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Ask HN: Is it just me, or are HN comments becoming more and more negative?
74 points by ncarlson on Nov 6, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments
In the early days of HN, there seemed to be a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs that offered support and advice to each other. Now when I read comments, there seems to be a race to see who can write the first criticism or who can pick out the first inconsistency.

Don't get me wrong, constructive criticism is essential for growth. But I feel like the atmosphere of the comments dialogue is becoming more and more negative each day. Am I the only one feeling this?

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive.

                 Quality of HN Comments Over Time
   |                   . .
   |                  .   . 
  q| . .             .     .
  u|    .           .       .               . . .
  a|     .         .          .           .       .
  l|      .       .              .      .           .
  i|       .     .                  . .               .    
  t|        . . .                       you are here -->. .
  y|                                      (that's all)
    S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
                 '08                     '09

Looks very seasonal to me... probably indicative that most of the readers are in the same hemisphere.

I know that when winter approaches for me, I tend to get a little disheartened with whatever I'm doing, want to quit and do something inspiring and new... Then when spring rolls around, things are so much better and I have a new lease on life.

I'd suggest comments reflect people's internal barometer, and there probably have been studies on this...

The majority of the english speaking net is in the northern hemisphere anyway - with notable examples of southern hemisphere mostly being limited to australia and brasil, sure there are other net users south of the equator, but those are the two countries with the most presence online...

The reason why brasil's huge online population doesn't really count in these kind of things is because they largely keep to their own communities, often portugese-speaking.

So it being seasonal in appearance isn't really much of a surprise.

I'd also argue that geek-types (which most of us are) seem to be more prone to SAD.

move to california ;)

Graph is shockingly accurate. I've deleted and created accounts in each peak and trough you laid out.

Why do you delete and create accounts? How do you delete an account?

Wouldn't this mean that you're part of the problem? Just kidding :p

Did you generate that from intuition, or by some concrete algorithm?

I'm pretty sure intuition : )

I smell a GraphJammer.

I assume this is what chasingsparks is referring to: http://graphjam.com/

That's different. In the early days of the web, the quality of any board <<<<< forum was destined to plummet every September, then slowly rise with attrition until after Spring break.

But then maybe there aren't that many students here ???

That looks like a damped harmonic oscillator to me.

Which I guess makes sense :)

Hopefully it's driven.

A little, probably. There are good days and bad days. I was particularly struck by the harshness of this one:


and also that such a huge number of people piled on to vote it up.

In fact, that makes me wonder: could it be the voting that makes the tone of the site seem more negative? There are often nasty comments lurking at the bottom of a thread with 1 point or less, but they're not very noticeable. Whereas this one + 49 points (currently) = an angry mob.

I think one problem is that there are two different ways people can vote. One is to cast a vote for or against a comment, expressing your opinion. This works well when there the point total is low.

The other way is to vote towards how many points you think is should have. So if something has 15 points, if I agree with it but think it's not that good to have 15 points, I sometimes downvote it. Likewise, I'll upvote some heavily downvoted comments because they weren't that bad. I figure no comment should be below -1 unless it's overtly belligerent or trollish.

I've thought the same thing. But, I think that to say that a comment has X number of upvotes so it's good or bad doesn't really work since there's no max points a comment can have, or knowledge of how many people voted on it, I'm sure there are some other variables that would make it work.

My idea to solve the problem you're talking about is to have 3 ways to vote. The usual up/down (which in this case can be agree/disagree) and a third for good comments that the user doesn't particularly agree with. It's a rough idea, but I think it could help solve the problem.

Something else I've been toying with that's along similar lines involves removing any up/down/other voting and instead uses a small area of say, 50x50 pixels. The X axis would be the quality of the comment, the the Y would be personal agreement with the comment. And the user could just click anywhere within that area to express their opinion. It's not as easily quantifiable as regular voting, but allows for more expression.

Just some thoughts. :)

This is a good idea. I've certainly seen great comments (that I may have disagreed with) at some negative score, and terrible comments with scores of like 23.

A "I think this is a good comment" or "I think this is a poor comment" is certainly different from "I agree with this" or "I disagree with this". The later seems to be how the voting system ends up degenerating into sadly.

Okay, I'm one of the people who voted for that "harsh" comment, so I'm going to take a stab at defending it.

Writing anything here requires a lot of time and thought. You can't just dash something off. Careless comments are frowned on, and rightly so. In particular, if I choose to disagree with something, I have to really pick my battles. More often than not, I just don't have the time or energy to get that involved. So if there's another comment that is at least in the same ballpark as what I would have written, I'll just vote that one up instead. Then I don't have to personally join the fray.

I am of the opinion that, while Dustin Curtis' heart might be in the right place, the way he's going about expressing himself in the AA situation is not very good. And if he can dish it out, he should be willing to take it. So while the comment in question is perhaps more vitriolic than I would have written myself, this is a topic I didn't feel strongly enough about myself to get personally involved. So I just voted up somebody else who did.

So, "angry mob?" Man, I really don't think I'd characterize the comment that way. But I'm open to hearing from other people who think so.

On the harshness scale, I'm surprised with the number of downvotes some recent comments get not on the quality of a comment, but that the voter disagrees with its stance.

I like well-crafted comments that I completely disagree with; it challenges me to rethink my own position. I'd hate to see people get fed up and not write comments simply because it goes against the grain; it would change the nature of the site, and to me, part of its value.

