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Ask HN: Does anyone else value the comments more than the link?
282 points by pvinis on Mar 23, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments
I always open the comment page of a HN post first, then read a couple of comments. When not many comments are there, I click on the link on top and read the article. Many times, I never read the actual linked article. After reading the comments of people here in HN, I can understand the gist, or more, of the article linked, and also know the thoughts of many people. I enjoy reading the agreeing, disagreeing, proving, disproving, controversial comments much more. Am I the only one?

I sadly do this too. Mostly as a time saver. Though many of the articles are not long on here, I find that the comments provide a better and briefer summary, with rebuttals and secondments built in.

I said sadly, as others state, the comments here prime me to read an article differently and influence me. I do not like that, I am human and anchoring is a real thing for us all [1].

In general, I think HN has a good enough and small enough reader base to be able to trust the comments; much like reddit was back about 5 years ago and /. about 12 years ago. Alas, all good things will come to an end. If/when that happens, don't trust the comments again and move on to whatever is next.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring

As long as it stays "Hacker" News, I think the audience will stay small enough and comments will remain to be mostly high quality.

If it branches out into "Cat Video News" and God knows what else then we may be in trouble.

The comments on Hacker News are high quality because there are only certain people with downvoting privileges. And trust me: they downvote ruthlessly. Which is imo a good thing. Just take a peek at Reddit: subreddits with a high moderator count (which actively moderate) are high quality. /r/AskHistorians and /r/AskScience spring to mind. They do not allow any jokes in the comments.

I've been lurking for a lot longer than my account has been active (probably a good 5 years now); have never seen what the criteria are for being able to downvote. Could you please enlighten me?

It 'used to be' 500 karma. But I've heard it goes up over time. I've heard people talk about having ~2k karma without the privilege. So I don't really know to be honest. I wish somebody could answer your question more precisly.

Honestly, I'm a bit curious too, bu kinda do not want to know, as I may be then tempted to 'go for it' and obtain that ability.

It's enabled exactly when you have 500 karma. One of my colleague just got that.

~500 Karma

It has to be a lot higher than that now because the commenter with the comment above yours has ~900 karma and doesn't have downvote privilege.

I have 600 and can downvote, though. It appeared at exactly 500.

This is why I don't visit Reddit much anymore. I appreciate the seriousness of this discussion board even with controversial topics not related to the programming sphere.

Anchors are inevitable. The only question is which anchor to use. Comments are more of a discussion and less of a monologue, so I consider them a better anchor for topics I'm not familiar with.

Point about having a place for the good thoughts to congregate is spot-on. The question is, will HN grow to be unwieldy like reddit and slashdot did, or will something better come along without this one starting to suck first?

As an aside, I wish my handle here was "Anonymous Coward"...

From one of my favorite tumblrs: http://rulesformyunbornson.tumblr.com/post/6290597184/498-hi...

"498. Hidden gems won’t stay hidden forever. Especially if you brag about them."

So yes, eventually HN will become like all the others, especially if the quality stays high. I am almost certain there is a 'Murphy's Law' type thing about this, though I don't know the name. Also, there will be another thing out there that does not suck while HN will start sucking, but it will be hard to find. Likely, there are a lot of them already, but their userbases are so tiny that it's almost impossible to find them.

Actually, hey. Why can't we engineer around this? Like say, have subreddits that your IP defaults into, keeping the userbases small no matter how big the site gets.

The comments are the content. It has been this way since the earliest days of Slashdot. The reason that Slashdot, Digg, Reddit and HN exist is because of the comments, not the links.

The reason things like Delicious ultimately failed was because "bookmarking" and "link sharing" are not what most people find entertaining.

I agree, but assume by "comments" you mean community. If it was just random comments it would be terrible.

Also, just to give a little insight in some data -- on my Hacker Newsletter side-project, the HN links (which are included for every article) see about 15% of the total clicks. I don't have an easy way to look the ratio of article/hn, but I'm going to look into that more and see if I can pull that as well. That ratio has dropped over the years as my newsletter pulls in more and more non-HN regulars.

I find Product Hunt mostly interesting for the links and less the comments BUT.. the quality is very high and curated (unlike Delicious) which makes a big difference. Pure links can be a winning play, but only if there's some shape around the curation of them.

