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LessWrong 2.0

90 Post author: Vaniver 09 December 2015 06:59PM

Alternate titles: What Comes Next?, LessWrong is Dead, Long Live LessWrong!

You've seen the articles and comments about the decline of LessWrong. Why pay attention to this one? Because this time, I've talked to Nate at MIRI and Matt at Trike Apps about development for LW, and they're willing to make changes and fund them. (I've even found a developer willing to work on the LW codebase.) I've also talked to many of the prominent posters who've left about the decline of LW, and pointed out that the coordination problem could be deliberately solved if everyone decided to come back at once. Everyone that responded expressed displeasure that LW had faded and interest in a coordinated return, and often had some material that they thought they could prepare and have ready.

But before we leap into action, let's review the problem.

The people still on the LW site are not a representative sample of anything. With the exception of a few people like Stuart Armstrong, they’re some kind of pack of unquiet spirits who have moved in to haunt it after it got abandoned by the founding community members. At this point it’s pretty much diaspora all the way down.

--Yvain on his Tumblr

One of the problems is that people who control the LW website are running it in pure maintenance mode. LW was put out to pasture -- there have been no changes to functionality in ages.

--Lumifer

LW's strongest, most dedicated writers all seem to have moved on to other projects or venues, as has the better part of its commentariat.

In some ways, this is a good thing. There is now, for example, a wider rationalist blogosphere, including interesting people who were previously put off by idiosyncrasies of Less Wrong. In other ways, it's less good; LW is no longer a focal point for this sort of material. I'm not sure if such a focal point exists any more.

--sixes_and_sevens

This dwindling content can be seen most clearly in the "Top Contributors, 30 Days" display. At the time I write this there are only seven posters with > 100 karma in the past 30 days, and it only takes 58 to appear on the list of 15. Perhaps the question should not be whether the content of LW should be reorganised, but whether LW is fulfilling its desired purpose any longer.

As nearly all the core people who worked the hardest to use this site to promote rationality are no longer contributing here, I wonder if this goal is still being achieved by LW itself. Is it still worth reading? Still worth commenting here?

--qsz

LW does seem dying and mainly useful for its old content. Any suggestions for a LW 2.0?

--signal

So let's talk suggestions for a LW 2.0. But just because we can restart LW doesn't mean we should restart LW. It's worth doing some goal factoring first (see Sacha Chua's explanation and links here). Before getting into my summary, I'll note that The Craft and the Community Sequence remains prescient and well worth reading for thinking about these issues. And before we can get into what our goals and plans are, let's talk some about:

What went wrong (or horribly right):

So why did LessWrong fade? One short version is that LW was a booster rocket, designed to get its payload to a higher altitude then discarded. This is what I mean by what went horribly right--MIRI now has a strong funding base and as much publicity as it wants. Instead of writing material to build support and get more funding, Eliezer (and a research team!) can do actual work. Similarly, at some point in one's personal growth it is necessary to not just read about growing. We should expect people who aren't habitual forum-posters to 'grow out' of heavy reading and posting on LW. 

Another short version is that there was only so much to say about rationality (in 2012, at least), and once it was said, it wasn't clear what to say next. Whether something is on topic for LW and whether it belongs in Main, Discussion, or an Open Thread is unclear and so less and less content is created, and so less and less people visit, leading to even less content. The easiest example of friction is whether or not 'effective altruism' is a core LW topic; this comment by iceman expresses the problem better than I could.

Relatedly, while rationality is the Common Interest of Many Causes, in that many different causes all potentially benefit from someone coming to LessWrong and adopting its worldview and thought patterns, LessWrong seems flavored enough by MIRI and Eliezer in particular that we mostly see the Many Causes free riding instead of contributing to the upkeep of LW (in terms of content, not hosting funds). Even CFAR, the most closely related of the Many Causes to LessWrong's stated mission, mostly overlaps with LW instead of supporting it. (To be clear, this is a decision I endorse; CFAR has benefited from not being tied to the idiosyncrasies of LessWrong. CFAR staff are also some of the most frequent contributors left of the founding community members.)

I should elaborate that by Many Causes I explicitly mean a broader tent than Effective Altruism. Anyone who is sympathetic to the Neo-Enlightenment Eliezer talks about in Common Interest of Many Causes strikes me as enough of a fellow traveler, regardless of whether or not they have found something to protect or whether or not that something to protect is the kind of thing Givewell would consider altruistic or a top priority.

What roles LW served, and what could do it better:

First, some roles that LW (the website) doesn't or can't serve:

  • Getting direct work done. Open-sourcing things is powerful, but it remains true that money is the unit of caring. When people really want something done, they have an institution with an office and employees that get the thing done. Direct work on any of the Many Causes is going to be done by people working directly on that task, not by posts on an internet forum.
  • Physical interaction with like-minded people. You can organize a meetup on LW, but you can't attend one.
  • Practical rationality training. The Sequences are great at giving people a philosophical foundation, but they can only do so much. There's a reason why CFAR has workshops instead of writing articles and books.
Now let's step through several roles that LW has historically had:
  • Focal Point / News Organization
  • Welcoming Committee / Rationality Materials
  • Meetup Organizer / Social Club
You are encouraged to spend five minutes thinking about what you would do to fulfill any of those roles if LW suddenly disappeared, or how you would modify LW to better serve those roles, or if there's a role missing from the list.


Focal Point / News Organization

If your values and interests are similar to a community's, the main benefit you get out of the community and the community gets out of you have to do with correlating your attention. If something of interest to me happens, be it a blog post or a book or an event or a fundraiser, I won't know unless it enters one of my news streams. Given the high degree of shared interests between supporters of the Many Causes or by virtue of social ties to the community, treating the community's attention as a shared resource makes great sense. (Every promoted post since Julia Galef's in April seems like an example of this sort of thing to me.) For example, MIRI's Winter Fundraiser is going on now. But there are Many Causes, not one cause, and as much as possible the ability to direct shared attention should respect that.

Many people in the community also have interesting thoughts, which they typically post to their blog (or twitter or tumblr or ...). Aggregating those into one location reduces the total attention cost of keeping up with the community. (This is especially important if one wants to maintain people who are time-limited because they are working hard on their Important Project!) The experience of SSC seems to suggest that it's way better for authors to have control over their branding. I suspect much of the mainstream attention that Scott's received is because he's posting to a one-man blog, and thus can be linked to much more safely than linking to LW.

So compared to when most things were either posted or crossposted to LW, it seems like we currently spend too little attention on aggregating and unifying content spread across many different places. If most of the action is happening offsite, and all that needs to be done is link to it, Reddit seems like the clear low-cost winner. Or perhaps it makes sense to try to do something like an online magazine, with an actual editor. (See Viliam's discussion of the censor role in an online community.) I note that FLI is hiring a news website editor (but they're likely more x-risk focused than I'm imagining).

If we were going to modify LW to serve this role better, multiple reddits seems like the obvious suggestion here (and a potentially interesting innovation may be tag reddits, where categories are not exclusive). "Main" and "Discussion" do not at all capture the splits in what the audience wants to pay attention to. Integrated commenting across multiple sites, if possible, seems like it might be a huge win but may be technically very difficult (or require everyone to agree on a platform like Disqus).

Welcoming Committee / Rationality Materials

Someone is interested in learning more about thinking better; probably they have tons of confusion about philosophy, how the world works, and their own goals and psychology. Someone mentions this LessWrong place, or links them particular articles, or they read HPMoR and follow the links in the Author's Notes. 

But then they realize just how long Rationality: From AI to Zombies is, or they don't understand a particular part. Without social reinforcement that it's interesting and without other people to ask questions of, they likely won't get all that far or as much out of it as they could have. 

And then there's all the other things that someone picks up by being part of a community--who the various people are, what they're working on, what options are out there.

It seems to me that the the optimal software for something like this is perhaps more like Wikipedia or Stack Overflow than it is like Reddit. If we're building a giant tree of rationality-related concepts and skills, it doesn't quite make sense to have individual blog posts written by individual authors, instead of community-maintained wiki pages with explanations and links.

Meetup Organizer / Social Club

You can't do the physical meeting up online, but you can alert people to meetups near them. At time of writing, according to the map on the front page, one of the five closest meetups to me (in Austin, Texas) is in Brussels.

Part of that is groups moving to other communication channels to organize meetups. In Austin, for example, the email list is a much more reliable way to contact people--especially since many of them don't regularly check LW! But the lost advertising potential seems significant, and something like the EA Hub seems like a better solution.

There's also a role to be played in colocating rationalists, either through helping form group houses and shared apartments or moving subsidies / loans. It's not clear it's efficient for more people to move to the Bay Area relative to secondary or tertiary hubs, but it does seem likely that we should put resources towards growing the physical community.

There's also a much longer conversation that could be had about effectively employing more social technology to develop and strengthen the community, but I get the sense that most of those organizations, be they formal institutions or churches or families or mastermind groups or taskforces, are categorically unlike online forums, and the community they will be developing and strengthening will not be "LessWrong readers" so much as "meatspace rationalists." So I'll ignore this for now as off topic, except to note that I am very interested in this subject and you should contact me if also interested. 

Why not have that and LW?

So far, I've talked about things that would serve various roles better than LW, though perhaps not at the same time. One could easily imagine them existing side by side: it's not like Scott Alexander needed to shut down his Yvain account to start posting at SSC, he just made the alternative and started posting to it. Similarly, a reddit for the rationalist diaspora already exists (though it doesn't see much use yet), as do two (well, one and a half) for SSC.

The trouble is the people who have noticed that people have left, but not where they're going, and the links to LessWrong over all the old material. If LessWrong is a ghost town that's being haunted by a pack of unquiet spirits, well, better to be upfront about that than give people the wrong impression about what rationalists are like.

TL;DR

I think we should either develop a plan that makes LW fully functional at the three roles mentioned above (and any others that are raised), or we should close down posting and commenting on LW (while maintaining it as an archive). The shutdown could either happen at the end of December, or March 5th to correspond to the opening of LW, but the most important factor is that there be replacements to point people to. It seems likely we should leave open the LW wiki (and probably make the LW landing page point to a wiki page, so it can be maintained and updated to point to prominent parts of the diaspora). The Meetups functionality should probably be augmented or replaced (either static links to dynamic objects, like Facebook groups, or with functionality that makes it easier on the organizers, like recurring meetups).

(I wrote that as an 'or', but at present I lean heavily towards the 'archive LW and embrace the diaspora' position.)

Comments (316)

Comment author: kilobug 03 December 2015 12:32:54PM 39 points [-]

Personally, I liked LW for being an integrated place with all that : the Sequences, interesting posts and discussions between rationalists/transhumanists (be it original thoughts/viewpoints/analysis, news related to those topics, links to related fanfiction, book suggestion, ...), and the meetup organization (I went to several meetup in Paris).

If that were to be replaced by many different things (one for news, one or more for discussion, one for meetups, ...) I probably wouldn't bother.

Also, I'm not on Facebook and would not consider going there. I think replacing the open ecosystem of Internet by a proprietary platform is a very dangerous trend for future of innovation, and I oppose the global surveillance that Facebook is part of. I know we are entering politics which is considered "dirty" by many here, but politics is part of the Many Causes, and I don't think we should alienate people for political reasons. The current LW is politically neutral, and allows "socialists" to discuss without much friction with "libertarians", which is part of its merits, and we should keep that.

Comment author: passive_fist 20 December 2015 02:06:34AM 0 points [-]

Disclaimer: politics is the mind-killer.

LW used to be politically neutral; I'm not sure it is so anymore. A large part of the user base is American, and the current presidential election season is spilling into LW far more than previous seasons ever did. And the current wave of populist, nationalistic, libertarian/individualist ideology which seems to be very popular in the USA is being represented in the general atmosphere of LW.

It would be great if a temporary ban on political subjects could be set and enforced until at least the current election season is over.

Comment author: satt 26 December 2015 04:06:34PM 4 points [-]

LW used to be politically neutral; I'm not sure it is so anymore.

I reckon LW's more politically neutral (in kilobug's apparent sense) now than it was in 2014, but that that's mainly attributable to the fall in traffic. (I'd guess LW's less politically-neutral-in-the-apparent-kilobug-sense than I felt it was in 2013.)

(I also think that as I understand the term "politically neutral", LW was never politically neutral, because the idea of a politically neutral institution is probably incoherent in the first place. I upvoted kilobug anyway because I think they mean something else by "politically neutral", and in any case I agree with the rest of their comment.)

And the current wave of populist, nationalistic, libertarian/individualist ideology which seems to be very popular in the USA is being represented in the general atmosphere of LW.

LW's always had a big, big libertarian/individualist streak. In the first survey back in '09, a plurality (45%) called themselves libertarians. That's actually been diluted over the years as more conventional left-wingers have drifted in.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 December 2015 09:52:09PM 3 points [-]

the current presidential election season is spilling into LW far more than previous seasons ever did

I haven't noticed that. I don't recall any exteneded discussion that involved Hillary or Trump, for example.

is being represented in the general atmosphere of LW

What's wrong with that? Just that you'd prefer a different wave?

Comment author: passive_fist 20 December 2015 10:37:54PM 0 points [-]

I'd prefer not for politics to spill into LW, no matter if it's left-wing or right-wing politics.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 December 2015 10:48:46PM 2 points [-]

We've discussed this before, multiple times. The usual reply to your concerns is that LW very rarely discusses politics, instead what occasionally comes up is political philosophy which is usually argued about in much more sophisticated terms than "Yay magenta, boo teal".

Comment author: ChristianKl 25 December 2015 11:45:25PM *  2 points [-]

It would be great if a temporary ban on political subjects could be set and enforced until at least the current election season is over.

I think karma voting works better than articulating a fixed rule. If you come about a political discussion that you think shouldn't be on LW, downvote it.

Omnilibrium seems to be a valid place for political discussions and I'm in favor of moving most of the political discussions happening on LW to Omnilibrium. As a result I think it's okay to have an Omnilibrium summary post in the LW open thread from time to time.

Comment author: shminux 03 December 2015 05:19:00AM 37 points [-]

I had been a small-time LW regular for about 3 years and witnessed its decline until I stopped commenting a couple of months back. It was frustrating to see Eliezer, Yvain, Luke and others leave for other social media platforms, and even more to watch them fragment their writings further between personal blogs, FB, Reddit and tumblr. Not because it's a wrong thing to do, just because it's harder to follow and the commenting system is usually even worse than here. Well, except for Reddit. Without a strong leader charismatic emerging and willing to add quality content and drive the changes, I don't expect any site redesign to revive this rather zombified forum. Or maybe if the forum is redesigned one would emerge, who knows. Chicken and egg.

Or maybe it should be a rationality-related aggregator/hub, where all relevant links get posted and discussed. So that one could see at a glance that Scott A posted something on his blog, Eliezer on tumbler, Brienne on Facebook, gwern on his site and someone else on twitter or reddit. All on one page. There are various sites like that around. With the ability to comment locally, or go to the source and discuss it there. Maybe even add linkbacks to this site.

Just my 2c.

Comment author: philh 03 December 2015 11:21:50AM 6 points [-]

(I haven't RTFA or most of the comments yet.)

Or maybe it should be a rationality-related aggregator/hub, where all relevant links get posted and discussed.

When ESRogs started /r/RationalistDiaspora, that's what I was hoping it would become.

I think the main thing that went wrong, is that not enough people saw it. It didn't pick up critical mass, or even self-sustaining mass. Now, ESRogs seems to be the only submitter, and there's not enough voting to act as a filter or to make links show up on my reddit front page.

But there's nothing stopping it from becoming that thing, if a bunch of people did start using it all at once. To that end, I just submitted something.

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:28:23PM 14 points [-]

If there's going to be a single "hub" where links to rationalist stuff across the web gets posted, it seems like LW itself is a more obvious Schelling point than /r/RationalistDiaspora.

