It’s easy to waste tons of time by browsing HN aimlessly–in my experience it’s simply impossible to keep up with new posts. Trust me, I’ve tried. It ate up way too much of my time and made me feel anxious.
However, I did occasionally get a lot of value out of reading HN and learned something new that I could apply at work or in my personal life. So for me, HN has these two sides to it where it’s a really great thing and a really horrible thing at the same time.
I solved this Hacker News dilemma by basically avoiding news.ycombinator.com like the plague. Instead I started reading stuff on HN by:
- following a curated weekly digest; and
- using a search engine to find the specific content I want.
Let’s talk about these two in more detail.
#1 – Only read a digest
Trying to keep up with the HN fire-hose is a full-time job. And while it can be fun, it’s also very likely a giant waste of time. Even if you just try to keep up with the “best” selection of top-rated posts, it quickly becomes overwhelming.
Another huge downside is that at least 50% of the value I get from HN comes from reading the comments (as crazy as it sounds). If I constantly follow the stream of new topics, the discussion happening in their comments is still in progress. I’m also more of a lurker on HN and read way more comments than I write.
So instead of trying to keep up, I found it much better to let the discussion settle first. I only read the top-rated posts a few days after they’ve bubbled up to the “best” list.
A pretty good way to do this is by reading a weekly digest. The one I recommend is Hacker Newsletter. It’s a curated email newsletter and is pretty good at picking out the interesting topics.
I’m committed to read only the digest. I stay away from browsing HN directly because I know it will suck me in like a procastination black hole.
#2 – Search for specific content
Hacker News doesn’t have search built-in. You need to visit third-party search engines that index it in order to have a great search experience.
The best HN search engine I found is hn.algolia.com. It’s fast and indexes headlines and comments, so you’ll be able to quickly find the topics you want.
I also like that you can filter results by date to only get results from the last month, for example. This is great if you’re looking for recent information on a topic—or simply want to avoid the latest JS framework fad.
To give a quick example, this query will give you a nice reading list with popular Python articles that were posted in the last 12 months.
This totally works!
Staying away from news.ycombinator.com and only consuming Hacker News through curated digests and search engines has been a huge win for my productivity.
I still get to hear about all the interesting new stuff that comes out but spend much less time on reading news. If you feel like you’re spending too much time on HN, why not give this a shot this week?