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Hi, lobste.rs. This morning I posted a story I’d written about interview questions I was asked, and I found myself moderated out an hour later with the comment:

“Reason: Anecodetes about getting a job are not relevant here.”

Spelling aside (as well as the fact that it wasn’t about getting the job – a job I didn’t take for that matter), I guess I could use some clarification: should I stop posting stories about anything not explicitly technical here? It seems like we have a culture tag – but can anyone clarify for me what is culture and what is “not relevant here”?


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    This is probably going to become a bit of a free for all, but in my opinion:

    I guess I could use some clarification: should I stop posting stories about anything not explicitly technical here?

    Yes, but so should everyone. There are many outlets for non-technical and technical-adjacent stuff. HN, for example, is good for hiring/firing/financial stuff related to tech. Part of what has make lobsters good in the past is a relatively tight focus on technical articles.

    I hope that we don’t become a muddy mish-mash of whatever people find “interesting” that’s not strictly technical. I understand that the culture and practices tag have both attracted attention for perhaps not being useful because of the implications they hold as tech-adjacent, rather than technical tags for posting things that don’t otherwise fit.

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      I’ve had a link removed that was I thought a good piece (by someone else) about designing software for better social interactions. Sometimes I’m pretty baffled about what the focus is supposed to be, exactly, if software design isn’t on the table. Maybe we aren’t supposed to post about people-centric design decisions, but only performance/correctness stuff?

      I don’t really care about that one story, but the overall uncertainty is offputting.

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        What technical topics could/should be posted to the “culture” tag?

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          Perhaps an analysis of how the design and implementation of Unix was informed by the culture of Bell Labs and any ringing effects that has today?

          I don’t think I have ever, or will ever, post under such a tag because tbh I just don’t see how it’s that useful, but other people disagree and find that it is - which is fine, we’re a community and we are allowed to disagree.

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        I apologize for the confusion my typo prompted. As the about page says:

        Lobsters is focused pretty narrowly on computing; tags like ‘art’ don’t imply every piece of art is on-topic. Some rules of thumb for great stories to submit: Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

        Your post was a personal anecdote about interviewing for, getting, and passing on a job offer. Posts about these businesses processes are not on topic. Yes, you should stop submitting stories about anything not explicitly technical here.

        EDIT: I’m tweaking this title from “what is the culture tag for?” to reflect the contents of the post and hopefully save rehashing the culture tag again. That is maybe the most popular topic in meta threads and meta conversations on culture-tagged posts, and this post doesn’t add to those discussions.

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          Well, yes, it would be hard to add to the discussion on culture, when the discussion topic has been changed. :-)

          But, given this new topic, if you don’t mind I guess I should ask the questions I posted by DM here:

          Hi! Thanks for clarifying and for your work – this is the only place I care about posting to, but if it doesn’t fit I guess that’s all how it should be.

          For a little more clarity, I do feel like people have posted material on this from time to time. Does that mean that these stories should also have been deleted?

          https://lobste.rs/s/xgthfv/what_i_learned_after_applying_for_100_jobs https://lobste.rs/s/c0vcy4/hiring_is_broken_what_do_developers_say https://lobste.rs/s/rai2xd/technical_interviews_from_1960s_2017 https://lobste.rs/s/hvey8q/what_s_wrong_with_tech_interview_process

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            One of those links is voted to zero, the highest-scoring link barely made double digits, and none of them attracted more than one comment. I wouldn’t use them as ideal stories to aspire to.

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              Thank you for a reply! This is not something I disagree with.

              What I had been seeking, though, was an answer to the question I asked:

              Does that means that these stories should also have been deleted? (Or was downvoting enough? It seems like the whole point of downvoting is to allow curation without censoring, after all.)

              We could extend this question beyond the narrow criteria above, since in fact, lobste.rs has often hosted poular material whose technical content is quite debatable.

              Should these stories as well have been deleted? (I.e., were they mis-classified as technical content, when in fact they were not?)

              This post is being down-voted as off-topic because it mentions race and gender, but that’s just people pushing a political viewpoint. Posts about hiring practices and salaries are considered on-topic, and so posts about who gets hired by tech companies are also on topic.

