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Announcing the Complice Less Wrong Study Hall

53 Post author: malcolmocean 02 March 2015 11:37PM

(If you're familiar with the backstory of the LWSH, you can skip to paragraph 5. If you just want the link to the chat, click here: LWSH on Complice)

The Less Wrong Study Hall was created as a tinychat room in March 2013, following Mqrius and ShannonFriedman's desire to create a virtual context for productivity. In retrospect, I think it's hilarious that a bunch of the comments ended up being a discussion of whether LW had the numbers to get a room that consistently had someone in it. The funny part is that they were based around the assumption that people would spend about 1h/day in it.

Once it was created, it was so effective that people started spending their entire day doing pomodoros (with 32minsWork+8minsBreak) in the LWSH and now often even stay logged in while doing chores away from their computers, just for cadence of focus and the sense of company. So there's almost always someone there, and often 5-10 people.

A week in, a call was put out for volunteers to program a replacement for the much-maligned tinychat. As it turns out though, video chat is a hard problem.

So nearly 2 years later, people are still using the tinychat.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that you can embed the tinychat applet into an arbitrary page. I immediately set out to integrate LWSH into Complice, the productivity app I've been building for over a year, which counts many rationalists among its alpha & beta users.

The focal point of Complice is its today page, which consists of a list of everything you're planning to accomplish that day, colorized by goal. Plus a pomodoro timer. My habit for a long time has been to have this open next to LWSH. So what I basically did was integrate these two pages. On the left, you have a list of your own tasks. On the right, a list of other users in the room, with whatever task they're doing next. Then below all of that, the chatroom.

(Something important to note: I'm not planning to point existing Complice users, who may not be LWers, at the LW Study Hall. Any Complice user can create their own coworking room by going to complice.co/createroom)

With this integration, I've solved many of the core problems that people wanted addressed for the study hall:

  • an actual ding sound beyond people typing in the chat
  • synchronized pomodoro time visibility
  • pomos that automatically start, so breaks don't run over
  • Intentions — what am I working on this pomo?
  • a list of what other users are working on
  • the ability to show off how many pomos you've done
  • better welcoming & explanation of group norms

There are a couple other requested features that I can definitely solve but decided could come after this launch:

  • rooms with different pomodoro durations
  • member profiles
  • the ability to precommit to showing up at a certain time (maybe through Beeminder?!)

The following points were brought up in the Programming the LW Study Hall post or on the List of desired features on the github/nnmm/lwsh wiki, but can't be fixed without replacing tinychat:

  • efficient with respect to bandwidth and CPU
  • page layout with videos lined up down the left for use on the side of monitors
  • chat history
  • encryption
  • everything else that generally sucks about tinychat

It's also worth noting that if you were to think of the entirety of Complice as an addition to LWSH... well, it would definitely look like feature creep, but at any rate there would be several other notable improvements:

  • daily emails prompting you to decide what you're going to do that day
  • a historical record of what you've done, with guided weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews
  • optional accountability partner who gets emails with what you've done every day (the LWSH might be a great place to find partners!)
So, if you haven't clicked the link already, check out: complice.co/room/lesswrong

(This article posted to Main because that's where the rest of the LWSH posts are, and this represents a substantial update.)

Comments (19)

Comment author: Furslid 21 February 2015 01:19:53AM 4 points [-]

It's asking for a password to join. What's the password?

Comment author: Error 21 February 2015 04:33:14AM 10 points [-]

The password is 'lw'. (context: It's not a security thing, it's there to keep random TC users from stumbling into the room without being familiar with its purpose)

Comment author: Lachouette 05 November 2015 06:53:09PM 0 points [-]

(Note: if you're confused because it's not asking you for a password, that's because Malcolm replaced the embedded tinychat channel with his own chat. So we're finally rid of the bane of tinychat!)

Comment author: folkTheory 16 March 2015 10:29:17PM *  3 points [-]

This is fantastic Malcolm, thank you!

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2015 10:26:43AM 2 points [-]

I just want to say, it is confusing to me to see productivity as doing things you want to do and I wonder why a large chunk of the Internet, such as LifeHacker, focuses on it. If you want to do it, why would you procastinate? I procastinate because I generally don't do things I want to do, I do things formerly my teachers and now my employers want me to do. Procastination or taking breaks or all that is simply balancing must do / want to do.

