According to my profile on Hacker News (also known as HN), it’s been exactly 1000 days that I joined their community. Since I have spent a significant amount of time on HN over the past few years, I thought I would share here what has been my experience so far, what it changed for me, and why I would recommend trying it, if you are a true hacker at heart.
If you already know about HN, you can skip to the next paragraph. Hacker News is a social news site built by Y Combinator, a startup accelerator venture based in the Silicon Valley, led by Paul Graham. What does Y Combinator do ? Well, they get applications from newcomers all around the world, interested in creating their own startups around a strong, original idea. The selected projects get seed funding and are prepared and supported by Y Combinator to prepare for a demo day where their project will be presented to investors. You probably know some of the startups they funded. Ever heard of Reddit ? DropBox ? Heroku ? Airbnb ? Pebble ? Codecademy ? Those are just a few of the many they supported right from the start. Y Combinator has become of the most successful ventures out there, and that’s not something that has to do with luck, they have a very thorough interview process and they keep optimizing their way of doing things from one year to another.
So what’s the deal with Hacker News?
Well, it started as a news site for Hackers (and get the meaning right) who were interested in the startup world, acting as a hub for creators sharing their thoughts on coding, design, hardware projects. And showing their latest creations. HN was thought as a social community site, since all submissions are made by their members, and upvoted based on how favorably the community responds to them. As time passes, an entropy system kicks in and pushes down the submitted stories unless they get more and more upvotes. Now, what’s interesting is the quality of the submissions and of the community.
Since I joined 1000 days ago, HN has become a very influential part of my life for a number of reasons. I’ve picked up 5 points where I noticed a clear difference versus my pre-HN life.
1. KNOWING STUFF BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE
That’s why I joined HN in the first place. I was looking for a way to find more about the new launched services nobody knows about until they mature and have millions of users. I had never heard of Techcrunch at the time, and I think I asked a question via Aardvark (an ex-Google service), and someone told me I should check HN. Let him be praised.
Being part of HN does make you feel you know what’s happening before anyone else. At least for a number of topics. Whenever one of my non-HN acquaintances talks to me about a particular tech topic, my first reaction is “oh, I remember seeing that last week” or “ah yeah, I know this service, I have been using it for the past year”. You are really on the edge of what’s happening. On top of that, based on what I read on HN, particularly in the comments section, I usually already have some kind of opinion about the topic in question. This makes it possible to engage in a discussion if I want to. It makes conversations and exchanges more interesting.
The fun part is that I often go directly for comments before reading a story on HN. Not because I am looking for debate and conflict, but because the quality of comments usually says a lot about the quality of the original article. Before HN, I remember I had completely discarded reading comments on the web because of the lackluster level out there. But on HN, comments are everything and the social system expands to the reputation of each member: good comments get upvoted and give you karma. Uninteresting comments get downvoted by members who have enough karma (more than 500 or 1000, I don’t remember the current threshold). So there’s an incentive in writing something clever, sensible, or well-informed.
2. BACK TO LEARNING STUFF
One of the other key differences HN made is that I started learning again. In many ways. Because the community is so vibrantly passionate about new things, it’s a haven for learners and experimenters. Through HN, I discovered technologies, languages I was not even aware of, even though I roughly considered myself computer-literate at the time. I started learning and practicing different languages, using GitHub for small, fun, no brainer projects of mine. I don’t consider myself a coder but I do like experimenting and trying to learn as much as I can with the time I have. But it’s not just been about computer-related hacking. I started reading more and more, based on the recommendations of fellow HN members. Now I don’t even count the books I have ordered and read because of that. The Design of Everyday Things, Tufte’s design books on how to present quantitative data, books about submarine disasters, just to name a few. Yeah, the discussions can get pretty versatile. And it’s no wonder I discovered, through HN, Coursera. I have then become an avid learner on that platform too.
3. EXPERIMENTING MORE
4. I’M NOT ALONE
HN also expanded my network. I live in Japan, and until I started reading HN, I had almost no connections whatsoever with any remote tech community nearby. Through the comments on one thread about the monthly HN Tokyo Meetup, I met with CaptainTacos living in Kyoto, and soon enough (with Sgdesign) we were set on creating our local HN meetups, which would become known as HN Kansai. It has been a little more than one year now, and we now have about 150 subscribers and between 20 to 40 regular attendees as we tour the Kansai region from one month to another to connect HN readers to one another.
It’s still a small community, but several of us have been able to find new opportunities, or even new jobs thanks to the contacts they made. This has been a hugely positive experience for most people involved so far. That’s also how I met with Sacha Greif, one of the top posters on HN, who has numerous links with the SF scene and interesting stories to tell.
Besides local meetups, I have cold-emailed HN members now and then based on some of the comments they made, and my interactions were always very rewarding. I like how people stay approachable no matter where you live or what you do. There are probably people around you who share the same kind of interests and that you don’t know about. Through HN we have created some bridges between us.
5. PERSONAL GROWTH
Via HN Kansai, I have become a regular presenter for many topics where I have enough confidence to share my opinions and thinking. I may not be the presenter I’d like to be yet, but I take these opportunities to practice and I hope to improve over time. Overall I feel more aware (hey JCVD!) of what’s happening in the tech world and things seem to be at reach like never before. For example, I have been in touch with RMS to organize a conference with him in Japan. Not sure it’s ever going to happen for a number of reasons, but just being able to consider it a remote possibility feels great. It’s stimulating.
So, 1000 days it is. I certainly have no intention to stop, and while HN is certainly NOT for everyone, if you feel inspired by what I just shared with you, it may be worth giving it a try.
Or, if you are a regular HN visitor, feel free to say hi and share your experience in the comments below!