normal' levels? yeah, the media will forget about us. We'll go back to being creepy nerds. After the first dot-com crash, there were a bunch of stories about nerds who became temporarily rich and blew their fortunes on stupid garbage. I think it was a lot like the schadenfreude of focusing on sports stars who ended up blowing their giant gains on fancy houses and cars that forced them into bankruptcy a few years later.

As a youngster? the takeaway should be "I don't know when this will end, but it probably won't last forever."

You need to get good experience while the getting is good. I used the first dot-com to work with some really great people; I still brag about stuff I did when I was 17.

Oh boy, the employment situation after the first dot-com crash? it was terrible. I mean, I was able to fight my way into the top 25% (and was able to exploit some connections) so I stayed employed... but as late as 2004, I was able to hire people I had worked with before; people that weren't worse than I was in 1998, for retail wages. I found one guy I had worked with making sandwiches at a deli. "I can't pay you what you're worth, but I can beat the deli." - this was less than a two hour train ride from silicon valley. And the guy really wasn't bad. Sometime around 2007-2008 he took over one of my (reasonably paying, by silicon valley standards) jobs and did pretty great. He's been fully employed at rates similar to what I would get working for other people since.

While I initially agree with you and can understand your view point based on your previous experience, I think there are two categories of tech: -Business Value Add -Hype / Marketing

I separate these out because we've already gone through a terrible economic downturn that is sputtering to produce jobs and yet we see an explosion of jobs in the tech sector. That's because of the value add software that is reducing the number of employees, paperwork or steps in a process a business needs in order to operate.

Those types of companies are going to be fine through another economic downturn because their clients have realized how much their saving by using the software. These value add tech businesses may see a slow down, but not a collapse.

The biggest example that is here to stay is E-Commerce. Look at how many companies / businesses are realizing how much easier / cheaper it is to go online than build a brick and mortar store with employees, rent, utilities, taxes, repairs, maintenance, etc.

Even some apps are here to stay. AirBNB, for example, is a personal value add when I'm traveling. I have no problem paying them a couple dollars to reduce my overall travel costs by 15-30%.

What will collapse almost overnight are the apps, websites, etc that are simply fluffy websites, marketing materials, or buggy unusable software.

My thought is stick with the people helping other people make or save money, and you'll be safe through the next one.

>I think there are two categories of tech: -Business Value Add -Hype / Marketing

It's harder to tell the difference than you think.

For an example, during the first dot-com, how about amazon? selling books online. Hurr hurr. what a great and revolutionary business plan. Hell, after the crash, for a while, I was selling books online, and writing software to automate warehouse operations. It's actually a really interesting space, if you ask me, but in 1997, well, to me it didn't look like a billion-dollar idea.

Turns out? it was one of those ideas (or implementations) that turned out to be a really good idea. It was not obvious that it was a good idea (or good implementation) at all, not until after the crash.

Or ebay. There was a sea of auction sites. A huge number of auction sites. It was not at all clear that ebay would continue on to be the marketplace of choice.

And for every amazon and ebay, there were a thousand imitators.

And what about Yahoo!? It sure looked like curated portals were the way to go. it looked like they would be the gateway to the internet. Nope.

AOL was in the same boat. It looked a lot like real value, but was, in fact, pyrite.

I think the biggest story is that the people who added the value that was most tangible? the telecoms who actually trenched in all the fiber? A huge number of those went bankrupt. And those are the companies, were I playing stocks at the time, I would have bought. Those companies seemed to be the 'real-estate' of the internet, as they owned the fiber in the ground. In a real sense, they owned they physical layer that the internet was built upon.

The most obvious sign that the money sloshing around in the Valley is bubble froth is the number of people saying "this time it's different."

It's never different.

I find that you get better reactions if you refer to it as "the business cycle" or something of that nature.

I mean, around here, the business cycle seems to oscillate wildly, based on investor mood, more than anything else. But what do you do?

Unfortunately, I think you're right. I've originally moved from Reddit to HN because of higher quality, but now r/programming and language/technology-specific Subreddits have a much higher content/noise ration than HN. I guess this is mostly because all the folks who think more stories about Snowden are actually more interesting than programming have moved here.

The thing about political topics is: anyone can talk about them. All politics requires is a difference of opinion, and we've all got opinions.

