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Ask HN: How exactly does Hacker News 'points' work?
129 points by sunilkumarc on May 28, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments
I wanted to know how many upvotes should a post get to get 1 point here. Because as i have noticed 1 upvote != 1 point.

There is no way to exactly know what it means when an article or comment has 'x' points. Some votes are counted, others are not, nobody (except for dang) knows.

For instance, I could 'upvote' this article but it would not be counted (I know, because if I refresh the page the count has not changed). Similar vote suppression mechanisms exist for articles, article submissions and for flagging content and users.

It's a crappy situation, but it works, don't sweat the points and enjoy the content.

Don't forget that HN has CloudFlare caching enabled. It might not be vote suppression but cache freshness that prevents you from seeing the upvote immediately.

> For instance, I could 'upvote' this article but it would not be counted (I know, because if I refresh the page the count has not changed).

How do you know that it's not a cached point value, and that after, say 30 seconds or so, that your upvote along with others will get added?

My article votes appear to work immediately.

On the other hand, I lost the ability to flag articles a year or more ago.

Yes, I was inexplicably banned from flagging articles, too. Quite a fickle place, HN is.

Me three. Possibly for trying to keep the political pieces at bay. May be a wise move to avoid excessive user involvement.

It's turning into MetaFilter?

EDIT: By which I mean, it's really operating through manual interventions.

All votes are counted, but there are some votes which will not affect the position/ranking of the submission.

"Some votes are more equal than others," if you will.

The marginal value of each vote does not equal a whole point, or else we would be looking at a completely linear curve. That would not easily capture the trending effect nor the relative popularity of articles posted at similar time periods.

I have seen this behavior when two people from the same public IPv4 upvoted a post. Only the first of those counted.

I also noticed that when someone is being downvoted into oblivion for a bad comment, at some point my downvote does not count.

I think there are lots of interesting mechanisms in play here, but you are right, it's not really worth worrying about most of the time.

Counting up and down votes is a surprisingly interesting problem.

If you are interested, have a look at chapter 4 of Probabilistic Programming and Bayesian Methods for Hackers [1].

[1]: http://nbviewer.ipython.org/github/CamDavidsonPilon/Probabil...

I believe that a large factor in how it works has to do with the average karma score of the voters. (Visible on your profile page). From what I have been able to determine the higher your average score the more weight your votes have, and the longer it takes for your comments and/or submissions to fall down the page.

This seems to be designed to reward people who make consistently good submissions and comments, although it also has the bad effect on making it quite penalizing to make a comment that goes against the groupthink.

I think that other factors that may have an impact are age of your HN account, and your total karma count. So long story short votes by older accounts that make quality submissions and comments are worth more.

It makes it quite rewarding to quickly post conformist opinions in typical circle jerk threads, at the same time it punishes participating in smaller and older threads.

Yeah, I really hate this. I have some relatively unpopular opinions (e.g. I believe that porn, strip clubs, and prostitution are the core problem holding back equality of women) but trying to express these opinion penalises me. The downvotes eventually hide my opinion.

I don't know if there is a better model for human discourse on the internet. Maybe it's a good thing that unpopular opinions get silenced, unless they're phrased in very careful, smart-sounding ways. I have to go through great lengths to convince my voters that I'm not a complete idiot for believing some things, and it's a lot of work. It's just easier to express unpopular opinions very selectively.

edit: Wow, there's a very good-looking response to this by lostcoyote which is marked as dead and will probably disappear. What a weird coincidence, very à propos.

> I believe that porn, strip clubs, and prostitution are the core problem holding back equality of women) but trying to express these opinion penalizes me

It's particularly bad because of the dominance of males on this site, who unsurprisingly are on the whole far less sensitive to the issues of equality of women. How HN tends to respond to women's treatment in tech is a good example of this. HN is far more apt to attack Apple than attack misogyny[1][2].

Recently I've made some posts questioning the morality of advertising[3]. But, as Upton Sinclair said so well, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it." My comments were quickly down-voted.

I expect this comment itself to get down-voted quite a bit.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6357317#up_6359738

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4601572#up_4601807

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7733713

Hopefully they account for controversial comments, too. If a comment gets 130 upvotes and 145 (karma-equivalent) downvotes, I want to see it. Also, I know that dang has mentioned helping minority opinions out more than once.

I rarely upvote, but when I do, is because a good comment has been downvoted unfairly.

