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Ask HN: What are some good alternatives to HN?
182 points by fabrizioc1 on Nov 17, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments
Lately it seems I go to HN look at the front page and decide "I don't want to read any of these". Where do other HN readers go for finding out about new and interesting technology or science?

The thing with HN is that there are a lot of interesting threads that get increasingly drowned in "drama" contents: stuff about politics, the NSA, silicon valley drama...

See the G+ outrage lately: there are three articles about that at the top of the frontpage that say exactly the same thing with exactly the same comments. It's reddit/4chan tier "pitchforking".

The problem seems to be that the community is growing quickly and as a consequence the upvoted articles are those who cater to the lowest common denominator and it keeps getting lower. It's a problem all successful communities face.

The usual solution might be to migrate towards a smaller community as you propose, but the problem then is that you have to rebuild everything from scratch over and over again.

IMO a simpler solution would be to make a "meta-HN" which would just add an other layer of moderation on top of the existing HN:

- Remove all "drama/politics" entries

- Merge entries about the same topic under a single item.

Then just link to the usual HN comment threads. I find the quality of comments usually reflects the quality of the article so I think it would work well for me. No need to rebuild everything from scratch and rebuild the community.

The HN you once liked is still there, it's just getting increasingly buried it low-relevance contents.

Since technical solutions to things are always fun, a recommendation system could be awesome: look at your upvotes and activity, cluster you with folks who vote similarly, then show you links based on neighbors' votes. There are refinements (maybe there could be other signals--domains, user-added post tags, etc.) but even a basic try at it has the potential to make everybody happier.

I love posts about algorithms and anything about Go or Python 'cause I use those; people's snazzy tech demos are always cool; startup/career stuff can be fine but isn't super relevant to me. It's just weird that to get to the bits I like I load a page that also has a lot of strident arguments about the things I shouldn't or must do, the things people are quitting, the things folks are mad at each other over, etc.

You described an implementation of the Confirmation Bias :D


Well, any community that tries to show people what they want does that, including HN as it stands now; it doesn't mean you abandon the goal of getting people content they want.

It's still an interesting problem, though. You might help address it with distinct kinds of vote (relevant vs. agree), or a randomized rather than static list to show people some things outside their filter bubble, a change folks have already proposed for other reasons (it would spread some votes to things off the homepage).

I'm not sure even the naïve implementation would be so bad, though. Things from HN that have actually improved my life haven't really had a component of agreement/disagreement; often they were, e.g., tips or new things to play with or interesting CS or math.

there are three articles about that at the top of the frontpage that say exactly the same thing with exactly the same comments.

Worse, two were based on the same guy at G+ raving about the whole thing.[1]

I'm a little curious about how the stories hit the front page and have stayed up so long. I don't know if it's fully organic, if Google's reputation has really suffered that much, if it's specific to the HN community, or if someone at WaggEd[2] woke up Saturday morning, glanced at HN's submission queue, and decided they needed some nudging. Or Apple, or Oracle, or Facebook, or even some of the privacy rights groups (though Google's slightly late-to-the-game but strident opposition to NSA/PRISM surveillance seems commendable).

But by HN's metric of what's worthy of consideration[3], the story seems to resonate. And I have to say for myself, having worked in the tech field for a few decades and watched data, surveillance, and analytic capabilities mushroom, I think it's a damned good thing for people to be questioning.

That said: I'm partial to Reddit myself, if you find the right subs. And if you're into the whole drama thing, their personal information policy ain't bad either.



1. I happen to be that guy. And I'm pretty much just as amazed as anyone.

2. Microsoft's PR firm. Or whomever they use for online reputation management.

3. That being: stuff which makes the front page.

What are some of the good subreddits that would appeal to an HN audience?

Used to be /r/programming... not anymore though. Just go to techcrunch and wired.com, that way you'll see everything that makes it to proggit - but only once, instead of every day for a week. The more specific the better, provided there's a lot of subscribers and there's regular new developments in the topic of interest. So /r/doctorwho sucks pretty hard when the show isn't in season. There's a lot of crocheted figurines, etc, it's painful.

/r/bicycling, /r/motorcycles and /r/autos are all great, but /r/justrolledintotheshop is brilliant because of how specific it is and how there's always new content - ie. picutres of idiotic things customers bring to their mechanics. /r/scooters is not great because the community is too small.

