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Lesswrong Potential Changes

17 Elo 19 March 2016 12:24PM

I have compiled many suggestions about the future of lesswrong into a document here:


It's long and best formatted there.

In case you hate leaving this website here's the summary:


There are 3 main areas that are going to change.

  1. Technical/Direct Site Changes


    1. new home page

    2. new forum style with subdivisions

      1. new sub for “friends of lesswrong” (rationality in the diaspora)

    3. New tagging system

    4. New karma system

    5. Better RSS

  2. Social and cultural changes

    1. Positive culture; a good place to be.

    2. Welcoming process

    3. Pillars of good behaviours (the ones we want to encourage)

    4. Demonstrate by example

    5. 3 levels of social strategies (new, advanced and longtimers)

  3. Content (emphasis on producing more rationality material)

    1. For up-and-coming people to write more

      1. for the community to improve their contributions to create a stronger collection of rationality.

    2. For known existing writers

      1. To encourage them to keep contributing

      2. To encourage them to work together with each other to contribute

Less Wrong Potential Changes


Why change LW?

How will we know we have done well (the feel of things)

How will we know we have done well (KPI - technical)

Technical/Direct Site Changes




Karma system



RSS magic

Not breaking things

Funding support

Logistical changes


Done (or Don’t do it):


General initiatives

Welcoming initiatives

Initiatives for moderates

Initiatives for long-time users

Rationality Content

Target: a good 3 times a week for a year.

Approach formerly prominent writers

Explicitly invite

Place to talk with other rationalists

Pillars of purpose
(with certain sub-reddits for different ideas)

Encourage a declaration of intent to post

Specific posts

Other notes

Why change LW?


Lesswrong has gone through great times of growth and seen a lot of people share a lot of positive and brilliant ideas.  It was hailed as a launchpad for MIRI, in that purpose it was a success.  At this point it’s not needed as a launchpad any longer.  While in the process of becoming a launchpad it became a nice garden to hang out in on the internet.  A place of reasonably intelligent people to discuss reasonable ideas and challenge each other to update their beliefs in light of new evidence.  In retiring from its “launchpad” purpose, various people have felt the garden has wilted and decayed and weeds have grown over.  In light of this; and having enough personal motivation to decide I really like the garden, and I can bring it back!  I just need a little help, a little magic, and some little changes.  If possible I hope for the garden that we all want it to be.  A great place for amazing ideas and life-changing discussions to happen.

How will we know we have done well (the feel of things)


Success is going to have to be estimated by changes to the feel of the site.  Unfortunately that is hard to do.  As we know outrage generates more volume than positive growth.  Which is going to work against us when we try and quantify by measurable metrics.  Assuming the technical changes are made; there is still going to be progress needed on the task of socially improving things.  There are many “seasoned active users” - as well as “seasoned lurkers” who have strong opinions on the state of lesswrong and the discussion.  Some would say that we risk dying of niceness, others would say that the weeds that need pulling are the rudeness.  

Honestly we risk over-policing and under-policing at the same time.  There will be some not-niceness that goes unchecked and discourages the growth of future posters (potentially our future bloggers), and at the same time some other niceness that motivates trolling behaviour as well as failing to weed out potential bad content which would leave us as fluffy as the next forum.  there is no easy solution to tempering both sides of this challenge.  I welcome all suggestions (it looks like a karma system is our best bet).

In the meantime I believe being on the general niceness, steelman side should be the motivated direction of movement.  I hope to enlist some members as essentially coaches in healthy forum growth behaviour.  Good steelmanning, positive encouragement, critical feedback as well as encouragement, a welcoming committee and an environment of content improvement and growth.

While at the same time I want everyone to keep up the heavy debate; I also want to see the best versions of ourselves coming out onto the publishing pages (and sometimes that can be the second draft versions).

So how will we know?  By trying to reduce the ugh fields to people participating in LW, by seeing more content that enough people care about, by making lesswrong awesome.

The full document is just over 11 pages long.  Please go read it, this is a chance to comment on potential changes before they happen.

Meta: This post took a very long time to pull together.  I read over 1000 comments and considered the ideas contained there.  I don't have an accurate account of how long this took to write; but I would estimate over 65 hours of work has gone into putting it together.  It's been literally weeks in the making, I really can't stress how long I have been trying to put this together.

If you want to help, please speak up so we can help you help us.  If you want to complain; keep it to yourself.

Thanks to the slack for keeping up with my progress and Vanvier, Mack, Leif, matt and others for reviewing this document.

