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Why I am no longer submitting direct URLs to HN (and neither should you)
127 points by lisper on Dec 2, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments
A while back there was a kerfuffle on HN about link headlines being changed by the mods to the original headline on the article being linked to, on the grounds that link submissions are "community property" and so the headlines should not be editorialized. The problem with this is that more often than not, the original headline sucks. Such is the case for this article, which is really the content of this submission:


The original headline is, "Thanks for killing the planet, boomers." But this is a flip headline that belies the serious and important subject matter, and also obscures the part of the article that IMO is (or at least should be) of major interest to most of the HN audience. That point is that climate change is a generational issue:

"If you’re already in your mid-50s or later, and you’re lucky enough not to reside in any areas that are traditionally prone to hurricanes or flooding, you’ll miss the worst of our imminent destruction. But for those of us who are younger..., who hope to live long, healthy, happy lives — well, tough shit. ... While the AARP spends over $100 million on D.C. lobbyists every year protecting... Social Security and Medicare, no comparable institution exists to lobby on behalf of Mmillennials and “Gen Z,” the demographic groups that will face global warming’s worst consequences. We’ve been consigned to the sidelines, turned into spectators of the greatest disaster movie ever made."

So I am no longer submitting direct links to HN because I believe they are too constraining. From now on I am only doing text submissions with embedded links and a brief summary of the content and why I think it's relevant to HN. I think that if more people did this, the quality of the content on the home page would be improved. At least it's an experiment worth conducting.

Forget the abusive submission tactic and look at the article itself: far from being "important" for HN, it's entirely off-topic; less germane even than a common political article, this Salon piece is a shrill tour of seemingly every political position Salon endorses, tied together not with a coherent thesis but rather an overt suggestion that the world is ending.

You submit some great stuff, Ron, but I'd like to suggest as respectfully as I can that we'd all be better off if you took Salon off the list of sites you submitted from. It's not that there's never anything good on Salon (I got my favorite caesar salad recipe from Salon!), but the stuff you pull from it tends towards the (large) divisive, partisan, and unproductive portion of the Salon spectrum.

> You submit some great stuff, Ron


> far from being "important" for HN, it's entirely off-topic

I think that's a matter of opinion. It is arguable from scientific evidence that the world as we have come to know it over the last few hundred years is in fact ending. (I'm not saying this is true, only that it's a rationally defensible position.) If I were under 30, I would consider that relevant.

> we'd all be better off if you took Salon off the list of sites you submitted from

I will take that recommendation under advisement.

On a different forum I think there'd be an interesting discussion to be had over whether the trend this story predicts is valid, and, if so, if it represents the "end of the world", or a transition from a highly anomalous period of human history and a sort of comment on how fragile such equilibria are and how much it's a product of the absurdly privileged lens through which we (and Salon) view humanity.

But this is Hacker News, so what we'd get instead is tinfoil hattery about fiat money and a 50-comment-long thread about Wal Mart where people would start calling each other names midway through.

Our politics are probably more similar than they are different, but where politics are concerned, HN doesn't reward accord; it rewards raucous discord. Which is a good reason to keep politics off HN.

Thanks for the extraordinarily reasonable response to my snippy comment.

I don't think this is a question of politics, this is a question of science, quite possibly the most important question of science for the predominant demographic on HN. The question of whether or not climate change will lead to the catastrophic effects that some are predicting is much more important than the question of, e.g. whether the Higgs boson exists. If climate change is real, and if the worst-case scenarios come to pass, those who are 20-30 today will feel most of the pain.

> Thanks for the extraordinarily reasonable response to my snippy comment.

No worries. Thanks for your informative posts on computer security. That matters too.

I agree with you, but you have to remember that even science is political, and in the US, climate change is _absolutely_ political. So you'll get knee-jerk partisan responses.

You're right. This is political, and I should have just come out and embraced that. But I would also point out that being political and being scientific are not mutually exclusive, and being political and being relevant to HN are not mutually exclusive either, and just because past political discussions on HN have degenerated into chaos doesn't necessarily mean that all future such discussions are necessarily doomed to suffer the same fate.