The subreddit for my phone is of interest. Programming languages that I'm trying to learn - Python, Scala. Skills I'm interested in - welding, CNC machinery.

Well, that's a good start if you're into things on wheels and programming, anyway.

It sounds like /r/doctorwho suffers from a particular thing I've observed, which is that the more specific a subreddit is to some target of fandom, the more likely it's filled with cringeworthy uncritical fanboys.

And fangirls - responsible for most of the crocheting and cupcakes.

http://www.reddit.com//r/AskHistorians/ is easily my favorite subreddit. The quality of the lengthy submissions and the fanatically rigorous moderation is amazing.

http://www.reddit.com//r/DepthHub/ is a great highlighter for introductions to quality subreddits. Its how I found /r/AskHistorians/

http://www.reddit.com//r/BestOf/ is good too.

Other than that it depends on your particular interests.

There is an outstanding problem that subreddits I would love exist but are hard to find. However that does also protect them and their mods from the slavering hordes of captioned gif posts.

It depends on what you're interested in.

I'd start by, say looking at a set of current tech sites, seeing what current articles appeal to you most, and searching for those at Reddit. Look for the subs they turn up in and check out the conversation.

I'm actually mostly following subs that don't have to do with IT issues (programming, systems admin/DevOps, or networking) as I'm finding my interests lie elsewhere. One rule of Reddit is that if you can imagine it, there's a subreddit for it.

One G+ feature I'd liked was the fact that my posts there formed their own channel, a feature somewhat lacking on Reddit. I've created my own user subreddit as a place I can post and curate my own links or discussions. Not sure if I'll keep it but it's an interesting idea.

Ugh. These meta-HN topics about the "quality" of the discussion come up every six months or so, even dating all the way back to the beginning. Cut it out already.

> Poll: How do you feel about making HN invite only? (5 years ago)


> Ask HN: Is it just me, or are HN comments becoming more and more negative? (4 years ago)


> Why people complain about the quality of Hacker News (4 years ago)


> Ask HN: (Yet Another) HN Comment Quality Going Down? (3 years ago)


> Hacker News Needs Honeypots (2 years ago)


Edit: The moderation on this site is as iron-fisted as ever. The problem here is perception.

Just because something gets talked about a lot doesn't mean it's not worth trying to find a solution.

Just because something gets talked about a lot doesn't mean there's a real issue. The problem is with perception and it's not the reality.

Looking forward to a dataset to show me otherwise. One that clearly defines the subjective nature of "quality" and "degradation" of comments.

Alternatively, only activate voting on comments when new users reach a certain karma threshold (does this exist already?), and only activate voting on stories when users reach a certain higher karma threshold.

Another thing to consider is what constitutes a karma point. I don't have any statistics to validate, but it seems that posting new submissions rewards more karma points than responding to submissions. Maybe the Admins/Mods could run some stats and see if this is true or not. While I do not personally care about karma points (I'm here because I actually enjoy the community), basing the ability to vote (as in, influence the ranking of what is presented) on a single metric that does not differentiate between submissions and comments likely results in a skewed representation of the community.

To put it simply, if you want lots of karma points, don't bother responding to submissions (presumably in an attempt to help someone with a problem, or contribute to the conversation). Instead just find some "hot" controversial articles on some other tech related news sites and submit them instead. If this is true, then it should not be surprising that there is more "white noise" here at HackerNews, as this approach facilitates submitting stories instead of contributing to conversations.

My recommendation (if anyone cares), break karma points up into two separate values, one related to submitting articles/stories (which is valuable), and another related to submitting comments (which is also valuable). Then I would remove any reference of points from the system (make them hidden from users) as to remove any desire to "game the system" for points. This would result in a system where points do not influence how people contribute to the community.

You need 500 pts to vote on HN

I only have 63 points and I can vote (but rarely do). Actually I can only upvote. I think 500 is for downvote rights.

You're right my bad. 500pts to downvote

I wonder if that asymmetry is part of the problem. There's a large population of users who can push junk to the top of the page, and a much smaller population with the ability to downvote it.

You can't downvote submissions; you can only flag them.

Stack Exchange does this.