You have a point on this one, I recently moved over to HN from Slashdot. I was one of the first 100 users over there, so it was hard to accept that the place had gone completely to pot.

Anyway, I am sidetracking, let me get back to the point. One of the things that makes me jump from a site and not look back is down modding because of disagreement with the idea of the post and not with the nature of the post. I feal that just because you do not agree with a subject of a post if it is well articulated, covers that persons rational and is not abusive or deriding then if you don't agree with it just move along.

In saying that, I have had allot of post here that I thought where great debates (which I love) get blasted down to -1. None of which I thought where particular offensive or abusive. I am passionate and opinionated but to down mod for that, reflects of a desire to constrict ones freedom of expression.

Let me be clear I do not blame HN for this, it is a personal issue among each of us as individuals, but one should really be introspective before they click that button either way (up or down) and ask themselves, is this a good argument, not just I agree with this or I don't like what this guy is saying. If a person does not then they should really reflect on their ability to critically analyze information as they are doing themselves a disservice by limiting their horizons to there own intellectual prejudices.

The new method of debuting new comments at the top of the page -- a good thing, in terms of trying to keep discussion fresh & open to latecomers' good ideas -- may also have increased how rewarding the site is to quick negative posts.

It used to be that the highest-scoring comment on a thread squatted at the top of the page forever (occasionally displaced by some slow-moving boulder of a competitor). These posts acted as quieting blankets of calm over the whole page.

Now, new comments get debuted at the top of the page, and if they can draw a few lightning strikes of upvotes ("yeah! that's right! screw that!"), they get a chance to stay there, or at least contribute some positive reward to the poster.

The ability to downvote brings out the bad in people. I made a suggestion before to experiment with only allowing up votes. No one's feelings get hurt but good comments still get pushed to the top.

There are a lot of complicated and interesting things going on here. I just wish I had more time and data to dig into them.

One thing I have noticed is a consistent desire for the community to "meta discuss" how the board is doing -- much to the annoyance of others. (yes, this is a comment about meta comments, which makes it a meta meta) I'm not sure any of these conversations have kept the board from getting worse quicker or not -- it's impossible to measure something that didn't happen.

There seems to be common "games" you can play on boards like this, whether you're into game-playing or not. Edw519 has a tendency to come up with pithy quips that the majority of readers would like, thereby gaining his comments a lot upvotes. People who comment early get the "pile on" effect.

I know PG has tweaked the algorithm some to combat this, but all it's really done for me is to put rather worthless comments up above more interesting ones, so for me it makes the board less valuable.

At the end of the day, I think 3 things: 1)karma matters, whether you like it or not, 2) people play games with karma, and 3) you can only play so many quality-enhancing games: as the crowd grows outlying players are left with "cheap and dirty" games which work every so often.

What does Karma matter for?

I notice that people care about it and experience consternation about downvotes, I don't yet understand why. In my experience with the site, every comment speaks for itself, and getting downvoted just means a lot of people disagree with you. When it happens in real life it doesn't bother me, I don't see why it would on here.

The thing I'm really looking out for when I browse are the topical mega-comments that appear sometime, usually when someone understands the topic at hand better than the original author. There are only so many of those to go around, so the rest is chatter, it has to be. Everyone wants to talk, only a few people have relavant insight... still true to life :S.

Yeah whenever we've had a meta-chat inevitably people come on and say "who cares about karma?"

That sounds all fine and dandy, but study after study has shown that if you put numbers/points/stars next to desired user behavior it is going to incentivize it. So yes, in theory it shouldn't matter at all, but due to the freaky way people's minds work, it actually matters a great deal.

It's not a logic thing.

The down side is that people rate up and down based on whether they agree with a comment instead of whether or not the comment was well crafted, high quality, and respectfully argued. If I make an off-topic post about how Watchmen was the best comic book movie of all time, that should not result in positive or negative ratings based on the opinion of the readers. Instead, it should be based on the quality of the input.

i'm convinced that direct voting is a bad approach. I've made one social site without them (it uses implicit signals to "rate" posts, comments are just comments) and it helped a bit. People are still assholes when they feel anonymous, but at least you don't get 10 down votes for expressing an opinion about something like politics. That has a strong psychological effect which some people have a hard time understanding or admitting.

What do you mean by direct voting, and what are the implicit signals to "rate" posts? It sounds very interesting, and I would like to hear more. I am going to be creating a rating system soon, and any suggestions to prevent abuse or to accurately increase quality would be appreciated.

direct voting: having an up and down arrow, or a "digg" button. one of my favorite old community sites (half-empty.org) had a buttons for + = -. This was before the term blog even existed, and that site suffered the same problems, and had endless meta discussions about it.

I wish there were a way to send someone a private message, cause I'd give you more specific details. Anyway, the site I built, which gets about 10k uniques a day and has around 200 active users, uses the ratings of posts to sort the homepage and the tag pages. It uses a few different signals like the number of distinct commentors, click throughs, and the reputation of the poster (this is mainly to break ties). It has a decay so that new posts come up, and it also has some safeguards for abuse. For example, users with no or very low reputation don't count in the distinct commentors number so that it can't be spammed, and there are similar safe guards for the click throughs.

Building community sites has been a hobby of mine for years, and I have a bajillion ideas on the subject. Right now I'm working on some bayesian filters for collapsing insulting comments, porn, etc. Fun stuff :)

getting downvoted just means a lot of people disagree with you

Not here it doesn't, or at least it shouldn't. Getting downvoted here means that people don't think you are contributing constructively to the discussion, I'll usually upvote a thoughtful comment that I disagree with, especially one that's a reply to one of my comments.

