I Quit Hacker News
Last week I finally gave up and ditched my Hacker News account. I just changed the password to some long random string so I’d never be tempted to log in again. Lack of password recovery isn’t a bug there, it’s a feature.
I’m going to avoid writing one of those stereotypical flameout posts that users with lots of karma who quit usually write. I’m not bitter about any time I spent there, and though I perhaps regret the amount of it, that’s nobody’s fault but mine. But I do see some problems with the community that I’m going to enumerate here. Many are probably endemic to any online community.
1. Lack of a down-vote means vocal minorities are disproportionately represented. How many Hacker News users really want to see 5 stories about the TSA body scanners every time they log in? It doesn’t matter, because as long as 10% of them up-vote every story on the topic it’s going to flood the top page with them until they move on to something else.
Some people will say “they have flags” but flags are not down-votes, and even most people like myself who wish there were down-votes don’t use them as such. Flagging is for spam, trolling, etc. I may not like what you have to say, but I’ll fight for your right to not be flagged for saying it.
2. Votes on comments are used to express agreement or disagreement rather than value, perhaps because many people simply cannot see the difference between the two. In an ideal community people would up-vote arguments for adding value to the conversation and down-vote only for detracting. I’d much rather see something well-reasoned and well-stated that I disagree with than just another guy confirming my own opinion about something. That puts me square in the minority on Hacker News and, to be fair, probably just about any site with voting. In fact it probably puts me less in the minority on Hacker News than it would be on most similar sites, but it’s still problematic enough that karma isn’t really a quantification of the value you bring to the community but rather the popularity of your viewpoint within it.
3. The community is full of ideologues to the point where the comments are most often just predictable talking points being regurgitated ad nauseum. Everyone talks about the intelligent conversation, and it does happen, but far more times it’s just the same clichés repeated over and over.
You know whenever you see a post about Microsoft’s revenues going up that the first thing you’ll see when you click comments will be the old internet standby of “Yeah but it’s all Windows and Office and those will be worthless in 5 years”. People said that on Slashdot 10 years ago, and they’ll say that on whatever comes after Hacker News 10 years from now.
You know that any comment that could be conceivably taken as anti-Apple or in favor of any big corporation other than Apple will be down-voted for disagreement (not lack of value) and the opposite will be true as well. Fluff posts from John Gruber, who rarely says anything at all of value (and I say this as someone who spends most of my time working on iOS projects) are extraordinarily popular because it fits within the community’s ideology
The ideology is often anti-corporate to the point of naiveté, and that’s nothing compared to how anti-government it is. These are the result of a larger problem (which is certainly not endemic to HN, and is in fact ruining discourse everywhere) which is that everything is always discussed in extremes. There is only black and white, with little room left for shades of gray. The term “evil” (the silliest and most counterproductive word to enter tech discussions ever) is thrown about haphazardly.
4. The community is often snobbish and out of touch with how the other half lives. This is a community of white collar workers who quite frequently look down on blue collar workers. I’m sorry but it’s true. A TSA worker, to them, is not some guy without a college degree who is feeding his family, he’s an amoral pawn of an evil bureaucracy that exists solely to ensure that peaceful Americans have to get their junk touched by the back of someone’s hand before boarding a plane.
5. It’s a time suck. That one’s self-explanatory to anyone who has used the site.
6. It removes comments from where they should be, on the destination site. When you read a blog post, then click back, then comment, you’ve greatly reduced your chance of speaking to the author. Unless he’s an HN user (which has grown increasingly more likely as the community has grown more insular and self-referential which is a problem in and of itself) you’re not even going to get the perspectives of a wide range of people. You’ve instead decided to converse only with a very specific subset of the people who read the same thing which, in and of itself, is a somewhat self-selected subset of the overall population.
7. It reduces blogging time. My thoughts and ideas belong here where people who are interested can easily see them aggregated, not in an out-of-context threads paged linked to from a profile page on another site that. I like that my comments are recorded here for posterity.
So from now on, for all those reasons and more, I’ll be opting out of pretty much all sites of that ilk. What little writing time I have is precious and should and will remain public, rather than a response to a response to someone who can’t tell the difference between being a freedom fighter and being a douche to a guy who makes $12 an hour trying to stop planes from getting blown up.