I think HackerNews (and similar sites) would greatly benefit from having submissions grouped by a moderator. Don't display all submissions about NSA or Steve Jobs as separate lines. Display them as a thread, with some general information like "6 submissions, tags: Steve Jobs is still dead, average karma: 703"

  from itertools import groupby
  better_hn = sorted(hn, key=topic)
  better_hn = [topic, len(list(submissions))
    for topic, submissions in groupby(better_hn)]

  for line in better_hn:

> It's a problem all successful communities face

No it's not. It's a problem all large and free communities face.

Try looking for private communities, and the quality is much higher.

To get into these types of communities, you have to pass an interview or maybe pay monthly (I don't belong to these types, but I've heard good stuff about their quality).

e.g. want a good business community?

Maybe have a fee for $100/month, so you have people who can afford that join.

want a good programming community? Maybe have open source contribution requirements.

Or just interviews in general will filter out a lot of crappy users.

How does the ability to pay indicate ability to make worthwhile contributions? Or, how does inability/unwillingness to pay or prove yourself in some other way relate to an inability to make worthwhile contributions? (quality of posts, comments, etc)

>How does the ability to pay indicate ability to make worthwhile contributions?

If you can pay something that's related to the niche, it shows you have expertise in the niche.

For example, if you can pay $100/month for a business forum, than that shows you are at least somewhat serious and interested in business, and more likely, you are already successful at it.

If you can pay via open source contributions to the OS community, and that's a requirement for a software community, it shows at least you can code decently.

It doesn't have to be a "Do X" type of test either, it can just be an interview to hear their experience, their attitude, etc..

>Or, how does inability/unwillingness to pay or prove yourself in some other way relate to an inability to make worthwhile contributions?

You design a test to filter out people that you don't want in your community. If people fail that test, then it should already signal an inability to make worthwhile contributions. It might give false negatives for users that would have been good, but the test should not give too many false negatives.

It is more a psychological effect, when you need to prove yourself before entering a community you tend to appreciate it more, and (in theory) care more about the community. It will be interesting to see if this really holds in practice.

I've been apart of some small, free, private communities that have had similar problems. It's just less noticeable because it's easier for mods to keep a handle on it in smaller numbers.

Isn't it essential that a monumental topic blows up a community? Isn't this one of the most important purposes of a community, the ability to kick off a movement?

HN should require you solve some form of fizzbuzz to get voting/posting rights

Not a bad idea at first glance, until you consider the poor guy or gal whose job it is to review them, not to mention the need to prevent people from copy/pasting the answer from a search result. I guess you would have to have a karma threshold before being offered a chance to solve fizzbuzz, in order to keep the volume manageable. For the second issue, you would probably need to do it in person at your local HN branch office and hope your reviewer knows your preferred programming language.

That's not even getting into the discussion of whether programming knowledge is the only field of value for contributors to HN.

That said, it would be interesting if people had to put an answer to fizzbuzz in an area of their profile once they hit the karma threshold in order to get voting rights, (can't be null) and then peers could vote/comment on the answer.

I like the idea of having a single thread for all related stories. That way if a particular story was generating a lot of noise it would just be one line on the front page and very easy to ignore. It would be a bit like subreddits but more dynamic, the subreddits would flit in and out of existence. Everone would still share the same front page, perhaps each line would be something like "NSA: latest story headline". The question is, what would be the best way to do the grouping?

I think you proposal is good.

One option would be to give out some of the data that is behind HN, namely the information about who has upvoted which article. This should make it possible to create mashup which would try to learn whose thoughts about interesting arcticles match mine.

(No need to disclose the actual usernames, some anonymous identifier would be enough)

Do posts like "I'm leaving Hacker News" count as drama content?

I understand this was facetious, but it's not a bad question. How do you implement something like that while circumventing user posts?

Reddit has gotten better recently, as long as you stay off the popular subreddits. Pick your 10 favorite hobbies or interests, and subscribe to those subreddits. It's got to be specific: not programming, but programming in Java; not electronics, but amateur radio; etc. (I will admit I enjoy r/AskReddit, which is where people write short stories in response to a prompt in the form of a loaded question. Ask Metafilter is much less creative, in comparison.)

A lot of people are recommending r/programming. r/programming is why I quit Reddit a few years ago. It's all "computer-related cult wars" rather than actual discussion about programming. Everyone goes through that stage in their programming career, but it's not interesting to read about, and most people eventually grow out of it. Not r/programming.

/r/programming is getting better lately, don't see the problem with it. I suggest /r/lowlevel , /r/linux , /r/machinelearning , /r/math , /r/physics , /r/electronics and whatever else you'd like.