I have the same view. I can usually go through the comments without reading the article. Also, the comments will usually provide more insight with first-hand accounts or analogies.

Someone else[1] just posted this parody of HN discussions: http://bradconte.com/files/misc/HackerNewsParodyThread/

Besides being funny, it's that "long detailed, objective explanation" comment (second top-level) that makes me read the comments.first.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9251369

I used to do this more than I do now, especially with reddit links.

I found however that if I read the comments prior to the article I am primed by whatever the top comments say, and thus my (relative) objectivity coming into the article is already skewed, which is bad.

So it really depends on the article, but usually when the headline indicates that the topic is controversial I will read it first. If the topic is technical I will go to the comments first to avoid potentially cementing bad practices.

Completely agree.

Sometimes I read an article and think the same way as some comments I read before reading the article, and a couple of days later, I will randomly think of the article in a different view. Then I understand the "anchoring" that you and others said.

Still, I enjoy reading the comments. High quality, oftentimes summarizing or explaining the article's ideas etc, and always having interesting points of view.

Yes, I also usually only read the comments. Only if I'm convinced (by the discussion) that the link is worthwhile, will I click on it.

To me this reads "I can't make up my own opinion, I need others to influence my judgement and opinions."

Or maybe it's that comments: a) load fast b) are always text c) don't include ads or videos d) are somewhat uniformly formatted and relatively easy to parse e) often include enough of a summary to make a quick decision about a link

There are usually lots of valuable features contained in comments that are quick/easy to use.

Every link on this site is only here because others have submitted and upvoted them, so everyone here is being influenced. That's the whole point of the site - having a community choose what's worth reading.

The comments thread is physically easier to read (no ads, banners, interference with scroll, carousels, clickbait sidebar) and gets to the point much quicker. And if people are rehashing a tired argument in the comments then I can skip the topic entirely.

The linked article itself is also allowing others to influence your judgement and opinion, especially if it's a news article.

I could see that perspective, but I prefer to exercise my judgment on the comments.

It's a compromise for time and also a small measure against tab-explosions.

I think one could argue that the majority of the "articles" or "posts" on HN are merely the opinions of their authors anyway. There are a few based in fact, or purely fact, or real "News", but a lot of times, they are just asides, or general ramblings of another person on the net - then there are the comments here that add real value to the piece.

The point that I was trying to make is that it's much easier to be influenced by a swarm of commenters and to unknowingly align your opinions with them. You're more likely to disagree genuinely with ONE article than with 150 comments all echoing each other. Alas, downvote me, please.

Generally only for technical things. Over the last few years, HN has grown a significant population of social extremists that make minefields out of a lot of other discussions. Even on entrepreneurial articles, this can get out of hand. These days I just avoid all of those comment threads unless it's a technical article. Life is less stressful this way.

"I came for the links but stayed for the comments."

Yes. Comments add multiple dimensions to the mostly uni-dimension blog/articles. It's a very rewarding experience to go through the comments and learn/understand different view points that people have from their experiences or prejudices. Also it helps me understand my own fallacies.

Often times, comments have more in-depth information than the OP and I find myself tumbling into a rabbit hole of discovery. Sometimes, after I spend considerable time, I'm not exactly sure how I landed on the page I'm at but I feel grateful.

So, I would take this opportunity to thank all those who selflessly (or for karma, doesn't matter) contribute here.

I open HN comments and see criticisms of the articles pretty often; usually things like 'the author didn't do his research', 'the author is drawing invalid conclusions from bad data', 'the author is citing another page/article/resource/blog post that he doesn't seem to understand', etc. After seeing more than a few of those, I've started looking at the tone of the top few comments before reading most articles. The HN topics also tend to branch off on related (interesting) topics, which makes them often a separate article entirely

(In actuality, I Cmd-Click down the page to open link, comments, link, comments, link, comments, link, comments, then start at the rightmost tab and work left.)

I check the comments first for this reason also. I want to know if what I'll be reading is quality or not. Also, not as much on here but I don't like giving click bait sites my traffic if I know they churn out fluff pieces or bad journalism.

