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Don't be a jerk
333 points by ColinWright on Aug 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments
Recently someone asked a question here on HN. I answered, and while it didn't take long, it did take a moment or two of my time. Freely given.

Then the question was deleted. No thanks, no acknowledgement, no reply. Just summarily deleted.

In the grander scheme of things it's small fry, but it irritated me. They probably don't care. After all, who am I to them? But still, it rankled a bit.

People - don't be a jerk. If you ask a question and someone answers, say thank you. They've taken the time, does it cost you too much to be polite?

Or am I just completely out of touch with reality?

I know I've had times when the answer/response made me look dumb, arrogant, etc, and I've been tempted to delete my comment. In those cases, it wouldn't have been the jerk thing to do, but the cowardly thing to do: if you say, own it, regardless of how it makes you look.

I saw a great quote about this once when someone posted something stupid and after being torn apart, was asked if he wanted his original post deleted and he said "Nah - stupid is supposed to hurt."

Mistakes are how we learn! Some of my best learning moments have been giving a wrong answer and then other people point out I'm wrong. (NB: it's completely possible for people to be polite when pointing out someone else is wrong.)

OTOH, it takes a certain confidence to let your mistakes hang out in public. There is this feeling that everyone on HN is constantly judging all other people so we need to "look smart." When I was younger I tried to hide mistakes to look smarter. It's a bad habit in general.

As a community I think we should encourage some kinds of mistakes.

When my wife was learning piano, her teacher used to tell her "if you're going to make a mistake, make it LOUD so we can hear it and correct it."

Words to live by.

Good points ... of course, on the phenomenon of everyone constantly evaluating and knowing they're being evaluated: them little triangles, and the subsequent benefits / consequences, kinda encourage that. Bit of a double-edged sword, perhaps.

In times like that I always try to evaluate whether I'm doing/thinking something out of fear. If yes, then I have to go against the fear. It's the only way to eventually get better.

Also that whole thing about the best way of finding good answers on the internet is not to ask questions, but to post wrong answers. I use that one a lot. It makes me look like an idiot, but golly do I learn a lot fast.

Huh. Nice trick. Thanks!

Definitely. On the other side, it's even worse if you're having a conversation with someone and they start editing their comments which you have already replied to, invalidating the entire thread of conversation and making you look like a dumbass.

Or, you know, reword it with the edit button. You'll probably get a better, more helpful response with a well-worded comment.

There always seems to be a touch of nostalgia for the good old days when situations like this come up. People undoubtedly yearn for the time when Hacker News was smaller and more close knit community. Ive been a member here for about 3 and a half years. I suppose that in that time, some of the quality has declined, but I really cant even say for sure that is the case. I think I have learned a lot here, and because of that I may perceive certain topics and discussions here not as stimulating as I did back when I joined.

As for downvotes, I reserve that for obvious trolling and overly snarky comments that just seem to be aimed at stirring the pot. I have noticed that some genuinely funny comments or puns based on the discussion get downvoted, which I disagree with. It may not add to the intellectual value, but I enjoy a good laugh as much as I enjoy learning.

I would agree with some of the sentiments here that the person probably deleted their question out of fear that they would "look dumb". I think experience has taught me that while Im not the smartest person out there, when something doesnt make sense to me, there is usually someone else that doesnt get it either. Ive also learned that people that react poorly to "stupid questions" are probably feeling defensive of their own knowledge/incompetence.

Anyway, I agree Colin, there is basic courtesy that if you are asking for help, it should be acknowledged and thanked when its provided. Nobody knows everything, and asking for help isnt a bad thing. So OWN your questions folks!!!

Small communities become insular festivals of group-think. Large communities become whitewashed noise full of trolls. There doesn't seem to be a way to "win".

There's always a healthy middle ground: form a community with healthy cultural norms in matters of politeness, courtesy, intellectual rigor - all elements of form - while encouraging the greatest possible diversity of substance. Make it clear to people that be adhering to the norms of form, they'll be a welcomed member of the community, without being censured for the actual substance of their arguments, but merely argued against politely by those who disagree. (Sure, there are people who take any counter-argument as a personal insult, but that's just one of the things we need strong cultural norms against.)

I suppose it's a challenge to maintain this sort of pattern as a community scales, which is why sites like HN, Reddit, StackExchange, etc. all try to incorporate incentives and constraints into the mechanics of discussion to attempt to reinforce certain styles of participation, with varying success. In this situation, a simple mechanic to prevent people from doing what OP is complaining about would be to prevent comments from being deleted once they've been replied to.

It bugs me when I see long streams of deleted comments on Reddit, too - it'd be an interesting experiment to treat posts and comments in a discussion forum like wiki pages - freely editable at any time by the poster, but with the full edit history always available to see.

