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Hacker News comments I'm tired of seeing (righto.com)
238 points by lispython on Sept 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 218 comments

My personal favorite is "The plural of anecdote is not data".

Correct. The plural of anecdote is conversation, which is exactly the reason we're here.

I think this one comes down to people misunderstanding the reason we're here in the first place. If you start to notice that the discussion here resembles the sort of conversation you'd have around the watercooler, that's probably has to do with the fact that Hacker News is indeed the internet's watercooler.

Complaining that that seems to be the case and asking people to stop having lively conversation is not really helping anybody. As much as some folks want this to be the Royal Society for Correctly And Properly Dismissing The Ideas Of Other People, it's not.

Good thing, too. That place wouldn't be any fun.

It's immensely frustrating when someone is discussing a well conducted study showing an interesting result to have another person say "This feels wrong. I had $ANECDOTE, so maybe they researchers are missing $CONCLUSION_FROM_ANECDOTE?", which has been covered in the study and in the HN comments and is just a weird point anyway.

This is true, but there is also the reverse situation - sometimes there is no hard data, in which anecdotes are the nearest thing that we have. I can't help feeling that "the plural of anecdote is not data" should require a link to the relevant data that the parent post had apparently missed. This would be an excellent rebuttal to the anecdote and advance the conversation more than the one-liner...

Most of the conclusions I find in comments on HN, are rarely conclusive. I've always struggled with comments that provide one data point (or better yet, a generalization of data points) that the user declares a conclusion from. I can't tell if I'm just being pessimistic when I detract these poorly thought out conclusions or if they are genuinely good for the discussion.

Because comments probably aren't the best place to talk about conclusive anything: it's a discussion. If you've done the leg work to get something solid it can at least get the discussion it deserves if submitted to HN.

> Hacker News is indeed the internet's watercooler.

A watercooler in a very passive aggressive, argumentative office perhaps. HN should be more like a watercooler, IMO, with more common courtesy and less flamewars (and less devil's-advocate-for-the-sake-of-devil's-advocate). But at the end of the day, the internet is the internet. (Just a side note: I'll still come on HN every day despite this :) )

The water cooler is a place for things like gossip, stupid jokes and discussions of television shows. I hope we don't all begin to assume this is what HN should be, particularly when consequential topics are being discussed (vaccination, etc.)

If I apply a corrosive black salve to my face and I feel that this saved me from cancer and really want to share it as advice, my story actually does nothing to establish self-application of black salve as an advisable practice. It is indeed an anecdote, not data. It should not be taken as data. This is very important, or people will be misled and burn their noses off.

It's a water cooler for people who really, really like to understand how things work - and who also tend to have a lot of ideas that they want to share freely.

It's also funny because, conceptually, it's not true. By anecdote we tend to mean one observation drawn from some system. If nothing else the anecdote tells you that that outcome has non-zero probability.

I'll add calling things "Cargo Cult" to my list of pet peeves. The Cargo Cult example is getting Cargo Culted.

One thing that really annoys me about HN is how damn contrarian everyone always tries to be. Responses typically take the most absolute narrow and unforgiving interpretation of any point you are trying to make and subsequently use that to spin a counterpoint.

Drives me batty.

I see two reasons:

1) If people agree with the idea they'll probably just nod their head, or upvote. If they disagree it is more likely they'll post something rather than just downvote (people feel the need to explain perhaps why they downvoted)

2) Geeks feel the need to say something contrarian to show how smart they are. It is a way to tell everyone they have a bigger intellectual penis than everyone else.

I honestly think (1) is the real key. I constantly decide not to submit comments when it turns out I've used a bunch of words to just say "I agree", and hit the upvote button instead.

Also, to another of your parent's gripes - if someone only responds to a narrow point, it should be safe to assume they agree with the other, or broader, points, and that's why they didn't respond to those.

But silent agreement and loud disagreement does make it seem like everyone is mad at each other all the time.

Regarding #1, wow. That's a pretty remarkable insight.

Everyone thinks of the karma/reputation feedback mechanism in terms of how it promotes civil discourse, but in this case it's fairly remarkable to think of how it could be biasing the conversation toward a negative tone. Maybe it's usually civil negativity, but it's negative nonetheless. I can see how people would tire of this eventually.

I wonder if there'd be a simple way of limiting the bias? Slashdot's modpoint classes comes to mind, but then that opens a whole host of other problems...

#1 is why I think HN should show up vote counts to the non-authors. I think the tone of HN would seem less negative if we could see how many people actually agreed with the comment everyone else is arguing against.

It may make #2 worse though. People love to argue against the majority, especially geeks, especially on the internet.

This seems about right, but I'd venture it's 80% 2) and 20% 1).

I have to disagree. I think it's 80% 1) and 20% 2)

It's flattering to oneself to be contrarian; Not only have you already considered what has been presented, you've also thought about it and have a counter-argument. You're cleverer than the author of the article; she still entertains that idea while you have long ago dismissed it.

Thought that's rarely the case. What usually happens is someone will read a clever article, get upset that they didn't come up with it and choose a narrow interpretation or a minor nitpick to attack the piece, thereby making themselves feel better.

This is very well articulated and at least partly rings true for me. However, after typing out a response of the nature you described, I hit the back button rather than submit.

Funny. I thought that was my thing. Typing out a disagreement comment, then read it and think: "How will this discussion end? Will any good conclusion come out of it, or will it be mere sword flailing?".

More often than not, I hit back instead of submit.

I have avoided many a flamewar in this manner

but not this one!

Maybe it is also a reaction to what is often remarked upon as the falling signal to noise ratio: if everyone may expect to be skewered, then fewer will be encouraged to post.

I hate it when discussion's turn into a fight over semantics rather than the actual substantive argument. I am interested in how the world actually is rather than someone else's abstraction.

What?? It doesn't seem that contrarian to me!

Sorry, I just couldn't resist.


To actually add something to the conversation (and sadly, to be just a bit contrarian), I hope nobody reads this as "oh darn, I better not take an opposing view for fear of being voted down as contrarian." I actually do like reading respectfully contrarian responses. Not the childish ones you describe, but the ones which have a bit of thought behind them. I think a better term is "devil's advocate."

Please people, keep doing that, at least.

Yup, seams like only the greater of minds and personalities will acknowledge or even accept inputs from others and ADD to it. The default seams to be distortion along the simple and absolute black & white spectrum and then stating the opposite to be (much more/really) true.

While in certain "communities" this maybe is driven by the profession it self (oh, CS and all its true/false 0/1 domains ;), very seldom "cooperative discussion" is presented as something beneficial... just check most newspaper and tv reports... we get controversy presented as the way to go while the world is clearly much more complex as to be grasped in simple black/white true/false terms.

For single humans tending to such patterns in thinking certain medical conditions are associated with... in our societies looks like we embrace it much more thoughtlessly. All has to be a controversy (Parties, Companies, People)

I don't know. You seem to be agreeing in tone with the post so it can't be everyone who is contrarian.

Sorry. :)

Yeap, it's a jungle out there. I try not to play games of anyone appearing to cobble a name for themselves by inventing drama. Brinksmanship is most often a lose-lose gambit. Let the argumentative types reveal themselves, for the best course is to laugh at wasted energy and move on to the next task.

Also, anyone that bothers to publicly point out to you a misspelling is someone with too much idle time and not enough decency. One must hope for more cunning and aggressive frenemies so you may be judged accordingly.

I see that. I don't find it overly common. And if someone's disagreeing with either an inconsequential point or misconception of what I've written, I'll point it out.

I find that productive discussions do grow out of conversations with people who can note both what they agree with and what they don't. I've actually learned quite a bit from this.

I do this, even though I find it annoying in others. It might be that I'm an assertive, details-oriented professional. Or a prick. I'm not sure.

HN sometimes looks like an Asperger's meetup.

I understand this is a place for serious debate and constructive criticism, but sometimes it's more uptight than getting interviewed at a border control.

I visit and get value from it, but this article is spot on. Well, I still think [citation needed] is relevant sometimes, in the case of a legitimate/interesting (or maybe questionable) citation that would produce more value with the citation. (But sometimes it goes like this "The sky is blue"[citation needed])

Yes, sometimes you want to see a source, but why would you use that phrasing? The passive form doesn't feel like a conversation. Like the original poster wrote, it comes across as passive-aggressive.

Imagine someone walking into a coffee shop and ordering coffee by saying: "Coffee required" -- while drawing imaginary square brackets around his head with his fingers.

It's a convenient and recognized request for more information.

It's pretty much the equivalent of "RSVP" on an invitation -- a shorthand request that the person it's directed to take an action out of consideration.

