Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

LessWrong as social catalyst

14 Post author: JoshuaFox 28 April 2014 02:10PM

I'd like to ask everyone: Have LessWrong.com and related online rationalist/transhumanist/Singularitarian communities connected you to people for purposes beyond discussion?

Bonus points if an online contact led to an important connection. We already know that face-to-face meetups are a great way to meet people, so I'm curious about connections triggered by online interaction.  

I have seen scattered mentions that each of the above has happened, but not enough to get a strong impression of what's going on.

Please answer in comments below. By doing so, you'll be providing social proof that LW and the like can accomplish these things, and so encourage more to happen, increasing happiness in the world.

I added one myself to start.

Comments (40)

Comment author: lukeprog 28 April 2014 11:09:02PM 29 points [-]

I got a job via an internship via LW, and definitely lots of friends. Louie and I made online contact via LW, and he convinced me to intern with SIAI, and later I was offered a paying job there.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 29 April 2014 04:27:29AM 23 points [-]

I love how understated this comment is.

Comment author: pinyaka 29 April 2014 06:43:34PM 6 points [-]

Thanks for posting this. I don't normally look at the posters names when I read a comment.

Comment author: peter_hurford 29 April 2014 09:43:06PM 10 points [-]

At first I saw this and I was like "meh". But now, looking back, I feel like I could not be more thrilled with how much of a social catalyst LW has been for me.

In ascending order of importance...

...After writing "A Critique of Leverage Research's Connection Theory", Geoff Anders reached out to Skype with me. It was cool to meet him, and this eventually turned into me stopping by Leverage House for a day. Not much came out of that, but it was cool.

...After cross-posting "Why Don't People Help Others More?" on LW, I was reached out via PM by Giving What We Can. They had started a new blog and wanted to know if I'd be a volunteer writer. I said yes. Based on large part by this remote volunteering, I received a summer internship with them, where I met numerous important contacts in my life. This all started from one post on LW.

...After cross-posting "Initial Thoughts on Personally Finding a High-Impact Career", I received a lot of useful advice. But I also received a PM from a user who offered to mentor me in learning programming. Later on, through his help and advice, I've received a job in his company that I will start this summer after graduating. I went from unexperienced programmer to job-haver all because of him, and, by extension, LW. I'd very likely be working in a worse career if not for LW.

Comment author: eggman 08 May 2014 03:24:41AM 0 points [-]

Mr. Hurford, I know you're a prominent writer within the effective altruist community, among other things (e.g., producing software, and open-source web, products, through running .impact). As someone who initially encountered effective altruism, and then Less Wrong, do you have a perspective on how, or how much, Less Wrong has amplified the success of effective altruism as a social movement within the last couple of years?

Comment author: peter_hurford 09 May 2014 04:51:56AM 0 points [-]

As someone who initially encountered effective altruism, and then Less Wrong

Actually for me, it was the reverse, I encountered LessWrong and then later "effective altruism".

~

do you have a perspective on how, or how much, Less Wrong has amplified the success of effective altruism as a social movement within the last couple of years?

Not really. It seems quite clear that LW has definitely amplified the California EA community around things like existential risk reduction, Friendly AI, cryonics, anti-aging, etc. And it's certainly helped build a community. But other things like Peter Singer, GiveWell, and CEA were necessary for creating and maintaining an EA movement.

Comment author: protest_boy 30 April 2014 10:43:06PM *  9 points [-]

Everyone's posting evidence for this, which is great and LW is awesome, but I'm also interested in any rebuttals of the sort like "I expected it to hugely change my social life but it didn't really"

In particular, for me:

  • I found out about CFAR from LW and attended a CFAR workshop
  • I've attended a couple of meetups in the bay area
  • I found out about 80000 hours, GiveWell, MIRI, and effective altruism in general, which has been a large force in my life
  • I've met many interesting people working on many interesting things in spheres that I care about

Declaring pseudo-Crocker's rules...

Not soon after I found out about LW, I expected to e.g move into a rationalist community, immerse myself in the memespace, etc. But there's a distinct qualitative difference that I feel when I'm hanging out with my friends whom I've met from other more prosaic circles (house parties, friends of friends, college, etc) than when I'm hanging out with people at the meetups I've been to and even the CFAR workshop. I find it hard to really connect with most people I've met through LW in a way that gives me the fuzzywuzzies, even though many of us share similar values and are working towards similar goals.

Yes, my friends are stoners, entrepreneurs, weirdos, normals, hot people, people-probably-more-concerned-social-status-than-LWers, whatever. Some of them know about LW and are familiar with rationality concepts. But I just have a really fun time with them, and I haven't had that in my experiences so far with LW people. I suspect (at the risk of sounding insulting) that there's a difference in social acumen and sense of humor or something. I honestly found some of my social experiences with LWers kind of alienating.

