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VipulNaik comments on On the importance of Less Wrong, or another single conversational locus - Less Wrong

82 Post author: AnnaSalamon 27 November 2016 05:13PM

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Comment author: VipulNaik 29 November 2016 02:43:19AM *  11 points [-]

The impression I form based on this is that the main blocker to LessWrong revitalization is people writing sufficiently attractive posts. This seems to mostly agree with the emerging consensus in the comments, but the empirical backing from the survey is nice. Also, it's good to know that software or interface improvements aren't a big blocker.

As for what's blocking content creators from contributing to LessWrong, here are a few hypotheses that don't seem to have been given as much attention as I'd like:

  1. Contributing novel content becomes harder as people's knowledge base and expectations grow: Shooting off a speculative missive no longer works in 2016 the way it might have worked in 2011 -- people have already seen a lot of the basic speculation, and need something more substantive to catch their attention. But the flip side is that something that's truly substantive is going to require a lot of work to research and write, and then even more work to simplify and explain elegantly. This problem is stronger on LessWrong because of the asymmetric nature of rewards. On Facebook, you can still shoot off a speculative missive -- it's your own Facebook post -- and you won't get blasted for being unoriginal or boring. A lot of people will like, comment, and share your status if you're famous enough or witty enough. On LessWrong, you'll be blasted more.
  2. Negative reception and/or lack of reception is more obvious on LessWrong: Due to the karma system of LessWrong, it's brutally obvious when your posts aren't liked enough by people, and/or don't get enough comments. On personal blogs, this is a little harder for outsiders to make out (unless the blogger explicitly makes the signals obvious) and even then, harder to compare with other people's posts. This means that when people are posting things they have heavy personal investment in (e.g., they've spent months working on the stuff) they may feel reluctant to post it on LW and find it upvoted less than a random post that fits more closely in LW norms. The effects are mediated purely through psychological impact on the author. For most starting authors, the audience one reaches through LW, and the diversity of feedback one gets, is still way larger than that one would get on one's own blog (though social media circulation has lessened the gap). But the psychological sense of having gotten "only" three net upvotes compared to the 66 of the top-voted post, can make people hesitant. I remember a discussion with somebody who was disheartened about the lack of positive response but I pointed out that in absolute terms it was still more than a personal blog.
  3. Commenters' confidence often exceeds their competence, but the commenters still sound prima facie reasonable: On newspaper and magazine blogs, the comments are terrible, but they're usually obviously terrible. Readers can see them and shrug them off. On LessWrong, star power commenters often make confident comments that seem prima facie reasonable yet misunderstand the post. This is particularly the case as we move beyond LW's strong areas and into related domains, which any forum dedicated to applying rationality to the real world should be able to do. The blame here isn't solely on the commenters who make the mistaken assertions but also on the original post for not being clear enough, and on upvoters for not evaluating things carefully enough. Still, this does add to the burden of the original poster, who now has to deal with potential misconceptions and misguided but confident putdowns that aren't prima facie wrong. Hacker News has a similar problem though the comments on HN are more obviously bad (obviously ill-informed uncharitable criticism) so it might be less of a problem there.
  4. Commitment to topics beyond pet rationality topics isn't strong and clear enough: LessWrong is fairly unique as a forum with the potential for reasonably high quality discussion of just about any topic (except maybe politics and porn and sex stuff). But people posting on non-pet topics aren't totally sure how much their post belongs on LessWrong. A more clear embrace of "all topics under the sun" -- along with more cooperative help from commenters to people who post on non-conventional topics -- can help.
Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 29 November 2016 11:25:04AM 4 points [-]

I compiled some previous discussion here, but the troll downvoted it below visibility (he's been very active in this thread).

Crazy idea to address point #2: What if posts were made anonymously by default, and only became nonymous once they were upvoted past a certain threshold? This lets you take credit if your post is well-received while lessening the punishment if your post is poorly received.

