To make things clearer, I'm mainly asking about software improvements and user interface tweaks, not so much about the "startup hipsters are ruining HN" problem.
I'll start: for me, the main problem with HN is that it's extremely hard for new links to reach the front page, or even get more than one or two upvotes.
Of course it stands to reason that the vast majority of links will never be on the front page, but you would expect the number of points they get to fall on a curve. I don't have any stats on this but I suspect that 1-point links are disproportionally represented compared to what you'd expect.
One way to solve this might be to reward people who "discover" promising new links, i.e. give them their first couple upvotes. For example, if you're one of the first 5 people to upvote a post that eventually goes on to earn more than 20 upvotes, you get extra karma.
There are always new solutions to 'fix' HN – sometimes it's a UI redesign, sometimes it's new features, a new algorithm, or a 'like the old times' community. What problems are _really_ worth solving?
1: There are tons of assholes on HN. They're not constructive, they contribute nothing, and they make content creators and hackers feel like shit.
2: Content creators and hackers want their stuff to show up on the front page. They want a traffic spike, users, press, whatever.
Corollary: HN users want more karma
3: Non-participatory visitors (99% of HN users) want to see the best, most relevant hacker/startup content. Right now.
Before I can propose solutions, I first wonder which of these problems can be solved. Problem 3 is dependent on content creators actually making cool stuff and HN users finding cool stuff. Problem 2 isn't really HN's problem – of course I want my Svbtle blog post to frontpage when I publish it tomorrow, but it's my job to write well and post it at the right time.
Problem 1 is, in my opinion, the most challenging to solve. As HN grew, the proportion of assholes grew too. Shit HN Says* on Twitter tells the tale pretty well. To be honest, I think one really vocal asshole can ruin a thread.
I think constructive feedback should be rewarded, and the jerks need to gtfo. HN can't endure with a crummy community.
How do you propose we do that?
I think the only reason vitriolic comments ruin thread is because the whole thread quickly becomes about that particular comment. Similarly, the most annoying thing about jokes and memes on HN is not the joke or meme itself, it's the discussion about HN "becoming like Reddit" that ensues every time.
So for me, that problem would fix itself if we only ignored assholes and people trying to be funny, rather than lament about each and every one of them. In other words, don't feed the troll!
I think it is not good that stories on the new page are listed chronologically. That way stories have a very short window to make it to the front page.
It would be better to use a similar algorithm as stackoverflow does for questions. I don't know the details of that, but it seems that any activity on a question brings it to the top. This should only apply to stories that are not yet on the front.
The top is a magical place. To a lot of people anything below the first couple of items may not be visible at all. So I think even the front page could use something like this.
Actually, I would make many things on HN like SO. Instead of just two ways of listing stories (new and front), add more, and search.
Since the topic on categories has been brought up since after I asked to join this Branch, I'll continue on the important thread that Wells brought up on "bad" users.
Unlike reddit, I wouldn't have a problem with getting rid of anonymous posting on Hacker News. Since it's so focused on tech stories, getting the greatest content to the top and create discussions I think you should stand for your opinions – without hiding behind a nickname handle.
Unfortunately I suppose while this would lower the amount of "asshole posts", it would also lower the amount of posts in general and possibly some great insight by people who just don't want an online identity.
This is my morning thoughts on the subject.
HN would be better with OpenID login.
Making people remember yet another password is really user-unfriendly. Allow google, twitter, others, and optionally any custom OpenID provider (entered by URL), so that folks who don't like any of the "officially" supported providers could still get in. (Too often I see only Facebook, wishing they let me enter a URL instead.)
Another thing, about anonymous posting, being able to create an account without email validation (current practice on HN) is almost the same as anonymous posting. I think anonymous posting should not be allowed. (Yes I'm a SO fan, you cannot do anything on SO anonymously, for good reason.)
You don't need a sophisticated design to effectively discover content. Actually the simpler design is, the easier it is.
And complaining about authentication won't change anything. Problem lies a bit deeper – people are in need of a secure and easy way to identify themselves without remembering whole bunch of passwords, clicking buttons or some other interaction.
I like way hckrnews.com is going quite a lot – sorting of links and last visit marks are very useful things in the long run. I, however, often miss an ability to hide links you're not interested in (anymore).
Agreed. I don't know that the link list is necessarily the way to go. I almost see a new version being like Stumble Upon, in that, at the top is the description and a link to the comment thread for that article, but the bulk of the page is the article itself. Doing this would be less efficient in that you can only see one article at a time, but I think it would certainly help on mobile: being able to dive right into an article. The other big problem, as was mentioned a bit ago, was how to increase a link's chances of being seen; at the moment it seems like a submitted link doesn't have a lot of time to get the initial votes it needs to make it to the first few pages.
Thanks for your feedback! Team Branch