Scripting News: Hacker News is depressing.

A picture named trashcan.gifYesterday someone at Hacker News thought to point to my piece about Marissa Mayer. It was a story I wrote in about 15 minutes. The point was at the end of the piece. As a preamble, I told a couple of stories from my personal experience. I figured it would get a few comments, maybe a couple of thousand reads, and that would be that. But the torrent of abuse on Hacker News was something that I haven’t seen in a long time.

One of the main reasons it doesn’t work is that people don’t ask questions to clarify. They jump to conclusions, some of which are very wrong. For example, they assumed I was the only person who was concerned about the BlogThis! button. Not true.

They assumed that I was being “egotistical” for thinking that Google ever cared what I thought, and arrogant that I think they should care what I think now. It’s a fact that at one point, early-on, Google did care. Their chief PR person was from Apple, Cindy McCaffrey, a class act in every way. She would routinely send emails to me and Doc Searls asking our opinions. Whether anyone else there cared, I don’t know. But I was invited to a meeting with engineers to talk about blogging, RSS and XML-RPC at one point. I can’t imagine why they would ask me to tell them what I think if they didn’t care. I suppose it might have been a big conspiracy, like Mission Impossible. Hey I wouldn’t put it past some of the trolls on Hacker News to argue that. 🙂

On the other hand, I don’t take it personally that Google doesn’t care what I think these days, partially because I don’t think they care what anyone thinks. That’s a long story all by itself.

Now, we could have had an interesting discussion on HN if people would have asked questions for clarification instead of just piling on the abuse based on their impressions. That’s taking them at face-value, assuming they really want an informative discussion. Probably the trolls in the thread, and their upvoters, wanted nothing like that.

There were some other ludicrous statements. Did any of them know that I started a new company in December, and we shipped our first two products in March and April? They said I thought JavaScript was a bad language. How funny, because I’m writing almost all my code these days in JavaScript. They say I’m old and out of date. Funny. They’re the ones who are out of date! 🙂

And if you say someone’s old as a way of hurting them, the joke will eventually come back to hurt you. As one of the characters of Citizen Kane, Bernstein, said so eloquently, old age is the one disease you don’t look forward to being cured of. It comes to everyone. I was young once. Now I’m middle-aged. Truth. And the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I don’t see what it has to do with the point of my blog post.

Now I think there’s a solution to letting the assholes control the conversation…

As discourse has moved to Twitter, its big contribution has been to push aside the abuse that’s common with discussion boards and mail lists. A very simple feature in Twitter, the block command, enforces decorum, by empowering the listener to turn you off if they find you offensive. People learn that if they say abusive things, they don’t have to listen. The only people I listen to on Twitter are those who can make a point without getting personal. I learn from disagreement, but I can’t stand people who use their freedom to speak as a way of hurting others.

Then I wondered — if it works so well for Twitter — why can’t sites block Hacker News if the abuse gets too heavy? After yesterday’s experience I probably would do it. I like the flow they deliver, but I hate the abuse.

So I have a suggestion for Paul Graham, the guy who runs Hacker News. Give sites the option of blocking links from Hacker News. I honestly don’t care what the HN trolls, and the people who upvote them, supposedly “think” about me. None of it is based on anything real. A lot of it is anonymous. Sometimes people create accounts just for the purpose of dropping a big smelly turd in the middle of a discussion.

Let’s learn a trick from Twitter, and cut off the trolls at the source.

PS: I subscribe to the Hacker News feed, which does not include comments. It’s very useful stuff. So the links themselves are good.

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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