The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News
August 8, 2019 7:11 AM   Subscribe

 
Ill-advised citations proliferate; thought experiments abound; humane arguments are dismissed as emotional or irrational. Logic, applied narrowly, is used to justify broad moral positions. The most admired arguments are made with data, but the origins, veracity, and malleability of those data tend to be ancillary concerns. The message-board intellectualism that might once have impressed V.C. observers like Graham has developed into an intellectual style all its own.
Early on, this very accurate diagnosis of the community frames the rest of the article nicely.
posted by fatbird at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2019 [26 favorites]


Hacker News has provided me with many an FPP idea!
posted by Vesihiisi at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just on a cursory read, they mention the problem of scaling without going into much detail about the human resources necessary to moderate an expanding site.

In an unofficial estimate from a while back, HN was getting 40k daily unique views and 100k monthly uniques from registered accounts, with only a two-man moderating team (and I do want to emphasize it's a couple of dudes). They're only now talking about adding a third moderator, which, to their credit, they'd prefer to be a POC. They spend more time in the article about growing the site instead of increasing staff, however. It sounds as though they're vastly underestimating the task at hand, especially since their user-facing mod tools look rudimentary at best.

This looks like yet another web forum struggling to reinvent Metafilter's largely successful moderator setup.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


As the article illustrates in admirable detail, HN is a clogged toilet of techbro self-righteousness.

Lobsters is a nice alternative that is designed to address some of HN's crypto-moderation issues.
posted by oulipian at 7:43 AM on August 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


I usually skip straight to http://n-gate.com instead of wasting any time on HN.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2019 [26 favorites]


Hacker Newsletter is also a good weekly digest (delivered by email) that filters out most of the garbage.

As a general rule, never, ever read the comments.
posted by schmod at 7:48 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


The suggestion that HN is an "SJW cesspool" is laughable. If only!
posted by adrianhon at 7:51 AM on August 8, 2019 [18 favorites]


Hacker Newsletter is also a good weekly digest (delivered by email) that filters out most of the garbage.

That website shows their latest issue as being from December 2018, so it seems like it might be dead. (Or perhaps just sleeping.)
posted by jcreigh at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2019


Seconding Lobsters; you'll find its culture more like MeFi than Hacker News. Memail me if you want an invite and promise to be nice.
posted by echo target at 8:06 AM on August 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


Or perhaps just filtering very fine indeed, jcreigh.
posted by joeyh at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


HN is a weird place - I hang out there (my username is in my profile) quite a bit. All the criticisms of it are correct - techbros abound, near fatal cases of Engineer's Disease and NIH syndrome present daily, and terribly vapid self promotion often makes it to the front page.

And yet I am going to defend it. The population is more diverse than you would expect (at least along certain lines, I get the feeling it is overwhelmingly male). It is not unusual for a comment along the lines of "I've driven trucks commercially for 40 years and this is why your idea wont work..." to crop up. I've gotten into a few very minor arguments there but the tone has been constructive and civil.

HN definitely does not handle political or social events well and occasionally there are outbreaks of dickheadishness - the quoted example of Katie Bouman's achievements was a low point but those threads had just as many people telling the instigators that they were being idiots.

In summary, and without irony, HN is actually a land of contrasts. If you can flit over the bad stuff there is a lot of wheat in amongst the chaff. I don't envy the moderators though - great article.
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


jcreigh: "That website shows their latest issue as being from December 2018, so it seems like it might be dead. (Or perhaps just sleeping.)"

I think the archive might just be broken. I got one last week.
posted by schmod at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


It seems on HN you are discouraged from implying the existence of bad-faith actors, and if you do you must prove it starting with Maxwell's equations. This makes it hard to discuss politics... or heck, Perl.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


I dislike the HN community as a whole but there's enough insightful stuff there I continue to read it. Giving a wide berth to any political or cultural topics of course, and thanks to the New Yorker for reporting on just how problematic the place is. But the pure technical discussions often have candid insights from the folks who actually build the technologies, and sometimes it's worth reading through for those.

The moderators have made things better. They remove the most offensive comments and soften many of the others. Some of their policies are weird — I was once told it's off-limits to discuss Stephen Wolfram's arrogance — but in general I think they do a decent job. Part of me thinks the site would be better if they banned all non-technical discussion but such a policy is impossible and probably a bad idea.
posted by Nelson at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


I agree with Andrew Stephen's comment. Like him I lurk there quite a bit, and the whining about sjws is mainly because there's a non-trivial subcommunity there who actively pushes back on a lot of the worst techbro-ism, if only to get rebuttals on the record. If there's a growth curve for communities, it seems like HN is about at the point where the original core group is in the acceptance phase that the site's original orthodoxy is never coming back and they need to learn to get along with a larger, more diverse crowd.
posted by fatbird at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


> The suggestion that HN is an "SJW cesspool" is laughable. If only!

Now imagine the kind of person who could think this way...
posted by boo_radley at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


"...it seems like HN is about at the point where the original core group is in the acceptance phase that the site's original orthodoxy is never coming back and they need to learn to get along with a larger, more diverse crowd."

Or, the inverse, where Reddit wasn't nearly as shitheadly awful as it was til Digg sent everyone Reddit's way.

Or maybe I was younger and dumber and thought Reddit was more enlightened pre-Digg than it was.

But I feel like 90% of the stupidity of reddit came from the Digg exodus. So in this case, the originals didnt' grow up so much as the noobs never grew up.