On the other hand to really talk about product engineering, software innovation, business management, etc., you have to have experience and expertise.

So as technical forums grow, they trend toward political topics.

It used to be worth being an XKCD 386 [1] guy when political discussion came up here. If someone said something you thought was wrong, you could spend 30 minutes or an hour writing a well researched response citing primary sources, and good discussion would result.

This is no longer true. Most of the political discussion here is now indistinguishable from /r/politics and /r/technology, where people are only interested in things that agree with the existing beliefs.

Lately, even conspiracy theories that are refutable without outside sources since they are internally inconsistent are getting traction here.

[1] http://xkcd.com/386/

One suggestion is to reduce the influx of new users. Maybe keep new registrations closed except for a few days every month or so. It allows older users time to help the new users adjust to the community, and prevents opportunistic/anonymous-trollish comments. Just an idea.

I kind of like this idea although a lot of people will probably disagree with it. My variation: instead of restricting new users from signing up, maybe just restrict their ability to comment. An account must be x months old to contribute to the discussion.

The only reason I would disagree with that idea is that it would prevent the author from a linked site from joining the discussion if they didn't already have an account.

It would also prevent throwaway accounts. Sometimes throwaways do provide insightful comments.

Solid point. I didn't spend much time thinking about the finer details. Thanks!

This would strike a good balance between an open and invite only community. I also think this would help with rising number of the negative comments made on new accounts.

I left slashdot for exactly the same reason. That and I was tired to sift through trolling and countless slashdot memes like "imagine a Beowulf cluster of these".

HN still has a share if engaging technical news that is big enough to keep it interesting for me. But another thing that differentiates it from slashdot is that discussion is intelligent and no nonsense.

>I left slashdot for exactly the same reason. That and I was tired to sift through trolling and countless slashdot memes like "imagine a Beowulf cluster of these".

I think the beowulf comments and the GNAA trolls were actually in a time when the overall quality of the comments were OK. There problem was when all comments started having no content whatsoever, but were just a response-for-the-sake-of-it. It is like if people just needed to write something.

It's interesting you posted this because I was just thinking about posting an Ask HN to see what things people would change or want to make better. A lot of people seem to believe that newer users are ruining the culture. TechCrunch also had an issue with spammy/trolling behavior in it's comments until they implemented Facebook comments which sort of provided accountability. Another method could be an invite system, but I feel like I would have never been able to become a contributor if I needed an invite.

I've gained a lot of useful information on HN in my past two years as a user and I hope I've helped a few a long the way as well. I do find myself skipping over a lot more posts, especially during the whole Snowden fiasco. I don't know how it used to be "back in the day" but I wish I could have experienced it.

I've always been hopeful that lobste.rs would take off, but sadly the steps they took to ensure good participation has kept it from growing. I mean, it still gets new articles, and there are a very few items that aren't on HN (or showed up sooner), but most posts have very little discussion. Looking at the homepage, and the majority of links have 0 comments.

That said, it's got a few features that people have pitched as the solution for HN (tags being one of them).

lobste.rs is invite only, isn't it? Do you think that's been their main problem, or are there others?

I ask because a forum project is on the back burner for me and this kind of thing is relevant to my interests.

Not only is it invite only but your own membership can be revoked if the people you invited cause problems (they keep track of the user tree https://lobste.rs/u, so your actions could also reflect badly on the person you got an invite from). The true reason could be something else (or many factors), but I suspect this is one decision that has kept the pool of users extremely small (1.1k isn't much for a social graph).

Huh. So basically it's like the mafia. You vouch for the wrong guy you get whacked.

I can see how that might stifle discussion.

Although... temporary guest accounts with joint karma might be an interesting idea.

The biggest issue with lobste.rs is that they hide some of the tag filtering features behind the invite-only membership. I can understand restricting the commenting and submission, but I have no desire to chase after an invitation just to get the tag filtering features.

I also think their invite-only membership policy puts them on a different community-growth curve than an HN, Reddit, Metafilter. I used to scan through the lobste.rs headlines, but i've switched back to a mixture of subreddits, because I can actually contribute more there.

