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Ask HN: Would you like to see notifications in HackerNews?
55 points by wuliwong on Aug 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
I often miss out on responses and conversations die on HN. I have to revisit a page or check my profile to see if anyone has responded. Some, simple implementation of notifications would remedy that. I was wondering if other people felt the same way?

I know there was a lot of buzz about getting an official Show HN section which eventually was implemented. So I thought I'd throw this out there and see if there was support for the idea.

I'd rather not.

There are enough nagging notifications in my day as it is. When I want to see whether I have any active conversations, I click on "threads."

HN has one of the best comment sections on the web, in my opinion, because it's focused on thoughtful discussions that add to the main article as opposed to long Reddit-style conversations that bob and weave and become almost a separate entity of their own.

I think a notification feature in HN would encourage a more Reddit-style comment section, and take away from the slightly more laconic, thoughtful, and ultimately valuable comments that appear here now. The great and valuable comments would still appear, but they'd stand a chance of being immersed in a larger sea of back-and-forth noise, making them less prominent.

Your comment conflates two things that should be kept separate: (1) long chains of replies between two participants (which I also believe should be discouraged simply because experience has shown those comments to be of lower quality) and (2) eliminating the need for people to repeatedly scan for replies to their own comments.

Rapid scanning of long pages of text -- particularly if it involves scanning past comments I have already seen -- is probably the worst aspect of how I currently use the internet, and I am trying to eliminate as much of it as I can because I don't like and don't trust the way it makes me feel.

There are other ways of discouraging long chains of replies between two comment writers: the HN server software already sometimes omits the "reply" link on some comments until some "cooling off" period has expired, and the duration of the "cooling off" interval could be lengthened.

>There are enough nagging notifications in my day as it is.

I use http://hnnotify.com/, which sends me an email whenever someone replies to one of my comments. If every one of those emails produced a "notification" (something that tried to get my attention right at the moment the email hit my computer or my phone), then, yeah, that would be a mis-use of my brain and would negate any value I get from hnnotify.

So more clicks/effort to get back to your comments means you're more willing to put in an effort when making comments? And therefore leads to better comments in general?

Pretty interesting thought. I don't use reddit much, so I'll take your word for those comment sections being of poor quality. It would seem there might need to be additional UI/UX work to navigate back-and-forth type discussions but I don't believe it would be insurmountable. A UI that focused on the top level comments with expandable threads, would seem to leave the initial experience nearly the same but with the "deep dive" available to those who wish to partake.

Part of me says yeah, that would be kind of nice... but what I really like about HN since I started using it, is the simplicity. I like the flat no frills interface and design and it's one of the things that keeps me here.

Too many buttons, features and widgets and I'll enjoy this place a lot less. I'm sure many feel this way.

I second the recommendation of http://hnnotify.com/.

Been using it for years.

I use one of the above and it's a blessing and a curse. A blessing to know when you've got a reply, a curse because you may not wish to get email notifications. I'm sure many of us here already close distractions like email when they're on the grind.

I believe this feature would be a great addition to HN itself, however, as nobody has the time to manually track multiple threads for responses. The best solution IMO would be a notifications badge with unread count in the topbar which toggles a page or dropdown with quicklinks to the replies. It could go right next to the "threads" link even. It removes the need to watch that page.

You may want to explain why you feel that clicking on the "threads" link in the menubar is insufficient. If you're logged in, it will take you to


Actually, what would be really useful is to print a count of replies next to the threads link. So I could at a glance find out if there are new messages in the threads I care about. It could be as simple as:

  new | threads (12) | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit
I'll leave it to the implementer to decide whether the count gets reset every time I click on threads, or not.

You just have to remember #points in the upper right. When you didn't get up or down votes, checking out threads isn't worth it anyways. ;)

yes, I agree. This would be very helpful. Then, maybe when you click threads it will show you the updates in bold.

Exactly. Especially for those of us who have been slow-banned, clicking on the Threads link takes a long time to load. I definitely want to see if there are replies first before clicking it.

The site isn't served by a CDN so, for most people outside the US, every click takes anywhere more than 5 seconds (according to Chrome dev tools) to show any given page. Clicking threads and finding nothing new is a monumental waste of time, notifications would improve things a bit.

I've never even clicked "threads" before. The fact that I've used HN for years and never even thought to click "threads" means it is insufficient for me. What are "threads"? Are they any conversation I participate in or only ones I've started? If I make a post, is every comment on it in "threads"? I'll keep checking that link and see what shows up there.

I think what the other person suggested "threads (12)" might make it sufficient. If there was a growing number next to "threads" I would have clicked it years ago.

Because you have to go looking through past pages of your comments. The threads view is ordered by your comments' publication time, not by 'most recently commented upon'.

Playing devil's advocate for a second, I'm wondering whether HN's somewhat kludgy method of following someone's responses to your comments has the unexpected benefit of allowing conversations to die a natural death. The dark side of non-dying conversations is never ending back-and-forth or flame wars that rage on longer than they might otherwise. I agree that HN isn't an ideal forum for conversation, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing?

Another person had a similar notion. I think it is interesting. I do believe there could be some UI built to keep the quality at the top but longer "discussions" accessible. The fact that I posted this and completely forgot and now I come back a couple days later and there are tons of comments which I missed is my counter argument. :p

Absolutely yes. I have been waiting for this feature for long. It makes conversations followable.

We set it up so https://TrackIf.com can track if a HackerNews story gets a new comment (or if a comment gets a new comment, etc. etc.) It was 100% for selfish reasons and once we did it we recognized we don't actually use it that often.

As awesome as HN is, there's never a reason* that you need to immediately come back and respond unless you're getting your flamewar on...