Comment author: VipulNaik 29 November 2016 06:38:51PM 1 point [-]

Whoops, sorry for missing that. Upvoted, hopefully it gets to zero and resurfaces.

Comment author: Lumifer 29 November 2016 05:59:41PM 1 point [-]

Commenters' confidence often exceeds their competence

Sometimes that's deliberate. It it well known that the best way to get teh internets to explain things to you is not to ask for an explanation, but to make a confident though erroneous claim.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 30 November 2016 12:45:14PM 12 points [-]

It it well known that the best way to get teh internets to explain things to you is not to ask for an explanation, but to make a confident though erroneous claim.

I've noticed you using this strategy in the past. It makes me frustrated with you, but I want to uphold LW's norms of politeness in conversation, so I grit my teeth through the frustration and politely explain why you're wrong. This drains my energy and makes me significantly less enthusiastic about using LW.

Please stop.

Comment author: Lumifer 30 November 2016 03:35:46PM 5 points [-]

I don't make deliberately erroneous claims (unless I'm trolling which happens very rarely on LW and is obvious). I sometimes make claims without describing my confidence in them which, I think, is pretty normal. Offering an observation or an assertion up for debate so that it may be confirmed or debunked is one of the standard ways of how conversations work.

I am not sure what do you want me to do. My comments are already peppered with "I think...", and "seems to me...", and other expressions like that. Would you like me to make no errors? I would gladly oblige if only you show me how.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 01 December 2016 09:25:49AM 4 points [-]

I'll try to give you more specific feedback if I get frustrated by your comments again in the future.

Comment author: VipulNaik 29 November 2016 06:38:22PM 6 points [-]

It could also be a good way for the Internets to give up on trying to talk in a forum where you are around.

Comment author: Lumifer 29 November 2016 08:53:23PM *  2 points [-]

Why would teh internets be scared by the presence of lil' ol' me? I am very ignorable and have no desire to sealion. Not wanting to talk to me is perfectly fine.

Comment author: Jacobian 30 November 2016 06:51:07PM *  6 points [-]

Because we're talking about the quality of discussion on LW and how to encourage people to post more good stuff. Whether or not you're OK with people ignoring your trollishness, trollishness lowers the quality of discussion and discourages people from posting. If you persist at it, you are choosing personal gain (whether provocation or learning stuff) over communally beneficial norms. And you're not "lil' ol' me" when you're in top 5 of commentors month in and month out.

"Feel free to ignore me" IS sealioning, because when people react to you in a way you didn't want (for example, they get angry or frustrated) you accept no blame or responsibility for it. The first comment I got to a post about empathy and altruism was you telling me that my recommendation leads to kulaks, ghettos and witch burning (I'm being uncharitable, but not untruthful). If I am then discouraged from posting new stuff, will you say that it's entirely my fault for being too sensitive and not ignoring you?

Comment author: Lumifer 30 November 2016 08:06:23PM *  1 point [-]

trollishness

I don't accept that I'm trollish. Trolling is basically pushing buttons to get an emotional reaction, mostly for the lulz. I'm not interested in triggering emotional reactions in people two screens away from me and LW isn't a fertile ground for the lulz, anyway.

I will confess to the propensity to make my arguments forcefully. I count it as a feature and not a bug. I will also confess to liking extreme and exaggerated examples -- the reason is that in some situations I want to trade off nuance against clarity and obviousness.

As to discouraging people from posting, I do want to discourage people from posting low-quality stuff. I see nothing wrong with that.

when people react to you in a way you didn't want (for example, they get angry or frustrated) you accept no blame or responsibility for it

Generally speaking, yes. I am not your mother, your nanny, or your mentor and making sure you're emotionally comfortable is not one of my duties. I also reject the popular political correctness / social justice notion that it's sufficient for the listener to claim offense (or some other variety of victimhood) to put all the responsibility/blame on the speaker.

will you say that it's entirely my fault for being too sensitive

I wouldn't put it in terms of "fault" and I don't know about you personally, but yes, I think that some chunk of the LW population is too thin-skinned and would greatly benefit from a dose of HTFU.

