9 Hacker News comments I'm tired of seeing

As a long-time reader of Hacker News, I keep seeing some comments they don't really contribute to the conversation. Since the discussions are one of the most interesting parts of the site I offer my suggestions for improving quality.
  • Correlation is not causation: the few readers who don't know this already won't benefit from mentioning it. If there's some specific reason you think a a study is wrong, describe it.
  • "If you're not paying for it, you're the product" - That was insightful the first time, but doesn't need to be posted about every free website.
  • Explaining a company's actions by "the legal duty to maximize shareholder value" - Since this can be used to explain any action by a company, it explains nothing. Not to mention the validity of the statement is controversial.
  • [citation needed] - This isn't Wikipedia, so skip the passive-aggressive comments. If you think something's wrong, explain why.
  • Premature optimization - labeling every optimization with this vaguely Freudian phrase doesn't make you the next Knuth. Calling every abstraction a leaky abstraction isn't useful either.
  • Dunning-Kruger effect - an overused explanation and criticism.
  • Betteridge's law of headlines - this comment doesn't need to appear every time a title ends in a question mark.
  • A link to a logical fallacy, such as ad hominem or more pretentiously tu quoque - this isn't a debate team and you don't score points for this.
  • "Cue the ...", "FTFY", "This.", "+1", "Sigh", "Meh", and other generic internet comments are just annoying.
My readers had a bunch of good suggestions. Here are a few:
  • The plural of anecdote is not data
  • Cargo cult
  • Comments starting with "No." "Wrong." or "False."
  • Just use bootstrap / heroku / nodejs / Haskell / Arduino.
  • "How [or Why] did this make the front page of HN?" followed by http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html
In general if a comment could fit on a bumper sticker or is simply a link to a Wikipedia page or is almost a Hacker News meme, it's probably not useful.

What comments bother you the most?

Check out the long discussion at Hacker News. Thanks for visiting, HN readers!

Amusing note: when I saw the comments below, I almost started deleting them thinking "These are the stupidest comments I've seen in a long time". Then I realized I'd asked for them :-)

Edit: since this is getting a lot of attention, I'll add my "big theory" of Internet discussions.

There are three basic types of online participants: "watercooler", "scientific conference", and "debate team". In "watercooler", the participants are having an entertaining conversation and sharing anecdotes. In "scientific conference", the participants are trying to increase knowledge and solve problems. In "debate team", the participants are trying to prove their point is right.

HN was originally largely in the "scientific conference" mode, with very smart people discussing areas in which they were experts. Now HN has much more "watercooler" flavor, with smart people chatting about random things they often know little about. And certain subjects (e.g. economics, Apple, sexism, piracy) bring out the "debate team" commenters. Any of the three types can carry on happily by themself. However, much of the problem comes when the types of conversation mix. The "watercooler" conversations will annoy the "scientific conference" readers, since half of what they say is wrong. Conversely, the "scientific conference" commenters come across as pedantic when they interrupt a fun conversation with facts and corrections. A conversation between "debate team" and one of the other groups obviously goes nowhere.


  1. why not use an arduino?

  2. Cargo Cult---particularly since it's use is self-referential.

  3. Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these.

    Tastes like chicken. Here comes the science.

    my highest rated comment is about penises covered in vomit.. thanks HN

    My girlfriend made $18,000 working from home.

  4. Fundamentally I think about 3 of these boil down to a failure to differentiate labels from insights. Marking the type of error you believe is occurring doesn't equate to debunking the statement being made, which HN tends to ignore.

  5. my gf's brother just got an almost new gold BMW 3 Series Coupe by part-time working online at home... check out the post right here big57.com

  6. This. Times a 1000.

    Actually - I never comment on anything mostly because I am annoyed by the sorts of responses you have listed here. Great work. Thanks. (Also I just ordered that book Electronics for Inventors 3rd ed so hope to be back here soon)

  7. "Um Google can do no wrong, and if it does wrong, it is not for money or PR reasons, it is just an accident. I say this because I am a naive idiot beyond belief."

    Oh wait they don't ever add that last sentence, do they.

  8. Goodwin's law.

    Maybe it's just lately with the whole NSA issue, but I seem to be reading way too many comments referring to Nazis.

  9. "Goodwin's law. "

    OMG you made a typo! You must be sooo stupid!

  10. "CoffeeScript sucks" -- I'll never stop using this one though.

  11. Anonymous said...
    "Goodwin's law. "

    Anonymous said...
    "OMG you made a typo! You must be sooo stupid!"

    Grammar Nazi!

  12. I'm tired of people complaining about the quality of the comments when there is a lack of quality in the contribution ..

  13. I'm tired of people whining on the internet.

    Just turn it off and don't use it.

  14. This place is turning into Reddit.

  15. What are you people smoking ??

  16. "Have you tried angular?"