I feel bad when I get downvoted because I respect the opinions of other people on HN and they tend to use their downvotes pretty responsibly.

I don't think upvotes are quite as meaningful, though.

I'm a refugee from Reddit. That place has become too immature and ignorant. It's hard to have a courteous, intelligent discussion there; it very easily degenerates into name-calling, arrogance and dogmatism. It feels like middle school all over again.

Hacker News' voting system is very Reddit-like, so it will also become Reddit. Expect Hacker News to become more immature as it grows in popularity.

Here are two changes that can be made to Hacker News to keep it from becoming Reddit:

* Discourage controversial or dramatic posts. For example, the latest brouhaha about American Airlines and Dustin Curtis was very dramatic, but its educational value was lower than some other less-dramatic posts on Hacker News. I think it's okay to have content like that on Hacker News, but there should be some damping effects to keep the controversial stories lower on the list. Otherwise, Hacker News will be taken over by knee-jerk, reactionary thinking instead of deeper, more nuanced, intelligent discussion. Technical gossip will supplant technical news.

* Provide two ways to vote: vote up if you agree, and vote up if you think the content is valuable. It's important not to conflate the two into one vote up button.


It is because of this thread that I probably won't participate in discussions here anymore. The extreme negativity and personal attacks make me feel as though I'm not a welcome voice here.

I miss the hacker news from two years ago, when I doubt wmeredith would have been supported so highly for a nasty personal attack.

On the other hand, I understand Michael Arrington a lot better now.

While I sympathize with you, you're a part of the blogosphere and you're acclaimed. With that comes the criticism you deserve.

Would you claim to be perfect in skill and intent? Are your writings brilliant and your designs unilaterally breathtaking? No? Then you should not only accept intensive criticism or embrace it. The simple fact is that if you were flawless, wmeredith wouldn't have felt the need to call you an ass; that he chose to, and that others agreed with his sentiment, implies a fault of your own, and one that you can fix and mature in the process. Pressure makes diamonds and suchlike.

I learned when I was thirteen that the Internet existed to call me out for my bullshit. I have it to thank that I've become as shitless as I am, and I welcome the future negativity that I'm sure will shape me in the future. You can either sulk that people think you're an asshole, or you can figure out why and become better in the future.

The contrast between this controversy with you and the Fake Steve controversy last month is striking. You get called out for bullshit and reply by being smug. You don't even drop the smug in private email conversation, as I found out last night. Then, when people get irritated and slap you, your reaction isn't to lose the insincerity but to get mad at the people who'll call you out for shit. Meanwhile, last month Dan Lyons decided he was pissed off at John Gruber, and Gruber utterly ignored him except when he had a crushing rebuttal. That's maturity. You'd do well to learn it before you try grandstanding the way you did with your American Airlines series.

EDIT: Can whoever's started downvoting Dustin please not? He made an earnest argument, and he's contributing to the conversation.

I have been trying to resist responding to you.

At least ten of your comments in that thread contained petty negative personal attacks as well. You do not know me, yet you have created a very negative image of me in your head after reading an angry rant I posted to my personal website. Come on.

I really don't have that negative an image in my head of you. You're talented at what you do, but you don't do much in terms of functionality, and the way you style your articles constantly strikes me as sensationalist rather than logical. You go for things that are striking even when your selections don't enhance what you're writing, in other words.

Further, the way that you present yourself, both here and there, suggest to me that the things you write are neither sincere nor passionate, even when you design them to look like you care about them. I come from a writing background, and your writings strike me as dishonest. But that's the only dislike I have for you, and all the comments I posted were to that effect.

As I wrote in reply to somebody else in that thread: I was glad people were calling you out, not because I dislike you, but because in most threads talking about your stuff I felt that were I to interject by saying "Dustin's writings seem insincere", I'd come across as either needlessly negative or outright douchey, and it's something I'd have felt awkward emailing you about. So I like that I can say what's been on my mind for a while. But it's not like I hold a grudge: If you ever start writing earnestly, I'm sure I'll love to see what you have to say. Until then, I'll keep judging you by the insincerity you put out for me to read.

What do you mean by insincerity?

The way you write make me feel that you're writing more for the publicity your writing will get than you are because you have a personal itch to write. It feels very corporate. Your first few articles occasionally really interested me, but sometimes you'd write a shallow article and cover it up with a design, and your last half-dozen or so have seemed either empty or deliberately attempting controversy. I really liked your article on sleep, for instance, because the design fitted what you were saying, ones like your article on your brain were overwrought and made me feel that you didn't really find the subject interesting, you were just writing for page views and Twitter follows.

I have to think about how to better phrase it—that's just my top-of-the-head reaction—but I had the same feeling last night when we talked, like you cared more about the image I had of you than you did about what I had to say. We didn't have a conversation last night so much as we had a PR session, and that rubs me the wrong way.

Because this is more of a private conversation -- and because you've negatively referenced our previous interaction without context -- I've sent you an email.

I don't blame you, and its really a shame because you do make interesting comments. I intended to reply in the original thread, but just didn't have the energy, so I'll do so now. You wrote:

people call me arrogant, young, naive, and stupid

There is no clearer signal that you're doing something right. Keep it up.

I agree. And I'm sure AA are going to fix their site, even after firing the employee and having Dustin being crucified in the process. And good comes from bad, but it's by the bad eating the good.