> I have noticed that some genuinely funny comments or puns based on the discussion get downvoted, which I disagree with. It may not add to the intellectual value, but I enjoy a good laugh as much as I enjoy learning.

I used to constantly crack jokes to one of my work colleagues, yet she hardly ever laughed at them. One day I uttered a joke which she merely scorned at, a few minutes later another colleague uttered exactly the same joke and she started giggling. At that I moment I realised that she was deeply prejudiced towards me. It would explain why she would often shout at me, insult me and even threaten me with violence.

My humour served a very serious purpose, it exposed someone as being an emotional sadist.

I don't think there should be a downvote option.

There should be an option for upvoting, and an option for flagging offensive content/content that is against the HN community guidelines.

As it stands, there is no visual emphasis on high quality comments. There is a visual emphasis on low quality comments. Why is that? Apologies in advance if I am making an ignorant statement.

High-quality comments rank higher, so they're the first read and no signal is needed to differentiate them.

You can flag comments by clicking the direct link to a comment too.

agree: 'upvote' or 'flag' and if you click 'flag' you have to choose an option like 'insulting' 'revealing personal info' etc

This goes well with my idea of providing comments on why you downvoted to give the author context. It's somewhere down here.

It already works that way (or at least, that's how downvote is supposed to be used). In terms of comment quality, there is no way to distinguish that; you can only determine positivity, not quality. And there already exists the feedback loop problem where a seemingly-high-quality comment (higher up in the stack, or made by a popular person) is more likely to be upvoted; a visual emphasis would just exacerbate this behavior.

J, I cannot express how much I agree with you. The base logic in downvoting is so flawed it baffles me. How can you take away something from someone if you did not give it to them in the first place. Downvoting, especially without commenting, is exactly what the First Amendment was established for.

Jesus fucking christ the first amendment has nothing to do with downvotes on HN.

I would much rather have people downvoting comments they hate than have to read through tiresome boring arguments about stuff hat has been endlessly argued about in the past.

Your perspective is narrow, but I respect your freedom to have an opinion and express. If you cannot see the relation between downvotes and the first amendment then I can simply disagree with you, but not downvote you for how you see things.

Life's too short; do things for your own edification and satisfaction, not for the praise or recognition of others.

but praise and recognition are satisfying!

i think you're out of touch. HN is valuable because experts sometimes post things here that you can't get elsewhere. Try to post comments that are valuable to everybody and further the discussion. Comments like "Thanks", and responses from non-experts, contribute to the discussion derailing. All it takes is one non-expert to make an incorrect side remark and the discussion risks derailing into a flame fest.

Here is an example excellent, useful discussion with comments from experts: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8143905

Here is an example of a not useful discussion with comments from non-experts: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8133835

This post falls into the latter category which is probably why it just got nuked off the front page.

In my experience I've learned you can't control other people so telling them not to be a jerk would rarely cause them to change their behavior in the future.

You can only control your reaction to them.

The way I look at it, you don't have enough time to waste caring about how someone treats you bad or annoys you because there's more important things to do Now that need to get Done.

Maybe they didn't like your answer. Maybe they didn't like their own question, which is why they deleted it. Maybe they'll upvote you instead of saying thanks. Maybe they aren't around to give a thanks reply or forget about it. Or maybe they just don't care.

You're not completely out of touch, but it's unfair to put conditions on your answers. I recommend letting your kind deeds be their own reward and get on with your day.

I took the time to email someone about a specific problem and didn't hear back - how long does it take to hit reply and type "Thx"? The effects are corrosive: why should I bother to reply next time?

I will confess to being someone that often forgets to say thanks. My thought process runs something like "Gosh, that was really helpful, I should say thankyou. But thankyou isn't enough, I should think of a better way of saying thankyou." Then I forget to say anything at all for some time, and then I feel awkward because I left it so long to say thankyou.

That's not an excuse. It's a total failure that I forget to say thank you properly whenever it's deserved (and even when it's not). It's something I am working hard to fix, but I still frequently mess up.

I have this issue too but more so because I feel like I am just adding to the noise when I don't have anything more substantial to say other than Thank You. "People are already overloaded with the amount of emails they get, do I need to it?" is how I've looked at it but perhaps but that's not the best approach.

This is true as well. I don't really like receiving emails that just say 'Thank you', and I'm never sure whether other people do or not. Some relatively high-profile and busy people have said to me in the past "Did you get the thing I sent? You didn't say thanks." so it's definitely a personal thing.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong but HN doesn't notify me when someone responds or something like other communication platforms do. If and when someone responds to a question on here I assume they are not ever going to check it again. I know I almost never do. The only exception is if there's sort of a conversation going on with responses every few minutes. Once it's been a few hours, or god forbid the next day, I'm highly unlikely to go back.