Reading it as passive-aggressive strikes me as the attitude of someone who's looking for a social slight. In my experience, that search is rarely unsuccessful.

One way to interpret it as passive aggressive is if its merely an attempt to steer the argument in the direction of the fallacy of appeal toward authority. (abortion is wrong) (citation needed?) (my bible) (I'm not Christian) (holy way begins)

Another way is just a psuedo-politeness. (... and applying ohms law aka power = voltage / current ...) (citation needed?) (quick google search results in ...whoops)

It does make perfect sense for situations where the literature is lacking. Yesterdays discussion of ultra minimal RISC architectures is a good example. So, seriously, the linked to paper only has three references? And I've read two and don't have access to the third? In the grand history of bored programmers daydreaming about turing tarpits I'm somehow familiar with 2/3 of all written articles yet never heard of the remaining 1/3 until yesterday? Citation needed. There's got to be more academic articles than listed. Just looking at the turing tarpit section along of various esolang sites...

(abortion is wrong) (citation needed?) (my bible) (I'm not Christian) (holy way begins)

Perhaps for some. For me it's clear that I've encountered someone whose worldview is fundamentally transrational and further discussion isn't necessary.

My purpose isn't to change the person's mind but to understand it. And if that understanding leads me to the conclusion that they're not worth wasting time in discussion, so be it. What's frustrating is when someone drops some vaguely provocative hint of something without giving a sense of what underlies it. Knowing the source of the bullshit is helpful.

It does make perfect sense for situations where the literature is lacking.

Also for where the person posting has a specific instance or reference in mind but cannot be assed to provide it. Again, my experience is that discussions with such people tend to be pretty unproductive. I only wish H/N had the ability present on, say, Reddit, to tag people as idiots. I've similarly created "idiot", "troll", "denialist", and "libertardian" circles on G+ simply to keep tabs of who's not worth engaging with (or noting to others that their conversation will likely be unproductive).

It isn't a request for a source. It is like saying 'if you want others to believe this thing you are claiming publicly, you need to back it up better than asking us to take you on your word.'

What's the difference? To me, your formulation is just another somewhat passive-aggressive way of asking for a source.

Probably intent. The problem with uncited bold claims is that they can derail entire threads if not nipped in the bud immediately.

I understand that HN is not a debate team, but I don't think it's asking all that much for people to cite sources on something that's likely to be controversial.

It's a politeness thing, really. If you're making claims about something or other, link to WP, or Google, or somewhere out of consideration for your fellow reader. It doesn't take that much longer and significantly contributes to a discussion.

Meanwhile, not doing it in this troll-filled place called the internet tends to make people wonder A, why you didn't bother, and B, what kind of fast one you're trying to pull. Debate is adversarial, after all.

The [citation needed] is a quick and simple way to shift the onus back onto the OP where it belongs, and also serves to warn people who maybe didn't read the comment all too closely that shenanigans may be afoot. And often times that's all you get, because a distressingly high portion of people won't reply when challenged in this manner.

> I understand this is a place for serious debate and constructive criticism

Is it? [citation please]


> I understand this is a place for serious debate and constructive criticism, but sometimes it's more uptight than getting interviewed at a border control.

and the most uptight are the ones who feel the need to pretend.

[citation needed] - This isn't Wikipedia, so skip the passive-aggressive comments. If you think something's wrong, explain why.

The reason to post this is not so much thinking the comment is necessarily wrong as that it makes an extraordinary or absolutist claim absent any evidence, which if accepted as fact is going to change the shape of the whole discussion...perhaps appropriately, but the onus is on the person making the claim to support it.

A link to a logical fallacy, such as ad hominem or more pretentiously tu quoque - this isn't a debate team and you don't score points for this.

Considering the requests that if one thinks something is wrong, one should explain why, I'd say that identifying errors in reasoning is quite appropriate; though some of them are so frequent that I just downvote rather than pointing them out yet again. Fallacies of composition are astonishingly frequent, for example.

The "citation needed" thing is pulled out any time people disagree, however, even when the comment is something where a source could be found rapidly using Google. It is not the onus of someone in a friendly discussion to have to anally cite every comment they make that involves some random fact: instead, it should be the onus of every person involved in the discussion to keep an open mind and do some due diligence. If you disagree with the other person's fact, then you bring up your own fact and cite the hell out of it to make it clear how wrong the other person is, you don't just demand citations. The real reason people do this is just because they want to undermine trust in the other person's position without having to do any actual work, and it is a great strategy as no matter how well cited something is, there will always be something, potentially in the citation itself (going one or even two levels out), you can take issue with and scream "citation needed" about.

Shrug. Most of the "citation needed" posts I've seen are in response to comments like "almost all recipients of welfare spend it on smokes and alcohol." There probably doesn't exist any studies that disproves that vague claim. Yet whoever posts it shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, hence "citation needed."

[citation needed] is shorthand for "Bold claim. I disagree & very much doubt you can back your claim up.". Which I think is ok. Problems arise if it is used for "I disagree & I like to look smart". That is why I would prefer people use the long form, not cryptic shorthand.

"Shrug. Most of the "citation needed" posts I've seen are in response to comments like "almost all recipients of welfare spend it on smokes and alcohol."

[citation needed]

Personally, I don't feel that you need to back your assertion up with facts. If I wish to take issue with it, the onus is on me to go and scrape HN to produce the definitive validation or refutation of your claim. Which was Saurik's point, I think.

That doesn't make sense.

Sure, when you leave a comment asserting something, you don't need to provide a full bibliography of references, but if someone asks for it (ie, someone follows up with [citation needed]) then the onus is on you to show that your facts have a basis in reality. I don't see anything wrong with that.

You can't really disprove something which doesn't have any factual basis.

Surely if someone asks for a citation then they need to provide at a minimum some countering anecdotes. Otherwise their "[citation needed]" is even weaker than my anecdote-supported assertion... And if they're going to present countering evidence, why not just do so without the superfluous "[citation needed]"?

> Surely if someone asks for a citation then they need to provide at a minimum some countering anecdotes.

The burden of proof lies with the initial claim AKA Russell's teapot. In a strict academic forum, the person making the claim should provide evidence at the time of making the claim or at least be prepared to defend it with facts.

I find your position to be hilarious.

No facts required! One man's half-baked opinion versus another's! See the surprise ending tonight at 9!

anigbrowl is talking about "[making] an extraordinary or absolutist claim absent any evidence", and you're talking about "even when the comment is something where a source could be found rapidly using Google". These are not comparable cases, and so, I guess I don't see how your comment really addresses anigbrowl's. This is what I see. anigbrowl: there are cases where it's appropriate. You: it shouldn't be used everywhere.

There is this (subjective) notion of relevance. When it's relevant, a simple [citation needed] communicates a lot more than merely these words.

To be fair, the article is ALSO not talking about the case anigbrowl is talking about.

I've seen "[citation needed]" abused more often as I've seen it used when somebody is "[making] an extraordinary or absolutist claim absent any evidence"

And the main claim still holds: provide a link that disproves, descredits or calls into question the extraordinary claim. Or at least explain why you think it's extraordinary.

I guess you and the author are sensitive to different kinds of abuse than I am. What annoys me more are wild claims, and I often go away feeling it's not easy to counter this much reliance on misinformation. I am not very active on HN, and read only about 1% of the threads that make it to the front page. Whenever I saw [citation needed], I felt it was apt. Also, I did not get the impression that it was passive-aggressive behaviour.

Yes, but on the other hand, fallacious reasoning is rarely the source of disagreement or controversy in a debate. At least in my experience. All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.

And most people forget that calling something an ad hominem attack does not mean that it's wrong. Most things which get called ad hominem are usually not, in fact -- saying "you are dumb and your arguments is wrong because of X, Y, Z" is different than saying "your argument is wrong because you are dumb" (the latter would be ad hominem, the former is merely an irrelevant statement)

All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.

I'm not sure I agree. The use of ad hominem is the shift away from the discussion proper. Calling ad hominem (or any logical fallacy) out is merely a recognition of that shift, and could be considered a (weak?) attempt at getting back on topic. When used correctly, that is.

> All you're doing by saying "ad hominem" is shifting the focus to technical delivery of the argument rather than focusing on the real matter of the discussion.

I agree, that looking for logical fallacies in the argument often is a straw man in itself, which is ironic and which is the reason many are skeptical about pointing them out altogether. But in the end you can't abandon logic and talk relying only on intuition and emotions and discarding all reasoning, which would happen if people "rather focus on the matter of discussion than shift focus to technical delivery".

