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I’ve been a user of Lobsters for about two weeks now, and I’ve noticed that discussion around articles is severely lacking. This is one aspect I enjoy most about Hacker News; there’s usually some thought provoking discussion around the articles that often give you a view of the other side of whatever topic is being discussed.

How do we encourage more discussion? The only idea that’s come to my mind is to encourage the poster to add their thoughts to their story in a comment, so that the ‘discuss’ link has at least something next to it; I feel people don’t want to be the first to comment, which is a shame when we have a better voting system available to weed out useless comments and promote the excellent ones.

I’d love to hear your views, and maybe the moderators/owners will be able to take some of the suggestions and perhaps make some changes.

– Alex

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    Personally I’m afraid of my comments not contributing/decontributing. Especially because I don’t know about a decent amount of the topics posted.

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      That is my concern as well. Personally, I’d rather this site didn’t become like HN. The discussion is what turned me off HN - too much negativity, too many uninformed, nitpicky or banal comments.

      Even most of the “good” discussions over there primarily provided a good way of killing some (or a lot of) time rather than learning opportunities. Nonetheless, it was pretty easy to get sucked into reading them!

      So in addition to the concern about the quality of my contributions, I’d also like to disagree with the OP - I actually like Lobsters the way it is now. I get interesting articles to read (but not too many), and I don’t waste time on reading comments.

      Consequently, this is just my second comment on this site, even though I’ve been visiting for months. And I’m not even sure these two comments exceed my quality threshold :)

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        I’d like to see more posts on lobsters, the throughput is lacking. more comments would be nice, but more articles would be nicer.

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          And the comments on HN can be belligerently uninformed, which is what really bothers me. A friendly but small community is better than a large and hostile community.

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            Just please, let’s not get like HN and spend all our time worrying about turning into Reddit :-).

            Seriously, the problem is that on the one hand you want to have a friendly community feel and on the other hand keep the signal-to-noise ratio up. Maybe Slashdot were on to something with the whole +1 Informative vs. +1 Funny thing.

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              I feel there was a time when comments on HN were generally a higher quality than they are now; there’s still plenty of insightful comments (especially from people who are deeply connected with whatever topic is at hand!), but you’re absolutely wright about the negativity; this has been my major reason for ceasing reading many comment threads. The top comment is often “This is so wrong and this is why!”; I’d love to see similar discussion here but without the nagativity.

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                I’ve seen the same thing play out a few times (on Slashdot, HN and Reddit): first there are a few people having good discussions; this attracts more people, and the quality of discussion goes down; various technical measures are tried to no avail while the audience continues to grow and the quality of discussion continues to decline. It would be awesome if there was a solution to this, but I haven’t seen one emerge over the last decade, so I’m sceptical at this point. So perhaps the only winning move is not to play :)

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                  This effect is called Eternal September, named after a similar incident on Usenet.

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                    You could be right, but I hope you’re not. I’ve noticed exactly the same thing, so I’m also weary, but I think that some discussion is better than none.

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                Then ask questions instead of stating opinions. Nerd sniping is a great way to get conversations going. “Why do we need X anyway? I can’t see the point” will always get you someone explaining why, and often someone explaining why not. Often the discussions get a bit heated or childish, but there’s usually still some value to it and Lobsters provides the tools to let people know when they are getting off track.

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                  There’s a fine line between nerd sniping and trolling. It’s like the difficulty, now well studied, of detecting irony in social media.[1][2]

                  If I were to try to start a conversation this way, I would make it clear that I was not trolling and not trying to put anyone on the defensive. Instead of

                  Why do we need X anyway? I can’t see the point

                  which sounds almost defiant (“Come at me, bro” seems to be a popular meme for expressing this attitude, but as a meme it carries an irony flag, which defuses the literal confrontation), I would ask:

                  Could someone explain the need for X?

                  making it clear that I’m actually looking for a conversational peer to weigh in on the subject and that I’m willing to give the response a fair hearing.

                  [1] http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0169023X12000237/1-s2.0-S0169023X12000237-main.pdf?_tid=4cc49444-d150-11e3-afd1-00000aab0f6c&acdnat=1398963036_a164f2a56dc5eb21d3e636d145eadc64

                  [2] http://www2013.org/companion/p635.pdf

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                    I’ve seen many a bitter HN/reddit comment war start over nerd sniping, and often enough over the medium of text, I find I can’t understand the intent of the author without an explicit qualifier like “I’m genuinely curious” and even that gets me a bit angry at times. I’m not a fan of nerd sniping at all.

