1. 55

Lately I noticed that there are less articles on Lobsters that sport technical content* than before. Just looking at today’s front page, the most discussed articles are about Firefox release, CloudFlare, GitLab’s change of ToS, Comcast lobbying, something I would rather label as “news” or opinion pieces (but I agree, this might be subjective). I’m interested to hear from the others do you also notice this, and should we do something?

  • I define “technical content” as something that helps me become a better engineer, either with teaching me something new or helping me understand how something existing works (or used to work).
  1.  

  2. 22

    The most discussed articles have been always “non-tech”, because “tech” as you defined is not conductive to discussion. You can have Q&A, more links, but those produce less comments than discussion.

    1. 6

      That’s a good point, reminds me of survivorship bias. There very well may be lots of technical content we just don’t see because it’s not as conducive to discussion (and consequently not featured on the front page)

      1. 9

        You can be on the front page without discussion. For example, my post here got >20 upvotes without any comments.

      2. 2

        Maybe it would be better to give a small negative weight to number of comments, rather than positive weight. It could be weighted in a way that it wouldn’t affect high-vote posts with a moderate number of comments. Instead it would elevate good technical posts that get lots of upvotes but don’t have many points of discussion, and diminish the staying power of argumentative topics.

        The negative weight to number of comments could be disabled for certain tags like ask and meta, since the value of those comes from the comment section.

      3. 13

        Your unspoken assumption is that this is a bad thing.

        In general, if a submission can be tagged with one of the tags on the site, it’s “on topic”.

        To change this, the more “soft” tags would have to be removed (with the consent of the community).

        Please note that you are free to filter tags that don’t appeal to you. I suspect filtering culture would go a long way to address your concerns.

        Edit you can find a CSV file here: http://gerikson.com/files/lobsters-tags-20191024.csv that contains entries from 6 Jul 2019 up until today, with ID, title, scores and comment count and tags. Some sort of stats might be inferred from them…

        1. 22

          I also don’t like the implicit assumption that knowing more about people and how we interact isn’t conducive to “become a better engineer”.

          The computers we work on are for the people. You can’t understand the computer without also understanding the people you’re building it for.

          1. 7

            Not everyone cares about people, or may not care about them right here, right now.

            Just like a painter might not be interested in the botanical minutiae of the trees he is drawing.

            Some treat engineering as an art, and getting more people involved is hardly an improvement ever.

          2. 5

            Culture, Law, Philosophy, Release, and Satire. Practices has a mix of what they like and don’t like. Probably shouldn’t filter that unless they haven’t ever benefited from it. Likewise, Person is often about someone whose interview or background might help technologists improve themselves. Those five tags should be a start on making it more technical for folks that prefer that.

            I still read without filters. There’s enough signal in the noise for me to justify looking at all of it. Plus, it gives me a better picture of the overall community. These questions seem to assume Lobsters is just a pile of tech links with text attached to some of them. Nah, there’s a lot of different people here, too, doing peoplely things. Case in point: the very interesting “What Are You…?” threads. :)

            1. 1

              Also, reminder that I’ll run queries to produce datasets like this.

            2. 11

              Frankly, if my mom read those headlines, she’d probably say they’re all tech-related. Things that help one become a better engineer: I guess it’s a matter of perspective?

              Firefox release: what’s their release cycle? is it fixed, or flexible? how did the released features move from nightly->beta->production? where do they develop? (GitHub? GitLab? SourceHut? CVS?)

              CloudFlare: pretty, pretty technical. Seems like a bad example. Using what sounds like dumb-regex-scanning to filter/mangle data?

              GitLab ToS: I feel for the GitLab devs, not knowing what features people are using or how they’re using them. Don’t you run into the same problem at work? Maybe here’s a lesson in how not to roll out (helpful) analytics.

              Comcast lobbying: now we’re back to CloudFlare, but as a DNS this time. Disrupting an incumbent (literally, OS/router default) data farmer, opt-in-vs-out, partial-vs-full-rollout. The legislative/regulatory angle is certainly distracting.

              Maybe the articles address those points, maybe they don’t. My point is you can maybe still squeeze some new info out of them, even if they’re “tech-lite” or “fluff”. With a learning mindset, you can learn new things from even morons who are wrong about 90% of what they talk about (..so what I’m saying is, you got a chance). It’s kind of dangerous to expose yourself to straight up misinformation, but fluff is still content, it’s just like ~40% content.

              (In reality, the Firefox post has literally a new/upgraded JavaScript interpreter with multiple JIT tiers)

              1. 9

                There’s that.

                Maybe we need softcore tag, for submissions without a single line of code or computer-actionable technical advice.

