Does Hacker News use Dark Patterns?

Hacker News has a wonderful minimalistic user interface that welcomes its users when they arrive. However this interface may have some devious advertisements hidden within them.

Building Trust

The site has several important qualities that all work together to make you trust the site.

  • User generated content
  • Voting to promote popular content
  • Policies to flag bad content
  • Simple UI, fast load times, always up!

All these things tell the users that HN is a place where content is procurred by fellow users and rigourously voted on to get to the front page.

Abusing Trust

As with all new users, I never saw the first advertisement… because it looked exactly the same as a normal post. Look at the image below, do you see the advertisement?

Where's the Ad?

If you take a minute you might have noticed few minor details which indicate it’s an ad.

  • No light-grey upvote counter
  • Hours instead of points
  • Comments disabled

Here's where! And the differences...

These changes were so subtle that I had no idea what was going on for a few different articles.

The term Dark-Pattern[1] was coined by Harry Brignull. It means to mislead a user to do something they never intended on doing.

Is this a Dark Pattern?

I believe this tactic by HN is a Dark Pattern. The user is fed a simple list of popular articles. They are told that what they are viewing is user currated content, when really advertisements are subtly sprinkled inbetween.

The Hacker News platform is an amazing place and I understand they can do what they want. If you believe this practice is not a Dark Pattern please let me know in the comments.