Feature Wish List for LessWrong

post by sarahconstantin · 2016-12-17T21:10:01.272Z · score: 14 (13 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 46 comments

Efforts are underway to replace the old LessWrong codebase. This is a thread to solicit people's ideas and requests for features or changes to the LessWrong website.  What would make discussion quality better?

46 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2016-12-19T11:56:57.335Z · score: 15 (10 votes) · LW · GW

FHI and MIRI both hold workshops that are logistically very expensive, both for the organizations and for the participants. Structurally a workshop discussion seems very similar to a LessWrong: you have one person make a short presentation about a topic or a question, then discussion ensues. It seems like a lot of resources could be saved if some of those discussions were moved online entirely, or if the participants had online discussions ahead of time to iron out some basic issues / common misunderstandings so that the workshop could focus on more important issues. We should ask what features would enable that.

I think one thing that would help is to have private posts that can only be viewed and commented on by invitation (by both username and email address so people can be invited even before they sign up to LW). I guess that people are often reluctant to post on LW because they're not ready for their ideas to be seen in public yet. For example their idea is only half-formed and it wouldn't make sense yet to take the effort of making it understandable to people outside a small circle. Or they're not sure the idea is correct and don't want to take a public reputation hit in case it's not.

I suggest having the option of making a private post public at any time, so productive discussions can be later viewed and joined in by the public, for example after the initial poster decides there aren't embarrassing holes in their ideas, or has had a chance to edit their post for public consumption. Each commenter should be able to mark their comment as private or inherit, where private would hide their comment from the public even if the opening post is made public.

comment by philh · 2016-12-19T10:14:51.366Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Highlighting new comments is important. Currently, viewing a subthread breaks that feature; it shouldn't. (One way to handle this is to allow people to choose "highlight comments posted since an arbitrary date", with a dropdown list of times they've visited the thread in the past.)

comment by Vaniver · 2016-12-18T19:28:33.557Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Also, since we're migrating to another codebase, not every feature LW currently has will move over by default. So if you use something like the anti-kibitzer and would like to make sure it's still around, that should go on this list too.

comment by Grothor · 2016-12-18T02:15:38.625Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I very much like the idea of the Sunshine Regiment, as discussed by Vaniver, here:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/o5z/on_the_importance_of_less_wrong_or_another_single/di1g

As he's explained it to me, it sounds like it would need to be part of the code. From the outside, it would need to be a button on each post that would flag it as needing attention from a member of the SR. I feel like the flag should be visible to everyone, so that if things are getting out of hand, it can be put on pause until the SR takes a look at it, but it should not reveal publicly who flagged it. But maybe there is a better system for handling visibility and anonymity.

From the inside, it would need the features that Vaniver described, namely an issue-handling system for all the members of the SR to keep track of who's taking care of what, and which posts need attention. I'd think that SR should know who flagged a post, but maybe it could be anonymous to them as well.

(Or, maybe this has already undergone a more thorough discussion behind the scenes, in which case, you can just take this post as a vote in favor of SR support.)

comment by Error · 2016-12-17T22:27:51.865Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've written a bit about this, but I never finished the sequence and don't really endorse any of it as practical. Some of the comment threads may have useful suggestions in them, though.

Discussion quality is a function of the discussants more than the software.

I think we are better off using something as close to off-the-shelf as possible, modified only via intended configuration hooks. Software development isn't LW's comparative advantage. If we are determined to do it anyway, we should do it in such a way that it's useful to more than just us, so as to potentially get contributions from elsewhere.

What's the replacement plan? Are we building something from the ground up, re-forking Reddit, or something else? I've nosed around contributing a few times and keep getting put off by the current crawling horror. If we're re-building from something clean, I might reconsider.

comment by steven0461 · 2016-12-18T19:55:23.359Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Discussion quality is a function of the discussants more than the software.

I agree with this and suspect that a willingness to keep out low-quality users is more important than any technical feature. The decision to remove all downvoting is worrying in this regard.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-18T14:18:12.543Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think we are better off using something as close to off-the-shelf as possible, modified only via intended configuration hooks.

The thing is, the modern web doesn't particularly care about high quality discussion.

Most places where people comment expect you to write something short and brainless, or even not write anything at all but just like it and share it. 1000000 likes on Facebook are much more immediately monetizable than 10 thoughtful comments on LW.

And the technology that powers all this stuff is adapted to handling a flood of super low quality comments and likes. If we want something high quality, we may need to innovate a bit on the tech side, for example by controlling downvotes, adding more nuanced reactions, etc etc.