Quick caution: there's selection bias here bigtime. If you read the comments on this thread, Hacker News is clearly in urgent danger of becoming Reddit. Of course, this post is designed to attract people worried about Hacker News becoming Reddit.

Many of us 'newbies' came here because reddit has gotten near unbearable recently...

I suppose you can blame us for any recent decline in quality, although some of us do try not to pull the place down.

HN best practices (in contrast to reddit):

* Vote a comment up or down based on its quality, not on whether or not you like/agree with it.

* No politics.

* Downvote reddit-style conspiracy theory/rage against the machine comments...I have started seeing these sorts of comments on HN and it is making me very sad.

Every article's comment threads are visited by those interested in the article. So how is it any different for this article as opposed to others? I mean geesh, every internet discussion is only going to have people participating that are interested in the discussion, right?

After all, we wouldn't confuse a random topic on the internet with a scientific survey, would we? (rhetorical question)

I find this phenomenon to be most interesting. Digg is constantly worried about becoming 4chan, reddit is paranoid towards becoming digg, and HN is speculates about becoming reddit. The question i'm ultimately asking is where is this place that fears degradation into HN? finally which social media portal is so elite, so stealthy that they have no fears at all?

>where is this place that fears degradation into HN?

It may not be on the web at all. Could be mailing lists.

The arc forum (http://arclanguage.org)

OK, ok I kid, I kid... but you are inferring that there is a lisp of forums, and most fall in the blub category. Whilst this is entirely possible, there is a lot more scope for orthogonal directions in discussion.

It might be interesting to contrast some alternative discussion forums / mailing lists and discuss the relative strengths of each, rather than worry about becoming reddit or digg od 4chan or /.

Finally which social media portal is so elite, so stealthy that they have no fears at all?

I don't know if you'd call us "elite", but we're still really small over here (full disclosure: this is my website) http://www.gibsonandlily.com (this is mostly just my friends and I along with a few people that jumped ship from reddit)

Most of the articles are science and technology related, with a few funny, economic, and political things peppered in.

Eh, I get the sense that sometimes people will just grab any news story that hasn't been posted yet and post it hoping to get voted up points. I haven't been around all that long, but it seems like the signal to noise ratio is getting a lot higher even during the short time span that I've been on here.

Not only that, but you get twenty blog articles submitted pretty much all talking about the same thing every time, and it can just get draining. I think people get aggravated when they start reading the same thing over and over. "Release early/iterate often" has been the subject of no fewer than one top-page article nearly every day, and though it's good advice, I think by this point we get the message. Once the main point of an article is understood, people start to pick apart and criticize the smaller points I guess.

I assume you meant to say it seems like the signal to noise ratio is getting lower? i.e. more noise.

Yes indeed I did, lol. Thanks

Oh shut your dirty trap, you whiny moron.


I still find HN to be a friendly, positive environment. Let's keep it that way!

Edit: Wow. Either starting your comment with a joke is somehow no longer OK, or nobody else agrees with me that HN is still friendly and positive. I've been reading HN everyday for a very long time. I think these negative trends are mostly just an illusion due to the novelty wearing off for newer users. "If your account is less than a year old, please don't submit comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. (It's a common semi-noob illusion.)" (http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html)

I'm at a year and a half. Hacker News is turning into Reddit. It's following the exact same path, albeit thankfully slower, and the causes behind that path—influx of users, need for attention, karma lust—aren't causes that Paul is looking to fix.

Reddit's not the worst thing in the world, but make no mistake, we're headed there.

Every online community is naturally inclined to become 4chan. It happened to 4chan, it happened to digg, it's definitely on the cusp at reddit and I expect it will eventually happen to HN.

I'm not happy about this :/

Every open, unfettered online community, anyway. Hacker News could save itself with harsher mods and possibly restraints on registration. I think it'll happen if we slide too far, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.


So what about metafilter and specifically ask.metafilter? Are they heading that way? Very honest question as I agree with what you wrote.

Metafilter's always the example I bring up; I avoided saying it here because I think I've mentioned it a dozen times in the last week and I don't want to seem to be recruiting. (Not that I'm a MeFi poster, just a reader.)

Metafilter did a smart thing by forcing users to pay to join. It's also got the most anal modding of any civil site I've ever seen. Cortex will remove entire discussions if he doesn't like them.

This is how the SomethingAwful forums remain, in my opinion, rather high quality despite being affiliated with an offensive comedy website. $10 and strict mods seemingly breed compliance with whatever regulations you care to enforce.

SomethingAwful's the perfect example. They're the best at what they do, and their forums, while a bit immature for my tastes normally, have hands-down the most talented people there than I've found anywhere. I'm astonished at the artistic and entrepreneurial visionaries I see posting like mad there. I wish some of them would post here too.

They'd probably all get downvoted into oblivion.

Another possibility is to force people to use their real names.

But no community can leverage that well, because Facebook already exists for that. Adding real names to a community of strangers doesn't help much. I'm certain I've trolled under my real name before when my name didn't matter.

Reddit's already there. They are, thankfully, less dangerous than 4chan (i.e., 4chan is likely to firebomb a building for their pet cause, Reddit is more likely to sit and post angry things about it)

I disagree, the recent 'my pastor abused me...' posts on reddit proved just how dangerous reddit can be - they found his personal info and called and harassed him, he (possibly) committed suicide a couple of days later.

Holy shit, I didn't know about the suicide.

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of the Reddit community - I've expressed this here on HN in the past.

