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Coming Soon to Hacker News: Pending Comments
661 points by pg on March 21, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 805 comments
A surprisingly long time ago (2013 was a busy year) I mentioned a new plan to improve the quality of comments on Hacker News:


Since I'm going to check out of HN at the end of this YC cycle, this was my last chance to get this done. I didn't want the people who are going to inherit HN from me to have to build it as their first project, because it interacts with so many different bits of the code in such subtle ways.

So I found time to implement pending comments this past week, and with any luck it will launch tonight. Since it's a big change, I wanted to warn HN users in advance.

Here's how it currently works. From now on, when you post a comment, it won't initially be live. It will be in a new state called pending. Comments get from pending to live by being endorsed by multiple HN users with over 1000 karma. Those users will see pending comments, and will be able to endorse them by clicking on an "endorse" link next to the "flag" link.

Someone who has a pending comment will have to wait till it goes live to post another. We're hoping that good comments will get endorsed so quickly that there won't be a noticeable delay.

You can currently beat the system by posting an innocuous comment, waiting for it to be endorsed, and then after it's live, changing it to say something worse. We explicitly ask people not to do this. While we have no software for catching it, humans will notice, and we'll ban you.

Along with the change in software will come a change in policy. We're going to ask users with the ability to endorse comments only to endorse those that:

1. Say something substantial. E.g. not just a throwaway remark, or the kind of "Yes you did, No I didn't" bickering that races toward the right side of the page and no one cares about except the participants.

2. Say it without gratuitous nastiness. In particular, a comment in reply to another comment should be written in the spirit of colleagues cooperating in good faith to figure out the truth about something, not politicians trying to ridicule and misrepresent the other side.

People who regularly endorse comments that fail one or both of these tests will lose the ability to endorse comments. So if you're not sure whether you should endorse a comment, don't. There are a lot of people on HN. If a point is important, someone else will probably come along and make it without gratuitous nastiness.

I hope this will improve the quality of HN comments significantly, but we'll need your help to make it work, and your forbearance if, as usually happens, some things go wrong initially.

My may concern with this system: Sledgehammer meets tack.

The comments on HN aren't perfect, but they're far from bad when compared to other sites of this nature. There has been a downwards trend most probably due to the increasing popularity of HN. A response is warranted. However, this system has the potential to silence a lot of high quality comments on any threads that aren't on the front-page for an extended period of time. Thus, you get a feedback loop. Good posts require quality discussion to stay on top, but must stay on top to get quality discussion going with this added approval lag.

I think you should ease these changes in as conservatively and gradually as possible. For example, apply it only to the top page at first, and reduce the number of endorsements required for display to 1. You might also consider merely greying out comments that have not yet been endorsed, as currently happens to down-voted comments. Another option would be to apply the endorsement system only after threads have reached a certain age so as to jump-start discussions. Additionally, I would recommend that authors of a parent post should be able to see all child posts regardless of their karma. Below, Babuskov raised the point that the endorsement system will obstruct useful back-and-forth discussions between sub-kilokarma users in buried threads that often takes the place of a private messaging system on HN. This would fix that more effectively than merely reducing the endorsement requirement.

You should not entertain any illusions that you can flip the switch and watch this system work perfectly, and that you will therefore be able to avoid confusing people with many changes over a lengthy period of time. Tweaking will almost certainly be required.

I'm not sure that I qualify to contribute a reply (and that may be a problem here) - I've read HN for 4+ years and have only started actively contributing very recently on this account - I have neither karma nor history of posting in my favour.

One of the most powerful things about HN is that it is currently not like reddit - we don't end up with 400+ comments that sit at the bottom of the page gathering dust and downvotes. I feel that a system of pending comments plays better in a more moderated community - especially so as sometimes the most seemingly innocuous comments here can be important or generate discussion that would not otherwise occur.

If the system were to be brought in immediately I'd like to see something along the lines of a 24 hour window; all comments are published after 24 hours with karma directly correlating to the reduction of that window - i.e. Those users with karma of 1440+ can comment with relative impunity on the assumption that their past contributions merit their voice being heard instantly, whilst users with lower karma must either wait for their comment to be 'approved' by a higher user or of course wait out the period of 1440-karma. A relatively simple fix, I would hope, given that you are willing to let 1000+ karma users basically moderate the comments.

I absolutely agree with beloch that these changes should be eased in as conservatively as possible: the worst thing that can happen to HN, and the tech industry as a whole, is presenting itself as a closed community in which you must gain favour to advance - we all quite literally live on the new blood that so often disrupts the status quo.

This really worries me as well. I'm in the somewhat the same boat as you, a good relatively recent anecdote is one of my early threads, an Ask HN thread which while it never got more than a few votes, got enough productive answers and discussion that it cleared up some issues on my part. (also, the entire discussion took place within the first 24 hours by primarily low karma users, after which the thread was dead.) If that discussion wouldn't be feasible without "approval" that entire exchange and the benefit I drew from it would have been unobtainable.

I must admit I do not feel compelled by this change.

Interesting proposals all around.

Perhaps the best idea might not involve trying to determine the best path to take. At least we're asking, right?

I think this is a great idea, it's simple (one karma = one minute) and it addresses many of the problems I foresee with this new rules, in particular getting stuck in "pending limbo" indefinitely (given that you can't post if your previous comment is still pending).

It still makes it take extremely long for a new user to obtain 1000 karma, though. Much harder than previously, I imagine. Although maybe not, since there will be less posts visible, those that are will get relatively more karma points?

I agree with this entirely. As it currently stands, implementing this policy in such a abrupt way will hurt discussion and negatively impact the quality of the community.

And although there are ways to improve the actual implementation of the system, I still think it is fundamentally flawed for a few reasons.

First, any system in which a comment is assumed to be spam or trash until proven otherwise will produce less meaningful discussion. Maybe most of the good comments will be filtered through; but some will invariably be missed, and people with valid ideas will not have their comments seen by anyone. Moreover, from my understanding, the HN user base is primarily in North America. (I could be wrong.) If this is true, won't users in other countries be disproportionately affected by this kind of oversight because there are simply fewer high-karma users in the rest of the world?

This is fundamentally a debate over whether HN should have 50% fewer good comments and 100% fewer bad ones, or whether we should just get everything. I believe that latter.

Second, this program places excess responsibility in the hands of high-karma users. HN is now moving from a passive system (eg. one where everything is visible and the best stuff gets voted to the top), to one where every comment must be scrutinized and evaluated just to be visible. Logistically, I don't see how this works. Users with over 1000 karma are rare. From what I've seen they are less than 5% of the total HN user base. This minority is now going to be responsible for evaluating every single comment?! I truly do not see the small number of high-karma users on HN being able to sort through every comment. Many, many comments will be missed or ignored.

Overall, I believe that any effort to stop spam on HN should be given consideration, but this system poses substantial logistical problems and will, in all likelihood, hurt the community.

I do particularly enjoy the mostly civil posts here. I've always held out HN as an example of an open community commenting system that works. I personally disagree with the new policy.

Since I don't comment often, this probably doesn't mean much, but this is the last comment I'll post on HN until the policy is reversed.

I didn't even know HN had a commenting problem until HN told me. As is often the case, the comments are pretty informative on this topic too.

Well, so long everyone. Logging out for now. Someone please let me know on Twitter if this gets reversed.

"Users with over 1000 karma are rare. From what I've seen they are less than 5% of the total HN user base of."

But a much higher percentage of people who actually post. The top 10 posts on this page (for me, right now) are about 50% from such users, and of the top 10 newcomments right now there's only 3 from users with 1000+ Karma, but several more from >900. If you're participating on the site for a while, it doesn't take that long.

  You might also consider merely greying out comments that 
  have not yet been endorsed, as currently happens to down-
  voted comments.
I agree with this, except that pending comments should probably be visually differentiated from downvoted ones (maybe a shade of green like new usernames). Otherwise, you risk subtly prejudicing a reader that has grown accustomed to the original meaning of the greying-out.

Either way, I'd advocate for a "showpending" toggle for users with under 1000 karma.

I think it's a good idea, as the quality of comments have been degrading.

Perhaps after a post has reached a certain age (few hours) comments would slowly open up to users with less and less karma. Just a thought, but I agree a "show pending" toggle would be nice too.

It is important that we encourage new users to comment on HN. The reality is that early posts from new users may not make the grade set by 1000+ Karma users. Let them be visible as otherwise you may discourage such new users from re engaging/commenting further.

Color coding comments to flag they as 'pending' is fine. But complete hiding them sounds too strong

Its great to have the conversation on how to improve HN comments

Why is important to encourage new users to comment? That, too, seems to be solving a problem that doesn't exist.

I'd ask the converse - why inhibit new users from commenting? They seem almost as likely to have a contributing comment as established users.

Not all accounts are new users of course.

For note, HN isn't necessarily increasing in popularity.

Number of HN submissions over 3 years: http://i.imgur.com/r9Ayvb1.png

Number of HN comments over 3 years: http://i.imgur.com/4FwglA8.png

It's possible for HN to be increasing in popularity while decreasing in # of submissions. For instance, if more users are coming to the site, the site is growing in popularity. If the X percent of users who normally submit the most frequently are decreasing their submission rates, submissions will go down despite the user growth.

Of course, this scenario assumes that # of submissions follows a power law distribution: a small percentage of posters make the majority of submissions. That pattern emerges on many content sites, especially sites with active forms of communal self-moderation. I have no idea if it's the case here, but it seems feasible.

Whoops, it should be noted that the spam algorithm changed at around the peak, which also explains the decrease. (I made the chart)

This data isn't relevant to the discussion.

IMO, the quality has degraded due to more people viewing the site, not the submissions. If I get my post on the frontpage of HN I can expect roughly 1,000 hits per hour. This wasn't the case 4 years ago when I first starting lurking here.

There are two problems with this:

1. More people (of poor quality) upvoting stories that attract the most attention (link bait, stories that aren't relevant, etc)

2. More people (of poor quality) upvoting comments that are not relevant to the discussion.

No graph will be able to chart this - it's purely subjective.

According to Google Trends Hacker News' interest seems to be be stable: http://www.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US&q=hacker+news&...

But this is just one metric, how about the number of users? It certainly counts toward "popularity", doesn't it?