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                    True, I never really thought that something that simple would bring about a lot, but when I think about it you’re definitely right.

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                      Then the problem comes to being able to come up with reasonable questions; often people find it hard to question what they don’t understand about a topic. hopefully we’ll learn though!

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                      You mean basically trolling to get a response? What a bad idea.

                      If someone has a legitimate question over the value of something, great.

                      Please do not encourage disingenuous behavior.

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                        No, that’s not what I meant at all, I’m not sure how you read that from my comment either. My suggestion is that if you don’t understand something, then instead of feeling stupid, ask the question and hopefully someone will try to explain it. Or perhaps, pose a related problem (like the XKCD example) and see if people can solve it; lots of people have a lot of fun solving problems and sharing how they reached their solution.

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                    Counterintuitively it may be the case that poor story or comment quality leads to more comments - people correct inaccuracies in the main article, or inaccuracies with what other people are saying, or they take umbrage with other people’s awful positions.

                    I’m fine with having few comments on stories, as long as the signal ratio is high, because then I will actually want to read the comments for a story.

                    I just scanned the frontpage and couldn’t think of much to say that wasn’t “me too”, “what is this”, or “I need to learn about this”, and none of these comments would add value. A lot of times I just don’t have much to say about a topic.

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                      Well, at least in the case of the “what is this” comment, that is just an example of the sort of question a possibly poorly written article would evoke; it frustrates me when there’s no introductory “Flibfob is a FooBar written in Bleq. This article will show how to Schmok in Flibfob because Schmoking is often difficult because…”. “What is this?” gets answers that many other people want to know too.

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                      I check Lobsters several times a day, but rarely comment. I find much of the content very interesting (especially the highly technical or academic links), but find little need to comment. I don’t think this is a negative. I like to think of Lobsters as a quiet academic lounge nestled somewhere in a university…lots of people studying but not much talking.

                      When I do comment, it’s to ask a question or disagree with a point in the article. If I’m simply learning something from the link and having nothing interesting to contribute…I stay silent.

                      I think much of Lobsters is like this, and honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

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                        Hi, new user here. I have definitely noticed the lack of discussion. Here are some quick thoughts:

                        Encouraging the posters to comment sounds good.

                        Maybe ask for volunteers to always post a comment with some background or perspective anything on a certain topic? Maybe someone wants to be the lobste.rs Haskell person or something, so whenever a Haskell article shows up, they can tell us if it’s new or fringe or is something under debate?

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                          That is quite an interesting idea. I have a friend that works with Haskell professionally. I wonder if I could get her interested in the idea.

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                            Speaking as that friend, I’m not against it - but everything Jessica said goes for me as well. It’s a very high bar to get me to speak up in an online technical community, because men are horrible. I’ll give it a try informally though. :)

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                              because men are horrible

                              Comments like that are not welcome here.

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                                Message received.

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                                I’ll give it a try informally though.

                                Please do! Like I said, I’m new here - but I’m hopeful that the public moderation and user tree keep this site more focused and welcoming.

                                And I do think that having someone take a little informal ownership of a topic should help encourage discussion. Let’s see how it goes. I’ll try to contribute too, where I can. (Which won’t be Haskell)

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                                  Thanks! I appreciate the encouragement. :)

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                            Me? I’m scared to comment, for fear of negative responses. I’ve commented a couple of times on Hacker News and was quickly proven wrong, then some speculation on why I might have been wrong. And it wasn’t particularly constructive. Since then I’ve stayed away from hacker news comments – I only watch the daily top 10.

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                              Sometimes you need to take care of the constructive part yourself. If you’re proven wrong study the subject and get it right. Retiring from the conversation might protect your bruised ego but you lose the chance to correct what needs to be corrected.

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                                why is it their responsibility to correct what needs to be corrected? personally, i’m always happy to be proven wrong, but if i dislike the manner in which it is done i’m perfectly content to both self-correct and retire from the conversation on the grounds that the other participants are jerks.

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                                  Dealing with jerks is a small price to pay for putting your ideas/knowledge to the test.

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                                There’s no harm in being wrong. The only comment that justifiably gets corrected in a kinda nasty way is the kind that arrogantly asserts that something that isn’t true.

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                                As a woman I am extremely reluctant to comment on anything anywhere online, even in the safe Lesbian related subreddits I subscribe to. They way women tend to be treated online, especially in the tech communities, is not pleasant. For me to comment I need a compelling reason. Thus far I have not read anything that I felt an overwhelming need to provide input on.

                                I know some people with argue with me over this, every time I see this sentiment expressed some jackass perks up and says they over blowing it out of proportion or it’s just boys being boys or any number of excuses and justifications. The fact is women are treated badly in the tech communities and I am reluctant to subject myself to it.