A lot of things follow from it. Such as, in must-do, i.e. a job, there is little point to measure your productivity. If the boss is happy, you are productive enough. If not, you are told. As for distractions, procastination, that is easy too: as much as you can get away with without noticeable disapproval.

(Maybe on sites like LW or LessWrong there are people high on the Maslow pyramid, actually doing work they want to, I don't know. I am kind of pessimistic about it: they are paying you because it sucks, if it did not suck someone would do it for free. When my dad wanted some guy to play music in his bar, he did not pay him: so many people enjoy playing music before an audience that there are people who do it for free and happy about the chance. Of course rock stars get paid, but that is the point, only the elite gets paid if it is something fun.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 March 2015 11:14:31AM *  4 points [-]

If you want to do it, why would you procastinate?

For enjoyable things that can be done on the spur of the moment, like having a beer, why indeed? For everything else, though, for most people it is more complicated. Necessary but irksome tasks like cleaning one's house. Projects that promise both a reward and a long unrewarding slog to get there. Any way of life where you are your own boss and there's no-one else to tell you to work.

they are paying you because it sucks, if it did not suck someone would do it for free. When my dad wanted some guy to play music in his bar, he did not pay him: so many people enjoy playing music before an audience that there are people who do it for free and happy about the chance.

Fun doesn't pay the bills. Beginning musicians have to take some non-paying gigs because they haven't made a name for themselves. But every musician who wants to make a go of it comes to a point where they have to start saying to people, no, I will not perform for expenses and "exposure", I am worth money to you and money to me, this is the figure I need to see before getting out of bed. I play with a taiko group, and while we're just a little amateur group, nothing in the larger scheme of things, we have reached that point. It's great fun to play, and we might be willing to do very occasional favours for people we know, but anyone else who wants us to play for them has to pay a realistic rate.

The same goes for a lot of professions. No, Mr Publisher, I will not pay you to publish my book. No, Ms Gallery Owner, I will not hire space in your gallery for my art. No, Mr Businessman, I will not design a logo for you as a favour. Yes, Mr Plumber Next Door, I'd be happy to rebuild your car engine, if you'll install a new bathroom for me.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2015 11:22:40AM 4 points [-]

OK, good point. Maybe I need to learn something from it, I was always more like must-do, study/job, then leisure, and every personal goal or task taking third priority. This may not be ideal. Lately it is changing, now that married with a child, now a suitable birthday present to my child feels even more important than some things the boss needs, and I am actually surprised by myself a bit there. I don't know what exactly, but I think is the birth of our child is pushing me out from the "do things other people give you grief if you don't, then leisure" mood into "hey there are some things I actually want to achieve" mood. Weird, kind of.

But every musician who wants to make a go of it comes to a point where they have to start saying to people

That is a bit optimistic. Maybe it is just my circumstances, but I see an over-supply of everything. I see quite good musicians still having to do it for free and making a living doing accounting during the day because the paying demand is low and the supply is high. This is why my impression is you really, really need to be a big "star" to do something you both enjoy and get paid for.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 March 2015 12:35:41PM 2 points [-]

I don't know what exactly, but I think is the birth of our child is pushing me out from the "do things other people give you grief if you don't, then leisure" mood into "hey there are some things I actually want to achieve" mood.

That's a far better place to be!

This is why my impression is you really, really need to be a big "star" to do something you both enjoy and get paid for.

There's a range of getting paid. In the market for fiction, so I've heard, only a small fraction earn enough to live on it. But any publisher who asks a fee to publish your book is a crook. The market for taiko here in the UK is small enough that there are only about three people in the country who can make it their primary job, and I'm certainly not one of them. But still, anyone who wants us to start their corporate party with a bang can pay corporate rates, and have done. Even the street busker is getting paid -- there wouldn't be any point otherwise.

Even when you aren't depending for survival on the money from what you enjoy doing, there is value beyond the money itself in getting payment to do it for others. Giving to strangers and getting nothing from it but the act of giving is draining in the long term. There has to be an exchange of value, even if one side is contributing "only" money.

Which is rambling away from the original topic, but I felt like saying it.

Comment author: polymathwannabe 19 February 2015 08:16:30PM 1 point [-]

Will the Tinychat version still operate?