I think you may be confusing HN with some other place. I have literally never seen someone being called dumb or anyone being "proven" wrong for being stupid. Honestly, I think most fallacies pointed out here are fair and especially "ad hominem" which is probably the easiest to grasp. Can you find any counter-examples?

Identifying errors in reasoning isn't the same as explaining why someone is wrong, though. Given the basic definition of an argument as a structure linking premises to a conclusion, a fallacy is simply a flaw in the structure. It doesn't invalidate the premises or the conclusion, only how they relate to one another. So while you're certainly free to attack the structure behind a conclusion, really you're better off attacking the conclusion itself with an argument of your own.

> Given the basic definition of an argument as a structure linking premises to a conclusion, a fallacy is simply a flaw in the structure. It doesn't invalidate the premises or the conclusion, only how they relate to one another.

True, and there's a name for that logical error -- it's the "fallacy fallacy" or "argument from fallacy", the error of assuming that, because there's a fallacy in one's argument, therefore the conclusion must be wrong.

> So while you're certainly free to attack the structure behind a conclusion, really you're better off attacking the conclusion itself with an argument of your own.

Yes. On the other hand, such a reply may serve to strengthen or clarify an argument, and is therefore sometimes appropriate.

What bothers me is the link. If you say it's ad hominem and I don't know what that is, I can google it. Adding a link just feels pretentious.

I consider linking helpful; that's just being a good citizen. Ad hominem is recognizable, but e.g. "Begging the question" is more often misunderstood and linking helps clarify.

> Adding a link just feels pretentious.

I sometimes find myself debating with people who never do any research, who expect to get by with flowery rhetoric. For such people, links can serve as a reality check.

Cliches like this are OK. What really annoys me is that the top rated comment is invariably a straight-forward contradiction of the original article's thesis. Like this comment here.

Ah yes, the classic "middlebrow dismissal".

Sometimes refutation comments are good and valuable though.

In general the decisive factor in the value of a comment is what I will call the "lebowski rule". If a comment contains a statement of someone's opinion and nothing more it is rarely worthwhile.

By way of illustration, this comment would fit that criterion up to this point.

However, I will explain my reasoning which will hopefully rescue it. In the internet age most people are aware of the variety of opinions on a topic, especially the most obvious pro/anti points on a given topic. What can often happen on sites like reddit or HN is that the first comment that espouses a well-known opinion then becomes effectively an impromptu poll. This breaks the link + comments model though because the opinion of the link is inherent in the link itself so a post voicing unadorned agreement would be easily recognized as valueless and thus generally not created or voted up. Whereas the contrarian opinion has no representation and thus becomes the proxy poll for disagreement. The problem is that people voting for/against place their votes differently, either for the link or for the most popular "middlebrow dismissal" comment. But because these are two separate beasts they can't compete against each other directly. Which is why you get the behavior of highly upvoted rejection comments, since that is effectively a reflection of the controversy around the subject. Even though that rarely improves the level of discussion.

In contrast, a more thoroughly thought out refutation which follows through lines of reasoning and evidence will be more likely to contribute to both the disemination of new knowledge to readers as well as higher quality discussions.

Additionally, the mere attempt to try to improve the quality of a comment through fleshing it out will lead to a higher rate of abandonment of less worthwhile posts.

P.S. Here is one area where I think the HN software doesn't help, because it encourages shorter, more quickly written posts which tends to favor the exploration of shallower depths of thought.

I think the worst is is when the top rated comment is a correction or contradiction of a peripheral assertion in the original article that fails to address the broader implications of the original article.

Though I acknowledge this is a really tough pattern to battle since it's much easier to be certain a quick factual correction provides concrete value than it is to assess a reply with a complicated or nuanced argument. And there is nothing wrong with comments that make a factual correction, it just leads to poor results at the top of the discussion page.

Cliches get to be cliches because they're a good idea that everyone wants to reuse. And recycle. Until they're familiar and then over-familiar.

The top-rating issue is simply symptomatic of the lack of insight of many of the folks clicking the little arrows over their first morning cup of coffee. News delivers a brief stimulus; commentary even briefer: the spasmodic twitch of the mousing fingertip merely signals the assent (or dissent) of the mayfly mind.

Mea culpa: I'm guilty of this, too.

> The top-rating issue is simply symptomatic of the lack of insight of many of the folks clicking the little arrows over their first morning cup of coffee.

Totally agree and it's hard to blame them. The real problem might be that people who are over-familiar with the cliche don't bother to down vote.

Reminder to all: take the time to down vote over used cliches that bother you.

Unfortunately, not everyone can down vote, and the fastest route to getting enough points to do so is to make the comments we are complaining about to gather the upvotes.

What motivation would anyone other than the comment author have to upvote it?

Well, I suppose they could set up a voting ring, but that seems a lot of trouble to go to.

But there's no way to downvote an article. So I upvote the dismissive comment instead.

You can flag them if you have enough karma.

There is nothing wrong with a top comment being a contradiction. I believe that in this way, it might bring even more useful comments and thoughts since it takes a different angle.

The real problem is that those contradicting comments usually are plain simple negative (not to be confused with criticism, which is alright, I am referring to the grumpy negative ones), demotivating.

There's nothing wrong with useful critique or argument. But as others have said it's very easy to dash off a very quick rebuttal of a minor point in an article, ignoring the main thrust of whatever the article is about.

When I've read six pages of interesting and useful article it's depressing to see the top voted comment on HN is about a footnote on page 4 with little relevance to anything interesting.

That's not annoying, that's my favorite part of HN: automatic counterpoint. I don't always see them otherwise.

Is there already a law for this?

I would love this to be called "Moomin's Law"

I personally call it Pwnage Culture. Karma-based sites love it when a user debunks an article or another user's comment.

You get extra points if you start your reply with a cold remark such as "No." "Wrong." "False." And then you put some random citations to Pubmed or Wikipedia at the bottom of your comment.

No. This is wrong. Extra point conversion is never a sure thing.


"You get extra points if you start your reply with a cold remark such as "No." "Wrong." "False."

Exactly, I automatically downvote comments like that.

That'll teach them! It's fortunate that nerds are psychic.

It's ok, you can downvote this, I know it'll make you feel better about yourself.

Yes, it makes me feel better, that's the only reason I do it.

I've seen a version on Reddit:

    Law of Reddit XCVII:
    You can make a redditor believe anything, no matter how outlandish, so  long as you preface it with "Contrary to what you hear in the MSM...."
But I guess that's a tad more specific than generic second opinion bias, which is what we see here

If I agree with a point, there is very little I can add to the conversation.

But if I disagree, I can say how I disagree. And this can move the conversation forward. Like this comment here.

Like this comment here

Good one. The author could have complained about self referential comments too, and how writing one doesn't make you Douglas Hofstadter.

I liked it, though.

Where the cliche is an echo of what was once an insightful idea, I like to think of them as the social artifact of progress.


Just because these comments appear quite frequently it doesn't necessarily mean that they are responsible for making your eyes tired, after all, correlation is not causation. Maybe try to adjust the font on your browser or use one of the popular HN chrome extension. Remember that HN is a free site and if you're not paying for it, you're the product, so try to see how you can improve your comments, thereby improving the product.

Even though Pg has a legal duty to maximize shareholder value for YC [citation needed] changing how people comment would be premature optimization - why don't we see how the site shakes out after a couple of years. Saying that this is a place for discussion is at best a leaky abstraction, like Playboy magazine, I come here predominately to read the articles. I feel that I understand most of the technical articles posted here, even though some people say I suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect I feel that is just a needless ad hominem.

You can read more about this in a blog post I wrote:

Is the quality of HN discussion falling?

Why didn't you write this reply in Haskell/Node.js/Go/Rust? I did a naive implementation (since I am still kinda new to this) of your post in all those languages and here are my benchmark results:

Please make sure to follow up with a blog post about how you coped with being on the front page of HN.

And somebody please make an unsolicited re-design of that blog post and submit that to HN.

The HN comment that really bores me is the one that totally denigrates the project described in the link because it's "been done before", "won't work because X" where X is a woolly hypothetical, "doesn't solve Y" where it's blindingly obvious that Y is either incredibly hard or tangential to the point, or "could simply be done with just A, B and C" where A, B and C are some permutation of a raspberry pi, arduino, a kinect, some random combination of open source libraries, emacs and a blender.

There is benefit in new approaches to old problems. Incomplete attempts are still useful. Actually getting a project into a state that more than one person can use it, even if that use is just "Here, read the code. It doesn't work, but you might find it enlightening," is an effort worth respecting.

