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Hacker News is a fantastic way to stay up to date on technology and software news. It’s especially helpful for discovering links to parts of the internet that I wouldn’t normally browse. The comments on these links expose me to new opinions that often change my mind.
The best thing about HN is that it’s fast, no-nonsense, and information dense. It’s how most content websites should feel – snappy, no spinners, with an emphasis on function over form.
Despite these points, HN has problems with core usability. I’ve attempted to solve these problems for myself by rebuilding a very small and lightweight Hacker News client here.
While building this, it was important to retain near-instant page loads and high information density. This is done by statically pre-rendering all post lists and comment pages.Typography
The type on Hacker News is too small. I find myself having to zoom to at least 130% in order to read things without squinting. Additionally, when reading comments there is no cap on line width. This makes it hard to read long comments and trace line breaks. I prefer my base font size with a capped line width.Dark mode
HN doesn’t support a native dark mode. I have astigmatism and one of the symptoms is light sensitivity. My personal site always matches the system dark mode preference, which for me means I’ll always be able to read comments in dark mode.Conversations
It’s really hard to follow conversations on HN. When a conversation goes many levels deep, it’s nearly impossible to tell where you are in the comment hiearchy based on whitespace alone.
In my version, nested comments have vertical tracking lines. This makes it easier to trace comment relationships, and the lack of a tracking line quickly indicates that I’m reading a root comment. Additionally, HN only exposes the ability to collapse a comment thread by scrolling back up to the comment header. I’ve supported collapsing by clicking anywhere on the tracking line.
Finally, I often find myself deep in a nested comment thread and just want to escape out to the next root level comment. I’ve added root-level comments to the tabIndex of the page, allowing me to quickly tab between threads.Addicting
It’s tempting to check Hacker News multiple times per day. It’s distracting and results in a lot of context switching. Links often take me down a deep rabbit hole of new topics. I don’t like this trap.
To combat this, I’ve done two things. First, my version updates infrequently. The Top list updates once every four hours. Second, I’ve hard-coded the volume of content. Only a handful of threads load at a time, and comments only render three levels deep.Won’t fix
That’s it. These small problems got on my nerves just enough that it felt less painful to just build my own HN client than to keep dealing with eye strain and getting lost in conversations.
I’ll keep an eye out for poorly rendered content and polish things incrementally. But I don’t plan to add support for other content types like polls or jobs, which I never visit on HN anyways.