Perhaps your issue with the tag filtering is from an older version? When I look at lobste.rs in an incognito window, it appears I can set tag filters even without an account (they claim "Since you are not logged in, your filters will be stored in a long-lasting browser cookie."). That said, it'd be awesome if they allowed access to that feature through a url you could bookmark.

No true HN'er... etc.

I check the new stories in a few topic areas regularly. Many interesting tech stories I check are not getting upvotes or comments.

But, even if more of those stories made the front page, the NSA story marks an epoch. Computing and the Internet have changed. It all comes with surveillance inside. That is unattractive. Creepy. Unfree. Undemocratic. Unhealthy. We let our industry get poisoned. It will take years for that story to play out. And it will get discussed here.

This comment I think has significant merit. It is not really a per-se partisan issue, although it is a profoundly political one. With as you point out pervasive impact, ie on The 'tools of the trade'.

I still frequent Slashdot (no longer "News for nerds, stuff that matters", mind you), although it's practically redundant given that I frequent HN and Ars Technica.

HN and Ars seem to be complementary, HN gets links to things that Ars wouldn't report on and Ars reports on things that HN wouldn't get links to. There's overlap but that doesn't detract from going from one site to the other.

HN makes Slashdot somewhat redundant. When I read Slashdot, a good chunk of the articles are links to things that appeared on HN three days ago.

Also the Slashdot editors can't edit for shit. I guess they're too busy posting thinly-veiled advertisements for Dice.

If the commentary on Slashdot ever became less informative (although the signal to "Micro$oft $hill!!!!" ratio is decreasing...), then I'd leave.

I read HN to find out what Slashdot is going to post three days later :)

It's like eating cheese and drinking orange juice at the same time.

So great.

Couldn't agree more.

I think part of the problem is in the mechanics of the editing/modding process. Too many similar articles (and sometimes, the same URL, but slightly altered) make it to the front page in a short time span. Even worse, the desire for advocacy is so strong that people tolerate and upvote blatant blogspam. Otherwise, I think an interest in current events - i.e. this is the world we live in -- is not too orthogonal from tech/entrepreneurial topics, and can often be highly complementary. Also, while there are lots of places to discuss politics and advocacy, I think HN's quality of comments and a desire for thinking outside-the-box makes HN's comment section worth visiting for any topic.

I read Slashdot for years and there were also great comments...but a much higher number of top-voted/expanded comments that were akin to the clever/cute/meme-funny comments that plague Reddit today. Also, IIRC, Slashdot's commenting system required a lot of clicks to expand discussions...I pretty much never did that...which meant that Slashdot discussions required work to get past the witty upvoted one-liners...whereas with HN, it's just a quick flick of the mousewheel to get to more substantial comments.

What I don't like is that more and more, showing radicalism is encouraged and upvoted and showing restrain and judging words well gets downvoted or ignored.

"This shows that capitalism is evil." - "This shows that free market will solve everything."

Pretty soon we will have "9/11 was an inside job" posters on the top.

I still think the news themselves are great. I just don't like the discussions anymore.

Am I the only one who finds this thread to be hypocritical. Instead of posting this diatribe, as have others, lead by example and post content you'd like to see here.

That's the same argument that you see on Reddit: "If only people would downvote things on /r/[x]/new they didn't want to see". But obviously that's not making much of a difference. There's just not enough voting and submission activity for the subset of users that really care to influence things that much.

One person can only post so much content. Appealing to others to change how they post content is much more effective over the long run. So no, not hypocritical... or at the very least, a necessary evil.

Totally agree. HN is kinda like Digg in the early days, but the signal to noise ratio is on the up and the 'New' section is almost shambolic.

After reading a few comments, just have to clarify that this is not necessarily a bad thing. HN is the only site that i sit on all day. It used to be Slashdot, brief flirtation with Digg and Reddit. But now it's HN.

I just have to point out that your username is only 4 months old. Maybe you used HN before signing up... but if not, then I'd assume you don't have the proper context as to why this community considers this a negative change.

I used it for a year before I signed up. Lurking is always a good way to gauge a community. I have the context. I just despair that the site is leaning more towards the political and further away from the startup tech. I could be wrong, but any time i'm looking for frameworks, tech, innovation, HN isn't my first choice like I would expect.

Having said all that, This is the one site that I visit >20 times a day.