I've come to the conclusion that HN voting/ranking is like Google search engine ranking: you're not supposed to know how it works. If you did, people would game the system.

So it's a magic act. As a programmer, this frustrates me terribly. I just emailed dang yesterday because I had submitted something that shot up, got a lot of attention, then died just as suddenly. Hell, I didn't know, I thought the system was broken or something. Turns out I was flagged.

The upvote thing you mention is especially annoying. You click the little button, you're expecting something to happen. That's the nature of clicking little buttons on computer interfaces.

Hell-banning also drives me nuts, for similar reasons. Computers should serve us, not the other way around. [insert long discussion here about having to manage a site with a zillion users, and how it's easy for me to rant about this but I should walk a mile in dang's shoes, etc.]

Hell-banning also drives me nuts, for similar reasons.

Hell-banning is for spammers and the mentally-ill. The way HN uses it is utterly despicable.

Flagging was supposed to be for articles that were so bad they didn't belong on the site, not just articles you didn't like.

But not anymore. If I had to bet, I'd say folks are using flagging as a tool to both get payback and game the rankings.

'flagging as downvoting' has been going on for a very long time, and this is logical because they have the exact same effect, in fact, a flag counts for roughly 10 downvotes by my estimates.

If a flag was unjust the flagger should get penalized, or alternatively a flag should simply cost you 10 points. That way it might be used sparingly and for its intended purpose.

flagging as downvoting' has been going on for a very long time, and this is logical because they have the exact same effect, in fact, a flag counts for roughly 10 downvotes by my estimates.

I wonder exactly how common this behavior is? It's basically data for a "douchebag census."

Yeah, it's basically a royal F-U from some bozo. It doesn't fit the word "flagging", at least not in any sense that I understand it.

It has been going on a long time.

But, say you had a new site. If you got flagged a few times, doesn't HN auto-ban the site? As opposed to just getting down-voted, where you could submit more articles?

I feel like I need a playbook just to keep track of all the various threads and conversations around how HN works.

Perhaps Thomas would descend from his stratospheric karma then, since my understanding is he flags very liberally.

Perhaps you causality arrow is reversed. I think the assertion that flagging is for articles that a flagger believes should not be on the site (which might correlate strongly with articles the flagger doesn't like).

As the population of the site grows and evolves different people "like" or "dislike" different things. I've argued in the past for more of a 'compass rose' rather than an upvote/downvote. Something where left and right arrows meant "more like this (right)" or "less like this (left)" and a center dot for "on target".

That would allow people to vote in two dimensions, site appropriateness and interest. Doing data analysis on the votes/voters could also provide local nexii of interests such that if you wanted to, one could create a 'front page' that would be ranked according to your nexus rather than a general ranking.

I'm pretty sure that I've flagged less than 5 articles that were on the front page (as opposed to /new) within the last 4 years. I would imagine that some people are using flagging to make up for the absence of a downvote button for submissions, though.

I am absolutely certain than they are. Some have even admitted it in discussions - they use it to mark articles that they think aren't quite right for HN or are likely to result in worthless discussion. Tptacek explained that that was why he flagged posts.

I am of the camp that flagging should only be used to mark "this is really inappropriate/terrible content that should be taken off the site immediately", not "this doesn't fit my opinion of what should belong on HN".

Flags are basically super-powered downvotes. A couple of flags can demolish the ranking of a post with 40 upvotes in 40 minutes.

If you're gonna allow that, might as well just have downvotes and be transparent.

Transparency would be nice. If tptacek downvoted/flagged anything I submitted, yet others loved them, I might wait until he was offline until I posted something. (apologies for using him as an example!)

I flag things where I can't imagine anything but pointless bickering going on. If I want to comment, and what I want to say sounds to me like "you asshat!" then I do a double-check to make sure the content belongs here. If I click through to comments and the thread is basically full of people saying "I believe X, and those that don't are obviously asshats" then I know it needs a flag.

Flagging isn't that I don't like it. It's that it hurts the site. I've flagged highly emotional pieces I agreed with. To me it's the effect on the site that should trigger a flag, not whether I like it or not. I already have voting for that.

See, that I would leave to the moderators, and to the flame war detector, rather than applying my personal opinion of "I don't like this discussion" and thereby downvoting a story by 10 points.

From the FAQ:

How is a user's karma calculated?

Roughly, the number of upvotes on their submissions and comments, minus the number of downvotes. (The numbers won't exactly match up, because some votes aren't counted to prevent various types of abuse.)

