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README.md

A kit for more interesting links and discussions

More Interesting (will become) a link sharing app that seeks to avoid discussion tangents, circlejerkery, and mobbing. It's a bit like Reddit, but closer to Lobsters, but More Interesting tries to improve even more on the link sharing network paradigm.

A lot of this stuff isn't implemented, yet.

Browser support

I test in the following browsers.

  • Current Mozilla Firefox
  • Current Microsoft Edge
  • Windows Internet Explorer 11
  • Lynx

Bug fixes will be accepted for other browsers, if the browser has a large market share, or the workarounds aren't too onerous.

Will-be features

Transparency

Publicly-visible moderation logs are the starting point.

Who stars what should also be visible, both showing what a user stars on their profile page, and offering a way to show who starred a post. Stars would be less like Upvotes, and more like Likes.

Flags, on the other hand, would remain anonymous. WAY too much opportunity for harassment in making those public. As per MI's copying of the Discourse moderation model, flags are not anonymous to the moderators, and they are intentionally designed to escalate quickly (three flags are enough to hide a post) and have good feedback, so that users are encouraged to employ them, and don't give up on them "because it's ineffective".

Private, invite-only-by-default, fast

More Interesting is going to have an invite tree by default, like Lobsters does. It'll be possible to turn it off, but that's a low-priority compared to getting all the core interactions right first. Comments and likes will always require accounts, just because the anonymous contributions are the source of 99% of the abuse.

More Interesting doesn't require your email address, phone number, IP address, or other PII information. It doesn't ask, and it never will require it.

More Interesting allows users to participate without JavaScript, and was designed from the beginning to make sure everything would be accessible. Note that MI never, ever has things open on mouseover: all menu buttons require clicking to open, and mouseover submenus arn not employed at all. Recommended reading:

More Interesting displays 200 articles on the front page. This is in stark contrast to other sites, which typically only show 25 articles on the front page. Pulling this off requires, and will continue to require, careful benchmarking and frontend design.

No such thing as karma

This should go without saying, but MI does not show any numbers next to a user's name, and never will. The closest analogue is "trust levels", but those do not grow indefinitely, so there's no incentive to game them once you pass the TL2 threshold, and they're hidden in your profile where people have to actively want to know about them.

Discussion and Ranking

The biggest difference from the mold is how More Interesting's alternatives to Threading and Voting.

For posts, the model is relatively similar: "Starring" a post causes it to go up, and "time" causes a post to go down. Unlike in Lobsters and Reddit, though, a post that receives enough reports from trusted users will be completely hidden, regardless of how many stars it gets. Three flags and twenty stars? Better hide it automatically! Additionally, More Interesting does not rank a post higher because of its comment count; ranking is exclusively based on star count and time.

The comment conversation, on the other hand, almost entirely avoids any form of ranking. The default view is chronological, with no other sorting whatsoever. In a conversation with more than one hundred replies, MI offers a non-default "summary" view which hides comments that received few stars (the heuristic is pending). Comments are also presented in chronological order, without nested presentation. Clicking the "reply" button on a comment should add a #12345 thing to the comment that should link back to the original one.

The most influential change, though, is probably that stars are not anonymous. Flags are partially anonymous, since mods can see them but other users cannot.

So, basically, like this:

Home        user [+ POST] [LOG OUT]
-----------------------------------

_Bitcoin is the get-rich-quick scheme that might actually work_
180 [⭐] [🚩] submitted by @dewey | 1h ago | 2K comments

-----------------------------------

[✔] hide comments with less than 10 stars

-----------------------------------

I'm not much of a techie, but isn't that kind of economically
impossible? And it's not even really in the spirit of the
original paper?

-- 215 [⭐] [🚩] @webby 1hr ago [REPLY]

-- [+] 1 comment hidden --

@webby #12345

> isn't that kind of economically impossible

There's no such thing as "economically impossible."  Money
is all made up, remember? It's not like it's physics.

> not even really in the spirit of the original paper

Why are you treating some anonymous Japanese guy's word as gospel?

-- 100 [⭐] [🚩] @dewey 1hr ago [REPLY]

-- [+] 13 comments hidden --

@bubba #23456

Who allowed YOU near a computer?! WHO EVEN THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA
TO PUT YOU INTO A COMMENT THREAD THAT WAS OBVIOUSLY BASED ON THE REBOOT?!