I think this is true for most communities as they mature. Issue-of-the-day become more prominent as core topics get discussed to death.

For example, I notice a few people pointing out the higher number of Golang articles that get to the front page, however, this is more due to there being more development and discussion as v1.1 was just released. For other programming languages most common experiences have been shared and novel new ideas become fewer.

I don't really see it as a problem. Most political posts are identifiable by title. Although the SvN ratio may not be perfect, I doubt it ever could be without HN implementing something like /.'s customisation options for topics and the ability for users' to block them.

>For example, I notice a few people pointing out the higher number of Golang articles that get to the front page, however, this is more due to there being more development and discussion as v1.1 was just released. For other programming languages most common experiences have been shared and novel new ideas become fewer.

I don't think that's all there is to it. There are any number of programming languages at a similar level of maturity and popularity to go, but go gets a disproportionate number of stories on HN. Something is distorting the voting.

Off topic (meta): fascinatingly, the top half dozen or so comments have no child comments, at 99 points. To me, this implies that the top comments are stand alone. I this many people can be in the running for top comment, then perhaps the argument isn't one-sided and it really implies a shift in the opinion of what has happened.

(Normally, meta is discouraged, but since the initial question is meta, an I think there's a signal to imply there's a real shift, I'm commenting on this. More is needed, perhaps a dump of topics to determine of politics has really taken an unusually strong signal here, perhaps using the Bayesian methods described a week or so ago...)

I agree.

If you don't reflexively agree with knee-jerk libertarianism you are persona non grata here.

A good way to ensure that new facts are not discovered, that new scientific discoveries don't happen, and that people don't listen to you, is to make things political.

Oddly enough the folks complaining here sound like old people remembering the good old days. Any site which allows people of varying interests to contribute will eventually outgrow whoever was there before. It's inevitable, the alternative is stagnation where people talk about the same crap as their forefathers. You can't keep the little kid little forever unless they are dead. You could start a new site and try again and yet eventually success will breed change and you starting sounding old again. I'm old enough to have seen this a lot of times and it gets old too, which is kind a meta-old.

There will be something new when it gets bad enough. I still browse slashdot every few days though, and I imagine hackernews will be the same in the not too distant future. If you want something hacker-to-the-core there are still sites like hackaday that focus nearly exclusively on actually building cool stuff. There is a place for everything I guess. I for one like some diversity though and banking all my news gathering on one site has been the opposite of what I have always wanted. In news I try to check in on npr and limbaugh (differing, but influential perspectives (many that I disagree with, but are important to understand none the less)). In the tech world, I check out slashdot for opinions on corpratey sys admin stuff, I check out hackaday for garage hardware hacking stuff, I check out techcrunch for hipster VC stuff, I check out hackernews for mostly new web service stuff, and I checkout reddit for... well, mostly pictures of cute huskies. Each has there own utility, but when something gets too off base, I check it less and let the cream rise to the top in my rss reader of choice. At the moment, we are in a bit of a spot where it is hard to tell where the next solid source of hacking news is, so I have been spending most of my "check it every time the code compiles time" on IRC, which is fantastic for the particular communities I happen to be involved in right now.

I've had this opinion for a long time now. I think that voting systems slowly lead towards bad content, over years. It doesn't matter what's special about a website.

This is because the users that should be upvoting/downvoting (ie. moderate/reasonable people who have no incentives of 'visibility' or the like) aren't. They just don't have an urge to upvote the things that should be.

It's exactly why political stories and comments pop up to the top very quickly. It's an "impulse buy" for a lot of people. They see it and think "well everyone should know this!" Think NSA scandal here.

I just don't see a site that heavily relies on what people upvote and downvote forever remaining "pristine" or, in HN's case, hacker-based. Sure, we're all hackers. But a lot of us care about the politics. And when people care about a topic, they're much more likely to go out of their way to upvote the things.

I'm guilty of this too. I don't vote often, and I spend a large amount of time on a lot of vote-driven sites.

The solution? I'm not sure. It's possible that there just isn't a solution. We might just need to keep moving from site to site, with new ideas on content aggregation each time. One day, we might find the perfect solution.

Until then, my feeling is that it's our responsibility as users and content viewers to upvote and downvote appropriately.

> They see it and think "well everyone should know this!" Think NSA scandal here.