Also, if it's a 1on1 discussion with someone via e-mail, skype, or some form of private message, I'll almost always say thank you. But if I put a question up on an open forum and one or more persons happen to respond I tend not to say thanks. I dunno why, it just doesn't seem to be common internet etiquette to do so. A quick google search on a couple big name technical help question sites shows that it's not very common for people to say thanks for open ended questions to the community.

One of the handful of pinned tabs in my browser is my HN Threads page. I don't comment that much so the first page of that section can go back 4-5 days. I usually refresh that a couple times a day (when I have recently posted) just to make sure I don't miss a reply to one of my comments. I don't go back further than page 1 so if you reply to a few days later I am likely to miss that. But since HN moves in hours not days, I don't really see that as a problem. If you are not actively looking at responses to your comments then you don't seem very interested in discussion.

There's a 'comments' link in your profile. I check it religiously, there are very often interesting responses.

Say thanks by upvoting.

Click the 'threads' link at the top once in a while. It adds a little latency, but I kind of appreciate the fact that it slows down the conversation a bit...

That's what I use, but I am generally only going to check responses on the most recently couple of posts. And I'm afraid the 2nd page suffers the same fate as Google results that are beyond the first page... never getting seen.

I always use the 'threads' button in the menu bar, good enough for me.

I find the same problem here as in SO. People like downvoting for what ever reason, but there's never any context as to why. If you feel a comment should be downvoted, go ahead, but provide a comment as well so the author knows why it was so. How are you supposed to be better yourself otherwise?

That's a good point. Actually, it might work on HN if each downvote required an explanation.

When you click the down arrow, it wouldn't apply immediately, but would first show you a text box for explaining the downvote (this would be just like the "Add Comment" page).

The explanation would not be publicly displayed anywhere, but would be accessible to moderators. This could be an effective filter against frivolous downvotes.

I wrote about this a long time ago: http://blog.jgc.org/2010/10/power-of-gratitude.html

Totally agreed. I think the biggest issue with the Gen XYZ (I am part of X) is that we as a whole (a big generalization, of course there are exceptions) tend to be too self-centered. We are always concerned with our goals, our aspirations, and we don't think about, care for, or appreciate others nearly enough.

Our parents' generations (baby boomers) had responsibilities that involved caring for siblings, raising children, tending aging parents, and they often put themselves LAST. Not to say that it's better, but after talking to friends my age who have started families, I think it really sheds light into why so many young people are lost, confused, and unfocused. People are wandering around wondering what their purpose is, why they're unhappy, this and that, when they just have to open their eyes to see how blessed they are, how good they have it.

I think at the end, the purpose that Gen XYZ seek is right around them - if they will look up from their smartphone devices - human connection. We need to appreciate more what we have, the help that people give us, and start to give more to others and the world around us.

I don't believe in deleting comments in general. I've said some stupid and mean stuff here on HN, and I think it's important to leave those up, especially if there are responses below them. If nothing else it helps me feel an incentive to be less stupid and mean the next time.

You are asking a question, and I see quite a few people answer. Since you expect others to show appreciation for your contribution, why have you not shown any towards them?

Also name calling everyone that doesn't adhere your cultural rules is quite mean from my perspective.

If you enjoyed responding (like I am doing now), then that's that. You got the worth of the time you spent. Of course, if one were _expecting_ more than that (e.g. others not being a jerk or even being nice), then its fulfillment is an added bonus. By not getting the bonus, should we be unhappy also about the salary that we already got? Or is this too idealistic an opinion? If the others' behavior _deeply_ affects us then we are too vulnerable, no?

Some people are jerks. Some people are too frazzled to remember good manners. Some people were raised by wolves and aren't even familiar with the concept of manners.

I don't expect people to say thank you when I answer a question. I used to, but that expectation was beaten out of me a long time ago. But I definitely appreciate it — it's a nice surprise — when someone does bother to say thank you, and I try to remember to always say thank you myself.

Ugh. It hurts to hear/read it, but it's true - common courtesy is now "a surprise."

If I didn't say "please" or "thank you" every single time it was called for, my mother would have taken me out of this world (you know, since she brought me in to it) years ago.

FWIW, I've noticed that most of the Ask HN threads don't seem to get much participation from the person doing the asking -- so I've answering any of them, even on the really rare occasions when I might be qualified to answer or have an opinion on the question.

It's sort of unfortunate to see the usual suspects, like patio11, putting effort into a comment on an Ask HN thread only to see no response from the submitter.

