About

Lobsters is a computing-focused community centered around link aggregation and discussion, launched on July 1st, 2012. The administrator is Peter Bhat Harkins ("pushcx"), contact him with any support issues. Lobsters was created by joshua stein with some specific design goals in mind to avoid problems faced by other link aggregation sites:

Tagging

When links/stories are submitted, they must be tagged by the submitter from a list of predefined tags. Users can choose to filter out or subscribe to all submissions with particular tags (example). All users see all stories by default. The tagging system works this way for three reasons:

  • It keeps the site on-topic by only allowing a predefined list of tags. These tags represent what most of the users of the site want to read, so content that does not fit into any of those categories should not be submitted. It also keeps stories organized and more easily searchable.

  • It promotes discussion. On a site with separate forums, a Ruby programmer would probably subscribe to a Ruby forum, but not a Python one. When a link is posted to the Python forum, that Ruby programmer would probably never see it, even though they may have something useful to say about it (perhaps the link is about a Python library which does the same thing as a Ruby library which that Ruby programmer created). On this site, the link would get posted with a python tag and shown to everyone, encouraging the Ruby programmer to read and comment on it (unless that Ruby programmer disliked Python enough to filter it out).

  • It keeps the conversation centralized. Often stories contain discussion about more than one topic, yet on other sites they are confined to a single category/forum, limiting the exposure. The link could be submitted to more than one forum, but then each conversation would remain separate and users would rarely interact with users from other forums. On this site, the story would simply be tagged with multiple tags and all users would see all discussion about the story in a single location.

Creating new tags and retiring old tags is done by the community by submitting, discussing, and voting on meta-tagged requests about them, and these events are logged (since 2018-04). To propose a tag, post a meta thread with the name and description. Explain the scope, list existing stories that should have been tagged, make a case for why people would want to specifically filter it out, and justify the increased complexity for submitters and mods.

Invitation Tree

New users must be invited by a current user, though there is no formal vetting process. Invitations are used as a mechanism for spam-control, to slow registrations to a pace we can acculturate. and to encourage users to be nice, not to make the Lobsters userbase an elite club. The quickest way to receive an invitation is to talk to someone you recognize from the site or request one in chat. If you wrote a link that was posted, definitely contact someone for an invite, we'd love to have you in the discussion.

The full user tree is made public and each user's profile shows who invited them. This provides some degree of accountability and helps identify voting rings.

There's no limit on how many invitations a user can send (though that might be prompted by scaling problems in the future). When accounts are banned for spam, sockpuppeting, or other abuse, moderators will look up the invitation tree to consider disabling their inviter's ability to send invitations or, rarely, also banning.

Downvote Explanations

Often on other sites, a user would have his or her comment downvoted without explanation and then edit their comment to ask why they were downvoted. On this site, voters must choose a reason before downvoting comments and those votes are tallied and shown to the original commenter.

For submitted stories, downvoting is done through flagging (also requiring a valid reason) and these flag summaries are shown to all users.

Transparency Policy

All moderator actions on this site are visible to everyone and the identities of those moderators are made public. While the individual actions of a moderator may cause debate, there should be no question about if an action happened or who is responsible.

All user voting and story ranking on this site uses a universal algorithm and does not penalize or prioritize specific users or domains. Per-tag hotness modifiers do affect all stories with those tags, but these modifiers (and changes to them) are made public. Domains used for tracking are banned and tracking parameters are removed from links (look for TRACKING_DOMAINS and utm_ in story.rb).

If users are disruptive enough to warrant banning, they will be banned absolutely, given notice of their banning, and their disabled user profile will indicate which moderator banned them and why. There will be no shadow banning or other secret moderation actions.

The source code to this site and its provisioning and deployment are made available under a 3-clause BSD license for viewing, auditing, forking, or contributing to. The codebase is used to run a dozen or so sister sites (that we know of) and we keep a list; please get in touch if you've launched one.

The Lobsters community is in a sweet spot that it's large enough to be worth asking questions about and small enough the answers make sense. If you're curiuos about stats, Peter is happy to run queries against the [database](https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters/blob/master/db/schema.rb) and Rails/MySQL/nginx logs (but not write them for you), as long as they don't reveal personal info like IPs, browsing, and voting or create “worst-of” leaderboards celebrating most-downvoted users/comments/stories. If you're an academic researcher, please [be like MIT](https://lobste.rs/s/cqnzl5/lobste_rs_access_pattern_statistics_for), not like [U Chicago](https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters/issues/517) secretly experimenting on maintainers without IRB review.

If you dislike the content or moderation policies here, you may prefer Y Combinator News, r/programming, Slashdot, comp.*, or /g/.

Other Technical Features

  • Mailing list mode can be enabled per-user to receive all new stories (including their plain-text content as fetched and extracted by Diffbot) and user comments as e-mails, mirroring discussion threads offline. This makes it easy and efficient to read new stories as well as keep track of new comments on old threads or stories, just like technical mailing lists or Usenet of yore. Each user is assigned a private mailing list address at this domain which allows them to reply to stories or comments directly in their e-mail client. These e-mails are then converted and submitted to the website as comments, just as if the comment was posted through a web browser.

  • Private messaging enables users to communicate privately without having to publicly disclose an e-mail address, and users can receive e-mail and Pushover notifications of new private messages.

  • Responsive design enhances functionality on smaller screens such as phones and tablets without having to use a separate URL, 3rd party (often read-only) websites, or proprietary mobile applications.

  • Integrated search engine covers all submitted stories and comments, including full-text caches of all submitted story contents. Searching for a keyword will often bring up relevant stories that don't even mention that keyword in the URL or title.

  • Story merging combats the problem of multiple stories at different URLs being submitted in a short timeframe about the same news subject. Rather than have multiple stories on the front page with fragmented discussions, all similar stories can be merged into one. An example of a story having been merged into a previous one, combining all comments on one page.

  • Fuzzy-matching of submitted story URLs to avoid duplicate submissions of similar URLs that differ only in http vs. https, trailing slashes, useless analytics parameters, etc. When using the story submission bookmarklet, story URLs are automatically converted to use the page's canonical URL (if available) to present the best URL to represent the story, as defined by the story's author or publisher.

  • User-suggested titles and tags can be automatically applied to a story when a quorum of users agrees on a new title (such as removing a site's name, or appending the story's year of publication) or set of tags, without any moderator action required. (Log)

  • Hats are a more formal process of allowing users to post comments while "wearing such and such hat" to give their words more authority (such as an employee speaking for the company, or an open source developer speaking for the project).

  • Per-tag and site-wide RSS feeds are available to the public and logged-in users have private RSS feeds that filter out each user's filtered tags.

  • Official Twitter mirror posts all stories that have reached the front page to the @lobsters account on Twitter for easy following, retweeting/sharing, or archiving.

  • Stickers will be available again when someone finds a service that will print and ship 2" square vinyl stickers with a bleed <= 1/16" (preferably full-bleed) directly to people who want them.

Trivia