Does that graph include comments under "submissions", or only stories? I bet the latter. There are only so many conceivably-appropriate-for-HN stories out there, and many of the rest get taken out as spam.

If the number of comments, on the other hand, hadn't gone up since 2012, I'd be shocked.

Submissions only.

Here is a chart of the comments: http://i.imgur.com/4FwglA8.png

Thanks for making that! I'm not shocked. :)

To me a problem with karma systems that are based on a specific relatively well-defined ruleset is that you still end up with a score that doesn't really convey much. For instance, the karma I have is made up of meaningful discussions, which involve telling others about relevant facts, as well as one liner jokes and a few quotes from random dead folks that are smarter than I am.

I always wonder how useful it is to really try to get down to defining what it is you want out of the conversations, and then giving the ability to narrow based on that. Obviously, the narrowing would have to be quick, because it's hard enough to get people to click an up/down arrow once, but if it were to include even two or three more specific categories, or flags, could you put enough information into the system to automate some of the problem folks.

For instance, having a way for users to flag a post as vitriolic, or not containing real information, and then collating the data and either stopping that user from posting, or putting them into a state where their posts are pending.

I also wanted to mention that it seems as though he does address not having illusions in the last sentence: "I hope this will improve the quality of HN comments significantly, but we'll need your help to make it work, and your forbearance if, as usually happens, some things go wrong initially."

I think all of that spitballing is predicated on having a well-defined course you'd like conversations to follow with well-defined rules that don't block the flow of useful discourse, or stifles the community.

This isn't a topic I've done any research on. Just throwing some thoughts out there. I appreciate the parent post, though, because it raised a lot of notions I hadn't thought of immediately when I read the pending idea. I think I tend to lean toward giving people with higher karma the ability to flag people into a status that makes there posts go into pending, according to a set of defined criteria (like were posted) rather than starting folks in that state. I think it would be less impactful to the rate of conversation, but obviously then you have people who make accounts to get around it, which would be solved by the solution to be implemented.

Also everything I'm suggesting is complicated and possibly overkill/overengineered. I wonder if there's an elegant way to get more useful classification information into the voting system to give it more focussed goals.

Well. Enough rambling on my part.

It's been a decade since I've posted there with any regularity, but this more or less lays out why I feel like I still haven't seen a more elegant solution to moderating comments than Slashdot's metamoderation system.

Comments not only receive a +/- minus score, but they receive a reason for that score. Additionally, meta-moderators are selected randomly from eligible moderators who go behind and moderate whether the scores given to a particular comment were justified. Get metamoderated down often enough and you lose your ability to moderate.

It baffles me that every site on the web keeps using simple up/down systems and then complains about how hard it is to generate quality discussion when this is hardly a new problem set.

Do you feel like slashdot has high quality discussions? I don't. The problem isn't new, but it also isn't solved.

I haven't visited Slashdot on a regular basis in the better part of ten years, but it tended to 15 years ago. Back then, it was the kind of place where you'd find people like John Carmack randomly chiming in on a thread.^1

And that's also entirely beside the point.

Does HN have the same level of comment quality as reddit? They both use simple up/down systems.

The point is that Slashdot's metamoderation system better leverages the community as a means of directing discussion. The initial upvote has a reason attached to it, and the meta level moderation allows the community to filter out people that are moderating inappropriately. What constitutes appropriate is going to depend on the standards in place for that community.

I wouldn't expect to see an option to moderate a comment +1, Funny on HN, for example. The system itself, however, is designed specifically to bring quality content to the top.

But I think you're making the mistake of conflating the design of a system that is meant to address one problem with the state of a site that declined for other reasons years ago.

[1] - http://floodyberry.com/carmack/slashdot.html#s19991123x08382...

Perhaps I misinterpreted you. When you said

> It baffles me that every site on the web keeps using simple up/down systems and then complains about how hard it is to generate quality discussion when this is hardly a new problem set.

It sounded like you were saying "if those sites just used a better moderation system, it would be easy to generate quality discussion". But the moderation system you propose does not generate quality discussion on slashdot.

If that's not what you're saying, then I'm not sure what particular benefit you think slashdot's sytem does have. What does it mean for a system to be good at directing discussion, but not at generating high-quality discussion? Why is it useful to be able to revoke mod privileges, if that doesn't generate high-quality discussion?

Or are you saying something like, it would be easy to generate quality discussion with slashdot's system given certain other factors (where simple +/- does not make this easy), but slashdot lacks those factors?

You bring up another interesting point for me. How do you even know when the problem is or isn't solved? There are two common themes I see in forums like this (and of course, many others of varying nuance). One group has been around for a long time and says it's just not like the old days, and a second group says that it is, and that the former are looking at the past through rose tinted glasses.

I can't objectively say that slashdot was better or worse here. Firstly, because I didn't go to slashdot nearly as often as I do here, and secondly, because I haven't done anything to thoroughly define and measure what I would consider a quality community.

If my problem is that the community is bad, I think I need a way to show to myself that it really is. I need a set of guidelines which I want my community to interact according to, or standards for the goodness I'm trying to push, and a way to see how much goodness there is, then a plan to drive that goodness.

And I'm not even saying that you need to be rigorous about it. Maybe that would help, but I think you can get some ideas with some general notions like tiny surveys, or something like that. I guess you could start getting more interesting and use sentiment analysis after auto-classifying posts, looking for meta content talking about the board.

As another aside, I think more specialized, smaller fragmented communities tend to be better for me, which is why I also enjoy subreddits like r/types and such, but again, I think that by no objective standard

+1 Interesting.

There's probably a parallel to make between moderation systems and Russel's paradox[1].

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_paradox

>you still end up with a score that doesn't really convey much

Exactly. Mostly I try to make constructive comments, but the most upvotes I have received were on comments which were hateful to one of the tech companies - they might still not be the best comments in pg's dictionary.

I disagree that it needs to be done gradually.

They can roll it out tonight and immediately roll it back if it is stifling conversation in a way that causes more harm than it resolves. They can also iterate on it if any part of it works in a way that isn't optimal.

Essentially, if you trust HN/YC to not leave something horribly broken, there is nothing to worry about. The code is not set in stone, and you can bet they'll be watching closely for anything not working well about the new system.

I agree in principle but not in practice.

Social systems can be broken in a way that won't manifest until a certain type of discussion comes up. So while I trust HN/YC to do their best to protect and promote discourse, I don't know that the types of conversation that come up during the evaluation period will be representative of all future conversation on HN

That's true. The same argument can be made for any system that is put in place, though. Even the current one likely has types of discussions that "break it" in some way. There's even evidence of such breakage if you include arguments/bickering as something that the system should prevent.

We can summarize this change as moving from a system where (at least some of) the system's weaknesses are known, to a system where the people running HN believe it should be a better system, but it still probably has points where it breaks in some way. Doing changes like this and reacting to breakage is the only way that progress can be made.

Like you said, this change may lead to the case that "high quality comments on any threads that aren't on the front-page" will not be shown. The lack of those comments and subsequently the lack of a vibrant discussion might discourage other users from participating, leading to the article never making it to the front page.

I foresee this causing an even worse problem than low quality comments: The front page will be flooded with stories that make it their not because of the quality of the accompanied discussion, but because of the "clickability" of the article title.

However, it seems like there is a relatively simple solution. The number of "endorsements" required to activate a comment could be inversely proportional to the articles points. Or as some other users have suggest, it could be inversely proportional to the quantity of other comments on the same article.

I agree.

At a minimum, I'd suggest lowering the karma threshold to 100 and/or only gray out comments that are 'pending'.

I'd also like to point out that plenty of us with plenty of karma also have some degree of RSI (repetitive strain injury, sometimes loosely called carpal tunnel syndrome (that's just one of many forms of RSI)), in part acquired by what allowed us to get so much karma.

No way can I afford to spend a lot of mousing and clicking on a zillion "pending" comments to make them visible to the hoi polli. Heck, ignoring the greater good, why would I personally care, I've probably got enough karma to see everything.

Good to see someone point out a flaw on basing the success of the site on the dependability of the 1k+ group. They need not all be benevolent dictators (or even interested) in spirit.

I share your concerns. I think that this system would be best applied in combination with some sort of flamewar detection. In other words, only enable it in threads that have high comment:upvote ratios, or in threads where there is high velocity back-and-forth or downvoting.

Someone who has a pending comment will have to wait till it goes live to post another. We're hoping that good comments will get endorsed so quickly that there won't be a noticeable delay.

Is there some timeout? If not, commenting on a several-day-old thread will guarantee that you can never post another comment, since once threads drop off the front page it's not likely that many 1000+ karma users will even see those comments, never mind endorse them.

Hmm, trust cperciva to find the thing I'd overlooked.

I'll add a pending page that collects pending comments. Maybe that will solve the problem.

That might work... but only if people actually read that page. Given how few people look at /newest (as estimated by the fraction of votes which are cast before submissions hit the frontpage) I'm not optimistic.

How about only placing comments into the "pending" purgatory if the submission they're attached to has received more than X comments in the past Y minutes? I assume it's the chatty discussions which you're concerned about cooling down, so this would handle the problem case while avoiding the side effect on quiet/abandoned threads.

I think I like this idea quite a bit. I don't know how many users there are with >1000 karma, but will they be motivated to keep endorsing everyone else's pending posts? Sometimes good discussions do happen on quieter threads, or way down the list that the 1000+ users might not see.

Well, I guess it really comes down to just how much (proper) endorsing ends up happening. One thing I like about HN is that it's open and fast to use. Having a pending mode on everyone's comments affects not only the troll-users, but many of the normal ones too who aren't abusing the system ><.

If endorsing comments too hastily risks the loss of that privilege, but endorsing comments correctly has only a social benefit...

I'll try to do my part, but I worry about the tragedy of the commons here. The current incentives may actively discourage endorsements.

I was thinking the same thing. There's currently no known harm for upvoting, so we do it to promote good discussion, despite the fact that there's typically no personal benefit. But if endorsing posts not only provides no personal benefit but also bears the risk of possible harm, people might be too cautious with endorsements for this system to work.