As usual - My table of contents

LW Australia's online hangout results, (short stories about cognitive biases)

2 Elo 14 July 2014 06:25AM

In the Australia Mega-Online-hangout; a member mentioned a task/goal of his to write a few short stories to convey cognitive biases.  After a while and a few more goals, someone suggested we actually write the short stories (the power of group resources!).  So we did.  They might be a bit silly, answers are at the very bottom, try to guess the biases.

We had some fun writing them up.  This project was intended to be a story-per-day blog.  feel free to write a short story in the discussion, or comment on how a different cognitive bias might be attributed to any of the stories.

Guess the bias in the short stories:

Cathy hates catching the train.  She hates waiting in line for tickets, she hates lazy people who can't get their wallet out before they get to the front of the line, she hates missing her train because people are disorganised and carry bags of junk around with them, "why are you so disorganised", she said to the woman in front of her, who looks at her in a huff.  As she gets to the front of the line she opens her bag to find her wallet, she looks under her umbrella that she keeps for a rainy day, even though its not rainy today, moves her phone to her pocket so that she can listen to a rationality audiobook when she gets on the train, moves her book away, shuffles the gum around that she never eats, rifles past the dirty tissues and finally pulls out her wallet.  A grumpy man behind cathy in the line mutters, "why are you so disorganised".  Which she knows is not true because she is usually very organised.


Mark always felt like an outcast.  He was always dressing a little wacky, and enjoyed hanging out with people like him. He was especially fond of wearing Hawaiian shirts!  When we was walking in the mall yesterday a man in a suit and holding a clipboard came up to him and started talking to him about donating to charity.  As usual he brushed him off and kept walking.  Today a man in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts; also with a clipboard came up to him and started talking to him about donating to charity.  But that's okay, he was just doing his job.  Mark chatted to him for a few minutes and considered donating.


Mr. Fabulous Fox was in a hurry, he had to get to the Millar farm before Mr. Millar got back. Mr. Fox had never been before but he knew that it would take at least 10 minutes to get there, and he had to guess it would take him at least 20 minutes to grab some chickens and ducks to feed his family. Mr. Fox waited until he saw Mr. Millar drive away to the fair, Mr. Millar would be selling the plumpest hens and the fattest ducks, for a tidy profit, and Mr. Fox could take advantage of that to have himself a bountiful meal.

Mr. Fox dashed out onto the road and made his down the farmyard road, scuttling his way toward the ducks in their pen, he jumped the fence and caught a few, looking forward to snacking on them. Sneaking into the henhouse, Mr. Fox spotted the fattest hen he’d ever seen sitting down the very end of the shack.  He immediately bolted down to catch it, chasing it up and down the wooden floorboards, scattering the other hens and causing a ruckus. 

Catching the Fat Hen had only taken an hour, so it was somewhat of a surprise to Mr. Fabulous Fox when he spotted Mr. Millar, moments before he shot him.


Mike is an extraordinarily compassionate and nice person. He is so nice that someone once said that he used Mike to ground morality. Many people who know Mike concurred, and Alice once observed that ‘Do what Mike Blume would do’ was the most effective practical ethical decision-making algorithm they could think of for people capable of modelling Mike Blume.

One day, Jessica was in trouble. She had to vote on a motion, but the motion was phrased in incredibly obtuse language that she didn’t have time to study. She realized that Mike was also voting, and sighed in relief. Reassured by Mike’s ethical soundness, she voted with him on the motion.  She figured that was better than voting based on the extremely lossy interpretation she would come up with in 10 minutes. Later, when looking at the motion, she realized it was terrible, and she was shocked at the failure of the usually-excellent algorithm!


Eliot walked along the cold, grey road.  The cool  breeze reminded him that it was nearly autumn.  Then, he remembered it: the stock market had recently crashed.  He had taken this walk to get  away from the news stories about the recession on the television at  home.  As he walked, he came across a vending machine.  In the mood for  some simple chocolate comfort, he pitched in some quarters and out came a  sugary snack.  As he ate, he remembered his mother.  She had taken him  in after he lost his job a few weeks ago.  The sweet, woody smell of  coffee drifted past.  Enjoying the smell, he realized that it would give  him energy: just what he needed.  He stopped in at the coffee shop and  ordered a tall coffee, black.  After enjoying the first few sips, he  wandered back into the city.  He watched the cars go past one after  another as he walked, watched them stream up into the distance in a long  traffic jam.  Monday rush hour.  He found it odd, but he wished that he  was in it.  He decided to stop at the video store and rent a few movies  to take his mind off of things.  When it was time to make the purchase,  he was shocked to discover that he didn't have enough money left over  to cover the movie he chose.  He thought to himself "If I'm going to  survive the recession, I had better get control over my spending."