* Or if you're wearing your PR hat and there's a story about your company, but we really don't want to make things easy for those people unless we want to see the forums overrun.

I never liked how there's no way to sort by newest comments, either. This can be especially a problem for when there's a post with over 100 comments, and some get drown out in a few hours, and you could miss them.

This extension (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hacker-news-enhanc...) shows you which comments you haven't read yet.

Lately I've been testing a new way to read comments: starting from the bottom working my way up.

No. I want the website to leave me alone. If it becomes hard to keep track of conversations, then maybe you should have less conversations and only discuss matters that are really important to you.

I certainly don't have many conversations going at once but I posted this question, got busy at work, then got on a flight and totally forgot until today. I missed tons of interesting comments, I would have loved to reply to. If I had gotten some sort of notification, it would have been cool for me.

I think it can be done very minimally, like someone suggested, just adding a number next to the threads link "threads (12)". I feel like the website isn't bothering you too much in that case.

For the people that are saying they don't want it, couldn't they just not use the feature if it was there? I'm not following how it would make anything more complicated for them.

Some people have said that they think it will degrade the quality of the discussion by encouraging shorter and quicker replies at the expense of longer and more thoughtful ones. So it wouldn't make things more complicated for people not using it; it would just make the site worse. :)

Aha, that's a good point, didn't think of that angle.

It is interesting, I wonder if there could be some included UI updates to keep the current "quality" of comments at the same level but also allow for deeper back-and-forth discussions that don't dominate the page. It would seem only surfacing the top level or two of comments and having the rest expandable/collapsible might supply the best of both worlds.

My biggest counter argument to no-notifications is this post. I made it, and completely forgot about it until today. I would have loved to see all these comments and reply back closer to real time.

>My biggest counter argument to no-notifications is this post. I made it, and completely forgot about it until today. I would have loved to see all these comments and reply back closer to real time.

That's a weak counterargument. I'm sure you would have liked the comments, but you have to make the case that the conversation we all enjoyed would have been better with the participation of someone who forgot his own question :)

Yes, please.

An API suitable for consumption by an extension or mobile app would be your MVP, no need to actually add it directly to the website UI just yet.

Not really, I am drowning in notifications all day with Quora, Facebook and twitter. What I'd really like is a auto HN to Pocket app, where all HN articles are synced into Pocket app and I can read and mark them done at my own leisure in piece on say a long bus ride. Maybe I'll build one this weekend unless I find one online.

I was thinking more just a number in the navbar. I definitely don't need any more email notifications.

Just my opinion but, HN isn’t Reddit. That's a good thing. There are extensions/etc. that handle notifications. Perhaps in the spirit of HN wullwong should 'hack' it. Make a plugin or service to do this and show us what they created to make notifications easier.

Sounds like I've been beaten to it several times over from this discussion. :)

Would "responded" include only actual replies, or also no-reply downvotes?

I ask because lately I'm experiencing an increasing proportion of the latter. Apparently pg has endorsed these on the grounds that they are the pure logical inverse of no-reply upvotes. Although I disagree, that's the official stance, and if it is to continue to be the reality here, I think any new notification feature ought to include those, too.

Because that way, if a comment is being downvoted, then I'd know sooner. I'd have the option of adding clarification -- just like if someone took the time to reply with an actual comment and I were to get notified.

I don't even see a down vote button, I guess that is something that surfaces at a higher reputation? I agree, it would be nice to know if people are down voting your comments. I see comments becoming lighter gray, I'm guessing they are down voted? Often, I think they are fine comments in my eyes. hah.

I'd prefer HN to stay simple, the way it is now. I don't need extra features.

I'd rather not.

I'd rather have a better CSS when I am surfing with my smartphone, the text is too small and I have to scroll horizontally to read each line.


This Ask HN probably warranted poll counters. I would imagine it's heavily "no" based on the response so far.

I like that I'm not tempted to compulsively refresh HN to see if I have new notifications like with every other thing that says (#) in the tab title, this means a LOT to me. I only have so much will power to go around.

No, definitely not. This UI is about as simple as it gets and it should stay that way quirks and all.

I support this idea. I also want notification for HN.

No. At least let's delay that feature.

What I'd like to see first is a responsive design so I don't have to zoom 1000% to upvote.

No. If somehow it get's implemented please have it disabled by default.

What I'd really like to see from HN is a responsive website.


To elaborate, I like how my HN account is quiet. I can come here to think and relax without jumping at the little red number or envelope icon.

Facebook/reddit are a constant stream of notifications that makes it difficult to concentrate on anything.

I would love to have a periodic digest of replies to my comments.

For the nth time, no.

Why not?

The general HN feature philosophy: HN is a simple site with a simple purpose.

Its worked just fine this way for 10 years. Is it actually broken now and worth fixing, and further, why devote the energy when it continues to work fine? And really, the last thing HN needs are giant tangent comment trees. These rarely remain professional and on-topic.

Obviously saying that it "works fine" is subjective. For instance, I posted this and got caught up at work and then on a plane and completely forgot about it until today. Some sort of notification would have been cool if it would have gave me a visual cue that people are responding to my post.

From what people have posted, I would argue that the "threads" link is a failed attempt at something nearing notifications. I literally never clicked it until today after years of using HN. At some point, someone thought it was a good idea to implement the tracking of all the conversations you participate in. Why not try to make it more useful? I think the suggestion for "threads (12)" is great. You can't possibly think that makes things too complex?

Well coincidentally I just saw this a few minutes after you replied ;) We both didn't look all weekend. Our lives went on, and we still made it back here anyway, and we can still have this conversation without urgency (or the distraction of karma, I might add). I save my comment trees for reddit...


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