May 22, 2014

Leaving Hacker News

Filed under: Uncategorized — aspensmonster @ 10:47 pm

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I meant to get this up earlier, but between finals and graduation and hustling for employment, things fell through the cracks. Some basic background info:

  • Hacker News’ moderation has always been a black box.
  • Hacker News was experimenting with “pending” comments that had to be approved by elder members.
    • If you “abused” your privilege as an elder member by always granting pending comments, you would lose your privilege.
  • Hacker News has been experimenting with a new type of “amplified downvote.”
    • Under this amplifed downvote, the effects of a downvote persist across all of your posts for an as yet undetermined amount of time.
  • Hacker News’ comment ranking system used to implement a sort-of percolating algorithm, where almost all comments were at least guaranteed some exposure at the top of the thread before percolating downwards (or staying where they were if they were upvoted). In my limited observations this behaviour is now gone, and the ranking is based solely on average comment score.
  • The downvote decrementing counter appears to “stop” at -4, but can continue downward indefinitely, tanking an otherwise decent average comment score.
  • Hacker News is under newer, more active moderation –even more active than before (though still not transparent).
  • Hacker News utilizes slow-banning and hell-banning, neither of which the user would be aware of.
  • Hacker News mods often edit titles and penalize stories (causing them to drop off the front page) with no background as to why.
  • Hacker News mods can set user posts to be “autodead” if they contain certain keywords.

Suffice it to say, I’ve grown increasingly tired of all of the shenanigans. It reached a tipping point with the following thread that basically established the way things would be from then on out:

An Update On HN Comments

And my particular comment on that thread:

My Comment

Unless you’re logged in and set “showdead” to “on,” you probably won’t be able to see my comment in the thread. It was autodeaded, presumably because of my use of the term “circlejerk,” which HN is quite sensitive to.

In any case, the comment is reproduced below, and serves as my parting from the HN community. I’ve since joined

The majority of HN users are thoughtful and nice. It’s clear from the data that they reliably downvote jerks and trolls (and specifically, they don’t silence minority groups—we’ve looked into this). What dang and kogir found was a way to turn the volume up on this kind of downvote.

I suppose that explains why the effects of downvotes on my past comments are persisting for weeks, regardless of the content of comments that come after. Heck, it explains everything about my experience on HN for the past three weeks or so. Story time!

I was recently met with a torrent of downvotes –nearly 100, might have actually crossed that– for poking fun at HN’s incessant we’re-not-reddit-we’re-much-more-sophisticated circlejerking (the irony is not lost). I’m specifically referring to this submission:

It was an announcement that Valve was open-sourcing its fork of Mesa. Someone made a HL3 confirmed chain: Mesa -> Black Mesa -> Half-Life -> Half-Life 3 CONFIRMED etc etc. That it was a story about Valve only helped, and so I cheerfully advised this commenter not to distract Gaben from Left 4 Dead 3. I was downvoted and I proceeded to taunt the hivemind. Indeed I felt quite gleeful that I managed to hit the floor of “-4″ for each of the comments whilst my total karma counter continued to decrement. There were even others that saw fit to traverse my past comments and downvote those too. I’m sure those comments deserved it; they must have been off-topic or non-substantive or out-of-scope.

Of course, the Rules of HN are such that you can’t complain about downvoting. You cannot incite people to downvote you either. So yes, “shame on me” for not engaging in the proper circlejerking motions. Shame on me for continually pointing out this community’s obsession over being the “glorious master race” of online discussion whilst poo-pooing the cesspools of “filthy casuals” like Reddit or, god forbid, Slashdot. “Shame on me” for partaking in the memes of any culture other than HN’s. I should know better. Those are “low/no-content” things. They are “not substantive.” Or my personal favorite: they are “outside the scope of HN.” There’s always some excuse that the hivemind will come to a consensus on.

The net effect is thus:

  • I now get to wait several seconds for a page load, as if I were shadow banned. Who knows. Maybe I am 😀 Viewing the website without a logged-in session produces immediate page loads.
  • Any comment I submit, regardless of length, is lucky to make it more than a third of the way up from the bottom of the page to *start*. It seems my comments don’t get to percolate from the top down any more.
  • My comments that do get upvotes never seem to rise past this point on the page.

I’m sure someone will insist that I message the mods. I refuse. I’m not going to beg the censor to restore my speech privileges whilst he pulls a Putin and insists he’s doing nothing of the sort. The mere suggestion is indicative of just how big a problem moderation of this sort really is. The algorithms and moderation behind HN are a black box and any suggestion to make it transparent is met with the resistance of an open circuit.

I find it hard to believe that the Gods of HN are merely “silencing” the “jerks and trolls” whilst leaving the pure and unadulterated essence of HN to flourish. Perhaps this is all just a consequence of a single, massive downvote spike that torched my 5.0+ rating down to 1.14 (do I see 0.* yet?). I don’t believe that. Between “pending” comments and the “downvote threshold” and the “flagging threshold” and the “we’ll revoke your privileges if we please” attitude, I’d say things are exactly the way they want them to be.

At this point, I really don’t think I’m interested in continuing to be a part of HN. I don’t want to continue to be a data point in some Big Data Miner’s grand experiment to see just how organically he can manufacture consent. And I’m sure the hivemind will have no problem with that state of affairs. I’m just a perfect example of the system working as intended. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. I’m the problem they’re trying to solve. Etc etc etc…

HN isn’t trying to stave off an Eternal September. It’s doing everything it can to never reach October.