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Meet the People Taking over Hacker News (ycombinator.com)
614 points by pg on Mar 29, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 286 comments

As PG's wife, I think I am the only person who knows exactly how much time, energy and thought he devoted to Hacker News. More than most HN users would guess, that's for sure. I don't think he ever planned it that way and I'm certain this site stole valuable brain power that could have been focused on writing essays. So thank you Paul for spending so much time making Hacker News such a great place to visit each day.

I was a fan of the essays from way back. It seemed to me like HN was an extension of that process. Almost like "the final essay". The one that is still being written.

I smell an HN movie.

Nah, not enough drama.

That can be easily fixed, :p

More like nothing but drama.

I did not downvote you, but, in a moment like this, when a man who has devoted a significant portion of his life to this community, is departing the very community, are you sure you want to just club all the emotion into a single monotonous word like 'drama' ? Why so much negativity??

I meant it nothing more than a joke.

I'm pretty sure it was a joke, from both posters.

My comment above ("not enough drama") was directed at the film industry, which (IMO) would never look into making something like YC and HN to a movie. There isn't a clear antagonist, no dramatic turns of events, no "drama" in the sense they're using to sell. I really see no logic behind that idea being downvoted... :-/

Thanks JL, he's a good man with good plans and thank you for sharing him. Now you folks have some personal time, you over earned it on many levels, smell those roses.

Both his essays and this site pretty much reshaped my whole view on programming, economics and entrepreneurship, and I know some other people who can say the same thing, so I'd like here to thank you and your husband for all the hard, good work. You created tremendous amounts of value for the world. I do strongly hope PG has some more essays coming ;).

since his duties have to be handed off to three people it makes clear, at minimum after the fact, how much work he was doing

I really appreciate HN; it was my main reason for getting interested in YC (which, early on, I thought was just another Idealab! clone).

Indeed something that looks simple from the outside has a lot of work put into it to get it to where its simple and usable. Great job and even better to hand it over to a set of people willing to carry on the work and ethos

Thank you both. My wife and I love this site.

Thanks JL for sharing and helping him! Hopefully this time investment in HN and Y-Combinator has led to lots of ideas for his coming writing.

The last thing we need is some know it all writing more essays. Starting HN, however, is a real accomplishment.

Daniel Gackle ('gruseom) is an absurdly great choice as moderator. I've never been so optimistic about HN. Great call. Daniel is possibly one of the least knee-jerk people I know.

Uncloaked human moderation is also fantastic news.

Daniel Gackle ('gruseom) is an absurdly great choice as moderator.

Hear. Hear.

His submission list


is a fine example of articles that "gratify intellectual curiosity." This leadership adjustment bodes well for the future of HN as a community for thoughtful discussion.

>> "His submission list https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=gruseom is a fine example of articles that "gratify intellectual curiosity.""

While I agree with you it's interesting that only one submission in the last 84 days has had significant up votes. What does that say about the people on HN or the kind of stories they are looking to find here?

I think it speaks mostly about the state of the "new" section. Submitting a worthwhile article is a very fickle undertaking, skewed by timezones and the fact that few people visit the section, or remember to upvote after reading a long article.

I could imagine a variant of the endorsement system for submissions, where you can endorse users and have their submitted stories automatically get your vote. But that seems rather open to gaming.

I thought someone collected data and found that timezones don't matter too much (times where fewer people are reading also have fewer other submissions to compete with.)

It doesn't seem like many people visit the news feed at all. Personally I imagine the most important features are picking a popular article that multiple people will try to submit (each new submission upvotes the original article instead) and maybe people who have friends with HN accounts. The title probably also makes a large difference.

Some people have suggested improvements to HN's sorting algorithm which would favor more "exploration" than relying on people to go through the new section.[1]

[1] http://www.bayesianwitch.com/blog/2013/why_hn_shouldnt_use_r...

It doesn't seem like many people visit the news feed at all.

Yes, and thus the rare souls that venture there have a ridiculously disproportionate impact on what gets the front page. Almost makes you wonder if it would make sense to keep access to the 'new' page as a special privilege for experienced and trusted users. Or at least hide it behind some tiny text link so those newbies don't ruin the party!

I upvoted a story on the new feed about the Inmarsat's approach to estimating the missing Malaysian plane's location that I found highly informative. Hours later that day when I noted the usual Telegraph mc-article rising up, not a single upvote on the better article(IMO) had been recorded. Perhaps it was a time delay as there is 1 upvote now. Shame, it seemed like the perfect article to elicit meaningful discussion on HN. Maybe Part 2 or Part 3 will someday...if they're proven correct, which is up for debate still.

HN post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7430634

DirectLink http://www.airtrafficmanagement.net/2014/03/mh370-satcoms-10...

I find that a comment as well as an upvote helps more. I'm more likely to check out a new article that has a comment, as there may be some discussion to be had, and I find the discussion the best part of the site.

Good point. I bookmarked that one due to length and had to revisit it later when time allowed. I checked back to see how it's HN status fared and read some additional insights, the discussions often add new perspectives or are more substantive than the articles themselves.

Checking the HN comments to ensure I don't inadvertently benefit a click-baiter is very useful, too.

One issue I think is that if there are two articles, one brilliant and one so so but with a catchy title they may both get one or two up votes so there is no way to tell at a glance which is the outstanding one. A possible way around that would be on the new stuff to have some way to vote as to the quality - say a score out of 10 or buttons reading 'so so' 'really interesting' and the like. They could make a tag pop up saying 'interesting' or similar but not actually effect the ranking on the page which would work on vote count as it does at the moment. I just mentioned that because I'm working on building a similar voting system myself as a kind of holiday project.

Maybe articles could have links to "similar" articles, or if you post a link which is similar, you're asked if you want to comment in the existing thread instead?

It seems like the problem might be that there's such a short amount of time to discover good content that gets submitted. During peak times, a submission can be pushed off the first page of /newest within ~20 minutes. If that's a problem, then one solution might be to change the number of items displayed on the new page from 30 to 120.

I wouldn't be surprised if the first page of /newest gets 5x to 10x more views than the second page. People like scrolling; people click much less frequently. So upping the number of posts shown on the new page to 120 should give better content more time to be discovered.

Another idea is to tweak the new page so that the first page of /newest shows every new submission for exactly two hours. That is, page 1 would consist of submissions that are 1 minute to 2 hours old.

Also, maybe some kind of reminder to check the new page every so often would help, but that's probably a bit heavy-handed.

> I wouldn't be surprised if the first page of /newest gets 5x to 10x more views than the second page.

My guess is way way less (not that /newest gets any traffic as it is). I regularly visit /newest to contribute a bit of voting, and I don't think I've ever bothered with the second page.

There's no point in visiting the second page. Even if you upvote something there, it's the only upvote it will get.

One of the things I sort of hate is when ~10 articles on the same topic get posted at the same time -- honestly, WaPo and NYT and CNN might not be blogspam about a press release or major news event, but there's often little need to read all of them (or rather, enough overlap that the best article would be a synthesis).

HN stories being anchored by a single URL kind of makes it impossible to put all the topical articles in one big story.

You're just explaining variance. But since no more than a handful of his 100+ posts made it to the front page, it seems pretty clear that they are not what HN selects for.

Not necessarily. Variance is a powerful force. 100+ samples may sound like a lot, but it's often insufficient. My favorite book on this topic is http://www.statisticsdonewrong.com/index.html, in particular the sections on statistical power.

There's a great deal of randomness with this stuff, so one has to be careful about drawing conclusions. If you guys look back further you'll see I've had more than my share of hitting the front page with things that are interesting and off the beaten track.

That said, we do have some ideas for counteracting that randomness, and it would be sweet if they work. I'd also be pleased to hear any suggestions on this. HN's (semi-)openness to interesting historical and literary material is one of my favorite things about it, and as long as I'm doing this job that won't change.

My favorite, by the way, of all the things I posted recently that didn't get any attention, is https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6713259.

>My favorite, by the way, of all the things I posted recently that didn't get any attention, is https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6713259.

Off topic. So, what's the opinion on RD Laing currently in the scientific community? I remember reading "A divided self" and wondering the whole time, is the whole world mad? Or is the author mad? Or is it both?

Wow, those are great posts. Pity I never saw most of them on the front page...

+1 on this. Impressed by the submission list.

  Many HN users know Daniel as gruseom, though now he's going
  to switch to the slightly more legit sounding dang.
Hah, not sure that worked. :-)

Would love the ability to change username without having to email the mods.

I asked PG to add "slightly" :)

I'm not sure whether arbitrary user renaming is a good feature to have. It depends on what one means by "renaming", and there are subtleties. In general, HN strives not to delete history. One option might be for people to create a new account while disabling the old one, and bring over the account age and karma but not its submission history. Our functional programming friends would perhaps approve! But I'm just thinking out loud here.

