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
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