              In the end, I think the moderator community is in a hard spot, because:

              1. There’s essentially no way to make misclassification a negligible problem, 1, There may be very little way even to make differential misclassification a problem (i.e. where some people’s non-technical content is permitted, and others isn’t)
              2. Even if you try to do the right thing, for the two items above, you’ll find yourself spending more volunteer labor time explaining yourself.

              And I feel sad seeing that play out. I feel like you’d have been better off just letting things be downvoted, rather than trying to pronounce things like an article on Euler this morning as being “not computing related.”

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          The description of the “culture” tag reads

          Technical communities and culture

          So discussion about old BBS’, open-source project management, and the communities around weird Unix-likes would merit the tag.

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            Discussions like this come up often enough that I believe we should really just get rid of the culture tag. It doesn’t even need a replacement IMO.

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              There’s some practical issues to work out there, to tie back into July’s discussion of the culture tag.

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              Career stuff can be toxic to a technical site.

              Consider the subreddit r/AskEngineers. As an electrical engineer, I subscribed hoping to see what interesting projects and ideas other engineers were working on.

              I was disappointed. There is no technical content, only career questions and advice.

              I think it is the bikeshed problem. Everyone has a career, everyone is invested in one, so everyone can offer a opinion about career questions, which then bubble to the top of the question list. (It doesn’t help that there is a surprising fraction of engineers that think engineering is only a career, and the technical questions are irrelevant details best delegated to vendors and technicians.)

              So I support a wholesale ban on the topic of interview questions.

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                As it turns out, the article wasn’t really about interview questions at all (although that was what pushcx classified it as).

                It was about how, on a rare occasion as engineers, we might go into an interview and find ourselves answering questions about our life that we didn’t expect, and learning something new about it as a result. I thought that was a thoughtful thing to share and something quite specific to the life I’ve had as a programmer. It certainly wasn’t about business practices or what to do in an interview.

                This point seems to be lost though. I don’t have a lot of hard feelings - I’ve really liked the community, and I’ve found things like the “What are you doing this weekend” or “How are you holding up” threads to be really thoughtful. Although by pushcx’s criteria, at least the second of those threads doesn’t belong on this site at all.

                But, yeah. It sounds like the best thing is to avoid posting here altogether, whatever the content. Cheers.

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                  I personally appreciate your article. It’s the kind of reflection that I enjoy a lot. That’s different from saying that it’s on-topic on lobste.rs though; if anything I think the community’s tastes run to much narrower subject matter than my own. Ultimately it’s an article without any technical content.

                  I am sorry that you feel the need to leave, but best wishes.

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                    Thanks so much for a reply. It’s really kind of you to read it. I know both the reader and the author have a hand in making something worth reading – though from the summary @pushcx gave of the article, especially initially (that it was about how I got a job), I think it’s fairly reasonable to conclude it wasn’t read through before it was deleted.

                    As best I can tell from being a member of this site since 2014, either some non-technical content has historically been welcome and no longer is (see my reply to @jackdk above), or some non-technical content is still welcome, but there is no discernible process for knowing what content that is – and also best I can tell, it has the most to do with who posts it, or which moderator happens to be deleting on a given day, or rules that would be exceptionally painstaking to write down.

                    This is you all’s site, and I’m sure it’s a struggle on the other end for you, too. But on my side of it, I can’t justify the time – it’s better spent looking elsewhere for that sort of community, even if that means boring things like running a mailing list, posting to more public fora, etc. I used to think people like @ddevault had taken a little bit too much umbrage at the moderators here – but I have to say, I understand a bit better why they no longer post stories here.

                    So, that’s the long explanation about why I don’t plan to post stories here any more. (Though I’ll still really enjoy reading, and posting comments to the “What are you” / “How are you” threads for as long as they hold out!) And thank you and all the moderators for your work. No place is perfect, but this is still one of the nicer groups of people out there.

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                      A key thing I think bears mentioning is that our frontpage has become increasingly valuable, and the number of people who would exploit that (@ddevault for example) for business purposes or SEO is non-trivial.

                      Any analysis that doesn’t account for bad-faith actors here is incomplete.

