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Challenge HN: Keep lame April Fools' gags off the front page
257 points by dang on Apr 1, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments
(I'm going to rewrite this, because people have made some good points in the thread.)

Most April Fools' gags in tech are lame. Only the very best ones, such as those that show hackery ingenuity, deserve much attention on HN. I propose that we, or rather you, flag the others off the front page.

After plodding through them much of March 31 (where I am), I realized I was dreading the next 24 hours of having to read so many lame stories and decide which are real. Then I thought it might turn into a positive if I appealed to you all instead. This is a plea! You don't have to do it, but in my view it will help.

A word about humorlessness, since it's bound to come up. People who complain about HN's humorlessness have a point, but not because we're against humor. We like laughing as much as anyone. It's because empirically, a culture of humor means a flood of lame humor, and HN's goal is to optimize for signal/noise ratio. As with any optimization, there are inevitably tradeoffs.

PS: for those deciding to flag this submission, please note that dang is HN's moderator (as announced by pg here[1]). The HN team could physically prevent such posts, but instead is asking the community.

[1] http://blog.ycombinator.com/meet-the-people-taking-over-hack...

I think this is what bothers me. No disrespect meant to dang, but because of their position, it is difficult to figure out whether this is a plea or a mandate, which makes it problematic as people clearly aren't sure whether this is up for debate, or overrides the existing method we have of keeping bad things off of the front page in favour of moderator discretion (which I'm aware existed anyway, but more for posts that were clearly garbage/spam/trolls).

It's a plea. But I wasn't asking for moderator discretion. Thousands of regular users flag things. Like this post!

My threshold for tech April Fools jokes: if it's clever AND required writing non-trivial amounts of code, it may be worthy of my attention.

I will absolutely flag anything close to "We're being acquired by [competitor]!!1!" or "Announcing [thing totally antithetical to everything we do]!" etc.

I disagree in one way, but agree in another. It's one day in 365, it provides a little bit of relief.

But, of course, there are a lot of lame jokes. Just like there are a lot of lame news articles that could potentially be posted on the site but are not upvoted.

So why don't we optimise the SNR, and only upvote good April Fools pranks?

I think that's a good compromise.

"It's one day in 365, it provides a little bit of relief."

Traditionally, 'April Fools' pranks were one morning at the start of April, and the gags ended at midday.

It's never worked properly on the internet and has bled either side to something like 2 days, internet time. That's a non-significant amount of time as a proportion of the year to have to deal with bogus shit.

You've just described how HN works.

I know, right? :)

Only upvote the good posts? Isn't that what's supposed to happen every day? Sounds like today is business as usual.

Sorry, I had to flag this. Today's front page was clean enough that you don't need this post (aside from Google's Pokemon master prank). We are already optimizing for signal/noise ratio, and your post is just a noise in that regard.

"Today" was hardly the bulk of April Fools' Day, and the front page was "clean enough" because people worked hard to keep it that way.

I've been keeping a close eye on this. What swayed me was how many more April Fools' posts were appearing on March 31 (where I am) than I previously remember.

I do appreciate that not everyone agrees, but I want to send a message about signal/noise ratio. That's HN's mantra. We can't have that and everything else as well; there are tradeoffs.

The objection that this and other meta posts I've been making are also noise is a good one, except that this is a special case while we go through a transitional period. I won't be making them forever.

I sure wish it were true that the community is already optimizing for signal/noise ratio, but it's not. We have a serious problem with that and we're going to try a lot of things to fix it.

Yes, but we have up and down voting of posts, which is inherently democratic - if we like stuff, we'll upvote it, and if it's a lame joke, we'll downvote it. And thus SNR is maintained. Why is there a problem here? Surely what you're kind of verging on, is telling us what we should and shouldn't enjoy?

Weighing in here as a random user ...

You have a valid question, and I've thought about this a lot. When you have a very large audience it's depressingly easy to have lots and lots of quick upvotes for something that's genuinely content-free. There are plenty of places on the interwebs where you can find amusing material, but it feels to me that there is a real danger of the intellectually challenging and enriching material being swamped as we "amuse ourselves to death."

