Dear Internet Gods of Technology,
Forgive me for I have sinned.
Now that I’ve said my repentance, allow me to explain how I got my account unbanned from Hacker News.
For those who don’t know, Hacker News (HN) is the Mecca of sharing all things nerd, tech, and science. Thousands of users go here daily to share the latest and greatest from the world of technology, computer engineering, and startups.
In addition to sharing, users can comment and vote-up articles, all of which can lead to your article landing on the coveted front page. There is great interest in it because a front page mention for your site can attract a large volume of traffic and expose your ideas or app to tens of thousands.
Like any popular system, it has attracted abusers. People looking to gain off the eyeballs of Hacker News, have submitted articles outside the scope of the site. Doing so, among other activities, can get you banned from the site. But in the land of free accounts, this outcome is of little consequence to the user who can simply create new accounts ad nauseam.
As result, Paul Graham, Venture Capitalist Y Combinator co-founder, and HN administrator, has put in place an intelligent, and some would save devious, system for dealing with abusers: hellbanning. As a hellbanned user, you can continue to use the site as normal, but without other users seeing your submissions or comments.
Think of it this way: Basically, your Bill Cosby in “Ghost Dad” right after the car accident – everything feels and looks perfectly normal to you, but to the outside world of HN you’re invisible. Nonexistent.
How did this happen to me? It’s pretty simple: I broke the HN rules. As a marketer, I signed up for HN and used it to submit articles I’d written for my blog or customers. My posts were off-topic and I became hellbanned. I had no idea.
When I began my learning to program project, I wanted to share my articles about learning programming as non-technical person. However, after a friend was unable to see my post on HN and much searching, I realized that I was hellbanned.
I immediately felt embarrassed and bummed; I’m working to become actively involved in the developer community and here I was banned from one of it’s most popular community sites. I had to make things right and get my account back.
Repairing The Damage Done
I discussed it with HN super user and Rails Apps creator Daniel Kehoe. He’s a really smart guy and incredily well-respected in both the Rails and HN communities. He kindly suggested I considered it a wash and create a new account.
But, I didn’t think all hope was lost. The internet is supposed to bring us together, to connect us on a human-level, right? Couldn’t I profess mea culpa, reform my behavior, and become a positive contributing member of HN?
So I found Paul Graham’s email and sent him the following note:
My account on HN news, andrewkkirk, has been hellbanned. And rightfully so, I wasn’t following the guidelines and submitting off-topic posts.
I’ve read the guidelines, understand the errors of my ways, and would now like to contribute in a positive manner to HN.
Other developers advised me to just create a new account, but I believe in the power of connecting personally and asking for a second chance.
Thanks in advance for the consideration,
To my surprise, the following note landed in my inbox the following day:
Clearly, I wish I hadn’t have been banned in the first place. But, I did take away a few important lessons.
#1 Don’t Abuse Sacred Communities
These communities are desirable because the collective value input by it’s members. Abusing their standards devalues their work, angers community members, and puts you in a bad spot.
#2 Admit Wrongdoing; Ask for Forgiveness
It’s not to say all wrongdoings will be forgiven. We should still act with decency. All to often online communities become outlets for free-range bad behavior.
#3 Make a Personal Connection
Our online worlds are bustling with social-integration and real-time communication. But, we can still lose sight of the personal aspects of the web. Don’t let technology become a barrier to interacting on a personal level.
Unbanned from Hacker News Conclusion
I can only speculate as to why I was unbanned. I imagine Paul Graham responded to my honesty and appeal that people can correct mistakes. Or maybe anyone can get unbanned from Hacker News.
Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Also, join the discussion on Hacker News.