Fred squirrel had long been a good friend to Jean Squirrel, and she hadn't seen him in many years. She decided to visit him to reminisce about their high school days. As she was walking though the forest, looking forward to having acorns with her good friend, she found Fred lying on the ground, unconscious. It was immediately clear that Fred must've fallen out of the tree and hit his head whilst he was storing nuts for the winter. Jean was inclined to think that this was due to his laziness and lack of vigilance whilst climbing around the tree. Obviously he deserved to fall and hit his head to teach him a lesson.

Jean later found out that he'd been hit on the head by a falling bowl of petunias.

Cathy Story
Fundamental Attribution Error, Illusory superiority

Mark Story
Ingroup Bias

Mr. Fox
Planning Fallacy, Normalcy Bias, Optimism Bias?

Mike Story
Halo  Effect (Actually, wouldn't halo effect require you to start with Mike  Bloom's good looks and then make assumptions about his decision-making  based on this?  I think this is not really halo effect.  Is it halo  effect if the positive trait you assume is not *different* from the  positive trait you observed?)

Elliot Story
Denomination Effect, Insensitivity to sample size

LW Study Hall - 2 Month Update

30 Lachouette 12 May 2013 10:03AM

Comment reposted from (link) for exposure


Two months have passed and I’m glad to say the LW Study Hall on tinychat is still active and alive. Since judging from the comments it kind of looks like we’ve moved on from tinychat, a review like this might be useful for anyone who hasn’t been there yet.

My first sessions on the chat were driven more by curiosity than anything else since I didn’t believe it would be really effective for me – I’ve felt that I procrastinate too much, but it never occurred to me that working together with other people might make me more effective. I was proven wrong.

Since those first sessions I’ve been online almost every day and got to see different people come and go, and some people stay. It didn’t take long for me to feel like a part of the “chat community”, and to feel motivated to work to see the regulars more often, some of which I might even consider friends now. The atmosphere is friendly, people make an active effort to integrate newcomers in the “community” and I have yet to see an argument that isn’t constructive. Though the breaks are a bit flexible, people usually don’t overstretch it and it’s generally good practice not to chat during a working phase. More introverted people can participate without taking part in the chat much and without broadcasting video.

So, what makes this chat so effective in combating procrastination? Pomodoros are the “flow” of the chat. Since you’re working with other people, you are much more likely to stick to the pomodoro cycle than if you set those constraints for yourself. That doesn’t just mean you keep the breaks relatively short, but you also don’t work too long. I find that if I work alone, I tend to keep at it for longer than I can keep concentrated. When I do take a break I don’t really have anything else to do, so I might start to procrastinate, leading to a work cycle where the “breaks” can be as long as the working phases. This has been my main issue with structuring my working day, and I was more surprised than I probably should have been to see that problem solved by working in a group. Judging from my own experiences and those of others I believe everyone struggling with akrasia should at least try if it works for him/her. For those who struggle with akrasia more, it might be useful to combine several techniques such as precommitting to fixed working dates, showing your screen on camera or finding someone on the chat who will remind you (e.g. via skype) to show up again if you’ve been absent for longer (or any number of other methods like beeminder).

There are a few issues with the chat, especially that tinychat isn’t always stable. The limited options have also been subject of complaints, but it’s so far the best thing we’ve found. I’m optimistic that a better option will be found or created in the long term – the more people frequent the chat, the more likely it gets. Covering all time slots hasn’t worked out perfectly, but we usually have good “coverage” during the UTC afternoon/evening, so that is probably a good time to try. In case the chat is empty, don’t be discouraged, just try again later. I will try to put as many of my working hours in the precommitment schedule (link on top of the chat window) and hope others will do so more often too, so it’s possible to sync up working time.

Over these two months the lesswrong chat has become a substantial part of my life that I really want to keep, ideally for much longer. While it is no longer an experiment for me, I want to invite you to try it, if you haven’t already. I’d be glad to welcome you on the chat anytime. :)

Anyone want a LW Enhancement Suite?

15 MBlume 15 February 2012 08:48AM

Reddit Enhancement Suite

If anyone cares, I could probably port this to work on LW without too much trouble. Optimistically it'd just involve opening up the source and replacing reddit.com with lesswrong.com. More realistically, there'd probably be a lot of baked-in assumptions about DOM structure that'd need to be updated to have the UI enhancements make sense.

Anyway, this is mostly just a straw poll to see how many others would be interested in such a thing.