> People - don't be a jerk. If you ask a question and someone answers, say thank you. They've taken the time, does it cost you too much to be polite?

this is why i am in the habit of top-quoting my replies if i put any effort or thought into it. when people are wrong, embarassed, or let something slip they shouldn't have, they're likely to delete. it's just human nature.

Maybe they didn't want to bring down their average comment score? I'm not saying that is a good reason, just a possible reason.

This is actually my #1 problem with Quora too. I try to write a lot of pragmatic questions to answers, mostly because I like the idea of helping folks. Unless I'm totally in left field, I feel like I'd like some acknowledgment that my answer was either what they were looking for (thanks!) or that they thought that it was incorrect (I disagree because...).

Are you sure that the original author deleted the question, or was it a moderator? You may be pointing a finger at the wrong person.

It seems like this is an instance of a more general trend: The commenting ecosystem is in decline. It's better than Reddit, but it's a shadow of what it once was.

I've noticed downvotes are trending now. The downvotes do correct themselves... most of the time. But there's a lot more frivolous downvoting due to the influx of people that have attained downvote privileges but haven't really shunned the mindset of other community sites that encourage that sort of thing. Eight years ago, pg wrote about a problem that may be happening here now: http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/15n2/the_incontr...

It used to be that you could hold a contrarian opinion and not be at risk of being jumped on by the community or your position being misinterpreted. That seems no longer the case: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8143432

The person you responded to may have deleted their question because they're worried about how people might judge them for merely asking the question. Since HN consists of people you may be working with in the future, people have to be more concerned about choosing their words (and questions) carefully. It's not so easy to just speak your mind or ask innocent questions anymore when your identity is tied with your handle.

I don't know if there's a solution. There may not be another vibrant community of developers for another decade, for the same reason there isn't a second vibrant online auctioning site. Smart people are on HN because other smart people are on HN. The only solution I can think of is to resist letting irksome things irk you. Easier said than done, but it beats giving up.

On certain topics, HN always had a downvote problem for certain contrarian opinions. For example, heaven forbid you didn't think everything Apple produced when Steve Jobs was alive was a gift from heaven. Anything questioning that was always downvoted, even if presented in a non-snarky way.

It was so bad that pg even introduced a downvote floor (-5) to keep people from shedding hundreds of points of karma when the downvote brigade inevitably pounced. This simple change really helped with user engagement and breaking up some of the more fantastic group think here IMHO.

We're just seeing a different form of what HN has always had, but just on different topics. Just like the karma floor "fixed" the old downvote brigades, some kind of adjustment will probably fix what's going on these days.

> On certain topics, HN always had a downvote problem for certain contrarian opinions. For example, heaven forbid you didn't think everything Apple produced when Steve Jobs was alive was a gift from heaven

Also see: Snowden is not a hero, Piracy is not ok & The NSA snooping is not so bad.

I'd add anything negative about Aaron Schwartz to the list.

Only after he died. Before then, HN wasn't too thrilled with his tactics.

The sad thing is all of those things are opinon-based and if we all started downvoting every opinion we disagree with then the comments here would surely be doomed.

Would be nice if heavily downvoted comments (even if they were countered with even heavier upvotes) were reviewed once in a while and if they contained no 'bad' material the downvoters downvoting privileges would be rescinded.

Those three opinions are heavily oriented towards an acceptance of totalitarism, and that's probably why most of the HN crowd is not fond of them.

- Snowden is a traitor: all hail secret laws! Burn the dissidents! All hail totalitarism! We should never be able to say to anyone what's wrong when we discover illegal and illegitimate actions!

- Piracy is not okay: leads to "we should stop piracy", which leads to horrible things like either "trusted computing" and willingly or not willingly executing malware on your own machines, or censorship and total global surveillance.

- The NSA snooping is not so bad: you discover that some government agencies have more power than the president of those countries (the intelligence community have the ultimate power to blackmail anyone and their mother), but it's not so bad, they are obviously "good people" so they don't misuse it.

When you are a hacker, you know that anything has flaws (especially humans) and that we don't live in the teletubbies world, so you can't trust an entity that has so much power.

Yeah, no wonder those opinions are shunned on HN.

Yeah, the downvote brigade problem rears its head whenever I try to discuss the ISP side of the network neutrality debate. I don't even necessarily agree with all of it -- but I feel it's a perspective that is sorely missing in most internet discussions of the topic.

Heaven forbid you treat Internet routing and content delivery like a business and try to align profit incentives with societally desired outcomes - the HN opinion seems to be that all Internet peering and access should be free to everyone (nevermind that a lot of companies make a lot of money off of it).