Comment author: philh 03 December 2015 12:42:31PM 6 points [-]

LW isn't suitable as-is, I think. There's more friction to submitting a link (you need to create a text post, put the link in there, and current norms dictate that you write a summary), more friction to following one (you need to click to the post, then click the link), and discussion is ordered by submission time and not votes. It's like browsing /new on a subreddit that only allows self-posts.

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:49:42PM 18 points [-]

It seems like it might be better to reduce that friction than to try to set up a completely different link-hub site somewhere else. LW's codebase is basically a fork of reddit's, IIRC; does that mean there could be a "Links" section (parallel to "Main" and "Discussion", I guess) that behaves more like a typical subreddit?

(I have to say that on Reddit and HN I actually almost always prefer to go first to the local discussion rather than just following the external link -- so I'm not so concerned about "more friction to following one [link]". But that's dependent on there usually being some local discussion.)

Comment author: philh 03 December 2015 02:09:35PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps. I'm not sure LW is the right place for it, especially while LW still has original content, and a culture that some find offputting.

Technically, Reddit is pretty customizable, in ways that I think would be difficult to migrate to LW. For example, suppose we wanted to implement Alicorn's suggestion "granting OP some veto power about what sorts of comments and commenters are allowed under their post".

On reddit, I think we can get a pretty good stab at it. Create some standard discussion norms, with wiki pages describing them. If someone submits a link with title starting [NO NRX], have automoderator assign it a specific piece of flair. Then use subreddit CSS to add some text prominently to the comments page, "discussion of neoreactionary ideas is forbidden in this thread", linking to the wiki.

A developer could easily get something similar on LW. But I don't think it would be so easy for a developer to copy the features of reddit which make a developer unnecessary.

Comment author: Mirzhan_Irkegulov 06 December 2015 06:11:23AM 9 points [-]

I would love there to be a single, canonical rationality-related link aggregator (with tags and other ways of categorizing!), but I don't want it to be on Reddit. Reddit has an implicit culture of transience. You can't discuss too old posts. Links are ordered chronologically. Links can't be grouped, categorized. It's hard to search for old or obscure links.

OTOH maybe a link aggregator should be transient, because the nature of blogs, news sites, Facebook feeds, and tumblr posts is transient too. Today Qiaochu Yuan or Scott Alexander found this particular article interesting; in a year's time this article is irrelevant.

There's also link rot, and many old links for interesting material are 404.

Maybe we shouldn't aggregate links at all, but aggregate the knowledge itself. Therefore something similar to LW wiki. But I strongly believe wiki is an overrated model for aggregating knowledge and it wouldn't work for aggregating rationality-related knowledge.

There should be a rationality knowledge base, something that transcends wikis, FAQs, tutorials, blog posts, link posts, Stack Overflow, Wikipedia outlines. Maybe it would require thinking intensely for 5 minutes (like how CFAR teaches), maybe it would require coming up with completely new concepts and code.

But this knowledge base would have to heavily incentivize people to contribute to it, otherwise the actual knowledge is never going to be written. Counter-intuitively, wikis are terrible at incentivizing contribution.

Comment author: philh 06 December 2015 07:55:33PM 4 points [-]

I think a knowledge aggregator fills a different purpose from a link aggregator. When someone has an idea they want to explore, they write something about it, and that can be put in a link aggregator. By default it's not yet ready for a knowledge aggregator. But it's more likely to become ready if people see it and discuss it.

I think transience is okay for a link aggregator.

Links can't be grouped, categorized.

Link flair isn't perfect, but it allows this.

Comment author: Houshalter 21 December 2015 02:53:33AM 1 point [-]

Lesswrong is based on Reddit's code. I would be easy to do that. Create a "link" section, and encourage people to post links there. Either to their own content, or others. I think this could work really well.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 December 2015 08:11:12AM 34 points [-]

I have an old list of halfbaked post ideas. At some point I lost sight of what things were "rationality things" and what things were just "things, that I happened to want to talk about with rationalists, because those are the cool people"; and in the presence of this confusion I defaulted to categorizing everything as the latter - because it was easy; I live here now; I can go weeks without interacting with anybody who isn't at least sort of rationalist-adjacent. If I want to talk to rationalists about a thing I can just bring it up the next time I'm at a party, or when my roommates come downstairs; I don't have to write an essay and subject it to increasingly noisy judgment about whether it is in the correct section/website/universe.

I think "things that you happen to want to talk about with rationalists" is a legit category to want an outlet for and having an explicit place for that (which has virtues like "is not literally Tumblr") would be nice. Useful norms might include: one-paragraph OPs normalized, tongue-in-cheek "Rational [Household Object / Unrelated Hobby / Basic Life Skill]" titles allowed/encouraged, granting OP some veto power about what sorts of comments and commenters are allowed under their post, aggressively encouraged and standard-formatted tagging system.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 December 2015 10:06:19PM 7 points [-]

I think "things that you happen to want to talk about with rationalists" is a legit category to want an outlet for and having an explicit place for that (which has virtues like "is not literally Tumblr") would be nice

Um, exactly.

Comment author: Jacobian 04 December 2015 08:44:58PM 29 points [-]

One more use I have for LessWrong: learning about subjects from people whom I trust to be smart and rational. A while back I wanted to learn up on perceptual control theory, I found RichardKenneways' and Vaniver's posts a hundred times better than Wikipedia.

This is an invaluable resource for me that I would hate to lose. Even if the quality of new stuff being written on LW is declining, the quality of stuff that I'm reading on LW is still consistently excellent. I really hope we would find a way to keep this aspect going.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2015 11:50:14AM 2 points [-]

...which probably means that we should ask Vaniver or RichardKennaway to edit the wiki pages...

Comment author: gilch 10 December 2015 07:16:49AM 9 points [-]

Fair, point, but still. Wikipedia's stated role is an aggregator and summarizer of existing knowledge. It's standard is verifiability, not truth.

Many of the rationality community's views are decidedly not mainstream, and better for it. Our standard is higher than theirs.

Despite its flaws, LW has a better signal-to-noise ratio than any other web resource I've found.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 December 2015 10:32:12AM 2 points [-]

What do you mean? (I ask because I am more used to other kinds of web resources - mail lists of petitions, interactive maps, culinary recipes - about which I would have said that the signal-to-noise ratio is good enough. Maybe you mean discussion forums in particular?)

Comment author: gilch 10 December 2015 07:13:39PM 15 points [-]

Why is Google the biggest search engine even though it wasn't the first? It's because Google has a better signal-to-noise ratio than most search engines. PageRank cut through all the affiliate cruft when other search engines couldn't, and they've only continued to refine their algorithms.

But still, haven't you noticed that when Wikipedia comes up in a Google search, you click that first? Even when it's not the top result? I do. Sometimes it's not even the article I'm after, but its external links. And then I think to myself, "Why didn't I just search Wikipedia in the first place?". Why do we do that? Because we expect to find what we're looking for there. We've learned from experience that Wikipedia has a better signal-to-noise ratio than a Google search.

If LessWrong and Wikipedia came up in the first page of a Google search, I'd click LessWrong first. Wouldn't you? Not from any sense of community obligation (I'm a lurker), but because I expect a higher probability of good information here. LessWrong has a better signal-to-noise ratio than Wikipedia.

LessWrong doesn't specialize in recipes or maps. Likewise, there's a lot you can find through Google that's not on Wikipedia (and good luck finding it if Google can't!), but we still choose Wikipedia over Google's top hit when available. What is on LessWrong is insightful, especially in normally noisy areas of inquiry.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 December 2015 07:49:45PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, I usually go to Wikipedia, too. And yes, I expect to have to go elsewhere afterwards. I go to Wiki mostly because the articles there are brief (sometimes just to check if something is really called what I think it is called), but I don't search Wiki itself because when I see Google results, I automatically note pages which I should visit after I get the minimal information from Wiki. (Sometimes Wiki articles appear to me to ramble about the topic, especially when it is something etnographic.) So I guess I do agree with you that the s-2-n ratio is good enough. However, sometimes when I have time to kill, I prefer other Google results specifically because Wiki (for me) is kind of a curiosity stopper.

If LW also came up in the first page of a search, I'd go there too, simply because that would be such an improbable occurrence considering what I search for:)

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 14 December 2015 04:45:15AM 27 points [-]

I need to think about this more, but my present impression is in favor of keeping LW and making it good. It seems to me that we gain quite a bit from having a Schelling place to post, such that evidence and arguments posted to that Schelling location become common knowledge.

I agree that LW has been doing fairly badly lately, but I am fairly seriously attempting to craft a post sequence designed to combat that; if not LW, I'd favor some other method that has a single secure Schelling spot.

My impression is that we know a fair bit of applied rationality that was not successfully conveyed by Eliezer's original Sequences (although a fair chunk of it seems to me to be implicit in those Sequences), and that we are now in a position to make a more serious attempt to convey in writing.

Comment author: Viliam 25 December 2015 10:06:59PM 11 points [-]

A new Sequence based on what CFAR found out would be super great!

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 05 December 2015 08:36:45PM 26 points [-]

A tangential note on third-party technical contributions to LW (if that's a thing you care about): the uncertainty about whether changes will be accepted, uncertainty about and lack of visibility into how that decision is made or even who makes it, and lack of a known process for making pull requests or getting feedback on ideas are incredibly anti-motivating.

Comment author: Dustin 06 December 2015 09:35:38PM 7 points [-]

This is probably the single most important obstacle to making a better LW on the technical side.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 03 December 2015 07:10:16AM *  22 points [-]

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Online community design is an important subfield of group rationality, which is arguably more important than individual rationality. It's hard to deny that many of the biggest group rationality failures are happening online nowadays.

  • A great thing about online communities is they let you aggregate the work of a variety of sporadic contributors. People have heard of Yvain because he writes good stuff on a consistent schedule. Imagine alternate universe Yvain whose blog has two posts, spaced 6 months apart: Meditations on Moloch and The Control Group Is Out Of Control. Since alternate universe Yvain does not write on a consistent schedule, few people have heard of his blog and his insights aren't read by many people.


I think the "Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction" post is wrong, which is unfortunate because I suspect it played a big role in killing LW.

Let's rewind to the dawn of the internet era. We're having coffee with Tim Berners-Lee and talking about his new invention, the World Wide Web. Speculatively we can see the Web disrupting many industries, but predicting that the Web will disrupt academia seems downright unimaginative. Heck, Tim is using the Web to share physics research already. After all, the Web means

  • An end to credentialism. Now any amateur physicist can contribute in their spare time.

  • Smoother, better peer review processes.

  • Cheap, universal distribution.

Academia could use a shakeup anyway: much academic writing stinks, and philosophy in particular has gone astray.

Now fast forward to the present. The academic utopia we envisioned has happened to some degree--see Wikipedia and the AskHistorians subreddit, for instance. But it hasn't happened to the degree we hoped. Why not? I can think of a few reasons:

  • Financial incentives and prestige inertia that benefit established systems. See e.g. Bryan Caplan on this.

  • Lack of a profit motive. The Web revolutionized areas it was possible to get rich revolutionizing. Revolutionizing academia has much less profit potential. (Revolutionizing credentialing might make someone rich, but academia serves valuable roles for society that aren't credentialing and are hard to make money from. For example, it certifies smart people as high status topic experts. If you've attended high school you know that smart people are not high status by default. We're lucky to live in a world where journalists are more likely to interview college professors for trend pieces than celebrities. If colleges went away and cons + Mensa became the primary places smart people gathered, that might change.)

  • The acceleration of addictiveness. The Web is selecting for addictive stimuli. Blogs are a more addictive version of personal websites. Twitter and Facebook are more addictive versions of blogs. If the web-based version of academia is optimizing for something other than addictiveness, it's likely to get crowded out. (I suspect this is playing a role in Wikipedia's decline.)

All of these factors seem surmountable, and indeed LW made decent progress despite them. They haven't been surmounted due to a combination of apathy and this problem not being on peoples' radar.

That's the research side of academia. Now let's look at the teaching side.

Imagine you're a professor teaching a critical thinking class. Out of all the classes in the general education curriculum, the case for your class actually helping the lives of your students is among the strongest. You're a really good teacher, and your students are so engaged with your assigned readings that they are putting off homework for other classes to do them. Sounds great right?

That's basically the problem Patri's post complained about. It's a "first world" problem by professorial standards. If your students are really having issues with their other classes because they are so excited about the readings for your class, maybe do the readings during class so they aren't a distraction while doing other homework, prevent students from reading ahead, or something like that.

The higher education bubble is likely going to "pop" eventually. (Maybe when employers realize that taking Coursera classes is a positive signal of conscientiousness, curiosity, and having the wisdom to avoid debt... Google's HR guy is already on record saying people who make their way without college are "exceptional human beings".) The market will provide a new solution for credentialing because there's money in that. There's less money in the other stuff academia does, and it'd be great if we could start laying the foundation for that now. Stretch goal: bake EA principles in from the start.

Comment author: ingres 03 December 2015 07:24:50AM 13 points [-]

Stretch goal: bake EA principles in from the start.

This would be a huge turnoff for many people, including myself.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 03 December 2015 09:31:58AM 3 points [-]

So you'd be upset to, say, see research proposals prioritized for funding using explicitly utilitarian criteria? How would you rather see them prioritized?

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 12:58:17AM *  16 points [-]

I have had on the back burner for... probably six months now a post on why I am turned off by / leery about EA, despite donating 10% of my income to charity, caring about x-risk, and so on. One of the reasons that post has stayed on the back burner is "Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate" plus "The Virtue of Silence"--given how few of the issues are methodological, better to just silently let EA be, or swallow my disagreements and endorse it, than spell out my disagreements and expect them to be taken seriously.

But this is suggesting to me that I probably should put them forward, in order to make this conversation easier if nothing else.

Comment author: Vaniver 14 December 2015 06:45:43PM *  7 points [-]

After talking with some EAs at the SF Solstice, I think it would be net positive to write this post. Expect it by the end of December if all goes well.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 December 2015 08:40:17AM 3 points [-]

If there's some reason to avoid broadcasting your thinking, you could just leave a comment in this thread instead of making a toplevel post. (Or send me a private message.) Anyway, you've got me curious already... is your objection to EA in principle, what the EA movement looks like in practice, or what the EA movement might become in practice? Does it extend to any explicit utilitarian calculations in general? (Feel free not to answer if you don't want to.) Personally I'm a bit apprehensive about what the EA movement might become, but the EA leadership seems apprehensive too, so that's reassuring.

Comment author: 27chaos 06 December 2015 12:56:33AM 2 points [-]

Please do.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2015 08:24:23AM *  12 points [-]

Less Wrong has a high barrier of entry if you're at all intimidated by math, idiosyncratic language, and the idea that ONE GUY has written most of its core content. I think the diaspora is good for mainstreaming the concepts on this site. I wish I had been an active member when it was still a catalyst for motion. The book's existence is good, and HPMoR will still bring people here. This site is important for archival and educational reasons.

Less Wrong might be in a good place to mature in several different directions. If other community members branch out in the way that CFAR and MIRI have, integrating the education-without-academia principles should be a priority in their organizations. It's not a stretch: Eliezer Yudkowsky does not have a degree, and he has done excellent work from a teaching point of view. He also seems to be respectable among academics for his theory work (I'm not knowledgeable enough to vet that personally).

Teaching people to use effective signaling of their competence, without resorting to Dark Arts, might be useful too.

I'm in favor of EA, but ingres is not wrong that embedding those principles could be off-putting. I don't know their personal reasons for feeling that way, but I know many people feel that utility-maximizing about human lives is "icky." To be more charitable, they believe that human life has inherent sacred properties. They also believe that assigning mathematical values to people signals that you're "cold." If someone comes to Less Wrong with those ideals, they have to a) digest a LOT of LW philosophy to be okay with EA principles, or b) stick around despite their distaste for certain core principles.

Comment author: VAuroch 06 December 2015 09:52:16PM 3 points [-]

Back when LW was more active, there was much lower math density in posts here.