I don't think this is a case of telling people what to enjoy, it's more a case of trying to keep the original flavor and culture. HN is certainly an unusual corner of the 'net, and I value it.

Added in edit: And you can't actually downvote posts, you can only flag them. Unless I'm missing something, or possibly haven't hit the karma threshold yet. Which seems unlikely.

That's exactly right.

I was also keeping an eye on HN (mostly because, well, my country has seen the April Fools' Day hours before US and I was procrastinating sigh) and the trend so far was out of my expectation. I first thought that the moderators are working very hard to keep jokes out of the front page, but after some hours I started to think that the community keeps posting lots of signals in order to combat higher-than-normal noises.

Given my observation and the circumstance that you have posted the original post in the middle of April Fools' Day over the globe, I thought your post was quite inappropriate and it would challenge trolls instead, hence the flagging (as a substitute for downvote). I appreciate your concern and thank you for your service, but please keep it mind that not only moderators are concerning.

Those gags were off the front page because we penalized them.

I'm afraid I don't understand your second paragraph.

I've seen lots of legitimate but less important stories out of the front page compared to normal days so I thought it is not only the penalty that the front page seemed to be clean. It might be my misconception though, and again I fully appreciate the moderation efforts.

I'm not sure I can rephrase the second paragraph better and the following analogy fits well, but I think the principle of "do not feed trolls" equally applies here. Every moderator post about the current matter signals trolls, which we want to avoid as much as possible (and we have hellbans for the reason). In my humble opinion it would be better to deliver the statistics or even small notice well before and/or after the April Fools' Day for asking communities' help and coordination.

You may not be aware that dang is HN's chief moderator:


I'm very aware and I'm flagging the post for a reason, even though the mod can completely ignore it. Maybe I had to explain that first.

Definitely not ignoring the flags; at one point they had this post at #982.

One thing to consider is that some of the April Fools' "jokes" are pretty awesome hacks in disguise, such as this year's "Headdit" with actually working head gesture recognition, etc.

So, I'd propose flagging lame pranks, but up-voting fun and inspiring hacks, seeing as how this is Hacker News after all.

I have an old Russian poster that says: "I have my own opinion, but I disagree with it." I agree with your opinion more than mine and am going to rewrite the post accordingly.

The truth is that I just didn't think of this way of looking at it, and it's clearly better.

Other users (like tlrobinson) have made the same point in this thread. This comment is for them too.

Respectfully disagree. The only ones that will be upvoted a lot will presumably be the funny ones, not the lame ones.

This is a thoughtful comment and a model of how to disagree on Hacker News. Thank you.

I wish you were right, but I'm afraid you have an overly rosy view of upvotes. For example, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7506762 shot to #1 in just a few minutes.

Speaking of moderation ideas, now that there is some new blood, here's another random one. I'm not sure it's any good, and it's kind of vague, but... how about if an article gets flagged enough, the upvoters are "named and shamed" in some (not highly visible) way. It might provide a small incentive to not vote for lame stuff.

It feels wrong to out people's votes, which are normally private. The objections I've been making to inappropriate comments are public only because the comments themselves are.

Fair enough. I wouldn't want my comment votes public, but I can't think of any stories where I would mind terribly. I could see reasonable people thinking otherwise, though.

I like the idea but I think it's probably too complex to implement fairly.

CERN using comic sans was hardly funny, yet it made the front page.

Let the system optimise for signal/noise ratio, not just a blanket 'voluntary' ban of April Fools gags. Don't encourage people to follow your personal opinion of 'dreading' this day, it's an abuse of your position to try to persuade people that way. You're a moderator, please remain as objective as possible.

The tech world is having a day of fun, people interested in tech have to make the personal decision of whether or not they like each individual gag. If the masses approve then it has a place on a tech news feed. If you don't like it, feel free to make your opinion heard, just don't ask others to follow your opinion thoughtlessly.

Let the system optimise for signal/noise ratio

I know the system pretty well. The trouble is that, left to its own devices, it doesn't optimize for signal/noise ratio. That's why we're appealing to the community to do so more consciously. The current post was an experiment in that. We're going to do a lot of such experiments until we see results.

