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August 26th, 2018

In Philosophy

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What’s wrong with Hacker News

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

I often post comments on Hacker News. Over the years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with how the community works. I’ve been thinking about why, and I think it comes down to this:

1.) I want to read the comments by highly experienced people, reflecting the wisdom gained over the years. I’ve been doing tech work for 20 years now, and I’m especially interested in comments from peers.

2.) the audience at Hacker News skews young, and the comments are given prominence based on their popularity, within the thread. There is no momentum, nor any credit given to someone who said something brilliant a month ago, that is, there is no way to know when a person often says brilliant things. I think we can all agree, we listen to an unpopular opinion from someone who otherwise has an excellent reputation, whereas an unpopular opinion from someone who routinely offends the community is probably someone we can reasonably dismiss as a crank.

My annoyance with Hacker News arises in situations like this:

a.) a topic comes up such as “What makes a great manager?”

b.) many of the commenters are in their 20s and post comments from the point of view of people being managed; totally valid, but only half the story.

c.) someone with 20 years experience says something that is true but unpopular, often something that is true but reflects the viewpoint of someone who has spent many years managing others.

d.) this comment is unpopular so it gets downvoted

To me, this is a reminder why the blogosphere of 2000-2008 was so much better than any currently existing forum. I knew who each blogger was, I could give them prominence based on how well I knew them. If Sam Ruby said something unpopular, I gave it a careful listen, because I knew he choose his words carefully.

And this leads to another problem on Hacker News:

Without any easy way to follow individual commenters, I don’t follow commenters. Sometimes someone says something that I strongly disagree with. Should I give them a listen any way, as I would if it was Sam Ruby writing? I’ve got no incentive to do so, since I can’t trust everyone, and the commenter has no reputation with me.

What I really want is something like the old blogosphere, with an easier way to reply to someone from my own blog. This is what Technorati should have done in 2006, and instead Technorati just gave up and died. People have been using Twitter instead, but Twitter comes with its own set of problems.

I’d like to see a forum where people build up a reputation over time, and that reputation influences how much their most recent post is elevated. If someone typically says brilliant things, and now they are saying something controversial, then I am interested, whereas, if someone only says controversial things, and never says anything obviously brilliant, then I’m not interested.

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2 COMMENTS

August 27, 2018
1:04 pm

By Dave Paola

I agree completely, although HN does support RSS feeds for user comments. I use this to follow people I respect.

November 19, 2018
10:19 am

By Gábor Hidvégi

I think the problem is broader: web 2.0 failed.

One part of Web 2.0 was about “user content”, everyone is couraged to start their own blog, share his thoughts everywhere (forum, website content) etc.

What happened? Most people started trolling, flooding channels, so relevant pieces of information sink. Experienced people get downvoted from inexperienced people everywhere.

Besides this there is plethora of content with no value and it grows thanks to these people with no knowledge, intelligence and original thoughts.

We live in the age of “eat excrementum, 2 billion flies cannot be wrong”.

And besides that Web 2.0 failed in the technical way as well, because it cannot handle the size of this content. One cannot get the pieces of information he’s interested in faster than a decade or two decades ago.

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