Is it harder to get to the HN front page now than it used to be? This is a very difficult question to answer. Are points on HN worth less today than they used to be? This is easier to answer — yes.
Here's a graph showing the median score of HN front page submissions over time. The dots represent the median score of a front-page submission in a given month, with the orange line (6-month rolling average) showing the general trend. The grey area represents the upper and lower quartiles of front-page scores.
The median today, in 2018, is around 150 points — double what it was when I joined the site in 2011. With a bit of hand-waving, we might be able to claim that "HN points are worth half as much in 2018 as they were in 2011".
- 10x increase from 2006 — 2012, fairly consistent, possibly exponential
- Stable period from 2012 — 2016
- Sudden dramatic 50% increase from 2016 — 2017
I'm not sure what's caused these patterns — it's hard to find good, easily-accessible proxies for Hacker News visitor counts and user counts — Google Trends doesn't shed much light into these things.
I have a feeling that counting distinct users seen in the BigQuery dataset over time could be a good proxy for user count, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the data-savvy reader :)