Jacques Mattheij

technology, coding and business

The Unofficial Hacker News FAQ

The Unofficial Hacker News FAQ

The Official FAQ is here: http://ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html

Here is a small sample of stuff that pops up with some regularity, if you want me to add entries please mail me jacques@mattheij.com, if you ask a question that is hard to answer it may take a while before I can post it . Please note that I’m not affiliated with HN in any way other than being a user, the majority of this stuff has been gleaned from observing HN closely over a long period of time and various little bits of information that were dropped by PG in HN threads. It is very well possible that not all of this is up-to-date or even correct, if you feel that there is an error in this text please let me know.

Update: I’ve added the option now to link to a specific FAQ entry by providing an anchor for each question.

  • Why does my question not show up on the news page ?

    “self” posts, posts that do not link to another website have their own category in the top menu bar, they are all grouped under the ‘Ask’ entry there to make sure that they don’t get lost in the fray.

    Self posts also have a penalty associated with them so they don’t clog up the news page for too long, so even popular self posts that do make the homepage will drop down fairly quickly.

    If you are posting a ‘rate my startup’ post as a self post you are missing out on a lot of valuable feedback because likely your post will not make it to the homepage.

    I would suggest you post your site as a link and put your extra information about the project in the first comment.


  • How do I know if my comment has been replied to

    HN does not support regular blog style notification, but it does support ‘notifo’, have a look at your profile and http://notifo.com/hackernews .


  • Why can’t I comment on this job posting?

    Job postings from YC funded companies are a “separate type of object from stories that get inserted into the stream of stories on the frontpage if they get enough votes”, so you can vote on them but you can’t comment on them.


  • What is the best stuff on HN?

    You can find a really nice collection of excellent threads on HN in the ‘thread of threads’ at:

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2158116

    (thanks to HN’er solipsist for the name ‘thread of threads’)


  • I’ve lost my password / How do I reset my password ?

    There is no set procedure for this other than mailing the site owner. Typically how to do this is left as an exercise for the reader, think of it as an intelligence test. If you can’t figure out who to mail you will need a new account ;).


  • I want to change my password

    http://news.ycombinator.com/changepw


  • how do I search Hacker News?

    There are several ways in which you can search HN, the first (and most obvious) is to click the search link at the bottom of the page, which will take you to a google site specific search that has been pre-set to search hackernews. The other (less obvious) method but which will give you vastly more search options is to use

    http://searchyc.com/

    This has all kinds of tricks that you may find useful.


  • how can I filter HN for submissions from site ‘X’?

    Use the HN toolkit script:

    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/25039


  • Why can’t I downvote (a) comment(s)?

    You can only downvote comments once you have sufficient karma. The required level rises over time to account for the karma inflation caused by an increasing userbase.

    If you do have enough karma to downvote then the reason might be that you are looking at a response to a comment of your own, or the comment may be older than 24 hours.


  • How do I make the HN homepage

    The answer to that question was so long I made it in to an article all by itself:

    How to make the Hacker News Homepage


  • Why have I been downvoted?

    You don’t usually get the benefit of feedback from those that hit the ‘down’ arrow and this can be quite frustrating. Typically HN frowns on: one liner humor, name calling, trolling and so on. Simply being factually wrong is also a great way to find yourself in ‘Z’ territory, as is the use of ‘url shorteners’, which hide the name of the site the link points to. HN is not twitter and does not need URL shorteners, plenty of them are banned anyway, please don’t go hunting around for one that isn’t yet.

    Though it shouldn’t be the case, but there definitely seems to be some evidence for it disagreeing with prominent HN’ers that have a large number of fans is another way to get downvoted, that shouldn’t happen but there is definitely evidence for it.


  • Is news.ycombinator.com open source?

    Yes it is, the code is written in a language layered on top of scheme called ‘Arc’, you can get the whole package here: http://arclanguage.org/ , the package includes a slight variation (the ‘secret sauce’ is missing) on the code running HN


  • I’ve been banned, now what?

    Send a polite email to the site owner asking for mercy and hope that your account will be restored. If that should fail you’re out of luck.


  • What do I do when I think something is not HN material?

    Simply flag the post, don’t bother bitching about it, that will only get you downvotes.