One concern is that there's no direct feedback to the endorser, so he or she would have no sense of the relative importance of their endorsement to keeping the discussions rolling along. With visions of the Stack Overflow police, how high a bar should a comment have to pass? Although maybe that's a positive -- after all, we no longer directly see comment scores, only the derivative effect of thread reordering.

So, have a new meta-karma that is equal to the mods given to the posts you endorsed? (An alternative would be giving karma directly, or some fraction of karma).

[ed: spelling]

Perhaps that could work, although it goes a bit down the road toward heavier and more explicit mechanics, as at Slashdot and Stack Overflow. In another comment somewhere in this thread, pg mentions that he'd like to keep it as simple as possible. Unspoken is the "...but no simpler" part.

It's fun to consider that a dynamic system could provide someone on the back end (or a smart algorithm) with a variable nozzle controlling comment flow.

But endorsing not at all guarantees loss of that privilege, in that you're never actually exercising it. If the penalty doesn't extend further, I'm not sure the cost will discourage terribly much.

>I don't know how many users there are with >1000 karma

There are about 5500 such users. There have been around 245,000 users to ever post on Hacker News and around 85,000 users have posted over the last year.

Source: I'm working on a fork of the Hacker News Karma tracker (not ready to be live yet) that uses Algolia's new HN Search API; I also downloaded every comment ever made similar to how minimaxir downloaded all of the submissions.

I wonder how many upvotes we would collectively have to give each day to bring comments out of pending?

Looks like in the last 10 minutes we've had 30 comments on HN - that's about 180 and hour - that's 4,320 comments in a 24-hour period.

Let's say 50% of those are worthy of being seen. If we assume it takes two upvotes per comment to bring it out of pending status then that group of 5500 people need to cast 4,320 upvotes a day collectively to to stay caught up.

Given the fact that A: it's unlikely that all 5500 of these users are still active, and B: it's very unlikely that they would be upvoting the same comments then it seems almost certain that there will be a SIGNIFICANT backlog of pending comments created each day.

Well, hopefully new users can hit the 1000+ mark quick enough to not have it affect them too much.

But, I wonder how the lack of visible scores on comments has affected the overall comment scoring rate. For the average new user today, how long do they have to wait to get to 1000 karma? How long was it a few years ago? These would be interesting questions to answer.

I joined more than 2000 days ago. I don't have 1000 karma. This way I'll maybe never will reach it. Seems a bit of a high threshold to me. But maybe my commentary just isn't good enough.

Karma per post is not well correlated with the actual quality of your contributions. You can get hundreds of karma for posting superficial observations early on a post that become popular. Someone that has observed HN for long enough could probably get 1000 karma in a day from just trying to optimize for karma instead of quality.

If you really do want to reach some karma threshold I would suggest trying to get it from submissions instead. You can easily get hundreds of karma per submission if you submit the newest release of some popular software product or the latest Zed Shaw rant with very little invested. This also has the bonus that you are not actually lowering the quality of your commenting for more karma.

That, and doing some basic research to post additional useful information (facts, numbers, stats, references, background info, etc) on a relatively new thread.

I'm mentioning this because I believe such posts are genuinely useful and surely deserve the points they get.

BTW I don't think I ever got near a hundred points for a comment. But I suppose it can happen in the above circumstance in a popular thread.

Maybe the easier solution would be to have two thresholds - one for un-endorsed posting and one for endorsing. Or having a heuristic that includes ave. comment score as a factor. Or... Or...

Honestly, the more I think about this, the more complicated it seems, which is usually not a good sign.

I'm not sure it is a worthwhile endeavor to hope that new users hit 1000 karma. I think the discourse would be better served by having a wide variety of people saying something worthwhile occasionally rather than trying to say something popular more often to play a karma game.

The best idea I've heard so far is a timeout, such that even if no one endorses your comment is to let you comment again anyway after a day.

I'm still not sure what the benefit of adding endorsements is compared to using a generic upvote as the endorsement.

> How about only placing comments into the "pending" purgatory if the submission they're attached to has received more than X comments in the past Y minutes?

Fluff will pass through.

Another option would be to enable the pending machine on big stories for the time they are on the home page, then auto-validate everything (but mark the unendorsed comments as such).

It would be nice if users with a lower karma could validate the replies to their own comments, once they have been validated.

I like this idea; perhaps it could be a continuous function. There's already some sort of velocity-like calculation, with a time coefficient, so stories have to kick increasingly hard to keep their heads above water. It seems logical to attach the posting threshold -- a new cooling saucer dimension -- to that same calculation.

Let's see how much of a problem there is first. I wanted to start with the simplest possible thing. If it breaks in some cases I'll add stuff to fix those.

An additional suggestion- don't show username on pending comments. Let the comments get approved solely on their own merit.

That should cut out a lot of concern about a ol' boys club, and honestly should do a lot to improve comment quality as well.

This is a very important consideration.

The are discussions where user name matters, for instance when refering to the nth parent in the same thread, or when trying to bring more context to a point made previously or even retracting a comment (knowing it's the same user posting is important).

We could get away with temporary user names, changing on a per thread basis for instance, but that might be heavy to implement.

>for instance when refering to the nth parent in the same thread

waterlesscloud's suggestion is to hide them only while the comment is pending. Once the comment is approved, then the username can be displayed as normal, allowing references.

Apply the on first participation to the thread then ?

Or just copy 4chan's system directly, since that's what you're iterating towards, and they've already solved this problem.

My immediate thoughts were very similar to cperciva's. In the status quo, there's already a disincentive (for those who care about average karma) to comment on any posts that require scrolling down, especially if posts above them are heavily nested or if they themselves are. I can think of a particular discussion I had with a well-known HN user who has professional/financial incentive to care about his karma statistics, and as our two person back-and-forth got slightly too nested but very much unresolved, he merely liked my final comment and never replied.

If pending comments are applied to anything except the top-level, I could see this having disastrous effects on the quality of response in discussions since responses in low-traffic branches will likely not even show up.

With the availability of browser plugins and user scripts, I anticipate an "off-HN" application popping. Interested people can shadow the "canonical" HN discussion and continue a discussion that has legs, possibly grafting it onto HN itself.

Of course, it may be simpler to bot up a subreddit and do the same thing via convention. That may be the best result, redirecting the reddit-like dross back to reddit, where it belongs. Throwaway accounts will be mechanically discouraged along with the me-too, ya rite, and other useless posts.

Hopefully this will prove overly pessimistic. The way I see it, either we'll be proven wrong or pg will revert to the system we know and love until he comes up with a better method for improving the quality of comments.

I actually found it optimistic, in the "destroy a village to save it"[1] sense. HN, as it currently stands, will cease to exist. I suspect the volume of submissions pointing directly to old wikipedia articles will dry up. I consider this a good thing.

I suspect the volume of submissions that are reposts piling onto something already on the front page (Erlang, Erlang, Erlang, Erlang, Haskell, Haskell, Haskell, Go, Go, Go, Snowden, Snowden, NSA, Erlang, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp-flavored Erlang, NSA, Erlang, Erlang, Bacon and Spam, Javascript, Framework, Framework, NSA, Erlang, Haskell, Haskell, Erlang, Lisp, 2048, will dry up. I consider this a good thing.

I suspect I will spend less time on the site, either because conversations will become static expressions of views or because I won't have to filter through as much content, even though much of which marginalia I find quite engrossing. I consider this a good thing.

What comes next is open to conjecture. It could be a more mature salon full of reasoned discussions or it could become a ghost town with lots of great, old, discussions.

[1] I know, apocryphal at best.

That seems rash. The 'simplest thing' is a first-order approximation of a good thing. It could quash conversations, lock out users for days perhaps. And how can someone even talk about problems, if they're locked out? Catch-22.

At least measure the results, including people who give up and go away. It doesn't take much frustration to discourage even an active user with cogent remarks. I can see the quality taking a dive when regulars are driven away.

Looking at it statistically - there's always going to be a chance that a given comment will remain pending indefinitely. Over a long enough timeline, a greater and greater percentage of contributors will be unable to post.

So, will this be only for top-level comments, or will each and every reply in a thread require this sort of endorsement?

Toxic replies in threads are even worse than toxic top-level comments. A toxic top-level comment probably will drop to the bottom of the page, and, more importantly, the toxic reply is personalized.

I totally agree here. The replies are the real issue.

Just from personal experience, if I have something to share on the topic, but the discussion already has a couple hundred comments, I look to contribute as a reply to an already highly rated comment. I'm much more likely to get actually engagement that way.

The issue isn't comment quality. It's UI. New comments, even on busy articles, should be discoverable. It should be possible to have discussions past the front-page-life of an article. It should be easy for the reader to decide whether to explore a given thread of conversation in depth or skip it altogether.

This was all the code it took:

  (newsop pending () (pending-page user))

  (newscache pending-page user 60
    (listpage user (msec) comments* [if (and (cansee user _) _!pending) _]
              "pending" "Pending Comments" "pending" nil))
In this project I've really benefited from having kept the code tight.

Forgive me for asking what's probably a simple question: what's HN coded in? That's pretty clearly a flavor of Lisp... what's the square bracket predicate syntax?

It's written in Arc.

Regarding the square bracket syntax:

    [... _ ...]  is an abbreviation for (fn (_) (... _ ...))


IIRC, it's written in Arc




The second comment refers to a small portion of the first comment's reference.

Another option would be to allow the withdrawal of pending comments by the submitting user. Reply -> you already have a pending comment (with a link to the explanation of the system). Would you like to withdraw your comment X in thread Y and post this comment? -> Y/N.

A good idea but race conditions could still cause both comments to be posted. Maybe if we decide the user can't do that reliably, we cod just let that case slide.

Surely allowing two comments to be pending (and posted) rather than one, isn't a big deal? I do wonder if this can scale, though. I usually open up the top 10-15 interesting (to me) stories, along with a list of my old threads, whenever I take the time to check hn. I then reply to old threads (if that seems to make sense), and post the occasional comment across the stories that I find interesting.

Do we really believe positive moderation will be in the range of a few seconds to a minute?

I know there's been really great experiences[1] with negative moderation/flagging -- but then all users could flag, not just a subset -- and flagging something that's clearly wrong (as in goatsex wrong) is much less effort and much higher incentive than approving a somewhat contributing comment to a story.

