This is one of the most off-putting things about HN in my opinion. It's better than bigger social sharing sites like Reddit in that tired jokes and posts with little thought are usually voted down to the bottom, but posts that poke holes in the original argument are often top comments.
A lot of technically-minded people take great pleasure in finding and fixing bugs. The problem is that finding errors in human interaction leads to pedantry, nitpicking, and cherry-picking. This is especially true as the community grows and interactions with all but the most visible people becomes rare. People have less incentive to give others the benefit of the doubt, and more incentive to find the problems and point them out.
I'm worried about our once-little community, but I don't know how to prevent the petty fault-finding from resurfacing in such a large and shifting community.
I think this sentence is wholly flawed. Reddit is divided into subreddits, each subreddit has their own unique community and moderators. /r/askscience for example, is one of the best science help communities on the entire internet.
Their level of discourse far surpasses hackernews by any objective metric.
There are plenty of other subreddits with similar quality, /r/askhistorians comes to mind.
HN is the equivalent of a single subreddit and should be compared as such.
To move a level up the ladder, What do you (or any other commenter who feels like responding) look to get out of this community?
I find a lot of HN commenters try to put words into one's mouth. They even seem to feel they are being clever, and they are indeed imitating the outward forms of clever commenting. Maybe that's as far as we can expect human society to go.
HN compares unfavorably to an older medium: usenet, where read messages wouldn't clutter up threads and where it was easy to continue discussions for indefinite periods (even months) and to return to previous topics or split off side discussions. As long as HN stays the way it is it'll always be hampered by limitations which ultimately cap the quality of discussion.
You could piggyback this onto bitcoin, make a client that listens to specific messages to identify channels embedded in the blockchain? Every message would have to be a payment to a specific address to get a message onto the channel, the moderator(s) of the channel would be the recipient(s) of the bitcoins in reward for moderating the channel.
If a moderator decided to 'kill' a post they'd have to make another message to the same channel so for them (minus transaction costs) it would be a '0' affair.
I use the first one and it makes HN much more readable.
One problem with internet websites is that it is not clearly separated into work or leisure, which leads to people in leisure mode disrupting other people's work mode.
This is not an easy problem to solve and I'm sure that this is not a binary issue either, but some form of continuum.
It's not even a continuum; it depends heavily on cultural notions of how life is divided, or should be divided. The home/work/third place trichotomy isn't universal in the first place, and people on the internet have exhibited plenty of evidence that they consider it every combination of the three.
There is a purpose besides leisure, selling to the leisure group or building technologies to improve the internet's effectiveness for selling to the leisure group?
Looking at pictures of cats, pornography and buying trinkets are all clearly leisure activities.. but commenting on vaporous articles about living underwater is something I expect to get academic credit for according to the social norms established by scholastic reports.
I, for one, welcome our new artificial intelligence social media overlords.
In my experience, there's less of this on MetaFilter, where it's simply a flat discussion.
Yes. More and more people know what internet and IT are now, and can not live without them. But they haven't learn well enough about how to interact with others and express their feelings since most of the time they are talking with text anonymously (with regard to privacy). Plain text is usually not enough for them to guess the exact meanings and feelings. So I think people should be polite first.
I have surfed on the internet for more than fifteen years, but I still don't know the best way to avoid conflicts. Everyone, not only the techically-minded people, can become crazy just for a little misunderstanding. Maybe we have eaten too much fast-food.
Generally, very successful people don't spend large amounts of their time commenting on online forums. In this manner, the biggest 'losers' in the real world, with the most time to waste on the internet, become the biggest 'winners' in the online community.
The end result is that the cultural norms of the online community end up being set by people who are the least qualified to create or enforce any kind of healthy norm.
edit: just wanted to say that I recall reading something similar on a blog a long time ago, although I cannot remember the name of the writer.
I remember a claim of a similar but opposed problem: that low quality short content is much more rewarding that long, thoughtful responses. See a funny cat pic? I chuckled, upvote. See a long answer that doesn't quite fit your opinion? Downvote, or ignore at best. Short and funny trumps long and thoughtful.
This is not a problem in HN thanks to moderation, but it happens a lot in other communities.
In the several communities my team and I manage, those most likely to go viral / frontpage / call it what you will, are members of one of two camps: Great curators or trolls.
Trolls will generally go viral almost immediately based on the sheer volume of interaction with their posts (think, nude selfies posted as 'fashion').