<offtopic> Kinda weird word sequence: absurdly great choice. In my view the word absurd has a negative effect on the phrase. Might be just poor old non-native English speaker, me.

Absurd: wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate. </offtopic>

Don't know the moderator personally but I wish him all the wisdom in the world, to drive HN to new heights :-)

It's the same sort of emphasis as "insanely great", "ridiculously awesome", or "wicked cool". These are linguistic constructions that cannot be parsed correctly without cultural context.

That's interesting, thanks.

Agreed. I am proud to call him a friend.

A couple of personal points that I may as well insert here.

The account I'm now using, dang, was used briefly in 2010 by someone who didn't leave an email address. I feel bad for not being able to ask them if they still want it, so I'm considering this an indefinite loan. If you're the original owner, please email me and I'll give it back to you. The reason I want the name dang is that (a) it's a version of my real name and (b) it's something you say when you make a mistake.

Second, very minor, but I need to leave this discussion for a bit while I bike to a different location. After that, I'll be in the thread for a few hours... but I'm not giving up my bike ride for this :)

Being a moderator and giving the name back sort of smells funny to me. Sort of like selling a used police car with the original lights and paint job to non-police? Just a thought...

Maybe limit the offer to return it to some time period, then keep it if you don't hear back?

Good point. I was thinking that because it's just software, we could restore the old account to its exact prior state. But the attention that accrues to a moderator account would make that impossible. So I guess I'll keep the offer open for three months, after which we can make some other arrangement.

I probably should have picked a different name, but I was swayed by sentimental considerations: it was my email handle at my first job, and, my code tends to be about twice as long as pg's so maybe my username should be too.

Maybe you could give yourself and other admin/mods a different color for your username. Then there can be 2 "dangs" (of course this may need some hacking).

I guess i'll hijack this thread to ask anybody else if they have noticed a slip in quality of front page? I used to check HN first thing and read 50%+ of frontpage stories, now I barely click one or two.

When there is something interesting, I've often read it elsewhere, or its an Ars re-hash of a story from yesterday. When I submit stories I find interesting and HN-worthy, I find them at 3-4 points having been submitted 12 hours ago.

My perception is that the HN frontpage is being gamed more by social marketing teams, journalists who work for re-spamming blogs and growth hackers. The types of stories are more soft news, marketing from co's etc. than much more hard-tech.

As an aside, right now the homepage is unusually good - must be because it's a weekend and the social media hackers are at home.

It's not as good as it has been in the (far) past, but it's better than it was at its nadir, when the front page was saturated by stories from a few obviously baiting sites on a very few topics.

One thing that does seem to have gotten persistently worse is the process of getting a good story onto the front page. Mediocre stories with immediate or simple appeal do seem to be doing a better job of outcompeting Rilke than they ever have in the past.

It's a good site for halfway-decent posts about Golang or CSS compilers. Thankfully, it's become less hospitable for nakedly ambitious Bitcoin cheerleading or comically inept copyright law analyses. It would be great if the site could come up with some way to let the kinds of posts 'gruseom's submission log models get some space on the front page, but it would be bad if that attempt reverted us back to the worst of the Venturebeat and Techdirt days.

> One thing that does seem to have gotten persistently worse is the process of getting a good story onto the front page.

Completely agree. The Business Week cover story on new details from the Target data breach got 16 upvotes:


It was submitted with 5 other URLs and each got a point or two.

Another example, the excellent NyTimes story on the NSA breaching Chinese telco companies to hack Huawei got 10 points:


The NYTimes version was the canonical source.

There was a great WSJ report on Google adapting to the app age which was heavily shared on Twitter, 1 point on HN:


Bill Gates Rolling Stone interview, 1 point (although re-blogs of excerpts ranked):


BW on Satya Nadella managing the legacy of Ballmer's Microsoft board, 4 points:


These are stories I quickly recalled from the last ~week that I enjoyed, all just happen to not register on HN.

If I go through my queue on pocket i'm certain there would be many more examples. I'd estimate less than 10% of what I now save on pocket for reading is sources from HN.

My take is that there was an influx of non-tech people wanting to find out what tech people were reading about. If you subscribe to the usual tech blogs you'll find (or would have found) that a lot of their stories are/were sources from here or are reblogs[0]. This mass of new users has now affected what is selected and how.

[0] Example, Notch tweets that they are canceling their Oculus deal. His tweet gets 8 points:


A Next Web story which is nothing more than the tweet embedded in a page of ads gets 823 points:


Ok, now you have me worried. This is a problem. We want the best stories on the front page as well as the best version of each story. We certainly don't want knockoffs.

One thing you can do when you know of a better version of a story is post its URL in the thread along with a clear explanation of why it's better. We see most of those, and often use them. (Edit: and maybe we should have a textually unique string, à la hashtags, that people can insert in such comments. Then I can write code to make sure I see them all.)

That, however, will do nothing to help HN get stories that it's missing completely, since there won't be any such thread to comment in. You seem to be saying we're missing most of those. How can we fix that?

That, however, will do nothing to help HN get stories that it's missing completely, since there won't be any such thread to comment in. You seem to be saying we're missing most of those. How can we fix that?

One idea is to change the rules so that users are allowed to resubmit stories that received fewer than four upvotes after 24 hours. Right now you risk getting banned for doing that.

It might be a bad idea since the resubmissions will push more legitimate stories out of the new submission queue more quickly, though.

Another idea is to increase the number of stories displayed on https://news.ycombinator.com/newest from 30 to 120. At this point, if your submission drops off the first page of /newest then it's pretty hopeless that it'll be seen by anyone. Showing 120 stories at once will give good content more time to get onto the front page where more people will see it.

> Another idea is to increase the number of stories displayed on https://news.ycombinator.com/newest from 30 to 120. At this point, if your submission drops off the first page of /newest then it's pretty hopeless that it'll be seen by anyone. Showing 120 stories at once will give good content more time to get onto the front page where more people will see it.

Or: show a random 30-subset of the newest 120 stories on /newest, and refresh this 30-subset per view/per time interval. Set this up to get the best of both options: at any point in time the newest 120 stories would be on /newest for someone, and there would only be 30 stories to look at for any one person. This will also give people more incentive to go check /newest once in a while, since they would, more often than now, find many more as-yet-unseen stories there each time.

Yeah. I often encounter really amazing stories, then go to post them on Hacker News only to find that they were submitted a few days ago and got little attention. This is an example:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7474094 BBC: "American Dream Breeds Shame and Blame for Job Seekers"

Submitted 4 days ago, but only had 1 point until I upvoted it just now.

Part of the problem might be all these sources are widely read. I don't read through hacker news, what I can read anywhere else (or have already read). If you read business week/nytimes/bbc news anyway, your not going to read them on hacker news or upvote them. I'm much more interested in lesser know sources and well written commentry.

I really think that ultimately not all users deserve to be treated equally. Much as I tend to disagree with many of your viewpoints in comments, your own submission list is impressive and would mostly merit front-page posting.

I've played with various karma systems in the past, and it's a really hard thing to get right. In particular, I believe systems need to be responsive to recent activity, while reflective of legacy (this also tends to allow newcomers to rise the karma heap fairly quickly, if deserving). Tuned sufficiently well, this needn't breed apparent favoritism (and contempt).

Has there ever been a point when Rilke would make the front page? The only comparable moment I remember was when Tarkovsky made the front page for a bit, but that was an extraordinary aberration.

Rilke has always had a small chance of making the front page.

I think I've gotten Dostoevsky on there once or twice, and a few others.

You did. As a fellow Dostoevsky fan, that was one of the things that made me really like this site. I remember I even scoured your account for other Dostoevsky posts that didn't make it.

Well, bravo to you. I'll break my virtual bottle on your virtual ship ;)

> Mediocre stories with immediate or simple appeal do seem to be doing a better job

Do you have some criteria by which you classify stories as mediocre other than your own personal preferences? If there was a decision procedure for this, we could just implement it and have it scrape the web for objectively great stories. Lacking that, we can build a site that aggregates the opinions of its users.

I don't understand why it's okay to so glibly classify HN's quality as "good" or "bad" at any given time.

Who are we, as individuals, to judge the quality of content on a website devoted entirely to collective rankings?

I did not have the impression that it has gotten worse recently, but it's hard to know. I take your opinion seriously, though. I'd appreciate your help in identifying posts that are "[gaming] by social marketing teams, journalists who work for re-spamming blogs, and growth hackers". It's my job, and my fervent desire, to make the front page inhospitable to such dreck.

HN has been in an arms race for a long time against artificially promoted content, and we (mostly PG) have developed a lot of defenses against it over the years--a large part of why HN is still standing. I've written software to combat such gaming and I intend to write more. One thing I'm pretty sure of, though, is that the problem of bad stories is easier than the problem of bad comments, and it is the latter that poses the greater risk to HN just now.