Comment author: Viliam 06 December 2015 11:25:58PM *  6 points [-]

Back when LW was more active, there was much lower math density in posts here.

Maybe because many people are not sure whether their topics are "LW-worthy", but when they do something mathematical they feel comfortable about posting it here. If I write my opinion about something, people will most likely disagree; but if I write an equation and solve it correctly, there is nothing to disagree with.

Comment author: glorius_lasagne 07 December 2015 07:01:54AM 6 points [-]

I believe that this is the main reason newcomers are reluctant to post anything here. Right now, I notice that I am reluctant to reply to you because I am uncertain if my acknowledgement and agreement with your comment is 'LW-worthy'. While the high standard of posts maintain Lesswrong as a well-kept garden, it discourages people from starting stimulating, although not strictly Hollywood-esque 'rational', discussions.

Comment author: Viliam 07 December 2015 09:23:26AM 6 points [-]

To say the most obvious thing, the quality threshold for comments should be much lower than for articles. And maybe these should be also some "chat" area where comments just appear and disappear without voting, so that no one would hesitate to post there; and then after receiving some positive feedback they would feel comfortable with posting regular comments.

Maybe there could be a special posting mode for newcomers, which would provide some advantages and disadvantages, like training wheels. For example it would not display negative comment karma (karma below zero would be displayed as zero), it could encourage specific verbal feedback which would be visible only to the comment author (or perhaps require downvoters to select one of predefined explanations, such as "you were rude" or "you promoted pseudoscience"), but it would also limit the number of comments per day and per thread (to prevent spamming by people who can't take a hint). After receiving enough total karma, the newbie mode would be turned off. -- That's just a quick idea, maybe completely wrong.

Or maybe we could encourage people being nice to each other by giving positive feedback additionally to upvotes. Such as "this is nice" or "thank you for the research", which would be displayed as small icons above the comment. Generally, to add some optional flavor to the numbers, whether positive or negative.

Comment author: wafflepudding 23 December 2015 12:46:14AM 3 points [-]

In reading the Sequences, I feel weird about replying to comments because most of them are from seven years ago. Is it frowned upon to respond to something crazy old and possibly obsolete?

Comment author: Lumifer 23 December 2015 01:01:01AM 13 points [-]

No, necroing is perfectly fine.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 December 2015 09:43:39AM 4 points [-]

It seems like that's actually an acceptable practice; it's not unusual for "Recent Comments" to be on posts that are several years old.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 December 2015 10:42:39PM 2 points [-]

That's interesting.

There's also less math density on the rationalist blogs and the rationalist Tumblr-space, which at this point have much more current activity than LW.

Comment author: Viliam 07 December 2015 12:21:09AM 21 points [-]

For me the annoying thing about LW is that it takes extremely long, usually forever, to change anything. You have a new idea? (Such as replacing "Main" and "Discussion" with something else.) You post it in Open Thread, and people agree? You post an article with a more detailed explanation, and many people upvote it? Guess what -- most likely still not going to happen. :(

It's not that we didn't have good ideas in the past. We had many, most of them we never implemented. Maybe some of them would have improved things. We'll never know. Why? Among other reasons, because Reddit codebase is a piece of crap. It would be probably better in long term to rewrite everything from scratch.

At this moment one idea resonates with me: "do one thing and do it well". Identify the purposes that you want to be served. For each of them, build a separate, optimal solution. Link aggregator. Discussion forum. Community blog. Meetup organizer. Rationalist welcome page. Rationalist wiki. Give them all the same header, so people can easily link from here to there, and maybe even a single sign-on system.

For example, an optimal link aggregator would support tags, and filtering by tags; the main page would contain X recent entries with more than Y upvotes; the "show more" link would show all recent entries. An optimal discussion forum would support creating new topics, which is not the same as articles (each linked article could automatically spawn its own minidiscussion, but there should be some more general topics); I am not sure about details. Community blog would allow people to post articles (which would be automatically linked by the link aggregator) if a community of moderators agrees the articles are good enough (if they are not, no one else will know about them, so there is no public shame); maybe each article could have an optional "public draft" phase where people can suggest improvements. Etc.

Comment author: Viliam 07 December 2015 10:20:58AM 9 points [-]

Some more thoughts: The existing system already has some parts of what I suggest here, for example discussion system is separated from wiki system. And we do have a welcome page. I would like to see them better integrated; to have the buttons "About", "Discussion" and "Wiki" as equal choices at the top. Plus a few more.

I imagine the "News" section should be separated from the "Discussion" section; they are interconnected, but they do not serve exactly the same purpose. There are article-oriented discussions, but there are also topic-oriented discussions, and periodical threads. On the other hand, the news section should contain both articles from here, and the articles from somewhere else (currently in the sidebar: rationality blogs). And there should also be a "Chat" section (more or less what Slack does today).

The "News" page would display 20 highest-rated links to articles (both here and on other websites) during the recent month or week. That would be the starting page of the website. A "show more" option would display all links, Reddit-style. Additionally, moderators could give a "promoted" flag to an article which would make it displayed on the title page regardless of its score; that would be used e.g. for the official MIRI/CFAR announcements. No need to separate "Main" and "Discussion" (and "rationality blogs"), they are simply "high karma or promoted" and "low karma".

The "Discussion" starting page would be separated into three sections: (1) Article-related discussions. For any article displayed in the "News" section, whether from this website or another, a user could click a "start discussion" button, and a discussion linking to the article would be automatically created. This would be most similar to how we discuss now, except that we could in the same way discuss e.g. the SSC articles. (2) Periodic discussions, such as Open Thread, Media Thread, Rationality Diary, etc. There would be a fixed set of them; a new thread always replacing the old one. (3) Topic-oriented discussions that users could create without linking to any specific article, such as "University studying advice" or "Resources for programmers" or "Parenting". These should be in general longer living than the article-specific debates.

The "Chat" page would contain a few channels, where people could communicate in real time.

The top menu would be approximately: "Welcome", "News", "Discussion", "Chat", "Meetups", "Wiki".

The "Welcome" page would actually be a read-only version of a section in wiki. The first page would contain a short explanation of the community and the website, and a link to the "Rationality A-Z" e-book (and other LW-related books, such as Bostrom's "Superintelligence").

One big change that I imagine would be having a team of pseudonymous moderators, whose actions would be completely transparent. They could do more or less anything, but there would be a "moderation log" where anyone could see all special actions they did. Each moderator would have a pseudonym different from their standard LW username, so people could debate possible moderator abuse without taking revenge on their regular contributions.

Comment author: James_Miller 04 December 2015 10:03:17PM 18 points [-]

It would motivate me to write more for LW if I could see how many views each of my articles/comments received.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 December 2015 05:16:33AM 1 point [-]

Views per comment might be arduous (I am not a web developer, I don' t know HOW arduous) but views per post might be doable.

Comment author: Vaniver 05 December 2015 07:00:32PM 6 points [-]

Views per page are easy, views on a comment by itself are easy. How to estimate whether or not someone saw any particular comment when they look at a page with many comments is hard.

Comment author: btrettel 03 December 2015 04:09:54AM *  18 points [-]

You bring up a number of important points. Perhaps I missed this when reading, but one role LessWrong plays and continues to play is a good source of discussion. Often I'll find the discussion to be more interesting than a particular article. It's not uncommon for me to be linked to a particular comment divorced from its larger context and not be interested in the larger context. I don't know how common this behavior is, but this is not uncommon for me, and I don't think replacing the rationalist materials with a wiki or Q&A site would suit this well at all. This is one reason to favor something like Reddit.

I'm also generally not a fan of shutting down even semi-active forums. In one online community I've participated in, there were several major forum closures, and each time there was a period of confusion about what to do if you're interested in discussion, along with basically sectarian posturing to get active posters. The sectarian stuff caused major problems down the line, and the current discussion forum for this community more or less voluntarily avoids those conflicts now. There also are a number of roles LessWrong plays that I'm not sure would survive a transition to the diaspora, like the page about sharing academic papers. I also often enjoy reading the open threads. Perhaps transitioning LessWrong more towards discussion would be a good middle ground.

Edit: On a related note, I find following discussions on Tumblr to be a huge pain, and hope either this improves in the future or that more discussions happen elsewhere.

Comment author: username2 03 December 2015 09:07:46PM *  16 points [-]

Edit: On a related note, I find following discussions on Tumblr to be a huge pain, and hope either this improves in the future or that more discussions happen elsewhere.

Tumblr is downright unusable if you want to read a discussion. Unless you are a direct participant, they are nearly impossible to follow, and for direct participants it is only possible because they know what they are replying to. It is obviously intended for those who like to share stuff and not those who like to read. Improving it would require creating a completely different service based on completely different ideas about how to structure discussion.

Comment author: btrettel 03 December 2015 10:12:34PM 4 points [-]

Agreed. Tumblr seems to be bad for discussion by design.

Comment author: Jacobian 04 December 2015 08:35:26PM 10 points [-]

Agreed, the comments (fortified by the voting system) are a huge reason why I'm here. I bought Rationality A-Z for ease of reading, but discovered that I didn't like it at all without seeing the discussion spawned by every post. In particular, it is very easy to be convinced by a well-written but subtly flawed argument, unless an equally well written rebuttal is in the comments.

The voting system is something that I would hate to lose too, I am very impressed by the people here really upvoting based more on quality than on vacuous agreement. I've had my first three comments on the site and one of my first posts massively downvoted, and it hurt, but now I'm very happy for it.

Comment author: hg00 10 December 2015 08:11:58AM *  -1 points [-]

A reason to shut down the forum entirely instead of leaving it in its current state is that low quality posts made by randos here can hurt the reputation of the forum and the people & organizations that were at one time or another affiliated with it. See e.g. this farewell that someone linked to on SlateStarCodex. There places online like the /r/SneerClub subreddit where people will post something that one particular Less Wrong user said and make fun of it, which tarnishes the reputation of the site in general. Banning Lumifer and VoiceOfRa would help a little in the short term, but running a quality online forum requires ongoing maintenance.

Comment author: btrettel 11 December 2015 01:40:37AM 8 points [-]

"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" is good advice.

There's no reason to shut down the entire forum if the problems can be solved with less collateral damage.

Having participated in online communities which would somewhat regularly get made fun of by others, I'm not sure I agree that others making fun of an online community tarnishes its reputation in the general population. Seems to me that most people aren't aware of the people making fun of the community. I think dishonest representations with wider distribution are much more harmful, e.g., RationalWiki's take on LessWrong. And we should do something about that, but again, I don't think shutting down the forum is the right approach.

Also, I tend to ignore farewell posts like that. In my experience, they happen regardless of the "health" of the community. I can think of one online community I've participated in that regularly has such threads, despite activity being at an all time high. They can describe real problems which should be fixed, but often don't.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2015 03:39:40PM 2 points [-]

Banning Lumifer and VoiceOfRa would help a little in the short term

LOL

Well, I guess I'm used to hearing that I'd be the first against the wall when the revolution comes... X-D

Comment author: Vaniver 03 December 2015 03:43:32AM *  15 points [-]

One obstacle not discussed is the 'tone' or 'pleasantness' of posting to LW. Since this is a huge reason why people left, that may seem like an oversight, but I think the fix is fairly routine and so not worth much space in the post.

Right now, the Diaspora solves this by only bringing things people actively seek out to their attention. If you're going to Scott's blog, you'll know that you'll see the occasional post about Tom Swifties, and it's his blog, so who are you to complain about it?

It seems like subreddits partially solve that problem ("What is this cryonics doing in my rationality?" becomes "Well, what'd you expect from the medical futurology subreddit?"), and tags do an even better job (tagging something "rigorous" will attract attention you want, and not tagging it that will hopefully dissuade attention you don't want).

Add in some active moderation and better voting / tagging powers for respected users, and you're mostly done.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 December 2015 04:33:29PM 13 points [-]

I'm tempted to go through Eliezer's Facebook page and start copy/pasting interesting things to LessWrong Discussion...

Comment author: Sarunas 05 December 2015 01:01:41PM *  4 points [-]

You can start copy/pasting interesting things to LessWrong discussion even if they are not from Eliezer's Facebook page. For example, LessWrong could have "Best of" threads (similar to Reddit's "Best of" subreddit) where people could post the most interesting threads or comments they have found elsewhere (this is different from "Rationality Quotes" threads).

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:26:59PM 13 points [-]

Something seems wrong to me about the "Welcoming Committee / Rationality Materials" section in the OP. I mean, if we imagine someone arriving in Rationalistan as a result of a link in the HPMOR author's notes or something of the kind and getting intimidated by how much stuff there is and/or how little they feel they know ... whyever would what they then need look like Wikipedia? Wikipedia is terrific and I am a huge fan, but it's not great at providing "social reinforcement" and "other people to ask questions of".

Vaniver's other suggestion for something that would serve this need better than a Redditalike is Stack Overflow. That's a better fit, but the SO model works best where what people need is answers to specific questions that have clear-cut answers. Surely that's not the situation of someone newly arriving in Rationalistan. Their questions are going to be more like "WTF is all this?" or "I think I need to reevaluate how I think about lots of important questions but I barely know where to start; what shall I do?". Stack Overflow itself (and I think most of its offshoots) strongly discourages that sort of open-ended question on the grounds that that's not what SO is good at.

The biggest weakness of Less Wrong as a welcoming committee isn't that it's a forum rather than an encyclopaedia or a Q&A site; I think a forum is the Right Thing for that purpose. The biggest weakness is the whole "ghost town of unquiet spirits" thing -- which I think is an unkind exaggeration but it's hard to deny has some truth to it. LW would make a better welcoming committee if it were livelier and more impressive, and it won't gain those attributes as a welcoming committee.

Having said that, I agree that there's a place for something Wikipedia-like. The LW wiki was meant to be that, but it's never had a great deal of participation. I have no idea what could be done to change that. People contribute to things to benefit others, or to benefit themselves. Editing a wiki is never going to bring much personal gain, and when all the material that would go into the wiki is already out there in other forms (e.g., the Sequences) it's hard to see that the benefit is going to be big enough to excite people doing it altruistically.

Comment author: Mirzhan_Irkegulov 06 December 2015 05:53:15AM 16 points [-]

While I'm not against LW wiki itself (it already exists, for starters), I'm very much against making LW “something like a wiki”, because I'm >50% confident it will fail. I flinched when I read “community-maintained wiki pages with explanations and links” in the original post, because “community-maintained wiki” are almost universally dead before reaching maturity.

Michael Snoyman wrote a small article on why people are willing to contribute to free software documentation via pull requests, but not via wiki edits. I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to read the article, but the gist is as follows.

For a wiki:

  • maintainers think they are encouraging the community to write documentation
  • contributors are intimidated by the wiki, because they are afraid they aren't justified in editing it
  • readers rightly expect incomplete, unstructured, and messy information.

For documentation that is improved through pull requests:

  • maintainers deal with documentation in atomic fashion using tools they know
  • contributors don't worry about inadvertently doing harm, because their contributions are checked by the maintainers
  • readers know that the information is canonical, because somebody reviewed the contribution before publishing it.

Why LW-as-a-wiki would discourage contributing (writing wiki-like articles)? Of all wikis I remember, the only successful are Wikipedia and very narrow-focused wikis (e.g. UESP for The Elder Scrolls or Ring of Brodgar for Haven and Hearth video games). In both cases they are thriving because there are very clear expectations of what a final article is supposed to look like.

LW is far away from being definitive canonical reference, which is good. Every rationality-relevant topic could be explained from different perspectives, so I would hate there to be the one definitive article on, say, control theory.

Then you'd have all the Wikipedia problems: edit wars, deletionism, constant arguing over the rules and article layout, slowly corrupting powers of wiki moderators, censorship. On a wiki everything is supposed to be canonical, so much effort will be wasted on arguing over canonical definitions and phrasings, or on referencing more and more rules and guidelines. Wiki model has bad incentives: wins the one, who is more stubborn.

