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Not sure how you do this, if I am supposed to contact the webmaster or whatever, but here goes.

What topics are on-topic? Would a drone article be on-topic? What about an avionics article? And how about an article on smart cars?

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    The sort of entrepreneurial links that end up on Hacker News do not seem to be on-topic, nor does web design. That’s probably why the article you posted about responsive web design didn’t land.

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      I come here to avoid plodding through all the utterly uninteresting (to me) entrepreneurial links and “next trend” stuff on HN.

      I feel like the topics here are often the more deeply technical stuff that hits HN, which is what I’m looking for anyway. To me, this seems like a curated HN, even though I know it isn’t.

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        That’s fine, but can’t you just use the awesome ignore feature to remove articles with the design tag from your homepage? I don’t think the rest of us have to be forced to stick with the deep technical stuff…

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          Lobsters isn’t obligated to be the right community for everyone in the world. For example, I have no interest in welcoming recruiters or investment bankers.

          I would personally be happy to draw the line so that web design is inside, and not outside, but I think we should have a line, and I am OK if the community decides that web design should be outside.

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            I agree that there should be a line, I just think that web design is well within the scope of a technology related site.

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        why do you consider responsive web design not on topic?

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          Because the majority of the content here seems to be about systems programming in one form or another. There are ample community resources for learning about and discussing web design. I don’t run this site and I have no interest in being a moderator, but I’d personally be happy to see the focus remain on systems.

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          You seem to be wrong about web design not being on-topic. Otherwise, why does the design tag exist?


          Also, I am not sure what you mean by saying the responsive web design article “didn’t land”. It has 4 upvotes and 2 downvotes. So far, they Yea’s have it.

          At best I would say the article’s “on-topic-ness” is controversial.

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            I have never really thought of the “design” tag as about “graphic design”; I have used it to talk about medium-to-large scale software and system design. @jcs has moderated a few of my stories to add missing tags, including this X11 story that the moderation log says ‘changed tags from “design programming” to “design programming unix”’ (I see no other instances of moderation that mention the “design” tag). So… I guess I am not so off-topic with that idea that it stuck out to jcs, but it’s hard to say.

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              4 upvotes doesn’t seem to be proportionally very many, but okay. My point is less about whether this is a place for web design posts and more about the context of the article.

              It’s expressly about adopting a new design strategy or facing “losing users and probably money”, thus placing it in a more commercial context. Nothing wrong with that in general, but I feel confident in saying that many people are here because they want a refuge from the onslaught of business, marketing, sales, and related content on Hacker News.

              My view is not that Lobsters is a “technology-related site” in the large. It seems to be trending towards being a systems-related site, which would make web design out of its purview. That’s really up for the community to decide, though.

              Meanwhile, there are so, so many other web communities that are eager to talk about design.

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                OK, I understand now, +1 ;-)

                I actually love the way Lobsters works, and I love its minimalist design. Maybe making a Lobsters clone for design news, lifehacks, etc. should the community decide those are not within the scope of this site would be a good idea.

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                  Since lobsters is open source, this sounds pretty possible. It might be worth noting that there are already sites like that though. For example, Designer News. In fact, someone just pointed a link to an aggregator of aggregators that might be of interest, called Panda.

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            I’d like to see Lobste.rs be a place to learn about software and hardware development. Not ephemeral security news, but interesting new tools that cause you to think in different ways, or explorations of new techniques (however small), or major CS papers. Some talk on practices, but sparingly and only if well-considered, insightful, and free of heavy rhetoric. Not business, not life hacks, not pop culture, not sci-fi culture, not pop science, probably not humor. Things that are still worth reading in a year, and hopefully ten.

            That’s why I’ve been submitting a lot of articles and papers in the last month. I’ve had a few days where 10 or more of the homepage links have been from me, which I take as encouragement that there are people thinking along the same lines. I’ve hoped that other people will follow along in this vein, and a see some positive response - several times a day I go to submit an article and someone has beaten me by a few hours, or I check /recent and see stuff that is exactly the sorts of things I’d love to read. Fingers crossed, but it seems to be working.

            I’ve also been doing it because a community site is a flywheel. It requires a lot of work to get it turning, then it can roll on its own with little further input. A month ago the homepage one day would be little changed from the previous day. Now I’m seeing a largely new homepage every day. @jcs, if you have a minute, I’d be really curious to see the number of stories, votes, comments, and flags graphed daily over the last few months.

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              Speaking for myself, I have followed this advice from the about page:

              When links/stories are submitted, they must be tagged by the submitter from a list of predefined tags

              So, if you can’t really find a tag for it, then … maybe it doesn’t belong (yet).

