How do you get on the Frontpage of Hacker News? (4 Links in 1 Day)

How do you get on the Frontpage of Hacker News?

tl;dr This posting describes our experience of having four of our relevant Hacker News link submissions reaching the top four positions of the Hacker News frontpage. And then us later being hellbanned. How do you get on the frontpage? 1) Luck and good timing, 2) Gain karma points quickly, 3) Smart title, 4) Relevant submission, 5) Avoid downvotes.

Introduction

For a few minutes in late June, four of our news submissions sat on top of the Hacker News frontpage rankings. For many the response will be “so what” or “did you read the guidelines”. This posting is simply a record of observation that may or may not help anyone understand the news sites ranking algorithm.

The System

The community often questions the unknown Hacker News ranking algorithm and voting protocol. The Hacker News Slap – the phenomenon of quickly making the frontpage, only to be removed just as fast – is a mystery to many (all).

The system is not perfect however is probably the best one can achieve given the large volume of submissions to the site. The site gets more than 20k of page views a month to the main domain. Once you start adding in other aggregation and referral sites you get a much larger number.

Duplication of popular stories often occur (eg Steve Jobs’ death, The Facebook IPO…) but typically fresh and unique submissions stay in the top 30.

The Problem

Two significant stories occurred in the week that did not rank (highly) on the site:

1) The extradition of a UK student to US for alleged copyright infringement.

2) China’s technological achievement in space and under the ocean.

The Submission

They felt totally relevant and therefore we submitted links on both stories. We submitted multiple links to try and have one stick on the Hacker News frontpage. If your link doesn’t stay on the frontpage it has zero chance of drumming up any discussion.

1. Wikipedia founder steps in to help UK hacker (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
(HN Comments)

2. Petition to stop extradition of UK hacker (change.org)
(HN Comments)

3. China trumps SpaceX and James Cameron in same week (cnn.com)
(HN Comments)

4. China triumphs in space and sea (bbc.co.uk)
(HN Comments)

The Result

The first two remained in top spot for several hours. The second two were quickly moderated and disappeared into the ether, even though scoring points due to obvious interest. (See screenshot above.)

We quickly discovered we were hellbanned, most likely by a human moderator perceiving our behaviour as a breach of written/unwritten rules. We currently remain banned but hope this posting can be useful to those wanting to share and discuss relevant content with the Hacker News community.

Summary

So, how do you get on the frontpage? It seems to be a mixture of the following:

1. Luck and good timing – Weekends, mornings, evenings. Timing varies however weekends seem to have less noise and therefore a successful frontpage story is likely to remain on the frontpage for longer. However it is likely to experience less traffic than midweek.

2. Gain karma points quickly – Points are crucial in you getting top spot. You could collude with friends and colleagues however if detected faces downvoting.

3. Smart title – The title should be attractive enough to gain attention, but not too suggestive that it breaches guidelines and gets you downvoted or banned.

4. Relevant submission – Remember your audience. Anything off topic or irrelevant is unlikely to get any traction.

5. Avoid downvotes – Once your submission gets voted downwards, your time is up. Typically downvoting kills a submission.

If you wish to share your own experiences drop us a line or leave a comment or join the Hacker News discussion.

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You might also enjoy:
+ Lessons Learned From A Hacker News Traffic Spike
+ Learning From Other Startups – 6 Real Life Stories
+ The Startup Dictionary – Learning the Lingo #3
+ Startup Myths – I shall not be fooled again by gurus
+ Samsung’s Pivot From Dried Fish to Smartphones

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3 responses to “How do you get on the Frontpage of Hacker News? (4 Links in 1 Day)”

  1. Engineer says :

    The hell banning on hacker news is done arbitrarily, based on whether you are part of the “inside circle” or express an opinion that disagrees with the political correctness of the moderators.

    If you had spent several months on HN posting politically correct, empty, non-threatening comments on other people’s stories– karma whoring basically– then doing this would not have been a problem, and you wouldn’t have gotten hellbanned.

    I think posting essentially duplicate stories is a mistake, though. Just post one for each major issue.

  2. Andrew K Kirk (@andrewkkirk) says :

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I believe my HN account was hellbanned. I didn’t intend to create off-topic pieces, and I understand better the material which is of interest.

    Is it possible to have an account un-hellbanned? Or is it better to start over?

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