At the same time I agree that we shouldn't go overboard. But I can totally see a fork of Reddit with a sane DB schema being a start.

comment by plethora · 2016-12-18T13:20:20.723Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Discussion quality is a function of the discussants more than the software.

But daydreaming about the cool new social media software we're totally going to write is so fun!

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-18T18:58:11.424Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But daydreaming about the cool new social media software we're totally going to write is so fun!

Yesterday I saw the prototype of the discussion software that the Arbital folks are writing, and it looks really great.

comment by whpearson · 2016-12-20T00:36:39.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Discussion quality is a function of the discussants more than the software.

I think having a focused discussion topic helps as well. Even with high quality discussants you might have low quality discussion if people aren't interested in what other people want to talk about.

Is the reboot of LW going to have the same focus as the current site? LW sometimes seems like an uncomfortable mix of instrumental rationality, decision theory and ai risks.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-17T21:55:05.063Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Personally I have found downvoting to be one of the biggest problems with LW, and one reason I don't go to the effort of writing full posts here.

People will downvote something that you spent a lot of time putting together, and which may have a lot of merit, but which perhaps isn't perfect. I have found this is particularly true if you present a theory about something without enough "rubber stamp" hedging about how what you're saying might not be true.

Some things posted here are genuinely without any merit, or so riddled with sloppy thinking that they deserve to be on negative karma, but that doesn't apply to most things.

As a fix for this, I would make downvoting something a user has a limited supply of, like 1 per week, increasing gradually with the karma that user accrues. Perhaps the starting supply of downvotes should be 0/week until the user has submitted some content.

And of course we need to fight botting, but that seems obvious.

comment by Elo · 2016-12-17T22:08:13.233Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

agreed.

want to point out that this:

And of course we need to fight botting, but that seems obvious.

Would be a big problem with your suggestion. Possibly only solved by gated entry to the forum. I.e. must email requesting to join the forum. Although I hate putting up barriers to entry to lw.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-17T23:41:41.559Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why gated entry?

Other fora have developed ways of combatting bots; captchas, browser cookies, ips, etc.

Make it relatively easy for humans to enter but harder to make a mess, have algorithms that look for accounts whose voting patterns correlate but who never post anything, etc. Have a report spam button. Use blacklisting of emails and ips.

comment by Elo · 2016-12-18T22:02:05.608Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We have about one bot a month, I deal with that pretty easily. We have one troll every day, causing damage, causing special focus.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-19T21:48:25.028Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

God that guy STILL ....

comment by Wei_Dai · 2019-02-18T20:35:10.349Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I want to see a backlink feature, so people can find replies to a post that aren't in the form of a comment. Compared to the old LW, people now write more posts than comments, and some long replies that would have been comments in the old LW now appear as posts, but these are hard to find from the post that they're replying to. Please consider implementing this for external backlinks too if that seems worthwhile.

(Also, is this still the best place to submit feature requests?)

comment by Raemon · 2019-02-18T20:50:12.325Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's as good a place as any to submit feature requests, I think.

Agree on backlinks, that's on our agenda.

comment by siIver · 2016-12-18T12:10:30.957Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would like downvotes and upvotes to be both shown rather than mathed out against each other, and also them not be anonymous. I also endorse restricting downvotes.

comment by satt · 2016-12-18T15:21:51.715Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'd also like to see downvotes & upvotes shown separately, but want to keep their anonymity.

The big upside of a downvote is that it lets you quickly signal that a comment's bad without having its poster follow you around afterwards or draw you into an unproductively time-consuming argument. This can of course be abused, but in LW's one big case of downvote abuse (Eugine_Nier) it didn't take long to see who was behind it anyway.

comment by philh · 2016-12-19T10:26:16.706Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Speculative: don't necessarily force, but allow people to tag upvotes and downvotes, suggesting tags which are globally common or have already been used on this comment. (Suggested downvote tags: "incomprehensible", "untrue", "rude", "spam", "misread the parent comment".) Make the tags visible on each comment. Possibly, for each user, publish the list of most common tags they've received.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-18T18:06:53.252Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Votes shouldn't have equal weight, but a page-rank like algorithm should score votes by people who get a lot of votes higher.

comment by steven0461 · 2016-12-18T19:52:00.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Or, better yet, it should score votes by a number of hand-picked people higher. Karma is an indicator of voting quality, but an unreliable one.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-18T20:25:31.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hand-picking has some advantages but it also produces problem because it induces political discussion about who deserves to be in the hand-picked group of high voting power users.

comment by steven0461 · 2016-12-18T20:27:15.714Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The hand-pickers can be anonymous to everyone except the site owners. The picking needn't even be a continuous process; it can just be done once with no possibility of discussion. People would still yell at us for the abstract fact that we implemented such a scheme, but we'd have to weigh that against what I expect would be a substantial increase in voting quality. (Nobody would lose their vote and this would help make it palatable.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-18T20:41:22.720Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think having a few anonymous amount of high voting power users and most users at normal voting power would get around the problem of Eugine's sockpuppets. A page-rank like algorithm on the other hand would make the forum robust against attacks of that sort.

