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5 (Possibly Fixable) Reasons Why Y-Combinator’s Hacker News Is Flawed

by Jonas Huckestein on February 24th, 2010

Note: Most of these issues have since been addressed. I’ll keep this post around so that I can always remember that time when I set up a blog and experimented with linkbaiting ;)

Hacker News is flawed.

I started reading HN a few weeks ago and already think it’s conceptually flawed. A lot of extremely smart people frequent HN and the community’s potential is being wasted.

This is not a rant. I appreciate everything that News.YC does for the startup/hacker community and will continue reading it. But I might not engage in active discussions. Hit the jump for my reasons.

Update: I was just made aware of the archive.org pages for HN. Takes you back.

Update 2: Some new points (“this link has expired” et al.) have come up. Check out the discussion over at HN for details.

I realize that most of the constraints on HN were consciously put into place but as the sit grows, the features have to adapt.

1. It takes only 1 hour for a post to disappear from the “New” page

On a side-note, it takes only around 10 hours (or less, at the end of the day) for a post to disappear completely from the page, unless it has made the (one of the) front-pages. This leaves too much room for chance in what posts get the most exposure.

2. The Point system sets the wrong incentives

Most people seem to be in it for the points. They comment more on posts with good exposure, because there the chance of gaining more points is higher. A commenter with an average of 5+ points per comment would not comment on an interesting article that is currently on the last page and about to get lost.

Also, some people seem to continue threads that are so far down the list that they cannot be “revived” in more popular threads to gain more points.

3. There is no way to search

This is probably a very conscious decision, but still I feel like potential is being lost here. If I am interested in a specific topic, I would rather look for it on HN because the successful articles are usually smart and insightful.

You can search on Google with site:news.ycombinator.com but the result listing is much less informative (no points, no date, no poster)

4. Using HN as a discussion forum doesn’t work

It is possible to post questions to HN that are then supposed to be discussed. The problem is, that these posts rarely gain a lot of points although I think they are much more interesting than a link to an article. According to my very scientific study I have found incidental evidence that about 3% of all posts making the front-page don’t contain a link.

Here’s an outrageous theory: Maybe URL links get more points on average, because people make their friends vote them up on HN to get exposure? (just like at Digg!)

A lot of potential is being wasted here. Or am I just overestimating the quality of the HN community?

5. There is no way to revive old discussions

If I come across an interesting discussion that is far down the list (or even out of it) I may respond to it, but the original author will probably never see it and neither will the rest of the world.

Conclusion

I admit that I’m a HN newbie and that I have not tried very hard to engage in an actual discussion there. This is because to me, participating feels a little too much like Digg (albeit a Digg with smart people) and there are too many “Thanks, I have nothing to say” posts.

Keen observers might notice that this is also a personal story about a discussion (that I care about a lot) that got quite a few good comments but few points and was thus dropped. So take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Some of the above issues have relatively easy fixes. Some might require rethinking. Consider dropping the points system in favor of a discussion-based rating system or introducing a new “upcoming” page with a random sampler of new posts.

I’m interested in the rationales that have made HN what it is today.

Related posts:

  1. 6 Reasons To Have A Blogger On Your Startup Team

From → Entrepreneurship

15 Comments
  1. One of the best things you could do to get action actually taken is link to specific features on the HN Feature Requests List that would help solve the problems you’ve identified. Encouraging people to upvote those will catch pg’s attention much more surely than the blog post by itself.

    Your no-search point is a much-bemoaned one; the HN search at the very bottom (by WebMynd, a YC company), isn’t that great. I’ve found SearchYC.com to be excellent, though. Do a search and then check out the further options you have.

    For using HN as a discussion forum, it’s unfortunate that the great discussions that do happen have such high barriers to taking place — there’s so much untapped potential. But, Hacker News’ primary purpose is, well, news. If you’re interested in discussion on similar subjects from a similarly high quality community, take a look at Answers.OnStartups.com.

    Props for taking the time to write such constructive criticism, Jonas.

  2. Jay, I am going to try Answers.OnStartups.com right now to ask the question I was referring to earlier. Let’s see what happens.

    Let’s see if you can get me to switch.

    Thanks for your feedback :)

  3. There is another issue, for me at least, but I’m not sure how to fix that (and whether to): More often than not — at least for the front-page articles — it turns out that the comments are so informative and interesting that I don’t even go to the articles themselves. And if we discount the article I follow in Netvibes and I would read anyway, I would dare say that I read less than 25% of what’s left…

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