Incidentally, this past week was a good one for the HN front page. These two threads, in particular, were IMO as good as any in recent memory:



Thanks - I will send along any examples I find. A suggestion might be to have another way to signal that a story is being artificially boosted besides 'flag'. For instance, a 'report' button where a brief description could also be attached (ex. 'This person posted this link to Facebook and asked their friends to upvote it').

The second part is good stories not ranking (see comment above), which doesn't have a straightforward solution, although it might sort itself out with softer, re-blog, and promoted stories being moved out of the way.

My comment may be lost into the aether. But if anyone is out there, I think Hacker News could really use a story merge feature. That would significantly reduce noise around "major" events, and likely prevent second order noise as people try to piggy back on with tangentially related "analysis".

It drives me crazy that "growth hackers" have become what they are now. My job could be pretty accurately described as growth hacking, but I'd never try Reddit/HN gaming as a growth strategy. To me, good growth hacks (the ones I would go after, at least) are similar to PayPal's method of letting you send people $10, provided they sign up for PayPal. Something that has the potential to grow virally, but also simply demonstrates why the product is useful to the people encountering it.

My current job doesn't have HN-style content. If it did, I'd just submit it once, and leave it alone.

Actually we're pretty sure there is less of that now than a couple years ago, because Daniel has written some amazingly effective software for detecting it.

How does it work in general terms?

    There are two rules for success:
    1. Never reveal everything you know.

There are some sources which are used that perhaps shouldn't be. Sadly lots get posted from those sources and people up ote them so there's not much to be done.

As always, visit /new and upvote the great stuff and flag the flagable stuff.

If you notice weird vote patterns a short email with links usually gets results.

I don't think it is quality slip as much as scope increase. Now there are more topics on the homepage that will not interest everyone.

I have this feeling too. Data analysis would reveal the truth. hint

Not without a fitness function for measuring "quality".

Sites like HN can't escape Parkinson's law of triviality: Complex or mixed-conclusion content will naturally get drown out by easily "understood" (at least in the perception of the reader) and debated material.

Titles play a large part as well, as they allow people to support or reject a notion without the effort of even following the link.

This isn't meant to be grumpy or conspiratorial, nor is it negative about HN, it's just the way these things often work. HN does not measure or demand that you follow a link to click the arrow (nor does it require it for "flag", which is a used in practice to downvote). It doesn't maintain a history of recently visited items to ease voting on content you may have read earlier in the day. These naturally lend themselves to cheap votes.

I must partly disagree. HN has always been rather intensively curated. You may be right about the statistical trend, but conscious intervention can and does reverse this "entropy" somewhat in our limited context. The question is how we can do this better.

Fascinatingly, the number of stories posted to HN has not been increasing:


It's a mistake to interpret that as saying anything about the site's growth. In fact, it's a good thing. The number of substantive HN-appropriate stories in the world is not growing by leaps and bounds; neither, therefore, should our story stream. We want quality, not quantity.

There's a lot we can do about story quality, because the front page is so limited, there are many fewer stories than comments, and because we manage the front page for quality in ways we would never manage the threads. However, there's no way we can scan the universe of stories to find all the best ones. We rely on /newest to be our universe of stories. If /newest is broken, we'll fix it. But we're going to focus on the problem of bad comments first.

I'm happy to see these are the priorities. To emphasize comments > submissions, my HN app for android opens all articles directly to the comments. it takes 2 clicks to see the submitted link.

Now that the moderator's identity is public, a useful next step would be a public log of all moderator actions. lobste.rs has one[1] and the transparency is great.

[1] https://lobste.rs/moderations

A log of moderator actions seems like an invitation to many years of debate over the moderator's actions. The current system, of sporadic conspiracy theories regarding moderation, actually seems preferable to me.

The far more damaging part of HN IMHO is the silent banning. It's a very ugly sledgehammer which is routinely used to censor dissenting voices. Victims of it have no real recourse even if they do notice they've been censored. It doesn't make for an open relaxed environment where people can express their opinion.

It's a lame, lazy and flawed system of moderation which ends up with a ton of false positives.

I wouldn't be surprised if this comment gets me silent banned!

Just an anecdote that may be relevant: I was banned at one point. I thought it was unfair, and emailed HN explaining why I made the comment that I did and that it wasn't meant as meanspirited or snarky as it may have come across. They re-instated me very quickly. My experience tells me that if you're trying to be a reasonable member of the community, you'll do fine.

Is there a forum that doesn't ban people?

On other forums, when you've been banned, you get an email or message telling you why and you no longer have access to that account. You also probably will have gotten a few warnings from moderators before that point.

When the barrier to entry is 0 this is an ineffective strategy. From my experiences moderating a fairly large geographic area forum negative influences on the community do and will just recreate a new account immediately and resume when you do that. At least this way you delay that from happening for a while and force them to expel effort on nothing.

Maybe, but determined trolls will adapt to just about any environment - here, for instance, people just create sockpuppet accounts (HN doesn't track account IPs I guess)

When it applies to the most egregious of problem users then it works as intended, but there have been cases where people have been, apparently, posting while banned for some slight, and providing reasonable content. That suggests to me that some banned users might be amenable to a warning or might well change their behavior if they were made aware that their actions were intolerable.

Also, it makes no sense to me to continue using up the site's resources stringing people along who, by definition, the staff doesn't want there. Although I admit I have no idea how much of a problem that is with HN itself, since it doesn't use a database.

Tracking IPs doesn't help that much. Even non-technical trolls discover proxies quickly.

Because you cannot stop them so at this point it is less about saving resources and more about harm reduction. It's unfortunate some people who probably would change get caught up in it but it's really a small price to pay(their not having their comments public but still being able to use the site normally) for the greater enjoyment.

You're understanding of trolls is flawed. A troll will generally make sure their messages show up (using incognito mode, tor, etc). Think about it, the people who don't check to see if they're shadow-banned are the ones that don't expect to be banned. Trolls very much expect to be banned. It's their modus operandi.

The only people you're effectively hurting are the ones who think they are making useful contributions but make the unfortunate mistake of hurting the moderator's feelings.

Trolls generally don't expect to be shadow banned they expect to be banned. Until they figure that shadow banning exists it's a very effective method and once you realize you make them check if they've been shadow banned regularly so it effectively doubles their work. Quite often their willingness to invest time into trolling drops off with lack of response so often they will leave before they understand that shadow banning is a thing.

>Trolls generally don't expect to be shadow banned they expect to be banned.

I disagree with this assertion. Shadow-banning on HN is quite well known, and any troll worthy of the term understands the landscape of their endeavors.

>banned regularly so it effectively doubles their work

How is opening a link once a day or so in incognito mode to check for their comment effectively doubling their work?

>Quite often their willingness to invest time into trolling drops off with lack of response so often they will leave before they understand that shadow banning is a thing.

Again, I think we both have very different ideas on the transience of a trolling campaign. I assure you, once someone is determined to troll a specific community, its a much longer commitment than you are estimating.

Edit: Impressive. Down-voted for stating my disagreements with counter-points.

I voted you back up because what you're saying is interesting. But please, everybody: enough with the complaints when you're downvoted. It happens to all of us and there isn't a thing you can say about it that isn't old and boring and makes you look bad. It's the worst HN trope there is, so just move on.

If the downvote was unfair, someone often comes along and fixes it; and if it was fair, then you should reflect on what you said. Either way, the impulse to complain should be held in check.

I honestly can't see how/why people care so much. Maybe I'm not doing HN right, but I usually don't have a lot of time to read a thread and make a cogent comment and stuck around for discussion. This is unfortunate; I think discussions are better than just one-off comments. But add to this the vanity of checking if my comments have been downvoted? Man, I've got better things to do.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree.

From my personal experience having dealt with trolls on other popular forums and implementing shadow bans myself previously my experience runs counter to your beliefs.

You don't have to catch every troll with shadow bans. You make the experience for the new ones unenjoyable by removing their feedback and they are more likely to move on before they become committed enough to start cycling accounts.

If someone is determined to troll a community than no form of protection other than brute force moderation will work but compared to the number of trolls out there the number that rise to that level of abuse are very small.

I don't know of another forum where reasonably long standing members are banned silently, without even the courtesy of telling them. It's kinda a douche move.

Silent banning is more like censorship than banning - you're silencing someone because you don't agree with them, without telling them they're being silenced.

It's also a matter of where the line is drawn. Most forums ban obvious spam - viagra, porn, etc. But HN (IMHO) bans people for being overly critical, for not agreeing with the groupthink, or perhaps not having enough tact or politeness.

Silent banning has 0 effect on spam and trolls - they'll verify their spam/troll comment has appeared, and if it hasn't, just create a new account. The people it hurts are simply people who happen to offend a moderator.

You can be pretty confident not to post spam, but how do you know if your comment may offend some moderator? - These days most things offend someone. That IMHO makes for a 'walking on eggshells' type of forum, rather than an open place to discuss.

