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  • Writer's pictureAditya Sudhakar

Why your story won't show up on Hacker News and why it probably shouldn't…

… and why this story won’t either, and that’s ok…. 

Hacker News (HN) is a link aggregator owned and operated by Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. The links typically point to “anything that good hackers would find interesting”.

I’m not a hacker, never mind a good one, but HN has been a daily stop for me since Oct 1, 2013. On that day, among other interesting goings on, a company released a 3D printed 6 second toothbrush tailored for our teeth. 

What’s interesting about HN is how despite it being an anonymous community that has grown because anyone can join, there hasn’t been a decline in content quality (or I’d have stopped visiting).

Others have done a more detailed study of the hidden features and behaviors. But in short, between just 2 moderators, guidelines, community help and technology, the community is seemingly able to control for things like flamebait, astroturfing and shillage

Part of what the technology enables is karma points. You essentially earn these by being a good citizen; contributing with new content, and providing thoughtful comments to others’ contributions. The more the community finds your submissions thought provoking, the more karma you earn. The more karma you earn, the more community capital you build and decisions you influence. 

Despite having been on the platform for 5+ years, I only have 1 karma point because I only have ever contributed once before (hmm…I should find out where my karma went!). So while I’m not a terrible citizen (I haven’t detracted from the community), I’m not a particularly good one either. 

All this led me to asking how exactly does one become a good citizen of HN. It’s apparently a question that gets asked a lot, and this isn’t the first time someone has looked into some details. 

There’s a leaderboard here. But rather than confirm that lots of karma probably requires obsessive participation, I decided to pick a random, moderately good citizen.. screen name callmeed. Here’s what I found. 

Callmeed has been a community member since April 2008 and has made 2626 contributions. This is how it breaks down: 

So he’s looked for feedback on stuff he’s built (Show HN), asked questions (Ask HN), submitted interesting content (Link Submission) and contributed to others’ submissions (Parent comment, Child Comment), ie, he’s been an all-round participant.

He’s also done this over an 11 year period. That’s 2 contributions every 3 days on average (although it looks like he’s otherwise busy these days)! 

This is how the community rewarded him:

This seems to makes sense, more points for higher effort activities. 

So it appears the key is to consistently contribute in small, useful ways over long periods of time. It probably should take time and effort for reputation to develop. And it probably doesn’t result in good outcomes when rich noobs can throw money on a soapbox (SuperPACs), or noisy groups can hijack (fake news, bots) the conversation… phenomena we seem unable, or, unwilling to control for.

PS- Thanks to friends and callmeed for reading and suggesting edits.

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