My problem with /r/programming is the front page. If you go below 15th place you'll see a cesspool of posts with interesting looking titles, tons of downvotes and no comments explaining why. I feel like the readers there are too discriminating about what they'll allow, but at the same time nobody feels like submitting anything.

In my experience, any sub-reddits in my interests are filled with incredibly shallow or meme-filled posts. Never have I once thought to myself 'This subreddit is way better than [established forum/community] for this'. Maybe it's the short lifespan of posts, or voting style that promotes snark/pandering type posts, but I have yet to come across an awesome subreddit. Also, I agree with you that the more specific you get the less this becomes an issue, but at that point it's usually just a bunch of ghost-subreddits with < 1K users and a single post every odd month.

/r/ECE and /r/reverseengineering used to be great... they might even still be. Honestly I stopped going to any technical subs on that site because given time they all seem to share one of two fates. Either they devolve into memes and shallow lowest common denominator post or they die. I've just accepted the site as a source for shallow sillines and enjoy it a lot more

That's where the reddit enhancement suite comes in. I use it to hide any post that links to most image hosting sites like imgur.com and it makes all the stupid meme posts go away.

There are also some webdev related subreddits which are pretty decent.

/r/webdev /r/web_design /r/frontend

Frankly, r/programming is not that good. r/haskell is full of interesting things and has a great community, if Haskell is your thing.

MetaFilter. You have to pay $5 to post comments, and the comments are formatted in such a way as to discourage trolling, long digressions, and other annoying Internet comment features. The material is usually not amazingly interesting to me, but the community is very pleasant.

MetaFilter has remained pleasant for years. Turns out $5 is a big enough hurdle to keep it sane.

It's the same with The Something Awful Forums. It is $10 to join, and it really helps keep the trolls out. One of the best communities on the web.

What? SA has possibly the worst community on the web. It keeps people out alright, but not trolls.

I think you might be conflating the terms "troll" and "asshole." If you show up to a subforum on SA and start actually trolling people by posting spam or a bunch of NSFL images or something, you'll get banned pretty much instantly.

That's not trolling, that's vandalism. Trolling is posting things for the sole purpose of inciting flamewars, or getting people to believe you were serious and react with disproportionate fervour.

I'm not sure I'd call it an HN alternative, but I think you're right, it's generally nice around there, and well run. I guess my point here is I don't read mefi for the same reason I read HN.

I quite like Alex McCaw's http://monocle.io/ - It's quite similar in topic to HN, but with less of the news/gossip/drama stories.

It also moves a lot slower, so if you miss a few days, it's fine. Just one page or so of links will show you all the best from those few days.

http://hckrnews.com/ to avoid the 'never made it to front page' problem.

This. And as was mentioned before, the new page (more crap, occasional spam, but lots of hidden gems).

Try going to the "new" section and upvoting content you would like to see. If we all don't do that, of course the site will get overrun with stupid kneejerk posts.

Yeah, I'm guilty of rarely upvoting (or downvoting) items. Are upvotes on the actual submission the only driver of where it ranks, or does comment activity also weigh in? If it does, that would seem to encourage flamewar/ideological topics to float to the top.

Lobsters has better software but they never got enough traction to get any discussion flowing.

Apart from that the #1 story is just another stupid adver-article written for HN. The story is by differential.io and submitted by joshowens who works there. The same story was submitted to HN by the author with his coworker joshowens shilling in the comments - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6741554.

This kind of exploitation is happening a lot, "Next HN" will hopefully be more discerning about its members' motivations.

It looked interesting and I even got an account. Then I found out I must enable JS to make a comment (yes yes, downvote me already). Oh well, I do still check what's listed on there every once in a while.

I think the invitation tree is what kept this from gaining sufficient traction. That's a very difficult model to get right, especially for an extremely below-the-radar site. Even Google didn't get it right with G+.

Looks great. Would you be kind enough to hook me up with an invite?

I've found that meetup.com and a free night a week serve as a great alternative. programming meetups have given me deeper discussions about software engineering or given me a chance to work firsthand with people in languages or frameworks I'm curious about.

I still read /. on a daily basis for tech news. Though I find the items that would really interest me have already showed up on HN already.