It's like I said in my OP: if climate change is real, then it's the 20-30-somthing crowd that hangs out here that will be the first to feel the real pain. One of the mottos around here is supposed to be: build something people want, and tackle hard problems. Well, something that will avert planetary disaster seems to me like it ought to be something that people want, and figuring out what that thing might be seems like a pretty hard problem.

Sure, but that's what upvoting is supposed to determine, not the headline renaming conventions.

No. That's a misconception as old as the site. Upvoting is one of the sorting mechanisms on HN, but if it was the only one, we'd all be looking at memes and cat pictures all day. From the jump, HN has used both voting and site guidelines that dictate what is & isn't on topic.

The headline renaming drama has been rehashed ad nauseam in the past few months. I submit that the healthiest way to view it is that nobody but the site's admins have a real appreciation for what a tedious chore it is to correct the often abusive breakage in submission titles, and so maybe it's a good idea to cut them a great deal more slack.

Concur entirely - http://lesswrong.com/lw/c1/wellkept_gardens_die_by_pacifism/ I think is an excellent summary of what would (at least in my opinion) have likely already happened to HN otherwise.

And bang, in tptacek's comment we have everything that's wrong with Hacker News comments in a nutshell.

You just decried an article without once pointing out any errors in the article, then attempted to paint any number of submissions with the same brush. Nah, the article was just shrill and the only things the site is useful for is Caesar salad recipes.

Seriously, this kind of commenting is the reason Hacker News has become known as anything but a hangout for actual hackers - you know, the folks who use little things like reason and facts and logic in discussion.

>You just decried an article without once pointing out any errors in the article

Note that your criticism is based on the assertion that the only valid basis for rejecting a link on HN is factual error. But that is not true. There are lots of other reasons to reject a link, ranging from being off-topic to being incoherent. The simple truth is that this list is dynamic across users, dynamic in time for a single user, and will not be applied equally by all readers at all times.

And indeed, it is this dynamic, hopefully wise filter that gives HN a great deal of it's value. When that filter starts to fail in very serious ways, then it's time to start thinking about creating a new filter. (Personally, I think HN could very usefully have a kind of "alternative HN" off shoot who's focus was explicitly and exclusively technology-in-politics.)

I would argue your comment is a better example of that kind of commenting. tptacek gave us an opinion on the topic at hand. You commented solely to attack him and whine. Which one do you think does more damage to HN?

Like your comment whining and attacking him is an even better example of that kind of commenting, just like my comment here.

We could say that we just filled up useless space on this thread or we could simply call it a discussion, two individuals exchanging opinions.

I commented last! I win!

e: And don't even think of replying.

Too late. I thought of it.

From the guidelines - and I think a much better way of adding commentary & changing headlines:


  Don't abuse the text field in the submission form to add
  commentary to links. The text field is for starting
  discussions. If you're submitting a link, put it in the url
  field. If you want to add initial commentary on the link,
  write a blog post about it and submit that instead.

  If you want to add initial commentary on the link,
  write a blog post about it and submit that instead.
This will immediately get flagged as blogspam though.

Yes, there was an instance recently where somebody did just that and the link to the article changed to the original link that was being commented on.

That brings up the question: what's considered blogspam and what's considered good commentary? Is that automated, or is there a judgement made by the moderators?

Will it though? I can think of plenty of blog posts that were commentary on links (albeit fairly extensive and/or insightful), that didn't get flagged as blogspam. OTOH, if all you do is editorialize on a link, with little to no insight, shouldn't it be flagged as blogspam? Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I don't blog very much is that I don't feel like I'm contributing anything of value by merely linking somewhere and going "isn't this cool?" I believe blog posts should have more substance.

I am still waiting for https://www.mycustomhackernewsheadline.com where you can add minimal context to a link and submit that to HN.

I was thinking of using http://gist.io for this, but a service that let's you minimally blog, and submit to HN with a single button click would be ideal :)

You can also just use scoop.it which is designed to do just that.

What's the dividing line between commentary and starting a discussion with a primary reference? I've come to really disagree with the strict title rule. IMO, HN should be more of a community for sharing ideas than a simple link aggregator. Someone submits a link because they found something interesting about it and wanted to share. They should be granted some agency to frame the discussion.

