Created by Paul Graham as part of his company Y Combinator in 2007, Hacker News is a social news website covering topics related to startups and hacking, with the remit of providing submissions that ‘good hackers would find interesting’. It considers on-topic, ‘anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity. Whilst it’s intentions were to create a community similar to Reddit, Paul Graham has stated that he hopes to avoid the ‘Eternal September’ that results in the general decline of intelligent discourse within a community. Despite the continued popularity of Hacker News – especially here in the UK (the Hacker News London event regularly attracts over 200 attendees), some London based Hackers – many of whom are very active members of Hacker News have decided to create their own social news site – targeting the UK and Europe based Hacker News audience – namely entrepreneurs and hackers. We spoke to those behind the project, about how it came about and what their plans are for the site – which is called Hackful Europe.
How did Hackful Europe come about?
The idea for Hackful came out of an email mailing list called Open Coffee London. While the mailing list provided members with a valuable connection to their peer group for advice and collaboration, the method was very closed. Hacker News seemed like a great first step, that was tried and tested, to evolve the format of our conversations to be more open and inclusive. Elias Haase took the initiative and started coding and deployed to a server donated by Matthew Slight’s company, Incite ICT. This was Wednesday night (1 Feb). After a slow start, traffic to the site took off as word spread and we now have over 1,000 members within 5 days. The key really was to create something that hackers recognised and were comfortable using, but was focused on their specific interests.
What are your aims with Hackful Europe?
Access to vital information for European entrepreneurs and hackers. Specifically, instant access to an audience of their peers (other hackers) to ask for advice, form collaborations or test out demos and products. An extension of this would be to provide location specific calendars of relevant events, a list of business angels who have been vetted as legitimate investors (like a European focused Angel List) and anything else that the community asks for, wants to build collectively and isn’t being done well by anyone else.
How does it compare to YCombinator’s Hacker News – how does it differ?
Hackful was initially intended to be a Hacker News for Europe. So in structure, it doesn’t differ much at all. In content it is entirely different: totally focused on European hack projects, start-ups and news. A higher level of relevance for members is the key. And Hackful is only 5 days old; there are plenty of features that will soon demonstrate the power of the local European Hacker community to collaborate.
Why do we need a UK/Europe centric platform? Are geographical boundaries still important online?
Global, or even US focused platforms, like Reddit and Hacker News require more effort to sift through the huge mass of content. Having Hackful focus on local initiatives and people provides a unique ability to instantly gauge the current sentiment and get relevant feedback. For example, there are plenty of US start-ups that are exciting to read about, but their products are only available in the US. European start-ups now don’t have to compete with the very US-centric focus of Hacker News, which is demonstrated by Hackful‘s dramatic user take-up. You just have to see the feedback on the site to see how passionate people feel about Hackful.
How will the site maintain a ‘common denominator’ amongst members of it’s community? What is the target audience?
The meritocracy within Hackful will ensure that relevant news items and links are voted up. It is built to ensure that common denominators rise to the surface. For those super-users, we are working on features to enable the Open Coffee roots with email posting functionality. This will hopefully ensure a core, engaged community of hackers curating Hackful and ensuring there are more long-form, thoughtful responses amongst the general sentiment of upvotes and positive contributions. The target audience is anyone wanting to experiment and ask/show others about those experiments.
…some might say that HN achieves this with it’s YCombinator foundations – how will you achieve this and what are is your grounding?
We already have a well-established community in London called Open Coffee, which has been going for over 3 years. This community is incredibly considerate about taking care of each other. What is most interesting about Hackful has been how far and wide across Europe people have been excited to build local events, meetups and hackdays to ensure that the foundations get built to make certain the community thrives. The key is they can use Hackful to communicate, share best practice and always count on each other for help.
No online community is perfect. Since you’re basing your model on Hacker News – what problems have you identified with Hacker News, and how are you going about solving those problems?
Hacker News relies on ‘Karma’ points to create super-users and encourage posting and commenting. We have decided (which is backed up by community comments) to not install such a system as it encourages people to post to boost their karma rather than focus on adding value. This little tweak will hopefully ensure quality of postings and comments on Hackful. Hackful will soon have a calendar of events, which will help focus posts on discussions about topics and products, rather than people advertising meetups (as many posts can veer toward with such an engaged audience). We may find similar compartments (like separating ‘Ask’ posts, as Hacker News does) to feature in Hackful.
What do you make of what Paul Graham said about Hacker News back in 2009?
Diluting the character of the site is the key take-away for Hackful – it is why Hackful was born to concentrate on European hackers and their thoughts. Paul Graham sets out an interesting set of guidelines which will serve as a reference point for what will inevitably be growing pains for Hackful. He’s been there and done this before, Hackful will be better for ensuring that well articulated commentary is kept in mind.
Is it true that all social news sites deteriorate, and how can this be combatted?
The article focuses on negativity permeating the membership once a certain plateau is reached. Who knows what will happen with Hackful; at 5 days old, the focus is on maintaining momentum so that members find increasing utility with Hackful. We want to avoid moderation from one or two superusers and allow the community to upvote only, so that negative sentiment has little chance of distracting.
Some members of the HN community are increasingly saying that the Hacker News community, and the quality of submissions is degrading or deteriorating and it’s moving away from it’s initial aims – how far do you agree with this? …and how do you intend to keep the quality of submissions high – what’s the key?
Hacker News is HUGE. There will always be those that find something to complain about. The vast majority of their many users visit the site religiously. We hope to have a community that values Hackful to that extent.
How do you plan to develop the site?
We are trying to take advantage of this passionate response to the launch and ensure we develop useful features while listening to the community and guiding solid foundations through Europe-wide meet-ups and physical contact to instil a real sense of togetherness.