I'm asking about a particular post. If a post has got say 10 points, how many people should have upvoted it?

Roughly ten more people than downvoted it.

I thought we were discussing a "top-level" post rather than a comment. Do super-high-karma people get to downvote posts?

No, there is no downvote for posts. Flagging is supposed to take the place of that, but only for posts that violate the rules. From the FAQ

  There are no down arrows on submissions. They only appear
  on comments after users reach a certain karma threshold.

Yes. you need a minimum of 500 karma to downvote posts or comments.

Not quite, I have >500 karma but only see downvote links for comments. I've never come across a post with a negative score.

Exactly. Comments can be down voted; articles/links cannot.

From the FAQ:

Why don't I see down arrows?

There are no down arrows on submissions. They only appear on comments after users reach a certain karma threshold.

450 karma to down vote comments.

I'm unsure of the value to down-vote links, its >930 based on the fact that I can't and I have 930 karma.

As 30thElement said:

    There are no down arrows on submissions. They only appear
    on comments after users reach a certain karma threshold.

One of the things I've noticed recently is that I'll say something controversial, stupid or ill considered, lose a bunch of karma, and then it'll gradually come back over the next day or so.

No idea what's going on, whether it's voting changes or what, but something seems to have changed.

I think it's only possible to up vote comments after a day or so, and no longer down vote. So when you say something controversial, the first hours you get a lot of both up- and down votes. But after a while, you only get the up votes.

Obfuscation of the rules is clearly a key component of the voting system on HN. The less we know about the rules, the less we can game the system.

Sounds somewhat like security by obscurity...

the only real answer. idk why people think the voting system is a magical black box. to add, the top comment in the following link is paul graham showing the code for the voting system https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1781417

People think it is a magical black box because the code in the parent comment, and in the thread you linked, is three and a half years old, and HN does not run these days on exactly the same code that was open-sourced in news.arc.

Also note that when a comment gets downvoted it will max out at -4 even as you continue to loose karma.

This is how i think it works. The ammount of points you get, has nothing to do with the average vote count of a user (the avg. vote points / total vote count could influence when you appear on the front, but it doesn't influence the points you receive).

When you create a post you automaticly upvote it, this upvote doesn't count for your profile score, if anyone else upvotes you, you get 1 profile point. If anyone downvotes you, you get -1 profile point.

Someone with > 500 profile score can downvote you.

Edit: The one downvoting me, could you elaborate what isn't good about my answer?

You can't downvote posts, only comments.

In a way, both are items. But posts are level 0 and comments are level > 0.

Look at when you link to an item / post :)

I've had an avg karma of ~7, then submitted an article that got ~200 upvotes, then my avg karma decreased to 3.9. So for the OP: I have no idea :)

Average Karma is based on a window of comments. Something like the last 60 IIRC, so if you have highly rated comments that are moving out of the window because you are posting new comments it will decrease your score. I also suspect it is weighted towards comments (perhaps even 0 weight on posts) as my own 60some point submission had almost no impact on my average.


It's an Ask HN, they decay faster.

Oops, I deleted my comment b/c I used the wrong example, but you already replied before I caught it. Your answer makes sense.

Here's a corrected comment:

Something weird has happened to how things are ordered on the front page too. Right now, this post has 87 points, was posted 4 hours ago, but it's below "Google Search/Web History..." which has 80 points and was posted 7 hours ago.

It used to be just # of points with a time-decay function, but now there's some other variable. Anyone know? reply

Other posts have as factors:

- age

- number of upvotes

- number of flags (roughly 10x an upvote per flag)

- number of comments

And possibly other factors.

Here's some inside: I looked at my average yesterday and it was 3.77, and today it's 4.16. Suspecting that it's either a short term moving average, or something even more complicated.

Does the number and length of comments affect points?

It would be interesting to multiply points for comments that are well-written (readable [1], good grammar & rich vocabulary [2], with a couple of footnotes or references), neither too short nor too long.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunning_fog_index

[2] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2264806/how-to-automatica...

I don't know that it affects points, but it definitely affects ranking. A post with more comments than points is likely to trigger the flame war detector and have the same effect as the post being flagged severely.

its a deliberately opaque system designed to reward group think conformity and insider quid-pro-quo vote manipulation.

Downvoting shouldn't be used to silence opposing view points, but it is regularly used this way here on HN.

How does downvoting even happen, I don't have a button for it

You need >=501 karma points, then another arrow will appear below the upvote arrow.

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