I'm of the opinion that posts should be upvoted whether you agree with them or not - if it's a well-spoken argument, it adds to the discussion. Good arguments strengthen everyone: if someone replies to your post with a well-worded argument that you have no answer for, someone else with more knowledge on the subject or a different perspective might have one that reinforces your position.

IMO there should be a "mod override" that allows moderators to set the floor on certain controversial posts to 1. This could ensure informative posts don't get buried just because the majority happens to disagree with the opinion presented. HN as a community is pretty good at encouraging discussion and avoiding groupthink, but it's still a problem on certain topics.

I believe the fix is simple - don't start fading out downvoted comments until a certain threshold of negativity has been reached. I think the visual 'reward' of being able to silence a commenter without effort or reply contributes a great deal to the noisy and petty nature of initial downvotes.

I've long thought that downvotes should require a comment. Perhaps a better idea is that dowvotes past a certain threshold require a comment.

I know I've been downvoted in the past for various innocent comments and have no idea why the groupthink thought that comment in particular had to die.

As has been observed here before, downvotes are often a normative function of the groupthink. But unless corrective action is suggested with the downvote, nothing normative can come out of it other than to not participate at all.

I think that's a great idea. Yes, anonymity is required so people can speak freely without fear of retribution. But you have to also consider what it's like to be the recipient of those anonymous actions...

People care about this community, and they're sharing their opinions in good faith -- they're putting themselves out there. So I think a downvote should require at least an equal commitment -- maybe a downvote with an (anonymous?) comment of explanation....

Maybe the downvote-with-comment could also be downvoted (with that new downvote affecting the karma of the original anonymous down-voter?)

Yep. I have been truly baffled more than once by a downvote on a comment. The first time it happened I made the mistake of asking why... and that one got downvoted even more. Strange.

Of course, questioning and complaining about downvotes is considered a downvotable offense here, since doing so doesn't contribute to the intellectual quality of the conversation. So that behavior is kind of encouraged in a way. Strange that the effect of downvoting itself isn't also considered a form of noise.

I don't know whether requiring comments for downvotes would help though - presumably if someone were willing or able to articulate the reason for their disagreement they would have done so. The last thing we need is for downvotes to be accompanied by threads full "idiot" and "shill," etc.

Questioning a downvote in an attempt to learn should not be downvoted... as it does contribute to the overall intellectual quality of the site. There are some very clear reasons for some comments to get downvoted. But some comments get downvotes for no obvious reason. Complaining about them is not helpful.

I don't think requiring a comment to downvote would work either. Of course if people did comment things like "idiot" and "shill", then those comments would rightly be downvoted for name-calling and personal attacks. That would just be a mess.

I believe that one of the intents behind the fading-out of comments is to invoke OCD and encourage corrective upvoting for comments that don't deserve it.

I do think it should start at -1 points and not 0 points, however.

In related news, reddit is now introducing a karma floor of sorts; they recently announced that though negative karma would still accrue without limit, negative karma below -100 would just be displayed as -100.

The current state of affairs is not much better than Reddit (I'm talking about /r/programming here specifically, as I used to be a long time reader who switched to HN several years back), honestly. There's just a bit less vitriol on average (but also less humor). I don't know what the solution is either. To your point about "resist[ing] letting irksome things irk you" - I agree, and it can be very hard. It takes dedicated practice to become "well-adjusted" to the world around us. The degree to which you can change the world around you is much smaller than the degree to which you can change yourself.

I'd recommend watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKYJVV7HuZw

Then, if you liked it, listen to the entire speech that was the inspiration behind it (the video above is only a small section and I don't really like it but I put it first because I think it's more accessible than the entire thing for the uninitiated): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI

I tackled the problem by not calling it a downvote but a "reprimand". Upvotes are called "rewards".

I've never seen anyone used a "reprimand" yet, but rewards are used generously. Also, I periodically gives out a number of reward tickets that people can use to reward people, they're far superior than reprimand tickets, so I guess people think twice before reprimanding someone and losing the chance to reprimand someone else who really deserves it.

It's a smaller community so I don't know how it would do on Hackernews, but the power of words, etc...

ps: to give more info about how I do it, I also don't use upward/downward arrows. They would suggest a sorting of some sort. You can also reprimand multiple times someone, but he will only lose 1 point of karma. So you won't lose 20 points because of a comment.

How do people attain downvoting privileges? A possible solution would be to simply remove many people's downvoting ability. Reserve the right for an elite few who have insightful things to say and are sparing in their usage.

This is a new account and I've found that it's surprisingly liberating to not have a downvote option. When I disagree with someone, I can either reply or I can just ignore the comment. Good content will sift to the top anyway through upvotes. I would be interested in discovering any issues behind such a system.