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                                  For me, it’s the lack of discussion that makes me unlikely to comment. When I look at my old comments here, close to half of them are the only comment on the article. Conversely, I literally can’t remember the last time I made a comment on HN that didn’t get a response. I’d much rather have a discussion than make a comment and get no reply.

                                  Worse yet, the more substantive the comment, the less likely that other comments will show up. This is no different from HN or reddit, where fluffy articles get lots of comments, and technical articles are relative ghost towns. But, HN and reddit get enough total traffic that technical articles are still likely to have at least one interesting comment. Not so, here.

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                                    I have the same problem. I wonder if we could improve the situation with comment-discovery mechanisms that are less obsessively focused on recency. As it stands today, if you’re commenting on an article more than a day old, it’s unlikely your comment will be read by enough people to get a reply. (This is far better than HN, where the time horizons are even shorter, and if you take too long thinking about your comment you get punished with a /deadlink when you go to post it, but it’s still bad.)

                                    It might be useful, for example, if I could see a feed of the latest comments by people I think are interesting enough to follow — like a Planet aggregator, but for comments; or if it were easier to link to or even transclude relevant comments from the past. (For example, at the moment, the Your Threads page only lists the last few comments you’ve made; if you want to link to a comment even you yourself made a few months back, good luck finding your own comment. Maybe you can Google it. And finding other people’s related comments is even more difficult. Meanwhile lobste.rs has comment score data that it could totally use in a comment search engine, and Google can’t.)

                                    Usenet did pretty well for some years with only a feed of the latest “comments”. You might even say that Usenet’s second-biggest problem was how well it did at fostering ongoing conversations. (Its biggest problem was vulnerability to spam.)

                                    I would have liked to see the @dl comments before, and in fact I’m replying to one from two months ago (which is actually related to this topic) now, but without better discovery mechanisms I probably won’t see them. And I won’t see if anybody replies to my replies, either.

                                    Another problem is that the user pages display the average score per article/comment; this score goes down if you post a comment that nobody reads, because it will always be scored 1. If you display scores on a web site, people will try to game them, and the way to win this game is to post very few comments — ideally short jokes or related links on recently-posted articles, and never questions betraying ignorance, corrections of errors, lengthy analysis, especially on articles that weren’t just posted, and especially when it’s not a top-level comment or a reply to a top-level comment; deep in a thread your chances are nil. (This comment’s score doesn’t fit my theory, though.) Compare how badly @dl (6.47) is beating @kragen (1.70), largely by virtue of posting an order of magnitude fewer comments. (Also @dl is probably smarter, more cogent, and better-looking than I am, but I think the score difference is primarily a result of the comment count.)

                                    Maybe we should consider how to adopt some techniques from the popular sites that are at the opposite extreme: StackExchange and Wikipedia. SE automatically does some kind of full-text indexing thing to find “related questions” and answers, and interesting questions and answers continue gathering upvote karma (and sometimes further responses) for years, not hours. Wikipedia articles continue to garner interaction forever, even if that interaction is in the form of somebody correcting your spelling or punctuation (or, worse, deleting your contribution); and although there’s a “Recent Changes” page, the only people who read it are the vandalism patrol. Also, both SE and Wikipedia have social structures and software that reward participation, rather than punish it.

                                    (Edited extensively.)

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                                      One of the few ways (other than lack of traffic) I find lobsters worse than HN, is that here, contentless comments and jokes float to the top whereas at HN, lengthy analysis floats to the top. Not always and everywhere, but most of the time.

                                      If I open an HN thread on a non-linkbait topic, and there’s a deep analysis anywhere in there, it’s likely to be the top comment, or at least be in the top thread. Here, those sorts of comments usually languish with 1 or 2 upvotes, while pithy comments that are clever, but not informative, are the most upvoted comments.

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                                        citation needed

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                                          See the examples cited in kragen’s post, for example. For that matter, see this thread, where I’m the only person to have upvoted kragen’s lengthy comment, where he spent the time to go through the archives and picked out a handful of examples.

                                          I could post five examples off the top of my head, but you might say I’m cherry picking examples. To try to get a representative sample, I clicked through every thread (that I haven’t hidden) on the first two pages that has at least two comments, I couldn’t find any threads with a deep analysis; there’s a symptom of the problem.

                                          I’m not really inclined to spend more than the ten minutes I already have digging for more evidence to support my impression, for this thread which is, predictably, buried at the bottom of this topic that few people will read anyway. If your impression on this is different, that’s fine, and I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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                                            Comment length does not equal quality, and people should not be upvoting comments just because the author took a long time to write it.