    If a post gets 10 flags before it gets 10 points it goes dead automatically, if it doesn’t each flag seems to cause the post to be penalized on its ranking so it will still have effect. After a post has more than 10 points only a moderator can kill it.


  • At what karma level can I downvote articles?

    There is no karma level that I know of that will allow you to downvote articles.

    The only way to effectively downvote an article is to flag it, but only do this with articles that you feel should not be on the site at all.


  • How to delete my account?


    HN does not have a way to delete your account directly, but you can ‘anonimize’ your profile by removing any identifying information there. The email address is not visible for outsiders so you don’t need to worry about that, simply wipe your about box and call it a day. If you used your real life name as your username it’s a bit more of a problem, especially if your name is not ‘John Smith’, you could try emailing the owner of the site but I would reserve that to those occasions where you really think it matters.

    If this is to ‘unsay’ stuff that you wrote in the past then that’s a good reminder to think twice before you hit that submit button lest you cause someone needless work.


  • Why does my vote not count?

    Not all votes on HN count, there are algorithmic tweaks that will cause certain votes to be ignored. The opposite also happens, not all votes that are counted are displayed. This is by design and nothing to worry about, it does not mean that PG has it ‘in for you’, these tweaks are intended to increase the overall quality of the site. Think of your vote as an ‘input’ to an engine that tries to extract maximum quality from the content of the site and some inputs have been determined to work contrary to that goal and so have been ignored. Usually this is a temporary thing, so don’t stop voting!


  • Is HN becoming like Reddit and Digg?

    HN is notoriously paranoid about ‘becoming like Reddit or Digg’, and while there is nothing wrong with either of those sites (they just cater to a different audience) the chances of this happening are relatively small. For one HN has its own ‘flavor’ of submissions, and off-topic posts are flagged and removed with some regularity.

    Second, the discussions on HN are generally in a completely different style, harder to follow for the un-initiated and in general require more work on behalf of the reader, it’s much more hard information oriented and much less ‘infotainment’.

    Periodically you’ll see someone complaining that HN has ‘jumped the shark’, by which they usually refer to that it has finally become like reddit or digg, but if you view those sites side-by-side you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t true.

    One good thing about people worrying if HN has become like Reddit or Digg is that this will help avoiding that from happening, and that if ever people would stop worrying chances are that it had already come to pass. So worry away, flag those off-topic posts, submit great content and HN will survive another cycle.


  • Can I post links to my own blog?

    Yes, you can. But if you post links that are not topical or that are over(t)ly commercial in nature you risk having your site banned completely.


  • How do I get in to hardware manufacturing?

    Getting in to hardware manufacturing is harder than most software products, there was a post on HN that did a pretty good job of outlining how to go about it:

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1840896


  • Why don’t people ever email me when I invite them to in a comment?

    The Email field in your profile is for site administrators only. If you want other users to be able to see it, you need to include it in your About box, otherwise nobody can see it.


  • I’m at -4 for a comment and still my karma is dropping, how come?

    HN is ‘subtle’ in that not everything always is what it seems. Votes are not always counted and those votes that are counted are not always displayed. So even though your vote count for that comment shows as -4, in actual fact it may be much lower. Take your lumps, analyze why you got those downvotes and if you feel they were justified then try to do better in the future. A side effect of the votes still being counted past -4 seems to be that people tend to delete their comments with a much higher frequency than in the past to cap the damage to their karma.


  • Why can’t I respond to a comment that responded to me?

    Comment responses are disabled for a while if a discussion gets too heated. Wait for a bit and think things over if you feel the need to respond you will be able to do so later.


  • Why can’t I reply to older threads?

    Once a thread is ‘old’ (typically 2 months, but there are a few exceptions) it changes from an active discussion in to an archived one and you can no longer reply to the comments in the thread.


  • Someone edited a comment I replied to and now I look like an idiot!

    This happens, and it is very annoying that HN does not preserve the history of the comments correctly. Most old-timers are wise to this and will quote a specific section of a comment in case they suspect someone might alter their text (some users will do this with regularity, others will never touch a comment once they submitted it).


  • What can I do with my karma?

    Well, you can’t take it to the bank, you can’t buy mugs or t-shirts with it and high karma doesn’t even mean you’re going to make it in to YC (though it probably won’t hurt).