Indeed; this is commonly called "signal boosting." It's where there's content you have no personal reason to upvote/retweet/reblog/whatever -- but where you're affiliated with a group that would be furthered by doing that -- and so you do it anyway. I do believe a general policy against it could really help a community, but I don't know exactly how you'd implement that (other than naming-and-shaming users who do it.)

Also, though, voting systems only lead toward bad content when the website is also open-registration. If you'll notice, the first growth-period of these sites is usually pretty decent -- even though there's a voting system, the only people there are "core" members who are all there for the sake of the website's topic, so they only vote up that kind of content. It's when secondary and tertiary users flood the site and overwhelm the core audience that you see the decline. So, the solution could just be... not letting those users vote.

I have not been long at HN, but I have noticed how much more in the past year more general topics like politics have risen here.

Thing is I do not really care that much what are posted into here, people are pretty much free to post almost anything interesting. What I dislike is that most of the stuff is resubmitted from another news site pretty often. Though it is not as bad as one automatic news aggregation website I use to check my local news. Though the reason why I can live with these things is that my brain has become my best spam filter.

The only thing I really do not like is how popular HN has become among news sites on picking stories to their own site. Just few weeks back one blog article posted into here got their way into a local news site and this news site was even doing horrible job at quoting the blog article.

The level of journalism has fallen so much and they can use web sites like hacker news to pick up stories which should bring visitors to their own site. Hacker News, Reddit and every other news discussion site provides good statistics for news papers what to put on their site for people who do not visit these websites we use.

> HN is starting to feel like a place where activists hang out.

Activism? The political topics do kind of have a "let's all get along" and "do the right thing" feeling to them. It reminds me of going to the store to get junk food, then when I'm there realizing I should be buying the "lite" and "low salt" versions.

The political dimension to technology has always baffled me. Everyone seems to want me to think something. And yet, no matter what we do, the same problems remain. Where do I sign up to vote against politics?

Regarding Slashdot, all internet sites have a finite lifespan, however, and eventually the cruft builds up. That can be in the code, or the "culture," in the userbase itself.

I guess what we have in common at HN is liking to do things, so we should talk about that, and not theorize about what we should think about how we do it.

I come here for the technology news and the personalities, myself.

A large community often contains many subgroups. When a system allows any subgroups to take over and represent their sentiments as community's sentiments, the community starts to breakdown. To avoid this system needs to allow enough expressiveness. This would mean at least a upvote button as well as downvote button. By only allowing upvotes, HN steals away expressiveness of the community. Any jealous subgroup can essentially upvote a story they had like others to read and get it on top while other members of community have no recourse but to upvote something else and spread their expression thinly. We have seen this many times now. I can see marketers and activists coming over to HN and push a story on top with as little as 100 upvotes while rest of the community just sits back unable to express their preferences.

Let's use this opportunity to remind ourselves of an adjacent problem: the number of helpful, insightful, creative comments not made for fear of retribution by knee-jerk contrarianism.

I say let's watch out for this, and make an effort to use a friendlier tone in comments. And smileys, when necessary. =)

Agree. For JS, I started following http://www.echojs.com/. Which is not so popular, but pretty nice.

And http://sidebar.io/ for Design links. But we cannot post or comment there.

[buried my lede: the front page algorithm]

I'm new, pointed in by the coursera startup engineering course. I have no idea how large that cohort is, or how uniform it is.

I certainly scan the headlines for startup themes (tech and other practices). I have found a lot of great things. My humble thanks for all it.

If I'm curious about one thing, it is the idea that people visit many times a day, and then expect many new high quality threads. If I understand the purpose, shouldn't visits be less frequent (to sync with startup world) and the front page less changing? Because if the front page "must" have new items, it must go further afield. The algorithm, which seems to [be] based on "velocity" of new items rather than strict rank, may favor the "topical" at this point.

Only forums on which there is no point in activism, of either sort(1), can survive their own prosperity. Forums are conversational; activism is the antithesis thereof.

PG is trying, and you have to tip your hat, if the 4-hours-per-day stories are true, but talk about Sisyphean.

(1) "I" or "We"

You have the upvote, downvote and flag buttons. You can also do nothing if you choose.