I would be surprised if the evidence showed that a comment like this ever got someone silent-banned. Usually, when you look at the comments of people who have gotten banned, there's a nasty tone to accompany the critical intent.

>I would be surprised if the evidence showed

Yet you argued in another comment that this evidence should be hidden from the community. If you have faith that the evidence would show that bans are always justified, why not argue for them to be public?

The same comment you're referring to to make this argument answers it.

>A log of moderator actions seems like an invitation to many years of debate over the moderator's actions. The current system, of sporadic conspiracy theories regarding moderation, actually seems preferable to me.

That's the one I was referring to. Can you point me to the one you are referring to that says why you prefer an opaque system?

Is "nasty tone" really the basis of silently banning people? Just because something offends a moderator, then all of their subsequent comments are censored?

Being offended shouldn't offer anyone any special rights. If something "offends" you, ignore it and move on.

> Being offended shouldn't offer anyone any special rights.

Its a good think you said "shouldn't" rather than "can't", because any number of laws forbid various kinds of offensive behavior.

> If something "offends" you, ignore it and move on.

Not everyone can "move on", which is why we have the laws we do. This is only peripherally associated with the present topic, but no one should imagine that offensive behavior is absolutely tolerated, or that people can only relocate themselves to solve the problem.

Just because a law exists, doesn't mean it should exist.

For example, sending "offensive" tweets should not be illegal IMHO.

> Just because a law exists, doesn't mean it should exist.

Yes -- that's a point I made also.

I think the problem with what you're suggesting is that it can rapidly devolve the forum into being uncivilized. I do think silent banning is a little bit mean, but if you tell people they've been banned, they just start a new account.

Perhaps new accounts could start off dead until endorsed, and bans could be reversed. A bit like pending comments, but at an account level. It takes away "starting a new account" as a solution to being banned if both accounts have the same (100% dependent on content of posts) likelihood of coming back.

There are other forums with the rules you propose. Many, including the people who control this site, believe that part of the reason for the quality of HN is that we have these rules. I for one agree, but if I didn't, I'd go find one of the easily available low-moderation or no-moderation sites.

It doesn't suppress dissenters. It suppresses people who contribute nothing.

The difference between those two to a biased moderator (e.g. any human) is very blurry.

I think debate over moderators' actions is crucial and should be encouraged.

I agree that it should be possible when necessary, but I'm not sure about encouraged. At least, it shouldn't go so far as to significantly impact the signal-to-noise ratio (I'd still consider them noise). Then again, I guess there's one way to find out whether it would or not.

If there was a page that logged all moderator actions, that's where the discussion could take place. I don't think it was noticeably affect the signal-to-noise ratio of the rest of the site.

Thanks for clarifying!

Depends, in good-faith communities like these they more bring harm, than say a standard phpBB forum.

At the very least, a log of title and content changes by moderators would be useful.

I'm not sure what you mean by "content changes", but I plan eventually to open-source the software I use to keep track of title and url edits.

I was assuming moderators sometimes edited post content as well. If not, I was mistaken.

If by "post content" you mean things that people put in text fields like comments and Ask HNs, then no, we basically never change those. I say "basically" because I did once fix a typo in one of pg's comments. But then I emailed him about it.

The debate will still be there either way, will it not? It's probably preferable to base such discussion on a correct log of the events, rather than speculation and unsubstantiated allegations.

In a choice between (a) uninformed but relatively infrequent debates about the moderator (b) routinized and personalized debates about the moderator, I definitely choose (a).

I have a different perspective on HN than I think many other people do here; I consider myself a guest, and don't see myself as part of what makes HN HN. In the somewhat unlikely event that Daniel and Nick do something to make the site unworkable for me, I'm not going to get angry about it.

Modesty is generally a good trait, but I'll say that to me, HN seems to be unique among all other discussion board I've been a part of as far as having a lot of highly accomplished and knowledgeable software people from all walks of life, from startup founders to big-company cogs to freelance contractors. There's lots of places to find jokes, memes, puns, and discussion of the latest TV shows, but I haven't found anywhere on the internet as good as HN is now for this kind of discussion.

>"I consider myself a guest, and don't see myself as part of what makes HN HN" //

That's very interesting. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels you're quite a central part of what makes HN what it is. Without contributors - "guests" if you like - who add genuine value there is no community here beyond that you could find on any number of other tech/business news sites. A party with no guests ...

This an especially strange comment - perhaps an attempt at modesty - when one sees in your profile, this:

>"Must-read list: 'idlewords (emeritus), 'pbsd, 'apaprocki, 'patio11, 'gruseom, 'anigbrowl, 'mechanical_fish, 'carbocation, 'potatolicious, 'grellas, 'dctoedt, 'yummyfajitas, 'tzs, 'rayiner, 'DannyBee; Yeah, yeah yeah, 'pg too."

which rather suggests that for you these people make HN what it is, or at least are essential to giving it the twist of flavour you seek. You've got to realise that should everyone else be forced to make a list like this then you'd be on a large proportion of them, surely?

For me, I try to ignore the source of the comments before I consider them but I've been here long enough to have enjoyed many of your comments whether they added a sweet, or sour, flavour to a particular thread. Thank you.

This too shall pass and anger is probably not the right response to that passing, fair play.

That's a curious position. I've been commenting here for over 5 years, and I was reading for longer. I participate in this community in some fashion most days. If HN was taken away or ruined, I would feel I had lost an important part of my life.

Mod logs are a call to concern trolls and bike shedding.

They're usually a bad idea.

Better is to assume good faith and accept that mistakes happen, rather than assume mods need to be kept in check and all actions need to be scrutinised.

I don't know. Concern trolls and bike shedding already happens here. Given the conspiratorial nature of some of the community, maybe a bit more transparency is a good idea.

Although, where this would really be useful is with banning. Unfortunately, banned users aren't supposed to know they're banned and being able to actually see what straw broke the camel's back might give the game away. But it might help demonstrate to users what's expected of them.

> banned users aren't supposed to know they're banned

As someone who has been on the receiving end of a shadow-ban several times over the years, you realize it right away if you actually pay attention. Your comments suddenly get no votes or responses.

>Better is to assume good faith and accept that mistakes happen

This leaves no room for improvement of the moderation that does occur. This could be fixed by allowing people with 5000+ karma or so to see the mod logs.

A log of moderator actions seems like an invitation to many years of debate over the moderator's actions.

If that's the price to be paid for transparency, I think it's worth it. The idea of a cabal of mysterious insiders ,pulling the strings while the rank-and-file plebians stay in the dark, blissfully unaware of what's really going on, - sounds more like the plot for a (bad) cyberpunk movie, than a desirable model for real life. It also strikes me as pretty close to diametrically opposed to the "hacker ethic".

HN isn't real life though! It's not a democracy, and is not meant to be all things to all people.

True, true... But I think (some|most|a lot) of us see it as something of a microcosm of real life, and base some our (hopes|expectations|whatever) in terms of real life "things".

I would agree IFF there were a lot of moderators. As it is, there's no real need for accountability because there is no accountability (and there doesn't need to be).

Thank you for creating HN.

Changed my life.

Mine too. I've launched 2 companies here, and learned more from HN than I thought possible: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7193213


It's possible.

An open-house at expression.edu and one minute phone call from Pixar while I was driving to my old job changed mine(long story) ...and no, I didn't get the job. I don't even work in the computer-graphics field. I just took a wild shot in the dark, but it was the small snowball that started rolling down a very tall hill. By the time it reached the bottom, my life reached the top. Inspiration to change your life can come from anywhere; especially unexpected sources. I'd say HN is more expected than my failed phone interview.


Ignoring questions about the honesty or self-serving nature of the invisible-hand moderation, HN's rise came at the expense of a number of other sites, including reddit's /r/programming, Slashdot, dzone, etc.

The draw of HN, despite serious (and continuing) technical deficiencies, were hordes of young programmers who wanted to gain the attention and favor of Paul Graham and YCombinator.

So it's a serious question when I ask whether the technology community has been made better by Hacker News. I would quite sincerely say that no, it has been a net negative for the community, even if it serves Paul Graham and YCombinator well. The technology world is worse off for it.

On HN you have access to the world's experts on pretty much any tech (and some non-tech) topics you can think of.

The only other community I've posted to is Reddit, but... It seems like what sets HN apart is the ability to craft and hone your reputation. If you want to become known as an expert in bitcoin, all that it takes is time, intelligence, and writing good comments on HN.

You can gain a reputation on Reddit, but not as easily as here, I think. And it's usually a lot easier to get a negative reputation over there than to gain a positive one on here.

You can also write a profile for yourself, which a lot of people will read. Reddit doesn't have an equivalent of that. Even if you just provide contact info, you still gain value. For example, after I rather publicly lost a bunch of money on Mt. Gox, someone emailed me to see if I was okay. It was a really nice gesture, and in hindsight I'm not sure I'd get that kind of experience out of some other community. But I'm of course biased, since I've spent my time here and not in other communities.