@notriddle

Why was this guy even invited onto this instance?

-- 1K [⭐] [🚩] @huey 1hr ago [REPLY]

There are several reasons for choosing this design for comments:

  • When possible, I want to encourage people to just read the entire thread. Reading is fundamental. Discussion threads are stories, and thus, should be presented in chronological order (or, at least, with only a small sprinkling of explicitly "en media res").
  • I want to avoid giving people ways to strategically subvert the Reply model. Nested threads like Reddit and Lobsters encourage people to reply to the currently-top megathread, instead of making their own separate replies. This makes the non-threaded reply mechanism a trap for the inexperienced, assuming they want their not-very-upvoted thread to be seen instead of just being hidden behind the massively-upvoted megathread.
  • Starring comments helps to quench the "me-too" impulse without crowding it out. Also, the star counts ("1K", "100", "215", and "180") should all be clickable links to shown who voted a certain way.
  • And, of course, by not ranking posts by comment count (only stars and the "authored by" bit act as boosts), I try to avoid creating megathread "brush fires," or worse, situations where attempting to decry something actually boosts its visibility. Telling someone that their idea sucks should not cause the post to float to the top, and in the absence of good sentiment analysis, I'd rather do nothing.

The hotness ranking algorithm

Of course, eternal optimist and egotistical contrarian that I am, I couldn't actually adopt an existing ranking algorithm verbatim. As the Hacker News fans themselves noted, their ranking algorithm has its weaknesses.

  • It penalizes articles that're posted in the wee hours of the night, and, as such, it encourages strategic posting times
  • It's actually kind of complicated. In particular, since it uses an actual clock, it's a bit harder to test and cache,
  • It counts comments as votes. That's stupid: the number of people replying to an article does not imply its quality.

Thus, the more-interesting ranking algorithm for top-level posts is actually simpler, although it takes a bit longer to explain.

Stellar time is determined by taking the number of rows in the star table. This number goes up by one every time anyone casts a star on any article, so it sort of acts like a clock, but it only changes when there's actual site activity, and it changes more quickly when there's more site activity.

So here's the rank algorithm:

gravity = 1.33
boost = if authored_by_poster { 0.33 } else { 0.0 }
stellar_age = max(current_stellar_time - initial_stellar_time, 0)
hotness = (boost + score + 1.0) / pow(stellar_age + 1.0, gravity)

Why boost + score + 1.0? I want articles to start falling normally without receiving any stars, and they won't fall (and, in fact, will be invisible on the home page) if their hotness score is zero. The boost is there to promote locally sourced content, of course.

Why stellar_age + 1.0? The + 1.0 is there because I don't want brand new articles to have a denominator of zero.

Interesting point: an article's hotness should not go above 1.33, when an article is brand new and has the author's boost. In fact, an article's hotness technically goes down every time it's starred, because the act of starring it also causes its tick age to go up by one, and, due to the gravitational exponent, the denominator grows more quickly than the numerator. Since all articles are acquiring tick age, while only the starred article increases its score, starring an article still causes it to rise on the home page.

Technically, because a user can actually remove a star, stellar age can go down, but this situation should be rare enough that it doesn't seriously affect the ranking. This is also why stellar age is defined as max(..., 0): negative stellar ages can result in erratic behavior.

More Interesting uses a much lower gravitational constant than Hacker News, partially because it is not specifically a news site, but mostly because the tick counter will likely increment faster than one per hour on a good day.

There are probably better algorithms for this, but I prefer using an algo that the end user can actually understand. Like Lobsters, and unlike Hacker News and Reddit, there is no secret sauce and there never will be.

Tagging

More Interesting additionally will allow you to mark a post as something you authored, which gives it a small boost. The self-authorship boost will be optional, so some server operators can remove it.

It will require you to have at least one tag, though that's not implemented yet.

Copying hats from lobsters (essentially, allowing someone to tag their post with a flair who's authenticity was vetted by the mods) also seems like a good idea.

Plain text

Here's another spot where I'm deviating, not just from the Reddit mold, but from Reddit, Lobsters, and even Discourse. Not using Markdown.

Twitter did it right. Nobody ever has to ask how to hashtag something, or how to mention someone. If you see someone else do it, you can just imitate them. And since the syntax is so minimal, you're unlikely to trigger it by mistake. Power of plain text in action.