HN isn't the whole of the tech world, nor has it ever been simply a vote aggregator. There are other factors, the most important of which is culture. HN's culture has been diluting, and we're going to address that.

It's true that that's opinionated. The only thing you'll get without an opinionated moderator is drift. If HN drifts, it won't be to an interesting place but a mediocre one.

I agree completely with you. I am from a country that does not "celebrate" April Fool's day. Today it is a really bad day for my usual internet news pages because they are infested with lame joke attempts.

>April Fools' gags in tech have grown stale

Or you have gotten older.

Did 2048 clones stop reaching the front page because I have gotten older?

Imagine the front page being filled by 2048 clones every day.

Then imagine it being filled like this every two days instead.

Then imagine it's not just the front page, but the entire internet being filled with those clones every two days.

Then imagine it's not every two days, but every year.

It's gotten stale.

They were stale when I was 15 and reading /. in 2005, they're stale now too.

What's the average age here? I feel like I'm in a no fun allowed zone.

I've had jokes upvoted here. The ingredients, as far as I can tell, were that they were original, topical, and required a bit of thought about the subject. In other words, the opposite of memes, or generic jokes that are probably retellings from somewhere else. Here's one from yesterday:


If only there were other places on the internet to get your kicks off.

Indeed - I think accepting some degree of silly humour, even if it is lame, is important, as otherwise even when you consider yourself to be not taking yourself seriously, you are in fact maintaining some degree of elitism.

Just don't upvote lame ones. There's a lot of lame news everyday too. You don't have to flag all news.

Based on experience I am sure that's not enough, or I wouldn't have made the appeal.

I think it has less to do with not having humour/fun, but more to do with wasting our time sifting through what is real and what is not.

HN is the place where you discuss things like "Whatsapp bought for $19 BILLION". So by nature, some of the headlines we get on here are a little hard to believe in the first place... throw in April Fools jokes, then we have people questioning if they are reading a real PR piece, or a "joke".

I actually think that makes things interesting - when it's difficult to discern between reality and parody, it makes you think about the world we live in.

Well, why restrict it to one day a year? We should be thinking about the world we live in more often than that.

Let's just collect them in one thread.

How about setting the bar for posting/upvoting at "Actually fooled me".

The explicit guideline would be:

- Post/upvote online if you think it's legit after reading the content. It's OK to upvote even if you realize it's fake later (e.g. from comments) - this is considered timeshifted voting not a violation of the guideline.

- Don't flag/downvote on the sole basis believing it's a joke. Of course flag/downvote as normal for any other reason, e.g. it sucks.

- No addition restrictions on commenting, in particular mocking the OP is perfectly OK [edit: so long you abide by the normal community guidelines of civility etc]

Quite useless post in my opinion. Since when are we told what to upvote and what to flag? Do we get a "please flag Microsoft posts" when there's the next big Microsoft event (example)?

If you can't handle a few bad jokes and lame stories, then stay of the news for a day and come back the next one, instead of getting emotional about it...

And there's no need to justify "guys" as "gender-inclusive". It's already known as such.

Can we now get back to the Hacker News without rules on what we have or don't have to do?

This site has a culture. That culture is to focus on things of intellectual substance. It doesn't mean other things aren't also good; I personally love frivolous humor. But HN can't be all things. It needs a focus, and optimizing for one thing means trading away others, as in any engineering or design problem. The real agenda behind my post is that we want to get the community participating more in maintaining this culture. It's an experiment and it may not work, but I hope it does.

> Can we now get back to the Hacker News without rules on what we have or don't have to do?

There are not 'strict rules', but there are certainly guidelines:


but maybe the joke is on us and he meant it as a joke? In that case sarcasm/irony level: master!

I disagree, because I think the 1st of April has turned into a challenge towards our own perception of news. While it is most often easy to detect an April's fool, it is hard to rule out false positives. So many news stories are so strange, so meaningless or so predictable that they might qualify as a nonsense joke.