Which brings us to what the goal of a comment policy should be. Should we really work towards discouraging people to post things like github-links to stories missing them, because sometimes they'll be beat to the punch by someone else, and now have to wait before contributing to the discussion on a different post?

Perhaps allowing "one pending post per story" might work better?

[1] I'm not sure which talk this was from, but I think it was "building web reputation systems" with an example from Yahoo that touched on flagging (users flagged in sub-second time, much better than automated spam detection). Not sure if this is the same thing(s), but they seem relevant to this discussion:

Randy Farmer (I think this is what I remember) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn7e0J9m6rE

Bryce Glass (similar topic/similar takeaways) http://www.slideshare.net/soldierant/designing-your-reputati...

The fact that that consequence was literally what I immediately thought of when I read this makes me believe that you have not thought this issue through deeply enough. You say

>the thing I'd overlooked

but this is a drastic overhaul you are proposing, and I believe you have overlooked many other things too.

Let me give you some examples of other consequences: The amount of activity on HN varies with time of day. This is a problem, because on low activity hours, there will be fewer approvers (presumably, every approver has a particular taste, so the more people around, the higher the likelihood someone with compatible taste will find and approve your comment) around. This will mean that the few people that are there during the off-hours will have reduced posting speed. Since the site is more American than European, this will favor american posts over european. Furthermore it will be risky to respond to people down low on the page. Longer post delay! This will (further) encourage threadjacking people up high on the page. One potential consequence is that you will have to be attention grabbing. Probability of approval=eyeballs*individual probability.

What about reserving the pending system for stories on the front page where you typically get the bulk of low-quality comments? A user commenting on a 2-day-old front-paged thread is either contributing meaningfully or feeding a flamewar, so by automatically endorsing all comments on stories that have fallen off the front page, you allow the former to continue a meaningful discussion unhindered and you give the latter no incentive to continue a meaningless argument (no one is seeing it).

Also, from what I've noticed, the Ask HN posts tend to receive comments of higher quality since the questions/submissions there aren't as sensationalist or polarizing, yet that particular section of the site receives only a fraction of the attention that the front page gets, so implementing the pending system there might unnecessarily stifle discourse.

I had a bad feeling just reading the initial post, before thinking about any specific drawbacks. But this? If you failed to notice that your system would result in many users being arbitrarily and permanently banned, what else have you missed that no one else has pointed out yet?

Personally, I wouldn't read a "pending comments" page, because I come to HN to read and discuss stories that interest me, not to browse piles of random, context-free comments. I suspect that most users will feel the same, so it won't help much.

This entire thing is a bad idea, and the current state of Hacker News comments is nowhere near bad enough to warrant such drastic measures.

I think it'd be smart to only have this pending workflow during the period where the signal to noise ratio can be affected the most: the first N hours after a post first hits the front page.

After that, either nobody is posting anymore or the relative impact of a snide comment is quite low (in terms of viewership and also relative to body of the thread.) Usually after a day or two people are just ping-ponging in their own private threads and there isn't much need for the endorsement bottleneck.

The place where this seems crucial is in determining which comments end up being the upvoted root comments for the main thread. These comments are upvoted early on and ultimately end up forming the shape of discussion from that point forward, so it's a good idea to ensure they aren't flamebait.

Also worth mentioning that 'patio11 posts late at night (our time; he's in Japan) in little bursts. But he's not high-volume, so maybe that doesn't matter.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

I wonder how this change will play out with respect to the 24 hour nature of the site. It really has a different flavor depending on when/where you are in the world. In general I tend to think of HN as having four flavors: East-Asian, European, East coast (NYC) and West coast (SF).

I tend to be awake at odd hours, and over a 24 period, it's quite interesting to watch.

Considering Patrick's tendency for amassing huge amounts of karma (not a dis), even on older threads, I'd be surprised if that poses any issue whatsoever.

I'm just wondering if there's maybe an atypical gap between the time Patrick tends to post comments and the time those comments tend to soak up their comment, so that the endorsement delay could be an issue.

There will probably be a nonzero negative impact. Patrick and a couple of other users recently tag-team-assisted someone with a website problem in the middle of the night, and this new feature probably would have about killed that.

I still think it's a net win though.

A few of us with very broken sleep patterns can put a little more effort into checking comment threads.

I agree that this is going to be a net win.

There are enough people to assist in fixing a website, so there should be enough users to [endorse] posts?

Doesn't negative imply nonzero? :)

I'm not particularly optimistic, but I'm all for experimentation.

How about purging pending comments after a certain time (say 24 hours)? If they haven't been endorsed by that time, they will most likely never be endorsed. And even if they would be, nobody would read them anymore.

That is exactly what happens.

A shame.

Whilst I am always intrigued with what hits the front-page, I rather more often than occasionally, find myself getting to page 10 or so on the weekends.

Just to see what has been going on that I missed.

Your change will basically mean that someone like me who might have something to add to an existing conversation might as well not bother.

It'll be years before I have enough karma on ycombinator's hackernews >1000, and that means I might as well seek another avenue. I guess I am back to post link on social media and comment on it.

Oh well, back to the 00's I guess.

> Your change will basically mean that someone like me who might have something to add to an existing conversation might as well not bother.

That is already the case. Very few people read or participate in threads more than 24 hours old. You're already walking into an empty room and having a conversation with yourself; all this change does is lock the door.

Is that really the case? I find quite a few users seem to check replies to their comments -- so eg: answering a question usually isn't a waste of time. It would be if the person asking a question doesn't have 1k karma (see other comments for riff on this topic). Just struck me that this is rather bad -- while hn isn't (probably nor should be) a "stack exchange" type site, there's always someone asking on a story "what is this X that everyone here seem to know". Where X is anything for traditional MVC to data normalization etc[1]. I'm sure we all have some gaping holes in our knowledge of computer science and history -- having such questions answered seems to me to be a good way to maintain a sense of community.

[1] For example, not realizing that RC4 is now hopelessly broken, and asking for a couple of recent references.

If that were the case then wouldn't a more appropriate solution be to lock commenting altogether after a particular time since thread creation (or an expiry after falling off of the front page?).

> Very few people read or participate in threads more than 24 hours old.

I don't reread the thread, but I will pay attention to someone replying to my comments even after several days.

as bsder said above me, "I don't reread the thread, but I will pay attention to someone replying to my comments even after several days."

Also, (not unlike this comment) I'll find myself late to the party and add comments to posts because I believe my thoughts might be relevant.

I actually treat HN comments to be a ledger of sorts. Like other industry forums around the net, it is a collection of some very strong minds on tech-related subjects, and a decent resource to check for opinion or tangential information on all sorts of topics. If there is a discussion on something that I have unique insight to, I will post on long dead threads just to know it was posted.

I'm probably an outlier, and this use case is probably not all that prevalent, but pending comments being purged without endorsements would make this forum unarguably more temporal, for better or worse.

No you're not an outlier. This will change the face of HN, and I'm not really sure what for.

(well I have an inkling and it's spelled pretty clearly in the OP but I fear it may be considered "gratuitous nastiness", to speak my heart)

I wasn't aware that there was a page 10.

In my experience, page 2 is inaccessible after carefully scanning page 1 for a minute or two, and maybe clicking on or two links and reading the articles. Some generated link to page 2 expires during the time I'm scanning page 1.

Five years, I thought that was by intent and not some bug. Equally frustrating, but damn.

TLDR: Yes, Virginia, there is a Page 10 of HN. You'll just have to take someone else's word on that.

This is my core concern also. pg says that hopefully traffic will be high enough that you won't even see a delay - that's logic that only holds true for the front page. Further down, comments won't come through for large amounts of time. That's going to ruin discussion and also create pileups where 10 people see that some link should obviously be posted and do so before anyone gets approved.

Will the comment actually disappear completely, or will it just go into a state where nobody else can see it? It seems like it is 1) useful to be able to see your comments that never got endorsed (to let people build a mental model of what makes the cut and what doesn't), and 2) less confusing than just having stuff mysteriously disappear.

People who can see pending comments (= those who can endorse them) will always be able to see them. They just won't be endorsable after a day.

Hmm... Now I find myself hoping that I never hit 1000 karma so I won't have to wade through all the never-endorsed comments. Could this feature deter high karma users from logging into the site?

If the quality of "showdead" comments is any indication I don't think you have anything to worry about.

(they are perfectly fine most of the time, their light-greyness is in fact more of an annoyance than the actually quite rare racist slur)

Another problem that you may not have thought of:

Several sub-kilo-karma users may realize the same useful and valuable thing to comment (say, a reference link or clarification). They all post this before the first one gets endorsed.

All the others get penalized with a 24 hour no-posting timeout, for contributing a thoughtful/useful post.

(maybe a few of them will eventually get endorsed, so they may suffer a somewhat shorter penalty, at the cost of everybody else seeing duplicate content)

Oh, that's just a great solution.

You have any idea how much time I spend sometimes on a comment?

(it can sometimes be quite a bit longer than the average person would on a similar comment, for reasons I don't really want to go into)

The first time one of those gets flushed down the toilet for no other reason than that nobody with >1k karma happened to notice it within 24 hours, I will know not to bother contributing any more.

Sometimes when I make a contribution to an older or less popular thread, I take the trouble anyway because I know there will at least be a few people that see it. Random passers-by, maybe in a few years arriving from some Google search. There's gems there. But I don't like to gamble on whether my post will even be kept around or not.

Downvote, bury, sure. But to delete without ever even being seen?? Well I guess it ties in with the joyful hellbanning theme here, or something.

Ok, so those of us with 1k+ karma will have the option of creating an new account for posting, leaving the old one to just be used for endorsing our pending comments...

Now, since we're great guys and girls (having reached 1k karma) we wouldn't do that of course.

I still think slashdot has the least bad large-scale, distributed moderating system I'm aware of -- I think maybe being able to thread and filter on votes/mods is a better approach. Still, it'll be interesting to see how this thing plays out.

I guess that would be caught by the vote ring detector or similar.

If the pending comments feature is an answer to a problem, it was so poorly thought out and brash that it wouldn't be approved under its own system.

Another idea would be: tie the number of outstanding comments allowed to the user's karma.

