Pending Comments

Note: If you don’t have time to read this post to the end, please scroll to the bottom link and read the article from Jonas Wisser – especially if you like Hacker News without pending comments.

Hacker News is one of those forums that often provides useful information if you enjoy reading about tech, start-ups and a conundrum of topics its viewers post links about.

The announcement: Coming Soon to Hacker News: Pending Comments | Hacker News unfortunately demonstrates how disconnected HN has become from its community and social conversations.

All over Twitter, the tweets flew : Hacker News attempts to fix its comment problems with pending comments.

Exactly What Is The Problem?

I think an overlord or “bossy” type is trying to add shape to a problem that for the most part doesn’t exist – one that ignores what an awesome community HN really built up.

Personally, even before I read an article that was posted on HN, I’d take a look at the comments first. The comments hold great value by providing me with differing opinions, context and even some humor. I fear though that what I considered a good comment may now not reach my eyes due to this new policy.

From now on, when you post a comment, it won’t initially be live. It will be in a new state called pending. Comments get from pending to live by being endorsed by multiple HN users with over 1000 karma. Those users will see pending comments, and will be able to endorse them by clicking on an “endorse” link next to the “flag” link.

What is Karma on HN? When you are logged into HN, you can click an up-arrow icon to upvote a comment.

How is a user’s karma calculated?: Roughly, the number of upvotes on their submissions and comments, minus the number of downvotes. (The numbers won’t exactly match up, because some votes aren’t counted to prevent various types of abuse.)

So, comment survival will be a thing at the whim of Karma lords. They will determine what I want to read? They know what truly holds value?

I don’t think so.

This new policy will hurt engagement. I write this with confidence because I’ve already decided not to write any further comments on HN until this policy is reversed. I’ve never experienced an algorithm capable of really serving me with the exact content I always want to read. Karma overlords will now hold the key to randomly decide which comments hold value? This will likely discourage some from even trying to contribute something. Why take time to write anything that may never see the light of day? If an algo can’t satisfy all of my needs, how will random endorsements from the Karma elite?

By refraining from condoning this new policy and not commenting now (until this is reversed) I’m just making a small personal statement. I realize it won’t have any effect on HN. Admittedly, I didn’t comment often, but I’d take time out to write something when moved. I have a little experience on topics ranging from Product Management, Quality Management, Hardware, User Experience, Social Media and a bearded dragon. But, this occasional HN commenting is over for me – c’est la vie.

The problem HN is trying to solve due to some complaints that the quality of comments has degraded, is the thing that made HN work for me. Let the community decide what opinions and comments are valid. Let each individual user decide whether to read a comment or not. In today’s social world, most content holds value to someone anyways. Even a quick snarky comment might be just the ticket to open my eyes.

Even the disagreements on Hacker News are generally handled in a civil mature way. There’s always the exception, but why destroy the social value over what someone else thinks has no value. Most comments I’ve read add some flavor to a discussion. I don’t expect to find greatness in every comment, but let me choose which ones to read.

Personally, I just don’t like the idea that someone with high Karma points will determine what I want to read. It doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve been so wrapped up in various social media projects that when I first tasted this announcement from Hacker News, I spat it out immediately because I figured there’s no way that a somewhat knowledgeable tech community like HN would serve this as legitimate food. The pending comment approach is not social.

I’ve always experienced HN to be a rather respectful community. I’m also more than capabale of skipping topics and comments that may not interest me – like I’m sure most developed people are. Just because I may not personally find value in one comment, doesn’t mean I want someone else to come along and say, “You know this comment stinks, let’s toss it.”

One stinky comment can very well be another’s rose. Really, what is stinky? A pending comment policy on HN is what smells pretty bad to me.

The whole issue also seems to imply that HN comments along with this “vile” community needs parenting. Seriously? The HN community is mild, respectful and ready to offer help. The community even appears capable of steering conversations back on track when necessary – without pending comments.

Well, the general idea of Karma, Klout, Kiss-It metrics generally fail to tickle my funny bone – or grey matter at that. The following post though from someone else questioning what Hacker News is doing did make me smile.

Jonas Wisser offers great clarification to the official HN post on pending comments: Coming Soon to Hacker News: Pending Comments — Medium

Oh … and HN … please get social and stop this pending comment nonsense. I’d like to join you again.

3 Responses

  1. Yeah, I stopped posting too after it happened. Well, I tried, but none of my comments have been approved. It’s disheartening, and kind of sick. I thought I was a good commenter, but hell, it doesn’t even matter, I don’t want to make the effort to even bother posting. I don’t want to be “approved” by people I don’t know and have no reason to respect. I think HN is just becoming an echo-chamber for the in-group now. Maybe that’s what they want?

    1. It’s such a shame too because I pointed to Hacker News as a commenting system that worked great without real names and heavy handed moderation for so long. I’m sure you are a good commenter, but it seems like ‘bossy’ overlords always enjoy telling everyone what is good and not without consideration for others. The problem with the tech and design community today is that it often does become an echo-chamber.

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