              That said: - I’ve requested new tags, and the powers-that-be have sometimes added them. - I’ve submitted articles about robots and drones under hardware tag. And they’ve been upvoted. I suspect smart cars might go under hardware, or if it’s more about navigation then maybe cogsci

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                I appreciate lobste.rs over HN because of the hard technical content.

                So smart cars for example: articles on smart cars are usually about consumer/economy/social impact, etc. I don’t think those belong on HN.

                Now a review of the interesting code that ran in module X of a smart car, or a technical review of how certain modules addressed an interesting physics concern in a smart car – those would be on topic.

                Similarly the responsive design article you submitted I wasn’t interested in because in because it was too fluffy and more focused on market impact. However, a technical analysis of why a certain feature in responsive frameworks is really fast in modern web browsers because of the interaction with GPU feature X would be interesting.

                Just 2¢…

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                  I cannot speak for the founders, but for me I am under the impression lobste.rs is for articles featuring technology and should require some technological proficiency to appreciate.

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                    I think especially software, and hardware that runs software.

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                    This should be tagged with “meta”.

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                      Does the topic speak to you? Does the topic instigate a flutter of mental excitement, or stir a sense of conflict within or without, or plant a seed of doubt or confusion? Is there value to be found in discussing it with others, whether they share a similar technical perspective or otherwise? Are we better for having seen of it and heard of it and spoken of it? If you answered yes to any of these, it is on-topic.

                      Truthfully I can’t stand this question. The answers that result almost invariably miss the forest for the trees. We think of sites like lobsters, or hacker news, or /r/programming, or slashdot, as places where “topical” things are “aggregated.” This is a mistake. No one visits a technical subreddit, or a technical forum, or a technical link aggregator, for the link itself. A reddit or hacker news or slashdot or digg without comments is pointless. We aren’t there merely to consume articles within a bubble of our own solitude. We’re there for a familiar community with which we can explore, investigate, interrogate the world around and within us as we collectively and individually come to define ourselves, our community, and more generally, work to simultaneously forge and dismantle the zeitgeist.

                      Such is the purpose of lobsters, and of hacker news, and of reddit and digg and slashdot and tumblr and youtube and vimeo and myspace and geocities and bbs’s and usenets and the global internetwork. At least as I see it. In my eyes “content aggregators” are merely the latest in a long line of communication mechanisms whereby culture is cultivated, is inseminated and nurtured and grown and laid to rest as needed. The “topicalness” of such an aggregator is not to be found in its content, but its community. (And while such a community might be composed primarily of some “topical” group, it certainly shouldn’t be unnecessarily limited to such a school of people; but such is a story for another time)

                      It is for this reason that I really don’t like up/downvotes, or flagging, or really any ranking or moderation system that seeks to lay claim to the “worthiness” of a particular thing to grace the presence, and hold the attention of, the audience. Such ranking systems –whether their data points are “decentralized” amongst the “majority” opinion, or else carefully “curated” by some small elite– ultimately implement a centralized control over the narrative that the entirety of the community is then subject to. And it seems such systems invariably tend to regress toward righteous censorship and circlejerking.

                      To me, the act of “moderation” is a purely internal process; one that must be carried out entirely on one’s own volition. Any ranking must absolutely not be merely the product of some moderator or programmer or other person, but instead be purely the result of the user’s own interpretation of the data, and the user’s own trust of others' judgement.


                      In this vein, lobster’s concepts of “tagging” and of “flagging” are both useful, but incomplete in my opinion, as is the notion of an up/downvote. I think all such behaviours should be publicly tied to one’s username and act as a “voting record” of sorts. Armed with this data, the user can both implement his/her own rankings and assign trust ratings to the tagging/flagging/voting habits of others. Armed with such a public ledger, I believe the notion of what is “on” or “off-topic” would be a non-problem, solved a priori by the users themselves, as would several other common issues that plague online communities.

                      But I ramble. Signing off for now :-)

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                        I fundamentally disagree with you. The work the community puts into deciding what is “on topic” and “off topic” is useful for delaying eternal september. Hacker News suffered from the problem that you described (people putting up things that are just interesting, rather than on topic), and that’s why it’s full of drivel today, because the community drifted too much.

                        There are also many incredibly successful communities where moderators have been very influential, like MeFi. lobsters is not one of them–there is a log of all moderation actions taken, and they are mostly retagging.

                        There isn’t one true way to build a community.

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                          For aggregator sites, the question should really be “will I find this interesting” rather than “is this article worthy”. I realize this is a debate in itself, and completely ignores the value of comments.

                          How about if instead of each post having a single score, there was a correlation matrix which recorded how often you voted the same way as each other user. For each article, you could calculate a (bayseian?) probability that I’ll find an article interesting based on who’s voted for it so far and what my correlations are to them. Each ‘cell’ in the matrix could be an accumulator of how many times two user’s votes agreed and disagreed with each other.