For those of us in non-US timezones, it would be nice to be able to post a few comments before having to wait while the site isn't getting much traffic. I would say something like 500 karma = 1 extra comment you can make before getting the previous ones endorsed.

Related to this: are there any hourly visit stats available? I currently work nights in the GMT+1 timezone, so I'll probably end up all over this scale (depending if I'm posting from work, or during the day when off...).

This could be some additional meta-info to add to the 'post stories on Mondays'-"rule"...

No, that does not solve the problem. It still means that if a user ever posts a single comment that doesn't deserve or doesn't get endorsement for some reason, then they can never comment again.

I don't think this idea has been thought through enough to deploy.

Furthermore, how about auto-accepting pending comments after 1 day? And maybe, not having the pending state for threads which are more than 1 day old?

The above will allow people to submit comments even when the thread has lost its popularity.

I think this goes against the ideas the curators of HN have for HN. For the simple goal of furthering (meaningful) conversation, I think dropping comments would be better.

On the other hand, I think it'll drop the number of really good comments -- those where commenters go out and lookup a few (possibly obscure, but very interesting) references. Doing that kind of work, just to have the text be deleted with hardly anyone seeing it doesn't seem worth it.

Which brings us back to the question of "What should HN be, for whom -- and how do we achieve that?".

I'll admit I'm slightly alarmed that "you can't ever post another comment until other people do X" didn't set off some klaxons for you.

For another thing you might or might not have overlooked: doesn't a person endorse a comment for the same reasons she would upvote it? If so, upvoting would endorse it, and you don't need a dedicated 'endorse' button. The pending comment can stand out with a [pending] tag or a different shade. That would make endorsing weave itself more naturally into users' current habits. On the plus side, if a 1k+ karma user is into the habit of upvoting fluff comments it will soon bite them when they do that mindlessly to a pending comment. Pavlov is a good teacher.

It would also be good for a person commenting (especially at toplevel) to be able to see replies, endorsed or not. There are plenty of useful comments that might not really merit endorsement or visibility by all but are a widely used - various small technical corrections, requests to get in contact, etc.

What about when a permanently-pending comment is deleted? Does that satisfy the conditional? Relatedly, can there be a case to ensure that pending comments can always be deleted?

A site I used to work for had a pre-moderation system for pictures posted on the site that worked like this, to the best of my memory: There was a moderation queue and various volunteers (here it could be the >1000 karma people, I guess) went through it and gave their vote. A picture had to reach all positive 3 to go live or positive six to go live if there were any negative votes. Moderators were awarded points based on how many of their votes matched the consensus. This encouraged them to keep doing it, even though it's kind of boring. Here that could be karma bonuses.

If you really want to make sure that every post gets voted on you may need to do something like that to incentivize endorsements.

> Moderators were awarded points based on how many of their votes matched the consensus.

That's cool because I can imagine for a picture site you want all pictures to gravitate around the consensus, a strong self-selecting group-think can be very desirable.

But for HN ... well at least the people who end up sticking around will surely love it ...

To be clear, this was content moderation and not some kind of hot or not thing. They were basically there to prevent porn or pictures of dismembered penises from going up.

There were a handful of people who had multiple points per vote who could swing it drastically away from the 'consensus' if it was wrong, and doing so also penalized the people who voted for it.

How about making the pending comments scoped to a thread? That way, no one can get locked out of commenting completely, but they can't make a bunch of bad comments on a certain thread if they violated the rules once.

So if I write a comment that people don't want to endorse – let's suppose it's actually bad – then it's pending forever and I can never post again?

PG mentioned somewhere else that there's a 24 hour timer, after which point the pending comment is deleted -- and one can post again. It does sound to me as a rather steep penalty for wandering off the beaten path. One would be free to self-censor of course, which I suppose is the intention.

We'll see how it goes, but it does sound like it'll likely work against HN being somewhat heterogeneous, and (even more) towards group-think.

ok that's a bit less bad but i still think i'll pretty much quit :/

> Hmm, trust cperciva to find the thing I'd overlooked.

I don't understand. The whole point of not being able to post until your previous post is endorsed--which is strictly separate and independent feature from invisible-until-endorsed--would be that people stop and reconsider "hm is this really the best I can do" because if it isn't they'll be muted ... indefinitely?

Or can you delete your own pending comment if it seems that no one is going to endorse it for you?

If not, that's going to become a huge chilling effect on unique thoughts and ideas that may either be controversial, or simply unpopular. Quite a stifling gamble. And even if you do get to remove that post from pending-limbo so you're at least not muted indefinitely, that still means the unique idea hasn't been shared, and in fact has been self-censored.

And will controversial ideas be endorsed? Because you said that endorsing the "wrong" kinds of comments will get your endorsing-rights revoked. I'm assuming, like all moderator-actions on HN, the user will get absolutely no notice or feedback about this.

Endorsing slightly controversial comments will be like feeling your way in the dark, err on the side of caution, better to just endorse comments that align with the perceived HN-groupthink (which may very soon become much realer, with this new system).

This is not a question of "but we have to be better than that", because these processes run on the aggregate of a very large group of people. Very large groups of people are vanishingly unlikely to "be better than that", no matter how clever, smart, talented or well-intentioned their individuals are.

So that will happen.

And that's just the collateral effects regarding content of posts (I say collateral because they are at best orthogonal to the quality of discussion on HN).

Like cperciva points out, if people are going to hesitate posting if they are unsure they'll be stuck in pending-limbo for how long or indefinitely, they are going to adjust their behaviour with regards to all factors that may influence how long it takes before a post gets sufficiently endorsed.

Which includes very irrelevant ones, like whether it's a quiet or new thread. Or, you know, making contact, silly stuff like "drop me a mail at <username>@gmail" between two sub-kilokarma users in a not-very-busy thread, risk locking their commenting privileges for quite a while.

Sorry if I dare to say so, but overlooking all these things, it seems like you just considered only the positive consequences of this big change, and none of the possible negative ones?

Then there's the final big negative one, which I think lacks a bit of self-reflection in order to overlook: HN already is quite the echo-chamber. These new rules are going to make that much worse. If, after a month or two of these new endorsing+feeling-in-the-dark+best-safest-to-conform rules do not make me feel like the quality of discussion turned into an ingrown toenail of monkey-discussion[0], then the most probable conclusion is: HN has turned into this echo-chamber (which seems quite inevitable), except it just so happens to be the kind of echoes I agree with. Which is probably worse than an echo-chamber you disagree with.

Hey, good luck. This community building is hard stuff.

Also watch out for the lure of power and control, it's also "hard stuff", of a different kind.

[0] your new rules are already making me doubt whether this is "gratuitous nastiness" or just a funny visual way of expressing a critique. this saddens me. it also makes me feel a couple of other things which I now don't even dare to express any more. that's bad.

If a thread is several days old, not many people will even look at it, so why not just auto-accept those comments?

Give it a whirl. I will certainly read it and can commit to do so daily until the end of April, by which time we'll know if it is working or not. I spend about 50% of my time on the New page already because lots of good stuff passes through there without ever hitting the front page.

If the intent is to keep things racing to the right, simply allow root level comments by everyone and then impose the new pending status to comments on comments. This fixes cperciva's issue and makes it easy to code without having to do timeouts or summary pages.

And thank you for working on this!

There are so many things you've overlooked... This will be an interesting experiment, however I don't think it's a good approach and this decision will likely be reversed.

What would help HN is a system for qualitative feedback to posters who make poor posts. Currently, users notice they are slow or hell banned, have no idea why, and register another account. Why not provide warnings with one or a few preweitten reasons? How about holding banners accountable for their bans, as some seem to ban contrarian viewpoints?

Anyway, good luck with this system. I'm unlikely to spend time writing a comment that may not be seen. I already care less about what I'm writing here, because I discount the chance that it may never go live.

Is the lock on new comments not per-thread?

I'm not sure how well that would work, with the number of comments coming in per second it would be easy for some useful comments to get lost into oblivion.

How about allowing unapproved comments, even older ones, to be deleted by the submitter? That seems a simple and fair solution. Users can unclog their own queues if need be.

But then, what if you make one comment that doesn't make the cut? Again, you never have a chance to comment again.

For threads that have fallen off the frontpage, drop the required number of endorsements to 1 and let the parent commenter have the option to endorse the child comment regardless of the parent poster's karma. That will let back-and-forth continue in old threads.

Please, please do make this. I have exchanged very useful information with other commenters on HN this way.

Sometimes I ask a question in the comments, and it gets answered days later. I go through "comments" in my profile periodically to see if someone replied to those. In this process I also see if someone asked my something and reply there as well.

IMHO, HN should have a "private message" feature if comments get policed this hard.

I endorse this post strongly. I too have occasionally had some informative back-and-forth's in buried threads. With this update, this would only work if both users have >1000 karma.

Additionally, people may be more willing to have these conversations if the comments made in old threads didn't impact their average karma. Long ago I decided I didn't care about average karma and just try to add something to a larger discussion or attempt to have a conversation in an old thread, but in the beginning I was concerned.

The back and forth comments deep in threads no one reads are some of the most interesting I have had.

That'd be nice, it explains why my avg karma is still less than 2 while I also get quite a few upvotes.

On the other hand, if I'm having a useful discussion with someone in an old thread, I often give them an upvote for their troubles as well. It's not like it affects the sorting or anything.

> Sometimes I ask a question in the comments, and it gets answered days later. I go through "comments" in my profile periodically to see if someone replied to those. In this process I also see if someone asked my something and reply there as well.

I use http://hnnotify.com/ , and it works incredibly well for this case.

I am a big fan of HNNotify. I have had a link to hn notify in my profile for a while now. There is one glaring problem with the service: in addition to notifying you to comment replies it sends an email for every top level comment on stories you submit. I sent the owner an email a while ago pointing out the issue and it sounded like the system was set up in such a way the the developer could not differentiate between comment/submission replies.

This would be a really nice feature if it was integrated into the current system. You wouldn't even need to use email, there could just be some kind of notification in the threads screen. Maybe an "inbox" section that shows the most recently replied to comment.

It does: put an email address in your profile.

I don't entirely disagree with you guys, but I wonder why these discussions aren't being taken to email (or whatever you kids are using these days) anyhow.