It concerns me that people think this is true. I would bet that HN regulars include very few of the worlds experts on tech subjects; for the most part the world's experts are too busy to hang around on a web forum to chat. That's what makes them experts: focus and hard work.

Which leads to my second point of concern, which is thinking that a person's HN "reputation" means anything beyond HN. I would be very surprised if it does. Speaking of bitcoin, it seems to me that the generally accepted experts tend to be people with a deep history of working on crypto currencies, or at least a deep history with bitcoin specifically.

I've been participating, moderating, and in a few cases researching forum communities for about 15 years. It's easy to fake expertise; just make sure all your comments and posts are well-researched and fact checked before posting. That's not the same thing as being an actual expert--it's the difference between a Ph.D. in physics and an undergrad writing a research paper. No matter how accurate and readable their paper is, the undergrad is not an expert. And forums tend to disproportionately reward readability, humor, and writing style, over substance.

I'm not trying to criticize your posts or expertise specifically; I don't know either well enough to comment. I'm just sounding a general cautionary note about taking online forums too seriously. They are great for entertainment, social gratification, and light education. But they are no substitute for the work of creating real accomplishments.

This seems like a great change. A dream team, and it's interesting to learn who the secret moderator has been!

My fantasy would be some way of fixing /newest as well as adding topic tags; perhaps topic tags just within /newest. I'd be happy to read everything in /newest which matches: security, crypto, hypervisor, hardware, wireless, ...; I basically find it unusable as it is now.

I don't find the level of (in)civility to be a personal deterrent, but I grew up on EFnet and alt.*, so that would be an almost 4chanian bar. I do dislike when it deters worthwhile contributions from people who are less thick skinned. I'd generally err on the side of "let people say stupid things so they can be debunked in public" vs. "censorship", but at some point lack of filtering becomes a form of censorship of its own (crapflooding, etc.)

It's funny, I just wrote a blog post yesterday about how I don't contribute to many public discussions because I'm too afraid of the hostility that can come along with my participation (I'm pretty thin skinned). I haven't posted it yet specifically because I was agonizing over what I say getting picked apart sentence by sentence by an angry HN mob. I probably won't ever publish it. I hope Daniel can do more to fix the nastiness that can exist here on HN.

Have you considered posting anonymously? Or would it be painful to see your work picked apart even if it weren't connected to your name?

Quality discussion isn't supposed to always feel good. Nor is it a bad thing when what you've expressed is heavily analyzed and perhaps contested.

It's really no different than physical exercise. Yes, it can be painful in the short term, but over time it allows adaptation that increases strength and robustness.

This comment is a fine example of jl's points. While the tone was not rude or aggressive, commenting merely to contradict and to attempt to invalidate specific points, out of context, is unhelpful to someone who is self aware enough to admit they are pretty, thin, and skinny. (We know our own and can read through the code.)

Jl is probably aware that this sensitivity can be overcome, and how to do so. Sometimes it's ok to pass over a thing in silence instead of telling a stranger to smile.

>Sometimes it's ok to pass over a thing in silence instead of telling a stranger to smile.

That's not how I interpreted Pacabel's response. I interpreted it more like him/her telling jl that his expectations of Daniel 'fixing' HN to ban critiques are unrealistic.

When someone comments with "I don't contribute to many public discussions because I'm too afraid of the hostility that can come along with my participation (I'm pretty thin skinned)", it's probably fair to say anyone responding and trying to be helpful should take that into account...

(I felt slightly bad about my response, in retrospect; I meant "YC partners seem to be subject to particularly harsh criticism, which is unfair. Perhaps if you were anonymous it would be less aggressive trolling directed at you." I'm sure jl has thought of that of course.)

>> I don't think he plans to change much about the appearance of the site

On the whole, that's good. I would ask @kevin to make comment threads collapsible. Works that way on my hn android app and I love what it adds to the comment reading experience.

the hacker news enhancement suite (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-enhanc...) is attractive and has collapsible comments. It would be great to see HN incorporate the design and some of the features (notifying you of the changes since you last read the story, for example, is amazing!)

Any alternative for FF?

For the collapsible comments, I've been using Greasemonkey along with this user script: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/138037

There is a very high likelihood of collapsable threads coming to HN.

PG: '... the fact that we get roughly equal grief for HN comments being bad and for being too quick to ban people is a sign he's been doing a good job so far.'

- Not in all cases, some times honest opinions and straight talk might come across as rude but it's not meant that way. Strict Policing should also provide a way for sincere members to Voice their concern or Appeal if they get 'removed' or 'shadow banned' which happens quite often. Let me know your thoughts please.

People who get banned can either start again with a new account or can write a short email showing understanding of why they got banned and asking to be unbanned. Sometimes bans are weird accidents and writing a short email asking why you were banned will get an unban.

The whole point of shadow-banning is tricking the banned user into thinking he doesn't need to make a new account.

Yes, sometimes groveling in front of the abuser will get you a pass ("but just this once"). No, not all those abused will do it.

I can't decide if a scenario where people are banned by accident is better or worse than one with evil moderators abusing their powers.

Oh, good grief. "Grovelling in front of the abuser?" I've been doing this job since October 2012 and I can't remember a single case where we refused a polite request, or even most rude ones. I'm pretty sure it's not we who are committing the abuses here.

One of the secondary reasons why I asked PG to out me is that it's super frustrating not to be able to defend the site and the team when people make sinister and unfair insinuations. I'll probably get it out of my system in a few days, but hoo boy has that been frustrating.

>Oh, good grief. "Grovelling in front of the abuser?" I've been doing this job since October 2012 and I can't remember a single case where we refused a polite request, or even most rude ones.

Groveling is the perception that some of the people (including me) have when deciding what to do when they get shadow-banned. So I just end up dropping the old account and any reputation it may have gained over its lifetime to start over.

I understand that it's dramatic, but from the outside it feels like a process of begging for forgiveness for committing some infraction you don't even understand. To rub salt in the wound, we aren't even given the dignity of knowing when we have uttered words that violate the secret book of acceptable comments. We just have to infer after a sudden decline in comment engagement that we have been shadow-banned. This is infuriating to say the least. For a site to have a sanctioned method of giving regular users a permanent punishment which causes them to pour effort into providing comments that land muted is repulsive to me.

I apologize for ranting, but I have yet to see a strong logically sound defense of this practice. It's one of the worst 'fuck-you' features I've seen a site implement towards its users that make critical comments. Critical discourse is what makes this site great! Unaccountable shadow-bans chill critical discourse regardless of their intent.

I beg you to reconsider the practice in its current form. As I mentioned elsewhere, someone intentionally trolling will verify that they aren't shadow-banned anyway. The people shadow-banning hurts the worst are the ones who don't expect to be shadow-banned (i.e. genuine commenters).

Okay, I hear you and appreciate that you put some real feeling into what you wrote there. That's genuinely helpful—more than you might think—and quite rare.

If it's true that what people really need is feedback about what they're doing that's inappropriate for HN, and if we'd only give it to them then they would respond by adjusting their behavior, then I have to agree with you: we should find a way to give that feedback. It would be a clear path to improving the site and correcting some of its dysfunction. I'm not sure that it is true, but I hope it is and am willing to test the idea. But we'd need a way to do it that would scale.

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but:

> People who get banned can either start again with a new account or can write a short email showing understanding of why they got banned and asking to be unbanned.

The issue people are bringing up is, what happens when the banee doesn't know why they got banned (not to mention that they got banned)?

For what it's worth, I usually point out Metafilter as a site that seem to do moderation pretty well. There are of course a number of important differences in the way the sites work, but I bet there are a great many lessons that could be shared in both directions.

People send email to those they think have been incorrectly banned.

Thus the importance of correct email addresses in the user's profile.

I, too, dislike the ever-present possibility of me being banned and not knowing it, causing me to waste time writing earnest comments that go into a black hole. I’ve thought of a change that might assuage fears like mine while still allowing you to use hellbans to deter trolls: using separate types of bans depending on the likelihood of a user’s troll-ness.

I don’t have any data about trolls, but perhaps if you looked at your data you might find that people rarely turn into trolls if they have at least a certain amount of karma points, or if they have been on the site for at least a certain amount of time. If you find such a pattern, you could make it so that when those users write a trollish comment and should be banned for it, they are actually informed of the ban instead of silently hellbanned. But if you ban a user whose karma or time-on-site suggests a higher chance of being a troll looking for a reaction, you can still hellban them silently.

This policy would mean that long-time users would know not to fear hellbanning after they pass the publically-stated point. It would let them interact with the site without that slight fear that their comments are going to waste, because they know the site would visibly prevent them from writing comments if they’ve been banned. But the policy would still let you use hellbanning, which is supposedly very effective, as a deterrent for trolls. I hope that there actually is a correlation between likelihood-to-be-a-troll and some combination of karma and account age that you can base this policy on.