For JavaScript, HTML5, and front-end news, there is Echo JS : http://www.echojs.com

On the startup side I'm often finding more things that are interesting to me on the community side of http://www.usv.com/

I just checked out the side. Didn't know it before. I found some interesting content. It's now part of my feedly. Thanks for the hint man.


I figure I only read about 10% of the posts on HN, and focus on the ones about actual technologies I might use or evaluate. And honestly, that 10% is all I have time to read anyway, so it works out just right.

The only better option is to go to reddit and subscribe to all the relevant tech subreddits you're interested in and unsubscribe from everything else. That's more like drinking from the firehose though, requires more mental overhead in filtering only the absolutely most useful and relevant.

Also, http://pineapple.io if you just want cool tech and no discussions.

I recently signed up for hubski, which is very similar in style to HN, but uses a tagging system so you choose to follow only the topics you are interested in.


So far it has been very good signal to noise...

Seems like a nice site, but only two of the current stories on the front page have comments on them (for a total of 5 comments) :-/

http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm has some good discussion related to bootstrapped startups, and seems to have a good community.

Look at the new page instead of the main page.

I like http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/ It is focused on programming languages and PL research

I think the only satisfactory alternative to HN, which could attract hackers and hackers only would be some sort of a termminal application, and you would be able to browse it through terminal only, that way we could get rid off all the classy people and hence the drama/politics posts it will be a hacker's paradise like HN used to be.

The only question is, how do we do it ?

We use Usenet? (although I'm sure that there are good GUIs now)

I wish there would be a simple tag system to classify the posts a bit. For example i am not interested in most startup posts but rather would just see only programming and technology related articles.

How many tags would be sufficient to classify most posts? Startup, marketing, programming, science, politics, ... That's actually a quite hard problem!

I love Hackernews.

Here are my additional addictions (in order of preference):

* http://reddit.com/r/futurology

* http://reddit.com/r/linux

* http://theverge.com

* http://techcrunch.com

dying place (although I still read it): http://slashdot.org

* http://techdirt.com

* http://reddit.com/r/bsd

* http://reddit.com/r/opensource

> Lately it seems I go to HN look at the front page and decide "I don't want to read any of these". Where do other HN readers go



Although it's just programming (the rules say that if there's no code in the link, then you shouldn't post it).

/r/hwstartups, /r/compsci, /r/startups and a few other assorted subreddits make for a nice complement to HN.

With the use of multi reddits I've found you can build up quite a nice suite of multireddits which supplements hackernews nicely, though you do tend to see quite a lot of cross posting of articles.

For C++ lovers I find that http://www.reddit.com/r/cpp/ always has pretty good content.

Theneeds [1]?

We built Theneeds with a similar idea in mind, that people should come and just find interesting stuff, personalized according to their interests (we learn from users' activity to get smarter about what the interests really are).

We focus on a broader range of topics than just tech & science, thought there is a good selection about that too.

[1] http://www.theneeds.com

I tried your site out, it's pretty cool but some of the backgrounds make it completely unusable. Make it as minimal as possible, people are meant to stare at this for a long time.

Thanks for trying and for the feedback!

The background can be turned off, but we actually decided to keep it on by default. We think that it creates a more "full-immersion" experience and helps not going OT (out of need actually ;). We don't have numbers to support this, but... that's the idea!

I agree, the backgrounds sometimes are annoying. Despite this, cool site.

Reddit is the best alternative of HN and the most favorable thing of this community is that it has sub communities such as Technology, Programming,etc. not like HN.

But, it also has some disadvantage such as spammers first attack, moderators are not so active, sometime you can find unusual stuffs.

http://devmaster.net for game development

I've been spending more time in the technology dedicated subreddits. While the general content is lesser than HN was ~1 year ago, it's more on topic. I only see 3-4 stories a day on HN worth reading, which honestly is nice because it limits my browsing time.

Quora is quite good.

I'm going to shamelessly plug http://techendo.co/ not as an alternative, but as a supplement. :)

We're also on irc: #Techendo on Freenode!

Try http://www.dailyrotation.com The top 100 headlines turn up interesting articles for many areas of interest.

If you are into JavaScript, http://echojs.com is pretty good.

Almost missed this post becasue this is one of my "I don't want to read any of these" titles.

There's a huge demand for quality content.

Why not just hire a bunch of people with taste to choose the content?


We need sub-HNs!

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Where is it possible to find the Hacker News theme btw?

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