I recently received an inquiry from a Hacker News newcomer on how to best participate in the community. I was ready to reply, "Just follow the guidelines and be yourself." Then I realized that it was actually a very good question that deserved a much better answer.
So here is my more detailed answer, based upon many years of hard knocks.
First of all, follow the guidelines! This is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.
There are literally hundreds of discussions about Hacker News participation just a search away, with much to learn. Hopefully, I can add something new here:
1. Be yourself.
I know that sounds lame, but think about it for a moment. Who else are you going to be? I see no need for "personas". Just be yourself. Talk to others just as if you were in the room with them. Let others see you as your genuine self, full of strengths and areas primed for learning. We can all grow together. Many of us will meet our future in this community.
I never understood why people lurked so long. No need to be shy here. If you have something to say, say it. If not, then just lurk and learn. But everybody has something of value to share. This is one of the best places to do it.
3. Be positive.
This can really be hard when smart people debate, but try it anyway. Notice the difference between:
Person A: Water is dry.
Person B: No it's not. You're full of shit.
Person C: Water is dry.
Person D: Not in my experience. What data have you encountered to cause you to arrive at that conclusion?
I realize that this is an extreme trivial example, but try to be more like Person D than Person B.
4. Make friends.
Harness the power of the internet! You are not restricted by geography, circumstances, or time period (to some degree). There are many incredible people here who you would likely never meet most other places. Take advantage to the opportunity to meet them, in Hacker News discussion threads, off-line via email, and even in person. Put your contact info in the "about" section of your profile (the "email" is private). Organize and participate in local Hacker News get-togethers. Who knows, your next co-founder, investor, or friend for life may be one or two clicks away.
5. Have something to add.
Again, this may sound obvious and lame, but think about it for a minute. Which comments do you like the most? The ones that add data (which very oftens translate into value). The key words are "add", "data", and "value". If you have something interesting to add, the please add it. It's not just your right, it's your responsibility! Everyone wins when you do this: the community gets richer, someone gets value, and you get a bit of a following as an expert in something.
6. Know when to talk and when to listen.
If you have experience doing something being discussed, then by all means, share it! If not then read, listen, and learn. If you have a theory about something but aren't too sure, fine. Just say so. Shocking, but just because you read something on the internets doesn't necessarily mean it's true. And most of all, please never start a sentence with, "It seems to me...". Many of us already get too much of that from our PHBs.
7. The articles may be valuable, but the real gold is in the comments.
If an interesting article posted on Hacker News fell in the forest and no one commented, did it make an impact? Sometimes I post something interesting just to see what you guys will say about it.
Good umpire: I call 'em as I see 'em.
Better umpire: I call 'em as they are.
Best umpire: They aren't anything until I call 'em.
Good article: I write 'em as I see 'em.
Better article: I write 'em as they are.
Best article: I'm nothing until until the Hacker News community comments on me.
8. Try to focus on your work.
I know this is controversial, but our work is what makes this community what it is. There are debates about all kinds of things here and elsewhere, but remember, our work is our common thread. Frankly, I'm much more interested in what you built, what you encountered when you built it, and what you learned than your opinion about SOPA.
Another old story:
Husband: I am the head of the household! I make all of our family's critical policy decisions on the world's major economic, political, and industrial issues!
Wife: I decide the little things like where we'll live, what we'll eat, and where the kids go to school.
Commenter 1: This major issue can have profound impact on our technological future.
Commenter 2: I don't know much about that, but here's how it took me 9 tries to get my app just right for my audience.
Notice that everyone is right, but I still prefer reading the comments of the second person in each example.
9. Be nice.
Life's too short for anything less. There are many other places any of us could be, but we're here. When people aren't nice to me, I just close my browser and come back another day. I know that sounds silly, but it dealing with not nice people is just a big waste of time and everybody loses. Please don't be that person.
Patrick Swayze's character in "Roadhouse" says it much better than me:
10. No list is ever exhaustive, on Hacker News or anywhere else. Anyone have any other suggestions?