I always read the comments first, and recently have rarely been reading the articles unless there is no discussion yet, or it seems really interesting.

I do have a personal rule that I will never, under any circumstance, comment without reading the article in its entirety first.

When I stumble upon an interesting topic in HN it generally has: 25% importance the link, 75% importance the comments. To be honest, when I read the comments I feel a bit dumb because of the high level of the commenters.

Absolutely. Usually read the comments first, before the linked article. There's nearly always an interesting discussion going on.

Yeah I often only read the comments, because after a while you get a feel for what a typical article in subject X will look like.

Of course you also learn to identify typical comments like here http://bradconte.com/files/misc/HackerNewsParodyThread/ but they are still more fun to read

I always validate the article link by reading some of the top comments first. It's easy to see if or not even opening the article would be a waste of time. I've even responded to comments without reading the article...

Edit: I just read what you actually wrote. See, I even do it when it's not a link. I go off headlines then.

Yes, many times when I want to get the "real story" I just read the comments.

This is particularly true for me for news related stories not so much blog posts. For news stories many times there is a backstory, and I feel like 7/10 times someone here on HN has a friend of a friend who knows the "real deal."

Thanks to javascript and async callback bloat, I find most of the internet unacceptably slow, particularly on mobile. HN isn't flawless, but its rendering speed is fantastic.

It feels like clicking a link from HN is a roll of the dice, especially since many smaller servers are in the midst of a hug-of-death.

It depends what the link is. If the link is to a blog post by a knowledgeable tech person, the link is just as important as the comments.

For product announcements or articles published by major news organizations, usually the headline is the only important part and the comments are where the valuable reading is.

I usually read the linked article first, but I too value the discussion most. Many times an uninteresting (for me) link will produce a very fascinating dialogue.

Same. The comments usually give necessary context for links on subjects I'm not familiar with.

I definitely do-- I'll open a tab for each comment stream of links I'm interested in. After browsing the comments, I'll then make a decision re: whether I should open/bookmark the link.

Would anyone use a service that tells you where discussion is going on for any given article? I use HN exclusively for the most elevated discussion of most articles I read.

However often times HN hasn't linked it, or there is no discussion on the linked article.

Where else is discussion going on?

Reddit? Disqus? The articles comment section? Facebook? Slashdot?

Wouldn't it be cool to see where discussion is happening for the article you've just read, and then choose where you'd like to engage? Worth building this service? Like an inverse Disqus.

The problem is that quite often, the article can be regarded as one big "root comment" of the HN debate, and that comment cannot be downvoted, even if it is of lower quality than any of its followups. It can only be upvoted.

Therefore, if you click on a story which has decent upvotes, you still may be taken, effectively to a root post of lower quality than any of its followups (and in a page by itself where the HN followups don't exist).

Feature idea: suppose that submissions could be downvoted, but the downvotes were counted separately and weren't damaging to the submitter. Rather, the dowvotes could be used as an input into some calculation (which also considers the upvotes of the submission, as well as upvotes and downvotes on the replies to the story). A threshold value on that calculation could be used to display some informative icon which tells you "it is better to look at the story than the comments" or vice versa.

I think that most people do, and most people should - it's the principle of social proof at work. Most of us value this community, so we look to those who came before us to an article to signal if it's worth a read or not.

I think a better question is: what type of comments and discussion will lead you actually click through to the article?

Yes, I always read the comments first. They act as a great prefilter before I attempt to the actual article.

Apparently I'm in the minority; I read it for the articles.

Certainly the level of discourse here compares favorably against the average mass-interest discussion board -- but that's a textbook example of "damning with faint praise" if there ever was one.

The ratio of signal to (choose one or more of restating the obvious / watercooler chitchat / unnecessary self-promotion / half-off-topic hobbyhorse / self-congratulatory echo chamber / just plain wrong) here seems about on par with that found in most other reasonably-well-moderated special interest forums. I'll dip into it occasionally, and I'm not above contributing to the not-signal with my own blather from time to time, but it's definitely not the primary reason I'm here.