Being pretty proactive with the banhammer will enforce the norm reasonably well, as people will pretty rapidly figure out that in order to make it to the leaderboard, you need to not be banned. It's more Hunger Games than Cocktail Party.
Also as a bit of a tangent - those who spend the most time on site are overwhelmingly not top commentors, contributors, or voters. They're consumers. We have several thousand users who spend an average of 4 hours on site /per day/ who've interacted with a post less than ten times.
To the extent that this is really an issue, its quite easily addressed by using the average net upvotes rather than total net upvotes for whatever weighting, if any, the comment display system gives to poster score/karma/etc.(If you want to also give some weight to engagement without encouraging post frequency, you could accumulate a score using the average in each day or week, so duration of regular engagement would be rewarded, but high frequency would not.)
Of course -- I think that to the extent that excessive influence by frequent commenters is an issue, its more because most of the volume of comments is going to come from them, independently of any reward system.
Of course, nobody wants to do this because then they would lose some of their traffic.
HN is mostly very civilized. (Granted, some of that is due to moderators.) So the blog's bullet point about "trust" devalued because of one-time transactions does not seem relevant. It's relevant for reddit/atheism but not HN.
To me, the problem with HN, SO, etc is the voice of experts getting drowned out by amateurs. The growth rate of new amateurs joining will always outpace new experts and each year the signal-to-noise gets worse. I haven't seen a clever self-governing mechanism that addresses this social dynamic. The upvote/downvote/karma history is not enough to solve it.
Even if Paul Graham doesn't know Rust, I think it's safe to assume that any questions he'd write in an online community would not be ridiculous (is Rust slower than Bash?). Any amateurish observation he'd have, at minimum, would have some intelligent thought behind it.
> There is no reason to trust people you will not interact with again in the future. There’s no incentive not to defect. At the end of my last relationship, our interactions became significantly less pleasant as it became more obvious that it was over – I would not have to deal with this person in the future, so why bother going through the motions of kindness?
Without meaning to be rude or make an attack on the author's character, the author does sound like a bit of an asshole there.
How about being nice to people because you're a nice person, rather than because you want to get something out of it? If you could murder someone and get away with it, would you? I wouldn't, because in abhor the idea of killing people. Similarly, I would act decently towards another human being even when I have no incentive to do so, simply because I am a decent human being and I don't like the idea of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to others.
As they say, a gentleman remains a gentleman even in the gutter. If you need to be surrounded by other decent human beings to be decent, if being surrounded by jerks automatically reverts you to jerk behaviour, perhaps you're not a decent human being after all, only a chameleon sort of person who will do whatever they think they can get away with.
I hope a majority of people here would behave the same way as me - decently, irrespective of the surroundings and likelihood of "getting caught". And there's the rub I guess - a community composed mostly of decent human beings will be less vulnerable to this effect than one composed mostly of selfish people who only act decently when they can see a tangible payoff.
That may be another path to survival: find the assholes and keep them out, and then perhaps you can deal with growth more easily.
This rhetoric of such-and-such an idea being natural, and therefore inevitable, is always used as a core justification for any ideology, whether feudalism, monarchy, communism or social darwinism. They are not all correct.
It's pretty obvious that humans are not exclusively rational machines designed for 'winning', we have all sorts of other mechanisms which act to make us function well as part of a unit, and these mechanisms have secondary consequences which mean that we are perfectly capable of acting against our own interests, or against the interests of our genes. We should be embracing that, not trying to cut it out. We shouldn't attempt to use the evolutionary process as a moral guide.
Sure it might be tasteless or sad to observe, and yes there are people that defy this. It's still going to happen though.
Only in dealing with the realities of this is there actually a shot at mitigating it.
I do worry for people who feel like the author of this article. I can't imagine how miserable it must be to only feel joy when other people are kind to you, and not the other way around. I guess I am lucky in that way, that I feel so much happiness when I share my kindness with someone else, even more so than when someone is kind to me; I am actually in control of my own kindness, so I am therefore also in control of my own happiness.
I'd like to see data backing this up. But I'm pretty sure he's not using any data because there's little data supporting any blanket assertions; HN is different than Facebook is different from discussion board X - even at scale.
● "[Paul Graham] wanted to make Hacker News a place to recreate the way Reddit felt in the good old days"
● "He explains that [Hacker News] was community of insiders in the hacker world, and it has gradually been getting diluted."
● “That is what I spend all my time thinking about,” he says.
● He worries that Hacker News will become what he calls “an old crumbling building.”