Please note I'm not drawing a hard and fast line here, (and obviously there's a selection effect) but I'm just curious if anyone else has had the same experience.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 May 2014 01:25:58PM 3 points [-]

I find it hard to really connect with most people I've met through LW in a way that gives me the fuzzywuzzies

That interesting. Do you find it normally easy or hard to connect with people? Are you a computer programmer or something similar?

At the community camp in Berlin I got the feeling that maybe the idea that introverts get drained by social interaction is wrong. They get drained by interacting with people who are not like them. Many people at the event reported that they normally feel drained through social interaction but didn't at the event.

I'm personally normally not drained in energy by social interaction but felt the weekend incredibly draining.

Comment author: Copenhagen_88 08 May 2014 04:40:19PM 1 point [-]

but felt the weekend incredibly draining.

Would you mind explaining why?

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 May 2014 09:19:49PM 0 points [-]

Would you mind explaining why?

I could make up a story, but how would that help? The fact that I felt drained is a very direct observation. It's data. I don't have a counterfactual universe where I could alter certain factors about the weekend to see which of those factors is responsible for me feeling drained.

Comment author: Copenhagen_88 10 May 2014 08:11:07AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for replying!

I don't have a counterfactual universe where I could alter certain factors about the weekend to see which of those factors is responsible for me feeling drained.

This is certainly true. But I was hoping that you might be able to tease out the main differences between that LW weekend and occasions where you did not feel drained. It could even boil down to something like "I happened to be feeling stressed about something else during the community camp, which could explain why I felt drained more easily".

Comment author: JoshuaFox 01 May 2014 06:00:55AM *  1 point [-]

I created this post, and the previous one about business networking, with an open mind as to whether LW does or can create person-to-person connections.

The surveys are certainly not scientific, and as you point out, few people are going to say "I didn't meet anyone through LW and don't intend to." Still, my sense after all this is that few person-to-person connections, business or otherwise, happen because of this community.

By "few," I suppose I am comparing to what happens in the high-density Bay Area rationalist community, or what happens in certain religious or ethnic groups or in certain school or university settings.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 12 October 2014 02:42:27AM 0 points [-]

I'm actually reading the backlog of comments on this thread to write a post on people successfully asking personally important questions, and getting good responses, on the suggestions of users Gunnar Zarnacke, and [Peter Hurford}(http://www.lesswrong.com/user/peter_hurford). I'm mining this thread for more examples to use to improve the eventual post in Discussion. However, afterward, for due diligence, I intend to write the reverse-post, one in which I ask for people to report failure modes of taking advice and/or changing their lifestyle based on information they received through Less Wrong. Send me a private message if you would like to help write this post with me.

Comment author: eggman 08 May 2014 03:19:06AM 0 points [-]

I'm curious if there is any other variables that might account for you not achieving what you hoped you might by connecting through Less Wrong. For example, many regular attendees of the Vancouver meetup have wanted to get great jobs, move into a house with their rationalist friends, or move to the Bay Area to be part of the central party. However, they haven't done much of this yet, despite having wanted to with other local rationalists for a couple of years. The fact that most of us are university students, or have only recently launched our careers, throws a wrench into ambitious plans to utterly change our own lives because the effort my friends might have directed towards that is already taken up by their need to adapt to regular responsibilities of fully-fledged adulthood. On our part, I figure the planning fallacy, and overconfidence, caused us to significantly overestimate what we would really achieve as members of a burgeoning social subculture, or whatever.

Comment author: cata 29 April 2014 01:16:07AM *  9 points [-]

I was made aware of my current software job (it's a Quixey), which is infested with LW people, through LW. Two years ago I moved to the Bay Area to work at it and now most of my meatspace social circle is rationalist sort of people and I am dating one too. I am not super duper thrilled about this lack of intellectual diversity in my world, but it seems like a path of least resistance, and I am pretty happy for now.

Comment author: palladias 28 April 2014 05:52:37PM 9 points [-]
  • Did work for CFAR as the result of one of the old Skill of the Week posts (named a skill, requested designs for exercises)
  • Went to CFAR workshop, subsequently worked for CFAR for a year (and volunteer now, when I can)
  • Hosted Yvain at my house when he was doing his med interviews (meeting him in person for the first time)
Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2014 07:36:59AM 8 points [-]

I have acquired through Less Wrong online contacts without in-person meetups first the following:

  • Roommates
  • A job as a Fellow at Singinst back when it was called that
  • Beta readers for fiction; audience for same
  • Friends

I have also hosted couchsurfers about whom I knew only that they were "some manner of subculturey".

With in-person meeting between the rationalism and the formation of relationship: Basically all of my in-person friends who I currently see on a regular basis are rationalists (albeit principally for geographical reasons), as are all my romantic partners and what I think amounts to a majority of my exes at this point. There's a rationalist choir now (let me know if you want in, especially if you sing soprano or alto) and it meets at my house. I have at least 95% convinced Eliezer to officiate my wedding as long as I don't make him write the ceremony too.