Comment author: malcolmocean 19 February 2015 08:20:51PM *  2 points [-]

The tinychat version is embedded in the Complice version, so absolutely. The transition has been very smooth, with people just gradually checking out the new page. That is, I suppose, one single advantage of not switching away from tinychat.

The only difference might be that people may be less likely to post the pomo time into the chat, because they have it as part of the complice page. But if you ask, they'll still answer :)

Comment author: jkadlubo 20 February 2015 07:32:06AM 3 points [-]

And people stopped stating the beginning and expected end of a pomodoro on chat. Almost everybody uses Complice's pomodoro timer which just rings the beginning of a pomodoro and this might be slightly confusing for people without the timer when the chat suddenly goes all quiet for no apparent reason.

Comment author: Lachouette 05 November 2015 06:55:08PM 0 points [-]

Update: As of now, we switched to Malcolm's own chat (which is at the same link as he provided). This means it's not an embedded tinychat channel anymore, and the old tinychat room still exists, but is empty.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 March 2016 06:18:15AM *  1 point [-]

I reckon the video chatroom presents an excellent opportunity for managing virtual teams in general without being overly surveillancy.

Take the following into account because the problem of virtual management seems under-appreciated:

The Economist, studying European companies, discovered:

(Only) one in three executives agrees that virtual teams are badly managed. This is probably a result of virtual working simply evolving into being rather than being planned in advance, but it is also to do with the difficulty of leading people from a distance.“ That might be excusable were it not for the fact, as Forbes observed, that “Managing virtual teams has become a must-have leadership skill.”

A survey of workers themselves — The Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams Report — found that a majority of respondents thought their team successful, identified the inability to read non-verbal cues as the biggest negative in working virtually. Other challenges, in the order of their importance to the 600 respondents, were:

  1. Collegiality;

  2. Difficulty establishing rapport and building trust;

  3. Difficulty seeing the whole picture;

  4. Reliance on email and telephone; and,

  5. A sense of isolation.

For instance, the SHRM report, Successfully Transitioning to a Virtual Organization: Challenges, Impact and Technology, offers the example of on-site team members dominating meetings with their remote colleagues:

“Remote workers felt irrelevant and unable to significantly contribute,” says the report. Remedying that took a “conscientious effort” by the manager to have the remote workers speak first. And it helped that he sent Starbucks cards to the remote workers so they wouldn’t feel left out as their in-house colleagues enjoyed company provided coffee.


Ten years ago there were few global virtual teams. Today it is rare for companies not to have teams dispersed across countries, cultures and time zones – colleagues who are expected to work together… while at the same time working apart. How should managers organise these globally dispersed teams? How can they build trust when their team members rarely come face to face? Which techniques bridge cultural, linguistic and geographical distances – not to mention time zones? When do cultural differences produce creativity rather than crossed wires? Above all, how can distance and diversity be turned into competitive advantages?

It facilitates what Insead considers the virtues of virtual management:

Cross Cultural management Self awareness Trust Communication Negotiation Cooperation Innovation

Comment author: Plasmacore 05 March 2015 02:55:15AM 1 point [-]

This looks quite interesting, I didn't know we had a Study Hall before now.

I'll be sure to check it out when I have a large enough block of time.

Thanks for putting it together.

Comment author: notsonewuser 20 February 2015 06:29:29PM 1 point [-]

Maybe I'll start visiting again soon!

Comment author: ahel 19 February 2015 06:58:09PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, when I checked out your link it wasn't open for guests and now I'm happy it is. I can see how can be terribly helpful using complice full stack, but even as guest, it is still pretty functional and nice. Well done ;)

Comment author: homunq 04 March 2015 03:05:36AM 1 point [-]

It appears that you need to be logged in from FB or twitter to be fully non-guest. That seems like a... strange... choice for an anti-akrasia tool.

(Tangentially related to above, not really a reply)

Comment author: tkadlubo 04 March 2015 09:38:35AM 6 points [-]

You don't need to use your Twitter or Facebook credentials. You even don't want to, since tinychat will spam your feeds. Logging in as tinychat guest is the status quo for pretty much everyone on the LWSH.

Comment author: Lachouette 26 April 2015 01:07:19PM 1 point [-]

As tkadlubo says, most people choose to visit as guests. Otherwise you are free to create an account on tinychat.com and visit the chat after logging in, which is what I do. It allows you to PM people and potentially become a moderator, neither of which are necessary for just participating in the pomodoros.