It is not rare. I'm not putting the poster you are replying to down in any way when I say his sentiment is widely shared, and widely commented on.

I have no idea, really, what is 'acceptable' to post here. There is no informative FAQ, there are no examples, there is no guidance coming from the owners, and so on. Every time I post I then watch my karma to see if I am being voted up or down. But I don't even know if that is measuring what I think it measures. Would I see it go down prior to a hell ban? (btw: we all call it 'hell ban' - does that not convey the frustration and dislike of this feature) I don't know. It is all just a fog of assumptions. As you post and read here you start to pick up some of the acquired wisdom.

I have mixed feelings about posting here. Fault my personality if you want, but I care somewhat if I get banned or not. Certainly, if my posting style is likely to get me banned then I don't want to waste my time posting here. So, I watch, and wonder, and fumble about.

It's not nice.

What I meant was that I got a meaningful emotional signal from hueving's comment which I usually don't get when I read complaints about HN banning. That's rare, in my experience, and helpful.

People can find out why they were banned by emailing us. That's been true for a long time. Also true is that we routinely unban them as long as they give us reason to believe that they won't keep doing whatever it was.

What I do think is that we need a better, finer-grained, more proactive feedback mechanism for informing people when their comment crosses the line. If we get that right, it should not only assuage the hurt feelings we're talking about, but improve the quality of the comment threads too.

But this is harder than it sounds. HN has some specific conditions, and we're not going to do anything that violates those. We're also not going to transplant any system that has worked well on another site—systems don't transplant. So what we are going to do first is think about this for a while.

That's your problem right there: you take decisions based on emotions and feelings so that's what you value in a discussion. This is wrong and you should listen to reason instead.

I have emotions, but made no decision based on them. What I said we'd do is think.

In my view, emotion and reason need one another to function properly, especially in human situations and probably anywhere.

Accidental bans are easy to overturn with a short email. Politeness can't hurt. Politeness is not "grovelling"; politeness is the lubrication that makes dealing with day to day life easier.

>Politeness is not "grovelling"

I don't think he's referring to the tone of the email. The process of even having to ask for your account back is "grovelling".

I can't decide if a scenario where people are banned by accident is better or worse than one with evil moderators abusing their powers.

Would it be correct to paraphrase this as "Perhaps I'd rather be the victim of evil abuse than of a human error"? I'm simply wondering if I'm misinterpreting this or if it's a difference in values.

I took it as "I'm not sure which alternative is worse: incompetence or malice"

Of course it's not my comment, so take this with a grain of salt.

Your interpretation is correct.

I don't think I've seen any mention of what's going to happen with the "pending comments" plan that raised some controversy on HN a few days ago (and which I feel is a suboptimal idea that solves a problem nobody has while creating a host of brand new ones). Is this still in the works?

Thanks -- sounds like a good call.

"Kat Manalac (katm) and Garry Tan (garry) will be the voice of YC on HN. They'll be the ones who respond to most "Ask YC" posts and individual comments related to YC."

but the guidelines say:

"Please don't post on HN to ask or tell us something (e.g. to ask us questions about Y Combinator, or to ask or complain about moderation). If you want to say something to us, please send it to info@ycombinator.com."

Should they be updated?

It's ok to ask something of general interest. The point is that HN is not YC customer support.

HN usernames would be helpful in the post.

Good point; added them.

Though having a community obsessed with speed, optimisation and scale, HN is the slowest site in my bookmarks, by FAR, not to mention the times when it's not working at all, sending people to a twitter page (happens every day).

I hope this issue will get addressed, too.

> HN is the slowest site in my bookmarks, by FAR

You must not use reddit.

(I'm allowed to say that since it's partly my fault reddit is slow)

funny, for me HN is fast enough that is the first thing I try to load of something seems broken with my connection.

Gmail, twitter, facebook, kongregate etc will fail miserably but the tiny table-based HN code will load 99%& of the time.

This may just be the cache headers. Most sites have caching that tells browsers either "never cache this site" or "cache for a short time, but after that you must fetch a fresh version and can't use the cached version." HN's say "always try to fetch a fresh version, but if that fails, it's fine to show the user the cached version." So if your connection is actually down (vs. just slow), your browser's old cache of HN may still display, unlike most other sites.

I have a lousy connection and HN is pretty snappy for me. (Chrome on iOS on iPhone 4)


Image is proof of lousy connection.

It's actually pretty fast for me.

Log out and you'll be surprised how speedy the site is. Log in...12 seconds to return 6KB of data, at least in my case.

Have I been capriciously slowbanned to encourage me to lose interest and get lost, or is the process of counting up the user karma a cause of significant slowdowns? Are certain accounts more costly than others?

The "fun" of Hacker News is that you never can tell...

It is interesting that the top post in this story is someone lauding the moderation of someone whose moderation they, presumably, have no ability to view. While the assignment of hellbans and slowbans may be completely just and deserved, it might also have a profoundly corrupting influence, steering conversation exactly where it serves certain purposes best.

Have I mentioned how fantastic the current crop of YC companies are‽

Yes! Browsing the site logged out is much faster! I gather they use less caching for logged in users etc.

It takes 2-3 seconds to load my profile page and another 2-3 if not more to load my comments page..

I'm currently pushing 13 seconds a page load (for just the HTML), clearly caught in a super-clever (albeit comically cowardly and childish) slowbanning.

I've said absolutely nothing controversial or mean-spirited, aside from perhaps questioning Paul Graham's dubious "hidden until approved" moderation scheme.

Truth be told I've derived little value from the site for quite some time, so as Cartman so oft said: "Screw You Guys, I'm going home!". Or at least to Slashdot or something.


I recently began reading HN, and I really appreciate the quality of this forum. I was on Slashdot at the beginning, and having watched it slide into irrelevance with poor quality comments, it's heartening to find a place like HN. So, thank you.

As a former long-time Slashdot reader, the progressively-worse site designs were far, far more disruptive and harmful than any changes in the quality of the discussion might have been.

Their beta site was what made me stop visiting earlier this year. The fact that such an unusable design could seriously be considered in the first place was partly responsible. Their lack of action when confronted with lots of very legitimate concern regarding the beta site was also responsible.

Maybe things have changed since then. But I wouldn't know for sure, having not bothered to go back there.

pg: Might I ask now that you are leaving these "obligations" behind to great people, what will you be doing with the spare cpu cycles?

What I was doing before I started YC: writing and programming.

Do you have particular projects worth mentioning here? How about Arc?

I'm going to keep writing essays. I don't usually decide what to write very far in advance though.

Yes, I'll be working on Arc again. (I've been working in Arc regularly, since HN is written in it, but I haven't been able to spend much time thinking about the core language for the last 5 years or so.)

It'd be interesting to hear what you think about Rich Hickey's work on Clojure. Things that surprised you in a good way, and things that you think it got wrong (i.e. things that won't be on the surviving main branch). I'm sure other lisp programmers would like to know your thoughts on this since Clojure has got itself quite a reputation in the last five years.

I know almost nothing about Clojure. I saw some example code around 7 years ago, but I don't remember it well.

He's making a bitcoin-fueled advertising engine for companies to sell patented dietary supplements on Facebook.

So no interaction on HN at all anymore?

He mentioned that he'll still be around in the link:

> I'll still be around as a user, but less frequently than when I felt I had to check the site every hour or so to make sure nothing had broken.

I just wish Hacker News would become a much better place for showing off and discussing projects. We have so many hackers here making things and it's almost entirely hidden from view. There's too much noise and no real place to post. A very simple but huge improvement would be a dedicated place for "Show HN" posts, but so much more could be done.

I particularly want to do more in this area. HN ought to be a hotbed of experimentation and maximum technical aliveness.

It would be great if the criticism that accompanies "Show HN" posts was more useful and less vicious.

I have to agree. I've been working on a prototype for an app that I think is pretty cool, but I'm afraid to release here it in an early state. I'm concerned the focus will be on what it isn't versus what it could be.

It is one thing to provide constructive criticism. It is another to be condescending. Unfortunately, and maybe it is just human nature, but I think we see too much of the second.

I'd love to see more help in getting projects off the ground. That would be a great compliment to Y Combinator. Since many Y Combinator alum are on the site, they could use their experience to help HN contributors who aren't in the YC program.

This place is one that really seems to "get" their community and what we really want out of this place. I think not relying on it as a revenue source gives the powers that be the freedom to really serve the community. They're lucky to be in that spot and they're using it wisely.

Nice choices and it'll be cool to how it's going to move forward.

A few comments:

I hope that with perhaps a bit more time available, dang will be able to kill more political stories as well as 'outrage' stories about things not very directly connected to tech/startups - those articles that get you riled up, but really don't lead to any productive or interesting discussions.

More importantly, a big thanks to everyone involved! I live pretty far from Silicon Valley or anywhere else where everyone eats sleeps and breathes tech, so it's always been nice to have this window into that world.