The rule just seems overly bureaucratic and inflexible. Often the link is appropriately titled and the content speaks for itself, but not always. An original title arguably has just as much potential to negatively impact discussion as a badly editorialized title. For a Wikipedia article - why was it submitted? For a link titled simply "Jolla," how is that even remotely useful? What the hell is that and why should I click it? For a normal article, maybe there was a particular angle or interesting small bit of it to highlight. Enforcing the creation of your own "wrapper" blog post also smells of unnecessary bureaucratic overhead. Why is it better to trade a "privileged position at the top of the page" for a privileged position at the URL of the link itself, that is now misdirecting from the actual piece (aka blogspam)?

I can see the downside, for example a popular article where multiple people attempt to put their own spin on it, fragmenting and confusing the discussion. But this happens already, how many different threads introducing Amazon Prime Air were there yesterday? Eventually the community settles on the preferred one and the rest die out. It's a trade-off, and would take some subjective tweaking and moderating (which is already necessary anyway), but I think discussions could be substantially improved by allowing the submitter the chance to "start things off on the right foot," when appropriate.

I use HN a lot, but I just don't think this is that big of a deal. One, if a link or article doesn't make first page, who cares? If someone doesn't like the headline you used, so what?

Submit what you want and it will get up/downvoted accordingly. It's not the end of the world. It's just a social news site.

The problem isn't bad headlines, the problem is changing headlines in a non transparent manner. It makes the site more difficult to use and overall less useful.

How about writing a real post in the real blog, referring to the article you agree to but where you feel the idea is not expressed clearly or appropriately enough?

HN will then change the url to the actual article bypassing the blog post.

Said earlier discussion was also full of people suggesting that doing so was "blogspam".

IIRC, text-only posts will fall off faster, so it seems that this just hurts the OP.

If you change a link's title, I won't know if I've read the link previously.

Also, crappy headlines are often a sign of crappy writing/content.

And in this case, the signs are correct.

This is just yet another sensational climate change piece on a pop-culture website. The authors qualifications? Tim Donovan is a freelance author who blogs about Millennial issues at The Suffolk Resolves.

At his personal site we learn "In 2006, Tim graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing." Nothing wrong with that, but it's nothing that gives him any credibility in a serious discussion of climate change.

For professional news sites and (some) larger blogs, headlines are usually written by editors, not the author of the article.

Unfortunately, I can't click on your embedded link... and it's not easy to cut and paste links from my mobile device. So if people started doing this, I would probably just stop clicking on outside links unless I was on my computer and the link looked extremely interesting.

That's odd, HN converts URLs to links in comments, e.g.:


It's surprising that it doesn't do so in text submissions.

This is a specific and deliberate policy. I'm on a crappy mobile and can't search from here (HNSearch doesn't work on this browser) but you can find it if you look. I'll see if I can find it later.

EDIT: Ah - it's in the FAQ:

  How do I make a link in a question?

  You can't. (This is to prevent people from using this
  method as a way of submitting a link, but with their
  comments in a privileged position at the top of the page.
  If you want to submit a link with comments, just submit
  it, then add a regular comment.)
Source: http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

It shouldn't be hard to add for pg if HNers asks for it I guess. I agree with OP's that webpage titles can't be used as-is and a text submission adding context is better than auto-titled entries.

It's not hard to add, it is omitted on purpose

Then again, he's proposing a short summary as well, so you won't have to make a choice purely on whether the link looks extremely interesting.

Honestly, does it really matter if someone reads the articles that you submit or not? Come on now, stop taking yourself so seriously.

The rules of Hacker News are pretty simple. The articles are submitted with the titles of the article. Sure, sometimes it doesn't work out well, but most times it does. And it significantly reduces decision making time for the moderators, which given their work, is likely much more important than your vanity of getting karma points.

If you want people to pay attention, why not post it to reddit or some other forum?

> Honestly, does it really matter if someone reads the articles that you submit or not?

Why submit it if you think otherwise?

You submit it for fun, in hopes that people read it and that it generates some discussion. But if no one reads it, then don't have a tantrum. Understand that a lot of it is luck-based, and in the end, it's not that important.

