Our plan is to turn as much moderation over to the community as possible; getting there is going to require additional mechanisms.
HN has one axiom: it's a site for stories that gratify intellectual curiosity. All the rest is details. The existing mechanisms—upvoting and /newest—are insufficient for the community to sort out which stories are best by that standard. The trouble with upvoting is that stories that gratify intellectual curiosity regularly attract fewer upvotes than stories that are interesting for other reasons. The trouble with /newest is that not enough users will sift through it to find the best submissions. That's easy to understand: it's tedious. Wading through hundreds of posts to find perhaps 3% that gratify intellectual curiosity, does not gratify intellectual curiosity! The very reason people come to HN is a reason not to want to do that, and so we have a tragedy of the commons.
So if upvoting and /newest are suboptimal for HN, what should we do? In the long run, the answer hopefully is to have a new system that lets the community take care of it. But in the short run, before we know what the new system should be, our answer is (a) to experiment, and (b) to do things manually before trying to systematize anything.
Over the last several months, we've tried various things. For example, we tried randomly placing a story from /newest on the front page. We didn't roll that out to everybody, but we did for enough users to make it clear that it wasn't going anywhere. The median randomly selected story is too poor in quality for this to work.
Of our experiments, the one that has produced by far the best results (to judge by receipt of upvotes, non-receipt of flags, and comments about the article being good) is reviewing the story stream for high-quality submissions and occasionally lobbing one or two of them onto the bottom of the front page. That's the experiment ColinWright was referring to. The idea is, from the pool of stories that would otherwise fall through the cracks, for humans to pick candidates for second exposure. These get a randomized shot at the front page long enough for the community to decide their fate. Most fall away quickly, but some get taken up, and so the HN front page sees more high-quality stories. It's important to realize that this is a supplement to the ordinary mechanism of users upvoting stories from /newest. That works the same as always.
This is not a permanent system—just an experiment to gain information—and one lesson we've drawn from it is that moderators should not be doing all the reviewing. We'd prefer it to be community-driven, and anyway there are too many stories and too few of us to look at them all. At the same time, the results have been so salutary that I feel obliged to continue doing it until we can replace it with something better.
What system might we build so the community can do this work and we don't have to? If upvoting and /newest can't do it, what could?
HN already has a mechanism for mitigating the problems with upvoting: flagging. Where upvoting works worse than one would expect, flagging works better. (We do have to compensate for bad flagging, but surprisingly little.) But flagging only helps weed out inappropriate stories; it does nothing to help the best stories surface. So one thought is that we need a mechanism similar to flagging, but positive rather than negative.
As for /newest, if the problem is that there's no incentive to do it, we need to make it rewarding. HN already has a reward mechanism: karma. Perhaps users who put in the work of sifting through new stories could be rewarded in karma .
Put these two thoughts together and the idea that emerges is of a story-reviewing mechanism, similar to flagging but focused on identifying good stories, where any user who puts in the effort and does a good job is rewarded in karma for service to the community.
The challenge is in defining a good job. It can't be something you could write a computer program to do—short of writing a program to identify all the best stories, of course, in which case you deserve all the karma. If a story eventually gets lots of upvotes (and few flags), that would be one way of scoring a good review. But there need to be other ways, because there are many more good stories than slots on the front page.
And with that you pretty much have a core dump of our current thinking on story curation—subject to change as new ideas emerge.
1. HN could use a new way of earning karma anyhow. A common criticism, which I think has merit, is that the current system is a rich-get-richer affair where most gains accrue to a clique of old-timers and there's little chance for anyone new to catch up.
I'm on this site a fair amount and don't feel super informed about the ongoing plans (was surprised to hear about the artificial movement of stories, for instance). Any details you could provide there would be really helpful, and I'm sure the community would appreciate knowing what's in store. Maybe even a dedicated page for news about the hn platform/algo and experiments.
> The existing mechanisms—upvoting and /newest—are insufficient for the community to sort out which stories are best by that standard. The trouble with upvoting is that stories that gratify intellectual curiosity regularly attract fewer upvotes than stories that are interesting for other reasons.
I think this fact is undebatable but the question is which scales better? Large communities with heavy moderation have frequently descended into corruption quickly. Again, I think communicating your plans/experiments would be really helpful (and also gratifying of intellectual curiosity!)
Also, you'd be surprised at how much the information in discussions like this makes its way into circulation. People do find this stuff, and I think it's more fun to run across it this way.
This is undoubtedly true, but perhaps mitigated by the fact that the marginal value of a single karma point is far greater for a user with a current score of 30 as compared to a user with a current score of 30,000.