● “The community has been in a perpetual but slow decline because the site is growing,” he says.
My sense of a terrible 'community' like YouTube is a bit different. I've always had the impression it's more about performing and the size of the audience - more about votes and reactions than expected interactions.
No matter how nasty or inane your opinions are, you can share them on a related YouTube video and receive anonymous validation from other people who agree with you. When you're feeling bad about yourself and want to lash out, you can post something vile and get a response.
I believe this was a source of a lot of complaints about changes to the comment system. It hurt ones ability to receive instant gratification by dropping a comment on the top of the stack.
In the bat analogy, upvotes/karma are a sort of secondary 'junk food' blood supply that costs the giver nothing and some bats don't care for it as they prefer real sustenance but others are addicted to it. The 'community' ends up as a circus of votefiends bludgeoning each other for another hit.
People check /new, see that some post already has 1 or 2 upvotes, checks it instead of some without any upvotes. The upvoted one gets even more upvotes (because more people are reading it), and it's on the homepage.
A bunch of my submissions made the homepage and from what I've noticed, the threshold is about 7-10 upvotes in the first hour. So can we fairly say that a dozen of people decide what's on the homepage? Maybe.
My suggestion: don't show upvotes in /new for 30mins after submission? As a trade off, a little time might get wasted on low quality submissions but maybe there would be more better quality submissions on the front page.
One problem we foresaw with that approach is that it becomes hard not to have duplicate discussions or missing chunks of information. In the end we did not do anything with the idea but it was certainly interesting.
In the past, people like to read newspaper in the streets. Now, we read news from HN. If there is no comment box any more, no one can try to be a superstar in such a prominent place. Then we can just upvote and downvote a news, then talk about it somewhere else. And HN can let the submitter recevie links about discussion from others and show them under the post. Or just receive any links, then the submitter can place it at another positon.
What if it were geo-local? When you post an article or text post everyone sees it but you only see comments from people within 100km of your location.
You definitely can't just do everyone within a given radius from you because a person on one side of you won't be able to communicate with someone on the other and that's incredibly confusing. You could split the buckets up by location, but some people would have to put up with living on the border (well, just like a country or state).
There is one startup spun out of Stanford that is doing MOOCs by emphasizing the small group. At the beginning of the course, you can either create your own group and recruit others or join a group (generally 4-8 people). Those who do neither after the first week or so of class are randomly assigned into groups with others who were also not proactive about joining a group. It is easier to do discussions and group projects when there is a permanent group of 4-6 other students, and some of the courses have components where the group will submit work together and the rest of the class can see it.
I imagine tuning such a system would be very difficult though, and you don't want users stuck in a bucket that they don't feel fits them.
The secrets seem to be
a) charging people $10 one time to join/post and view more than a few pages of a particular thread
b) segmenting into different subforums - over time they become different communities within SA that have their own quirks.
c) ruthless moderation that can and often does lead to posting probations and bans (requiring another $10 to reverse)
In particular, the politics/history, sports, video games, and arts discussions are very good.
We see it here on HN of course, someone creates a new user account, makes a single low value snarky comment and then off to oblivion.
An interesting counter example is twitter, which I've seen that as people become more invested in the reputation of their 'handle' the less ill considered their tweets seem to become. When that isn't the case that is also interesting.
Titled "Attacked from within" it details the problems in scaling a community and community life-cycle very eloquently.
I must admit I've not seen this yet. In the forums I frequent the old elite rules...to the point where the admins trust the powerful members to manage it to some extent. If 3 powerful people decide that a new user is undesirable then said user is a dead man walking. Obviously not very democratic etc...but its super effective in maintaining the peace....the powerful members provide a base-line that absorbs most of the BS...the admins step in when something dramatic happens.
This is similar to the situation of event security guards. They individually hold more power than any member of the crowd, but if the crowd collectively decides to rush the stage, they can't really stop it from happening because it is physically impossible for 50 people to overpower 10000.
New users attempt similar rule breaking; get banned; and re-join to troll.
> The vested contributor is someone who believes they are entitled to a degree of indulgence or bending of the rules because of the duration and extent of their past contributions. In some cases, this view may be shared by other community members. The indulgence of vested contributors undermines FairProcess and the WikiNow. It is demoralizing to those who have made less widely recognized contributions, and to recent arrivals. An inside club or "cabal" can arise where there are a number of vested contributors who reinforce.
So yes VestedContribs are problematic - ultimately it comes down to the forum admin making a call on whether tolerating some BS is worth the value contributed. And that threshold is remarkably low in my experience - people post so much crap that its not difficult to stand out as "value".