                1. 1

                  It’s available already! Under the “flag” link. :)

                2. 7

                  It also depends on where you look. The frontpage has the hotly contested/discussed nontechnical articles, and the technical pieces which are general enough to get a large number of upvotes.

                  If you look at the security tag, I think you’ll see something more like the balance of technical and nontechnical stuff that you’re expecting. Maybe that’s because it’s a particularly technical niche, or partly because the audience of lobsters tends to be engineers who also care about technical security.

                  Now, consider the crypto tag. Post rate is waay lower, and it’s a veritable mix of policy, nontechnical opinions, way way too much about PGP/GPG, and introductory technical articles. This is clearly an audience issue: very few lobsters want to dig into the details of a modern applied cryptography result. I always try to start conversations, to little avail :p

                  So this is a complex issue with many overlapping audiences with different characteristics. So to answer your question, we need to also ask questions like:

                  • Are few people dragging the conversation away from technical content, to the detriment of many? (Doubtful)
                  • Is the tag system working? I filter no tags myself, and I’ve had a generally good experience. Granted, I spend time equally on the front page, and the security and crypto tags.
                  • Should we adjust the front page ranking algorithm? A non-policy post with say 30 upvotes in the crypto tag is rare, whereas web stories can get in the hundreds these days. There’s upvote inflation, but it’s not distributed across all tags. Do we care/is this a problem? Probably not, but it’s a question.
                  1. 4

                    Some readers might not know you can just click on them and/or bookmark their URL. So, I’ll give some examples in your comment and mine: security, crypto, formalmethods, and plt.

                    Supporting your comment, the formalmethods and plt tags have the opposite problem: they’re so technical and deep in background required to understand them that they might need less tech content and more people just talking about what it all means. I mean, we keep the technical content, too. The tech vs non-tech clearly varies across tags. Useful, too: I just saw your EverParse link which I missed during a busy week. Looks awesome! Thanks for submitting it!

                  2. 8

                    sourcehut sourcehut sourcehut sourcehut sourcehut

                    1. 4

                      That and pure advertising posts which are being posted and upvoted without shame.

                      Just gotta keep flagging and commenting on both bad and good content.

                      1. 2

                        … and submitting new links!

                      2. 4

                        I don’t think it has been egregiously worse, with the exception of some advertising and almost every culture submission that involves politics or news or drama.

                        When I had more free time I tried to point out and help with this, these days I appreciate the help of folks that want to aid in carrying the load. Flag early, flag often.

                        Once the rot sets in it is hard to remove.

                        1. 4

                          When I had more free time I tried to point out and help with this, these days I appreciate the help of folks that want to aid in carrying the load. Flag early, flag often.

                          I have noticed that there is a lot of spamming going on. Lots of folks who never participate in discussions on lobste.rs and if you are looking at their submissions, they are just/mostly plugging their own stuff. I think this has the downside that it changes lobste.rs from a tech community to a link aggregator with far less coherence.

                          I have been flagging those posts. But I try not to post a comment pointing out the spamming, because it gets old pretty quickly.

                          I feel that there is a role here for people who invited those that are using their account for spamming – please remind your invitee that a lobste.rs account is for being part of a community, not for boosting your website’s page rank.

                          1. 3

                            It gets old, but it also is kinda the best way to remind folks of the normal you’d like to see–and to maybe nudge folks to help that otherwise would skip it for next time.

                        2. 2

                          I don’t think so, but I think the amount of non-technical (particularly “tech industry culture”) content is certainly increasing. My lazy, unsupportable, anecdotal observation is that it seems mostly to be newer users, i.e. accounts that have existed < 1 year, who are posting and commenting on these stories.

                          1. 1

                            I define “technical content” as something that helps me become a better engineer

                            Well with that in mind, I believe that an Engineer is obliged to present solutions to their client that:

                            • Use a scientifically backed solution, novel or not, it does not matter
                            • Can be delivered on time
                            • Does not run the client bankrupt

                            I understand that you want more technical content, but if the content you are looking for is not there, you can help generate it by:

                            • Asking
                            • Submitting

                            To be honest I have submitted stuff that got downvoted and that bothered me a bit, but I shrugged and moved on. There will be such submissions too.

                            1. 1

                              There are more posts now, that, perhaps, fit into OPs category of ‘opinion pieces’

                              https://lobste.rs/s/gnozmy/stop_using_facebook

                              https://lobste.rs/s/iamgt4/how_not_use_google_search

                              I am not sure though this is up to ‘users’ so to speak (may be I am mistaken, though). I am sure the moderators are aware of the gradual shift, but may they are ‘Ok’ with it.