One day a year, we are asking ourselves for each and every article we read: Is this story too odd to be true?

I think that's a good thing.

(That's a gender-inclusive "you guys".)

Or you could just use gender-neutral language in the first place, if you're concerned about being inclusive. "you folks", "my colleagues", even just "you". There's a host of alternatives. It scans weirdly that you highlight that the phrase might be taken the wrong way, but then choose to explain it rather than alter it.

I sent the following mail to Dan, too, but for others who might be confused at why people take offense to an attempt at inclusiveness:


I'm kind of surprised to see you explicitly call attention to your usage of "you guys" in your post. I'd originally thought that I at least preferred it to leaving "you guys" there unannounced ... but given a little more thinking, I suspect it's actually worse. The subtext that you've provided there, to people who do not identify as "guys", is 'I know you're there, and I know that these words make some of you uneasy, but don't worry, I didn't mean to offend you, I just really really wanted to use these words anyway; I think they're worth the risk of offending you'.

I know what you were trying to get at -- you want to make Hacker News a better place for /everyone/. (And thanks for that!) I'm sure you didn't intend that meaning to non-guys, and I totally understand how that came about. But, given that, I think that you might want to edit those words. Can I recommend the usage of "you all", or if you want to be more colloquial, "you folks"?

Point taken. I rewrote the phrase to "you all" before I saw this, so hopefully I'm getting the hang of it.

Thanks! Much appreciated.

"You guys" is gender neutral where I'm from, and I don't think you're entitled to redefine the term 'guys' as being specific to a gender where I'm from. "You blokes" or "You gals"... yeah... gender specific in my immediate culture.

At some point, you're going to need to accept that when some people use a term that's loaded for you, it's not necessarily loaded for them, and the problematic nature of the term is only problematic to you and your circles, and it's just not intended as insulting, demeaning, belittling, or othering.

I'm not sure I agree in this case. The Oxford English Dictionary gives ones of the definitions of guy as 'people of either sex' [0]. There's value in defending this meaning, and not running away from it because it could be misinterpreted. This is similar to how geeks like to defend the positive definition of 'hacker', rather than avoiding it.

To be clear: I'm not trying to minimize the feelings of women or other marginalized communities. Rather, I'm just saying that one way to respond is to aggressively 'colonize' words so that a positive meaning becomes the dominant meaning.

[0] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/guy

I agree with you on the usually dual-gender definition, though it's not always seen that way. I'm saying that it scans oddly to highlight a term and justify it, rather than alter it. If you think your terminology is going to cause problems, then rephrase yourself, don't justify keeping it as is.

I didn't really mean for my criticism to end up talking about further gender issues - it's really meant to be a comment on better communication. I was reading the submission about topic A, then hit a parenthetical remark that is justifying an orthogonal topic B, then back to topic A again. It doesn't scan well.

What do you mean by 'it doesn't scan well'?

The flow of the paragraph isn't fluid. One concept doesn't flow into the next concept and/or it reads awkwardly.

The meaning of "guys" (as "men" or "people of either sex") depends a lot on its context and a lot on the person reading the words - here's a survey with some examples: http://jvns.ca/blog/2013/12/27/guys-guys-guys/ (But a moderation note probably isn't a great place to try to shift interpretations of words.)


If you are smart enough to recognise that your choice of language is not ideal, it would be better to change it rather than try to justify it.

Agree strongly with jwise0's well-crafted comment: the justification makes it worse. You recognise that this is a gendered word, which a group of people might be uncomfortable with, and yet you indicate that you are deliberately using it.

The second word isn't necessary. "You" can be singular or plural.


It's a term of affection.

So are 'you folks' and other options. The thing is, you turn a comment that has nothing to do with gender issues into one that highlights it with things like your parenthetical remark. If you think it's not inclusive and that's an issue for you, then find another way to say it.

I'm not offended by the comment, nor do I have trouble understanding it. It's just odd to express inclusiveness by highlighting and justifying a term rather than adjusting it.