Generally that means that the forum just hasn't grown enough in popularity. There are exceptions of course, depending on how heavily moderated the forum is.
I just feel like that breaks down in terms of logic. The new members must have a _different_ culture to the entrenched ones correct? If they had the same one there would be no conflict. They must have a different one and enter at such a rapid rate (the AOL example) as to overwhelm the existing base. And they must all have a pretty similar new culture so that it can become the dominant culture. But now the dominant culture reflects the majority of users which is what we'd want right? Anything else would be elitist and/or totalitarian?
What if the culture of whatever forum really liked fart jokes and then the majority stormed in and started talking about the weather? Are the jokers being elitist when they say they don't like the changes that have happened?
Maybe start a regimen of group chanting.
Implement a comment recommendation system. Based on comments you've liked and disliked, the system will push comments you would like to the top.
The quality of the community you see is then completely up to you. If you like poop jokes, you'll see poop jokes. If you like pedantic attacks, you'll see pedantic attacks. And if you like insightful comments, you'll see insightful comments. As you stabilize on a community you like, you can start responding to their comments, and then they too will have the chance to vote on your comments. If they like you they'll start seeing more of you, and a micro-community will evolve naturally for free.
A dynamic social graph like that would probably obviate the need for even categorizing content, let alone "jumping ship" when the community decays.
There are some drawbacks though. If you implemented it in reddit/hacker news, there would no longer be a "front page of x" to serve as a symbolic milestone for your submission. Without context, "2000 upvotes" has ambiguous importance. Also, a different ranking system exists for each cluster in your social graph, which sounds like a fun engineering problem.
If you look at sites that are based on following users or categories they are able to scale to much larger sizes without breaking down.
Clay Shirky: "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy"
Xianhang Zhang: "The Evaporative Cooling Effect"
Last week I wrote a post called "How to Cultivate Culture" that received a good amount of attention (outside of Hacker News) about this: http://www.sitebuilderreport.com/blog/6-ways-to-cultivate-cu...
When I was asked to be a moderator of brand-new (at the time) forums for a very popular Minecraft mod pack, it was being flooded with quite a large volume of people who would not adhere to some basic rules. The rules were quite simple and straightforward, but that didn't stop me and the owners of the site from straight banning large numbers of people.
The pure shock of forcing the "Yes we will see you again, you are not anonymous, and your reputation matters" into the system caused a lot less posting activity to take place on the forums, but the quality of each post was well worth it. A lot of people got banned trying (and failing) to wrap their brains around this concept.
The end result was I actually felt proud of helping shape an online community that was large, effective, and constructive. As it grew, so did the number of other moderators and that "critical point" kept shifting right, so we could have more users and still maintain a quality community. However, this requires a very proactive approach.
I think it'll be interesting to see how growth affects Hacker News. I'm still very impressed with the quality of the articles and comments (yes, there are some bad ones here and there, but compared to most sites HN is excellent)... I think the downvote threshold for HN has actually been quite successful in encouraging people to post useful comments. It gives a goal for people with low-karma to strive for, thus encouraging them to post better content. I think a more extensive reward system like this has potential for creating a better community.
And then it spawns off one or more new subreddits, based on the desires of the users. I feel that's a pretty good way to handle the situation.
Ideally, you would like to ensure the "greatest good for the greatest number" in a community. Consequently, good or happiness in a community is measured according to the preferences of the majority sometimes to the detriment of the minority. That is why, relative to the number of more intellectually engaging posts, you will see more LOLCats and animated gifs on the front page of Reddit. As somebody on here mentioned many people go on the internet for leisure, and intelligent/civilized discourse for them does not fall under that header.
As far as I know, HN was started to foster startups-tech community and I am optimistic because HN's subject matter is specific enough and the community concerned with this subject matter is small enough, for it not to devolve into another Reddit (meaning no offense to Reddit, I still visit there).
You'll see less of them these days. Reddit changed its default subreddit system last week and one of the big ones that got the boot was /r/AdviceAnimals.
Could that community avoid the pitfalls of what the article is describing?
I could see a place where enrollment closes at a certain point, then reopens once a person leaves or becomes inactive.
I would actually like to see if this would work.
Amusingly, I joined AOL in September of 1993. It was not long after I graduated and lost my university log-in, along with the e-mail address that came with it.