I have my misgivings about Reddit too, but I'm still a fan of the site as a whole. What in particular don't you like?

The knee-jerkiness of the community, and the groupthink. If you think Slashdot has the herd mentality, I'm not sure what you'd think of Reddit. Never before have I seen a group of self-proclaimed progressives be this bigoted and ignorant, yet fast on the trigger when it comes to condemning just about anyone or anything - e.g., Sears, the constant posts about tazers, the giant hate-on for all law enforcement, etc.

Recently there have been some pretty clear racist undertones running throughout the site (anti-Muslim, in particular). Reddit prides itself in being a community of self-ascribed liberals and progressives - but I don't see it at all in the behaviour of its userbase.

Nowadays I mostly only go to the photography subreddits, that are still generally populated by reasonable people willing to discuss as opposed to fight. Niche subreddits may be the only places left on the site that doesn't make me mentally throw up every time I try to read it.

Oh man, because of this HN attitude (Gawd, we can't become like Reddit) I resisted looking at Reddit for a long time. Finally I looked last week, and frankly, I'm just not seeing this. So far, I'm really enjoying Reddit's ability to flag news I'm interested in.

Of course, I don't spend much time reading the threads themselves. But ... I just don't see how horrible Reddit is.

I haven't seen serious discussion like this there, either. But that's hardly enough to condemn the site entirely. (Of course, maybe I'm one of the negative influences here; I do have a tendency to enjoy off-topic posting.)

Wait till you get more caught up in certain parts of the community. I still occasionally feel the need to go to /r/politics and argue my point of view, and there be crazy people.

Well... in my experience, arguing politics or religion is the best way in the world to find crazy people. That's pretty true here, too. It's because this kind of belief is not only close to our sense of identity, it's also where we differ most. That was actually one of the most dismaying things about the period from September 2001 to the Iraq War, in my experience; people I'd earlier respected and liked turned out to be raving lunatics - and they felt the same about me.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not looking for more venues to argue politics, but that I wouldn't find it a good idea to argue politics here, either. (Although I just got 70 karma for doing just that, this week. So plainly I have no idea what I'm doing.)

I've certainly noticed the extremest tendencies on reddit. But one thing I also notice is that it seems to attract them from both sides.

>Recently there have been some pretty clear racist undertones running throughout the site (anti-Muslim, in particular)

This is a good example. You'll probably find as many anti-Israel comments as anti-Muslim.

I'm not saying that's a good thing. But it is a scale that balances in the end. One thing that keeps it interesting is that the reddit community doesn't seem to have run for the middle as part of its groupthink, instead it runs for stark polarity.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=920110 <-

I wouldn't mind subscribing to your whitelist.

One thing I find interesting is that people will read posts on discussion groups, read articles on blogs and web pages, watch television, listen to music, and over time, they will begin to connect with the person with whom they believe they are interacting. The truth is that the other person that is providing the content for the lurker has no idea who that person is. However, the lurker feels like he knows the poster, the community, the musician, or the actor because he has been involved in a one-way interaction for such a long time. So, the poster may make a small joke that he believes to be harmless because he believes he understands the other person; however, he comes across as a stranger simply telling a negative joke. I have encountered this issue may times. I feel like I have some kind of connection, but that connection does not truly exist unless you actively engage with the target of your interest.

I've received that exact same reception here. I've lurked HN for about a year. And I get challenges like "your karma/post count/profile length/fame level is too low for me to take you seriously".

Sorry, I don't measure a person's worth, or the quality of their statements by karma score.

>"If your account is less than a year old, please don't submit comments saying that HN is turning into Reddit. (It's a common semi-noob illusion.)"

Sweet. Only 8 more days and then I'll be able to voice my opinion without the "noob" stigma.

I don't notice HN being that negative at all, although I'm relatively new, so I don't know if I know anything yet. What I do notice, however, is a bit too much self-seriousness, and it can come across as cold or negative at times when you're not used to it.

Oh come on, -3 points? It was a joke, people! I upvoted because he beat me to it AND because I agree with him. I'm not seeing the negative downturn.

You're not as funny as you think you are.

Perhaps I was too terse, and it appeared I was trying to make a (meta) joke. I was not. If you ever find yourself thinking "It's just a joke!" you have to consider that the problem is with you, not the reader. Most people amuse themselves, but few people are actually funny. Your jokes will generally not be appreciated by others, particularly when you go for the obvious, aggressively ironic one-liners.

Such things get downvoted as part of the noise.

True. One of the things I like about this place is that one-liners are frowned upon, even when they're somewhat funny.

I feel that policy should be extended to sarcasm. Sarcasm doesn't work very well on the net, and is often rude and dismissive.

What I used to like about Slashdot was that you could give the +funny modding a -1 weight. This improved Slashdot discussions quite a bit.

Uh oh. I did the same before seeing yours. Maybe sense of humor is the real problem here.

Disrespect is never funny.

I got downvoted one time by the same reason, but getting back to the subject, I really like the feedback guys receive when "asking HN", the community is always there to help who needs, I can't see this bad environment here (maybe few guys with bad sense of humor).

Sometimes, humor is not rewarded here. Even if during the process it is making a point.

I've met quite a few hackers/cs guys who take themselves WAY too seriously. Maybe that's why they don't have girlfriends.

Sometimes it feels like the vibe here can lean towards "I'm a super serious hacker who knows his/her shit and I'm going to be a millionaire with my start up, so I'm going to ignore the SPIRIT of your post and pick it apart like a trekkie at a convention."