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                        Yeah. I hear all that. That all makes sense. Thank you for your thoughts.

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                          Yeah. I hear that. That all makes sense. Thank you for your thoughts.

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                        the best thing is to avoid posting here altogether, whatever the content

                        I’m sorry to see you go. Having been here a few years, it’s sad to see how many thoughtful users @pushcx has driven off the site in his zeal for purity, or need for a comfort bubble, or whatever it is. Most don’t bother with the goodbye notes, of course. I hope you find a better place!

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                          Thoughtful doesn’t mean on-topic.

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                      I didn’t catch this before it was removed, but I found it via other channels (for those interested, the post can be found on the site confidentialinterval.com). I can say that I agree wholeheartedly with @pushcx’s decision to remove this as off-topic.

                      First, the format is in media res to an absurd degree, literally riffing off a comment thread on Hacker News about a startup I’ve never heard of being acquired by another company I’ve never heard of[1]. This gives the impression that it’s tied to a specific milieu and time (late 20-teens Silicon Valley startup culture).

                      Then there’s the very personal details about your move, your cats, the interviewer’s first names and choice of footwear. Is the reader somehow supposed to know who “Dan” is, and why his choice of sneaker color is relevant to the content?

                      Finally we get to the musings about work-life balance. They’re … kinda interesting? If a little off-putting and intense? But also tied to a specific time and place (and person, man, this Dan seems weird).

                      A format that might have been more acceptable here would be of the form:

                      Here’s an anecdote about some interview questions I got when applying for a job at a startup.

                      questions and answers

                      Here’s what they made me think about life, jobs, and they way they interact

                      It would have been borderline off-topic, but presumably tickled enough interest to generate the kind of comments that would prevent a removal.

                      [1] context, I’m a middle-aged engineer who has been working in the IT space in Sweden since the late 90s.

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                        Hi! Thanks for reading all the same! And for giving commentary. That’s more than you needed to do, and all feedback’s a welcome thing.

                        The post does tend a bit too much to the literary for many (old habits from a humanities degree, I guess). And you definitely did need more context than you got either in the article, or in the citation there to HN – I’m a bit astonished that someone outside of California would bother to read this piece at all, and so again, that’s really kind. Dan and Pete were the founders of Optimizely, which finally got bought out last week. Maybe they are a funny pair. But, they both also did a ton of work for the first Obama campaign (indeed, they left Google to go work on it, for roughly a year IIRC). It’s fairly rare to find founders here who would do such a thing.

                        Other points:

                        • Optimizely was one of a few A/B testing players; they all failed and those failures are their own story, probably also not interesting to most, though.
                        • I was well past 30 by the time I went on the market in 2013 – and my best work experience had been outside of SV in Pennsylvania. I’d agree, the early SV startup culture isn’t a great thing to celebrate, and so sorry if it came off that way. More context could help.
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                        The usual advice from the about page is:

                        Lobsters is focused pretty narrowly on computing; tags like art don’t imply every piece of art is on-topic. Some rules of thumb for great stories to submit: Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

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                          I love the intersection of coding and people, so this is something I’m trying to keep an eye on in my own submissions. I’d like stuff like setting up pair-coding desks, the effect of good UX on coder productivity, or why perhaps Haskell programmers structure their solutions differently than Lisp programmers. Stuff like that. I know to stick to tech, but if it doesn’t have a person in it, I find it completely devoid of context and relevance.

                          It’s hard to find exactly where that line is. For instance, I wrote a tool that takes notes coders take while talking about the project and compiles them along with their code as part of the DevOps pipeline. Code walkthrough of the tool? That sounds on-topic. Story of how and why I wrote it? I think so too, since it’s directly related to coding. Good practices for note-taking? Probably not? At some point it becomes a process/productivity essay, and those things can be completely tech-free. But it’s tough to spot the exact place where that happens.

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                            I’d like stuff like setting up pair-coding desks, the effect of good UX on coder productivity, or why perhaps Haskell programmers structure their solutions differently than Lisp programmers.