I see your point. What I wrote was the way I would normally say it when I was trying to be friendly to a group, such as a team. Then I realized someone might think it was exclusive, which I certainly didn't intend, so I added the other bit. It's colloquial English; the phrase has clearly morphed to be gender neutral. The confusion comes from the fact that the word "guys", standalone, has not. I probably should have known better than to use it, but I like my English to be alive.

"You folks" sounds corny. No one says "folks", in my experience, other than corporate managers in emails.

It's not so clearly neutral; this confusion could be a language register mismatch issue. "You guys" as a gender-neutral term is a very informal usage - it's something I might say in person to a mixed-gender group of my close friends. But even slightly more formal language isn't as slangy, such as a written post on a forum of mostly strangers and acquaintances, so the "you guys" doesn't read as obviously gender-neutral.

You've hit the nail on the head, I think, except that the circle of usage in this case goes quite a bit further than close friends. Actually, the more I think about it, it really does seem to me that "you guys" is a distinct usage from "guys". But linguistic minutiae (some of us like them!) are obviously not the main point here, and I appreciate the deeper insight.

It's hard for me not to write in an alive way, which means using informalities when they feel like the mot juste. Actually, I'm dreading the prospect of having to strip all possible misunderstandings out of my writing in advance. It feels like going to language jail. But I understand why people do it and why I may have to. I hope that anyone who cares about this noticed that I did replace "you guys" with "you all" above.

Edit: When I said "all possible misunderstandings", I wasn't talking about inclusivity—I meant literally all possible misunderstandings about anything.

Nice, thanks for editing the post. Sociolinguistics is fascinating; at least not every kind of mismatch/misunderstanding is loaded. And there's a paper for some linguist to write on the hybrid tone of friendly and authoritative that forum moderators find to use.

(Edit: Part of why I consider clear use of "you guys" to be so limited is that when used in professional/quasi-professional tech industry contexts, it can accidentally annoyingly remind readers that we're among very few women around: http://subfictional.com/2012/07/02/language-matters-stop-usi... )

It really is fascinating.

I've been a public forum moderator for two or three days at this point. I'll probably find a lot of hybrid tones to use before there's a reliably good one. Your patience in the meantime is appreciated.

You don't have to sterilise your languge; it just takes a little bit of practise. It's something of a myth that language must be sterilised to be inclusive. Perhaps see it as a challenge to your language skills rather than a prison sentence?

I did the same thing myself with my general assumption that all online authors are 'he' until otherwise noted, with the excuse that it eased the 'he/she' usage issue. That annoyed the living shit out of me, as it was really an excuse for laziness, so I changed it. Now you'll usually see me refer directly to someone's handle, an article author's surname* when it's known, or just say 'the author'. Occasionally it makes the sentence feel a touch stilted, so I haven't perfected it, but I'm much happier with that than the previous way. Sometimes I use 'they', which is gaining acceptance, but there's still a group of people that can't stand the singular 'they'. Overall it was fun training myself that way.

You'll be under more scrutiny, admittedly :)

*What prompted me to do this was watching a political talking heads show. I noticed that male politicians were always referred to by surname, as were older female ones, but young female politicians got the informal first-name treatment. It really drove home the difference in professional respect given to the various groups.

Oh, I didn't mean "sterilized to be inclusive"! I meant trying to avoid all possible misunderstandings about anything.

And "you people" sounds condescending, or in some cases racist or otherwise derogatory (I sure wouldn't say "you people are really bad at X" to a population entirely of another race).

Isn't the thought and recognition enough?

"It scans weirdly that you highlight that the phrase might be taken the wrong way, but then choose to explain it rather than alter it"

Edit: re 'enough?', this isn't meant to be a crushing, accusative comment, but advice for better expression in the future.

I'm very glad for this. The only problem I can foresee is knowing what is/isn't an April Fools' joke. If I remember correctly, Gmail looked like it might be an April Fools' joke when it was first announced on April 1. The amount of storage on offer was so much higher than other webmail services that it seemed almost too good to be true.

(Gmail is turning 10 today!)

I personally am tired of the April Fools stuff too but I have enough faith in the HN community/mechanism to trust that only those things deemed worth it will make the front page. I'm not against humour either, so can't/won't object if good/funny/clever April Fools links get posted.

tl;dr: special measures not required, IMHO.