Hi David. Yes, we're going to move further in that direction. You probably noticed, to pick one example, that there have been almost no Ukraine/Crimea stories on the front page.

I doubt that we'll try to ban political stories altogether, partly because some (e.g. Snowden) do overlap with HN's core topics, but mainly because it's hard to define "political".

But "articles that get you riled up, but really don't lead to any productive or interesting discussions" is, to me, a narrower and clearer criterion that is pretty easy to apply fairly. PG has spoken about it in similar terms. I think we'll probably get more active about those. But we won't do anything major very quickly.

Awesome, thanks!

Here's another random idea. I think it would be more difficult to code up, but there are certain comments where I think "ok, this is a wrong answer, but in good faith". Those should get "pinned" at 0 karma. Other comments should get pinned at 1 - I wouldn't want to see them cross over into negative territory, but they aren't great either. I would envision this working by clicking a 1 or a 0, and as votes go up or down for the comment, my contribution changes as a consequence. Say I click 0 when it's at 1. It goes to 0. Others pile on, and it goes to -1. At that point my downvote actually becomes an upvote to push it back towards 0.

All those dynamic calculations would probably be a PITA, so I can completely understand something like that not seeing the light of day, but I just thought it was an interesting idea in terms of being able to say "ok, this is not a good comment, but it's not a mean one or anything, so it should have a floor under it".

I fear that would be hard to implement, but what you describe already happens informally to some extent: if people see an innocuous comment faded out, they sometimes upvote it to put it back in black. I like this and hope we can get the community to practice it more.

Conceptually it seems relatively simple: each voter supplies a "desired score", which would be +∞ and -∞ for regular upvotes and downvotes respectively, and 0 or other integers for those who want to be fancy. Then you can decide whether n is the correct score, or too high or too low, by assuming everyone wanting a number above n votes +1, everyone below n votes -1, and everyone who wants n votes -1, 0, or 1 as necessary to keep the score as n. (If k people wanted n, then if the score from everyone else is within [n-k, n+k], then n is the right score.) Updating the score one vote at a time seems doable. It would require storing the entire voting history with each comment, though, which would probably require changing things and be a pain.

Then the problem I see is with the user interface: most people wouldn't want to use it, and it would clutter things up (a numeric input field, or a specialized "vote towards 0" button). I guess it could be a setting that individual users could enable. I'd hazard a guess it would be deemed not worth the trouble.

I often upvote grey comments for that reason.

I have the impression that posts are more heavily downvoted now that the comment score is hidden.

It was rare to see comments become unreadable as it is now the case. I suppose that seeing the score allowed users to consider a given score as a sufficient punishment, and refrained from burying others deeper.

Maybe you could display the score when it's negative (that info is already conveyed by the shade of the text, but it is not quantitative)... or maybe cap the negative scale?

Some newbies make mistakes out of cluelessness, and by the time someone tells them to read the rules their total karma is way below zero. That's pretty harsh.

One of the things I admire most about PG is that everything he creates seem like extensions of his mind. He, more than anyone else I've ever met, seems to take life as a genuine exploration: not just of the world, but of himself.

It's kind of sad to see him "sign of" HN and YC so quickly and without fuss. Part of me wants a grander send-off, with commemorations, "look backs", speeches etc. He certainly would deserve this, though I doubt he'd want it.

But it's not really that sad, because each act of his life's play has been greater than the last. Having been so inspired by what he's done so far, I can only imagine what comes next.

Thanks PG for Hacker News and Y-combinator .. both have changed the world for the better. Also, thanks for handing them off to such awesome hackers, who will certainly carry them on and up.

Really excited to hear about the new tools, and mobile support.

I have just recently started using the excellent Hacker News 2 app[1] so if you're on Android, you might give it a try. It scrapes the page so it's almost like a mobile version of HN. It's also open source and regularly updated.

[1] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.airlocksof...

I've been using this version on my mobile devices: http://hn.premii.com/ It's very slick and works well 99% of the time.

I have also been using this for a while, it also has an excellent tablet interface.

Just out of curiosity from a business standpoint, is this budgeted as marketing for YC?

I don't know anything about budgets, and Kat and Garry (and Sam!) will speak for YC, but here's how I see the HN part of your question.

To me, YC and HN are like the business and editorial sides of a newspaper. They're one company, but optimize for different things. YC optimizes for great startups. HN optimizes for great content. For HN to be "marketing for YC" would be like a newspaper's stories being "marketing for its advertisers". That would be a bad newspaper.

In other words, the way for HN to benefit YC is to just have the highest-quality content it can. That seems so obvious to me that I hope it is to everybody else too.

>For HN to be "marketing for YC" would be like a newspaper's stories being "marketing for its advertisers". That would be a bad newspaper. //

Many (most?) newspapers have some stories that are very directly marketing for their advertisers - newspaper runs a story on bra-fittings and so sells advertising space to fashion companies.

In fact isn't this how newspapers work: they sell advertising. If the stories are "poor" (which characteristic is modified according to the target audience) then the paper doesn't sell and the advertiser gets fewer impressions. The paper promotes itself, wins pageviews and sell ads on the number of pageviews it's getting. Advertisers get impressions and the system feeds-back allowing the paper to grow, charge more and continue creating "news".

Isn't that exactly marketing for the advertisers?

Indeed looking at a NYT Magazine story at random I find not only regular advertising but the author's byline is also advertising a book. That makes me wonder if they're managing to sell much of the story space too.

In part I'd assumed that HN was created in order to provide buzz/feedback for YC companies and serve the purposes of YC (eg market information)? Indeed from the user perspective there's no way to know, with secret moderation, if any particular story has been "unfairly" promoted or quashed; just as with dead-tree publications.

What you describe isn't what I had in mind. I was thinking of the old-fashioned hard-boiled editor who says things like "over my dead body" and "give my regards to the President, but we won't be changing that story", and who offers his resignation on a regular basis. I'm pretty sure they didn't just exist in movies. Admittedly you probably have to go back to the glory days of print journalism to find them.

You don't have to go that far back to find an editor who's willing to pay the symbolic price when it comes to influencing customers and advertisers by modifying press coverage.

Just last week, Ben Richardson, Bloomberg News' editor-at-large for Asia, resigned his post over Bloomberg management's pressure on their journalists to refrain from producing articles critical of China.


That's a great comparison - but I do empathise for the GP - Lord Beaverbrook, Rupert Murdoch, William Randolph Hearst all show that it's they guy at the top of a newspaper that makes the difference. We depend on pg to maintain that separation, and to agree with you, I am sure he will.

Maybe HN is just the pamphleteer equivalent - but we need to find new ways of gathering round the campfire and sharing stories - newspapers worked well for a while, what's coming next seems to have the HN shape - and still we rely on integrity in our leaders. In an age of the blockchain as the guardian of our trust, I find that interesting.

YC doesn't have budgets.

That's interesting, any chance you can expand on that?

E.g. obviously you have some kind of operating budget to pay staff, offices, etc. Do you simply not break it down into different categories ahead of time? With an organisation the size of YC I don't understand how you can keep everything straight without something at least semi-formal.

I can testify personally to the effort that these guys put in. Nick Sivo (kogir) spent much more time on me with a problem than I ever would have expected. Thanks Nick and congrats to all the HN guys on their official roles!

Daniel Gackle (dang/gruseom) is a great guy. My wife and I have had the fortune of hosting him via Airbnb during a couple of his visits to MTV. Fantastic conversation from what's obviously a really smart dude.

"the fact that we get roughly equal grief for HN comments being bad and for being too quick to ban people is a sign he's been doing a good job so far." - lol. spoken like an economist :) it's a pretty weak sign* , but i will assume the decision is not based solely on counting emails.

(*) try banning constructive commenters on the site. you would then probably also receive complaints about banning and comment shittiness in equal measure.

How big is HN today? Pageviews, MAU, votes/day, etc.

I was indeed surprised when i checked HN on mobile last week. The simple layout would suggest it would scale on mobile. Glad it's being worked on.

I'd like to make what might probably be an unpopular suggestion, but I'll make it nonetheless :)

Perhaps you should simply block all comments on those stories that are likely to cause some "nonconstructive" (I don't really like the term) controversy or those whose subject has already been discussed on other stories, rather than killing them (dropping them from the front page, that is).

The reason I'm offering this is because of an argument I had with dang (gruseom) about a week ago over a story that expressed a very clear political opinion (which was particularly pertinent to HN). The reason it's important for these stories to be featured on the front page is that much of what is done in Silicon Valley is extremely political – from Uber to the latest GitHub scandal. I completely understand the desire for HN to stay away from politics, but that's not the result. Seemingly shying away from politics is itself a very powerful political statement, which is often apparent to anyone reading HN when something important is going on. It either communicates that you don't understand what politics is and your role in it, reduces the role of engineers to that of mere technicians at the same time most of them claim to be the exact opposite, or sends a message of silent agreement with the status quo. In fact, this was one of the main points of that killed story.