Comment author: MathiasZaman 29 April 2014 09:10:56AM 3 points [-]

I can't join the rationalist choir (geographic problems and I can't sing), but I'm curious about the songs you sing.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 April 2014 03:10:29AM *  4 points [-]

People bring in whatever. We do a lot of rounds for warmup and fun, and have a few more serious songs like a relyricized version of Ave Verum Corpus and Copland's Long Time Ago in the repertoire we're building. At the most recent winter solstice we did Do You Realize, No One Is Alone, and The Word of God (I am not clear on why these songs were chosen) in addition to divvying up song-leading duties for some singalongs of better-known music. I recently bought a couple pieces of sheet music of songs I did in high school choir to introduce to the group and I'm also writing down some songs I've written and trying to come up with harmonies for the tunes.

If anybody has a good idea for songs we should do (or can think of good secular relyricizations for "Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia" etc. and "Sanctus dominus deus sabaoth, Hosanna deo in excelsis benedictus qui venit in nomine domine dei, pleni sunt coeli et terra, gloria tua" (in various subsets, repetitions, and orders) I would like to hear about it.

Comment author: SilentCal 30 April 2014 10:19:13PM *  7 points [-]

I consciously thought of LW and applied the outside view in a job interview at a famously selective company when asked how confident I was of my correctness on a question. I gave a much lower answer than I otherwise would have. I got an offer. In the meeting where they explained the offer, my ability to realize what I don't know was cited explicitly as a key positive. I took the job, it being my best offer at the time.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 01 May 2014 06:02:49AM *  2 points [-]

Good! This is an interesting different case. Instead of a connection with or through another person in the wider LW community, LW helped you make a business connection -- got you a job -- by helping you through the interview.

Comment author: Vaniver 29 April 2014 12:19:11AM *  7 points [-]
  • Went to CFAR.
  • Several friendships (including current roommate) from the local LW meetup.
  • Met quite a number of people visiting other meetups while traveling for business or family reasons.
  • Hosted a LWer visiting Austin for SXSW.
Comment author: MathiasZaman 28 April 2014 02:48:17PM 7 points [-]

At the moment, "friend" is probably too strong a word, but I've had a very meaningful connection with someone I met through the LessWrong-sphere over Skype. I've discussed something with them that I hardly talk about with anyone.

I also believe I have a standing invitation to have a drink with someone in Israel who I've met on the /r/HPMOR subreddit.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 28 April 2014 02:10:39PM *  7 points [-]

I got a couple of job offers from people who knew me through my online activities.

My online interaction with the Singularity Institute led to my collaboration with them.

I was introduced to a potential customer by someone I contacted, whom I knew only through their online presence.

For Singularity Summit 2012, I got some generous couchsurfing offers and ended up staying at Vassar's place.

(There was some minimum F2F time for some of the above, but everything got started online, and the great majority of interaction was not F2F.)

Comment author: Technoguyrob 29 April 2014 04:22:59PM 5 points [-]

I got a frequent LessWrong contributor a programming internship this summer.

Comment author: eggman 29 April 2014 07:27:43AM *  5 points [-]

Location: Vancouver, Canada

I was introduced to Less Wrong by a long-time friend who had been reading the website for about a year before I first visited it. Over time, I've generally become more integrated with the community. Now, a handful of my closest friends are ones I've met through the local meetup. Also, with related communities, the meetup does a lot to give presentations between people, and facilitate skill-sharing, and knowledge bases.

I know that several of my fellow meetup attendees also made great friends through the meetup. There has been at list one instance of two of them becoming roommates, and now a few of my friends are trying to put together a 'rationalist house' this summer.

For those not in the know, a 'rationalist house' is a group home based around intentional meatspace communities that have risen around this website, so as to create a better living environment where new domestic norms can be tried. There are several in the Bay Area, at least one in Melbourne, probably one in New York(?), etc...

The founder of our meetup, who doesn't visit this website much anymore, but is generally in contact with the meetup otherwise, made connections with a successful financial manager who more-or-less became a mentor for him. Based upon the mentor's advice, this friend of mine is now trying to launch his own software company.

Several of us from the meetup have attended a CFAR workshop, including myself, and my friend who introduced me to Less Wrong has done continually ongoing volunteer work for them for the last year. As a result, we've become friends, and acquaintances, of much of the rationalist community in San Francisco. Additionally, a few of my friends have been spurred involvement with other organizations based in the Bay Area (e.g., YCombinator, the MIRI, Landmark). He also started an ongoing swing dancing community in Berkeley while he lived there, because memes.

