The other side of that is that threads with very little traffic don't need as much meta-information, but there's an in-between.
No, it's about the same.
It's not a problem with hiding/showing scores/hints, it is a fundamental problem with the voting model. As it stands, the process of voting is meant to re-balance the discussion tree to make it more interesting to an average reader.
IMO what makes more sense is to use votes to determine the preferences of an individual specific reader. If I keep voting up posts by a user X, then in all likelihood I will be more interesting in X's posts in the future. The same goes for downvotes. Additionally if X votes up Y's posts, then I may also be interested in Y's posts as well.
Lastly, the up/down voting score for a specific post is going to be equivalent to the score under existing model, and that can be used to sort posts for anonymous or uninitiated users.
PS. This is not a trivial change and it is a lot of work. I realize that.
Could this dot be changed to green? Also, could you put an alt or label on that dot with something like "over 5 votes" or some other descriptive text? A bit more accessible.
It might be worthwhile to try and map the color code onto the arrows. Red up arrow instead of red dot could serve both as highlight and as "stop, don't click me".
I also suspect that you haven't thought this through. Try mocking up a page full of red arrows instead of red dots. Even without doing so myself, I predict that because the arrows have twice the area of the dots you'll find that it looks far more cluttered.
Meanwhile, my bikeshedding alarm is flashing. ;)
But the more I ponder what you're trying to solve, the more I think you should provide scores weighted within the discussion. Perhaps, the quintile a comment is in. Use a bar that adds segments and shifts from one non-judgmental color to another. I wouldn't bother showing anything below a threshold of ten comments on a single link.
Otherwise, your piling-on problem returns, just with a little less fidelity.
On second thought, the problem with the quintile idea is that it presumes that every thread has an equal distribution of valuable contributions, middling contributions, and lousy contributions. But we don't want to rule out (e.g.) the possibility that an entire thread might be great and that every post deserves a dot.
Moreover, the quintile idea retains aspects of the piling-on problem: A sufficient quantity of super-upvoted comments will push other worthy comments out of the top quintiles.
Finally, quintiles are just way too complicated.
So I'm prepared to believe that I was wrong twelve hours ago. I like the threshold idea. Especially because the threshold can be tuned. If 5 isn't enough it can be turned up to 11 by a well-meaning moderator, acting at the appropriate time.
Although I guess I never saw the karma thing as a huge problem to begin with, so I suppose I'm a bad person to opine about this.
People can check Lists, for interesting stories/comments. http://news.ycombinator.com/lists
Personally, I like seeing my karma go up when I submit useful comments or stories, so they work as a reward for me (and possibly everyone else here). However, I think the more important function of up/downvotes is bringing the 'best' discussions to the top and burying the garbage.
My dictatorial solution would be to hide comment count (and all visual indicators other than thread position), from everyone but the user they belong to. I would still get my 'reward', the mob-voting influence would be diminished, and comment quality would go up.
How hard would it be to allow people to implement their own version of the ranking function and then have the comments passed through that. Store the function in each person's profile, make them visible, and more importantly, make them share-able (like an app store?) so you can see which functions turn out to be most popular...
There's a giant can of worms there safety-wise (people running their own code on your server ?!?!) and unknown loading effects (nothing to stop people writing infinitely recursive loops...), although that said, it didn't stop you with viaweb did it?
Also haven't looked at the news.arc code recently so not entirely sure which part could be customised...
Harder than you think, I expect. You're proposing to do a custom query, of arbitrary, user-chosen complexity, for every single page view.
Moreover, the result will be of dubious merit. Individualized filter functions screw up conversation. That's what's wrong with conversation on the rest of the web -- people all read blogs, but nobody reads the same blogs, and people encounter the blogs in arbitrary order, and some blog entries are more out of date than others, and the result is like trying to carry on a conversation with a bright but slightly deaf time traveler who is probably a troll.
We have a distributed, personalized version of HN comments: They're called blogs and RSS feeds. The quality tends to be higher. Your personal filtering options are much more numerous and powerful. And they're just not the same thing. Otherwise I, for one, would be writing for my blog instead of posting on HN. Lord knows it would be better for my career.
The difficulty in all this would be policing the kind of code that can be written - perhaps a small DSL that compiles into arc code, or possibly direct arc code that gets vetted by a/some moderators.
The actual sort function seems to be (from arc3.tar, but may well have been changed here... nothing is safe from a REPL!)
EDIT: indeed! see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=845932
(def display-subcomments (c user whence (o indent 0))
(each k (sort (compare > frontpage-rank:item) c!kids)
(display-comment-tree (item k) user whence indent)))
The conversation threading could indeed become a bit fragmented, but then again, each time you look at a story on HN the comments will be in a different order due to the weighting and voting.
I am wondering was there actually conclusive data (other than negative feedback, which might have been enough?) during when the score was removed and before the dot was implemented. As in, without a way to see the high scoring comments, did the quality of child comments go down? And if so what? Voting behavior changed?
Or was it an issue of being able to easily see popular comments? (And if it was the later, then maybe there are other solutions of visualizing highly ranked comments although likely more complicated, like a sort)
The problem could of course be solved by showing the points...
And I really don't like the red dot. It doesn't fit into the flow of the layout and it distracts me from the content.