I think what I don't like about the e-mail route is that it removes the conversation from HN

Any time I learn about a new tech or shiny thing, I search for it on HN and read as much of the back and forth as I can. A number of times I've noticed those conversations didn't happen that long ago, even on old threads. Having it there is pretty invaluable to me to get perspective on stuff.

I actually think that coming up with a way of tying those old posts back into the new posts to continue growing those conversations would be nice. (take that as a total aside; I'm really shooting from the hip by even saying that, because any implementation I'd say would be an idea I had uh, well about ten seconds ago, when I suggested it, and it's not really relevant to the point at hand)

HN is not a good place for conversation. (I wrote about this once and it was sorta well-received and then, case in point, everyone forgot about it the next day.)

HN is primarily a news feed. There is some discussion, but it's topical and very short-lived.

I only mention this because the site seems a lot better once you give up on the notion of it being conversational.

Hmmm, yeah. I see your point. If two people really just want to shoot the breeze (I don't mean that flippantly), or get to know each other better, or talk about off topic things, then an e-mail is a much better way to do that.

I'm specifically thinking about topical conversations or discussions, where someone asks a question in a thread, or brings up a point and someone else finds it somehow and answers the question, which can lead to a series of enlightening posts/responses.

I like the HN comments because they have people who disagree, as long as the disagreement is civil, informative, and doesn't seem to have too much ego tied up in it. I like the reality check the comments offer.

I wish it was more conversational. There are lots of experts on here from a variety of disciplines, and a meaningful back and forth can be great on here.

But, it's not a good fit for the current format. Perhaps if when a thread got too deep, it could collapse and require a reader to actively expand it. That would help support the threads that start to push too far to the right.

But, it's probably better dealt with in a full redesign.

Yeah, me too.

There really needs to be an entirely new kind of discussion forum, something that merges the various strengths of phpBB, IRC, newsgroups, and reddit. I have some ideas on that, but sadly not the time to code it. I hope someone beats me to it.

I like conversational places. I guess a lot of this has to do with what type of place the creator wants to create and how they want to try to mold it into that.

My ideal place would clearly define types of behavior that were to be discouraged. For instance, I like to err on the side of suppressing vitriol too much, rather than letting it run too much. I like environments where everyone feels like they can try to contribute, or participate, without wondering if it'll come back at them. I have pretty strong feelings about how far that should go, though, and it's usually further than a lot of folks would, or at least, further than a lot of vocal folks would go.

But I guess that's just it. I think generic karma/votes tend to promote a more general idea of what's popular, or fun, but don't necessarily promote a specific well-defined ideal.

I read HN as much for news links as for the ensuing intelligent discussion and pointers. Should you take them away, to me, the appeal of HN drops significantly.

Perhaps the tendency to move everything to email is one reason so many people around here seem to have such a problem maintaining their inboxes. I don't see any reason to move a Hacker News thread to email.

Fair point but sometimes people don't want their real identity known. Either as a matter of policy or because they are using a throwaway to discuss something sensitive.

Anonymity? The bar for having an engaged, non-private conversation shouldn't be creating a new email account.

Keeping the comment thread together is useful for anyone who happens upon the thread later. Moving the discussion to email just results in rage: https://xkcd.com/979/

Because anyone who stumbles on the thread later can't see the resolution.

Email isn't public discussion.

By the way, you can use HN Notify (http://hnnotify.com/) to get an email when someone responds to your comment. This way you don't have to dig into your comments every time just to find replies.

FWIW, anecdotally, HNNotify doesn't appear to work all that well on topics older than a few days... or maybe it's just me. I've noticed that I definitely miss comments, and the trend there tends to be when the discussion has cooled somewhat. I always get discussion notifications for topics that are still on the home page.

Or it will allow people to silence those with a differing opinion that the OP doesn't agree with...

Also, so much for 1-on-1 comment threads that are deeply buried and are not intended to be prominently displayed to anyone else. I've had lots of interesting conversations like that.

As I understand it, that's kind of the point.

To kill conversations which are deemed useful by all participants and have no negative impact other than the negligible cost of hosting them?

There's something like a "scrolling cost" -- people are only willing to skim so much of a comments thread, without seeing something interesting to them, before closing it.

This is why HN dislikes humorous fluff-posts: they both easily rise to the top, and encourage humorous fluff-replies, which means the first few screenfuls of comments will be guaranteed to induce the kind of "scroll-pain" that makes people close the tab.

Fair enough. I would much prefer fixing the long comment thread problem with 5 lines of JavaScript than implementing this bizarre system.

If you have a solution to this particular problem, whether in 5 or 500 lines of JS, I think it would be novel.

I've yet to see any discussion forum solve the problem of long threads with lots of useless fluff floating to the top.

Collapsing threads do the job pretty well. And you're always going to get comments that aren't relevant to you, because you're not the only person doing the endorsing. If a comment is useless fluff to you, but gets endorsed by someone else, then you still have a scrolling problem. Not so with collapsable commeents.

All I meant is to by default collapse all comments with depth > n.

You don't use Reddit do you?

They use a very simple system, collapsing posts after a certain depth, and hiding more comments after a certain number (10, I believe) at the level below the top comment (sorted by score obviously).

It works extremely well, and thanks to the fast JS collapsing, it's not at all a hassle to read a subthread that happened to get collapsed if it piques your interest.

It's so simple it may easily be overlooked in its obviousness, but really you don't need a very complex system that is strictly a lot better than no collapsing at all.

What's wrong with (old) slashdot (I mean, technically) ?

While I'm usually a kind of hard core html-first, ajax/js/webapps later kind of guy -- I'd love for the comments to be served up in a json-blob, with a couple of user-settable preferences ("Show only comments rated higher than N, hide threads with lower (median/mean) rating than N, show all direct replies to my comments -- and similar).

The solution to this is to allow collapsing uninteresting comment threads. I use this all the time on Reddit.

You have to read a thread enough to know you want to collapse it, which incurs exactly the same "scroll-pain" as actually scrolling. It's not a physical tax from the action required to scroll, but rather a mental stress from making a decision to skip something. Enough of that stress building up at once, and you decide that the comments page itself is probably skippable.

If uninteresting comment threads could start collapsed, that'd be great. But they won't, because humor-fluff and other such things are superstimuli for upvotes, so you can't use anything about the vote tally to determine collapsed-ness. (If there was a secondary voting system--like, say, if enough people collapsing a thread would make it start collapsed for others--this might work. But then you'd have to take into account the people who collapse everything as they read it, to mark their place...)

Is it really that taxing though?

The problem is, your definitions of what is uninteresting, useless and fluff are subjective, and no more relevant than anyone else's, which leads to a conflict of interests within the community about the bounds of what Hacker News content should and shouldn't be.

I think the models which would satisfy the most people are opt-in, in this case, choosing to collapse threads and ignore users rather than expecting the hivemind to do it for you.

Perhaps if users had a custom set of filters which automatically collapsed threads for them based on their own criteria, that would solve part of the problem. But I don't think it's too much to ask of people to actually take the minor effort to form an opinion on what they read, or curate their own account, if they expect content they don't like to be hidden from themselves and potentially from others.

Disagree on your first point, the top comment is often obviously spawning a huge argument that goes nowhere because it touched some hot-button political issue that was a minor part of the story.

Of course this is the most obvious solution, least intrusive that changes the least things and as far as I can see has only positive side-effects.

But for some reason or other pg won't do that.

I know there's some extensions/bookmarklets and I use them, but they can't do the auto-collapsing based on score+amount, the very simple yet elegant algorithm Reddit employs, pretty much the one thing that is absolutely necessary to have a well-usable threaded commenting system.

Instead, pg "just wrote the simplest thing first", or something.

I could be wrong, but I don't think this site is supposed to be for "useful conversations".

I think there's a difference between a constructive conversation and a flame war.

If the worry is that comment threads are too long, HN could implement something like reddit, where you click to read additional comments in a long thread.

If purging (substantial and interesting) one-to-one conversation is an intended effect I think that'd be a shame.

No, that's not intended. If it happens we'll fix it.

This would be great to keep an eye on.


Two commenters X,Y with sub-threshold karma (<1,000) could never have a dialogue (two-way, real-time) as a third party Z would need to endorse their each and every comment.

Two commenters X,Y (Karma 1,000+ each) in substantially different timezones with a-synchronous dialogue (eg, overnight replies) would need a third party z to endorse each and every comment (at least until the other wakes up).

Two commenters X,Y (Karma 1,000+ each) with opposing views, could never have a real-time dialogue without a third party z to endorse each and every comment (unless #)

Hopefully these are at least helpful to dilineate.

# "Thank you sir, can I have another".

Adding a "private message" feature could solve this for all the people who don't want to give a public e-mail in their profile.

I think for what HN aims to be, keeping everything public is a good thing. I seem to find quite a few "one-on-one" threads that get the occasional input from a third,fourth,fifth participant -- and also a few I find interesting even if I'm not participating.

When everyone knows that what's being discussed is public, it tends to keep the tone more conversational and clear -- I think. The "feel free to contact me, email in profile"-response seems to work well enough for those that do want a private (albeit not anonymous) conversation?

There's a huge difference between doing that on the front page and doing that on an article that's already 3 days old.

Related to this, I imagine there are readers such as myself who tend not to engage in conversations so much as offer specialist information on sometimes obscure technical matters. Subjects that even high karma members aren't particularly qualified to have an opinion on.

For example I recently gave a short comment on the PonoPlayer submission that never made it to the front page. For the rare soul that read that submission I indicated the electronics details that indicated how it was distinguished from your usual consumer electronics. That information would be lost from what I see here.

From my own experience, I often won't offer comments unless it seems to me that a contradiction to an existing comment or stream of comments is required, if I feel there is an error. While this system would require best argumentative practice in comments, for clarity and to avoid bias traps and so on, I do hope it doesn't lead to an excess self referentiality.

Even absent the problem with with older threads, there has to be a timeout, otherwise one iffy comment risks putting you into mute forever. That is, IMO, ridiculously punitive especially in light of the warning that you should not endorse if unsure, etc.