I think you get it at 500 karma.

Maybe it'd be a good idea for the site admins to check the first 5-10 downvotes of someone who just received downvoting privileges, and if they're inappropriately used, take the downvoting privileges away from that person.

Some sort of double checking of downvotes is pretty common in many places that do support them. We had metamoderation even in good old slashdot.

Now, at least there are plenty of HN users that are active looking at downvoted content, and bringing it back up if they think the downvote was unfair. This behavior could be used to evaluate frequent downvoters: If someone consistently downvotes comments that end up in the positives, then maybe their downvoting privileges should be revoked.

An algorithm like that should be pretty easy to tweak too: Start with removing, say, the bottom 1% in ranked downvoting quality, and alter it as needed.

Ah, great idea!

I've definitely seen people downvoting based on popular opinion rather than the merit of a comment. It's definitely a deterrent to me commenting if I think there's a chance people won't agree with me. My solution has really been to just stop commenting altogether, since "me too" comments are so useless.

No, it is worse than reddit. reddit has a way to deal with the noise. With HN you get noise or silence in too many cases.

I think it still speaks volumes to HN's credit that a lot of wrongful downvotings are self-correcting. On almost any other site, message board, subreddit, or commenting section, you'd expect to see downvotes' becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy every time. The second something is 'in the grey,' it stays there, and gets worse. On HN, certain measures prevent that from happening -- but people also go to the trouble of upvoting things out of the grey, which is highly unusual by Intenet standards.

It's interesting to look at the group psychology of downvoting. The second something appears grey, a threshold has been crossed. A signal is raised. Everyone else who swings by sees a sort of implicit permission to downvote the comment, because it's already been downvoted, and hence, something about it must be worth downvoting. Before someone even reads the comment, they approach it with a downvote-ready mentality. You're conditioned to react negatively to a grey comment even before you read it, and that's a very powerful prompt.

HN self-corrects in a lot of cases, and that's interesting not only in the context of the Internet at large, but also in the context of human psychology. To read a greying comment with an open mind, and then go against the evident grain to re-upvote it, requires conscious and considered thought. It requires the activation of what Kahneman would call "System 2."[1] Most people don't vote in System 2; they vote in System 1.[2] HN seems to be different, and that's no small feat. It gives me hope, even if the trendline appears to be getting worse.

At the same time, I'm wondering if it's time for HN's admins to raise the karma threshold required for downvotes. Perhaps 500 (the commonly assumed number) is too low?

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

[2] I'd love to see a psychology study of internet commenting, whereby the study uses eye-tracking to determine if people actually read comments before casting a vote. My hypothesis is that upvotes usually follow the reading, while downvotes often precede the reading. Particularly if something is already grey.

Isn't that one reason why the karma level for downvoting was initially set as fluid on HN? I still can't downvote, but I rarely (if ever) come across an instance where I would use it here.

Hacker news mods have repeatedly said that they only respect professionalism, and they intentionally ban people they feel are controversial to a strong degree. So long as this is true, you are going to lose the passionate 1% of the community. The passionate 1% are those who keep the rest of the riff raff in check ultimately.

As far as I am concerned, "Do you want X? This is how you get X."

If Hacker News wants to have people care, it has to allow differing and terrible opinions. This is the very basis of the notion of freedom and free speech. When you censor the community, the community will suffer.

Note that upvoting and downvoting, especially when done via groups of people determined to make their comments be heard, can itself tend to become a type of censorship ( mass downvoting ). Votes should be purely for the benefit of the original authors of the comments being voted on; not to move content around.

Banning people that are obnoxious is a different thing than banning people that are controversial.

It also seems to be the case that there are a lot less bans since dang became a public moderator, I only see them hitting new accounts that get mistaken for spam.

> It used to be that you could hold a contrarian opinion and not be at risk of being jumped on by the community or your position being misinterpreted. That seems no longer the case: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8143432

Asking a question many times ("what law has been broken?") is a form of trolling. You may not have meant it as such, but that may well be how it's seen. Since the EU privacy directive is explained in very many places across the Internet just asking questions is effectively concern trolling.

It's cool that your response here is to explain why the comment got down voted. It would be helpful if people would explain their down votes -- preferably in the concise and non-accusatory tone you used here. The down vote itself is unlikely to change behavior, but the explanation is potentially very helpful. Coming from Redit or the like, people might not realize there are communities where quality is important. It also gives you a chance to think "hey, am I down voting for good reason or just a difference of opinion?"

I don't think the community has a problem. It's more that we're out of options.