It's extremely rare that these comments have any worthwhile content in them. They seem to serve to point at the commenter's username and say "Aren't I clever for spotting the problems with your project?" What effect is that supposed to have past your own ego? You can't rewind the universe to a state where the project didn't happen, so why not take 3 minutes instead of 2 and find something positive to highlight rather than a negative to pick on?

To put an even finer point on it, one of the worst and most pervasive comments is of this type:

"This is a cat, but I like dogs, why isn't this a dog?"

Once you understand the type you start noticing it everywhere all the time. Any time there is a creative work there will always be someone complaining that it's not the thing they wanted created instead.

This isn't specific to HN though. You can see it on slashdot, reddit, and elsewhere -- basically anywhere people are free to post ideas or accomplishments.

Those kinds of replies always read to me in one of three ways:

1. "I wish I'd thought of this obvious application of X, and because I didn't I will denigrate it." Typical responses are as you described.

2. "I am special. I am more special than the person who posted this thing or had this idea, so I will discuss how neither the person who had this idea nor the idea itself aren't that special in a passive-aggressive way" These are especially common when the person originating the idea is exceptionally young or otherwise noteworthy.

3. "This person is not as smart as I am. I will prove it by attacking his or her idea." These replies are typified by off-the-cuff responses that outline one or more extremely obvious weaknesses in the idea/approach being discussed. Such responses ignore the likelihood that the person or people who have spent weeks/months/years formulating the idea could have possibly considered such a basic flaw that the respondent spotted immediately.

There is also a fourth reply: genuine criticism of the idea, including suggestions on how to improve it. In fairness to HN, I see that type of reply more often here than anywhere else.

It would be cool if more people realized that someone else's intelligence and/or good ideas don't reduce the intelligence of other people, nor take away from the ideas of other people.

This annoys me too, it's just people who want to feel superior.

The biggest problem with Hacker News comments -- actually, make that all comments -- is fundamental: the sort of people that leave comments are (more often than not) people that want something, ANYTHING, to say, not people that have something to say.

I think the karma system can also be a contributor to this. Any comment you make has the chance to get a few upvotes, regardless of how little it contributes to the conversation. So people just spam comments to get a few points here and there.

This phenomena can be seen in forums without karma also but i think in places with karma it is usually worse, worst offenders being digg and reddit where everybody tries to make a silly joke as those are easy points.

A better algotithm calculating the karma as an average over all your comments maybe could help..

I have mixed feelings about karma. It's nice to have filters that bring (mostly) better comments to the top, but I think it results in more silenced voices than it does posts-for-karma's-sake.

It's validating to get a few upvotes, but more than that it's disheartening to spend time on a comment and recieve no feedback whatsoever.

I'm an outgoing person, but I find myself shying away from commenting on HN for that reason. Admittedly, I don't usually have some brilliant insight, but it does make it harder to feel like part of the community.

It might also be interesting to rate-limit commenters (perhaps based on their previous upvotes per comment). If you are new to HN, you may only post one comment per week. The "better" (as measured by karma) your comments are, the more comments per week you may post. This might make commenters consider whether their comment is really so important that they sacrifice another opportunity to comment in the future.

The "average" (on your user page, seemingly over your last few comments) seems to matter more for how high your posts appear. I've found myself deliberately not replying when someone makes an interesting reply to a comment of mine a few days afterwards, because posting that reply brings my average down. Which is definitely a bug.

>A better algotithm calculating the karma as an average over all your comments maybe could help

The metric I would most like to know is how many votes my comments got divided by the total number of words in my comments.

Wouldn't this favour the short smartarsery that's one of the not-done things hereabouts?

It would also favour the short and succinct over the long and rambling. Which sounds like a good thing, if you believe that useful information can be distilled losslessly.

Pithy wisdom only really works when it lands in a mind on the edge of understanding it.

Yes you are correct. Most people just add comments to get points and karma. Especially when they are new to HN like me.

Don't know why you're getting down-voted, you're absolutely right.

If that were the case, the solution would be simple: just skip reading comments.

On the contrary I often learn useful things from HN comments. Sometimes I even submit stuff to HN because I am curious about the opinion of HN commentators.

a) the internet (and HN) can't get full

b) there are downvote arrows

To me it's OK if people just leave anything as a comment here because it will be modded down if it's irrelevant to the discussion.

the internet (and HN) can't get full

My reading buffer most certainly can.

If the s/n dips sufficiently, I'm out.

It's the Yogi Berra Restaurant Syndrome, or the Evaporative Cooling Effect:


> it's OK if people just leave anything as a comment here because it will be modded down if it's irrelevant to the discussion.

It would be great if down voting was more prevalent. Many people don't down vote for anything but the absolute worst comment. Some people downvote for disagreement and not poor comment.

Most people can't downvote.

The problem comes when there's enough people leaving dumb comments who start upvoting each other and overcome the people saying interesting stuff.

I don't think that's a problem. I think that's by design. Internet forums are similar to bars where people gather to hang out and talk about common interests. There are other outlets where the people that have something to say can say it.

Somehow I think your comment applies to TV, radio and writers. The signal-to-noise ratio is getting worse and worse I think (as a side note, I thing signal-to-noise is also one of the frequent HN comments :D)

Unfortunately there are too many useful rhetorical devices in the list, devices that serve a purpose. Ironically, the list starts off with "correlation is not causation," an expression that in most cases is raised for very good reasons -- for example, any popular science story that includes the word "linked" but without adequate qualifiers.

If more people were science-literate, these platitudes wouldn't be necessary. But they aren't, so they are.

I agree. The author says "If there's some specific reason you think a a study is wrong, describe it". Unfortunately, this is very often precisely the problem: many times not in the study itself but in the way it's reported.

"Correlation is not causation" mistakes are not always obvious. Especially when there's ideological bias. E.g: the claim that owning a gun increases the chances that you will be violently killed by X%.

> The author says "If there's some specific reason you think a a study is wrong, describe it". Unfortunately, this is very often precisely the problem: many times not in the study itself but in the way it's reported.

Too true. My recent favorite was a popular account of a marijuana study. The popular article was titled "Marijuana causes psychosis" or words to that effect. The popular account went on about how teenagers went crazy after smoking killer weed. The study itself said, "We don't know whether marijuana use sometimes causes psychosis, or psychosis sometimes causes marijuana use. More study is needed."

"Correlation is not causation" started useful but has become less useful the more cliched it became. And OP is right that it's particularly useless among people who've already heard it.

The whole reason people felt the need to mention "correlation is not causation" is that correlation is evidence of causation. Some people seem to think this catchphrase means the two are unrelated which is also false.

> The whole reason people felt the need to mention "correlation is not causation" is that correlation is evidence of causation.

No, without evidence that assumption is false. Correlation can only be evidence for an unexplained link, and even that is often undermined by desperate researchers' predisposition to offer any detected correlation as though it couldn't result from chance.

Given A and B, absent a plausible causative mechanism, and a correlation between them, possible explanations include:

* Chance -- quick, publish!

* B caused A.

* A caused B.

* An unevaluated cause C connects A and B.

If this seems to go to extremes in skepticism, well, remember that skepticism of new results is -- or should be -- the scientist's job.

Example: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a...

Title: "Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research"

Quote: "Fifty-three papers were deemed 'landmark' studies (see 'Reproducibility of research findings'). It was acknowledged from the outset that some of the data might not hold up, because papers were deliberately selected that described something completely new, such as fresh approaches to targeting cancers or alternative clinical uses for existing therapeutics. Nevertheless, scientific findings were confirmed in only 6 (11%) cases. Even knowing the limitations of preclinical research, this was a shocking result."

> Some people seem to think this catchphrase means the two are unrelated which is also false.

But without evidence, without a rigorous scientific evaluation, that's a scientist's default assumption, an assumption that relies on the null hypothesis. Using the null hypothesis, one assumes there's nothing there, that the association between A and B results from chance, then looks for reliable evidence that might lead us to a different conclusion.

> No, without evidence that assumption is false. Correlation can only be evidence for an unexplained link

I did not say it was conclusive evidence; I said it was evidence. I'm well aware that "A is correlated to B" does not prove "A causes B" or even "A causes B or B causes A", but it is a data point in favor.

Saying "We should evaluate other evidence before we decide if A causes B" is reasonable skepticism. Acting as though "A is correlated to B" has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether A causes B is another matter.

(Not that I actually disagree with most of your post, mind you! The real message of "correlation is not causation" is "don't overrate this specific data point; it's a common mistake". But the realist shouldn't underrate it either.)