LW-as-a-wiki would stagnate very quickly, as there will be huge psychological and social obstacles for people to contribute. I will go into these obstacles in greater detail in follow-up comments. For now I want to say that we should analyze what is wrong with the wiki model from cognitive psychology and science of human motivation perspective, and see how we can do better.

The most important revolutionary idea behind LW (and more specifically lukeprog era LW) is that science is a superweapon, and if diligently learn relevant science and then try to fix the problem, you can outdo your competitors by a large margin (see also: beating the averages). So maybe we should figure out psychology of motivation, incentives for contributing, that kinds of things, before patching LW codebase. Maybe LW should be a community blog, a Reddit-style site, a wiki; or maybe it should be something completely different.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 01:36:05AM 6 points [-]

I agree with you that the motivational bits, of wanting to acculturate to LW to be around the cool people, rely on the cool people being here.

The main reason I'm uncertain about the forum as the right model is that I don't see it in many other educational contexts and I think there are weird dynamics around the asymmetry between questioners and answerers and levels of competence/experience. (The cool people want some, but not too much, interaction with not-yet-cool people.) Perhaps the Slack and IRC channels and similar venues deserve some more of my attention as potential solutions here.

Vaniver's other suggestion for something that would serve this need better than a Redditalike is Stack Overflow. That's a better fit, but the SO model works best where what people need is answers to specific questions that have clear-cut answers.

Agreed. This dynamic gets even worse when the problems are psychological. If someone goes to Stack Overflow and posts "hey, this code doesn't do what I expect. What's going wrong?" we can copy the code and run it on our machines and find the issue. If someone goes to Sanity Overflow and posts "hey, I'm akratic. What's going wrong?" we... have a much harder time.


One of the things that comes up every now and then is the idea of rewriting the Sequences, and I think the main goal there would be to make them with as little of Eliezer's personality shining through as possible. (I like his personality well enough, but it's clear that many don't, and a more communal central repository would reduce some of the idiosyncrasy concerns.)

Some think that the Sequences could be significantly shortened, but I suspect that's optimism speaking instead of experience. There are only a handful of sections in the Sequences where Eliezer actually repeats himself, and even then it's likely one of those places where, really, it's worth giving them three slightly different versions of the same thing to make sure they get it.

Comment author: Mirzhan_Irkegulov 06 December 2015 06:26:07AM 4 points [-]

rewriting the Sequences

Not just rewriting them. My biggest problem with LW-rationality is that I haven't and probably can't internalize it on a very deep, systematic level, no matter how many times I re-read the articles. Instead of a long chain of blog-posts about everything on Earth, there should be a very focused rationality textbook with exercises, with spaced repetition and all that science of teaching and learning baked it. Luke Muehlhauser argued LW is a philosophy blog. Yet after reading RAZ I don't feel like I understand LW epistemology on a deep level. I still don't feel confident arguing with philosophers, even if I intuitively understand they are full of shit.

While I have many intuitions about how to be rational, and I'm ridiculously more sane and productive, than I was a year before, thanks to LW, my understanding of LW maths, science and philosophy is vague and not at all transparent.

Comment author: CBHacking 15 January 2017 02:08:29PM *  3 points [-]

For what it's worth, I got relatively little[1] out of reading the Sequences solo, in any form (and RAZ is worse than LW in this regard, because the comments were worth something even on really old and inactive threads, and surprisingly many threads were still active when I first joined the site in 2014).

What really did the job for me was the reading group started by another then-Seattleite[2]. We started as a small group (I forget how many people the first meetings had, but it was a while before we broke 10 and longer before we did it regularly) that simply worked through the core sequences - Map & Territory, then How to Actually Change Your Mind - in order (as determined by posts on the sequences themselves at first, and later by the order of Rationality: AI to Zombies chapters). Each week, we'd read the next 4-6 posts (generally adjusted for length) and then meet for roughly 90 minutes to talk about them in groups of 4-8 (as more people started coming, we began splitting up for the discussions). Then we'd (mostly) all go to dinner together, at which we'd talk about anything - the reading topics, other Rationality-esque things, or anything else a group of smart mostly-20-somethings might chat about - and next week we'd do it again.

If there's such a group near you, go to it! If not, try to get it started. Starting one of these groups is non-trivial. I was already considering the idea before I met the person who actually made it happen (and I met her through OKCupid, not LessWrong or the local rationality/EA community), but I wouldn't have done it anywhere near as well as she did. On the other hand, maybe you have the skills and connections (she did) and just need the encouragement. Or maybe you know somebody else who has what it takes, and need to go encourage them.

[1] Reading the Sequences by myself, the concepts were very "slippery"; I might have technically remembered them, but I didn't internalize them. If there was anything I disagreed with or that seemed unrealistic - and this wasn't so very uncommon - it made me discount the whole post to effectively nothing. Even when something seemed totally, brilliantly true, it also felt untested to me, because I hadn't talked about it with anybody. Going to the group fixed all of that. While it's not really what you're asking for, you may find it does the trick.

[2] She has since moved to (of course) the Bay Area. Nonetheless, the group continues (and is roughly now two years running, hitting nearly every Monday evening). We regularly break 20 attendees now, occasionally break 30, and the "get dinner together" follow-up has grown into a regularly-scheduled weekly event in its own right at one of the local rationalist houses.

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 January 2017 07:19:56PM 2 points [-]

Upvoted, but this seems to vary from person to person. You also forgot how italics and lists work here.

Comment author: MrMind 04 December 2015 11:32:35AM *  12 points [-]

Here you can find a mind map aggregating the opinions of every commenter up until the time of this comment.
I will further edit it as comments are added. If you want to make it editable from the community let me know (and suggest a service that does so!). If you think I have misrepresented your opinions let me know and I'll fix it.
My analysis:

  • LW is perceived badly for two reasons: low quality and obscurity to newcomers;
  • LW is perceived as a good thing on at least on three axis: as an archive for the Sequence and the Wiki; as a community aggregators for different movements / sources (EA, HPMOR, sporadic contributors, etc.); for its live services (sharing academic articles, chat, stupid questions thread, etc.);
  • the vast majority of people are in favor of keeping it open;
  • the highest value LW offers is as an aggregator of the Diasporists, and the main problem is the sharing of comments;
  • the most frequently proposed solutions include RSS feeds, subreddits and removing the distinction between Main and Discussion.

I like those suggestions too, I'm in favor of keeping it open.

Comment author: CronoDAS 03 December 2015 04:38:22PM *  10 points [-]

I like online social interaction. I used to get this on LessWrong; for me, it was a fun Internet forum to hang out on. With the lack of new major content, though, I've been finding less to talk about. Perhaps we need to design LW 2.0 as a platform that supports "random nerdy fun social times", general life advice ("I'm having a problem, help me Internet Hive Mind!) and other things that aren't directly related to How To Think Better.

Comment author: jkaufman 03 December 2015 10:48:41AM 10 points [-]

The people still posting to LW seem to be getting use out of it; going archive-only doesn't seem great to me.

The two technical changes I think would most help with continued use of the site:

  • remove the main vs discussion distinction, and remove promotion.

  • make it more usable on phones

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:10:01PM 9 points [-]

I suggest there are two purposes to the proposal to go archive-only if a plan to restore to LW to something like its former glory doesn't emerge:

  • doing that might encourage the people still using LW to move to other venues where they could add more value;
  • the threat of doing it might encourage people to contribute suggestions, make commitments, etc., that otherwise they might not have;

in addition to the purpose explicitly mentioned in the OP:

  • encourage people newly discovering LW-style rationalism to go to other livelier smarter places, rather than the "ghost town haunted by a pack of unquiet spirits" Vaniver-referencing-Yvain suggests LW is right now, so that they aren't put off by our ghostly inquietude.
    • It's not clear to me whether Vaniver is mostly worrying that people will be put off by the tumbleweeds ("man, this rationality thing can't be up to much if no one's excited about it") or by the ghosts ("wow, if that kind of stupidity and nastiness is what they're calling rationality then I want nothing to do with it").

I would be sad if LW were to close -- it's still one of the less stupid discussion venues on the web -- but I'm not sure that means I should regard it as a bad idea, conditional on our not finding a way to rejuvenate it. "End of December" (one of the options near the end of the OP) seems like an awfully short deadline, though, and I think Vaniver is proposing it because what he actually favours (as he's said) is the closing-down of LW, and the shorter the timescale the less danger there is that someone will try to do something else instead.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 01:17:52AM 4 points [-]

This expresses my meaning.

I am more worried about ghosts than tumbleweeds.

I was unclear when talking about dates; the end of December is very soon, and chosen simply because it is the end of the year. Next March, also, was suggested solely because it would be tidy to close LW on the anniversary of its opening, not because March is a tactically good time. I think that if LW should be shut down, that needs to be after a replacement has been settled on, not before, and so I'm not sure we're aligned on the 'danger that someone will try to do something else instead.'

Comment author: ingres 03 December 2015 05:39:22AM *  10 points [-]

Hi. As a longtime lurker (my first introduction to the site may have been as early as twelve years old) I'm very glad to see this conversation finally come to a head. I'm of the opinion that the current site needs to either reinvent itself or shut down. I think that the biggest negative of the rationalist diaspora has in fact been keeping track of who has flown to what corner of the earth, further Eliezer Yudowsky and others posting on Facebook is annoying to me, because I do not use Facebook and find it to be an actual pain at times to get access to their posts. Having a less proprietary mirror would make me much more likely to read their writings. At the same time, given the implied privacy of Facebook I have to wonder if the point of posting there is so that things will not be read outside of the small audience EY now caters to.

Reinventing LessWrong as an archival site for the sequences and a hub for coordinating the diaspora would be a prudent use of its Schelling-Point real estate.

I largely agree with your analysis, though I do have some ideas on what an online community that does not waste peoples time and gets them to do interesting things would look like. If somebody would be interested in discussing this with me they may email me at:

wqcbfgntr@yvahkznvy.bet (Rot13'd to prevent email spam.)

(or here, but I'm kind of public discussion shy).

Comment author: jkaufman 03 December 2015 10:44:15AM *  6 points [-]

At the same time, given the implied privacy of Facebook I have to wonder if the point of posting there is so that things will not be read outside of the small audience EY now caters to.

I think this isn't a big factor. Instead people post to fb because:

  • low thresholds: it's socially acceptable to post anything from am odd thought you had to a big essay, and there's no expectation you polish your post or get friends to review drafts

  • positive comments: over the years comments on LW have gotten more and more critical, not clear why

  • blocking people: if there's someone who really annoys you but is well behaved enough that they meet site rules you can't ban them on LW but you can still block them on FB so you don't have to interact with them.

What keeps you off fb? I find some of my best discussions happen there these days.

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:40:01PM 31 points [-]

(I am not ingres even though I am asking a question you asked them.)

I don't like Facebook as a venue for such things because:

  • It is a walled garden; in general material on FB is not visible in web searches and can't be linked to directly.
    • I think some categories of public post on FB are linkable and searchable, but I'm not sure exactly what, and I suspect comments on linkable-searchable-things are not themselves linkable and searchable, and (see the next point) I have no reason to think that what's linkable and searchable now will remain so in the future.
  • Anything on Facebook could disappear, or become less accessible in some other way, or become surrounded by billions of annoying advertisements, at Facebook's whim, and nothing I know about Facebook makes me think such outcomes are terribly unlikely.
  • I have to assume that anything I do on Facebook is being tracked and machine-learning-ified by Facebook. I don't see any super-obvious actual problem with FB knowing that I talk about things with rationalists, but on general principles I want as little as possible to be visible to Facebook.
  • I have to assume that anything I do on Facebook is going to be shown to everyone I am "friends" with on Facebook. Again, it's not going to be news to any of them that I talk about things with rationalists, but again I have no particular wish to advertise everything I do to everyone I know.
  • Any time I am on Facebook, I am bombarded with social fluff. I value the social fluff a lot (otherwise I wouldn't be using Facebook at all), but I don't want it in my face when I'm trying to have a discussion about AI safety or effective altruism or any of the other at-least-one-notch-more-intellectual things that come up on LW.
  • I do not want to contribute to Facebook's increasing domination of the web. I use it for social networking because really there's no alternative, but the less support I can give to the facebookification of the internet the happier I shall be.
  • Some people (for reasons resembling the above, or other reasons of their own) don't use Facebook at all, and I think it's very unfortunate for them to be excluded from discussion.
Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 03 December 2015 09:04:43PM *  3 points [-]

I think some categories of public post on FB are linkable and searchable, but I'm not sure exactly what, and I suspect comments on linkable-searchable-things are not themselves linkable and searchable, and (see the next point) I have no reason to think that what's linkable and searchable now will remain so in the future.

AFAIK you're right about "searchable", but the timestamp of any comment on Facebook is a permalink. For example, here's a link to the earliest comment on EY's latest Facebook post.

Comment author: V_V 04 December 2015 10:26:02AM *  4 points [-]

Posts are linkable, comments to posts are not. (ERRATUM: they are also linkable)

Compounded with the fact that comment threading is limited to two levels and comments are loaded in small batches, making even the browser in-page search function useless, it makes following discussion with hundreds of comments impossible.

However, one of the things that Facebook does right and LW/Reddit does not, IMHO, is that votes on Facebook (well, there are only likes, actually) are public. Even if there were downvotes, making them public would make it socially harder to pull the mass downvoting sprees and other manipulations that plague LW and Reddit.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 11:22:32AM 3 points [-]

I think "plague" is too strong a word, on LW at least. Mass downvoting is an obnoxious nuisance but so far as I know there's only one person (with, admittedly, at least three identities at different times) who's done much of it. There are occasional reasons to suspect small-scale vote manipulation of other kinds (a few sockpuppets, a small voting ring) but not very often, not very severely, and so far as I know never to such an extent that there was a serious investigation, never mind anyone getting caught.

The obvious downside to public voting is that it increases the scope for downvoting to produce hostility and/or drama. Perhaps that just means an equilibrium where no one downvotes anything that isn't clearly terrible. Would that be better or worse? I'm really not sure.

(Technically, how would it work out? Surely we shouldn't retroactively make everyone's historical votes publicly visible -- they were made with the understanding that they weren't going to be. But then we have a system with two kinds of votes in: old ones that aren't publicly visible and new ones that are. That's going to complicate things.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 05:35:18PM 3 points [-]

I have to assume that anything I do on Facebook is going to be shown to everyone I am "friends" with on Facebook. Again, it's not going to be news to any of them that I talk about things with rationalists, but again I have no particular wish to advertise everything I do to everyone I know.

I think there real value in having discussion about rationality in a way where friends who aren't rationalists come to see them. It does limit the amount of jargon that you can use, but it has real benefits.

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 05:59:04PM 5 points [-]

Yup, but there is also value in having discussion about rationality that doesn't need to take such things into consideration.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 12:49:30AM 16 points [-]

One thing I have found aggravating about interacting with people on Facebook is that my interaction shows up in my social contacts' feeds.

This is fine if you have one community of friends, but gets weird if you have multiple, and downright bothersome if you want to keep them separate. In particular, I have a friend from middle school who will occasionally jump into a conversation that I enter with something unhelpful, and I cringe at the thought of someone else discovering that I'm the only mutual friend my LW friend has with my middle school friend. One solution, of course, is to unfriend everyone on FB I know who isn't a LWer. I find this unsatisfactory for many reasons. ;)

Comment author: korin43 03 December 2015 05:11:07PM 10 points [-]

Ignoring privacy / monopoly concerns, Facebook is also remarkably inconvenient for reading long-form writing.

  • The main feed semi-randomly decides what it thinks you want to read and may decide not to show you something at all.
  • You can set it up to notify you about new posts from a particular person, but that gets annoying with longer writing (since you can't easily tell it to remind you later).
  • Saving to services like Pocket doesn't work right.
  • There's no RSS feeds.

