Social News Boards Suck

Earlier, I wrote a little about my experience with age-ism in Big Tech, at least as much as I managed to get a glimpse of -- fortunately, I was not at the receiving end of it, having left Big Tech before it had a chance to kick me out. Rachel Kroll has a really cool update to the post that inspired my rant. The update is at least as cool as the original and well worth a read, too. And it serves as a good reminder of, among others, just how terribly, terribly bad social news boards are.

Things like Reddit and Hacker News are sometimes seen as replacements, or better yet, as the inevitable evolution, of good ol' bulletin boards. But they're not! There's a world of difference between the two.

"Traditional" bulletin boards certainly have plenty of discussions centered around a particular piece of news, or a particular link, or whatever. But they're not all centered around that. They also have a bunch of categories, as opposed to a single page of news that bubble to the top based on upvotes, and a good UI for carrying out discussions over days, weeks, and even months or years.

Social news boards are just nothing like that. It's a bunch of links to a bunch of stories. The links change every couple of hours or so. Discussions rarely last for more than a couple of hours, and rewards are primarily in upvotes and likes, since that takes less time to internalize (and convey!) than kindness, empathy or kindness.

Thing is, communities built by this format slowly, but surely devolve into peanut galleries. Everybody looks at an article for like three minutes (since it often happens while they're procrastinating things, or between meetings and so on). They barely read any of it, but the format encourages you to show up and say something smart, otherwise you're not "engaging" and you're not getting them precious likes. Comments receive even less consideration: by the time you've skimmed the article, the break is almost over -- ain't nobody got time for five sentences of comments.

That's why so much of the discussion is in the form of uninformed "well, ackshually": because the format rewards superficial insights and snark. The presentation format is not meant to encourage meaningful discussion, it's meant to incite controversy and impulsiveness, because that's what the Internet sales machine thrives on.

Some communities manage to thrive in this environment, but it's almost an accident. Most of them have a common trait -- they're fairly niche communities whose "front page" is almost entirely devoid of links. It's mostly posts with things that community members made, questions from beginners and experts alike, and so on. Broadly-themed communities (like /r/politics and HN) with nothing but discussions around blog posts and news from outside the community tend to be rotten cesspools of snark, hate and arrogance.

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