> I did not say it was conclusive evidence; I said it was evidence.

But it isn't. The null hypothesis requires us to assume that there's nothing but chance at work, and let evidence force a different conclusion. The fact that A and B appear correlated is not by itself evidence of anything other than chance.

> I'm well aware that "A is correlated to B" does not prove "A causes B" or even "A causes B or B causes A", but it is a data point in favor.

No, this is false. Without testing a hypothesis, and without a careful examination of a mechanism, the correlation has precisely no meaning apart from chance.

Here's an example selected at random from a vast literature that tries to make this point:


Title: "Creating a phony health scare with the power of statistical correlation"

Quote: "In the United Kingdom, the more mobile phone towers a county has, the more babies are born there every year. In fact, for every extra cell phone tower beyond the average number, a county will see 17.6 more babies. Is this evidence that cell phone signals have some nefarious baby-making effect on the human body? Nope. Instead, it's a simple example of why correlation and causation should never be mistaken for the same thing."

I could link to a thousand similar stories, many being mistaken for actual scientific results.

> But the realist shouldn't underrate it either.

A realist -- a scientist -- always begins by assuming the association is the result of chance (the null hypothesis), and then examines evidence that might argue for another explanation. This is why all self-respecting scientific papers include a p-value. The p-value describes the probability that the result arose from chance, not the hypothesis under test.


Quote: "In statistical significance testing the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis is true."

Translated into layman's language, the p-factor is the probability that the observation -- the "correlation" -- arose by chance.

A properly educated scientist always assumes the null hypothesis is true, i.e. that the observation arose from chance factors. She then tests this assumption with evidence.

100% agree and I'd add other things I hate about HN:

* First comment debunks the article.

* Comments that start with "No." It's worse if the "No." is in its own paragraph.

* Mentioning Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

* General passive-agressivness.

* Lack of humour and light-heartedness.

* People upvote some really shitty stuff. The newest submissions page is sometimes more interesting than the homepage.

* People love to upvote blogposts of some people, e.g daringfireball.net or paulgraham.com, no matter the quality.

The humor is why I also browse Slashdot, even though they're generally late (like by days) with the submissions. There's a little bit of serious discussion, a lot of memes, but then some generally humorous discussions based off misinterpretations of comments, articles, and titles.

The first 8 points are all totally valid comments and I don't think they can be rejected out-of-hand. The author seems annoyed by a perception that they're thrown into the mix in snarky, passive aggressive or ad hominem ways but that doesn't invalidate their use when they are accurately applied.

Facile, poorly reasoned content is abundant on the internet. Hacker News is a firehose of content – both good and bad – and commenters aim to filter that by tagging the content through comments.

It is not always a good use of your time to make a reasoned argument against blatant logical fallacies, scientific/engineering ignorance and failure to understand modern tech business practices. If you're spending more time discounting vapid content than its idiot author spent creating it, then the world is suffering a net loss.

The inevitable comments about Bettridge's law of headlines every time a title ends in a question mark are not helpful. They don't make an argument, as the article is hardly ever arguing for the question. It is just indicating "look at me, I know of this exotic jargon term, and it happens to apply to this article title". Like, this article could have been "would hacker news improve if we stopped posting certain kinds of comments?"; the answer might be "no", but saying "no, due to Bettridge's law of headlines" provides no value or understanding to the reader.

Chanting "Bettridge's Law" simply because the headline is a question certainly isn't helpful but that's because it's inaccurate.

As Bettridge himself said:

> they know that story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it

Identifying a headline & story as an example of Bettridge's Law of Headlines should highlight that the headline is nasty link-bait phrased as a question purely to manipulate the reader and that the article provides no insight – in fact it merely serves to further highlight the insidious nature of the headline and the nasty journalistic choices of the author.

Sensationalized, misleading titles are not helpful.

This, also, is not useful to point out every time an article title ends in a question mark. I'm not advocating for articles with titles that end in question marks, only that there is no value in reflexively pointing out "this article's title ends in a question mark" every time it happens: Bettridge's law of headlines exists, the point has been made, and even to the people who haven't heard about it, it doesn't give the reader any insight. I maintain that the only use of that particular comment is to make the person writing it feel smart for knowing a jargon term.

The use of that comment is to point out and perhaps penalize a form of manipulation which hurts discourse, the sensationalized headline.

This is valid in the same way that it is valid to point out when a headline contains a false and self-serving claim.

I don't think anybody is under the slightest illusion that having heard of Betteridge's law demonstrates any particular intelligence.

It does not penalize the article, as even before this concept was given a name it was already clear. The only people it "penalizes" are the people who have to see the comment every single time an article, no matter what the quality level of the content, happens to have such a question-marked title. Think about it this way: the article got voted to some place, and maybe is even on the front page; do you think yelling "Bettridge's law of headlines says 'no'" is changing that vote?

Do you think people reading the comments are going "ah, that is something I had yet to consider about this article; I had previously been curious to know the answer to this deep and burning question, but now that I read this comment, it is clear time that not only am I a fool, but I should down vote this article, all articles like it, and start my own crusade to scream the name of this wonderful law of headlines every time I see such an article".

The best you are getting is "oh, I didn't realize someone had assigned this a funny 'law'... that will be a great trivia item I can being up to demonstrate my epic knowledge of jargon". The result is then just another person in the article comments adding noise. It is nothing more than a way to add mild justification to the seemingly-dying practice of yelling "first": you just need to know, for each article, what bingo terms happen to apply, and then be he first to lay claim to them.

So, now we're getting to the real issue - the titles/content of the articles that get upvoted is extremely poor, not the comments.

Writing the question you mean to answer or that you mean to explain the arguments for and against into your headline is neither sensationalized or misleading.

I think "X (is|are) not helpful" is overused.

I was expecting this to contain the inevitable "why didn't you do this in Haskell?" that seems to come and go in waves. I've come to think that there's a non-trivial percentage of HN users that are simply bots (written in Haskell) that insert this into a random percentage of threads. If they're responded to it then brings in a human to continue the conversation.

More seriously, these aren't just gripes, most of these have some kind of remediation step too. Most of the comments here seem to be missing that.

That being said, most of these are still very valid things to be said here, the problem is not that they're being said, but that they have to be said. People in general are lazy and carry around terribly poor models of the world in the heads. 8 of these are really constant, low pressure attempts to correct this problem with the last one just being a cultural issue that this isn't reddit.

Given that this comment is also about Haskell, can we assume that one of the bots became sentient?

Hello, my name is "bane" how can I further our conversational goals about Haskell and functional programming?

Have you considered the importance of the lambda calculus in your daily life?

> > What comments bother you the most?

"just use bootstrap/heroku/nodejs/techoftheday"

"hn is turning into reddit"

"http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html Anything that good hackers would find interesting."

complaints about: negativity, wrong tone and cursing.

looking for reasons to get offended.

Random PG quote I've kept on my clipboard for days looking for the right day to paste it. GOD I HOPE HE SEES.

Copying != stealing, because apparently time stopped about 8 years ago. And this is digg.

IE is hard to develop for even though all the problems it had have been solved for approximately 11 thousand years before anyone alive today was even born.

First they came for [whatever we're talking about] and I said nothing ...

I've not read the link yet so I'm curious to see if this is meant as a parody of bad posts or is sincere.

This is the kind of headline I am tired of seeing.


> If the original title begins with a number or number + gratuitous adjective, we'd appreciate it if you'd crop it.

While this is true for long time readers, there are new readers on this website every single day. Perhaps someone hasn't learned about the Dunning-Kruger effect and learns something new. Perhaps the point that he wants to make (I think) doesn't come through, he wants comments to be more then short stubs, comments that really make a point.

Oh no. Is Hacker News going to start down the ever-descending death spiral of angst that made parts of reddit so unbearable to me (until the angst became a self-fulfilling prophecy)?

Many of these classes of comments are fairly reasonable in many cases (as discussed in the rest of the comments here), and I really hope that we're not about to begin the cycle of "I hate this place, it used to be so much better" that seems to start up when Internet communities mature when I just got here.


Before HN, Reddit.

Before Reddit, K5.

Before K5, Slashdot.

Before Slashdot, Usenet and Listserv.

Before Usenet and Listserv, every community ever.

As the original author of [citation needed], I quite agree. That was designed by myself to originally ensure that Wikipedians sourced their material, not as a way to win arguments!

Comments that annoy me most (mostly because they are blatant attempts at fishing for karma):

"I would use this but it's in Javascript, there are better languages like X and Y."

"The web is utterly broken, when are people going to realize this?"

"For all these years I ignored RMS/Assange/etc. but now I know he was right."