Twitter and Tumblr have similar problems. I thought Reddit did too, but they actually make their RSS feeds easy to find, although it's fairly annoying that they're not full-text (makes it much harder to read on a phone).

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 06:05:44PM 4 points [-]

The main feed semi-randomly decides what it thinks you want to read

You can make it less random by viewing in chronological order. You do that either by appending "?sk=h_chr" to the main Facebook URL, or by selecting "Recent First" rather than "Top Stories" in the little dropdown near the top of the left sidebar whose name I forget.

(In case it helps remember the cryptic string of characters: "?" in a URL introduces parameters, and is followed by something of the form key=value&key=value&key=value; in this case we have only one key/value pair; "sk" presumably stands for "sort key", i.e., the attribute of a feed entry that will be used for sorting on when FB decides what to show you and in what order; I don't know why "h_"; "chr" is clearly short for "chronological".)

I am not sure whether in this mode of operation FB always shows you all the stuff you are potentially interested in in chronological order; my guess is that it still filters it in some undisclosed way. But it's at least a bit more deterministic.

(I agree with all you've said here about Facebook.)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 December 2015 12:56:15PM *  9 points [-]

Looking at the discussion, my impression has been that there are at least two things that'd be valuable:

  • Merge Main and Discussion. There doesn't really seem to be any good reason to maintain this distinction: Main only gets one third of the posts that Discussion gets, and that's combining the views of All + Promoted posts: the page with non-promoted Main posts only gets about one fifteenth of the posts that Discussion does. If you post something in Main and it doesn't get promoted, basically nobody sees it. (Necessary caveat: RSS subscriptions and the like aren't included in these figures.) That doesn't make sense for the section of the site that's supposed to be for the higher-quality posts, so it seems safe to say that the intent of the Main/Discussion distinction isn't really working and is only needless complexity.
  • Do add a new subforum for submitting pure links, Reddit-style. Useful for collecting everything interesting from the LW Diaspora in one place.

Personally I'd also suggest:

  • Change the default sorting of topics in a subreddit from "New" to something like Reddit's "Hot", which sorts topics based on a combination of how many upvotes they have and how recent they are. This would help highlight quality topics better and keep them more visible. As an added bonus, I think somebody mentioned that it's intimidating to post topics because if your topic gets downvoted it will hang around as a mark of shame for a very long time; this would help ease that problem, with downvoted topics dropping out of sight faster.
Comment author: gjm 21 December 2015 10:41:58AM 2 points [-]

downvoted topics dropping out of sight faster

This is probably a good thing, but: at present it's not that unusual for a post or comment to attract a few downvotes shortly after posting but then recover and end up positive. If downvoted things tended to drop out of sight, the second part of that process might not happen, and maybe that would be a pity.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 10 December 2015 05:02:41PM *  9 points [-]

Well I totally missed the diaspora. I read star slate codex (but not the comments) and had no idea people are posting things in other places. It surprises me that it even has a name "rationalist diaspora." It seemed to me that people ran out of things to say or the booster rocket thing had played itself out. This is probably because I don't read Discussion, only Main and as Main received fewer posts I stopped coming to Less Wrong. As "meet up in area X" took over the stream of content I unsubscribed from my CSS reader. Over the past few years the feeling of a community completely evaporated for me. Good to hear that there is something going on somewhere, but it still isn't clear where that is. So archiving LW and embracing the diaspora to me means so long and thanks for all the fish.

Comment author: Fluttershy 03 December 2015 06:42:44AM 9 points [-]

If LW was archived without a proper replacement, I'd either move my posts to a website like FiMFiction (which wouldn't be a very good alternative), or, more likely, stop posting and commenting on rationality-related stuff entirely.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 27 December 2015 02:25:03AM *  8 points [-]

One thing LessWrong should have been, and never was, is a place to expand on and critique the ideas behind Friendly AI and Coherent Extrapolated Volition. It's nearly 2016, and AFAIK we still have no more details on what CEV is or how it might work than when the site was created. I find it strange to talk about shutting the site down when it's never gotten around to what should have been its primary purpose.

It wasn't such a place partly because Eliezer discouraged attempts to fill in the gaps, figure out what he meant, or critique the assumptions of his program. LessWrong was a fundraiser for a cause that it wanted not to discuss.

Comment author: Bryan-san 21 December 2015 08:17:52PM 8 points [-]

A few points:

  1. I would hate to see LW close and I don't think that would be a helpful step in getting people exposed to rationality unless a new central hub rose to take its place. I found LW through HPMOR just this year and have very little idea of what LW looked in it's supposed glory days. Things aren't great now, but if LW had been completely dead I likely wouldn't have moved from wanting to be rational to reading 600+ pages of Rationality:From AI to Zombies, making tons of connections and rationalist friends, attending CFAR, starting a LW meetup in my area, and more. A completely dead website would have given the impression of a dead philosophy that was abandoned by the people who followed it because it wasn't actually that useful after all.

  2. Decreases to the level of polish, rigor, and rationality knowledge publicly deemed necessary before posting in the various areas could be helpful (in current LW or a LW 2.0). I mainly post in Open and Stupid Question threads because of this.

  3. People here can be pretty cold and harsh in their replies. I've also heard of issues regarding downvote brigades or mass downvoting of people's posts due to personal disagreements. If this place really is full of "unquiet spirits" then a method of removing them, discouraging that kind of conduct, or changing them into kind benevolent spirits should be included in the works.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 21 December 2015 09:03:29PM 3 points [-]

I suggest ignoring karma.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 December 2015 03:11:07PM 1 point [-]

I suggest ignoring karma.

I think that "be bold" and "ignore karma" cash out very differently, and while I mostly agree with "be bold" I mostly disagree with "ignore karma."

Karma is a good mechanism for directing attention and for providing quick, anonymous feedback; if we required everyone to to write a comment publicly lauding or shaming posts and comments instead of voting, we would get much less in the way of feedback because it requires much more in the way of attention and risk. If someone is consistently getting downvotes, they are most likely consistently doing something wrong.

I do think that an important part of making LW more useful is making the karma signal better; the votes are only as good as the people casting them.

Comment author: gilch 30 December 2015 08:14:01AM *  1 point [-]

Karma only gives you one bit of feedback per person voting. A [+] or [-], that's it. We can probably do better. Even so, it's much better than nothing.

I don't have time to read every single comment when there are hundreds to sift through, but I can read the important ones. The only way to find the important ones without reading everything is through karma. For example, SSC posts can get a comparable number of comments, but I've given up reading them.

Adding even a few more bits per person to the signal could improve quality a lot. On the other hand, simplicity is one of the karma system's strong points. The low effort required encourages participation, as you pointed out. I don't want to complicate the system too much, but I don't think the current version is optimal.

We could take an approach similar to Google’s PageRank, so votes by high-karma people carry more weight. This wouldn’t require any more effort for participation than it does now. We could perhaps keep the current one-bit system for determining karma score in the first place, but we would be able to sort posts/comments by the weighted score.

I’m not sure how hard this would be to implement. The database must have enough information to do this, since it tracks who made each vote. I’m also not sure how to set up the weighting function, but this sounds like a job for Bayesian methods—some of us are good at that, right? :)

Getting downvoted can be discouraging. People who get downvoted enough (or fear getting downvoted enough) may not participate. Sometimes this is a good thing (e.g. trolls). But in other cases, there could be people with important things to say, who could improve their quality with just a little guidance.

For anyone reading this, what are your usual reasons for downvoting?

Perhaps they fall into some common patterns we could enumerate. (Perhaps a fallacy or cognitive bias from the sequences?) If so, we could add flags for these common reasons to the comment system. Marking a flag would count as your downvote, but would provide much more valuable feedback to the commenter, and also to other newcomers. We could control these specific problems without discouraging participation as much as a simple “[-]. You’re wrong. About something.”, like we do now.

Comment author: jimrandomh 03 December 2015 04:08:35AM 8 points [-]

The main thing holding me back from posting on Less Wrong, and I really doubt that I'm alone in this, is that it feels sort of mutually exclusive with posting on my own blog. That blog has to exist for the things I want to post that would be too far offtopic for LW, but then if I want it to not be dead, that consumes my entire posting volume.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 12:39:54AM 8 points [-]

The best solution I've come up with for this is linkposts a la Reddit. And we could even make them automatic!

That is, take the current Recent on Rationality Blogs sidebar. Either leave it as a sidebar, turn it into a subreddit, or mix it in with the appropriate reddits. Make each link votable up or down. The resulting karma is displayed on the link and provided to the associated LW account.

We could probably also set it up so that automatic blog posts are either opt-in (watch this rss feed, anything with the #lw tag becomes a link-post) or opt-out (watch this rss feed, anything that doesn't have the #no-lw tag becomes a link-post).

There's a bit of a wrinkle how to deal with non-community links; my suspicion is that it'd be relatively easy to check if a link is to an account in the blog database, and associate it with the owner if so (someone linking to a SSC article gives Yvain the karma, not them) and the link-poster if it's to something else (a relevant NYT article, say).

Comment author: Elo 03 December 2015 05:21:06AM 2 points [-]

does something prevent you from cross posting?

previously it was suggested to post here; then in 6 months delete the text; include a link to the text on your blog. (or just leave it)

Comment author: jkaufman 03 December 2015 08:12:37PM 2 points [-]

does something prevent you from cross posting?

Hassle, two comment threads to follow, probably bad for search rankings.

in 6 months delete the text; include a link to the text on your blog

More hassle.

Comment author: username2 07 December 2015 05:19:31PM 7 points [-]

There are an awful lot of ideas in this comment thread but many ideas have been proposed in the past. Without leadership, nothing's going to happen, and as I understand it the leaders of lw have left. Nate's been contacted? Ok, does he have decision making power? Is he an appropriate leader to have it? Will he use it? Well, I hope so, but the first step is a deliberate move to take ownership and end the headlessness

Comment author: So8res 13 December 2015 11:55:29PM 12 points [-]

I have the requisite decision-making power. I hereby delegate Vaniver to come up with a plan of action, and will use what power I have to see that that plan gets executed, so long as the plan seems unlikely to do more harm than good (but regardless of whether I think it will work). Vaniver and the community will need to provide the personpower and the funding, of course.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 December 2015 12:07:21AM 2 points [-]

regardless of whether I think it will work

?

Comment author: Vaniver 14 December 2015 06:17:38PM *  5 points [-]

Read that as both Nate and me seeing me as more optimistic than him, and wanting to settle it by experiment (actually making the change and seeing if it helps), but this being limited to upside instead of downside.

That is, if I propose a change that "totally won't hurt" and Nate is sure it'll hurt, then Nate will go with his gut, but if I propose a change that "totally will help" and Nate is sure it won't help, then Nate will see what happens when we try.

Comment author: iarwain1 14 December 2015 01:00:57AM 1 point [-]

and the funding

A Kickstarter, perhaps?

Comment author: Vaniver 14 December 2015 06:36:19PM 1 point [-]

If it comes to that. I'm still figuring out what changes need to be made and what they'd take to make; one of them, for example, looks like it might just be flipping a config flag. Now, $1 to change and $99 to know where to change, but I know at least one person who's volunteered to donate some of that knowledge. (If you are interested in doing development work, either for pay or as a volunteer, please do reach out.)

Comment author: Lumifer 07 December 2015 06:45:27PM 4 points [-]

What's needed is not so much leadership as the simple capability to execute.

People who are interested in doing things have no control and people who have control are not interested.

Comment author: gwillen 03 December 2015 08:17:58AM 19 points [-]

I would caution away from a bias towards "the current situation seems vaguely bad, therefore Something Must Be Done." There are lots of people still getting use out of LessWrong. I think it would be unfortunate that a bias towards Doing Something over Leaving It Be might cause a valuable resource to be ended without good cause. If the site can be reinvented, great, but if it can't -- don't hit the Big Red Button without honestly weighing the significant costs to the people who are still actively using the site.

(I briefly searched, to see if there's an article on LW about the idea of a bias towards Doing Something. It would of course be essentially the opposite of status quo bias; and yet I think it's a real phenomenon. I certainly feel like I observe it happening in discussions like this. Perhaps the real issue is in the resolution of conflicts between a small minority who are outspoken about Doing Something, and a large silent majority who don't express strong feelings because they're fine with the status quo. This is an attempt to express a thought that I've had percolating, not a criticism of this post.)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 03 December 2015 12:56:52PM 18 points [-]

I agree with this. I might not get as much value from LW as I used to, but it being up and running is still positive net value for me.

Comment author: philh 03 December 2015 01:14:04PM *  8 points [-]

In particular, the stupid questions thread is something I like about current LW which doesn't seem to have an alternative. (Also the open thread, the bragging thread, and the rationality quotes thread, in slightly different ways.)

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 14 December 2015 04:49:06AM 5 points [-]

Me, too.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 01:04:53AM 8 points [-]

I would caution away from a bias towards "the current situation seems vaguely bad, therefore Something Must Be Done."

I agree, and I am a firm believer in Don't Do Something, Just Stand There.

One of the things that is perhaps unclear from this post is just how much Standing There has been done; people were talking about this as a problem in 2013, I went from believing that a decline existed and it was okay to believing a decline existed and it wasn't okay in 2014, most of the in-person conversations about this happened in August of this year.

Comment author: gwillen 08 December 2015 06:41:56AM 1 point [-]

To continue with my theme about the bias towards action, I would note the following. Suppose that one periodically samples a random variable to decide whether the correct action is to leave some situation alone, or to intervene. Assuming that one continues sampling after getting back "do nothing", but that an "intervene" decision is final, it should be clear that "intervene" will always win eventually, if the random variable has even a tiny probability of coming up "intervene", even if the vast majority of the probability mass is on "do nothing".

So in light of that, if one is going to continue to stand around and talk about intervening, one should probably bias further and further away from intervening as time passes, to account for the fact that eventually the coin will come up "intervene" through bad luck no matter what the correct decision is.

Comment author: gilch 10 December 2015 06:54:10AM 1 point [-]

I'm not convinced this is a problematic bias. What's your prior that the current implementation of LessWrong is near "optimal" in any sense? If it's not, then we necessarily have to Do Something to improve it, don't we? The question shouldn't be if a change is required, but whether any proposed change is for better or worse. And then if it's for the better, is it worth the cost?

Of course, this argument applied even when LW was "doing well". The threat of shutdown is just a convenient excuse for us to participate in the improvement process. It even got a long time lurker like me to post a comment.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 December 2015 08:38:46PM 6 points [-]

Book reviews seem to be usually welcome on LW, and there are threads about learning from books; but AFAIK there is no object-level intro into how to cultivate a habit of asking yourself but what does it actually mean? when you read.

For example, when I recently opened a high-school botany textbook and tried to read it as someone who wants to get a technical understanding of botany from it, the first chapter had me stumped. Okay, so there are different branches of botany, all those special sciences about algae and lichens and mosses - but what does it mean? What questions do they deal with? How small or large are they in scope? How do algae people speak with moss people or - God forbid - ecology people? (Actually, they often don't.) If 'science begins when you begin working with numbers', then when do botanists begin working with numbers? (Okay, cladistics or phytocoenology are rather hard to explain at the start, but there have to be simple examples.) From the very start the textbook teaches you to memorize words but not to look too closely at the things built from them.

I think such micro-reviews - of a chapter, of half a chapter - with informed commentary would be nice to have.

Comment author: lmm 05 December 2015 10:14:49AM 6 points [-]

There's a reason why CFAR has workshops instead of writing articles and books.

Is there? Given that this community seems to be quite skeptical about the value of e.g. university over self-teaching from textbooks, what's the rationale for that format?

Comment author: Vaniver 05 December 2015 05:58:09PM 2 points [-]

The social proof effect of physically attending a workshop and spending a weekend around similarly inclined people is not to be underestimated. In-person instruction also provides better feedback for the instructors, allowing for more rapid iteration.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2015 12:40:18AM 6 points [-]

Yesteray I posted the draft for a new article on the LW slack. I circulating drafts of articles before publishing them on LW proper might be in general a good way to improve the quality.