Note, though, that I don't consider it my obligation to go out of the way to provide that dose (see above re being a nanny). I just don't think that being particularly thin-skinned gives you any special rights.

Comment author: Jacobian 30 November 2016 11:25:25PM 2 points [-]

I also reject the popular political correctness / social justice notion that it's sufficient for the listener to claim offense (or some other variety of victimhood) to put all the responsibility/blame on the speaker.

I'm pretty sure I didn't write anything to suggest that the blame is all the speakers', and yet you seem to have read it this way. Who's responsible for this misunderstanding? I hope we can both agree that the responsibility is shared between speaker and listener, it can't work any other way in a dialogue when both people alternate roles. And when you write something in direct criticism of someone (and not some general statement), you are engaged in dialogue.

Now it also seems to me that "political correctness/SJ culture" is basically a pejorative on LW, but I'll take your word that you're not trying to push buttons by comparing me to them. Instead I'll just remind you that reversed stupidity is not intelligence, and being careless about offending people is not correlated with truth seeking. I support the Buddhist Victorian Sufi standard of SSC, and kindness is 33% of that standard.

Comment author: Lumifer 01 December 2016 03:38:56PM *  1 point [-]

Who's responsible for this misunderstanding?

Both are responsible for the misunderstanding, but only one of them is responsible for his own anger and frustration.

reversed stupidity is not intelligence, and being careless about offending people is not correlated with truth seeking

I agree. But note that "not correlated" is different from "negatively correlated". As in "being very careful to not offend people is negatively correlated with truth-seeking" :-P

I like the SSC standard, too, but notice that it's very flexible and can be bent into many different shapes :-/ And, of course, once in a while Yvain declares a reign of terror.

Comment author: g_pepper 30 November 2016 08:08:28PM 1 point [-]

you are choosing personal gain ... over communally beneficial norms. ... And you're not "lil' ol' me" when you're in top 5 of commentors month in and month out.

By the same token, doesn't being in the top 5 of commentators regularly suggest that a person is not really too far outside of community norms?

IMO there is a difference between trolling and blunt but rational commentary, and the example you linked to above (involving kulaks and the like) is blunt but rational commentary (and frankly, it was not excessively blunt); there is a good case to be made for emotional human empathy acting as a check on utilitarianism running awry. The 20th century provides several examples of utopian projects ending badly, and it seems to me useful to ask if removing emotional empathy from the moral calculation is a good idea.

If I am then discouraged from posting new stuff, will you say that it's entirely my fault for being too sensitive and not ignoring you?

IMO, that is a false dichotomy - (being discouraged from posting new stuff vs. ignoring disagreeing posts). A third option is to read the disagreeing post, think about it, respond to it if you deem doing so worthwhile, and move on, while recognizing that divergent viewpoints exist.

My fear is that if comments like Lumifer's Kulak comment are discouraged for fear of discouraging future postings, LW is at risk of becoming an echo chamber.

Comment author: Jacobian 30 November 2016 11:05:12PM *  3 points [-]

As you've noticed in that thread, I didn't cry that Lumifer offended me. I replied to his comment and we ended up having a semi-productive discussion on empathy, coercion and unintended consequences. If bringing that specific example up reads as concern trolling on my part, I apologize.

I wanted to make a more general point: I do recognize that there's a trade off to be made between criticism and niceness, both of which are needed for a good discussion. I'm also OK if you think LW is too nice and the comments should be harsher. The directness of criticism is one of my favorite things about LW, along with overall commitment to free speech. But I also care about practical outcomes on discussion quality, not abstract ideology.

I think that there's an important distinction between the following two positions:

  1. "I made a blunt comment because I judged that criticism is more important than niceness in this specific case."
  2. "I made a blunt comment and niceness is not my concern at all, because other people are free to ignore me."