I understand the sentiment and a certain percentage of the time agree, but a percentage of the comments and articles are trash, leading to a wide variety of detractors. Like slashdot at its peek, there is useful content, but I could skip going here entirely if I just had a good enough trusted filter/digests. For example http://shithnsays.tumblr.com/ is a thing. The tweet, for example "Hacker News is a name that strikes awe in some of my guy friends, but invariably meets with groans from my lady friends. Do they know that?" Also there is a chance your only going to get a certain segment replying to this. Some people fear GG even here. And the busiest wont bother to reply

Yes. Especially since there's no summary or anything of the link by default, so all we get is a title (which is often not very descriptive) and a domain name. I'm not going to blindly click on links unless I know what it is about, so I read the comments first until I figure out the actual subject of the link. Really it's relatively rare that I go back and read the link at all.

This is also why I tend to flag political articles and such. Whether or not the linked article is worthwhile on its own, if it's not going to generate a worthwhile discussion (which I think it's been proven time and again that political articles do not), then there's no reason for it to be on HN.

I have self medicaded my short attention span on large processes at work by reading a HN article when I have trouble focusing and then getting back to work, it's like a splash of water on the face before stepping back into a complex problem.

I'd say 1/4 the time at work the linked article is blocked due to some corporate policy (blog, twitter links somewhere in the article, etc) so I'll read the comments to see if I want to come back when I'm at home and read the article. I derive a lot of value from the comments, even without the article. I'm usually very careful not to comment at all, however, if I haven't read the entire article.

I generally find articles more informative than comments, so usually I'll read the article first. The reasons I tend to read comments first are:

+ To see how far a potential hot button topic has devolved when deciding whether to flag the article...and perhaps down vote some bad behavior.

+ I'm curious to see if the deep bench of HN members has weighed in on a technical topic.

+ To see if it was worth reading the article. This is often with articles that have hung around the front page longer than my reaction to the title would suggest it merits.

+ Just because doing so strikes my fancy.

Nope, you're not the only one. I've slipped into the same pattern during the last few months, and if anything, I wonder why it didn't happen earlier. :)

Edit: Another good reason to do this, is that I tend to browse HN and open all the interesting stuff in background tabs, then go through those later. Opening the comments instead of the link, I save memory. Also, if I later read the actual article and then want to comment, I can just use the back button in the browser.

If I don't understand an article or the significance of an article appearing on the first page, often the comments will highlight the thrust, a TL;DR if you prefer. Most of the time, I only turn to the comments when I feel the commentary would provide value. And I love the quality of the comments on HN compared to other social sites, you just know you're going to get a better quality of responses here than anywhere.

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote about digests and digests of digests, foretelling what we refer as "tl;dr". This is an obvious result of our culture of "efficiency". The latest xkcd takes a jab: [1] "I just watched you open google news and then close it without reading it five times in a row"

[1] http://xkcd.com/1502/

I use the comment section to gauge validity of the main post and graze through the discussions to gauge the pros/cons of the topic of the post. This is usually just for Show HNs/New Technologies. I feel like I am not experienced enough and there are a lot of super experienced people on HN, so I really value peoples opinions on such topics. Also it provides a good forum to voice any questions.

I read the comments first too, more often than I like sadly. Although, I sometimes feel like my perception of the original article is biased because I read the comments of a few people before I've had a chance to form my own perspective after reading the original article. So I consciously skip the comments sometimes, as tempting as they may be, and read the original article.

The comments, for me, definitely add to the discussion but it is still the headline/link that catch my attention to read in the first place. My normal rule on the net, especially for things I write, is 'do not read the comments' except for HN... and Deadspin when the article is about a sport not widely played in the US. I learn a lot about the sport that way.

Sometimes. But often the comments make me sad and I log off HN for a few days. Too much hubris. Too much criticism. Too much hand-waving.

Possibly a bit too much. Forgetting there is even a link aspect to this site means I'm missing out on a great deal. I should probably read more articles, but gosh darn it, you all are so interesting.

Between HN, reddit and YouTube, I'm pretty spoiled. I cannot watch a video or read an article without looking for the closest discussion on what I just aborbed.

I like to check the link and the comments sentiment.

I don't consciously apply a specific ordering, but I suspect that checking sentiment in comments first edges out clicking on the link first.

Engaging in the comments section is another thing altogether - right now I'm going through a low-engagement phase...

