Hacker News Posting Guide | Marketing On Hacker News

What is Hacker News, how does it work, and why you probably won’t reach the front page. Oh, and how to avoid this:



What is Hacker News

Hacker News is a social news aggregator dedicated to discussing stories and topics relevant to startup founders and engineers.

It was launched in 2007 by Paul Graham and is characterized by a mix of community-driven content and totalitarian moderation. The site is owned by Ycombinator.

The culture

Hacker News is an interesting site, but I’ve found it has absolutely no sense of humor. You have to imagine that all of the people there are clones of that guy from Big Bang Theory.

It’s intentionally humorless - they believe that witty one-liners are a distraction and detract from legitimate discussion.

To get a better idea of the culture, see the comment section in this Reddit thread.

Topics of discussion include casual technical subjects, technology, startups, politics, and social issues.

Hacker News users enjoy being right, and the most active threads seem to be centered around articles that are subtly wrong.

It might just be my experience but the HN community feels like it can’t wait to rip you a new one if you don’t dot every i and cross every t in even the most banal of posts.

The mods

In the beginning, the site was moderated by Paul Graham, but later on he was replaced by Daniel Gackle and Scott Bell. Recently Scott became inactive, leaving just Dan.

The moderators on Hacker News are gods. They steer the discussion however they see fit.

Not everyone likes that:

Honestly, I’m bummed to see a lot of the recent aggressive moderation. I know the community is far from perfect, but seeing arbitrary posts moved to the front page, existing stuff on the front page change not only in title but also in the article its linked to after existing discussion have happened etc. all strike me as obviously worse than just letting the chaos of the community sort itself out.

But that’s the way it is.

The mods will:

  • Put submissions they find interesting to the top
  • Hide submissions they find spammy
  • Shadowban people who they find annoying

You can contact the mods at hn@ycombinator.com. They can take a week or two to reply but are always kind and thorough in their answers.

Title moderation and the birth of lobste.rs

Paul Grahams has a unique opinion about submission titles:

Titles on HN are not self-expression the way comments are. Titles are common property. The person who happens to submit something first shouldn’t thereby get the right to choose the title for everyone else.

Naturally, this goes against what some people feel is right.

On June 12th, 2012 Joshua Stein was banned from Hacker News for making this post:

Joshua “jcs” Stein, an OpenBSD developer and the maker of PushOver, was a prominent figure. Internet drama ensued which led to the creation of lobste.rs.

Read the full story here.

Post reach

Other than the top of Hacker News, a successful post will also appear in other places.

  • Alternative front pages like hckrnews
  • /r/hackernews on Reddit
  • Top submissions from Hacker News inevitably end up on Lobste.rs (and vice versa)
  • There are automated newsletters containing top stories

Asking for upvotes

The Undocumented Hacker News Guide says:

The FAQ states “users should vote for a story because they personally find it intellectually interesting, not because someone has content to promote.” Indeed, Hacker News utilizes a voting ring detector which will prevent caught submissions from hitting the front page. Due to sites like Product Hunt normalizing the asking for upvotes or other engagement via social media, the implicit asking of upvotes is also done for Hacker News, usually due to ignorance of the Hacker News rule against it. There are very few good reasons to draw attention to a Hacker News submission immediately after it has been submitted.

The people running the site are skilled programmers and their algorithm is famously good at detecting artificially upvoted posts.

We have no way of knowing how it works, but if I were to design such an algorithm I’d look at the accounts that upvoted an entry and then look at their activity that day. If a significant portion of the upvotes came from accounts that logged in just now that’s a red flag.

What happens if you do?

This Indie Hacker comes with a warning to us all:

It also shows how sensitive the community is to that:
See the thread here.

“Bumping” an article from your blog that someone posted should be fine though. After all, when you browse the site, out of all your upvotes of the day one needs to be the first one.

Marketing on Hacker News - comments

Harry Dry from marketingexamples.com tells us the story of Adriaan van Rossum. You should read the full story on Harry’s blog, but I’ll quote it here:

Adriaan runs a privacy-focused analytics platform called Simple Analytics.

Since he launched 9 months ago Hacker News has been the number one source of traffic to both his main site and blog. We're talking more than 30,000 total visits. A staggering 60% of total traffic.

How is he doing this? Well, fortunately, all Simple Analytics traffic is open so it was possible to compare traffic spikes with Adriaan's Hacker News activity and figure it out.

Hacker News comments, as opposed to posts, allow links. To engage in this type of hustle create a Syften alert for a topic relevant to your product and reply whenever the subject comes up.

Another example: A comment worth $140.

Marketing on Hacker News - posts

To reach the top of Hacker News you need to do the following:

  • Post about something that’s aligned with the community, so the mods will bump it to the top
  • Be a little wrong, so the community can correct you

Alas, as Harry Dry shows us himself this cannot be gamed and is very difficult. Still, maximize your chances, and when someone posts your content give it a little bump. And then, of course, stay around and reply to comments.

Get notifications for comments on Hacker News - either when someone replies to you, or when someone mentions one of your keywords.

Hacker News Alternative

The best open source projects got started when someone got banned or kicked out from somewhere. And so is the story with Lobste.rs. One day Joshua "jcs" Stein got banned from Hacker News. Angry, he started Lobste.rs. The community is purely about technology, no politics. Read the full story here.