Comment author: Error 03 December 2015 06:01:15PM *  18 points [-]

I approach Less Wrong et al mostly from the Grey Tribe Social Club and community clearinghouse perspective. In that sense, I see four things we get from Less Wrong that we do not get from the disapora:

  1. A central social arena for what SSC refers to as the Grey Tribe. Nerds, aspiring rationalists, political cynics, probably some other things I haven't thought of, unified mostly by dispassionate discussion and valuing truth for its own sake. The disapora fails at this because the communities on individual blogs are only thinly connected by the occasional inter-blog link. There is much more There there, than is apparent to someone who discovers the community through a single blog.
  2. Shared infrastructure that lowers trivial inconveniences to entry. Someone who wants to make a long point can do it here without needing to run their own blog.
  3. Shared audience. This is more important than I think it's given credit for. You can start a new blog, but unless you plan on also going out of your way to market it then your chances of starting a discussion boil down to "hope it catches the attention of Yvain or someone else similarly prominent in the community." Here, you can write something on topics of mutual interest and have a reasonable shot at getting it read, without having to first establish yourself individually. Note that as I understand it (someone correct me if I'm wrong) most of the diaspora personages we're actually aware of got their audience here first.
  4. Community safety net. If Yvain gets hit by a car tomorrow, the SSC community disintegrates shortly thereafter as commenters move to their next-most-favored authors, which won't necessarily match.

I'm from an IT background, so I will also discuss technology. There's two technical problems you mention. The first is aggregation of the work of diaspora authors; right now, all we have is links on the sidebar and author links to each other. This actually seems like the simplest problem to solve. I'm pretty sure everybody's blog software provides an RSS feed. Just configure them to provide full text, and display that on Less Wrong as a feed alongside Main and Discussion. Call it Diaspora or something. This does, admittedly, require cooperation from the owners; my intuition is that it would be easier to get in this community than most others.

But that doesn't solve the greater difficulty, aggregation of comments. Even if we publish an aggregated feed of all known LW authors, and also allow posts on LW itself for people who don't have their own blog, we still end up with N+1 disconnected communities.

Normally I'd say "everybody come back to LW and post here", but 1. that's not going to happen; people like owning their own gardens; and 2. you rightly point out that it benefits authors to have fuller control over their publishing environment. So there's a divide here between what's useful to authors and useful to the community.

The problem we're actually trying to solve is community aggregation. We want individual homes for authors, but we also want a town square for residents and visiting speakers.

So I'm going to step to the side and bring something out here...

/Error exits stage right, returns pushing small wooden horse labeled "hobby"/

Anyone who follows SSC comment subthreads complaining about crappy commenting features will know what I'm going to say next.

Distributed discussion is a solved problem, and the solution is not Disqus or anything like it. The solution is called NNTP, and it has been around since approximately forever. It is currently mostly unused because no one has written (or, perhaps, popularized) a good web frontend for it; and today, the web is the Internet in most users' eyes. It does not have all possible good features (in particular, it does not have a voting system, although it could probably be kludged in), but given the number of times I've answered feature complaints with some variant of "you know, somebody implemented something that does that 20 years ago, but no one uses it", I am guessing it has enough.

So my personal solution is: Start a rationalist Usenet, with NNTP providing the backend and blogging software acting as a client. Each diaspora author gets a top-level group tree, within which groups are moderated by them. "blogs" are effectively frontends to the tree, presenting the local author's work as top-level posts and comments as replies. Less wrong collects posts from friendly authors using NNTP's existing mechanisms for distributing posts, but is only responsible for moderating within its own top-level tree, provided for general discussion and non-blog-owners (and as a sort of meta-moderator). Effectively, NNTP is now the database the site reads from. Only you don't necessarily need the site to read it; power users who want better efficiency can use all the power of existing nntp clients.

This solution does require blog authors to use blogging software that accepts NNTP as a post/comment backend. However, I think it is an easier problem to convince a few dozen authors to do this (and to write such a frontend if necessary) than a few thousand readers to switch to non-web clients for anything. A web interface is necessary for any such plan anyway; in today's world, if Google doesn't index it, it doesn't exist.

We're a heavily tech-slanted community. There ought to be enough technical expertise here to pull such a thing off.

And while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony.

(Now that I've reached the bottom of my comment, I'm thinking of writing this up in further detail, as a full post, to describe exactly how such a plan could be implemented and solve technical and coordination problems -- note that my proposition above could be adopted incrementally, which is important to the latter issue. I've never presented a full argument to a non-old-timer audience and I don't know how convincing it would be. I'd rather get a sense of initial reactions first, though, and I've already spent more time on this post than my employer would probably approve of.)

Comment author: philh 03 December 2015 07:16:53PM *  6 points [-]

I'm pretty sure everybody's blog software provides an RSS feed. Just configure them to provide full text, and display that on Less Wrong as a feed alongside Main and Discussion.

This doesn't work very well. Especially on tumblr, a lot of blogs have some rationalist content and lots of non-rationalist content. An aggregator that didn't include anything from The Unit of Caring would be sorely lacking, but one that included her entire tumblr feed would be overinclusive. And she doesn't even use that blog for cute animal pictures.

Tags might solve most of this: in this case, the craft and the community would capture a lot of the relevant stuff. In general, people could choose a specific tag for "include this on the diaspora feed". If the platform doesn't support tag-specific RSS, the aggregation software could do the filtering.

But there's another problem, that tumblr's rss feeds are shit. When I followed Scott's, it would occasionally attribute things to him which he was replying to, and not show his reply. (Or maybe not that exactly, but something along those lines.)

And yet another problem, that even after filtering for rationalist content, there is just too damn much of it. It needs curation.

Comment author: Error 03 December 2015 07:49:15PM 2 points [-]

Feed filtering is policy, not mechanism; as you say, tags for inclusion provide an acceptable way to manage this and very light on the diasporists. A curated feed alongside it (akin to Promoted) would work well too, provided someone's willing to do so.

The issue with tumblr's RSS feeds is mechanism, though. That's the layer I so desperately want to burn down because it is legitimately full of Fail. Reply reference chains are currently broken almost everywhere on the Internet. But not because they can't be done well.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 05:43:22PM 17 points [-]

I am not sure what is the point of shutting LW down -- I don't see the upside. Even if you accept that it's nothing but a ghost town with a large library, haunted by spirits, after exorcising them you're left with nothing. The spirits disperse to all corners of the 'net, the library grows silent and really dead... that doesn't look like a good outcome.

Things evolve and change. This is both good and inevitable. LW cannot exist frozen in time and we want to move into the future, not attempt to return to the past. LW will never be what it used to be and that's fine.

Comment author: Dardan- 10 December 2015 06:19:28AM *  4 points [-]

For about a bit more than a year I have been wanting a forum very similar to this one. In the process of gradually unsubscribing from the defaults on Reddit I found that even many of the Truesubreddits were not satisfying any longer and not knowing of the existence of LessWrong I put a moderate amount of effort in fruitlessly trying improving those subs. It took joining the Effective Altruïsm to stumble on this site, the point being that there likely is a considerable pool of potential users for this site who I suspect don't know that this site exists either. I urge anyone active in places like truesubreddits to be more vocal about the existence of this site.

This aspect of accessibility touches on the flipside that Facebook would be too accessible to the wrong kind of potential users, with in addition the format itself possibly leading to a decline in quality. Consider for example that moving LW to Facebook would mean friends of members in the group, despite not being suitable for the page at all, would see they are member and might join to see what it is all about. I once joined a couple groups on philosophy and psychology on Facebook and was very much displeased with the quality of the posts.

I do agree with the idea of expanding the subject matter of this site. Even though I felt a great sense of relief and homeliness when I finally discovered this site this poses a partly unnecessary barrier to becoming active. The lack of breadth in issues being discussed not only means that I currently have to do some homework and have been lurking for weeks prior to contributing anything, but also that those active on the site only can only still the hunger of few of their likely many interests. I wonder if a poll has ever been conducted as to what potential subforums or features users would like to see added/ changed? You have written this post addressing multiple problems and suggestions, but it would have been better if a survey were included in this or a subsequent post to see where precisely the problems lie and to what extent the solutions for them bear support.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 December 2015 04:08:55AM *  4 points [-]

I think the problem with Main is the exclusion criteria is too strong for the current state of the site. If Main featured an average of one post a day or every other day, with the best post from that period, then that would keep it useful. One post every 15 days simply isn't enough content to garner viewership. Discussion has enough content, but it isn't very well curated. I think the karma system has largely failed other than to prevent trolling. I can think of multiple examples where a correct answer to a factual topic discussion got buried in the comments, and a clearly wrong answer got upvoted above it.

So what's needed is more content, and better curation of that content.

One possibility is to use moderators to choose which discussion posts get elevated to Main, and have a clear goal to maintain a constant stream of content, and to simply choose the best post that appears during the pre-agreed selection period. A constant stream of content will lower quality in the short term, but increase viewership, which will improve quality in the long-term by giving the moderators more options of what to elevate to main. There will be slim pickings at times, but if you don't post content this will lower the long-run quality of the site. There should be a clear standard of how many moderators are around, and a clear standard for when a moderator is replaced.

Other possibilities such as a wiki or an open-sourcing community are far removed from the site's current purpose, and thus are more likely to fail. I'm not sure why the purpose of being a news organization for rationality content as a concept is bad, or why Vaniver believes such a purpose is unworkable when it seems to have worked pretty well for several years even if the current iteration isn't working. Remember Occam's Razor.

Edit - I should add that I don't consider Meetups and Community News to really be content. It's only relevant to a subset of LessWrong users. I think including those in Main actually detracts from the intention of Main, but that when you remove them there's not much content there fulfilling the purpose of Main. Community News and major discussion posts are two very different topics, and shouldn't be included in the same category, which is a sorting issue. Major discussion posts are what I consider to be the main content, and those should be curated, and maintained at a constant level.

Comment author: ete 08 December 2015 11:08:13PM 4 points [-]

So compared to when most things were either posted or crossposted to LW, it seems like we currently spend too little attention on aggregating and unifying content spread across many different places. If most of the action is happening offsite, and all that needs to be done is link to it, Reddit seems like the clear low-cost winner. Or perhaps it makes sense to try to do something like an online magazine, with an actual editor. (See Viliam's discussion of the censor role in an online community.) I note that FLI is hiring a news website editor (but they're likely more x-risk focused than I'm imagining).

It should be not extrodinarily hard to re-enable the ability to submit links which this sites software came with (aka make https://www.reddit.com/submit?selftext=false and https://www.reddit.com/submit?selftext=true both work), and run a bot which scrapes from a list of blogs/tumblers/etc to auto-submits those links (could make the list drawn from the XML export of a wiki page, protected so only wiki admins can edit, with a request thread requiring x current recognized people to vouch for you before you're added, or having someone/a small team designated to handle those requests).

Then put top rated posts on the front page with reasonable turnover/ability to see past ones and LW becomes again the best place to rapidly check for new content across the wider rationality community.

Comment author: casebash 03 December 2015 02:48:51PM 4 points [-]

I've been spending quite a bit of time on Less Wrong chat. I think that LW chat has demonstrated that when there are different channels, it really opens up the conversational space. One thing that I've found to be very surprising is that: a) Less Wrong chat has surprisingly little discussion of politics b) Less Wrong chat has lots of discussion about parenting.

My favoured system would be for Less Wrong to gain different subs, with the ability to follow or unfollow them and have content appear on a mainscreen that summarises the subs that you choose to follow.

Comment author: Lyyce 03 December 2015 02:07:37PM *  4 points [-]

I am somewhat new to LW, so I only know the "eternal september" period.

Even tough the contributions and the comments do not have the same quality as the old content, there are still (in my opinion) some interesting posts and discussions, so I'd prefer not archive LW.

The use of LW as focal point would really interest me since I am a bit lost in the diaspora, the other two points are also good and deserve to be implemented.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2015 11:01:43PM 10 points [-]

I think it would be good to merge PredictionBook with LW. Both are run by Trick Apps. Having them together would help LW to make us of more prediction making.

Predictions would be a new tab besides Main and Discussion. The Wiki might also worth having it's own tab.

Just as we have at the moment a [poll] tag we could have a prediction tag to be used inside LW discussions.

Comment author: Sarunas 05 December 2015 04:12:03PM *  9 points [-]

In an ideal (although not very realistic) scenario LW could have a karma denominated prediction market. However, that would require a lot of work to implement.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 05 December 2015 02:47:45PM 2 points [-]

I think this is a good idea and I might even start using PB again if it was done that way.

Comment author: V_V 04 December 2015 10:58:04AM 10 points [-]

My two cents:

  • Merge Main and Discussion

  • Make new content more visible. Right now the landing page, and in particular the first screen, mostly consists of boilerplate. You have to scroll or click in order to view if new content has been posted. In the current attention scarce era of Facebook and Twitter streams, this is not ideal.

  • Discourage/ban Open threads. They are an unusual thing to have on a an open forum. They might have made sense when posting volume was higher, but right now they further obfuscate valuable content.

Comment author: Bryan-san 21 December 2015 07:02:16PM 8 points [-]

•Discourage/ban Open threads. They are an unusual thing to have on a an open forum. They might have made sense when posting volume was higher, but right now they further obfuscate valuable content.

I don't think this is a practical idea. The site is hostile enough to new users who lack much rationality knowledge and perspective on the content. The Open threads (and even moreso the Stupid Question threads) give people a place to pose questions and try out ideas that they aren't confident enough in to make into Discussion posts. People are less harsh in those threads (although I've seen people be harsh in stupid questions threads) and it provides a chance to participate in content without having read the 1700 pages of The Sequences or having lurked on the site for 2+ years.

Comment author: MotivationalAppeal 04 December 2015 06:01:01PM 5 points [-]

These are the exact three points that I wanted to voice. The fewer steps there are between entering lesswrong and seeing articles, the fewer steps there are between entering lesswrong and participating in discussions. That our landing page is a navigation list and not a a set of recent articles, the way any other group blog website would have, has irked me since the previous skull graphic was introduced.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 December 2015 09:48:33PM *  4 points [-]

This wouldn't change the need to scroll or click, since the front page, AND "Main", show only promoted articles, and promotion appears to be based on either being written by a MIRI staffer, or being some sort of general notice about an event or job opportunity, rather than having to do with quality of content.

(I don't even know what the difference is between "promoted" and "featured", or why we have both categories.)

I think a better improvement would be to automatically insert a summary break after the first paragraph for all posts that have no summary breaks, and/or to have a forum index that listed just the post titles. MIRI staff are especially guilty of posting huge articles with no summary breaks.

A more ambitious change would be to choose admins from the active forum participants to promote things to main. I get the impression that the LW admins don't participate much on LW. I haven't been around much myself lately, so I say that with low confidence.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 11:10:41AM 4 points [-]

My impression is that people are reluctant to post in Main for three reasons:

  • Less likely to be seen, because everyone pays more attention to Discussion, because people are reluctant to post in Main.
  • Fear of losing a ton of karma because of the 10x rule.
  • Fear of being Not Good Enough For Main.

Merging Main and Discussion would deal with the last of those. The first is clearly parasitic on the other two so we probably needn't worry about it independently, and in any case merging Main and Discussion would make it go away.

The second would remain, I think. If we merge Main and Discussion -- and perhaps even if we don't -- I suggest that the "Main post karma multiplier" should be substantially reduced. Maybe 2 or 3 would work well. If we don't merge Main and Discussion, I would also suggest applying the same karma multiplier to posts in Discussion.

Comment author: lmm 05 December 2015 10:12:26AM 8 points [-]

Discourage/ban Open threads. They are an unusual thing to have on a an open forum. They might have made sense when posting volume was higher, but right now they further obfuscate valuable content.