I have an old phone that teeters under the modern load of pixels and other cruft that most link-y stories get put up on. So yes, I do it as a matter of general necessity when I don't have my desktop and I find it works well for most things just to read the comments sometimes.

For me, it depends on the article. There are some articles where I only care about the article, and ignore the comments. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some articles where the only thing that's interesting is the discussion around it.

Yeah. I don't think it's a bad thing. Many of the articles posted are short opinion pieces anyway.

If it's a technical article on a subject that's interesting to me, I'll usually give it a skim, check the comments, and then go deeper if needed.

I do the opposite. I find more value in the articles as they provide the full picture. I want to read all the information that the author laid before judging or making assumptions.

Also there are plenty of trolls who can troll me if I only read the comments. :/

I do this too. Especially if it links to a blog entry that is big. I might even bookmark a thread to check it later in case it's a new thread, just to see if there's going to be an overall positive response down the road.

I thought that was the whole purpose of filtered (moderated) communities like this. I totally read comments for value, and linked articles for completeness if the commentary leads me to think there's more value there.

Yes. My workflow is similar to yours.

Also, I have noticed I bookmark the HN item, not the actual story link.

For some reason, reading the articles seem like a waste of time in a way that reading the comments on the article on HN does not.

I mostly read the link first, but the comments are at least as valuable, often more valuable, when there are any.

I seem to have noticed that there are more links that have upvotes and no comments than there used to be.

I wouldn't mind seeing this as a poll. A significant number of people do clearly read the comments first, but perhaps those who don't are not responding. A ratio would be interesting.

Indeed, I've been following the intelligent discussion over the years. slashdot -> Digg -> reddit -> HN.

(I still like reddit a lot, but it inevitably suffers from Eternal September.)

Unless it links to a big named company / things that I follow, I usually read the comments first. Maybe I'm paranoid to click links or need others opinion first.

I read the headline, then the comments. Sometimes the article.

I actually very rarely click on the link itself. If I do click a link, I end up spending more time reading comments here than I do reading the actual article.

I typically read the comments after I read a link, but yeah I do value the comments. Sometimes they're bullshit but most of the time I enjoy them.

Yes. The comments are more informally written and often more tl;dr friendly. It's much faster to skim the comments than to read a whole article.

Yes, it's a habit I picked up from reddit, I think. It saves time, and commenters often explain difficult concepts in a more accessible way

Depends on how click-baity the link looks. If it seems genuinely interesting I'll open the comments and the article at the same time.

Yes. The discussion is almost always better on HN and in quite a few cases you'll find the correct links to the content in question.

fwiw I read HN more for new products,technical developments and code libraries than culture or advice articles, although I do read those sometimes. On reddit I value the comments more than the link, definitely on /. back in the day the comments were way better than the link, but I don't think about HN that way myself.

Yes, I'm here primarily for the informed, intelligent discussion. The links themselves are often well summarized.

It varies from case to case, and depends on two principal factors: 1-the comments, and 2-the link.

Yes I tend to do this as well.

One thing I don't do however, is add commentary without reading TFA first!

The comments here are to me of much higher quality than the comments on the actual article.

I find biased views too often at the top of HN stories, so it is rare for me to read them.

Comments before content, always.

I do prefer the comments, but it feels rude to start before reading the article. :)

It helps to identify and avoid clickbait articles and nonsensical self-promotion.

Sometimes the comments, sometimes the link I spent more time to.

HN comments are crap and not helpful. Source, this comment.

I am the same way.

I often speculate/assume the content of the link and just jump to what people are saying about it. Sometimes I need to back infer from the comments what the link was about!

Depends on what site the link is to. If it's a site with terrible writing and/or a really obnoxious layout that I normally wouldn't read, I won't read it. I'll just try to get the gist from the comments and refrain from commenting myself.

If it's from a decent source then I'll read the article first so I can come into the conversation informed.

Quite commonly I read the comments but not the linked page.

It is particularly upsetting to me that I can't comment on "ACME Road Runner Traps (YC16) is Hiring". It's not that I want to flame the company, I often want to ask questions - for example it is quite common that I can't figure out where they are located geographically.

I felt guilty because I always read at least some of the comments first.

Liberating to see other people are the same :D

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