Update 1: We made it to front page of Hacker News! Wow!

Update 2: Oh boy! The discussion on Hacker News sometime after it made it to the HN front page moved from “Do we really have this issue?” to “Your design sucks”!

Well, this post is not about my design at all. If you feel angry about your life, try zen meditation or go for a 5 mile run. If you are still mad, stop there - You need help! No point arguing with someone so religiously fanatics about a product, that they can’t stand a recommendation.

On the other hand, I did benefit from some suggestions on my own UX in the thread, so thanks for those.

Provided you are sane, you should read on!

Before I unintentionally start a flame war, let me confess that a huge part of my daily tech news comes from Hacker News(HN) and I have at-least one friend who is a YCombinator(YC) alumni. So this post is not anti-HN or anti-YC, they are one of the smartest group in technology that I admire and look forward to meet one day.

However, it is a document of my frustration of what in my limited UI design common sense, seems to be a really bad case of usability design of one of the most widely used tech websites on the internet.

The need to RSVP

A couple of months ago, I applied to Y Combinator’s Work at a Startup Event. About the time I almost forgot about it, I received an invitation email from Y Combinator with a url link requesting to RSVP for the May 15 event. The only personalized information contained in the invitation was my email address. And that email was my only HN account reference connected to my application, that I could remember.

When I clicked on the link, I arrived at the HN page with options to login or register.


Now call me a sinner if you should, but I did not remember what HN login I created for applying. I also know that HN allows you to create an account without an email.

Email or Username

My invitation letter was referring to my email id and had no mention of my HN username. HN login page was referring to my username and no option to use my email to login. Not a good idea! Login

So before contacting HN and facing the ire of cool-dudes and cool-dudettes of The Valley for wasting their time, I tried what any programmer would - try all options one by one.

Using username

G Login

I tried few username password combinations that I could remember. Finally one seemed to be a registered username and gave me the following message.

Bad Login

I clicked on “Email yourself a new password”, kept my fingers crossed and waited for 10 minutes. No email! Apparently this was not the username associated with any of my email account. Back to square one!

G Email

As there seemed to be no way to retrieve my username from my email, I tried other options.


Google Pass

The other login options were using OpenID implemented through Clickpass.

I wondered if I might have registered this way. As I tried logging in using my Gmail credentials, it asked “Grant access to you Google Contacts?”.

Click Pass Contacts

Now call me modest if you will, but I do not like boasting about my contacts to third party websites! It seemed highly unlikely, I would have gone that lane in my senses and I have been sober for few years now.

Creating a new account

G Account

I tried creating a new account, connecting my email to this account and hoping if my email gets associated with this new account unsuccessfully, it might be able to give me some pointers to which account this email is connected to. Who was I kidding? The email connected successfully, but did not pull any data!

No Record

Contacting YC

Having exhausted all options, I replied to the email from Y-Combinator.


Thank you for the invite. However I do not recall my user login to the http://news.ycombinator.com/wasrsvp, and I cannot locate the link to retrieve it using my registered email address (I have tried to use my expected login name, however the password retrieval email is not being delivered to my email).

Can you please help in retrieving my credentials to the the website, so that I can RSVP for the event.

Thank you for your help.
Arvin Singh

After about 5 days, when I did not get any reply from Y-Combinator, I started to think that I probably vexed someone from the support staff at YC for asking help on something as simple as an account login.

Why I wrote this post and my humble recommendations

So when I got another reminder today to RSVP for the event, I felt obligated to point out the flaws in the usability design of HN’s authentication system.

G Full

So listed are my two cents of recommendation for HN, YCombinator or any website which deals with people:

  • If you can, hire enough support staff to reply emails and queries.
  • If you cannot or do not want to keep a large support staff, and want to build a self-help service please, please, please make sure your self-help system is flawless.
  • Make self-serve system support a priority for your limited staff. It might be effecting your expected outcomes, without you being aware of it.
  • When your users are trying to contact you, it is an oppertunity for you to address a real problem in your system, which may not be obvious to you. Crticism is the best form of flattery - it means the user cares to spend time helping you find a flaw.

And since I cannot login into my account or reach them through email, I wanted to thank and let the great folks at YC know about my plans:

Thank you for inviting me to the Y Combinator's Work at a Startup event. I was really excited on seeing your email. 
However, I would not be able to attend the event as I'm a couple of states away and preoccupied during that week. 
I look forward to an oppertunity to make it to a similar event in the future.
Arvin Singh