I'd say the opposite: the open threads are the part that's working. So I'd rather remove main/discussion and make everything into open thread, i.e. move to something more like a traditional forum model. I don't know whether that's functionally the same thing.

Comment author: V_V 05 December 2015 02:07:48PM 2 points [-]

I think it is, except that having different stuff into open threads makes it less visible.

Comment author: 27chaos 06 December 2015 01:00:55AM 3 points [-]

I like rationality quotes, so whatever happens I hope that stays alive in some form. Maybe it could move to /r/slatestarcodex.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 07:39:42PM 3 points [-]

Does LW have Google analytics data? If so, I think it would be good if people in this debate could look at it. Maybe share the link in slack instead of here publically.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 December 2015 04:48:08PM 2 points [-]

I have access to LW's GA data. I don't think I have the rights needed for giving anyone else access (and would be reluctant to do so without permission anyway), but I can provide answers if people have specific questions.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2015 04:50:55PM 3 points [-]

How many people look at an open thread? How many people read new articles on main?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 December 2015 05:28:08PM *  9 points [-]

Between January 1st and today (rounded to the closest 1000):

Most-read open threads (rounded to the closest hundred):

(somewhat bizarrely, http://lesswrong.com/lw/28l/do_you_have_highfunctioning_aspergers_syndrome/ had 41 000 unique views, narrowly beating lesswrong.com/message/inbox/ ; and http://lesswrong.com/lw/ihw/advanced_placement_exam_cutoffs_and_superficial/ had 35 000 unique views, beating /r/discussion )

Comment author: James_Miller 04 December 2015 05:12:06PM 2 points [-]

How many visits does LW get each day?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 December 2015 05:46:48PM 5 points [-]

Between Jan 1 and Dec 3rd inclusive (337 days), 2 597 800 sessions from 1 384 542 users. That's an average of 7708 sessions per day.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 05:19:58PM 2 points [-]

Preferably broken out by landing pages.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 December 2015 05:57:53PM *  9 points [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 08:16:04PM 3 points [-]

Thank you.

Data is useful.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2015 06:16:51PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Vaegrim 03 December 2015 07:32:07PM 3 points [-]

I'm almost exclusively a lurker. I don't visit meetups and don't read the Rationality Quotes threads. What I largely use lesswrong for now is the aggregation feature of the "RECENT ON RATIONALITY BLOGS" tab. I suspect I could duplicate this functionality with some combination of RSS Feed/blog subscription feature, but I'm unmotivated to do so and have convinced myself that the blogroll list curated by LessWrong is valuable. Hopefully my experience is demographically representative enough of a larger pool of lurkers as to be valuable.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 05:30:03PM 3 points [-]

New venues in rationality discussions seem to be the LW Slack, R/SlateStarCodex, the facebook group, the nonopen CFAR mainling list, Omnilibrium, the EA forum and the Intelligent Agent Foundations Forum.

I don't think that proliferation of different venues is bad.

Comment author: Manfred 03 December 2015 09:46:55PM *  6 points [-]

The biggest thing I feel the lack of right now is a place for semitechnical discussion with people who are roughly on the same page. Suppose I wanted to discuss some thoughts on trying to go beyond the Hibbard 2012 model in terms of applying machine learning to FAI - there's just not a good place that I know of. When agentfoundations was founded I was hoping it would be that place, but that's not really how it panned out.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 09:45:45PM 7 points [-]

We know there has been evaporation happening. So the question is... who left, and who stayed?

Well... Less Wrong is, well, boring. Nothing interesting is happening here.

Without interesting things happening, people won't come see what's going on. Without people coming to see what's going on, nobody will want to write things for Less Wrong, because almost nobody will be around to read them. Without people writing things - well, nothing interesting is going to happen, because new things are a kind of interesting, and perhaps the only kind Less Wrong really allows.

There's a bootstrapping problem. Eliezer bootstrapped Less Wrong the first time around, and the more prominent people from that era developed followings and reputations here, then, well, left, because they had more control elsewhere. Nobody stepped in to replace them; new interesting people, by and large, reach SSC (and its brethren blogs) and stop there.

But... SSC gets its biggest influxes in traffic when Scott Alexander talks about exactly those sorts of things we explicitly forbid talking about here - identity, politics, etc.

There's a balancing act between talking about things people feel really strongly about - the things they're mindkilled about - and never talking about anything interesting at all. The biggest drama I haven't personally introduced is whether or not some guy who did something bad several years ago might still be hanging around under a new username.

So... who left, and who stayed?

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 12:21:21AM 5 points [-]

But... SSC gets its biggest influxes in traffic when Scott Alexander talks about exactly those sorts of things we explicitly forbid talking about here - identity, politics, etc.

I am optimistic about Omnilibrium as a place with LWish norms where people can talk about politics and other 'fun' topics. I think this is also one of the reasons why I think I'm more bullish on the diaspora and people branding their own blogs than other people are--someone needs to have skilled hands before I endorse them talking about a touchy subject.

Comment author: iceman 04 December 2015 06:15:24AM *  8 points [-]

As much as I like Omnilibrium as a concept, there's a lot of work needed to productize the site. A lot of the style is whitespace, there are boxes instead of icons (notably the bookmark icon), there's no password reset (and the site barfed on my >20 character autogenerated password so that if I lose my current browser profile, I'm going to lose my account there), etc. But even worse, people didn't move there en masse so the site was never bootstrapped.

I'm not convinced that the karma system as it exists today actually performs its desired task anymore because a good chunk of the voting seems to be done by the unquiet spirits. Back when I cared about karma here, it was because it reflected the opinions of people that I very much respected. I don't feel that way anymore.

One possible[*] solution would be to port the Omnilibrium algorithm back to LessWrong, customizing the scoring for each user, but this might be a place where we should hold off proposing solutions.

[*] As in, "Well I suppose that's technically possible, but..."

Comment author: Strangeattractor 08 January 2016 01:37:56PM 5 points [-]

What's wrong with the unquiet spirits? I don't think that that is a good reason to shut the site down.

Organizations typically go through changes when the founders move on. That's not unusual. That's expected.

I value the ability to have discussions with people on this site, and oppose the idea that the site should be archived and shut down.

Comment author: cousin_it 03 December 2015 07:00:03PM *  11 points [-]

I vote for both plans at once!

1) Make the current LW read-only. All content is still accessible, but commenting and voting is disabled. The discussion section is closed as well. Let things rest for a month or so.

2) Announce that during the next year, LW will have one post per week, at a specified time. There will be an email address where anyone can send their submissions, whereupon a horribly secretive and biased group of editors will select the best one each week, aiming for Eliezer quality or higher. The prominent posters you've contacted should create enough good content for the first couple months. Voting will be disabled for posts, and enabled only for comments. There will also be one monthly open thread for unstructured discussion.

I don't think anything short of that would work. LW's problem is the decline in quality, so the fix should be quality-oriented, not quantity-oriented.

Comment author: jkaufman 03 December 2015 08:17:02PM 13 points [-]

LW's problem is the decline in quality, so the fix should be quality-oriented, not quantity-oriented.

I think it went the other way: demands for quality, rigor, and fully developed ideas made posting here unsatisfying (compared to the alternatives) for a lot of previously good posters.

Comment author: cousin_it 03 December 2015 08:30:11PM *  3 points [-]

Well, I was one of those "previously good posters" (top 10 for a long time) and I left because of the decline in quality. I don't remember exactly, but I think Eliezer also claimed to leave because of nastiness in the comments, not because people were asking him to be more rigorous.

The limiting factor of having an active community on LW is people's desire to hang out here. I strongly believe that desire depends mostly on the average quality of posts they read, and doesn't depend on their freedom to post. Eliezer had a fandom even in the OB days, when no one except him could post at all. Only Scott can post on SSC today, yet each of his posts gathers hundreds of comments. I'm just suggesting the same model here.

Comment author: Nornagest 04 December 2015 10:36:40PM 5 points [-]

"Nastiness in the comments" and "people asking him to be more rigorous" aren't mutually exclusive. I heard a lot of this in person, so I can't easily provide references, but back when that was all going down I remember a lot of talk from Eliezer and other major contributors about how LW was getting unpleasantly nitpicky.

In Eliezer's case this probably has something to do with the fastest-gun-in-the-west dynamic, where if you're known as a public intellectual in some context you're going to attract a lot of people looking to gain some status by making you look stupid. But I heard similar sentiments from e.g. Louie, and he was never Internet famous like Eliezer was.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 08:52:04PM 4 points [-]

The limiting factor of having an active community on LW is people's desire to hang out here.

Truth.

I strongly believe that desire depends mostly on the average quality of posts they read, and doesn't depend on their freedom to post.

A datapoint: I am entirely uninterested in a read-only LW. On this basis it has to compete with the whole 'net and, well, I don't think it will win.

From my point of view "that desire" depends mostly on the quality of people you can talk to. You don't need a social website to read blog posts.

Comment author: cousin_it 03 December 2015 09:07:44PM *  3 points [-]

A social club version of LW also has to compete with the whole net ;-)

IMO the best contributors on LW (Yvain, Alicorn, Wei...) joined mostly because of the quality of Eliezer's posts, not because of the people. There were hardly any people back then. I might be misremembering, but I think Yvain started posting when LW was still read-only, by emailing his posts to Eliezer or something.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 09:25:54PM *  6 points [-]

A social club version of LW also has to compete with the whole net ;-)

Yes, but here it has a pronounced advantage. Out of all more or less active forums known to me, LW has the least idiots. That's a huge plus. Besides, I like weirdness.

because of the quality of Eliezer's posts, not because of the people. There were hardly any people back then.

Yes, and at that point EY was "people" they wanted to talk to.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 01:38:19AM 4 points [-]

FWIW my feeling is much the same as Lumifer's. However, people like me and Lumifer may not be the ones whose feelings matter here -- if all the best people have abandoned LW because the quality is low, people who are still active participants probably (1) aren't the best people, (2) aren't producing the high quality of stuff that LW needs to attract and keep the best people, and (3) in any case aren't the ones LW is having most trouble retaining.

(Counterargument: "first do no harm". Countercounterargument, kinda: if LW is made read-only, who cares whether anyone is or isn't interested in it? it will make no difference.)

Comment author: DanArmak 04 December 2015 05:45:38PM 8 points [-]

I fear this would disincentivize our best potential posters, those like Scott who have their own blogs and following and post a lot there.

  1. Restricting to one post per week will mean posters and topics will rarely repeat, and there will be no sequences, not even short ones. Everyone who wants to write a series of even 2 or 3 posts would have to do so on their own blog. Posts in response to the discussion on the previous post would also be impossible. Posts from several people in reply to one another, or on the same topical subject, would be almost impossible. This greatly limits the possible topics of discussion.

  2. A blogger doesn't always know in advance which of his posts will be the best ones. He just posts them and looks at the response. But then it's too late to repost on LW (an LW that demands original content is very different from a blog aggregator that promotes existing posts). So the blogger would have to pre-select what to post on LW, and if he's denied or waits too much in the one-per-week queue, they can pull the request and post it themselves. Posting your less-good content immediately, while waiting to publish what you hope-but-aren't-sure is your best, isn't fun.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 12:27:01AM 4 points [-]

Announce that during the next year, LW will have one post per week, at a specified time. There will be an email address where anyone can send their submissions, whereupon a horribly secretive and biased group of editors will select the best one each week, aiming for Eliezer quality or higher.

Functionally, this is turning LW into a magazine with one article per week. I think that's a decent approach, though I have some reservations.

Remember the shift from OB to LW, and one of the big changes being that people went from having to email Hanson about posting something (and maybe getting shot down) to being able to post something themselves. I worry that this creates too much in the way of inconvenience and risk of failure for posters, and means that they'll post it somewhere else instead of on LW.

But I think the tournament nature of it--there's a post every week, and so we need people to contribute, and if your post doesn't make it (or gets waitlisted or so on) it's not because you're absolutely bad, just relatively bad--does improve the idea significantly.

I'm also not sure how well this plays with the fragmentation in interests of people in the community.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 08:42:48PM 5 points [-]

I don't think the existance of the discussion-section prevents high quality posts in the main section.

Comment author: cousin_it 04 December 2015 03:01:15PM *  4 points [-]

But that's exactly what happens! How can anyone not see that?

Bad content drives out good. Right now LW has settled into a state where people write tons of low quality posts, because they are just as visible as high quality posts. The tiny difference in visibility between main and discussion isn't a strong enough incentive.

In the early days of LW, posts were manually promoted to main by Eliezer, and the discussion section didn't exist. That led to high average quality which attracted many people.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 03:29:26PM *  8 points [-]

That led to high average quality

It's not that restrictions led to high quality posts. It's that the availability of high quality posts allowed restrictions.

Don't cargo-cult.

Comment author: cousin_it 04 December 2015 03:45:33PM *  2 points [-]

OK, thought experiment. Let's say Scott announces a contest for the best guest post on SSC. Do you think there will be many high quality submissions? I think yeah. Now let's say Scott opens posting on SSC to everyone with a pulse. Do you think the quality will stay high for long? I think nope.

Of course restrictions aren't the only thing necessary for high quality. You also need a seed of amazing content. Luckily, LW already has that :-)

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 04:30:38PM 8 points [-]

First, you are conflating categories. SSC is a blog -- a place where one person (or maybe a few) posts content and the visitors consume it. Comments are secondary and are not that important. LW is not a blog -- maybe it was once long time ago and it still misleadingly calls itself a blog, but functionally it's a forum attached to an archive.

One important difference is that blogs have ownership. I'm not talking about the legal sense, but rather about the feeling of responsibility/control/caring. When things are not owned by anyone in particular, there are... consequences. Consult the XX century history for particulars. LW used to be owned by EY. Right now it's not owned by anyone in particular.

If you want LW to go back to being a blog, you need to find preferably one, but not more than 5-6 people who will commit to the care and feeding of LW and who will have power to change things to their liking. But, of course, future is uncertain so as the result the LW might flower and be rejuvenated, or it may crash and burn.

The alternative is to treat LW as social platform, a forum, where content is provided mostly by the participants. Yes, you do not get solely high-level content, you get a lot of low-level stuff, too, but that's a filtering problem which has many well-known solutions. At the moment LW's filtering capabilities are rather... rudimentary.

Comment author: Jiro 04 December 2015 09:27:43PM 0 points [-]

SSC is heavily dependent on comments, to the point where they are arguably not even secondary any more.

Comment author: Dustin 06 December 2015 09:33:39PM 13 points [-]

Interesting.

I find the comments at SSC to be useless. I mean, there may or may not be good content in there, but it's nearly impossible to read/participate in those comments so I just don't use them or read them or look at them.

Maybe like 1 out of 10 posts, I'll find myself heading towards the comments and giving up after 5 minutes.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 11:21:14PM 12 points [-]

SSC has a very vigorous comment section, but for me at least Scott's articles are an order of magnitude more valuable than the comments.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 05 December 2015 05:12:35PM 6 points [-]

The problem with them is that there is no sorting mechanism, so unless I have the time to read several hundred comments I must resort to things like Ctrl-F'ing for the names of certain commenters I particularly like, or going to the most recent comments and hoping that if a discussion has survived this long then it's probably going to be interesting.

Comment author: ScottL 04 December 2015 05:47:55AM 3 points [-]

I don't see why you should shutdown the rest of the site to do this. What's the benefit of not having a discussion section or restricting the total number of posts? The problem as I see it has nothing to do with the total number of posts, but with the fact that there are not many high quality posts. In regards to your second point, couldn't you just do something similar with the existing promoted section. It should be fairly easy to set up an email address for people to submit potential promoted worthy posts and a group of reviewers who will review, select and post one article a week.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 December 2015 12:34:12PM 1 point [-]

I would like to upvote this more than once. Supplement: If 2) doesn't work, stop doing it.