You can additionally seed the algorithm with giving specific individuals higher voting power.

comment by philh · 2016-12-19T10:57:26.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Using a pagerank algorithm against sockpuppets feels like the wrong approach. Consider that people learn to exploit google's algorithms, and then they make changes to fix that, and people learn to exploit them again. We don't want to be playing that game. And as long as we have few enough trolls, I'm not sure we have to: if we have an effective way to detect and ban them manually, that should be fine.

Algorithms like this might be valuable for other reasons, but I don't think we should be using them against trolls.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-19T22:19:51.484Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And as long as we have few enough trolls, I'm not sure we have to: if we have an effective way to detect and ban them manually, that should be fine.

There are no completely effective ways for banning people. Accounts can be reregistered.

comment by steven0461 · 2016-12-18T20:45:18.781Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, we'd need a separate solution to sockpuppet attacks, like disallowing downvotes from accounts below a karma threshold, or the one about moderator database access that's currently in the pipeline.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-19T22:12:17.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sockpuppets can vote each other up to reach any karma threshold that's a minimum for downvoting.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-19T21:58:07.253Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sockpuppet attacks work because accounts are allowed to downvote an unlimited amount of times without ever posting anything.

Change it so that you get 1 downvote per week if you have posted a few comments, and the sockpuppeter has to automate commenting. That's harder for them to do than it is for the good guys to ban their puppets.

In addition, use the usual tactics against bots, such as email verification and ip banlists.

comment by Vaniver · 2016-12-20T18:53:44.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We do email verification already.

I think the suggestion in the middle paragraph would hit a lot of people that we do want voting, both up and down; lurkers with good taste make the karma signals better.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-21T10:09:56.427Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not convinced that lurkers' downvotes are good for the site, but I assume that with the current state of the database this is not a question we can answer empirically?

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-22T15:44:13.653Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the suggestion in the middle paragraph would hit a lot of people that we do want voting, both up and down; lurkers with good taste make the karma signals better.

I think on average the votes of lurkers are less valuable than the votes of participating members. If there's an AI that identifies lurkers with good taste because they vote similar to a moderator, their votes would be valuable.

Without a way to distinguish good taste from bad taste lurkers I think it's more useful to count people who have a higher stake in a forum more strongly.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-12-18T21:52:46.702Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In general I think it's useful to give votes of new posters little weight. I don't think that a specific threshold number is optimal. I think a PageRank like system would produce a better result in fending of Eternal September voting issues.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-18T09:41:25.284Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Another 'Nice to have' feature would be the ability to easily share comments between LW, Facebook and a personal WordPress blog.

I'd like to be able to post something on my blog, automatically crosspost it to LW, and have the comments mirrored from LW to my site. That way I would get the reward of visibility for my blog, without having to deprive LW of content.

comment by Grothor · 2017-01-17T06:47:00.082Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would be helpful to have a few threads that are sticky, or otherwise easy to find. For example, the current open, welcome, and stupid questions threads. Today when I created that spurious welcome thread, I noticed a post made by a new user that seemed appropriate for the welcome thread and I wanted to link them to it. The link to the welcome thread at http://lesswrong.com/about/ points to a 2015 edition. I tried a few different searches in the Google search bar, then checked a few of the tags that customarily go along with the welcome threads. Then I got anxious that I was double posting, and checked again. So I finally posted it, and within two hours, before I was even aware that I'd double posted, the thread got two new users posting on it, even though the original had sat idle for over a week.

