Comment, Don't Message

post by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2019-11-18T16:00:02.010Z · score: 28 (12 votes) · LW · GW · 5 comments

Most of the time, when people have responses to my posts they write them as comments. Sometimes, however, they email or send messages. Since I strongly prefer comments I wanted to write some about why.

A discussion we have in comments will be open to people other than the two of us. People who read the post and are thinking along similar lines can see our back-and-forth. The comments will be attached to the post, potentially clarifying things for people who come across the post later. If the question comes up again I can link someone to our discussion of it. The comments show up in search engines for unrelated people interested in these ideas. Since communicating in public has all these positive externalities, I'm much more willing to put time and thought into a discussion if it can be public.

There are also benefits during the discussion, as other people often have valuable things to add. Many times a comment thread has been me and someone else, and a third person jumps in with an important consideration that hadn't occurred to either of us. Other times someone's comment sparks a thread which brings in perspectives from many people. It's not just that our talking in public helps others, but it helps us too.

More selfishly, comments have different expectations around responses. I read every comment, but I often don't reply. Maybe the comment is self contained, and while it's communicating something important a reply wouldn't add anything. Maybe I'm not sure how I'd like to respond yet, and then don't end up coming back to it. Maybe other people responded and it seems like the important details have come out already. Maybe I just don't have time. With one-on-one messages, however, the response burden is much higher. Just writing back "received and read" would be hostile, but writing a good response can be a lot of work. Sending a message should not generally obligate a reply, but it still feels rude not to put in the time for a thorough response.

There are valid reasons for non-public communication. Perhaps you're afraid of how people might respond to revealing details of your identity or taking an unpopular position. Perhaps you want to talk about something that is illegal but generally viewed as ok among your friends. Perhaps there are people who follow you around the internet harassing you. Perhaps you don't trust yourself to phrase sensitive issues in a way that doesn't lead to people being mad at you. This is not an exhaustive list! Private messages I've gotten about posts, however, don't seem to be sent for one of these reasons. If you're sending a message privately for a reason, it's helpful if you can say so.

While I don't normally ask for emails in response to posts, this particular one seems like it should be an exception, so you're welcome to write me at I'm not committing to reply, though!

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comment by lsusr · 2019-11-18T20:44:38.133Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's too bad. Your experience differs from mine. However, I have only a 13th as many posts as you have, so it's possible this may change in the future.

Of the two private messages I've received both made total sense as private messages. One dealt with sensitive issues neither of us felt like stating publicly and the other corrected a minor miscalculation in one of my posts (which I immediately fixed).

With these exceptions aside, yes, I also prefer comments to my posts. One of my favorite reasons has to do with replying. Often commenter B will reply better to commenter A than I could have done myself. This is especially useful when several commenters produce various phenotypes of the same fundamental error.

comment by bendini · 2019-11-18T23:09:20.687Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd like to second this and say my experience has also been completely different.

There are some conversations that make sense to have 1v1, and most of the value I've gained from writing things has been when someone contacts me in private.

It does seem that while LessWrong doesn't actively discourage it, the site's UX makes it quite inconvenient to have those interactions.

comment by Démian Blair (demian-blair) · 2020-10-01T18:50:43.141Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey Jeff, I happened across your post:

Which got me wondering, as an experienced programmer what tools/languages/areas of programming do you see staying strong in the next decade? Where would you suggest someone start in programming?

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-02T16:49:19.752Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi Démian,

Could you post your comment on [? · GW] instead?


comment by Pattern · 2019-11-20T03:15:47.396Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the value of comments (and messages as well) may depend on the number.

Reading all the comments when there are twelve is feasible. Twelve hundred, not so much.

There are valid reasons for non-public communication.

Also, this section was really well done, and does a good job of presenting a solution to problems around questions with potentially unpopular answers, like "I want to talk to as many people as I can who hold unusual positions so I can understand why".