Comment author: spriteless 09 February 2016 04:25:09PM 2 points [-]

I don't come here much because there is not too much content. I'd come here more often if there was links to content that is nice. Even if it is just a sidebar with links to off-site posts. I mean, there is the blogs people who used to post here now post at, there's other rationality blogs, there's the occasional reddit thread of interest.

I have no problem with the 'ghosts haunting the dead site' staying around.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 27 December 2015 02:16:16AM 2 points [-]

I think we should either develop a plan that makes LW fully functional at the three roles mentioned above (and any others that are raised), or we should close down posting and commenting on LW (while maintaining it as an archive).

First, I wonder who this "we" is. Does the "we" discussing this include any people with the power to do any of it?

I don't agree with shutting it down. Post warning message banners if you like, but I believe in the free market. I'm not talking about money or the invisible hand; I'm talking about the idea that you shouldn't try to decide what's good for other people. If people want to keep using LW, their use of it is their vote that it's useful. If people stop believing it's useful, they'll stop using it. If they still believe it's useful to them, who are you to overrule them?

Comment author: Bound_up 20 December 2015 10:15:04AM *  2 points [-]

I'd like to see a section listing current projects among the community.

I've picked up a vague sense of the growth out of LW (a few blogs, CFAR, Beeminder, Mealsquares, etc.), but a list of current work would be an impressive testimony of the effects of rationality.

But the point is for each listed project to give people direction as to what they can do with their new found rationality. It could list tasks to be done, how to prepare to do them, project needs. Let people know either what they can do, or what they can study to become able to do. Help them prepare by getting them involved and giving them feedback.

For example, on the projects page:

Packaging rationality for mass reception

Project name: Intentional Insights

Leader:

Tasks

  1. Suggest a principle from the sequences which would be good to write up for mass consumption. Explain your choice

  2. Outline an article based on a principle (see list of suggestions here)

  3. Write up part of an article for review (the intro, an anecdote, the closing, data, an explanation of the data, a visual)

  4. Review people's writings here (suggest alternate wordings or approaches)

To get up to speed:

  1. Read our thoughts on what kinds of principles are important for people to understand. Comment on what kind you think are important.

  2. Read about how to outline articles for mass consumption

  3. Read here about how to write certain parts of an article

  4. These books are useful (list books)

Needs:

  1. Someone to help us improve our understanding and application of marketing. How can we improve our impact with each article? See current suggestions.

  2. Someone to work out how to make effective videos out of our articles. Someone with a good style to feature in the videos. Show us how you would do it, if you're interested

Comment author: homunq 11 December 2015 02:47:26PM 2 points [-]

One way of dividing up the options is: fix the current platform, or find new platform(s). The natural decay process seems to be tilting towards the latter, but there are downsides: the diaspora loses cohesion, and while the new platforms obviously offer some things the current one doesn't, they are worse than the current one in various ways (it's really hard to be an occasional lurker on FB or tumblr, especially if you are more interested in the discussion than the "OP").

If the consensus is to fix the current platform, I suggest trying the simple fixes first. As far as I can tell, that means, break the discussion/main dichotomy, and do something about "deletionist" downvoting. Also, making it clearer how to contribute to the codebase, with a clearer owner. I think that these things should be tried and given a chance to work before more radical stuff is attempted.

If the consensus is to find something new, I suggest that it should be something which has a corporation behind it. Something smallish but on the up-and-up, and willing to give enough "tagging" capability for the community to curate itself and maintain itself reasonably separate from the main body of users of the site. It should be something smaller than FB but something willing to take the requests of the community seriously. Reddit, Quora, StackExchange, Medium... this kind of thing, though I can see problems with each of those specific suggestions.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 10 December 2015 12:40:08AM 2 points [-]

Getting people to go ahead and eat the cost of cross posting with the explicit knowledge that the community appreciates this seems like it would help.

Comment author: Vamair0 08 December 2015 05:05:41PM 2 points [-]

I thought an idea of a greeting party and a closer-tied community sounds good. Maybe something like a number of small teams, so that any newcomer would be taken into one and shown the most valuable stuff, with bonus ability to cooperate on articles or code projects, or research, or wherever the team advantage is. Together with some in-group chat where people may get to know each other better. And, of course, the big free-for-all discussions and articles should stay, so the community would not be divided too much. There should also be less nitpicks at the main articles comments if the articles were already discussed and edited by the group.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 December 2015 06:01:28PM 1 point [-]

Not sure how you would create small close-knit teams on the basis of LW, but if you want to head in this direction, multiple subreddits seem to be the way to go.

Comment author: Vaniver 08 December 2015 10:44:41PM 9 points [-]

The easiest way to create close-knit groups is sustained geographical proximity. Hence meetup organization.

Consider Benjamin Franklin's Junto, which met weekly to discuss things and had self-improvement as a focus. Every member was required to submit an essay (on any subject they liked) at least once every three months, and they would propose topics for discussion during the meetings. But the members were, presumably, filtered by Franklin; this is much more of an invite-only salon than it is a public-facing organization.

Another option is to create teams of some sort--mastermind groups are structured similarly to the Junto, with the group rotating its focus between individuals to ensure that someone is paying attention to their plans and giving them feedback and encouragement on them. (It's useful to have a deadline and social pressure; being ashamed that you have nothing to show when it's your turn is likely to make you get something done.) But how to create those teams? Do volunteers just put their names into a hat and get assigned to a group, or will that be insufficient to actually create social pressure / be subject to moral hazard effects?


So, my best experience with this sort of thing in an online setting was probably the vassal system in Asheron's Call. (It's been a decade since I played the game, so don't trust any specifics.) Most MMORPGs use a guild system--a guild will have a leader, and then a bunch of members. The way it worked in Asheron's Call was a tree--everyone who had 'sworn fealty' would do it to a particular person, and so the equivalent of 'guilds' were 'kingdoms' where the fealty tree terminated in someone who hadn't sworn fealty to anyone else.

It was, basically, a pyramid scheme. If someone swears fealty to you, you get 10% of their experience, including the experience that they get from their vassals. Given the power differential between higher level and lower level players, this was often a very good deal for both parties; it was expected that one would provide items / assistance / tips to one's vassals. ("Okay, you're high enough level that you can start getting experience in this other spot; let me show you how to get there and how to best grind there.") So mid-level players would hang out near the starting zones, offering support to any interested newbies (which only really pays off if they stick around!).

But the feature that makes this work is that both people get something out of it: the newbie gets benefits from sponsorship, the sponsor gets a steady stream of experience if they bring the newbie up to speed, and sponsorship is entirely voluntary. It doesn't seem like the mechanical support is there for LW, but having some sort of sponsorship connection to establish personal relationships might be helpful.

Comment author: Lumifer 09 December 2015 02:41:52AM 2 points [-]

It seems to me that the first issue with close-knit groups is purpose. If there is none (and I'm not sure whether general self-improvement qualifies), at best you'll get a club which will become close-knit in a decade or two.

Comment author: Gleb_Tsipursky 03 December 2015 06:24:08AM 4 points [-]

Thanks for laying all this out so clearly, you have put a lot of thought and effort into this!

Want to highlight that many potential effective altruists find out about EA from active engagement with Less Wrong. As a strong EA, for me that counts as a significant piece of evidence for keeping Less Wrong going, in a reinvented form.

I also gain a lot from discussion and feedback here. I think Reddit or another venue would not do as good a job at it. This is another reason I'd prefer to have a reinvented site.

Comment author: LessWrong 03 December 2015 12:33:13PM 3 points [-]

Getting direct work done. Open-sourcing things is powerful, but it remains true that money is the unit of caring. When people really want something done, they have an institution with an office and employees that get the thing done.

What?

The Linux kernel is a prime example, along with plenty of other, impressive FOSS programs can't be summed up by "powerful". The general consensus with programmers was that "office and employyes" is less than adequate and often insult-worthy.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2015 02:04:13AM *  6 points [-]

I am trying to point at a common failure mode where one says "aha! We'll just open source our problem, and then we won't have to pay for labor," without understanding what sorts of labor Open Source is good at providing or not providing.

Comment author: gjm 03 December 2015 12:54:15PM 3 points [-]

Most programmers do most of their programming for pay, working for institutions with offices and employees.

The Linux kernel is great. How sure are you that it would be as successful as it is if its development didn't receive quite a bit of funding (and direct participation) from institutions with offices and employees? See, e.g., this brief article. It's from 2009, but my impression is that the situation it describes is fairly representative of Linux development both before and after 2009 as well.

(I do think the comment you're replying to is an overstatement, but it's not so very far from the truth.)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 27 December 2015 02:19:02AM *  2 points [-]

I think the first step is for whoever controls LW, which I suppose is Eliezer, to hand over control to someone who's active on the site. This is important because promoting posts is important to get a high viewcount. I don't get the impression anybody reads all the new posts to Main and promotes the ones they think are good.

More transparency about who's in charge and how they operate LW would be good during and after this process.

Eliezer's policy was explicitly, "Although you now create the content for LessWrong, that gives you no right to have any say in how it's run." I think that's part of why people left, and ought to change going forward.

Comment author: MaximumLiberty 23 December 2015 12:32:00AM 2 points [-]

This is a proposal to replace (or supplement) the tagging system with a classification system for content that would be based on three elements: subject, type, and organization.

For me, one of the problems with current LessWrong is that it has too many interesting distractions in it. Ideally, I would want to follow just a few things, with highly groomed content. For example, I'd like to see a section devoted to summaries of recent behavioral psychology articles by someone who understands them better than I do. I suspect that other people would like to see other things that I'd prefer to filter out. Examples: artificial intelligence research, effective altruism, personal productivity. I'm not knocking these subjects; but when I allocate time, I'd like to be able to allocate 100% to what I want to see and 0% to what I don't.

That suggests that one area where Less Wrong could be improved is at the top level of organization. I'd suggest that content be organized in subjects, like Behavioral Psychology, Effective Altruism, Personal Productivity, and Artificial Intelligence. Now you might say that the tagging system does this. It kind of does, but it is insufficiently prescriptive. An article on effective altruism could have no tags, or many, or not the ones I think of.

Currently, the content is also classified by type, in Main and Discussion. Frankly, the difference between the two makes little sense to me. But I think there is another classification that would be helpful when combined with prescriptive subjects. I'd classify content type more like this: * Research, used for summarizing a publication elsewhere, with the summary provided by someone who know something about it * Link, used for identifying some information that might be of use to the community * Commentary, used for the normal kind of stuff that shows up in discussion * Sequence, assigned by moderators to the original stuff that made this site what it is, or at least was * Reading, used for reading groups for specific books * Meetups, used only to announce Meetups * Organization, used to announce and promote organized action

Then a third classification of content is by organization. The community needs to remain connected to the organizations it spawned. So the third content classification would be by organization, which could be empty. Possible initial values would be MIRI, CFAR, FLI, etc. I'd hope that those organizations would ensure that at least their own research got into the relevant subject under a Research classification, and that their own blog posts got thrown over into the relevant subject under a Link classification.

This would make it easier for me to justify coming back to read Less Wrong daily, because I wouldn't expose my self to wonderful distrations in order to find the things I'd like to keep up on.

Comment author: spriteless 10 February 2016 04:39:58AM 1 point [-]

Shoot I'd love a fiction section just to read a bunch of stories without exposing myself to the twist won't be 'sometimes people see spirits but keep it to themselves so they won't look stupid, even in the cool space future' so much. And you'd like to have it cordoned off so you don't see it unless you are looking.

Comment author: Lumifer 23 December 2015 04:18:34PM 1 point [-]

by someone who understands them better than I do

Why would such a someone commit to spending a considerable amount of time predigesting papers for your convenience?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2015 12:21:42PM 1 point [-]

Explaining something to someone else is a good way to understand and remember it better.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2015 11:54:45AM 2 points [-]

...but if I went completely, crazily, unbelievably optimistic, I'd add: let there be a regime of viewing the site (or however it's called) without karma and user names, but in such a way that if one wants to PM some commenter, there'd be a 'PM' box right next to the comment.

Comment author: Lumifer 07 December 2015 03:30:04PM 3 points [-]

If you want to replace all usernames with "Anonymous" and all karma scores with a zero, this can probably be done by a bit of client-side Javascript. You'll need something like a Greasemonkey add-on and the appropriate JS script.

Comment author: Sarunas 07 December 2015 03:47:19PM 8 points [-]

Checking "Enable Anti-Kibitzer" in Preferences already does that.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2015 04:08:12PM 4 points [-]

Thank you! *has to recalculate her values of crazy and unbelievable *

Comment author: [deleted] 08 December 2015 06:29:39PM 1 point [-]

The option has an annotation that it only works in Firefox. I just checked and it works for me in Chrome.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 19 December 2015 10:47:44AM *  1 point [-]

Near as I can tell LW 'faded' because it was initially created to sneak obsession with a particular flavor of AI apocalypse into the minds of as wide an audience as possible under the guise of a rationality movement so as to make money for the singularity institute, and now there are actual institutions which are more lucrative potential funding sources. That, and the ai safety subtext that underlaid everything has gone nowhere at the institute itself to all outward appearances.

Interesting place to talk about interesting things with interesting people though! Keep that around for sure!

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 December 2015 05:03:29PM 1 point [-]

Near as I can tell LW 'faded' because it was initially created to sneak

fnord

obsession

fnord

with a particular flavor of AI apocalypse into the minds of as wide an audience as possible under the guise

fnord

of a rationality movement so as to make money

fnord

for the singularity institute, and now there are actual

fnord

institutions which are more lucrative

fnord

potential funding sources. That, and the ai safety subtext

fnord

that underlaid everything has gone nowhere at the institute itself to all outward appearances.

To put that another way, Eliezer founded LessWrong in order to attract people capable of understanding and learning from the material that he posted, in the hope that some few of them might be capable of functioning at the level he considered a prerequisite to work on the problem of FAI. I believe he said this at the time. And it worked. LessWrong operated exactly as it was intended. MIRI and CFAR have their own traction now and LessWrong has completed its function. It still has a certain usefulness as a community locus, a discussion forum, and a place for relevant announcements, but it cannot be again what it was in the days of the Sequences.

Comment author: gjm 21 December 2015 10:39:37AM 4 points [-]

fnord [...] fnord [...] fnord

Those aren't fnords, they're overt criticisms.

Comment author: Zian 25 January 2016 07:32:29AM 1 point [-]

You make a pretty good case for better platforms for accomplishing individual parts of what LW can do but I think LW should be the central place that takes a solid stab at doing all of them because once you send someone to another site, they're less likely to be willing to spend the (now-consumed) time/energy on a 2nd or 3rd site for the other things you mention in the article.

I have always viewed this site as the central meeting point or repository for all things related to rationality and find that the infrastructure is already very promising with a combination of a Reddit-based discussion area and wiki. However, the wiki seems to get 0 attention from the discussion area and the only visible part is the discussion area unless you click on the 3rd item in the bulleted list on the home page or the grayed out wiki link in the corner if you have the discussion page bookmarked.

With the departure of many of the big names to other platforms, I find that I lose track of what they're writing because I don't have the time or energy to go around rounding all of the various sites up. At most, I might remember to visit Overcoming Bias once in a while. I certainly don't have EY's Facebook URL memorized.

Comment author: Bryan-san 21 December 2015 10:01:55PM *  1 point [-]

I've also talked to many of the prominent posters who've left about the decline of LW, and pointed out that the coordination problem could be deliberately solved if everyone decided to come back at once. Everyone that responded expressed displeasure that LW had faded and interest in a coordinated return, and often had some material that they thought they could prepare and have ready.

High value is assigned to many original top posters. This leads me to three questions:

  1. What demand will LW 2.0 satisfy that will keep these prominent original posters returning to LW regularly in the future over the course of 2+ years?

  2. Do you think the reasons that led them to leave the first time can be prevented this time and will not be soon reiterated?

  3. How can new top posters as good or better than the old ones be found/recruited/marketed to?