    What it does give you is that at some point you can downvote other comments and it gives you the ability to flag posts. A high average score on your comments will give your comments preference in the search order (this is part of the ‘secret sauce’).

    The thresholds at which this happens changes over time, the downvote threshold is at 500 right now and the flag cap is at 200. Another thing you can do with karma above [value?] is to post polls.

    Your karma also determines your position on the HN leaderboard, but nobody will give you a prize for that either ;)

    Another side effect of ‘good karma’ (or at least, insightful comments) is that your chances of getting in to YC if you should apply go up. To make it plain, in case that wasn’t clear already, of course there is no direct relationship between your HN karma and your chances of getting in to YC, but if you are stuck at -15 for trolling that isn’t going to exactly help you either.

    If there are no real big benefits to having a good or even excellent karma you might want to conclude that it doesn’t matter at all, but that is definitely not the case, since having ‘bad’ karma (< 0) will negatively impact your ability to interact with the site.


  • How do I get my posts on the homepage?

    The nice thing to do is to wait and see if others will find your article interesting enough that it gets enough upvotes. Currently that number hovers somewhere around 4 or 5, and if you don’t get that number of votes before your article scrolls off the new page then you likely won’t get there.

    Some people try to ‘game’ the system by asking their friends to vote for them or by abusing twitter to get their ‘followers’ to vote for their article. Such behavior is generally frowned upon, it might get your site banned, though it seems that some people have deployed these tricks to great effect. HN contains a fair amount of logic to detect such trickery and in the interest of preserving the nature of the site it likely is better if you don’t.

    What’s more important than trying to game a few votes is to try to get your timing right (don’t bother posting your article if there is a flurry of new articles being posted since your article won’t be on the new page long enough to garner the required amount of votes, unless it is a spectacular news item). Google buying microsoft would probably be news at any time of day, but if you really want to have your ‘review my start-up’ or an article you’ve found about a new computer language or algorithm to be noticed pay attention to how fast the new page is changing.

    The easiest way to do that is to look at the last entry (number 30), and to see how old it is. If it is less than an hour old you should only submit stuff that you are sure will be noticed by enough people.


  • How do I get high karma?

    Why would you want high karma ?

    Karma won’t buy you anything (see above), but once you start counting something there is a competitive element.

    As they say, one boat is a cruise, two boats is a race.

    People seem to be getting a lot of karma by being the first to submit posts from places like TechCrunch, EndGadget or stuff written by the ‘major tech bloggers’.

    The reason why this works is that lots of people have these sites in their rss readers and when a new article hits as one man they hit the ‘submit to HN’ bookmarklet. And HN counts every follow up submission as a vote for the first one, instant karma.

    The tragic thing is that once this became common knowledge more and more people got on the bandwagon, which means that now even the most inane articles from some sources are pretty much guaranteed to make the homepage. So please don’t do this, only post those things that you genuinely believe would benefit a substantial portion of the HN audience and that meet the guidelines.


  • is there a ‘best of HN’ list?

    There are two such lists, the first is a list that is automatically generated and that shows the most recent very high voted articles, it is at:

    http://news.ycombinator.com/best

    Then there is one that is made of the very best Ask HN threads, the original was by Gabriel Weinberg (the ‘duckduckgo’ guy), but since then it has been taken over by Michael Fairley:

    http://remembersaurus.com/askhn.html


  • is there a digest service?

    Yes, there is are, this one shows the best articles on a daily basis:

    http://www.daemonology.net/hn-daily

    which was created by Colin Percival, the person behind ‘tarsnap’.

    It’s a great way to see if you’ve missed anything of importance after a prolonged break (aka work).

    Then there is http://www.hackernewsletter.com/ by Kale Davis.

    And one more at http://jmillerinc.com/2010/07/23/a-cure-for-hacker-news-overload/


  • How do I suggest improvements to HN?

    You could try to submit a comment on the Feature Requests thread, but there is a fair chance that your comment will go unnoticed.

  • Whatever happened to nickb / NewMogul?


    This one has come up so frequently it should be in a category all by itself. As far as I know nickb is alive and well, he’s just decided to stop spending time on HN and when the NewMogul site went down he never bothered to restore it.