And keep in mind that an 'iffy' comment may not even be a bad one. It is pretty common on HN for more than one person to make the same basic point as someone else in a reply to a post (because they both started posting around the same time and didn't see the other replies before making their own) but due to either timing and/or karma boost pulling one person to the top, the rest are basically ignored for upvoting -- I can't imagine that situation would be any different for endorsing. Who wants to endorse a post that says the same thing as another post which is already endorsed (but just happened to be posted 30 seconds later, or by someone with less of a karma boost?).

Perhaps add the ability for a poster to retract his orher pending comments? You could add a mandatory waiting period to prevent abuse.

That's what the delete link does.

This may be a stupid question but exactly where is the delete link? I see deleted comments, but I don't see a delete link or even a downvote button when comments are downvoted. Is there a karma threshold for these?

In the line of gray text beginning with your username at the top of your comment.

I didn't realize there was a duration set on 'delete'. It all makes sense now.

In which case, a "time out" is redundant if the goal is to simply avoid locking users out.

This system seems to skew discussion toward already popular / active topics, though, since there is less risk of being stuck pending there. Perhaps allowing for multiple pending comments per user (with a limit based on karma, or length of time on the site) would make it less "risky" to post comments in unpopular discussions.

The edit and delete links vanish not long after a post is made. I've never bothered to research the exact duration, but I believe it's no more than 24 hours.

Edit: After some observation, it appears to be two hours. I don't want to be pissy about this, but this is what I was worried about in my other comment--you seem to be making this drastic change with no little thought to how it will interact with the systems and behaviors already in place.

The limit on 1 pending comment per user could be changed to 1 pending comment per user per top-level story. Although I don't see why limit them at all.

So, now that pg has killed HN, where do you guys suggest we gather ?

A new subreddit /r/UntouchablesOfHN?

I fear this change will have some unintended consequences:

1. In a Ask/Show HN post, (which is often similar to a reddit AMA), the OP will not be able to reply to clarifications questions until their previous one is 'endorsed'.

2. Multiple (<1000 karma) people will post very similar response to a question, or other objective comment, since they would not be aware of other pending comments on that thread. This would lead to...

2a. Either moderators endorsing multiple such comments, due to race conditions and stale views during moderation, or

2b. Moderators would endorse the first (or "best") of them, and many people with reasonable comments will be in limbo in the rest of HN, for the fault of writing a similar response to another endorsed poster.

3. (NEW) If a user has something meaningful to say to two different posts, he/she is now more likely to choose the one with more activity since he can't post on both anymore, and he/she wouldn't want to wait for the moderators to see the less active post. As a result, the power law distribution on post activity is going to become even more prominent than before.

I would recommend the following changes:

1. Apply this policy on a per-page basis, rather than on a global HN basis.

2. Allow 2 or 3 pending comments per person, rather than 1. Anyone who needs more than that, and is not getting endorsed at all, is probably trolling or spamming, and can be dealt with other means.

3. Auto-accept pending comments after 24hrs for users with >250 karma (or some other lowish number that filters out absolutely green accounts).

4. Add a "showpending" option. Even if people can't upvote/reply to them, it's democratic to be able to see them.

5. (UPDATE, adding tantalor's suggestion) #1 above can be solved by auto-accepting the OP's comments instantaneously. I would even go further and give endorser rights to the OP on a Ask/Show HN post.

What's more, since people with under 1000 karma can't fully participate because unlike high-karma users they can't see if their comment duplicates someone else's and will get stuck in limbo as a result, it's going to be rather difficult for them to reach the 1000 karma threshold - certainly more difficult than it is now.

They'll just keep submitting stories to get to 1,000 karma instead of participating in commenting or be shut out so only old users can talk.

I'm sure there are different types of HN users, but I would never have reached 1k karma by submitting stories. I go to HN to read news, not make news. Now, that might be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

I guess my point is that it will be much harder to reach 1,000 karma by commenting. Since it seems like this is board wide and not story based then you really need to think which of two or more interesting stories you are going to comment on.

> it's going to be rather difficult for them to reach the 1000 karma threshold - certainly more difficult than it is now.

Then again, if their comment does become approved, it will be more visible than under the current system (less noise) and therefore likely to receive more upvotes. Also, their bad comments won't be punished with downvotes.

I don't have any numbers, but lets try to reason about this anyway.

Today, if you post a comment, someone sees it, and thinks is interesting, they'll upvote it. It seems reasonable that a comment on a fresh story (eg: on the home page) is more likely to be seen, and it might be more likely that a comment will be upvoted while it is still "young".

With the new system, you will get no karma until after some 1k karma curator notices your comment. Being approved (as I understand it) grants you no karma in and off itself, while (as someone else mentioned) normally that approval would've been equal to an upvote before. So if that's the case (easy fix: make upvote=approve) new comments on average earn one less point (so I might end up at .61 average, not 1.61 -- possibly fair indication that I talk too much).

At any rate -- anyone below 1k won't be able to upvote the comment until after approval, I don't know what kind of impact that'll have -- but it certainly means new users come to a substantially different playing field than old ones.

OP's comments should be automatically endorsed.

2b is not really an issue. Endorsing only the best of similar comments is a feature.

You can remove your pending comment after some time.

It may also have a second order "unintended" consequence over time- People would stop posting shallowly obvious responses, due to the negative feedback of never having them endorsed.

The problem is that people are being penalized for writing something completely reasonable because someone wrote something slightly better or wrote it first, even if they were unaware of the other comment existing at the time of posting.

As a penalty, they will have to go back and delete their pending comment from whatever thread they were on, if they came back to HN after a break. cperciva's auto-purge or my auto-accept suggestion partly solves this issue.

Perhaps another feature is needed: mark redundant. So when you mark one of several similar comments as good, you can mark a others as redundant -- so that the owner can retract it.

I suppose preferably you'd link it somehow, so that the author of a "redundant" comment would get a "deemed redundant due to: <list of> comment<s>.

Why list: maybe 1kkarma-user #1 found commend x to be best, #2 found y to be best, and both found your comment, z, to not be best.

That sounds like a waste of time for the non-winning comment writer (especially if they could have seen the situation comin from the beginning like now). People put time and effort in their comments; I suspect they don't want to play quality lottery with it.

I'm not convinced the idea (pending comments) is a good one -- partly because I think it may lead to wasting time, as you say (and at least one other commenter touched on, can't seem to find the comment right now) -- and so increasing the "risk" associated with writing especially good comments (I tend to spend a few minutes if I need to look up links references -- who's to say someone didn't start writing a similar comment, a few minutes ahead of me, but haven't published it (or gotten it approved) by the time I hit "reply"?

My idea of having a "mark reduntant" feature, is simply to aid an author in checking if he or she agrees that the (entire) comment is indeed redundant -- and to provide somewhat constructive feedback (no, your comment wasn't bad, you were just too slow, and in the interest of conciseness, it is considered redundant).

It does feel a bit strange keeping to defend the slashdot moderation system -- but it already has a "redundant" moderation -- and fwiw afaik it is the least bad community moderating system for discussions.

As I've alluded to elsewhere, I think there might be a bit of a disconnect between parts of the users (including ycombinator as curator) as to what hn is and/or should be. On the one hand there is some strong leanings towards not being a discussion forum at all, "just" a news-site -- on the other hand I think there's tacit agreement that the only thing that sets hn apart is it's community. I'm not sure how we can expect to have community without free, many-way, constructive communication.

And I'm not sure how pending comments would help strengthen the news part, or the discussion part of what hn is today.

Again, I'd very much like to see a problem statement, before a fix is proposed (or even worse, introduced).

Is not being endorsed a penalty, or is it just neutral?

On one hand, it doesn't subtract from your karma, but on the other it may discourage you from posting in the future.

Eh. Yes, but not at the cost of wasting good-faith efforts to contribute and making it hard for them to contribute on other threads. I'd probably endorse similar comments on a thread, even though they were redundant, for that reason.

I definitely won't, unless they're adding something unique.

Threads are cluttered enough as it is, and the idea isn't to encourage good faith efforts, but to improve comment quality.

But that's the problem. It's going to shut me up and out of conversations. I can ask a question but someone else may have already and I can't / don't want to risk not getting endorsed and not being able to comment else where.

I see this new feature as being a reason I stop participating altogether. I get not wanting reddit like comments and threads, but I fear this swings too much towards a "good old boys" club.


But, I mean, it's your button, use it how you want.

Oh good, shifting standards.

That alone reduces the positive impact of this change, and keeps the negative. Eh. Less interested in this than I was.

"Endorsing only the best of similar comments is a feature."

Since vote count of posts was hidden, there hasn't really been a way to tell how many people agree with a viewpoint other than similar comments.

> 1. Apply this policy on a per-page basis, rather than on a global HN basis.

Maybe even only for articles on the front page.

I fear that this is going to have the effect of drowning out minority or contrary opinions, even those that are legitimate (non-trolling) and expressed in a respectful manner.

Currently, the downvote button is only supposed to be used for unproductive comments - drivel, and the like. Of course, people use it to show their disagreement (even though that's not how it's meant to be used).

As a result, people that post controversial or minority opinions often get downvoted, even if their comments are well-thought out. This effect is less noticeable on Hacker News than on some subreddits (/r/politics is one of the worst), but it's noticeable to someone who reads Hacker News regularly.

I fear that this is going to exacerbate this effect. We can establish rules for which comments should be endorsed, just like we establish rules for which should be downvoted, but in other forums, the way that these tools are used in practice oftentimes do not match the stated guidelines.

EDIT: Also, I'm not entirely sure why this is preferable to simply allowing users to automatically hide comments below a certain score. Unless there really is a significant difference between the views of users with > 1000 karma and the rest, the "endorse" button is not fundamentally different from an upvote, is it? (In principle, not in implementation).

Currently, the downvote button is only supposed to be used for unproductive comments - drivel, and the like. Of course, people use it to show their disagreement (even though that's not how it's meant to be used).

No, that's wrong. Downvoting for disagreement is how downvoting is meant to be used, as pg has made clear on HN many times over the years.

[I edited the previous sentence to make it less ambiguous.]

The confusion persists because Reddit's rules are different, and people remember those and mistakenly assume they apply to HN.

I'm a bit confused by the wording of your comment. Are you saying that downvoting "is only supposed to be used for unproductive comments" or to show agreement? You use "it," but I can't tell which statement you are referring to.