Unlike Reddit, HN doesn't have subreddits to handle constrained topics. Whatever is on the front page is whatever users want to read and upvote. You are also free to start your own technology only clone if you wish.

This has been brought up before many times. The ones who have been around longer would usually talk about the good old days. Well so do my parents and everyone else who is older ("Oh the kids these days"). I for one like what HN has become and think it is a positive development. People do care about legal issues and health insurance issues and other things not just twiddling bits and that's good.

If a general technology forum inevitably develops to have a substantial (not a monoculture, but substantial) portion of its content devoted to the intersection of technology and law, what does that say about the underlying salience of these issues?

How much of this would be solved by personalizing the ranking of stories?

This is certainly a departure from the current model, and the mere notion of front page could be fatally affected, but, after all and just to name two, Amazon and Spotify are pretty good at anticipating my taste. Simply correlating voting patterns with other users and weighting their upvotes more, for instance, could go a long way towards a site where everyone sees more of what they like.

There are also certainly arguments to be made against such an approach ("filter bubble" etc.). If a strong case has been made before, I'd be curious to read it.

Isn't this simply addresses using a basic classifier, it would be easy enough to build a classifier from the HN API and then write a ux with sliders to balance the content, so if one group are interested in political posts (or comments) then so be it, for other they might prefer vc/entrepreneur content, and then there's the hard core tech content. Some form of SVM or LDA would do the trick. I'm not sure if stories, or comments should be suppressed. I'd implement it similar to how eclipse folds "content" (imports for example)

If anyone thinks this is worthwhile, I'll build it.

I agree that there are some way-off-base topics on HN, but I don't mind the politics that are related to the hacker community. Such involves Aaron, Snowden, Manning, WikiLeaks, various legal and political talk on Startups, privacy rights, Big Tech companies, etc.. in the overarching industry. Some other stuff can also bleed in without disrupting how I feel about the site.

> On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

> If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

Bingo. I love HN for this very reason. Each time I visit, which is several times a day, I can count on finding a batch of postings about stuff I'm interested in: tech, startups, theoretical and applied science, law, philosophy, and yes, politics, just to name a few things, and quite often the intersection of one or more of these. I'm not a HN old timer, so may have missed-out on the before-the-Fall HN, but I have no regrets about that because it must have been a duller place.

I was a Slashdot addict before discovering HN. At one point I remember being really, really impressed by the great variety of people who posted there, people who had subject matter expertise that was all over the board. I might see, for example, a posting of an article about research into controlled fusion, and then browsing the comments I find information and insight posted by actual researchers in the field. This is what HN gives me today, and it's fantastic.

Perhaps a bit OT, but another thing that I love about HN is the level of civility in the comments and the swiftness with which people who break those unwritten(?) rules of decorum face chastisement. Rudeness is called out. People often humbly admit when they've made an error and apologize for it. People who make spelling or grammar errors aren't childishly flamed for it. HN feels like a big room full of well-mannered, intelligent adults, whereas /. (now) is a room full of twits and children and trolls and vandals. I have a hard time imagining HN ever becoming THAT because of the quality of this audience.

HN seems to have become not just a forum full of hackers, but a forum full of intellectuals including the non-hacker variety. These intellectuals, hackers and otherwise, have a diverse range of expertise, interests, curiosities, and passions. I learn something new every day from HN, usually tech or business-related, but often not, and I think that HN would be a far less interesting place if it was narrowly tech/startup focused. For me, HN simply ain't broke.

I'm surprised, after reading through this thread. I've been frequenting HN for a little over a year now, and I enjoy reading the comments because this is the only forum I've found where users have coherent, interesting, grammatically-correct ideas. Just look at the comments in this thread. Almost every user tries to convey a full argument or counter-point. Take a look at Reddit or YouTube as a comparison. Does HN really seem to be on the decline?

Although I can testify to the click-baiting, sensational, politicized articles and comments, and may be guilty myself. Duly noted.

FWIW, I often look for political stories here just to see this crowd's comments on the subject. It would be nice if there was some sort of filter system or a few very broad categories.

I learned about 9/11 from Slashdot. If Slashdot had refused to cover the events of 9/11 out of some misplaced desire to not cover "real world" news, I rightly would've been deeply disappointed in them.