Less Wrong introduced my friends, and I, to the effective altruism community, which infected a few of us with new memes for doing good, spurring at least one of us so far to have donated several thousand dollars to organizations, and projects, like the global prioritization research currently being jointly executed by the Future of Humanity Institute, and the Centre for Effective Altruism.

For the sake of their privacy, I'm not posting the names of these individuals, or their contact information, directly here on the public Internet, but if you'd like to get in touch with them to ask further questions, send me a private message, and I can put you in touch with them.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 28 April 2014 04:31:39PM 5 points [-]

Weak evidence so far, but then I'm active only for half a year:

  • I got specific advice for community building (LW and Giordano Bruno foundation) from someone I met on the Berlin community event,

  • I was coach surfing host for two inter-meetup guests who approached me via email purely based on my LW posts. This led to very interesting discussions but not more yet.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 April 2014 04:30:55PM *  5 points [-]

I've found a couple of software development internships through the bay area LW network, lived for a few months in housing shared with other LWers, and made lots of friends. Also my current startup cofounder.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 April 2014 02:30:21AM 12 points [-]

I use LW as a social networking device more than anything else.

  • I got three jobs through the LW community, through a mix of job postings here and social networks, the succession of which has pretty much raised me from poor/lower class to middle class.
  • The vast majority of my romantic partners since getting involved with rationality are through the LW community, often met at meetups or through related social networks.
  • Almost all of my friends are through the rationalist community, especially if you expand that to include some of the related atheist networks.
  • I've hosted two LWers when they were visiting the city I was in, and an internet acquaintance who only knew me through the atheist/rationalist community recently hosted me when I was visiting NYC.
  • I'm currently looking for a rationalist apartment-mate (let me know if you're in NYC and interested! (and clean))
Comment author: Cyan 28 April 2014 02:25:02PM *  12 points [-]

I made a good friend via LW private messaging. Together we started the Ottawa LW meetup group.

Comment author: XFrequentist 29 April 2014 12:43:59AM 16 points [-]

Me too!

Comment author: Zian 03 May 2014 06:58:42AM 4 points [-]

No, it hasn't at this time.

(I fear that your post will generate a lot of positive bias.)

Comment author: JoshuaFox 03 May 2014 05:37:44PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I compensate for that by realizing that the people answering this are a small fraction of LW users.

Comment author: eggman 08 May 2014 03:33:44AM 0 points [-]

It's a weird phenomenon, because even those lurkers with accounts who barely contribute might not state how they've not socially benefited from Less Wrong. However, I suspect the majority of people who mostly read Less Wrong, and are passive to insert themselves deeper into the community are the sorts of people who are also less likely to find social benefit from it. I mean, from my own experience, that of my friends, and the others commenting here, they took initiative upon themselves to at least , e.g., attend a meatspace Less Wrong meetup. This is more likely to lead to social benefit than Less Wrong spontaneously improving the lives of more passive users who don't make their presence known. If one is unknown, that person won't make the social connections which will lead to fruition.

Comment author: Ben_LandauTaylor 29 April 2014 10:05:00AM 4 points [-]

Online stuff:

I have several friends in the DC area who I met because I made this post.

I found my job because I applied to a CFAR workshop, and that led me to attend the Effective Altruism Summit instead (funny story there), which is where I first met the team I work with.

Phil and Eliezer have critiqued my fiction, and I've done the same for Phil and Vaniver.

Meatspace stuff:

I met about a dozen good friends in Boston through LW meetups and lived with several of them before I moved to SF.

These days, my primary social group is maybe 50% self-identified rationalists and 100% people who are serious about existential risk and laugh at jokes about fundamental epistemology.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 28 April 2014 06:53:18PM 6 points [-]

The results of this could be made into a LessWrong sucess stories post, which might then be used for outreach e.g. in handouts or as part of the meetup manual - if the commenters agree to that.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 April 2014 10:37:02PM 6 points [-]

Less Wrong: the Toastmasters of rationality.

Comment author: eggman 08 May 2014 03:28:18AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I'd second that. Someone could make a Google survey form, or comment thread poll, asking which users commenting here would be open to having their success stories published in some capacity, whether here on the blog, or a more widely shared piece of literature.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 28 April 2014 03:55:29PM 6 points [-]
  • Almost went into business with a few LWers 3.5 years back. Didn't, but kept strong contact with one of them, he ended up founding a startup, I connected him to a high-profile presentation venue (and possible investors)
  • Switched to a better group at my previous job via a reference from a LW reader
  • Got good advice about my current job via a LW contact
Comment author: jsalvatier 29 May 2014 12:07:03AM 2 points [-]

About 50% of my day to day friends are LWers. All 3 of my housemates are LWers. I've hosted Yvain and another LWer. Most of the people I know in SF are through LW. I've had a serious business opportunity through someone I know via LW. I've had a couple of romantic interests.