                            Would you mind replying with some articles of that ilk? I’m not sure I can imagine exactly the kind of stuff you’re talking about, or maybe I just don’t understand what you’re saying (what does it look like to write an entire article about setting up desks?). But I’ll try my best to codify my experience here, since I think that’s a helpful goal.

                            The second and third seem like a bit like opinionated statements, or maybe even hypotheses to be tested:

                            • “using more robust UX will allow a software designer to complete their projects in less time”, and
                            • “for a given problem, a regular Haskell programmer’s solution will generally be structured ~differently~ from that of a Lisp programmer”.

                            I can’t guarantee that such a post would be left up or taken down. All I’ll tell you is that stuff like that is more likely to float if it’s something like a research paper on the topic, and more likely to sink if it’s just a personal rant.

                            That being said, if you’re especially popular/provocative/angry you can probably say whatever you want. We have a certain blogger here on Lobste.rs who posts short, relatively non-technical pieces regularly that some classify as flamebait; these pieces generally get lots of upvotes, but also spur lots of discussion. But I will admit, they do touch on technical subject areas.


                            I guess a rule of thumb is that your article must have at least one of the following

                            • technical subject matter
                            • a technical approach

                            for some definition of “technical”. So if your subject is non-technical, you’d better be approaching it systematically, rather than informally and scattershot. And if you’re going to rant wildly about something, it’d better be something within a technical domain—not a domain that is free-form, has little history, or has a high “hotness” value (i.e., no one will care about it in a few years).

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                              Would you mind replying with some articles of that ilk? [how things like furniture and culture affect coding]

                              Might be best just to list a few articles that I’ve personally bookmarked from around the net as related to coding and why. These are articles I would NOT post here but might use as a launching pad for more technical discussions on my own.

                              • “Cocaine” Logistics for the Marine Corps. The Corps is moving from what might be called a monolithic model of battle to more of a microservices model. This leads to a discussion about microservices and good environments for them vs bad environments. How should message-passing be handled? What should be a given, and what can change? What happens when unforeseen conditions happen? Etc.

                              • A longitudinal analysis of YouTube’s promotion of conspiracy videos. This Markov-chain-like system we have of providing content, by failing to ever challenge people and instead giving them exactly what they want, can contribute to some severe psychosis with some in the population. What ethical obligations do we have as interface designers? How do we measure if we’re helping people are harming them?

                              • Low information reality vs the Information Deficit Model. When providing information to users, what model should we use to determine what to show? Are we trying to present the least amount of information that they’re actually going to use or find the things that we think they don’t know that we think they should? How about when providing UI/UX for coders? Do the same rules apply or different ones?

                              • Intentional Stance. As it turns out, people think machines are intelligent even when they’re not. Many people talk to their cars, for instance. How does that happen? Do we have an obligation to acknowledge that with our code? Should we continue to “fake” being intelligent, preying off the human predilection for assuming intelligence or should we actively try to make sure that when our code interacts with people it does so in a way that’s done in a clear and unambiguous way?

                              • Why it’s important that software projects fail. This produced a bunch of oddly-negative comments from coders on HN, and it beats me why. Every software project shouldn’t be a success, should they? After all, there are some really bad software project ideas out there. Some projects might actually seek to harm others. What telemetry, either from the team/project or from the code, should we look for that tells us it’s time to bail out?

                              There’s a purposefully-vague line between fluffy and tech, and (in my mind) this is why they’re important articles. Fluffy folks will argue that it’s all for the coders to figure out. Coders will argue that it’s not in their wheelhouse. If nothing else, it’s probably good as a professional to sort out which is which in your own life. One large topic, ethics, is becoming an issue for us whether we like it or not, so we’re going to have to figure out which part of the ethics discussion we can address technically and which part is more people/process. I think there are probably some coding/UX standards we can implement in a voluntary way to avoid a lot of conflict down the road, but only if we’re able to start sorting it all out. So we need to take topics that are “on the line” and try to figure out which parts are technical/coding that we should work on. Hell, for most of this stuff we’re already working on it technically. We just need to acknowledge there’s a human element as well.

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                            I’m not a super fan of saying things like “all content must be technical!!” (I mean I think there are a lot of “thought pieces” about technical stuff without being extremely technical in itself), but I feel like an easy filter is “is any of it technical?” and your post didn’t have any technical content in it really?