I learned about wiretapping from HN. Likewise, if HN refused to cover wiretapping the entire Internet, I would have a very solid reason to give up on them as a useful news source.

I do not believe HN is in any serious danger. People are obviously pushing back against the less relevant stories.

HN needs more "Show HNs" and less political diatribe.

Having a 'show' category right next to 'ask' in the menu would encourage that.

Dilution will always happen with user submission sites as the number of users grow, specially if there is no moderation.

Digg/Reddit,they all started as some niche tech site and eventually turned into political/media/news sites (atleast digg was, reddit's savior is its subreddit feature) once the userbase increased.

The only way to keep HN niche is by introducing categories and let people subscribe/unsubscribe to those categories or through strict moderation.

I was thinking similar a few days ago, but more like a cross between Slashdot and Reddit. In particular, I saw an item about cannabis legalisation. Got nothing against it, but it isn't technology in the slightest, it's political and maybe financial. I checked the news item a few times to see if anyone pointed that out, but no one did. I decided not to say anything in case it was some HN insider thing.

That is an interesting take on what happened to Slashdot. I guess I just assumed that the world passed by Slashdot's cohort, that the currents governing our industry changed but they mostly didn't. The "iPod lame" post gets harped on, but it's a good illustration of that dynamic, I think. But you were probably much more familiar with it than I was.

From my perspective, the RSS reader mostly killed Slashdot for me; Slashdot was great when it was able to surface things I normally wouldn't have seen otherwise. Once RSS (then Twitter) came along, the sites that were generating their own content were easier to find/skim directly rather than waiting for Slashdot to throw them a little publicity.

I frequent HN because it does serve that purpose that Slashdot once did - bringing content to my attention that I otherwise would have missed.

After a sudden influx of traffic years back, HN had an Erlang Day where the only thing upvoted was articles about Erlang. I can't tell you if it helped HN get better or not, because it caused me to come back after seeing how much the community cared about the quality of the site. Perhaps it's time to make HN proud of its boringness again?

I think it's impossible to compare Slashdot to HN, since nearly every story on Slashdot gets a mod-created title and mod-created tagline.

In comparison, HN is more emergent, less filtered, and fueled more by dopamine than by any other kind of motivation.

The 'upvote funny comments' slashdot's policy did wonders to destroy the quality of comments there.

I don't want my news to be funny, if it means they will be generally dull and full of commonly repeated jokes. As it happened in slashdot.

Agreed. But good things become popular, and popularity changes good things. Not always for the worse. But this time, yes for the worse.

If hacker news has jumped the shark, where is the new tech/hacker news site that has taken its place?

Yep, it's /r/politics now. I don't check HN nearly as often as I used to.

Any alternative sites. It seems there is usually a shift from media sites every couple years.

Got a source on that claim about the incompatibilities of cheese and orange juice?

I know roughly a dozen people who frequent HN. Some of them are friends, some of them are family, some of them are coworkers. Some are involved in network security, some are programmers, some are involved in web design, and some are merely interested in tech news. Some are them male, some of them are female.

Yet, without exception, they have all expressed to me that they think that the site has substantially lowered in quality since the details of PRISM were leaked.

I think the fundamental problem is that that story brought in a large influx of new members at once. This disrupts the 'integration' process that most older members of this site went through when they first joined. Any post that was trite or lacked in quality was quickly downvoted, and it become apparent very quickly that this is a site that encourages thoughtful, mature, calm comments. On the other hand, during an influx of new users, this process is disrupted. The new users, especially if they share a similar ideology, will upvote each other if they agree with the idea of the post, even if it lacks in quality or is counter-productive to intelligent discourse. They will then look around the site, and see that similar comments are upvoted across the board, and think that this is acceptable behaviour.

There is a lot of anger at these new users, but I do not feel it is their fault, as they are acting as they would on any other forum, and they simply do not understand that they are hurting the site. I think it is our duty, as older members of this website, to fix this problem.