Comments with the words "nail" and "hammer".

Telling us how ridiculously little time it took you to build something cool. Most of the time I enjoy what you built, but telling me that you did it "over the weekend" cheapens it for me. Are you bragging, trying to excuse it's shortcomings, or lying? All three most likely. Unless you're a team of people in a weekend competition [1], I'd skip the part about only caring to put a couple days into it before showing it off.

[1] http://garage48.org/blogger/list-of-projects-built-over-week...

My least favorite—and all too popular—comment is the classic "How [or Why] did this make the front page of HN?" I have gotten to the point where I almost expect to see it near the top of every comments thread.

In fairness, the HN guidelines are pretty clear about this one:

Please don't submit comments complaining that a submission is inappropriate for the site. If you think something is spam or offtopic, flag it by going to its page and clicking on the "flag" link. (Not all users will see this; there is a karma threshold.) If you flag something, please don't also comment that you did.

Part of the problem here is that any open [web] community will eventually contain more people who've joined after you than people who joined before you. Consequently, stuff you learned long ago is still new and interesting to the majority of the population.

I had a interesting discussion with @ColinWright a few months back about how you might design a forum based separate cohorts for each time period in which people joined, and on scoring each post separately within each cohort - if I had a few months to spare I would love to try building & launching that. Sadly, I don't.

In general terms HN manages to maintain a very high signal to noise ratio. This is a credit to pg, the rules he created as well as active HN participants. If you have spent any time at all on USENET you know exactly what I am talking about.

HN is always interesting to read. You can learn a lot from people posting on a variety of subjects while always tending to return to the core tech mission of the site. I enjoy this aspect a lot. And, yes, things go off in tangents sometimes yet HN has proven to self correct.

I don't really understand the focus on these comments.

My favorite is the 'most politicians or CEOs are sociopaths'

I think the psychology of sociopath is complicated enough without the need to assume one who made it to the top is a sociopath.

Paul Graham (the site founder) has commented on a type of comment that he thinks is very harmful to the community, but hard to identify by a key phrase: the "middlebrow dismissal." He wrote,

"The problem with the middlebrow dismissal is that it's a magnet for upvotes. The 'U R a fag's get downvoted and end up at the bottom of the page where they cause little trouble. But this sort of comment rises to the top. Things have now gotten to the stage where I flinch slightly as I click on the 'comments' link, bracing myself for the dismissive comment I know will be waiting for me at the top of the page."


As other readers have noticed, my idea of an interesting water cooler conversation with colleagues is referring to verifiable facts about the external world while checking the reasoning of a submitted article. The Internet is, indeed, mostly about sharing unsupported opinions, as the article kindly submitted here suggests, but I enjoy having my opinions examined by comparing them to facts in the real world, and I try to extend the same favor to the friends I meet here.

Personally, I'm tired of comments complaining about HN commenters (not saying author did so, though, those are helpful and non aggressive recommendations).

HN is by far the place on the internet where I find the most insightful comments.


For each of these irritants, perhaps someone has just recently discovered them and is keen to appear knowledgable the next time the debate comes up.

If I had my way, a comment that matched something like /^This\./ would result in an immediate hellban. I don't know why this particular habit annoys me so much.

It would be nice to have a sort of an "argument" database, so instead of putting the argument in the comment again, you could just link to the database. Then computers could filter these arguments automatically for the people who already know it. Maybe the arguments could be parametrized, to make the connection to the problem at hand more obvious.

Ah well.. a man can only dream.

A lot of arguments are repeated endlessly on the Internet, and elsewhere. I've often thought that someone should build a graph database for this. Then maybe we could move past the basic argument and go a little deeper.

I agree. There was Debatepedia (http://dbp.idebate.org), but it seems dead. Unless the arguments are in sort of machine readable format, any filtering will be difficult. The problem is the format - I believe AI researchers still struggle with that one.

I used to dislike the "this is why I love Hacker News" comment. It's not so prevalent anymore, but it was very common 3 or 4 years ago.

And while we're on the subject, I dislike the use of the word sure on nerd sites. I say nerd sites because I haven't seen it (ab)used so much on other sites or movies.

Basically, people say "I'm sure" to mean "I think" and "I'm pretty sure" to mean "I kind of think."

I just went to reddit and the fist thread on my front page had 3 instances of "pretty sure." I'm pretty sure it's the most common phrase and it gets posted thousands of times per day in contexts where the user is not sure at all.

You don't see either as often here as certain other sites, but two more that are invariably abused: "Most people..." and "You've obviously never..." The former is almost always code for "Most right-thinking people who fit into my personal worldview, which I am terrified of breaking...", while the latter is "I've got some domain knowledge here which on face value contradicts the precise words you've just written. It therefore follows that it's impossible for me to be wrong about..." and is more often than not followed by a demonstration of exactly how wrong it is possible to be.

Any time I see either of these, it's end-of-thread-time.

I tend to use such phrases as a shorthand for "I can say that X is true based on my own experience, but have not explicitly researched this topic and so am open to disagreement from someone more knowledgeable".

On the other hand, expecting such nuance to come through in the phrase "I'm almost positive" or "nearly certain" (my preferred variants) is likely a bit unreasonable.

Is this really relevant to Hacker News? What does it have to do with hacking?

Another thing that annoys me is people citing articles using numbered references beginning with 0 ([0][1]...)

I can maybe understand the point of using numbered references like this (although honestly it barely affects readability having links inline) but you're not a computer. It just comes across as pretentious when you start counting at 0 as though you're referencing an array of references or something. We get that you Know Computers.

Meh. Not so much.

The problem here is the difference between a conversation and a mob of emotional ranters (And I plead guilty to being in the latter category many times). Most of these comments are meant to provide context.

The author seems to forget that it's much better to have a reasonable conversation in context than it is to simply wander far afield on whatever the outrage of the day is. Correlation does not equal context. Companies are there to provide shareholder value. Google doesn't owe you anything. And so on. Yes, these can be throwaway catchphrases (bumper stickers), but hell, I'd rather have the usual half-dozen bumper stickers and then talk reasonably about something that try to un-fuck a conversation built of some bullshit fallacy with somebody talking very emotionally about things about which they aren't fully informed.

We make the mistake over and over again of rewarding emotional content, not useful content. I'd argue this post is a prime example of that. The reason the same phrases come back again and again is that we continue to make the same cognitive mistakes again and again. Ignoring that won't make it go away.

> What comments bother you the most?

How about you do one for story submissions? #1 on the list can be ones whose titles are link-baiting "N Xs that Y" types.

Also smugbait 'Why you will (do something that's likely to become popular)' and the imperious 'Begin/stop doing something right now'. Yes, those headlines do get my attention. In a way that makes me wish to slap the writer for their lack of manners.

"I just quit my job at AwesomeCompany"

What comments am I tired of seeing, you ask?

This one:

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

If you want to argue against surveillance, please do it with your words instead of just going "Well Benjamin Franklin said..."

I'm not saying don't quote him or use his arguments in yours, but simply quoting a man who has been dead for hundreds is not an argument.

I think that's perfectly valid. Sometimes a dead guy can make an argument better than I can and it's better to quote him than rephrase it in my own words and pretend I'm insightful. This does however mean that I'm supposed to respond to criticism of the content of the quote since I agree with it.

I agree with it too, and yes it's insightful. I think the key thing missing though is anything more to explain why you feel that way - as you say, you need to respond to criticism of the content of the quote :)

I'll go with people who read your full paragraph, find the not quite 100% perfect analogy in the 5th most important point, and worry it like a terrier with a chew toy

These people should be shot in the face with a double barrel shotgun.

(You may now commence to argue over whether or not both barrels are really necessary )

Definitely sick of seeing [citation needed]

Sometimes discussion boards need to have opinions on them and not just facts, IMO!

'Leaky abstractions': I think its the wrong question if an abstraction leaks or not; any abstraction is leaky by definition, an abstraction is created by omitting details that are not relevant to the analysis, with the wish to extract the essence; The right question is if the abstraction is relevant or not.

Wikipedia says:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstraction "Abstraction in mathematics is the process of extracting the underlying essence of a mathematical concept, removing any dependence on real world objects with which it might originally have been connected, and generalizing it so that it has wider applications or matching among other abstract descriptions of equivalent phenomena."

Just another example of the overzealous moderation on Stack Overflow to close any and every question ever asked because it in some way managed to be useful to anyone but their narrow minded view of what constitutes a programming question that didn't fit their formula of Q&A.