                            I think that someone posting like about specific techncial interview questions would have been accepted but I feel like your thing is not really a “technical culture” thing so much as a “startup culture” thing.

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                              I just write whatever strikes me as interesting. Other people submit it, if they so wish. People who are fans subscribed to the RSS feed.

                              We live in the era of self publishing, it’s okay.

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                                The mod log is one of the more entertaining parts of this site. Between that and a search engine, you can get a pretty good sense of what kind of content our hard-working solo gatekeeper @pushcx thinks “not-relevant”.

                                There are some explicit rules too, but don’t take them too literally, or you may bend yourself into a pretzel trying to explain (for instance) how org-mode or zettelkasten aren’t really “personal productivity systems” and thus genuinely merit their popularity here.

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                                  hardworking solo gatekeeper

                                  That’s pretty disingenuous. Do you want us to become like HN? Speaking of which, on your other thread that, fittingly got moderated too:

                                  My response is a simple “fuck you”

                                  Since you are intent on push not moderating things, let’s pretend that your “fuck you” to pushcx wasn’t just deleted. After all, removing off topic content is gatekeeping. So, if we pretend it wasn’t removed, we can talk about it here, rather than having discussion stifled by moderators.

                                  Personally, I think that if a submission is not technical or something you wouldn’t say to your coworkers, you shouldn’t say it on lobsters - particularly, note the off topic and unkind flags. What do you think?

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                                    Do you want us to become like HN?

                                    This place was better than HN until the regime change. Now it’s just a circle jerk between a very small group of tech bros who think they’re better than everyone else.

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                                      What ”regime change” are you referring to?

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                                        This site is not maintained by jcs anymore. It was a much better community when he was at the helm. Lobste.rs was his creation. He should have just shut it down when he didn’t want to run it anymore. It’s been a disaster ever since the transition.

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                                          That’s your opinion. I find it ludicrously overwrought.

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                                            Congrats! You’re squarely in the new demographic. I find @feld’s opinion to be pretty spot-on, myself. I don’t know whether it was due to jcs’ influence, the relative lack of petty strong-arm moderation practices, or just being new, but Lobsters was a much more interesting place back then. The decline has been quite noticeable.

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                                              I’ve been a member of this site for as long as you have, according to your profile, and I disagree with your assesment of the site’s overall quality.

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                                                de gustibus non est disputandum

                                                EDIT: Not that it matters much, but I was reading this site for a year or two before I got an account here.

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                                                  You can be a long term member and still be completely wrong. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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                                                    I’m in total agreement with this statement.

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                                                Consider that the op’s account is 6 years old and that somehow after years of readership the op doesn’t understand why their post was removed. It should be concerning to the entire Lobsters team that after 6 whole years this user can’t figure out how to stay within the moving-goalposts guidelines but they still want to try to participate. You’re actually lucky that they made this post instead of just walking away forever.

                                                Go look at the first three posts in @hblanks profile. They would have been removed by today’s moderators. Y’all should be ashamed of yourselves for being so unwelcoming and abrasive.

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                                                  The first three posts (assuming you mean their story submissions) don’t appear, at the time of writing, to get any votes. My intution would be that yes, all of them would be flagkilled or deleted today. They talk about Ebola response, ATC coordination due to a fire, and nuclear weapons policy. These are all interesting articles–especially the nuke policy one–but they aren’t particularly relevant or actionable to the practicing technologist.

                                                  And again, at the time, clearly the community agreed–they were not upvoted. I suspect that the cleaning of submissions isn’t that far off from what the the community was doing anyways.

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                                                    Not voting doesn’t really mean much. I rarely vote on things I enjoy on here. The userbase was also considerably smaller back then especially with the invite-only nature of this community.

                                                    As a practicing technologist all of those articles are interesting to me – perhaps the mods should consider technology encompasses topics beyond operating systems and frontend/backend development.

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                                                      Voting is one of the core feedback mechanisms the community has. Why aren’t you voting, if you don’t mind me asking?

