The HN team members are some of the most thoughtful people about online communities I’ve ever met. So I’m always excited when they have a new idea to try.

This idea is simple. We’re updating the guidelines to add: “Avoid gratuitous negativity.”

Critical thinking is good; shallow cynicism, on the other hand, adds nothing of value to the community. It is unpleasant to read and detracts from actual work. If you have something important but negative to say, that’s fine, but say it in a respectful way. 

Negativity isn’t the problem–gratuitous negativity is. By that we mean negativity that adds nothing of substance to a comment. This includes all forms of meanness.

Sharp readers may point out that the HN guidelines have always excluded those things. That’s true. But it’s still enough of a problem in HN threads that this is a clarification worth making. We tried it out last year when we released special guidelines for Show HNs. It worked well there, so we’re extending it to the whole site.

New work and new ideas are fragile. Too much gratuitous negativity might be the difference between someone giving up on a crazy idea and building the next Airbnb. Obviously, we want Hacker News to help startups and people doing new work, not hurt them. Building stuff is hard, and you’ll always need a thick skin. But we see no need for Hacker News to make the problem worse.

The human trait of being unhappy with other people’s success is something we’ve all felt and should all try to avoid. Similarly for piling on to others’ mistakes. These things feel good in the moment, but they’re harmful and lazy. HN is a community of smart people. Let’s all apply our smartness to not being like that, and see what new and interesting things emerge.

How are we going to enforce this? By asking the community to do so. Gentle reminders by peers are the best way we know to make the culture better.

HN can never be all things to all people. If you want to be relentlessly negative on the internet, there are other places you can go to do that.

I’m excited about this change; the increase in gratuitous negativity as Hacker News has gotten bigger is the thing I’ve liked the least.

To support this, Daniel and the HN team are working on another new idea I’m very excited about–code-named “Modnesty”–to turn more moderation power over to the community. We’ll be sharing more on that in the coming months.