I occasionally check HN when I see a link, but I'm not really into it, my friend subs to it so mostly I see a link from him. Other than that I usually forget its there. Not like my choice of Reddit is much better. But usually the tech subreddits stay focused on the core tech, thankfully. Maybe having a single devoted subtopic makes it easier for mods to handle than a broader site like HN or MeFi. Of course that still depends on the mods whims/standards, but at least I imagine in some ways it *could* be more manageable in theory (of course, that assumes the overall/larger community isn't so toxic, but then - they can fuck off and make their own sub if they don't like the mods).
posted by symbioid at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Thank you for drawing my attention to this article. Gackle and Bell sound like two interesting fellows and after reading this I wondered if they were secret Mefites. Surely they've at least peeked into some Metatalk threads for professional research.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2019


HN has definitely helped me sharpen my rhetoric in response to conservative talking points and the miasma of privilege.
posted by gryftir at 12:13 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I have noticed that Hacker News is quite odd when it come to discussions of space technology. If I write a quick off-the-cuff comment opinionating about some hot new space news somewhere on the internet (including at least once right here on Metafilter) Hacker News sometimes seems to mysteriously have the exact same thought, apparently about half an hour after I did. If I publish a fact-checked, peer-reviewed paper on the same subject, Hacker News suddenly seems equally mysteriously quite oblivious.

I wouldn't want to diss a fellow social weblog, but the rational, evidence driven discussion that Hacker News prides itself on might very easily be confused for the first thing to show up in a Google search.
posted by Eleven at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am on HN every single day and yet I dispose it. Forget techbros, HN is a often racist and bigoted anti-community. Most attempt at community building, like humor or expressing your sympathies with someone, are downvoted. Despite being a member for almost a decade, I don't know a single person there and the sense of community is non-existing.

I would really like a Metafilteresque alternative to HN - preferably less focus on programming and more tech and social issues - and would donate money and resources to make it happen.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


(Yikes, sorry for the terrible spelling.)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:55 PM on August 8, 2019


I've doublefisted Metafilter and Hackernews every day for the last 6 years and have just accepted that I am addicted to content.
posted by weewooweewoo at 3:31 PM on August 8, 2019 [14 favorites]


I have similar feelings to others here, in that I visit HN regularly and find interesting articles and news through it, and often there are well-informed comments – but I find large parts of the community needlessly cruel and unempathetic to anyone different from them, not to mention frequently sexist, racist, and apologists for tech billionaires. If you think Metafilter is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Perhaps these problems are merely a reflection of the startup/hacker community it attracts, but I can't help but think that it's partly a byproduct of HN's voting system. Any registered user can upvote comments, but you need 500 points to downvote – and you only get points by participating. That means that you need to put up with all their shit if you want to start downvoting sexist/racist comments, and I can see a lot of people giving up long before then.

I made an effort a few months ago to hit 500 points, which I achieved fairly easily by posting tech-adjacent New Yorker articles on Monday mornings, so now I can downvote. But I would like there to be an HN alternative as well; maybe Lobsters is that!
posted by adrianhon at 3:33 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would really like a Metafilteresque alternative to HN - preferably less focus on programming and more tech and social issues - and would donate money and resources to make it happen.

Ars Technica might be an alternative. The comments tend to run about 3:1 Human/Troll. Being tech focused, still predominately male (at a guess), and they are no Metafilter, but it's a tech site I'm not embarrassed to visit.
posted by chromecow at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


..." maybe Lobsters is that!"

If I could get an invite, I'd be there but I know no one there.
posted by bz at 4:05 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I also lurk there for the sake of technical discussion, sometimes but rarely post (sometimes to push back against the privileged bullshit attested to here), and have also noticed a decrease in the amount of horrible comments that either don't get deleted, downvoted or called out, but certainly nowhere near to the point where I'd advocate for it as a community. I don't think it'll ever get past its foundational and myopic notion that there's nothing political about being "apolitical." I don't envy dang's job at all.
posted by invitapriore at 6:07 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've doublefisted Metafilter and Hackernews every day for the last 6 years and have just accepted that I am addicted to content.

Get out of my brain!
posted by rhizome at 6:36 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


especially since their user-facing mod tools look

The two mods are also responsible for the technology side, so they aren't powerlessly reading through unthreaded discussions trying to keep a handle on huge threads with code a part-time developer is responsible for. If I had to walk through a door to 'HN mod' or 'MetaFilter mod' and I was considering my mental health it would not be an obvious decision to choose the latter even if I prefer reading this site.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:53 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I got my Lobsters invitation via echo target (see above), and can pay it forward if people MeMail me!
posted by adrianhon at 4:11 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


If I had to walk through a door to 'HN mod' or 'MetaFilter mod' and I was considering my mental health it would not be an obvious decision to choose the latter even if I prefer reading this site.

We have twenty years of entirely moderation-focused tools development and a site structured entirely around making moderation doable. I don't think HN could pay me enough, under any circumstances, and the fact that their full-time moderators are also their developers is not a plus.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:35 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'll add lobsters to the list of things to check. I hit HN almost every day for something interesting but usually end up hitting PageDown on the comments to skip to the next top-level comment.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:47 PM on August 9, 2019


I stopped reading HN about 2 years ago and am very happy with the decision. I don't feel like I'm missing anything good.
posted by nnethercote at 3:28 AM on August 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


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