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I’d put the policy as “We don’t like negativity, but we might tolerate it if, as penance, you type a lot of words in apology. If we don’t like it, we’ll ‘gently remind’ you of the policy by hellbanning or slowbanning you.”

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    To be fair, your description of the consequences is subtext, not what they actually announced. :)

    I’ve listened to a lot of people’s war stories on community building. Like probably everyone here on Lobsters, I’ve also participated in a lot of online communities. One of the first choices to make in trying to affect the atmosphere of a new place is how much should be stated formally, vs. how much should be left to everyone’s presumed good will.

    Too many rules become, like driving laws, usable against anyone at any time because nobody is ever fully in compliance; I would describe Reddit and Hacker News as being in this category, full of in-fighting by people treating the rules as a tool they can use to improve their personal influence.

    Too few guidelines and people get away with anything, and when they do get noticed it’s hard to enforce anything on the grounds that everyone else is doing it too.

    Ultimately, a community must be composed of people who actually want to interact with each other, and moderators must mean what they say, be willing to enforce it, and pay enough attention to actually have it happen. I generally argue in favor of less being written down, because when those things are true, no amount of writing is going to provide any further benefit.

    (I do advocate codes of conduct with regard to harassment of the types usually motivated by sexism and other forms of prejudice; but once a venue is launched it’s quite infeasible to get agreement on those as the audience already includes people on opposing sides.)

    I don’t think HN’s move has any meaning for Lobsters whatsoever. As sac pointed out, HN did not manage to say this in a way that is clear and easy to apply; it’s just the latest addition to the HN motor vehicle code, which is already immense. The membership over there appears to like this sort of thing, and that is their choice and their privilege.

    It’s also not a rule that, even if written more precisely, would be a good thing. Negative feedback is expressing a real sentiment, not the same thing as a consistent pattern of provocation. And the latter already gets treated harshly here; I was extremely impressed by the civility of almost every participant in one of the discrimination threads about a month ago.

    Lobsters doesn’t need anything like this. :)

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      Lobsters doesn’t need anything like this. :)

      In my experience, many small communities rarely need such rules stated explicitly. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but when a community gets beyond some magical size, it ceases to be a group of people and becomes a sort-of-mob. When it’s just a group of people, it seems we can see and treat each other as humans—and that’s usually good enough to maintain civility.

      Anecdotally and not universally, one can tend to see this phenomenon on reddit. Many (including myself) will tell you that there’s plenty of good left in reddit, but most of it is found in the smaller subreddits. The larger subreddits seem to have little left to offer in the way of “community.”

      As sac pointed out, HN did not manage to say this in a way that is clear and easy to apply; it’s just the latest addition to the HN motor vehicle code, which is already immense.

      I suspect the imprecision was intentional. (And I don’t think that’s altogether a bad idea either.)

      I’m not trying to defend HN—they certainly have their problems like any community—but HN is much much bigger than, say, Lobsters, so I’d be careful before drawing any meaningful comparisons.

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        Agreed. When a medium gets large enough, it begins to encourage broadcasting instead of discourse, and being heard becomes a matter of relative popularity. It’s a problem when the medium is intended for discourse. :-\

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          These are fair points. I could have made it clearer, but I do feel different answers work for different places. I was mostly expressing my preference for places I want to be. ☺

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          In my experience, many small communities rarely need such rules stated explicitly. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but when a community gets beyond some magical size, it ceases to be a group of people and becomes a sort-of-mob. When it’s just a group of people, it seems we can see and treat each other as humans—and that’s usually good enough to maintain civility.

          I do a fair share of community building and I’d say: It depends on what your aim is. Small groups tend to self-moderate better, I agree. They are often very focused and it’s pretty easy to keep in the back of your head how a certain person speaks and reacts. But that’s on the inside. If you want to grow a community, writing down your goals and intentions and the way you expect things to work can be quite powerful, even at an early stage. This is an incredibly good way for outward facing communication. And this is also where community driven moderation breaks down: you need to put a face on those rules for them to help reaching out. Moderators are also ambassadors.

          I’m not trying to defend HN—they certainly have their problems like any community—but HN is much much bigger than, say, Lobsters, so I’d be careful before drawing any meaningful comparisons.

          HN has crossed the line where moderating everything as it happens is possible. I moderated a bunch of bulleting boards and there is a certain boundary: before, discussions tend to be slow, so if you moderate a discussion with a lag of 2 hours, people are still find with it. At a certain critical point, the board life gets faster and you need to have a moderation team around most of the time. HN is way beyond this point.

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            That’s all well said, and I don’t think we’re in disagreement. :)

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            I think this effect happens because communities need shared values, but over time, as you add random people, you lose that set of shared values.

            You can have big communities, they just need to be communities.

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            They should absolutely do whatever they want.

            I’m going to stay away; my comments are too short.

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              Haha, fair :)

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            Not the best spot for this question, but I never know where to ask.

            In the /. kuro5hin (early Slash, Scoop, etc) era, there were some interesting experiments w/ moderation systems. Does anyone recall a comment system out of Harvard (IIRC) that had a sort of round robin discussion setup? It was meant for class discussions, but I haven’t ever been able to find reference to it when I occasionally go looking for it. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

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              It’s a fair question! But no, I don’t remember it. It sounds interesting.

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                Well, after running through the wikipedia articles on forums and discussion software, whatever it was it’s surely not maintained anymore and hasn’t morphed into anything. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discourse_(software) does look interesting.

                The problems with forums usually seem size related (either too small or too big)… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldilocks_principle

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              I thought the policy was “don’t fuck with pg”

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                I think it’s more like, “do not question the fundamental assumptions that drive discussion”. That said, I think that’s a totally reasonable position to take – no single forum is sufficient for all the kinds of discussion, and at some point, criticism of the foundational belief system is going to produce more heat than light, regardless of the belief system in question.

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                  “do not question the fundamental assumptions that drive discussion”

                  Which then institutionalizes group-think, which is why we’re here and not at HN right now. HN is not where I go to read about new ideas; it’s only for well-trod, galvanized platitudes.

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                    i meant more criticism of Paul Graham’s actions or criticism of the rules

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                      I think since he stopped personally running the site (or even participating much), that aspect has gotten less prominent. Nowdays moderator ‘dang’ seems to be the main person running things, and he/she (at least as far as I’ve observed) doesn’t react very defensively to criticism.

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                  The most exciting thing about this whole discussion is - imo - the number of comments on the entry. Point.

                  I’m just not that into community politics ;)