                                            kragen’s comment was an entire page long, was made on a story with only 12 points and posted 2 days after the story had already appeared.

                                            I’m not really inclined to spend more than the ten minutes I already have digging for more evidence to support my impression, for this thread which is, predictably, buried at the bottom of this topic that few people will read anyway.

                                            And that is my point. People don’t want to spend all that time reading long comments, especially in a thread that isn’t very interesting. That is why they don’t get upvoted.

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                                              No, of course comment length does not equal quality; and I’m sure I’ve written long comments of low quality, too, for all that I try to write well. But comment length does correlate weakly positively with quality, and strongly negatively with score. Not only should people not be upvoting comments just because the author took a long time to write them, we shouldn’t be upvoting comments just because the author wrote them quickly and without thought — but the fact is, we do. I explained several plausible reasons why we do.

                                              Back to the original topic, though: why don’t people comment much? I don’t comment much because I have a poor chance of having a conversation as a result, and therefore having a chance to learn something.

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                                            I did link to “short jokes and related links” that I had posted in the past which garnered an IMHO unreasonable number of upvotes, and a number of comments that I thought were better that ended up with a score of 1 or 2. Hopefully I’m not the worst offender here, so you should be able to find much better examples.

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                                          +1 for the feed of latest comments from a selected list, and other things made possible by ‘following’ people - like weighting upvotes by people I follow higher than general upvotes, etc.

                                          On HN, there are a few people whose comments I usually appreciate even on otherwise dumb comment threads, and there’s no good way there to surface those.

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                                        Be the change you want to see in the world! Comment on every article!

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                                          I’ve tried commenting on a few articles, but so far there’s been no responses. I feel like this should be a fantastic place for discussion but it’s not happening. It seems to me there’s a hell of a lot of users but no one’s talking.

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                                            Asking questions is a good way to get people to reply.

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                                              It might be a setting that I haven’t noticed but one thing I’ve noticed about lobste.rs, which might be a bug, is that people commenting on a submission I have made does not send me an email. Often times a possible discussion may just fall between my fingers because it wasn’t noticeable.

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                                                This is configurable. I receive emails when people reply to me.

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                                                  I do to, but I do not (or did not at some point) receive emails when someone commented on a story I posted.

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                                                    Ahh, I see, I misunderstood. That sounds like a valuable feature.

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                                          I don’t think that comments are necessarily a good thing. They can be, but usually aren’t. I don’t think comments should be encouraged for their own sake, and TBH this article and its comments are a case in point.

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                                            A forum without comments has no reason to exist. We need the discussion and it’s a shame that we’re getting it on an inferior platform with draconian censorship but with a much larger user base.

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                                            HN has a lot of comments because the stories are frequently trollish or otherwise intended to incite arguments.

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                                              In a sense, trolling (posting things designed to get responses without regard to their veracity) is a failure mode of social systems that reward getting responses above all else — and especially when they weight toward rapid responses.

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                                              Perhaps requiring the poster to add the first comment explaining what motivated him/her to submit it might be a good way to start a discussion. Also it would act as a first filter against people submitting flame bait or other low quality articles.

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                                                I wonder if the sorting algorithm incorporates comments? Maybe it should

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                                                  This might seem like a minor thing, but I think the visual design of the site might be contributing to the silence. All that white space and you the first one to spill ink on it!

                                                  Also, comment scores might make people more conscious of commenting and of the reward / punishment associated with it. Could it be hidden by default and only visible upon hover or something like that?

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                                                    some tangible evidence that my comments are appreciated (replies, upvotes or both). if you want technical measures to support those, reddit gets it right with its “orangered envelope” (reply notification inbox), separate comment karma, and thread-collapsing (so that you can have a discussion without worrying about cluttering up people’s page).

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                                                      As you can see, people like to reply, but nobody likes to be the first/only person to comment.

                                                      I thought about incorporating comment counts into a story’s “hotness” which determines its ranking on the homepage. Though at the moment I think we still have a lot of stories where the only comments are sort of meta-comments complaining about the story or its tagging, which shouldn’t really promote it higher on the front page.

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                                                          Get tptacek and cperciva and patio11 to start using Lobsters… :-p

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                                                            Just try different things until you find something that works for you and people will copy it if they care about discussion.

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                                                              part of the problem is someone needs to kick off the discussion – i also see this on hacker news for new stories.

                                                              the easiest way to do it is to ask a question in the comments, that’s how you start a discussion