I think that an environment where people hold #1 produces better discussion. And unless I'm corrected, it seems like Lumifer espouses #2.

Comment author: g_pepper 01 December 2016 01:33:34AM 1 point [-]

As you've noticed in that thread, I didn't cry that Lumifer offended me. I replied to his comment and we ended up having a semi-productive discussion on empathy, coercion and unintended consequences.

Yes I did notice. That is why that particular exchange was a great example of how one need neither ignore nor be discouraged by a comment like Lumifer's kulak comment; instead, allow the comment to engender a useful dialog.

I'm also OK if you think LW is too nice and the comments should be harsher.

No, I don't think that. I really like the quality of the comments on LW, that is why I come here. However, I think that Lumifer's comments are within the range of LW community norms. One thing I like about LW is that there exists a diversity of commenting styles just as it has a diversity of viewpoints on various subjects. An example of another high-karma commentator with a style (and opinions) that are quite different from Lumifer's is gjm. IMO both commentators make thoughtful, valuable contributions to LW, albeit their styles are quite different; I think that LW benefits from both commentators' styles and opinions, and the distinct styles and opinions of many others as well. Note that I am in favor of community norms, but I feel that Lumifer's comments are within those norms.

I think that there's an important distinction between the following two positions... And unless I'm corrected, it seems like Lumifer espouses #2

IMO, Lumifer is not in category 2. Using the kulak comment again as an illustrative example, it seems to me that the comment was in no way a personal attack on you or anyone else and was not what I would classify as "not nice". It seems to me that the specific examples he chose did bring clarity to the discussion in a way that voicing an abstract objection or a less extreme example would not have. IMO Stalin's dekulakization (which is I suppose what Lumifer was referring to) really is the sort of thing that can happen more easily when an idealized (albeit flawed) utilitarian goal is pursued in the absence of emotional empathy. In short, I suspect that the examples were selected because they effectively made the point that Lumifer intended to make rather than because Lumifer was trying to offend or troll.

Comment author: gjm 30 November 2016 11:46:31AM 2 points [-]

Who said anything about scared? Or for that matter about you?

Someone in the habit of making confident erroneous claims may start to get ignored for being a blowhard even if no one is scared of them.

Comment author: Lumifer 30 November 2016 03:28:56PM 0 points [-]

Or for that matter about you?

Here: :-)

I've noticed you using this strategy in the past

And, as I mentioned, I'm perfectly fine with being ignored.

Comment author: gjm 30 November 2016 05:34:57PM 0 points [-]

Here: :-)

Ah.

I'm perfectly fine with being ignored.

Fair enough, but some other people contemplating using the same technique might be less so.

Comment author: Lumifer 30 November 2016 05:48:04PM 0 points [-]

some other people contemplating using the same technique might be less so

Feel free to point out to those some other people their shortcomings, then. I hope you don't think I'm a role model, do you now? X-)

Comment author: gjm 30 November 2016 05:58:59PM 0 points [-]

I don't really believe in role models. Anyway, I wasn't intending to point out any person's shortcomings; I was agreeing with VipulNaik's misgivings about the technique.

(To be more concrete, "doing X may get you ignored as a blowhard" is a criticism of doing-X, not a criticism of someone who either does X or contemplates doing X.)

Comment author: Lumifer 30 November 2016 06:07:31PM 1 point [-]

<shrug> Sure, one might come across as a blowhard. But one might also come across as someone who can be persuaded by evidence to change his mind without a lot of kicking and screaming.

This is really about reputation management in an online community, a complicated topic.

Comment author: btrettel 29 November 2016 09:13:15PM 0 points [-]

According to 538's survey more people reported that they comment to fix errors than anything else.

This doesn't mean that you're wrong, though, because it doesn't seem 538 asked why people stop commenting (based on my skim of the article; feel free to correct me).