> "If you're not paying for it, you're the product"

This also sometimes misses the point. EG, when YouTubers complain about being cut off from monetising they're not the customer, nor the product. Google is the customer, choosing whether to buy the product or not.

If you start getting annoyed enough to post about it it's usually a sign to take a break.

How about a new site to rekindle the nostalgia when HN was small..?

Let's make /r/TrueHackerNews on reddit!

They already exist. But the only way to keep a site small is to not invite many people to it.

This would be the kind of comment the author hates...but isn't "If you're not paying for it, you're the product" a fallacy as well ? Paying for something is orthogonal to being a part of what's sold to to someone else. For instance newspapers/magazines cost a price but still "sell" their audience to advertisers.

And yes, I love communities nitpicking news items, because it's not as if the internet is in lack of discussion boards, and seeing different approaches on the same items is so interesting.

That statement is not a fallacy. Assuming a product is made by a business that hopes to become profitable, if the users aren't paying for it then what other business reason can there be to having users at all?

Your example doesn't support the argument since it just states that if users pay for something it doesn't mean that they aren't also the product.

So it is possible to pay for something and be part of the product, to pay for something and not be a part of the product, and to not pay something and be a part of the product but not possible to not pay for something and not be a part of the product.

> but not possible to not pay for something and not be a part of the product.

I'll reuse a newspaper example fo simplicity. An ad company might pay to reach some portion of the audience (for instance the female worker segment between 18 and 30). But you don't control who will actually accesses the paper, and the 5 years old boy using it to craft paper boats is not in the target and just happens to use the product.

A company doesn't have to monetize 100% of their user base, and it might not want to for any reason. There is no binding forcing a user of something to be on some side of a product/not product fence. It can be neither, ot can be both.



The above two comments need to be added to his list.

they are already in his list :)


What about "this is not redit" or "who changed the title?" (shouldn't someone change this title to just "Hacker News comments I'm tired of seeing"?)

Good summary: This article sums up some of the comments that annoy me too, but not because the comments is wrong or inherently annoying, but because the comment is simply incomplete. For example, "Correlation is not causation" is one of my more favourite sayings, but one should explain what was wrong in that case too.

I, also, get annoyed with comments that are far too long for the point being made - go write an article in response if you want. Expletives are also a no go.

Razors. Don't made vague references to some obscure razor you looked up on wikipedia and force me to do the same. Use the words in your head to explain what you mean.

So we should eliminate any methodolgy which ensures accurate communication and the burden should be placed on anyone who wishes to challenge an assertion? At least it's evident this isn't an academic forum, however any forum can be thought of as a "debate team".

People ought to be held to some standard of rigor if they decide to make an assertion. For me, that standard starts with the original assertion, not with someone who decides to question it.

Comments that focus on a single ambiguous phrasing or definition, then begins a giant chain of people pedantically arguing about technicalities.

Can we please discuss ideas and concepts?

The comment that gets my anal beads in a knot the most: "Citation please" or "Can you link to a study that.." etc.

Sometimes people (myself included) just like to comment. Fart out a completely subjective opinion without worrying about the little army of pedantic party poopers coming along to spoil the fun.

It's just a discussion board after all. Must everything be quite so serious. all. the. time. ?

Is it necessary to make groundless claims all the time? The reaction you are seeing has a context of serious subject matter. If you want silly disposable comments, try Reddit

It's fine to post subjective opinions ("I think yellow flying monkeys are awesome, and should be venerated as gods"), but those kinds of comments are usually targeted at statements of facts that get thrown around ("Yellow flying monkey's poop cures cancer and diarrhea").

>Must everything be quite so serious. all. the. time. ?

Yes. Yes it must. It's what makes HN unique and wonderful. There are thousands of other discussion boards that aren't as serious.

Of all the cliches, I've hated "This" ever since I started seeing it on other forums years ago.

The only one that bugs me more is "tl;dr". People have become terrified of writing long text, so they apologize beforehand. Either stand by your long text or shorten it so it's not long. I skip every "tl;dr" summary. It adds nothing.

The one comment I truly get tired of seeing, is those that bring back the old flame wars over the definition of the word "free", and if one license is "free'er" than the other. Of all the classic flame wars, this one still lurks around and makes noise once every few months, and is equally boring each time.

I know this is off topic, but is anyone else annoyed that JavaScript is required for this page, or that the text is too small, or that the color scheme clashes, or that it requires Facebook connect, or any other surface level detail that provides a soap box for me to rant about the personal axe I have to grind?

I upvoted this because I agree but the tone of the OP is another thing I don't want to see in the comments.

One thing that I really love about HN is how damn contrarian everyone always tries to be. This is always good when you can keep low the number of trolls.

If you don't like other people opinions then you can always do Mathematics. The paradise where other people opinions don't care.

This is not criticism, but just an idea I had while ago while writing similar articles: Maybe only people read this who only consider the gain you get from reading their comment. Probably people who don't care about the other users at all will not read it.

Explaining a company's actions by "the legal duty to maximize shareholder value" - Since this can be used to explain any action by a company, it explains nothing. Not to mention the validity of statement is controversial.

I'm actually quite happy that the list contains these items. Yes, when overused they are annoying (like everything else) but by itself they are all (except the "general internet comment") valid.

Wrong. Correlation is premature optimization, this is just a anecdotal strawman hominen Dunning-Kruger headline that needs citation. By the way you should have done it in Go.js on Arduino.

On balance I disagree with most of Ken's observations, though not always or in all cases.

A useful comment is one which moves the conversation forward. A non-useful comment is one which serves NO useful purpose.

Correlation is not causation. This is useful where a naive correlation is shown without causal mechanism. It's not useful when a correlation is shown and there's a strong causal link known. http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php?title=552:_Correla...

If you're not paying for it, you're the product. I disagree that that this is useless, though it's not necessary to point it out without some justification.

"the legal duty to maximize shareholder value" Agree. Companies have numerous stakeholders. The "shareholder value" proposition was birthed by Milton Friedman and given a solid kick into the public eye by Jack Welch, who later called it "the world's dumbest idea": http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2013/06/26/the-orig...

[citation needed] Appropriate when someone makes an extraordinary, unsubstantiated, and difficult-to-source claim. No, this isn't Wikipedia, but it is a high quality, high s/n discussion site. Not appropriate where source is trivially confirmed or when intent is strictly snarky.

Premature optimization Depends on technical context. If substantiated, it's a fair gripe.

Dunning-Kruger effect Sadly, far too often appropriate, IMO.

Betteridge's law of headlines This is most often a meta-commentary: the story posted is vague and poorly conceived, it really shouldn't have made the front page. Increasingly I'm flagging such items (but not the Betteridge comments on them).

Logical fallacies As with "citation needed": the quality of discourse is served when people don't take cheap shots or rhetorical evasions. If you're trying to make a point and you're committing obvious logical fallacies, you deserve to be called on it.

Cue ... FTFY ... Cue: http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/406/282/2b8...

"If you're not paying for it, you're the product."

I have to say that I disagree with this meme in general. Google does not sell me (yet, at least) to its advertisers. It sells screen real estate and placed links. Sure, the links are very targeted, and more specific than much (probably not all) advertising that preceded it.

I know that this meme is trying to make a general point, i.e. "there's a hidden cost to using this service", but I think it's overly-general and unnecessarily negative. Many people enjoy newspapers and TV that rely primarily on advertising for their revenue. I actually find Google's sponsored links on their search results to be very helpful on occasion, and at other times I find advertising a problem. Why the tendency to be so dismissive and over-simplify?

I also think that this meme is part of a general trend of finding pithy ways to sound smart without acknowledging that most issues, such as the way web services should be funded, are actually quite complicated.

I have to say that I disagree with this meme in general.

In a broader sense, "if you're not paying for it" falls under the broader rhubric of "understand the philosophy driving the tools you use".

One of the key advantages of using Free Software is that, fundamentally, the development model aligns the interests of the developer with the user. Not perfectly and not always, but in general. Some projects make this explicit, and the Debian Project is among the best-known examples, having a Philosophy, a Constitution, and a Policy, all as explicitly stated documents, detailing what the goals, concerns, and specific actions and rules of the project are.

Contrast with the proprietary software world in which the goal generally is profit maximization, often with short-term interests, and often sacrificing user experience in the process. Some companies avoid the pitfalls of this focus to a greater extent -- Apple has long placed end-user experience above all else, and, though I'm not a particular fan of the result, I can see its appeal especially for less-technical users.