This makes me think that I'm not the only one that had trouble finding it. The Google search that's integrated into the site is great for searching based on content and popularity, especially for older content, but it's slow to index, and sometimes the title of the link is misleading (it actually finds the original January 2017 Welcome thread, but the link shows up as January 2016). It looks like the way to have found it would have been ctrl-F on the discussion page. If the standard, regularly-reposted threads were sticky'd at the top, or had links on a sidebar or something, this wouldn't be an issue. A search that allows to filter by date would probably also suffice, so long as it indexes quickly enough.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm making excuses; I made a mistake, and I feel appropriately embarrassed (and even as I type that, I get the mental image of Vaniver looking at me critically and saying "But do you?"). I realize that this may be mainly a case of me being bad at searching for things, and if I'm the only one who experiences this, then we can probably just not worry about it.

comment by TiffanyAching · 2017-01-17T17:18:20.360Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree totally about sticky threads. I'd never even seen a forum without them until I came here. Having to repost the Welcome thread and the open threads over and over seems like such a PITA.

comment by username2 · 2016-12-19T17:35:01.802Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Active moderation by a core of trusted, actively contributing volunteers who have the capability of removing/hiding content without having to justify all details of such decisions to the membership as a whole. Separate, moderator only discussion space where policies and meta issues can be discussed without detracting from the main content here (and general discouragement of extensive meta discussions in main and discussion forums). Capability and willingness of moderators or at least forum admins to remove, block or bar users if in violation of site policies.

With the right sort of moderators this can be done sensitively to the needs of the community (I write this as a moderator of an unrelated discussion site with about 400 comments a day, most on topic).

comment by Anders_H · 2016-12-19T07:57:05.056Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like each user to have their own sub domain (I.e such that my top level posts can be accessed either from Anders_h.lesswrong.com or from LW discussion). If possible it would be great if users could customize the design of their sub domain, such that posts look different when accessed from LW discussion.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-12-19T03:09:41.626Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to see who up-voted me and the number of views each post gets. There should be a less time consuming way of putting a link in a comment. Once each month you should have the option of super-up-voting a post or comment and the number of super-up votes a post gets should be visible.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2016-12-18T08:42:59.307Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

BTW there are some annoying UI issues on mobile at the moment. As I'm writing this comment, the comment button is hidden unless I rotate my screen to landscape.

The upvote/downvote buttons are very hard to press due to being rather small.

comment by Nestiold_duplicate0.37921518945111776 · 2018-02-26T12:46:57.916Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From the inside, it would need the features that Vaniver described, namely an issue-handling system for all the members of the SR to keep track of who's taking care of what, and which posts need attention. I'd think that SR should know who flagged a post, but maybe it could be anonymous to them as well. Thanks http://www.menslifeline.com/generic-viagra.html

comment by TiffanyAching · 2017-01-17T18:40:47.586Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if this has been discussed before, but what's the argument against the standard response-bumps-thread model? You've got active threads falling off the first page while threads that haven't successfully started a discussion are just sitting there.

Thread-bumping also allows for the creation of long-term threads - threads that might not be worth turning into stickies but are worthy of being resurrected many times when somebody has something new to contribute to them. "Your Favorite Rationality-Related Books", just as an example. Somebody creates it, people throw in a few names, then it sinks off the bottom of the page. A few weeks later somebody reads something new and wants to tell everyone about it so they post to the Book thread. It jumps back up to the top of the page and more people who didn't see it the first time round add their suggestions, and it sinks again. Over months and years contributions build up until you have a really useful resource for people looking for a good rationality book. That's the kind of thing I mean by a long-term thread.

While I'm at it, other fora usually have discussion sections broken into broad areas of interest - say Economics, Ethics, AI etc. (maybe even Politics) - and people post within the appropriate section. That might be a model to consider.

Finally, I think that if people want LW to be anything like a community, you need to consider making some sort of space for people to get to know each other and bond socially. The open threads don't cover that, comments there are still expected to be related to the site's purpose. I mean a random chat space where people can go to bitch about the weather or argue about whether Kirk was a better captain than Picard. I honestly believe it would improve the quality of the real discussions too. Social bonds incentivize civility. If we were all perfectly rational discussants that wouldn't be necessary but none of us are. So why not take a tip from evolution?

comment by scarcegreengrass · 2016-12-23T19:39:18.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In the short term, i'm open to the idea of allowing only upvotes on comments, but allowing both up and downvotes on posts.

comment by ozziegooen · 2016-12-25T03:02:53.083Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like there's a minority of the LessWrong community that enjoys giving snarky and fairly mean comments, often to rather small and minor points. These comments have definitely made me feel less welcome here when posting; I would hope they could somehow be downvoted more.

comment by scarcegreengrass · 2016-12-23T19:41:35.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Motivation: I rarely see a comment that i wish wasn't visible. But i sometimes see a post that i wish would be downvote-hidden (eg spam, insubstantial drama, etc).

This is not a serious problem right now, however, so handling this via mods is also an option. Downvoting is theoretically similar to moderation after all.