Sorry for being unclear. What I mean is that downvoting something because you disagree with it has always been legitimate on HN. I'm too lazy to dig up the many links where this was discussed, but the point is that if upvoting is a legit way to agree, then downvoting is a legit way to disagree. This is a good thing, because it provides a silent way to disagree when you don't have anything substantive to add to the discussion.

The idea that downvoting for disagreement is not legitimate is a classic instance of the canonical invasive species on HN, the Redditism.

There is very little value in knowing that some people disagree with a comment, but there is tremendous value in learning other ideas. This is a bad policy.

That's a good point. But let me ask you: do you think HN actually has this problem, i.e. of ideas being suppressed because people disagree? If so, I'd be curious to see examples. Most of the downvoted stuff I see has some other readily available explanation; usually some form of rudeness.

I see it a lot. What's worse is up and down votes are a corrective mechanism.

If you get downvoted, that kinda feels bad, if you get upvoted, that kinda feels good. It shapes your discussion and teaches you the rules of what the community finds acceptable/unacceptable.

What is the honest to god pragmatic result of this policy?

You're training people not to say something others disagree with.

Even if you don't agree with that, downvote to disagree causes pragmatic problems outside of training! Consider a discussion where someone starts off with an unpopular view, and then an interesting discussion happens back and forth between two parties discussing that position. Downvote to disagree hides that discussion.

> I see it a lot

If so, you should be able to find three examples. Can I please see them? Specifically, three comments that aren't in any way rude, downvoted for expressing an unpopular view?

The reason I'm curious is that I try to watch out for that, yet have only seen one comment recently which seemed to me downvoted purely for expressing an unpopular opinion, and even it was somewhat borderline.

> You're training people not to say something others disagree with.

That's not true if most such comments get more upvotes than downvotes.

I'm not going to go through my whole freaking history to highlight the 5 times I've specifically marked where a downvote to disagree has happened on otherwise civil text.


this was 15 days ago.


> That's not true if most such comments get more upvotes than downvotes.

so it's not true were training people to keep unpopular opinions to themselves, because if those opinions will also be upvoted... because why? Because people don't agree with them? What?

It's not about being suppressed in an active way. For the problem I'm talking about, it's completely sufficient for the disagreed-with posts to simply not rise to the top of the discussion.

Remember, HN doesn't even show the vote counts on posts, so you can't extract hardly any agreement-disagreement info from a post (other than it's not so bad as to be downvoted to oblivion). The true and important function of the votes is to control visibility.

Try expressing a conservative or religious opinion. I've gotten downvotes for both even though I haven't been the slightest bit rude. I enjoy hacker news, but at times it can really feel like a hivemind.

I think you're wrong and are just trying up make some claim about Reddit. I don't think it is as simple as "upvoting in agreement is legitimate therefore the converse is true." Down voting as the effect of removing the comment from discussion and is even used to indicate there is something unfair, mean, or what have you. I think what you're talking is more for a site that shows the scores of comments but does not obscure them.

Yeah I know you can find pg quotes about this. Does that make it true? If that's the case then you win.

However, if you want to use reason, it is clearly the case that under this view then the voting and karma is a misnomer and little more than a way to stifle dissent. It's good thing, I think, that most don't hold this view.

> Does that make it true?

It makes it true that it's the site policy, yes.

>downvoting something because you disagree with it has always been legitimate on HN //

Um, no. You downvote when a comment doesn't contribute. If you disagree then you can state it and if that contributes it can get upvoted too.

I'm talking about what the HN policy has always been. This is a factual question, and it's not as you describe it.

What's interesting is how the opposite gets repeated far more often, usually in an authoritative tone, as if the speaker had just consulted a rulebook.

TBH that's the only use of votes I've seen agreed on as valid here.

Despite your relative long-standing I'll bow to your claim of factuality and request citation of that fact?

Do the first two links I listed here count? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7451438

I wouldn't say it's ever been agreed on; I'm pretty sure people disagreed about this from day one. And downvoted each other about it :)

Both of those links (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=117118 [actually 117171 for the pg comment], https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=658683) appear to be simply pg saying people do downvote when they disagree rather than him endorsing that activity.

Indeed the first link says in part:

>"I think it's ok to use the up and down arrows to express agreement."

Which reads to me as having an implicit "also to express agreement" especially in the context of the thread. The thread consensus appears to favour not downvoting for mere disagreement (but I would say that !).

In the past when we had votes visible we'd have been able to tell better the general consensus from that information.

So, I upvoted you for making your point well; presumably you downvoted me as you disagreed.

Those two comments are far from the only data points, though. But now I really am too lazy to look any more up.

My memory is simply that PG always said downvoting for disagreement was fine and many users have always thought he made the wrong call. Still, it's his site, so his call to make.

The interesting thing to me is how confident these users are that they're quoting the site rules, when really they're contradicting them, de facto if not de jure. Just like a lot of us Canadians think that famous U.S. laws (e.g. Miranda rights) apply here, because we've seen them many times on TV, so a lot of HNers assume that this Reddit rule exists on HN.

> presumably you downvoted me as you disagreed

Couldn't! Also wouldn'tve.

>Still, it's his site, so his call to make. //

It's not his. He certainly has a lot of control over it though. Debate/Culture isn't owned by those who facilitate it. I find the idea that this is solely pg's plaything to be damaging.

>quoting the site rules //

De facto standards don't necessarily have documented support. Down-voting for disagreement seems fundamentally wrong [to me] on any site intended to be more than an echo chamber - unless there is a parallel means to promote quality - combined with the established [it seems amongst many long term users] and upheld viewpoint of voting for quality causes me to promulgate that position.

Here are two PG comments with slightly different takes on downvoting to signal disagreeing:



My takeaway has been that HN does not have Reddit's "don't downvote people just because you think that they are wrong" rule. Interestingly, PG's observation that people do not tend to downvote people who's comments are already gray does not seem to be true at all on reddit.

I've always thought that downvoting was for things that didn't contribute, and for things that were technically wrong (including logical fallacies and similar). However, disagreeing on opinion doesn't strike me as an area (on HN or otherwise) where downvoting makes sense.

So downvoting "1TB of data can easily be uploaded over a 20Mbps connection" (Takes 4.8 days, versus a 20 MegaBytes ps connection, which takes ~14 hours and while not easy, is at least more feasible) -- should be ok. But a comment with correction would normally be better...

Downvoting someone for saying that they prefer working in Eclipse (just because I prefer vim) doesn't seem very useful?

I don't think that the line between "I disagree with your opinion" and "I think this is incorrect" is always clear, particularly when new theories or analysis is being floated. As examples:

If I state that "chocolate is better than vanilla", and you disagree with me, it's not really that you think I am incorrect; you simply just disagree with me.

However if I state that I think "[country] will do [something] in Crimea", then you might disagree with me because you do think that I am incorrect. However in that case, because my statement was speculative, there isn't a strong sense of "objectively correct or incorrect".

I think that most 'disagreements' in online conversations are closer to the second than the first.

Downvoting someone saying they prefer some text editor is useful because those conversations are often very dull.

Downvoting the incorrect post is valid but as you say it would be more useful to provide a correction post.

> Downvoting for disagreement is how downvoting is meant to be used

Ha! I am so downvoting this comment, because I disagree with it.

(but but but ... yeah figure it out)

pg is wrong on this.

Currently, the downvote button is only supposed to be used for unproductive comments

pg has previously stated that it's perfectly acceptable to use the downvote button as "I disagree".

The problem is that downvotes affect karma, so someone with unpopular opinions will likely have lower karma than what their level of contribution indicates. Thus leading to an echo chamber of 1000+ endorsed popular comments only.

Seeing this comment downvoted is amusingly ironic (although perhaps undeserved).

Downvotes meaning "I disagree" contribute to groupthink, no?

I think the moderation system in use on HN is inferior to moderation systems seen on some forums as far back as the turn of the century. I am not a fan of it (see my profile page) and don't like it in the least.

I think it's better than having nothing at all (no up/down at all), but that's not saying much.

I wanted to downvote your above post just for the delicious paradox of it, but that profile page made me reconsider ;)

Agreed. This will only work to increase the echo chamber that is HN. Any type of debate will now need to go through the HN elite. I really didn't have a problem with the current system, any obvious troll comments were always downvoted out of sight. I rather see any unapproved comment and make up my own mind on its "worthiness" instead of someone else.

It's something that is somewhat worrying, but I believe that there is enough diversity of opinion in the "elite" (somehow I am barely included in that version of counting karma, I doubt anyone remembers my username for than a few minutes) that I don't really believe it will stop people from posting things that THEN get them downvoted to hell.

At least every other day I see someone being downvoted into oblivion for espousing a contrary opinion, and while there is not enough upvotes to save that comment, I still kick one its way if the comment is thought out and posted in good faith.

My biggest concern is still about the overall amount of eyeballs moderating the new comments, and losing interesting or useful information. I almost think there should be a pending "downvote" to limit the number of times that people are reviewing a specific pending comment, so that if it is trash it dies and gets out of the way of newer pending comments worth reviewing, or maybe something where there are subgroups of pending comments so that you don't somehow languish in a low priority queue if no one looks at it, but instead get a chance at someone looking at it.

The 24 hour rule also is a bit sad because as far as I can tell, HN dies down a lot during the weekend, and some interesting articles come out that dont receive the attention they deserve. I imagine the same thing would happen with new comments.

Yeah, the 24 hour rule seems a bit excessive. I see a lot of Show HN posts where the OP will respond to questions that users have about the particular thing they are showing off. The OP now needs to hope that a 1000+ user is continually monitoring their post in order for them to quickly answer any questions others may have.

> This will only work to increase the echo chamber that is HN. Any type of debate will now need to go through the HN elite.

I think that's not a bug, that's a feature. PG mentioned before that HN was growing too fast and that keeping up was hard. I'm guessing the problem trying to be solved is the Eternal September[1], and this feature does exactly that: you are only allowed to post once you learned how to behave the HN way.

[1] In case someone doesn't know: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September

Cool, so how did that work out for Usenet? :)

There is no "do not endorse" button. So the people who would downvote to disagree are not able to suppress endorsement. They can ignore the endorse button, but other people will endorse valid posts.

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