Consider paying for literature or book reviews using bounties and dominant assurance contracts

post by Arjun Panickssery (arjun-panickssery) · 2023-01-15T03:56:07.110Z · LW · GW · 7 comments

Cross-posted to the EA Forum here [EA · GW].

In September 2021, a LessWrong pilot program [LW · GW] paid $500 for high-quality book reviews related to "science, history, and rationality." They got 36 submissions (they don't say how many were rejected for low quality, but at least 9 were accepted) and a bunch of them were popular on the forum [LW · GW].

There's a bounty tag [? · GW] on LW (and on the EA Forum [? · GW]) but it isn't used much. A culture of posting bounties—either individually or in groups of people interested in the same information—has benefits for patrons, writers, and the community generally:

The simplest way this could work is for people to post individual bounties of e.g. $500 for posts drawing conclusions that would have taken them just too long to justify at the hourly value of their time. These bounties can guide writers who may be looking for things to read and write about anyway.

An obstacle to bounty markets is that writers incur the risk of being outshone by a better post written around the same time. They could also be snubbed by picky benefactors. If most bounties are posted by a small group of people who post many individual bounties, then reputation effects can manage this. Group bounties could be difficult to coordinate since people aren't motivated to post "I'd contribute $100 to a post analyzing the top 10 writing advice books for insights" if the bounty is unlikely ever to be fulfilled. And they're not motivated to join existing pools when they could free-ride instead.

One solution is to use the opposite direction: Kickstarter-style writing proposals. In monthly threads, users post advertisements for book reviews/literature reviews/investigations that they'd be willing to produce at some price and specifications. This puts the reputational demands on the writers and the risk on the sponsors who might pay for a poor product.

In theory, writers could kickstart posts using dominant assurance contracts. An example (this is a real offer): If you send $20 to arjun.panickssery at Gmail via PayPal by noon New York time on January 21st, I'll send you back $25 if fewer than 10 people sent me money. If 10 or more people send me money, I'll post a review of Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by the end of the month. I'm not sure whether I'm just giving away free money right now.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Raemon · 2023-01-16T19:44:27.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note there's a fairly major difference between "paying for arbitrary book reviews" and "paying for specific reviews to get specific questions answered." We built the questions feature on LW hoping it could be part of an overall bounty system, but what we found is that successfully communicating the question between grantor and researcher was very effortful/complex (often researchers would go off and answer a subtly wrong question). So in practice, what works well is having relationships with specific researchers you trust who are reasonably onboarded into your worldview and understand your assumptions.

Figuring out something in this space to make it more scalable certainly seems really valuable, but I think it's harder than this post makes it sound.

comment by dkirmani · 2023-01-15T05:09:35.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
comment by JohnBuridan · 2023-01-16T14:46:59.517Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If they pay you with PayPal and you pay them back with PayPal, then there is a 6% loss. It would be easier and less dead weight lossy to use a private challenge mechanism within Manifold. Or even to just create a market in Manifold and bet it down super low, and then resolve it against yourself if you get 10 bettors. That's a first thought... One objection is that since assassination markets don't seem to obtain, maybe they wouldn't work with blog posts either. However, in this case the market maker has both the market incentive and some other motivation not entirely captured by the market to complete the blog post.

Replies from: chunkzer0
comment by chunkzer0 · 2023-01-16T19:05:53.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there some reason not to select the "friends and family" option in the PayPal interface, for contracts like this?  I decided to participate just now, and I didn't seem to be charged for sending money.

comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2023-01-16T06:57:19.054Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • For patrons—If there's a question you want investigated or a book you want reviewed, you can save your valuable time by tossing the question into the LW void and waiting for a piece that's worth accepting. Others probably want the same thing and can contribute to a pool. Ambitious patrons can also influence the direction of the community by sponsoring posts on topics they think people should think about more. You don't have to worry about filtering for visible credentials and writers don't have to worry about having any. 

What guarantees would there be for patrons who expected a specific question investigated but felt dissatisfied with the outcome? 

Replies from: JohnBuridan
comment by JohnBuridan · 2023-01-16T17:10:26.219Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll be selling Dominant Assurance Contracts Insurance. If a post is not up to standards then you can file a claim and receive compensation. Power will shift towards my insurance company's internal adjudication board. Eventually we'll cover certain writers but not others, acting as a seal of quality.

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2023-01-16T17:35:35.985Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the expected overhead in percentage terms?