I don’t read Hacker News anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stalk it like some kind of creepy ex(-reader). As it happens, after taking an interest in forecasting from reading Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise”, I found HN to be a great subject of experiment.
For weeks now I’ve been gathering data on Hacker News submissions, looking to answer the question: what is the best time to submit content to Hacker News?
A few hours on the frontpage can bring in tens of thousands of visitors, but only about 13% of all submissions make it (and not always for very long). You need good content for that, of course, but as you’ll see, the timing of the submissions is also worth considering.
Reaching the Hacker News Frontpage
The first thing I did was look at the percentage of submissions that reached the frontpage depending on the hour slot at which they were posted. This value peaks at 18% from 7 to 8 AM EST, which is almost a 40% increase from the all-around average.
Now, if you just want the bragging rights that come with reaching the frontpage at least once, that time slot is your best bet. You might then realize that frontpage status can be, well, a bitch. With nearly 10% of submissions not making it past the 10 minute mark, and some staying featured for much longer, the average time spent on the frontpage is clearly worth factoring in.
Staying on the Frontpage
So we see submissions from 8 to 9 PM EST will stick to the frontpage for 11 hours on average, in contrast with early morning which bottoms at 6 hours. Now, we could combine this with the likelihood of reaching the frontpage and get the best of both worlds, but, as you might have realized, we’d be neglecting another important factor.
If we submit something at 8 PM and it spends 11 hours on the frontpage, most of that will be night time in the US. Whereas if we post at 7 AM, it’ll spend less time on the frontpage, but all of it will be during daytime.
To figure out which is more interesting we need just one more data set: Hacker News’ hourly traffic. That way we’ll know how much every hour of exposure is worth. Unfortunately, because I don’t have access to that information, this piece of the puzzle will have to be an approximation.
Estimating Hacker News’ Traffic
Luckily we don’t need precise numbers of visitors. Knowing how hour slots fare against each other will suffice. Our best bet then is to look at the voting activity.
It does look like US visitors command the lion share of Hacker News’ traffic, with spikes from morning until lunch, and then back again at the end of the day. The 4 PM dip is rather intriguing: is it the most productive work hour for hackers? They might also have read everything at that point, though I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
The Best Time to Post on Hacker News
We are now well equipped to answer the question that started all of this. We can look at the average traffic we would get from reaching the frontpage at any given hour, and if we factor in the likelihood of actually reaching the frontpage, we can decide on a best time to post on Hacker News to maximize our expected exposure.
Aaaand, the best time to post on Hacker News is…
9 to 10 AM EST. Generally speaking, 7 AM to noon is better than any other time.