Most people (as far as I understand) downvote for a huge variety of reasons. Some are not acceptable by others. I trust the everybody knows WHAT a downvote is, so they are using it as best as they can.

I've been downvoted for my answers, when they were either politically different from some people OR they contained some form of bad language (e.g. irony). So all in all from I've seen, the downvoting system works fine as far as I can tell. If we had more options then might be better.

The downvote trend increased after the comment scores were hidden.

Before that, only the most egregious comments would go below -2.

I guess that having a negative score was seen as a sufficient punition.

I wholeheartedly agree. Downvoting people simply because you disagree with their viewpoint is an abomination. It should be a tool for discouraging abusive language or non-constructive discourse that doesn't add value to a conversation. I've been downvoted many times simply because I expressed a perfectly valid opinion that someone simply didn't like.

Unless you are sensitive about the karma score then downvoting, or upvoting to determine where a viewpoint falls in the thread seems valid.

Personally, I upvote comments that I strongly agree with, and I don't think someone downvoting ones they disagree with is that big a jump.

There doesn't seem to be an expressly specified code around voting, and I suspect that this might be a deliberate attempt to let the community decide out of unspoken consensus. When concern about the basis of a vote is expressed, it's often made clear that the grounds for up voting and down voting are not symmetrical. I can't decide if I think that they should be or if it doesn't matter.

I'd really like to see a list of controversial posts (many votes in both direction) to determine whether they are mostly matters of agreement/disagreement or if there is usually some less personal ground (e.g. expressing a factually wrong but popularly held belief, differing opinions on what adds to the discussion or not etc.)

People are sensitive about karma scores. Moreover, this site actually grays out downvoted comments, sometimes to the point that they're nearly unreadable. This is not consistent with the premise that votes are just to accumulate the distribution of opinions on a topic.

I have been down voted when there was a 10+ reply to my comment and question. I was told I was totally off base and needed to read the article.

I read the article and quoted exactly showing what I was talking about down voted again so that maybe people wouldn't see that they were actually wrong.

My favorite community right now is Google+ for R and VIM. Down votes are focusing on disagree and not constructive.

Give me a break. You sound exactly like the elderly folks you always hear saying "things used to be so much better, nobody saying "Sir" and "Ma'am" anymore...kids these days have no manners."

The commenting ecosystem on the internet has always been a coarse and insensitive place, and it always will be. This is not a new thing.

Hm, no. The author actually gots it wrong :-)

Go to the early days of IRC, BBS and Mailing Lists and see what kind of flames flew around for just asking what other people considered lame.

HN community is really polite!

HN used to have a pervasive gentleman culture, to the point of being mocked as uptight by proggit because of it.

Ironically, this is a perfect example of a comment that never would have been written in the old days.

There may have been an instance here or there of HN being coarse or insensitive, but it was the exception and not the rule. Evidently, that has reversed.

So any rebuttal to the "it used to be so much better" trope that is trotted out every few months is now made into an example of how "bad" things have gotten?

Not at all. I'm open to rebuttals. But a good rebuttal comes with examples. It's possible to prove me wrong simply by showing a bunch of instances of how things weren't any better five years ago than today.

How would one provide an example of the general 'feel' of an environment? While everyone in support of it is using the subjective feeling that it has gotten worse, the only evidence for or against it would involve aggregating all posts over time and seeing how the various averages worked out.

Basically you are asking for evidence of a counter theory that has never been required of the prevailing one.

Was it an "Ask HN:"? It Took em some tries until I figured out that was just it, add "Ask HN:" to the title. I have deleted 2 earlier tries. Didn't see any responses though, but perhaps I should have hit F5. It could have been that someone was just being naive.

It wasn't you. Mistakes do happen, and maybe the incident in question was just one of those, but the sentiment remains.

This is all too common with online communities, I am part of other online communities and you will always find people who post a question and receive great answers but the original poster will not even respond with a simple thank you.

More stringent rules when joining the community possibly?

I wouldn't take it personally. It was kind of you to answer the question, but take into account that while you are (evidently) HN savvy, many are not and perhaps lack the skills to send you a personal note about them having to delete the question quickly.

Wouldn't it make sense to prohibit deleting after x comments have been made?

I usually check the ask section so I can read answers from you, patio11 and a few others. You have helped me a lot and I learned a big deal of interesting and helpful things. That said, thank you.

Also phrased as:

Remember the person behind the keyboard is a real person. You might not agree with them, but they're a living, breathing human being who took time out of their day to type what they typed.

You aren't out of touch, I feel like the downvotes are being used more often on HN, maybe someone like dang could look at the actual data to see if there is any validity to the feeling.