And all I can hear is George Carlin http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7W33HRc1A6c

This x1000. Accept that the planet's climate is changing. Accept that it's partly our fault. Accept that it's all our fault. Accept that the changes have a possibility of being catastrophic. Accept that they definitely are catastrophic. In the end - it doesn't matter. If the planet wants to get rid of us, it will. And there is little we can do to prevent it. The recent uptick in antibiotic resistant bacteria is probably the most concerning to me.

Personally I think an extremely virulent disease, another Chicxulub, or a massive super-volcano eruption are way more likely than us fixing Global Warming and living here for infinity.

Whenever this issue comes up, usually related to linkbait titles, I feel like I missed something. The guidelines say:

"Otherwise please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait."

Doesn't this mean it's OK to make a better title if the original is linkbait?


Might have been a better choice to make your point about headlines to not use an example that is flame bait and slamming a significant percentage of HN's readership, pg included. Blaming boomers for everything wrong with this planet is a little over the top. They are one generation among many.

Earth's likely demise will be the massive increases in fossil fuel use in places like India and China, and the failure to control population growth in places like India.

The EPA was created in the 1970's. Its mostly managed to push all the pollution intensive industries off shore to China and elsewhere.

It was also a serious mistake to carry the Western lifestyle to places with billions of people largely unmodified.

Any environmental choices made by boomers in the developed world will trail to insignificance in the face of China and India's choices. India in particular is the one currently obstructing the Kyoto follow on talks in Warsaw.

Only write meta posts that complain about community rules and slyly use the article you're trying to promote as an example of how the rule has failed the community. Win/win.

Technical solutions are generally better than workarounds or social solutions (but, of course, require signoff from pg and/or other maintainers).

Two that I think would be nicer:

Keep both the title the submitter used and the "fixed" title if a mod fixed it, and allow users to select which they see in preferences (defaulting to "fixed", with a tooltip of the other one, perhaps).

Keep the title the submitter used, but allow duplicates, and combine the discussions for duplicates. May the most popular title win.

I tend to think technical solutions are typically crap. They just happen to scale better than social solutions.

Say you're learning a new subject. Would you rather have a meticulously researched guide to articles and books on the subject compiled by an expert (one who has the good form to link to opposing viewpoints if they exist) or Google? I'd take the former. But usually I end up with Google because the search bar is part of my browser.

If you're old enough and social enough to remember, librarians were the pre-Internet search engine. While most people only interacted with a librarian to check in or out a book, their primary function is information retrieval. You just go up to a librarian, say, "Hey, I'm looking for information about X", and they come back to you with a hand curated list of books, periodicals, and other materials which are most likely to answer your questions.

Old enough to remember, not old enough to have done it outside of school projects.

Purely technical problems are much rarer than most technologists like to admit.

Allow for a small subtext under/side of the title submissions that allow some editorializing to spark discussion. So more is know about the link before having to click thru.

Are you a good enough journalist/editor/writer to make the evaluation that the article's title is not appropriate for the content of said article?

It's not so much about being "better" as having motives that are more aligned with those of the audience. The headline writer's goal is to get people to click on the link by whatever means necessary so they can serve ads. My goal -- and I believe the goal of most HN submitters -- is to be informative. (Actually, my real goal is to improve the quality of the content of the home page so that it's more useful to me when I read it.)

It's often pretty clear that the original articles headline is link bait to begin with, or may not convey the topic properly to a community such as HN.

"Learn Clojure in 24 hours by following this one weird tip."


I love HN's community but don't like a lot of it's policies/design choices. Before anyone says "but maybe that's what made it a good community in the first place", you probably aren't wrong. But I keep thinking there must be a more optimal way to do it.

This is how it works on most message boards. I wouldn't be opposed to it being the MO for this site too. I figure the OP ought to be able to frame their submission however they want. The main problem is you'd get a lot more duplicate submissions.

I agree, some titles are simply bad, others are virtually impossible to decipher, like "Untitled" or "hj4jh5g4j5h.pdf".

Mods would have a much easier time not needing to edit headlines if they just let the submitters write what the damn thing is about.

So you want HN to work more like Slashdot?

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