In the end, we all need to just get over ourselves.

In what spirit should calling someone a 'twit' be taken? Should we pretend that it's an insightful social commentary? Or accept that it's a cheap attempt at humor based in disrespect for others?

Theres an important difference between being a sarcastic jerk at someone else's expense and pointing out the irony in situations that results in humor.

Its been my experience that either type of humor isn't tolerated here very well.

It's perhaps not helpful that HN is also full of pedantic know-it-alls (I count myself among that group).

A community of self-made people tends to self-select for a certain personality type.

I haven't been around HN long enough to really notice a shift in the negativity of comments, but I have been around long to realize I could very easily become part of the probably that a lot of you talk about: signal to noise.

I keep coming back to HN because of the caliber of minds that offer up advice, criticism or personal thoughts on a daily basis for little in return. I envy the amount of collective intellect that HN users have, and yet therein lies the problem - I envy it, so I want to be part of it.

I'm considered the most intelligent person in my family and in my previous job I was the "goto" guy for the tougher questions, the hard assignments or just general advice on your random everyday things. I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with this sense of worth. You're admired, needed even, and feel like you have something to offer.

On HN, however, I often feel like I have something to SAY, not necessarily something to contribute. This realization has made me very cautious about posting unless I really feel like I can add value to the conversation. Commenting, as I understand it, should really be about just that - adding value.

Having said that however, I also think there is room to embrace newer users who don't really understand this mechanic. Down voting a comment to oblivion doesn't help with educating those who really don't understand why they're being down voted, whether or not it's a troll or just a misguided newbie. Repeat offenders are a different matter and I can't really offer up suggestions on how to handle them, but for the newer members of HN who just happen to confuse something to add with something to say - hopefully giving them a casual nudge in the right direction will really with keeping HN on track.

I think we need more erlang threads to drive the quality up

Don't even joke about that!

It looked like the most recent wave of erlang threads - or the one around the time when _why disappeared - got deleted by the admins.

I was really disappointed by that, since it seems like it was the unofficial way for the community to signal large scale concern over the quality of the site.

It would be nice to have another channel to replace it.

Erlang is a great language (and a great way to design a language as well), it really does a disservice to all that using it as a way to drown out unwanted conversations.

At a minimum I would suggest a mix of Erlang, Lisp, Scala and Clojure articles. Besides being more even handed it probably will be more useful.

The Law of Hacker News Comments: Any sufficiently long comment thread will converge on a semantic argument.

Prediction, the comments in this post will converge on the semantics of the word "negative".

I don't know... comments here have always had a dose of healthy skepticism. Now, if I never again read a comment starting with "meh", "yawn" or "shrug", I will die a happy man.

You're definitely right. Worse, I can feel the increase in negativity and trolling influencing me to become a more negative contributor myself.

I think part of it is the extra traffic too: 10 comments pointing out the same criticism within a few minutes of each other. And you can see the rush in posting it.

Personally I have a few names I like to read commentary from and so keep an eye out for - then skim the rest.

I agree entirely. I rarely do more than skim the comments anymore, because too often it just turns into a contest for one-upsmanship and ego stroking. There are people on here that will take any opportunity to argue about any topic.

It had to happen- there's relatively fewer pg, patio11, raganwald, wheels, tptacek, swombat, etc., and more of this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=903880

Crap. I just upvoted edw519 for his pithy comment!

Me too. Great graph, would have taken a lot of words to convey otherwise. Effective communication at its best.

I'm thoroughly disappointed though... from crystalis' later post, it appears you guys all have areas of expertise, but I'm just some kind of generalist or something... cries

Maybe I'm the problem with edw... I don't see any value in the graph/post itself when it lacks the standard hallmarks of quality- reason, background, explanation... Maybe I just missed the seasonal swings when I was doing my own thing, so I didn't "get" the graph like you did.

I'm sorry to have left you out of the direct accolades- I figured you'd be happy in the company of pg, of so much merit that it need not be mentioned. Your posts are consistently thoughtful, reasoned, and insightful, with an incredible signal/noise ratio. You're just smart, and you write/do/make awesome things.

Would it be petty to edit you out of my original comment? :)

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how his asserted graph deserves the points it has now.

Well, I guess maybe an explanation would help, too.

When I see a post about education, I expect tokenadult to have a well sourced and reasonable comment on the topic. When I see a post about security, I expect some intelligent and experienced discourse from you, cperciva, or dfranke. patio11 is consistently arguing from experience about things he knows, like uISV, Rails, and A/B testing, with real-world examples to back it up. These are really valuable posts.

Something like http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=924045 isn't entirely valuable, but it's not a bad thing.

However, something like http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=876726 misses the point entirely and becomes harmful in its Ludditism. To go straw: Do we really need a "product" like plumbing to replace our evolved mutually beneficial practice of shitting wherever we happen to be? Do we really need any of this so-called "medicine" to "hack" nature without consequences?

It's a shy step from vaccine frenzy and represents a titanic reputational blow that- in the absence of proven, public results or credentials- limits the ability to take people seriously. When the quack-science spouting is utterly indistinguishable from what might actually be an experienced person talking from an educated viewpoint, the whole signal is poisoned. No one ever wants to ask the random oracle more than one question.

edw519 is a pretty reasonable guy. You could just mail him that comment, and he'd probably give you a thoughtful response. I've never tried doing that with him, but I have with other people and other people mail me.

He made an ASCII art graph that was worth 1000 words. Worth an upvote.

