How To Read Hacker News


Hacker news if you know it, you are cool. You must like to keep up with the joneses in the technology. You probably are entrepreneurial. You probably want the scoop on the razor's edge in technology. You probably want the latest news on the hottest start ups at San Francisco - who is getting funded, who is hiring for what position, who is getting acquired.

But you are not all of those.

That realisation is key to following hacker news without being overwhelmed.

How did I start?

When I started following hacker news, it was out of peer pressure - I did it not because I could even follow what was being said. I did it because in the place where I worked at the time it was the norm for all developers to be up to date on whats trending on hacker news.

What was my experience?

But eventually I started following it on my own - it is an acquired taste. It was overwhelming. It created a false image of the average developer

The Average Developer 

Following hacker news - reading posts and comments created a picture for me where it seemed like the average developer was proficient in 4-5 languages (particularly Ruby, Javascript, Go, Elixir, Julia, etc), can create a AngularJs like Javascript framework from scratch over the weekend, has intimate knowledge of the nuances of Amazon AWS' various services, uses either vim or emacs exclusively and has a customised set up written in lisp and a dozen other hard to achieve supposedly characteristic things. Never has all of it, or even half of it, been true of anyone I have ever met at any experience level no matter how talented they have been.

How am I supposed to read all this?

I used to open hacker news in the morning or after work and peruse through the posts and read them passively. I closed the browser tab after I was done and walked away with a vague collection of thoughts and feelings about what I had just read. It contributed nothing more than other people's written word shaping my opinions on what is right, good and bad. I was not reading critically - giving proper thought to what I was reading and digesting information consciously. This I have learnt is what most people do. Most people read hacker news for intellectual entertainment.

I have stopped doing that.

How to really read hacker news?

There are two parts to this. One is seeing hacker news in a different way and another is

Hacker news is a collage

Hacker news is a collage of different interests and tastes. It's not like reading /r/programming on reddit where the posts are more attuned towards technology and programming. It has posts on entrepreneurship, technology, programming, economics, science and sometimes design.

Pick one or two of those and choose to filter the rest from your reading list. Everything else is noise and irrelevant. Of interest to someone else with different interests.

Reading consciously

That means I have split my reading into two phases:

  • Scouring phase
  • Reading phase

Scouring phase

In the scouring phase I look for articles of interest. I don't actually read them. I skim them to see if they are relevant and interest to me. A lot of articles posted on hacker news are poorly titled. Things like " I open them and have them added to my Instapaper reading list.

Reading phase

Once I have added enough items in the scouring phase, Instapaper automatically emails me the content to my Kindle application in a neat book life format. I read those at a different time when I am in an actual mood to read and process that information.

And when I do read it, I take notes when possible. I extract the parts that are relevant to me and file it into my Evernote note book of relevant topic. I create a relevant experiment or project and schedule it for later if what I read is of sufficient interest to me.

And that is how I got a handle on reading hacker news.

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