My New Love Affair With HackerNews and Byline

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 08/19/2010

I’m a few days from forty, living in New York, with my first kid in the way, and just discovering the culture that surrounds Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator HackerNews. I was a typical suburbanite with too little gumption to have clawed my way to entreprenurialism on my own, but just enough to do so with the extra push and enablement that the Internet and a community like HackerNews provides. I’ve upgraded my existence and mentality to that of NYC, and am always now seeing out insider brilliance for a competitive edge.

I love HackerNews. I’m not sure how yet, but unlike the other feeds I subscribe to and have tested over the years, articles from people like me, developers with entrepreneurial spirit get into the feed.

I’ve been a Slashdot reader for years, and have cobbled together what I though to be the ideal ensemble of RSS feeds to capture all that I care about, with not too much redundancy. After Slashdot, Techmeme acts as a safety net, ensuring that the zeitgeist of the day doesn’t escape me. Everything else is filler, I might mark-read.

Reddit and Digg feeds never floated my boat either, but I always appreciated the rare awesome article from developers like Ted Dziuba or Graham Dumpleton. Problem is, it sucks to choose just a few, or get into the game of subscribing to them all, or even knowing who’s doing awesome writing NOT on the list of usual suspects. What feed captured those occasional eventful articles that come out of left field?

The first time I discovered HackerNews, I didn’t know I was looking at exactly that, because the first thing I do when discovering a new promising news feed is drop it into Google Reader, and let the RSS feed take over. And unfortunately, HackerNews’ RSS feed only contained headlines, and not article excerpts, like Slashdot. I believed article content in the RSS feed to be a deal-breaker necessity, because I do almost all of my article reading and headline-scanning on the NYC subway… offline!

Another thing that turned me off about HackerNews was that it had about 10x more articles than any other feed I subscribed to, so always made my “unread” counter dauntingly large. And, when went there to read, no matter how tantalizing the headline, there was no article content! I took to emailing myself the interesting article headline links, and going through them at the office–frustrating and inefficient, at best.

Therefore, I gave up on HackerNews for awhile, going back to my old-timer Slashdot/Techmeme approach, until a barrage of related articles convinced me I was missing the boat. You can just feel when more interesting things are going on in the industry than what the Slashdot gatekeepers and Techmeme algorithms are letting through. You can feel it in the condescending attitude towards the new kid on the block. In particular, I’ve been hungry for more information about NoSQL options, as I would like to cut my teeth on them. I’ve been leaning towards Berkley HDF5, due to its long-standing support, particularly in Python. But I know that both Cassandra and CouchDB are Apache projects. Plus, now there’s Membase–one that powers the silly Farmville app in Facebook, but which must surely be quite tempered by now. And there are others. It’s a huge career move to delve into one of these things on a new project, and its nice to get opinions from your peers. But the old brigade seems to have nothing but nastiness and an “I told you so” attitude when it comes to NoSQL. But I know there’s a lot of positives surrounding the NoSQL approach. Where were the people trying out this stuff and loving it? Where were THEIR articles? So, I went hunting…

…and re-discovered HackerNews. Now, I was determined to get it onto my iPhone, and started to suspect that maybe the problem was in my RSS reader.

I happened to be on the Reeder RSS app on the iPhone 4 (and still am) for its awesome interface to mark things as read with a single swoosh from the headline view. But I remembered my time with Byline, and how “Send to Instapaper” worked while offline. So, I went back to having two RSS readers on my iPhone–Byline just for HackerNews. It worked well for queuing interesting sounding articles for later reading. I was incrementally less frustrated.

If I remembered to sync–first Byline, then Instapaper, I could enjoy the articles from my last headline-browsing session on my next subway ride, making the subway a place for almost timely full-article-reading, in addition to headline scanning.

If only there were a better way… then it hit be like a bolt! A feature of Byline that I always seem to ignore was allowing me to do just that. For you see, Byline actually caches the full article content moments after it downloaded the RSS. And I was now using Byline dedicated for HackerNews anyway, for its ability to send to Instapaper while offline, but I was doing one better than that already, without even knowing it. I was getting the full cached articles on every sync–especially when I synced from WiFi before leaving the house. But even on AT&T 3G network in Manhattan, it’s not too shabby.

Why did I have this blind spot? Because when I tried using Byline as my MAIN RSS reader, with a dozen or so feeds, the caching feature felt like the kiss of death. I set the settings to only allow it when I had WiFi, and then I almost always ignored it, because I never synced when I had WiFi, so I was never getting a sampling of cached articles, and being exposed to this feature.

So now, I consider Byline my dedicated HackerNews reader. I have it set to cache articles whether on WiFi or 3G. And now I feel like I’m getting the insider entrepreneurial developer scoop on what’s going on in tech.

And yes, I maintain two RSS readers. It’s a bit of extra overhead, and I keep toying with the idea of consolidating all my RSS reading activity onto Byline, and giving Reeder’s awesome user interface the boot. But I keep coming back to… why ruin my HakerNews experience with stories from all those other sources whose agenda seems to be subtly misaligned with my own. I want to know why jQuery’s $(document).ready() might be slowing me down, and people’s experiences on how open the OpenStack cloud farm really is. HackerNews talks exactly about these types of things.