I'm with you. Seems like it should be common courtesy to me.

If your reply was technical in nature and their user name is their actual name it could simply be worry about being googled during a job application.

May be that person felt embarrassed/stupid after asking the question. Personally, it wouldn't compel me to write a post about it.

Take a shower,take you partner or children with you and get out for a walk, look at the birds, the threes or the sea, or better go to a place where you can look at the thousands of millions of trillions of stars.

Then you will realize that it doesn't matter. Seriously, it doesn't matter at all.

Sometimes it happens to me too and I need to focus again on what is important and what is not.

Isn't saying 'Thank you' against the ethos of HN?

From https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html :

    Empty comments can be ok if they're
    positive. There's nothing wrong with
    submitting a comment saying just
Filling a thread with lots of very short comments just saying "Thanks" is discouraged, but in a short exchange in an item that's not going to spawn a huge amount of discussion, saying "thanks" won't derail or pollute the thread.

Quoting further:

    Which brings us to the most important
    principle on HN: civility.

Ah well... I have a -4 downvote just because I accidentally replied to the wrong thread one day.. big deal... won't sleep any less over it... guess that's part of the internets...

S/he probably did not learn about common courtesy growing up. Society will give this person a lesson one day...

Thank you!


Welcome to the internet.

Maybe they erased the post by accident? How do you know that your answer solved their issue or was relevant? You might think that was the case but it might not be.

In general, I think this is a extremely silly.

I had instances where I would post about cloud infrastructure and somebody would crawl out of their hole to 'educate' me on colocation, thinking they are solving a ground breaking issue.

Please don't fall back on things like "welcome to the internet." One, it's needlessly snarky. Two, we would like this place to be better.

We'd like that, but... after a long time of people trying to build internet communities, from newsgroups to Slashdot to Reddit to HN, it seems like this may be what the internet is. Or, perhaps, this is what you get when you allow open membership.

It hasn't been all that long in human terms. Especially when you consider that it was only ~ 5 years ago that "almost everyone" in developed countries was finally online.

I think in many senses, HN is a first generation response to how to get a bunch of people who don't really know each other to have a decent conversation in a low context environment.

And the parent got downvoted. That's just too beautifully ironic not to point out.

I'm glad you decided to pick out and focus on the first line from my comment.

Why do people say things like this? That first line is what's attracting downvotes. It's what people are going to respond to.

Someone is gently, politely, pointing out that the line "welcome to the Internet" is going to cause you problems and your response is to bicker?

When I wrote that first line, I knew that somebody will completely ignore the rest of the comment and make a post about it. Adding nothing to the actual discussion.

There is absolutely nothing serious about the first line. The rest of the post clearly indicates it.

Reminds me of people who will show up to threads featuring proof of concept implementations and comment on how the code lacks unit testing.

I'm trying to gently inform you what kind of content HN aims for. Snark which does not add to the discussion is among that; it gets in the way of discussion. I'm surprised you went ahead with saying it, knowing that.

A bad attitude ruins an otherwise fine post. Really, you borderline insult people and expect them not to take you to task for it?

Sorry, human beings do not work that way. If you have anything worth saying, you can say it nicely.

> "When I wrote that first line, I knew that somebody will completely ignore the rest of the comment"

Maybe you shouldn't have included that line, then. The comment would not have suffered in any way from being shorter.

In general, I agree with you. The nature of internet commenting is such. There should be no expectation that the parent comment will continue to live -- the comment itself should be considered "owned" by the original poster, who has the prerogative to delete it.

But that shouldn't be an excuse for any of us to refrain from providing feedback, insight, and advice online. In fact, we should continue to do so with the understanding that our time in producing that comment/content is volunteered.

And of course, on the other side, we should strive to retain the record of the communication chain if we are the original posters. Deleting a comment is your choice, but it's probably good practice and behavior not to.

Agreed. But if you are giving advice you should not do it because you expect a thank you.

While you might think your advice is 'good', other people might not. Nobody will thank you for bad advice.

There are way too many factors when it comes to communication on the internet.

Not everything falls under 'he did not thank me BECAUSE he is a jerk'.


So if you ask a direct and explicit question, and someone takes the time to provide a factually correct answer, you think it's then OK not to acknowledge in any way, manner, means, or form, that they spent time providing you with the knowledge that you had requested?


This advice really applies to all walks of life. If you're running a start-up (mine is gopaperbox.com), this is how you should treat your customers. More than likely there is someone that does something similar to you. The best way to win is to treat your customer with the utmost respect and be as fair as possible to them. Cliche advice, yes, but it is absolutely integral to success.

You're being downvoted because you're self-promoting your startup for no reason, not because your content is low quality.

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