Let’s break it down. What type of content do you typically read on HN:
- People having great success with their startup
- People failing (again) at their Nth startup
- A wonderful new language that you should learn immediately
- How language X is way better than language Y and why you should rewrite all of your existing, working code immediately
- A wonderful new framework that you should also learn immediately
- How X technology product is terrible and made some company go out of business
I think you are starting to get the picture. There are a lot of success stories, a lot of failure stories, a ton of articles/links about some newfangled technology, and even more articles about how that new technology is better than what you’re currently using in every way possible. I propose that most of this information is actually doing more harm than good and that you should attempt to read less HN.
Loss in Productivity
And I’m not just talking about the time you spend at work reading HN. HN is a very easy way to sink hours of time and get relatively little reward. After you’ve read about the 20 new frameworks that came out this week, what are you going to do with that knowledge? Are you going to try each one? Likely the answer is no. If you are at work or working on a personal project for fun, likely you have already chosen your set of tools and you are just wasting your time.
If you tend to read more of the “startup stories” on HN, what do you really gain? Will reading more and more stories about failed and successful startups really teach you everything that you need to know about running your own startup? And at what point do you start getting diminishing returns? What is the opportunity cost associated with spending your time reading 100’s of “startup stories” each week/month?
Too Many Good Things
There are a fair number of posts on HN detailing the wonderful success that X random startup / company has had. Reading too many of these articles may get you feeling depressed about your own situation. Even if you are running a mildly successful business, you’ll still start to see how your company is failing in one way or another. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but I think it would be more beneficial for your company, and for you as a person, to focus on the things you do well and try to do them even better.
Too Many Bad Things
The converse of the previous point is that there are a ton of posts detailing the massive failures in their startup or career that have costs them dearly. Those articles, in and of themselves, are not a bad thing. It is good to know some of the common pitfalls that you may face. However, reading too many of these articles may get some people discouraged when they should not be. When you read a bunch of these type of articles, you have to ask yourself what you are getting out of them?
No Middle Ground
The main reason with the two previous points may just be that there is no strong middle-ground representation. People seem to talk more about how things went wonderful or horrible. Likely because that attracts more readership, but it is to the detriment to everyone as a whole. It also breeds a culture that only wants to talk about the extremes or will exaggerate the truth to meet those standards.
If you’re more on the engineering side, and anything like me, you like to get your hands dirty in just about everything tech related. Personally, I can’t get enough of it. However, there is a point where you want to put a hold on learning every new-fangled language/framework and start applying your knowledge to build something that you enjoy. However, if you keep subjecting yourself to the continual stream of technology news, you may have a hard time keeping yourself focused (How can you not learn each new “LISP of the month”?).
As an added bonus, by digging into less technologies you’ll come to master the ones that you already know which can be a powerful thing. Many people seem to value the polyglot programmer these days, but you have to determine how far down that path you’d like to go and how much mastery you’d like to attain in those languages/tools/frameworks.
The solution is not to read absolutely no news at all. Obviously this post was titled “Read Less HN”, so that’s not where I’m going with all of this. I’d recommend that you switch to some sort of aggregated format. Something that can curate the top posts and send them to you on a schedule. Personally, I subscribe to the Hacker Newsletter for a weekly update. The idea of curated content has several benefits
- The best content is filtered for you, so you spend less time reading uninteresting articles
- You save time reading a newsletter once a week vs reading the site every day
- Because you read less articles, you’ll avoid hearing about 20 new frameworks a week and ideally read about 1’ish which will hopefully be more worthwhile (since it was theoretically filtered from the initial 20)
The wonderful part about aggregated content is that you have options. If Hacker Newsletter doesn’t suite you, you could try several other newsletters as well:
- Ruby Weekly
- PyCoders Weekly
- Status Code (General CompSci Weekly News)
- Dart Weekly
- HTML 5 Weekly
- HN Digest
- iOS Dev Weekly
- Android Weekly
- Jobety Weekly
You can also consume multiple newsletters if you’d like but be very careful not to fall back into the same trap as with HN. Choose carefully and always think about how you’re benefiting from each article that you read.