Microsoft, by contrast, has from its beginning a winner-takes-all dominance strategy and had as its key customers OEMs and large businesses. I as an individual user (or developer, or administrator) am well down the priority list. Oracle would be another company whose alignment is often at odds with mine -- and extends to its stewardship of its free software projects (the core of which has largely migrated elsewhere, somewhat predictably). And yes, other free software companies can get confounded missions -- I'd classify much of the issues I encounter with Red Hat and GNOME as being fundamental to the mission and goals of the projects.

In the Web space, there are a relative handful of successful models:

- Amateur hour: not in the sense of "unpolished and crude", but literally "a work of love". Something done by an individual (or sometimes small group) out of passion. Often surprisingly good, but intrinsically limited in both scope and technical capability absent some larger base of support or organization.

- Propaganda: Whether it's selling a specific good (as opposed to mass advertising) or a philosophy, this is _somebody with a message_. H/N falls somewhat under this category.

- Public service: Sites such as Wikipedia. Often donor or sponsor supported. One way of scaling amateur hour.

- Commerce: Directly selling some good or product. Can still lead to a significant informational / conversational role, e.g., Craigslist or Amazon forums.

- Advertising: An aggregator of eyeballs. In which case, the particulars of the user base are of interest to the site (and its advertisers). And there's also often a very conscious effort to water down content to appeal to the greatest number. Both of these can set up perverse incentives which tend to drive down the ultimate value and quality of the site. Google has historically balanced the interests of its users (e.g., the product) and its customers (the advertisers), though I'm seeing a bit of a drift lately. Among the challenges: advertising and marketing teams increase in prominence within the company, chasing out the technical and user-focused talent (e.g., Marissa Meyer). Though she's landed at a company which is much, much further down the "provide benefit to advertisers" scale.

Then there's the additional issue that state surveillance (and hacker communities) have a significant interest in such data troves.

One of the advantages to being pithy is that there's an implicitly referenced and much longer argument which takes too long to type.

So, include above by default in "If you're not paying for it, you're the product."

> "the legal duty to maximize shareholder value" Agree. Companies have numerous stakeholders.

As is implicit in the link you give, there is no legal obligation for executives or other employees to maximize shareholder value (for the directors, there is a fiduciary responsibility). Milton Friedman asserted that there was a _moral_ duty to maximize shareholder value, which is quite different, but this also has become quite controversial recently.

> though not always or in all cases.

Nothing I read suggested that every case was a problem. Simply that over time, most of these types of comments aren't helping anyone.

> Correlation is not causation....

It's useless as a comment. Spouting that off, and then adding a sentence on how bad science reporting is is where I see this most often. Or, often, it's applies to the reporting, not to the actual study. Thus, the study is dismissed because of the report.

> If you're not paying for it, you're the product.

It's mostly useless in the way it's used. Your condition of justification is where it makes it mostly useless. I mostly don't see it used with justification. Just a mere comment mentioning this, followed by a general rant about the state of being the product.

> [citation needed] Appropriate when someone makes an extraordinary, unsubstantiated, and difficult-to-source claim.

This appears all the time as the only text to a comment. First, it's factually incorrect. A citation is not needed. Merely requested. Secondly, it's usually used as a passive-aggressive way to assert that you disagree with someone. Don't have a way to argue around something someone said? Just place [citation needed] in a comment. Thirdly, I see it often used when, in the course of simple discussion, someone presents a hyperbole. It's not meant to be taken literally. However, a reply will seek citation on that specific point. Finally, it's also often used in cases where someone used a subjective adjective to describe something. People get robbed, no one will argue with. However, say "Significant people get robbed", and people want a citation, despite the fact that significant does not mean majority. It's subjective to the discussion and the condition.

> Premature optimization

Again, in the context of HN, it's most often trotted out when people are explicitly exploring optimization.

People always forget that there is such a thing as mature optimization.

> Dunning-Kruger effect Sadly, far too often appropriate, IMO.

Citation requested. =)

> Logical fallacies As with "citation needed": the quality of discourse is served...

If the quality of the comment doesn't move the discussion forward, down vote it. You do nothing by replying with a statement of the logical fallacy. Unless I'm mistaken, up and down votes do not apply to comments you reply to, or to comments that reply to you. Regardless, if you comment on a worthless comment, you are doing nothing more than contributing to the slow degradation of the thread. If, however, the comment does contain redeeming qualities despite a wart or two (as we've all had happen to us), then work to bring the thread back in order.

And the end of the day, this "you deserve to be called on it" attitude is that of a passive aggressive vigilantly.

>> Dunning-Kruger effect Sadly, far too often appropriate, IMO. > Citation requested. =)

My opinion.

Informed by a few things: some 40-odd years living on this planet (and possibly others), much of it involved directly or indirectly with technology and complexity. A general observation that much of the H/N crowd is younger (20s), often with the heightened sense of self-confidence which comes from youth, (often) a privileged upbringing, and a lack of exposure to hard knocks, as well as an overdeveloped faith in technological solutions.

A recent exploration of complexity specifically (see Joseph Tainter) and its dynamics. People don't choose complexity where it's not necessary, where they do, it's because it solves problems, but in doing so it imposes a tax -- higher resource (and especially energy) requirements, as well as decreased resilience and increased brittleness.

You do nothing by replying with a statement of the logical fallacy.

I disagree. You point out to others that the writer is relying on invalid arguments and/or facts. This may be out of laziness, out of a warped worldview, or out of deliberate manipulation of data and/or opinion (something I've been noticing increasingly on H/N). I'm content to observe the fallacy and move on. Sometimes the author (or someone else) will respond, occasionally copping to the error (in which case: success, a conversation ensues and the conversation moves forward), fairly frequently not and digging themselves in deeper (success: you've uncovered someone who's generally not worth arguing with, at this point I may simply drop the thread, or reply noting that they're repeating their earlier error).

I've actually made some interesting progress in understanding a few areas I'd previously had challenges with, in particular Libertarianism and the whole von Mises school, largely by discovering through conversations (and ensuing research) that the whole concept is based on a rejection of empiricism or real-world relevance. That and a healthy dose of corporate / plutocratic psychopathy courtesy the Koch brothers and others. Which explains much. And I rarely enter into discussions with those types other than to point out their irrationality.

this "you deserve to be called on it" attitude is that of a passive aggressive vigilantly.

Again, I disagree, and on this particular point, rather strongly.

Mind, yes, people will be wrong on teh Intarnets: http://xkcd.com/386/

But: we, humans, as a species, are facing some immense challenges. Global warming, peak oil, population, food, other resource exhaustion ("peak everything"), and a whole host of others.

And our institutions are exceptionally unfit to the challenge. Politics, economics, religion, technology, philosophy, the press, educational systems, liberal democratic principles (civil and human rights, etc.), even our own physiology and psychology (risk management, dopamine response, short-term/long-term focus), and a host of other factors are utterly maladaptive to what we're going to face over the next years, decades, assuming we survive that long, few centuries.

I'm not even pretending to have a clear view of what we need to do, or even all of what we face, but calling it "tremendously disruptive" is a mass understatement -- what else would you call a 7 to 14-fold (and possibly more) reduction in human population over a few decades at best? If HBS survives, you can bet they'll be teaching this one in 500 years.

So, yeah, I kinda take this shit a little bit seriously. And calling people on bullshit is part of that.

Even if the future of civilization isn't at stake, I've seen tremendous harm and pain come from sloppy and wishful thinking. But odds are quite good the stakes are slightly higher than that.

Can someone rewrite this article in Go?

The temptation to reply with one of those was great. But I resisted. Nice Post :)

No need to read this -- just another Buzzfeed post.

What grates me is people that use "order of magnitude" for everything. It's fine if you're talking about different kinds of memory access or the acidity of some lake due to acid rain. But writing phrases like "Ever since I started biking to work, I feel an order of magnitude better" just makes you look pretentious, to me.

Of course this is more of an aesthetic gripe rather than a gripe with some rhetorical device.

I'm tired of seeing the errors that prompt most of those comments. The comments themselves are often very much legitimate.

> "What comments bother you the most?"

Mindless evangelism of proprietary technologies, disguised as an attempt at an insightful comment (microsoft's mvps and evangelists are particularly guilty of this).

Emphasis on the "mindless". I'm horribly spoilt in that I'm always hideously disappointed when cool tech comes along that's not open source, but there's some very interesting work going on behind closed doors that is worth evangelising.

Such work is not worth evangelizing. It is worth technical discussion. There is a difference.

If the work's going on behind closed doors, the technical discussion won't happen without some kind of evangelism.

I have _never_ seen the 7 of 9 of those comments here. "FTFY" stuff is from reddit.

I recall the FTFY meme from pre-reddit slashdot. (User 872 here)

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