I chose AOL for a simple reason: I could dial up anywhere in the country and keep the same e-mail address no matter where I lived. AOL also greatly simplified the process of using the Internet. I ran a small business via my AOL address.
Each update to AOL software came via some promotion or other -- an insert in a magazine, or even a pile of AOL disks at the supermarket. At some point it became possible for an AOL user to access the Internet without the AOL software, e.g., by using mainstream e-mail and browser software.
Wow. I can't say whether this is true or not, but how depressing. Instead of counting on this behaviour, what if we tried to change it? Kindness, respect, and general "give the other person the benefit of the doubt" attitudes could make a huge difference. I just can't get around the idea that not interacting with the same person means you can not care how you treat them... that's crazy.
Its actually quite rational. It may be immoral -- or at least amoral -- but its not crazy.
One of the purposes of collective mutual benefit organizations -- labor unions, the state, etc. -- is to mitigate the effect of this by providing a manner in which a group of people can act and be perceived as an entity with which an actor will have to interact with in the future even when they may not have to do so with the particular individual.
Not true. Communities can - and should - use other incentive systems to encourage good behavior. 1) Point systems 2) Public shaming 3) bans / hell bans / abuse flagging / suspensions 4) various combinations
The threat of taking things from people that they've earned, even if it's as silly as 'fake internet points,' can be an extremely powerful enforcer of behavior, given the system is set up properly.
This is sort of the "This neighborhood was so great until all the yuppy/hipsters moved in and the art stores were replaced with coffee shops serving $6 lattes" argument.
We should be building better tools that can adapt and grow with the community.
I wrote about this a couple of years ago, with a possible set of solutions:
I will give you the value argument as a bias. The idea that "it's not as cool anymore" absolutely holds true, and imo is a more apples-to-apples comparison to gentrification.
Even Slashdot decayed and when Dice bought them out it was more about commercial stuff and less about technology and making cool stuff.
Reddit is over-run with trolls on various sub-reddits they started out in /r/atheism as fake atheists trolling people and then spread to other sub-reddits. Mostly 12 year old kids who think it is funny to grief people.
And yes, I'm aware of the great irony of posting this rather superficial comment in this thread. But I'm not sure if I'm actually wrong...
> When communities grow to a certain size, people no longer expect to interact in the future, and thus are more likely to defect – to be petty, mean, aggressive, and to put little effort into their contributions.
If this is true, then HN should put users karma score next to their username when they post.
So all the politics posts get upvotes from people who have enough karma to upvote, but not enough downvotes because people like me can't downvote.
In this way you can post a liberally biased article and all the Democrats will upvote it and the Republicans can't downvote it. So you get several hundred upvotes on your submission.
There are enough new members that can't downvote who have the ability to upvote to put any garbage article on the front page as long as it appeals to enough of them to overpower the people who consider the article not to belong on HN.
I could post some political garbage every day and get a huge karma/post score. At least 10 per each link submission which is more than 4x what I'm getting just commenting.
Hacker News tracks average-karma-per-post, which if it was the only metric available to the user, might be a good fix for this problem. You'd still get feedback on how people perceive your comments overall, but it couldn't turn into a competition over points.
Does anyone know of any websites that have implemented such a system?
The same effect seems to occur with large social movements. I've noted for many years that once anything becomes a "movement," it becomes shallow, trendy, and dishonest... even if the original seed of the movement had a good point in the beginning. Once it becomes big there is no longer any incentive for people not to abuse the movement as a marketing gimmick or a source of political power.
Personally I feel HN itself is having this very problem with its community right now. It's not only gotten too big but user "Probablyfiction" nailed it on the head. Too many newcomers destroy the existing culture instead of assimilating into it. The more I read about immigration problems in the USA, Europe (mass influx of Arab immigrants), Africa (mass influx of Chinese immigrants), Isreal (influx of African refugees) the more I notice this same assimilation problem exists in real offline communities as well. [New] Growth (too much too fast) can hurt communities by destroying the original characteristics, culture, and qualities that made them successful in the first place. Time and moderation needs to be given to ensure the new follows the rules of the old when applicable.
On hacker news, there are no "sub hacker news", and it seems to me like hacker news is deteriorating at a slower rate than reddit did. My guess is that the fact that there only is one hacker news, and no subcommunities is a partial reason for that.
But really like what it is right now: An extremely easy way to set up your own forum for free.
Much like pop records or bands there are some things that have a different life cycle. People still by records by that outfit that called themselves 'The Beatles' but there is no 'Beatlemania' any more.