So, what is the solution? Well, I think that it is clear at this point that sitting back and hoping that the situation will resolve itself is not going to work. I think that there needs to be a concerted effort between the mods and the users with high karma to discipline new users who do not following proper posting etiquette. I think that more voting 'power' should be given to the older users with higher karma. Giving trusted members of this website more voting power will allow their votes to outweigh the large number of new members, and will allow the trusted members to teach new users what types of posts are acceptable and which types of posts are not. One of the problems that arises is that users will create uncivil posts that are clearly very partisan in nature, but that will be propped up by people who agree with them. This is poisonous for the environment of this site and clearly does not encourage useful discourse. These posts need to be ruthlessly downvoted, and it must be made very apparent to new users that they must be civil, regardless of how many people agree with them.

This will allow for a closer adherence to the rules, in particular, "Off-Topic: Most stories about politics, or crime, or sports, unless they're evidence of some interesting new phenomenon". I want to hear every new detail about PRISM because it is clearly a very, very important topic for the tech industry. However, the vast majority of the recent posts about Snowden or the NSA or PRISM are completely lacking in any original content, and are merely repeating the same ideas over and over again, diluting the content of this site.

Sorry, I agree with a lot of your sentiments, but I have to nitpick.

    I think it is our duty, as older members of this website, to fix this problem.
Is this a throwaway account is 1 hour a very long time?

>Is this a throwaway account is 1 hour a very long time?

That's what I would assume. The man would have to be insane to try and claim seniority with an hour old account.

very true... and besides the activists, everyone here has always a lot to say; just look at all these long replies - too much drama.

i started coming here after reddit changed years ago. I dont know of any other websites similar to HN... very sad if it changes too.

I came here for the same reason a couple of years ago, but now I spend 90% time on reddit on the non mainstream subreddits.

Just say NSA this or Snowden that.

I find this doom-mongering a bit over the top. Slashdot basically was a troll culture at its very core, and while it could be funny at times, it never really elevated itself to a place for serious discussion.

Just look at the front page of HN today - 3-4 stories somewhat about law (but relevant computer related law), the other 26 a hugely diverse array of links to interesting topics.

Even if the discussion can be a bit asinine at times, the value of the links alone is worth it, and there will be at least one or two interesting discussion threads per link.

Just ignore the crap.

"[Slashdot] never really elevated itself to a place for serious discussion."

I profoundly disagree with this, as an early Slashdot user. Slashdot had quite a bit of serious discussion - HN scarily replicates much of the feeling of discussion 1998-2002, just with different topics but all the same ups & downs. HN even has its perpetual flame war of Android vs. iOS that mimics Slashdot's Gnome vs KDE.

Yes, there was quirky trollish humour that was forgiven, but the moderating system, once it settled down in 1999, promoted quite a bit of very in-depth conversation.

Columbine and Jon Katz was the first real "political" side track for Slashdot, but it survived and moved on from there... and basically just wound up dying out due to Taco leaving and Reddit/HN.

I think that's the finer point that's missed when Slashdot (or most of Reddit) is brought up: "troll culture at its very core".

Even though the quality of discussion on HN might ebb and flow, or there might be more negative comments than positive at times, the culture here isn't ever going to tolerate Natalie Portman, hot grits, or image macros.

I pointed out something similar in another comment but it's worth focusing on. One of the biggest problems of both reddit and slashdot is that they embrace humor at their core. This may not seem so bad but it's poison for mature conversation. Humor is cheap. And it doesn't require engagement.

What you see on both reddit and slashdot is an increasing tendency toward irony as the basic approach to any subject (4chan is the same way too). This overwhelms and actively drives away discussions that are serious and not ironic. This is why the highest quality subreddits (like askscience and askhistorians) enforce very strict rules and actively discourage humor for humor's sake. This is a big reason why stackexchange is so successful as well. And it doesn't mean humor is unwelcome at all these places, just that it needs to be part of something productive or humnorous enough to overcome the strong bias against it.

> Even though the quality of discussion on HN might ebb and flow, or there might be more negative comments than positive at times, the culture here isn't ever going to tolerate Natalie Portman, hot grits, or image macros.

HN suffers from a more mild case of it with people being compelled to link at least one or two vaguely relevant xkcd comics in nearly every discussion without additional content. I like xkcd, but there's no reason to create noise by linking to it any time a comment or story reminds someone of it.

That is a consequence of so-called popularity - HN begins as a marginalized place for geeks and nerds - they even looked at Arc language seriously.)) Now it is a popular site for general public and visiting it gives one an air of sophistication, like talking Monads or Clojure among PHP coders.))


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