  17. That's *Ginnifer* Goodwin's Law. OMG don't you know it?
    "Everything goes with short hair. It's bananas."

  18. Aaron Swartz, PG, Elon Musk, Aaron Swartz, PG, Elon Musk, Aaron Swartz, PG, Elon Musk, Aaron Swartz, PG, Elon Musk, Aaron Swartz, PG, Elon Musk!

    The hacker hero worship is so annoying.

  19. "Straw man" has got to be mine.

  20. I learned to program five times as fast thanks to one simple trick!

  21. You are so boring!

  22. Also I have a nicer universal comment. See something you don't really like, ask, 'And how it does in terms of CAP theorem?'

  23. I baked a cake in Go

  24. "meh" and its various (and more verbose) incarnations.

    The tone is almost always one of intellectual superiority grandstanding.


  25. I think you have forgotten one very important point about communities like Hacker News: Those who know teach those who do not.

    I appreciate your annoyance. However, even gratuitous repetition of so-called catch phrases is useful in that it gives newcomers a view into how the community things about things and uses the language of this rarified niche.

    Please be tolerant.

  26. Funny that none of these gripes touch on the elephant in the corner of the HN room... The culture is a bunch of privileged 20-somethings who have no meaningful experience or understanding outside the artificial world silicon valley has created.


  27. HN is a monoculture where critical thinking is banned, and anyone who engages in it will quickly be hellbanned.

    Any time in the comments there is a complete waste of time. When thinking is banned, thinking will not occur.

  28. I like your "big theory" text box at thw bottom. Nice concise set of ideas.

  29. Never mind the comments. What about all the articles that are posted with titles like "... You're Doing it Wrong". "Why ... Sucks". And in fact any story that concentrates on what things the author doesn't like, rather than posting interesting things that they do like.

  30. Although not entirely related, I also got annoyed with stories on the home page : https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1362509/web/hn-parody/hn_home.html

    I got inspired by an earlier post about HN commenting by Brad Conte

  31. I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so i think it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.


  32. The Dunning-Kruger effect is an interesting open question on "how to talk about the unknown." This is significantly easier if the unknown in question is known to at least one participant in the conversation. Even so, it requires a great deal of skill to engage a mind that is mostly interested in, whether by necessity or modern distraction, the pursuit of something else. Insert notification here.

    Regarding the "big theory" of internet discussions: I agree with the sentiment that more "scientific conference" would be better. However, "watercooler" and "debate team" are just as necessary. "Watercooler" talk is the often enjoyable commentary which builds the human relationship necessary to engage in the more strenuous "scientific conference" mode. The "debate team" mode is a necessary pre- and post-requisite to the conversation so that the results may be useful in a democracy (wherein rhetoric reigns supreme). At the beginning, it conveys the need for a discussion and clearly defined terms, and so on. At the end of a dialectic conversation, the results must then be repacked into "debate team" form and then conveyed to the proper authorities or otherwise published for future use. If this last step is skipped, the conversation was without any social meaning beyond that which the individuals partaking in it decided to take away from it. This is the underlying significance behind the phrase "actionable information."

    That being said, I find your observation potentially useful as a means of filtering social media streams by way of these three categories of conversation. Certainly the "scientific conference" would be the primary view, in the sense of the substance and technical interest, though the translation from and to "debate team" vernacular could preface the discussion and follow consensus, respectively. The "water cooler" commentary may be embedded as perhaps an invisible side note until hovered over the relevant information. FWIW, Knuth just puts his straight in the main text. I would be interested in seeing something like this implemented.

    Some commentary for social networks regarding moderation and information curation:

    For me, Slashdot was the first network to really hit and reward the "scientific conference" mode. The moderation tactics were generally useful. Though, as effective as it was, even Slashdot suffered from the peer-reviewed group-think and the associated biases against new ideas (or the unknown) that we see in science today. Even today some IT discussions there are good, though the popularity seems to have waned a bit.

    HN and Reddit are essentially equivalent to the original digg (democratized peer review) with different target demographics.

    Stack Overflow is a competently run moderation system (even if frustratingly anti-newbie) for a very narrow kind of information.

    Google+ had a higher standard of posts at the beginning. Some circles seem to fair well in terms of the pursuit of truth, though it still does not filter to the content of interest. For instance, I may like when someone posts something technical or dialectic, though the other 98% of the cat-loving meme-commenting stream is a series of highly effective thought-destroying mental cul-de-sacs. Most social media streams seem to suffer from this.

    ResearchGate appears to have been created to address this sort of review-article commentary need. I wish it looked more like HN. =)

    Back to work. Cheers!

  33. “Windows is trash”, despite the fact that it’s really not.

  34. "The plural of anecdote is not data"
    What is it, then? At some level, all data is anecdotal, otherwise science wouldn't be based on any sort of experience.
    Obviously, not to excuse the fallacy of anecdotal evidence - I'm just being pedantic.