A sentence a piece for 3 peaks and 3 troughs could cover 100, and the unspoken explanation of the hot air graph generation technique for the other 900?

Without those useful 900 words, the post is just "Yeah, I think there are some roughly seasonal peaks and troughs and it peaked in summer '08. btw it's winter '09, rough times lol."

I think I know why you've gotten negative reactions on HN. You seem to crave the exactness of a compiler yet you dislike nitpicking your statements.

Have you seriously never heard the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words"? It's a very common saying. The point is that an image can convey a lot, not that you need a certain number of significant figures in your image:word ratio. Lighten up.

Would you elaborate on what words the picture had? It is a saying, but that graph doesn't say anything. It twiddles the 'OOH ASCII' bit and pretends to answer the question, but that's all. Honestly, what worth did it convey?

I really liked your first comment. It appears you have a good point about the medical comment, that is, that comment would have been better with a more complete commentary. Now, this graph says more to me than the short paragraph you wrote, it also suggests that hn's comment quality is cyclical and it's just tmporarily in a downturn. There's an implication that the average quality is trending down, but it hasn't been long enough to know, so it isn't worth worrying about. It's just how it is.

Come christmas break some of the college kids will drop some ineresting academic stuff and things will look up.

I've noticed it. Especially the anti-37signals comments. I got -4 for saying I agreed with DHH about something.

Was your post only saying that? That you agree with DHH? In that case you got those downvotes for adding a useless comment to the discussion where a simple upvote would cut. Your agreement or disagreement without a story backing you up means nothing to the reader. Don't take it the wrong way.

Wait--wasn't an upvote supposed to be based on post quality, and not on agreement?

The temptation to write 'you must be new here' was resisted (for the most part), but it was tough (and mostly because I think I'm 'new here' myself).

As for upvotes being on post quality, that may have been once the intention but it seems that has long gone out the window. Imo that degrades the quality of HN quite a bit but since you can't really check why someone got modded down I guess it does not matter much.

People that mod down because of disagreeing with you would have done so anyway even if that would not have been policy.

And those that mod up/down based on post quality would probably do so too.

Any change you perceive is probably more related to how the numbers of those groups develop.

If the proportion of negative comments is growing and if this is a symptom of karma lust, it's a pretty interesting event. The assertion being that as karma wealth grew, the system has became more volatile. There are some complaints about swarming in up-votes, but this thread deals with increasing down-votes. The question now becomes will a higher frequency of down-votes bring about smarter comments so as to avoid down-votes, or will the system become unhinged?

..I wonder if any systems act similarly? ;)

HN should charge people for the right to post. Even $1 a month would go a long way towards separating out the yokels from those who actually have something to contribute. I'd pay it.

So, the people here that annoy you most here can pay $1 to be entitled to annoy you, and meanwhile we make sure that people like David Heinemier Hanson and Nate Lawson and Joel Spolsky and the UX guy from Zappos and all the other interesting people who drop in to comment once or twice... never do.

Price elasticity doesn't enter in to it.

The barrier is having to pay at all. When you contribute to something online you are already paying, with something far more valuable than that $1, with your time.

It also limits the speech to the voices of those that happen to be able to use the method of payment and adds significant overhead to the running of the site.

Metafilter does that. Guess what still happens there?

I'd pay too.

I do not post very often, as I frequently seem to have little to add to the already proliferate content. But it seems somewhat telling to me that my biggest recent gain in karma was directly related to a comment on Dell that seemed a bit of a zinger.

Most of my other sparse comments were questioning a premise, offering my .00002 cents worth, and typically neutral to positive in tone. I think. (Or at least that was my intention).

While quality may have been varying, it's still fantastic compared to the mire that exists outside. We're lucky.

I also like the frugal and simplistic layout. It's easy on the eyes and doesn't distract. Luckily there are no sidebars, blinking flash ads, 'next page' links, etc.

I agree. I had a submission killed recently, even though it was getting voted up very quickly and (IMHO at least) completely relevant; a few people flagged and said it was 'garbage' without bothering to open the PDF referenced in the article. Doesn't make me feel like posting again.

what was this submission in question?

You can click on a username then on submissions to see it (if you see dead submissions; you can change this in your profile). Otherwise, it was this story about Gödel, Einstein, and Morgenstern (not my blog): http://blog.plover.com//law/Godel-dictatorship-3.html

I don't really want to bring this into the discussion though; just saying I thought the way it was shot down was rather rude compared to what I was used to from HN, and I've seen similar posts in other people's threads.

What bothers me more than your post being killed is some of the outright spam and drivel that passes unchecked.

I've noticed it as well. I'm not sure if this is due to an increased amount of criticism or if the quality of the articles posted has gone down, warranting more criticism.

I think it's a vicious cycle.

The more blog drama (AA killed my dog!) which gets through, the more people who like blog drama are drawn to the site and up-vote it.

If I were PG, I would look at the data and try to categorize the type of submissions which draw the most negative comments (and I think we still do a good job of -4'ing useless comments) and set a high threshold for a story of that type to get through to the front page.

As another example, if submissions about 37s tend to be really vitriolic, make it harder for those submissions to get through and make it harder for people with a history of incendiary -4 comments to post in them.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of data collected here which can be used to optimize the content towards quality, since we all seem to be talking about the same thing when we talk about quality.

I've noticed it also. When I first joined people really took care that their comments were thoughtful and respectful, even if they were disagreeing. Is there anything to do other than to personally try harder to be thoughtful contributors?