The front page has never solely been the product of the community. It has always been curated, if largely unobtrusively. Part of my aim here is to appeal to the community to participate more in that. It's not just a question of individual preference (upvote) but of the culture of the site and the values we're trying to optimize for.

Dude, April first is 'national do something besides read news' day. That's why they post all those false stories. It's there for a reason. Go, get some work done. Or go outside. Get laid. go for a walk.

April first is a day to sit back and contemplate something besides your echo-chamber. Step outside of your filter bubble!

"Contemplate something besides your echo-chamber. Step outside of your filter bubble!" he said, screaming into a vortex.

I'm actually really glad about this. For one, the Hiring Thread goes up today, and if you want to see all the madness, you've got Twitter, TechCrunch, and Reddit to supply you.

About the only thing I'll miss, is for the more impressive ones, technical explanations. But beyond that, it's nice to have a place to breathe.

I don't hang out on Twitter, TechCrunch, or Reddit. There is one day a year for such light-hearted japes... but apparently that's too many.

I see HN as a community, not a trove of tech and business documentation/explanations. The proper place for communal documentation is a wiki, not a forum. I mean, it's one day that the entire Anglo culture knows about, not just techies. You can gird your loins for one day, and have weeks in preparation for it.

Personally, I can do without the obituaries when someone famous dies. The single-to-noise ratio is so incredibly low - there's a small amount of discussion of what the person did (repeated so many times), and a whole lot of 'oh, sad to see they died'. But hey, if I wait, the whole thing will blow over in a day or two, no need to complain, nor pre-emptively get defensive about being the 'obituary police'. I mean, after all, when someone famous in tech dies, you've got Twitter, TechCrunch, and Reddit to supply you.

We're not all weathered by many decades of lame April Fools! Think of the younger geeks who may be drawn into the community and discussion by particularly good tech gags :)

I have faith in the voting system that all but the good'uns will be filtered out anyway. I respectfully suggest that this post is noise itself.

Respectful suggestion respectfully received :)

Your faith in the voting system is misplaced, I'm afraid. Voting alone doesn't keep HN HN. But I've posted what feels like ten zillion comments in this thread alone, not to mention plastering the whole site with them lately. I'm going to stop here.

Unfortunately, I've already seen at least one on the front page.

So... challenge failed before it even started <3

Down with fun!

Thanks, I opened 'zite' up on my tablet and it was mainly really uninspired/mundane/transparent/poorly executed attempts at humor and I was quite put off by it. Be glad for that crap not to surface here.

This is a target rich environment, like the kind of Warsaw Pact through Fulda Gap scenario which convinced NATO putting TOW missile launchers on absolutely every vehicle they had, and atomic landmines, would be a good idea.

Good hunting!

I disagree at needing moderation around this. The community can moderate this one. I know we can't downvote stories, only comments, but I think the better content will win out if there is actually anything.

Why the hate? It's become the new cool to despise April's fool?

I admire companies that make up pranks. I really wish the megacorp I work for would have the guts to break the monotony once a year too.

Thank you for making this day less insufferable for me.

You're supposed to add "This is not Reddit." That is the canonical response when anything less than serious is posted.

You correctly picked up how "you guys" could be read as non-gender inclusive (and I speak an English dialect where it is gender inclusive), but you then used "lame" which is a mild insult against people who are physically disabled. Maybe choose a better word? I find insults based around poo to be better :)

With respect, if you go looking for inadvertent use of wide-meaning colloquialisms that cause minor offence to the sensitive, then you will find them.

To take this story more off topic, I think it's important to look at history. There are phrases now that used to be "wide-meaning colloquialisms" but now viewed as unprofessional, and used to be dismissed as "inadvertant(ly)" causing "offence" to a 'tiny sensitive minority'. (e.g. calling women "baby"). That doesn't mean we shouldn't look at our words today.

i, for one, love the humorlessness. it's a haven from the lamers at Reddit.


dang is one of the main official moderators, introduced a few days ago.

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