Just as an example – unrelated to that particular argument – featuring stories about Uber's success while dropping stories expressing outrage over their practices either expresses agreement with their behavior or a lack of understanding of how political is everything they do. "Outrage" over Uber isn't any less "constructive" or political than a discussion of, say, how much money they're making and how.

HN isn't /r/programming. It is not a technical discussion site (although it is that, too), but one for all things SV or hacker-related, including the effect of technology on society and vice-versa. As such, HN can't hide from political discussions over those very issues.

But because "political" stories can and often do generate heated and sometimes bigoted debates, it might be best to conserve the site's desired collegial atmosphere by simply banning comments on certain stories. Dropping them from the front page sends a clear message that leaves a very bad taste in many of the readers. Letting them be, but prohibiting debate in the comments says: this is an important opinion that many of our readers think you should be exposed to. Read it or not as you wish, or post an opposite thoughtful opinion, but don't bicker over it.

Are there any plans to opensource HN? A while ago there seemed to be an indication it would happen eventually but it was removed about a month later: https://github.com/HackerNews/HN/commit/350fba6dfec1c23a0b76...

Killing the mean and stupid stuff is great... but wish someone would kill the genuine but dismissive and negative stuff too.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any objective and fair way to do that. That doesn't mean we don't care about the problem, though. We do care about it and are working on it, and I've been looking at the data a lot.

Ultimately, though, the solutions are going to have to mostly involve the community. We'll probably be posting about this more in the coming days.

Well, now that you're outed and running the place, let me tell you exactly what I think you should do:

1. Click over to whatever textbox allows you to edit the site guidelines.

2. Clarify the "what's on topic" clause.

3. Add a "criticisms must be constructive", perhaps deriving it from Paul Graham's "colleagues working together to uncover the truth" wording from the Pending Comments announcement.

Start by spelling out the norms you want to see here, and we can all work to move the site in that direction without having to nail down the statutory language or figure out what 100 lines of lisp will best implement them.

Great idea.

To avoid Wiki-style lawyering (as noted in other comments), I think the guidelines could really be kept incredibly small. I think pg's "colleagues working together to uncover the truth" line covers 90% of what HN discussions should be.

I'd also add "no comments that don't add information/low signal comments", to avoid "+1" style comments and humour. I'm not sure most of the community agrees with me, but I don't like such comments here. Reddit optimises for fun being on Reddit and reading comments, HN optimises for getting the most on-topic information in the least time.

Wikipedia's wikilawyering culture generates and maintains the extensive guidelines there, instead of the guidelines generating that culture. (Like with most projects, people don't read the documentation first.)

It'd be great if a tiny set of guidelines were enough for HN, but that's very optimistic about people being able to pick up on implicit rules & values. A well-written set of reasonably detailed guidelines would make explicit what the majority of decent HN commenters already agree that HN should be.

100 lines of lisp? That's like, a billion lines of C? ;-)

I agree with Thomas(!), clarification of the guidelines would go a long way.

There are certain topics that bring out the flamewars more than others, and those should get particular attention. Most things political, sexism, nutrition (weird but true), and so on. Most of all I think it's important to reinforce the idea that you can disagree with someone even on deeply held beliefs and still be civil about it. Moral certitude does not make it ok to be mean.

Every pessimist imagines their negativity to be extremely constructive and the "best" possible response. See the comment I just replied to above :)

Most pessimists aren't being overtly un-constructive. But there are some very common species of negative comments that are clearly that: for instance, glib or sarcastic dismissals; and uncivil, hostile, or accusative criticisms.

True, those are a good target. I'm thinking of the more dangerous types though, where the person genuinely thinks that their negativity is highly valuable, when it isn't. Those are everywhere on the "Show HN" threads. Elsewhere too. The Internet loves to hate.

Hmm, seems like I'm being all talk. I'll just put my demo online, within the next couple weeks.

Yes, we need more detailed guidelines. I was talking about this over in one of the pending comments threads (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7484304), but "be civil", no name calling, and "no classic flamewar topics" are also way too vague. They're not a clear and enforceable code of conduct.

Wikipedia has some norms that, if imperfect, actually do seem to impact the site. "Civility" is a norm that seems to have a significant impact, and it's hard to think of a case in which incivility --- which is prominently featured every day on HN --- is ever worth hosting here. "Assume Good Faith" is another norm that seems to cut pretty closely to what Paul Graham was trying to say with his "collegiality" norm.

Yeah, that's an interesting example. Wikipedia spells out "civility" in great detail - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Civility#Avoiding_in... has friendly human-readable advice to prevent incivility, like "Not sufficiently explaining edits can be perceived as uncivil" and "Other people can misread your passion as aggression". And https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Civility#Identifying... provides a reasonably comprehensive list of types of incivility, to help identify what breaks the guideline. And then there's a stated process for dealing with serious problems.

Wikipedia's impressive documentation goes hand-in-hand with a Wikipedia community problem --- lawyering. Spelling norms out in that level of detail risks making a sport of out spotting and "enforcing" the norms.

Wikipedia's problem-solving mechanisms are impressive and effective for a project with a single coherent goal, but they aren't good at fostering community. In fact, they do the opposite thing: they artificially factionalize the community, which holds together despite and not because of those mechanisms.

Sure, it gets messy to try to comprehensively document all types of incivility and only enforce what is described there. HN would benefit from a friendly middle ground between that legalistic style and simply saying "be civil".

Honestly, people do not need multiple pages of documentation for behaviour guidelines.

"Don't be a dick" covers most of it. "Don't attack the person making a point. And don't be vicious when you attack their point; test it, probe it; destroy it; just don't be vicious".

Sadly having extensive documentation about what is or is not allowed leads to destructive bike shedding and comcern trolling.

I wish everyone understood what "don't be a dick" means, but sadly, a lot of people don't get it.

Adding the small extra details of "Don't attack the person making a point" and "don't be vicious" would be improvements on the current guidelines.

Also, for example, adding "sarcasm is not helpful".

Will there be any intermediate solutions before slow/hell banning people?

FWIW I was slow banned years ago and it still hasn't been removed.

It may just have been a moderator having a bad day, but the message when it's left there is clearly "You're not welcome here.". That's a message you might not want to be sending to people who are saying what you can't say.

Decisions like that are pretty much always subjective. Moderation is, in large part, about taste. Count the number of upvotes the comments saying that people appreciate your taste are getting, and remind yourself that we've already declared faith in you even in non-objective situations.

(note that this is the standard pep talk that has to be delivered to moderators everywhere from time to time, and indeed that my friends periodically deliver to me when I'm worrying the same way you are :)

Congrats on the new job.

If you fix the Font Stack in news.css so that it is

  font-family: sans-serif;
You will have my eternal gratitude, I'll also accept

  font-family: verdana, sans-serif;

Good Luck with the new role.

I missed this in the rush yesterday. This kind of thing will be Kevin's call, not mine. Thanks for the good wishes.

Why is that?

Sometimes the only reasonable and legitimate response to certain ideas and claims is to dismiss them. It's much the same for negativity. Sometimes a negative response is the best one.

Highly sanitized, politically correct, feel-good discussion is pretty much pointless to engage in. The best value and insight often comes from asking the hard questions and pointing out flaws that are painful to acknowledge.

It might not feel pleasant all of the time, and it might not make people happy, but engaging in discussion in a way that some people may consider "negative" or "dismissive" often gets the best results for everyone involved.

We have more choices than just "dismissive/negative" and "highly-sanitized/feel-good", though.

For example-

"This is broken as it exists, for reasons A-E. However, if you did things X-Z, it would work much better and be much more interesting."

Sure, that takes more time. But honestly, if your main priority with your post is that you can write it quickly, you're probably not making a meaningful post anyway.

I wonder if an "are you sure" type button could help improve posts. Maybe it could say "Does this contribute to the conversation?", just to remind people what the point of posting really is.

There's some software called CoFind:


Which was a bookmarking tool, that enabled you to create your own scoring system with multiple facets. Like the Slashdot: Insightful, Funny... You can't have too many of these as it can get unweildy (probably why Facebook settled for the Thumbs up), but it could help. Especially for a community that sees the outcome value and are prepared to learn and contribute towards community moderation.

Up and down votes are so ambiguous that I'd almost suggest they are practically pointless. The 'Mee too' and 'I don't agree' votes really need to be filtered out into something else. Perhaps into a 'Consensus' facet. Add to the mix 'Topicness' : 'On topic', 'Off topic'; 'Niceness': 'Pleasant', 'Rude' etc.

Word cap each comment too, so they remain to the point. Essays can be linked to.

Into these winds of change, I'd like to again toss my suggestion that never takes off:

Divide HN into two "sub-HNs", one for "intellectual curiosity", the other for everything else (e.g. startup news, web frameworks, A/B testing, meta-HN... even those YC startup announcements).


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