Those comments are still there, just a bit less obvious.

I figure it is because the "original" members were of a certain level of contributor. "hand picked" in a sense (classic early adopters). A these move on to pastures new and a large numbers of new people come in you start to get a range of commentary style rather than just top class stuff.

(not that all newcomers are bad - or indeed not that many of us are - just that you get a range of attitude).

And of course almost outright trolling is less obvious once the general range of commentary style is expanded; so it passes off as serious discussion.

This kind of internal reflection probably happens at the minimums in the graph also. Thus helping the community reset its direction.

I think there are certainly times when things may go a bit far, but that's to be expected with such a volume of people - largely independent thinkers. A few might even be overtly negative or bellicose. I try to call it like I see it whether endorsing or critical, with no regard for being ingratiating for much the reasons PG points out here: http://www.paulgraham.com/discover.html


This is the pettiest comment I have ever read.

Times are tight, so while more unemployed folks are desparately tearing revenue out of their businesses, the business growth is seeing less of the capital fired back in as growth.

Suspect YC comments will be more optimistic with perceived wealth increasing and folks spending more of their hard earned $$

I'm optimistic, but I have food in my belly at this moment, and a warm place to sleep tonight. That combination falls under the "rich" category at the moment.

I'm going to look through my comments to see if I'm contributing to that. Admittedly, it's tempting to react when I see something I disagree with.

Agreed. This is kind of the reason PG did away with numbers on comments a little while ago but brought them back after a lot of criticism.

I haven't noticed it myself but I like seeing inconsistencies picked apart. It's constructive. If I disagree with someone they might get some value out of understanding why their idea/argument doesn't jive with me. I think it's only negative if you approach it with an accusatory or condescending tone. Otherwise it's exactly what a lively discussion should be.

As a place grows in size, it changes in structure. There are always growing pains. Some places handle the transition better than others. Small, close-knit communities where people know each other well function very different from large communities where most people don't know each other well.

Another idea is to hide the karma number beside posts and comments. You still position the higher-ranked ones near the top, but no number is displayed so that it doesn't influence your vote as much (the bandwagon effect).

"Experiment: No Comment Scores" http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=844979

If you're convinced that the world is getting worse and less civilized, it means you're getting old.

Could this have something to do with startup failures?

Multiple failures might put people in a bad mood.

Do you really think there are that many actual startup people here, relative to the commenters as a whole? Also, with few exceptions (myself clearly included), the people here who actually have companies tend to be very positive.

Probably many want to have startups. Such people might be frustrated by their failure to acquire funding.

Are you actually that negative? I hold my grudges against haters, but you always seem more snarky than actually hostile.

No, tptacek and I have openly quarreled before.

But, it was a good discussion I thought, sometimes conflict can flesh out ideas and make them stronger or make bad ideas more eligible to be discarded. I certainly took a lot away from it.

I actually appreciated the debate, it's something I encourage in my company and helps us get to the good ideas faster.

Comments get upvoted for different reasons. Split the karma into sections like funny, insightful, cool, whatever.. then u can weed out the crap.

I mean, look how well that worked for Slashdot!

Actually, Slashdot's quality of moderation and posts is very, very good, not to mention having maintained a consistent quality over the years. In comparison, every other "upvote/downvote" system has succumbed to the Digg phenomena sooner or later.

It's still one of the rare sites where, years later, I go back and see the same quality of posts (which honestly isn't that bad), and the caliber is kept high enough that my brain doesn't bleed internally.

While I agree the moderation is better than Digg and Reddit, etc I think Slashdot can be a pretty harsh/negative environment because the culture accepts (and even likes to see) gladiatorial intellectual commenting. Things like, "Actually, if you had ever even seen the abc variation of blah blah expression you would know that it isn't nearly the same, there is a full .00002 measurable difference" etc.

I'd like to see HN get past this sort of bullying and trend more towards helpful/intelligent.

Maybe only let the person who's being replied moderate a comment.

And up-arrow means "This is insightful and I'm glad you took the time to talk to me, you've made me a better person and I would like to continue having this conversation with you" while down-arrow could mean "I wish to stop talking right now, you're boring and I wouldn't have a beer with you".

I mean, when everyone has the chance to judge what everybody says, you're favoring group-thinking. It's a meritocracy. Which isn't something bad, but if it's not your objective, then drop it. It's a pipe dream to still deny comments are up/down votted based on quality instead of agreement or agenda. It's written on the rules, yet it's simply not followed. I wish people could simply accept that this has been tried, many many times, on a lot of websites, and the reality is that it doesn't work. There are the rules and there is how people actually act.

It's like how project management with Scrum is done. Or rather, what it is up against. Like the person who gave me the course on Scrum said: You can make the client write his requirements with the blood of his first born male, he'll still want to change. It's just how things work. Instead of trying to swim against the tide, fighting its force, we should accept and work with it.

I think designing a system where "helpful" is the ultimate goal might be worthy pursuing. Or maybe Yahoo Answers or Stack Overflow -like systems are the best we can do.

The reason that now it is a race to see who can write the first criticism or who can pick out the first inconsistency, is because people think that they will be upvoted for that.

So, we just have to start changing what people get upvoted for.

I think we should create a small group of supermoderators who have 10x voting power.

It's just you....twit.

I was going to leave a rude comment in response to this as a joke, but someone beat me to it. What a jerk.

(By the way, me saying "What a jerk." is a joke. (To prevent more downratings.))

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