                          Now this matrix would get pretty big, scaling as N_users2 and with random memory access all over the place. But for a relatively small community like Lobsters it shouldn’t be too bad, and it would be pretty easy to implement as an automatically growing triangular matrix. There’s a lot of writes every time you vote, but then again you could queue these and catch up, its not that essential for the calculations to be exactly up to date.

                          Anyway, would be interesting to try something along these lines … hmmm, these meta threads do seem to inspire ramblers :-)

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                            There isn’t one true way to build a community.

                            I agree. But this is precisely the reason why aspensmonter’s proposal is interesting. Each member of the community could define what other members he trusts, and this will create its own “ranked” view of the stories and comments. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but the idea is interesting.

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                              Thought I appreciate the irony of stating this in a comment, the primary way I and I imagine a large number of users interact with the site it not through comments but as a collective filtering mechanism, where the upvoting/downvoting and curating is a large part of the value which we get by interacting with the site. Pushing the onus to have every user filter every article is both impractical and I think misses the point of allowing us to efficiently collaborate around judging what is worthy of being read.

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                                I mostly agree, with one difference: yes, an efficient filtering and curation mechanism has to be collective, but I’d like to be able to signal the system when I agree or disagree with another member, in order to create my own “weighting” of other people votes.

                                @aspensmonter wrote:

                                Armed with this data, the user can both implement his/her own rankings and assign trust ratings to the tagging/flagging/voting habits of others.

                                The important part being “assign trust ratings […] to the voting habits of others”.

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                            I strongly disagree with your sidenote about a voting record if it is public and users' votes/flags are in any way retrievable. I think people should be able to read without having their reading choices published and judged. Libraries keep patron records private because the thought of their surveillance causes patrons to limit what they read.

                            If it were private and the system found users with similar voting patterns to you to train a model for your homepage, fine (though I think we’ll need quite a bit more activity before useful recommendations fall out of such a system).

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                              I agree that “people should be able to read without having their reading choices published and judged”.

                              I disagree that people should be able to upvote or downvote a story or a comment without their vote being public. Why? Because their votes affect what I see. Any kind of “censorship” (yes, I know, the word is too strong in this context) must result from a public decision, in my opinion. This is the reason why individual votes are public in most parliaments.

                              To conclude, I don’t think the comparison with libraries is relevant. Nobody says the reading history must be public. We’re just talking about the voting history. And patrons don’t vote in libraries.

                              But maybe I’m missing something :)

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                                Thanks for explaining your disagreement, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective. I guess I want people to be able to exercise private opinions for votes/tags/flags (especially if that trains a filter). Because so much of it comes down to matters of taste, opening it for discussion creates a lot of useless noise, and it may show up in unexpected future contexts (eg. justify your old votes on “culture” pieces about sensitive topics).

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                                  I share your concerns about votes/flags staying public forever. That’s an excellent argument in favor of protecting anonymity of votes/flags.

                                  But I’m also concerned by the fact that a group of people can strongly influence what content are promoted/censored using votes/flags, in an anonymous way. If people have this power, then I want to know who they are. This same principle applies for example to journalists in a newspaper.

                                  This leads us to another question: why are we voting on stories or comments after all? why not just read and comment without voting?

                                  I can only see two purposes for votes:

                                  • The first one is the traditional purpose of voting, which is to “extract” a majority from a group people that potentially disagree. This is very useful in politics, to make decisions on controversial subjects. But I don’t see why a site like Lobsters needs to define a majority opinion on every story and comment. In my opinion, these votes must be public to make people responsible about what they promote or censor.

                                  • The other purpose is to use these votes to help the computer in understanding what I’m interested in, or not. This “votes” must stay privates and are not supposed to have any effect on other members.

                                  Conclusion: I would prefer to have no vote at all than anonymous votes that influences the content presented to me.

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                              To me, the act of “moderation” is a purely internal process; one that must be carried out entirely on one’s own volition. Any ranking must absolutely not be merely the product of some moderator or programmer or other person, but instead be purely the result of the user’s own interpretation of the data, and the user’s own trust of others' judgement.

                              I very much agree with that. It would solve a lot of issues with up/downvotes battles. Are you aware of any real website having implemented something similar?

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                              If we upvote it, it means we’re interested, so post whatever you think would be relevant to this community and then watch the response.

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                                OK, willco. Thanks for the feedback on that facet.

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                                So from the comments here and the lack of an official page on the topic, I get the impression that the community is still evolving and is still deciding what it wants to be on-topic, like a StackExchange site in beta.

                                Assuming my observation is correct, should we try to stay within the current narrow topic set, or feel free submit stories that are borderline on-topic and let the community decide if it wants more of these stories?