                                                      And again, “interesting” is insufficient–I’m very interested in Houston Restaurant Week, but I don’t think it should be here.

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                                                In all seriousness though, how can we make it better? n-gate seems to agree. Is it a moderation thing or a user thing?

                                                1. 2

                                                  Both, for sure. Also some ambient cultural problems in tech, and in the overall zeitgeist. Having one self-appointed Site Boss who feels free to, let’s say, “curate” submissions based on his personal criteria definitely makes it worse, but there are several feedback loops to consider.

                                                  I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I could make several suggestions… but practically speaking, it’s a political rather than technical problem, and won’t have any satisfactory technical solutions. It’s dictatorial politics, too, so you can waste a lot of keystrokes trying to convince other users of this or that before you just end up banned, (like I expect to be soon.) The best thing you could do is learn from your experience here, find another venue and nurture it as best you can. It’s all part of the great circle of life.

                                                  1. 2

                                                    It’s become a ferocious community of groupthink and arbitrary rules that is somehow supposed to stop this from becoming a bad copy of “HN”. The discussions on HN and here are both pretty poor quality overall. I mostly come to both HN and here to find interesting links to blogs and sites I would never find otherwise stumble upon. You could throw away the entire discussion/comment part of the platform and it would be equally useful to most of us, I suspect.

                                                    1. 1

                                                      I don’t think it was like this a year ago. The SNR has dropped precipitously as the community has grown.

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                                                      Please don’t cite n-gate as an authority of… anything. The site runs on pure snark. The dig at lobste.rs is entirely incorrect, in my opinion - apart from threads like this one, of course, which I’m sure will feed into the site author(s)’ prejudices.

                                                      1. 2

                                                        I mean, people are talking about lobsters being a circlejerk in this thread. If people think it actually is a problem, there’s sort of a predicament faced by those in power: try to fix it by moderating ruthlessly or go down with the sinking ship. Which results in threads like this by people who disagree with the moderation policy.

                                              4. 1

                                                That sounds like some fun. Here’s the more substantial part of my comment, the part you didn’t quote. Let’s see which gets censored first!

                                                So… you unilaterally deleted OP’s post based on criteria you can’t seem to reliably articulate. You get a bit huffy with your ongoing pretense that there is a clear and crisp division between “technical” and “non-technical” content. Then you completely changed the title of this meta post, to try to prevent discussion of these criteria… which every other comment here continues to discuss, because they are frankly arbitrary and confusing.

                                                If my coworker was a self-appointed speech cop on this kind of a power-trip, I think I’d stand up to him or her too. Thanks for asking. As for your other concern, as far as I can tell Lobsters is well on its way to becoming a watered-down and overly touchy version of the orange site already, without any help from me.

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                                                  Probably neither since this subthread is mostly civil. :-)

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                                                That’s pretty rich coming from someone just posting a gatekeeping comment that chidess someone for posting ‘marketing BS’ based on his personal arbitrary criteria for judging that.

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                                                  How is being transparent about why one would flag a submission “gatekeeping”?

                                                  Edit this is the kind of backhanded sniping that helped me make the decision not to comment about why I flag submissions. I try to make it clear it’s my decision and not the “community’s” but I still got a lot of unwanted whiny pushback. Now I prefer to keep the mystery…

                                                  1. 3

                                                    minimax was being pretty harsh towards pushcx in a comment that has since been removed. In the context of that comment, this one reads differently (“hard-working solo gatekeeper” is intended as an indictment, not a compliment) and him flagging that post for the reasons given strikes me as hypocritical. My comment doesn’t generalize.

                                                    1. 1

                                                      @minimax engaged with constructive comments. It’s not their fault that the submitter, instead of taking the advice to heart, flew off the handle.

                                                      It’s become a bit better, the submitter has calmed down and started to engage. The submission is still up, and thanks to the patience of the community, I’m getting something out of the discussion.

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                                                    Nah, the difference is I’m not a the mod. My arbitrary opinions don’t become site policy.

                                                    There’s all kinds of content posted here that I don’t care for. Mostly I don’t give advice or opinions about it. The nanos.org post was at least potentially interesting, which is why I commented with some advice.