A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.
If you want to start one it’s important to understand that. Startups are so hard that you can’t be pointed off to the side and hope to succeed. You have to know that growth is what you’re after. The good news is, if you get growth, everything else tends to fall into place. Which means you can use growth like a compass to make almost every decision you face.
Back in February 2009, Paul Graham shared the lessons he’d learned from a side project of his – social news website Hacker News. I’ve read it back then, of course, but once again someone pointed out to me the value of that article and I went back. It is a must read for any web developer or even anyone who participates in online discussions, social networks, or just maintains a blog. Here is my favorite section that explains bad comments.
There are two main kinds of badness in comments: meanness and stupidity. There is a lot of overlap between the two—mean comments are disproportionately likely also to be dumb—but the strategies for dealing with them are different. Meanness is easier to control. You can have rules saying one shouldn’t be mean, and if you enforce them it seems possible to keep a lid on meanness.
Keeping a lid on stupidity is harder, perhaps because stupidity is not so easily distinguishable. Mean people are more likely to know they’re being mean than stupid people are to know they’re being stupid.
The most dangerous form of stupid comment is not the long but mistaken argument, but the dumb joke. Long but mistaken arguments are actually quite rare. There is a strong correlation between comment quality and length; if you wanted to compare the quality of comments on community sites, average length would be a good predictor. Probably the cause is human nature rather than anything specific to comment threads. Probably it’s simply that stupidity more often takes the form of having few ideas than wrong ones.
Whatever the cause, stupid comments tend to be short. And since it’s hard to write a short comment that’s distinguished for the amount of information it conveys, people try to distinguish them instead by being funny. The most tempting format for stupid comments is the supposedly witty put-down, probably because put-downs are the easiest form of humor.  So one advantage of forbidding meanness is that it also cuts down on these.
Bad comments are like kudzu: they take over rapidly. Comments have much more effect on new comments than submissions have on new submissions. If someone submits a lame article, the other submissions don’t all become lame. But if someone posts a stupid comment on a thread, that sets the tone for the region around it. People reply to dumb jokes with dumb jokes.
Maybe the solution is to add a delay before people can respond to a comment, and make the length of the delay inversely proportional to some prediction of its quality. Then dumb threads would grow slower.
No matter how determined you are, it’s hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It’s not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do.
There’s an imbalance between encouragement and discouragement like that between gaining and losing money. Most people overvalue negative amounts of money: they’ll work much harder to avoid losing a dollar than to gain one. Similarly, though there are plenty of people strong enough to resist doing something just because that’s what one is supposed to do where they happen to be, there are few strong enough to keep working on something no one around them cares about.
Paul Graham wrote yet another excellent essey – “How to Disagree“.
The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.
Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.
He then proceeds with identifying a hierarchy of disagreements. In his view, the forms of disagreement are:
- DH0: Name-calling.
- DH1: Ad Hominem.
- DH2: Responding to Tone.
- DH3: Contradiction.
- DH4: Counterargument.
- DH5: Refutation.
- DH6: Refuting the Central Point.
Paul’s post reminded me of something – a course of formal logic back in college. One of the things that course covered was a list of fallacies, which are often used in arguments either intentionally or not. Of course, the complete list of fallacies is much longer and will take more time to memorize and understand. But, if you wish to win and rule online (and offline) arguments, you should at least get familiar with those.
Paul organizes hist list of disagreement forms into a hierarchy. He says:
Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.
It would be nice to see a similar, hierarchy organization for the longer list of fallacies. Which ones are the most frequent in online discussions? Which ones are easier to create and why? How to recognize and respond to them?