More Interesting should do the same thing. A quick sketch of what the reply form should look like:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Write my comment here                                                 |
|                                                                       |
| @mentioning someone will ping them, just like on Twitter              |
|                                                                       |
| #12345 numbers will link to another comment on the same post          |
|                                                                       |
| #words are hashtags, just like Twitter                                |
|                                                                       |
| Consecutive line breaks are paragraph breaks, like in Markdown        |
|                                                                       |
| URL's are automatically linked, following the GitHub-flavor MD rules  |
| <URL> is a usable workaround if your URL is too complex, but note that|
| the angle brackets will still be shown! It also includes GitHub's WWW |
| special case, like www.example.com, <www.example.com>,                |
| http://example.com, and <http://example.com> will all work.           |
|                                                                       | 
|        Multiple spaces in a row are stripped.  That way, people who   |
| still do double-space after a full stop, or who insist on indenting   |
| paragraphs, don't accidentally trigger code mode or something.        |
|                                                                       |
| And that's it. There are no headings, there are no code mode, not even|
| backslash escaping.                                                   |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

[SUBMIT] [+ ATTACHMENT]

Note that the comment box should start out fairly large, to encourage long-form writing, and will expand as the user writes.

Anyway, the comment shown there should render into this HTML:

<p>Write my comment here</p>
<p><a href="mentioning">@mentioning</a> someone will ping them, just like on Twitter</p>
<p><a href="#12345">#12345</a> numbers will link to another comment on the same post</p>
<p><a href="?tag=words">#words</a> are hashtags, just like Twitter</p>
<p>Consecutive line breaks are paragraph breaks, like in Markdown</p>
<p>URL's are automatically linked, following GitHub-flavor MD rules &lt;URL&gt; is a usable workaround if your URL is too complex, but note that the angle brackets will still be shown! We also include GitHub's WWW special case, like <a href="http://www.example.com">www.example.com</a>, <a href="http://www.example.com">&lt;www.example.com&gt;</a>, <a href="http://example.com">http://example.com</a>, and <a href="http://example.com">&lt;http://example.com&gt;</a> will all work.</p>
<p>Multiple spaces in a row are stripped. That way, people who still do double-space after a full stop, or who insist on indenting paragraphs, don't accidentally trigger code mode or something.</p>
<p>And that's it. There are no headings, there are no code mode, not even backslash escaping.</p>

Attachments can be used to add images (since, as you've noticed, there's no image syntax) and text files (which, unlike the contents of a comment itself, will be rendered with a monospace font and in <pre>-formatted form).

In practice, I expect the same conventions as on Twitter and Hacker News will be employed (as shown by research [1]\n\n[1]: http://arxiv.org/whatever).

Also, the system should use global IDs for comments, and it should ensure that the comment exists before linking to it. In other words, I don't want #1 to get auto-linked, so comment #1 should only be the first comment ever made, not the first one in the thread.

Content extraction

The member's reading experience trumps all other concerns. Along with all the effort to make the comment stream readable, More Interesting will visit linked-to sites and extract their text, showing it above the comment stream so that the user is encouraged to read it first. This will work basically the same as http://www.fullhn.com/ but baked in.

Additionally, we make the justifiable assumption that the www. subdomain is immaterial, and that a site will be the same whether or not its accessed over https. We attempt to avoid linking to pages that just redirect, but we do normalize them.

Usability

  • Correctly handle rogue double-clickers
  • It doesn't support it yet, but it's going to support full-blown device keying. So in the settings page, there'll be a list of previously seen devices, and you'll be able to individually revoke their sessions, like Discourse, Google, and stuff do.

Running locally

First, you need to bundle the JavaScript. If you have Node, you can just use run-webpack. For development, I use run-pax, since it's faster, but it doesn't run Babel so it can't be used with IE11.

Then go to http://localhost:3001/-setup. Check rocket.toml for your init username and password.

Running on Heroku

Deploy on Heroku

License

For now, I'm going with the same license terms as Rust itself:

You can redistribute this software under the terms of either the Apache license, in LICENSE-APACHE, or the MIT license in LICENSE-MIT, at your option. By contributing to this repository, you agree to license your contributions under these same terms.

I might be talked into switching to the AGPL or something, but for now I'd rather leave my options open (the MIT-licensed code is compatible with the AGPL anyway).

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