    There have been some attempts to replace NM with a similar concept but so far that has not created the same following that NM enjoyed. Here is a list of the attempts that I’m aware of:

    http://moniedinterests.com/

    http://www.markenomics.com/

    http://newsley.com/popular/


  • Are there other sites like HN?

    try http://techstartu.ps/


  • http://reddit.com/r/programming/ is pretty good too.

  • is there a list of all YC funded startups?

    Not one that YC puts out, but there is a fairly up-to-date spreadsheet at:

      [https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AkkhSN3vaY4jdF90b1l1Vnl5NmZjaTBNQWlJYVozMEE&hl=en](https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AkkhSN3vaY4jdF90b1l1Vnl5NmZjaTBNQWlJYVozMEE&hl=en)
    

    which was announced in this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1223951


  • Also, there is this website:

    http://ycpages.info/

    with an easy to use interface to slice & dice YC any way you want it.

  • Why are there no trolls or spam on HN?

    HN gets it’s (more than) fair share of spam, you likely never see it because you are looking at the ‘news’ page rather than the ‘new’ page, and by the time the news hits the front page the spam has already been filtered out by people that look at the new page. If you have enough karma you could help out by flagging spam articles on the ‘new’ page (currently you have to have 200 karma for that).

    Switch on ‘showdead’ in your profile to see how much spam gets flagged, on a regular weekday it’s not rare to see a 50% real vs spam article ratio.

    If you wonder where all the trolls are, that’s simple, on HN trolls are shot. Ruthlessly and permanently, or as permanently as possible.

    This keeps the atmosphere clean and fosters more productive forms of debate. So, please don’t troll. It doesn’t help the discussion and it will likely result in your account meeting with a violent and premature end.


  • If it’s called ‘hacker news’ why all the other stuff?

    Hacker News started out as startup news, with the focus much more on things that relate to the start-up scene, which basically means people that want to start their own business. After a short while the name was changed to ‘hacker news’ and the scope was broadened accordingly. Even today though, you can tell clearly that the main focal points of HN are start-ups and programming. There are other subjects whose articles make it to the homepage but in relation to those other two they’re relatively rare. Technically the HN subjects are ‘anything that good hackers find interesting’.


  • what other HN companion sites exist?

    There is a whole bunch of them listed at:

    http://resourcey.com/site_details/2/news.ycombinator.com/


  • Which sites are banned from HN?

    Long ago PG posted this list:

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=499044

    Likely since then it has grown a lot so this is definitely not the final word on it.


  • How can I help making HN better?

    • visit the New page and upvote stories that are interesting

    • visit the new user submissions and flag the spammers

    • submit interesting articles

    • make insightful comments


  • Is there an API for HN / is it ok to scrape HN?

    There is an (unofficial) API for HN, you can find it here:

    http://api.ihackernews.com/

    As for scraping HN, PG wrote the following:

    “You can crawl so long as you respect robots.txt and don’t retrieve more than a couple pages a minute.”

    see: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1721105


  • What are the alternative ways to read HN?

    Try having a look at http://hckrnews.com/ and the digest at http://www.daemonology.net/hn-daily .

    Technically not really an ‘interface’, but definitely worth mentioning is Hacker Monthly, a paper or e-book version of some of the best content of hackernews, http://hackermonthly.com/ . It’s formatted beautifully and makes you look at the HN content in an entirely new way that does not require a wall socket or a battery nearby.

    Giles Bowkett maintains (in his own words) ‘a ridiculously long list of HN mashups’:

    http://gilesbowkett.blogspot.com/2009/11/hacker-news-mashups.html

    If you’re using an iphone try http://icombinator.net/ or http://ihackernews.com/ .

    For the android platform there is http://github.com/amir/HNdroid ,

    and for android tablets there is https://market.android.com/details?id=com.sl2v.HackerNewsHD

    Finally, if you don’t want to use anything that starts with http there is the irc channel, it is located at irc.freenode.net #startups

    Choice is a good thing ;)


  • What are good books to read?

    You could do worse than pick a few from this page:

    http://www.whattofix.com/blog/archives/2010/10/top-dozen-hacke.php

    It was made by analyzing HN and picking out the books that HN’ers regularly recommend to each other.


  • mail me at jacques@mattheij.com , twitter feed at http://twitter.com/jmattheij