Proposed rewrites of LW home page, about page, and FAQ

post by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-17T22:41:57.843Z · score: 18 (19 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 35 comments

Contents

  Proposed rewrites can be found here.  Please suggest specific improvements in the comments!
None
35 comments

Proposed rewrites can be found here.  Please suggest specific improvements in the comments!

Although long-time Less Wrong users don't pay much attention to the home page, about page, and FAQ, I suspect new users pay lots of attention to them.  A few times, elsewhere on the internet, I've seen people describe their impression of Less Wrong that seemed primarily gleaned from these pages--they made generalizations about Less Wrong that didn't seem true to me, but might appear to be true if all one did was read the about page and FAQ.

The about page, in particular, is called out to every new visitor.  Try visiting Less Wrong in incognito mode or private browsing (i.e. without your current cookies) to see what I'm referring to.

But the current set of "newcomer pages" isn't very good, in my opinion:

These pages also have the general appearance of being woefully under-optimized.  For example, the home page links to an announcement for an event that ended almost a year ago.
Hence my proposed rewriteshome page, about page, and FAQ.  A few notes:
  • I tried to link to various posts that are explicitly targeted at newcomers, like "What I've Learned from Less Wrong" and "What is Bayesianism?", but weren't being shown on the existing newcomer pages.
  • I put a lot more stuff in the FAQ, on the theory that a long FAQ doesn't hurt much since folks can just read the answers to the questions that interest them.
  • I deliberately avoided looking at the existing pages at first when writing my alternatives, to avoid contamination. My thinking was that being different for its own sake was good if we could reliably figure out which version was better in each case (e.g. overcome status quo bias).  Please comment on nitty-gritty differences between the two versions, e.g. if you think I left an important sentence from the originals out or if one of the posts I linked to seems rather weak.

I certainly don't claim to speak for all Less Wrong users.  If you have any thoughts, please comment here, send me a private message, or log in to the wiki and edit the candidate pages directly.

I'm especially interested in getting feedback on the FAQ, because I took the liberty of codifying some social norms that were previously implicit: see the section Site Etiquette and Social Norms, especially the bits about Discussion vs Main, politics, and "if you never get voted down, you're not posting enough".

If you think I codified the social norms incorrectly, or you've been thinking they really should be different, please comment!  The FAQ seems like a good way to broadcast preferred norms, so I suspect this is an ideal thread to discuss them.

If you've got a suggested change that's nontrivial, I encourage you to create a poll for it here using comments as poll options or HonoreDB's system.

(Previous discussion.)

35 comments

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comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T07:01:53.312Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Home Page vs Search Engines

Search engine optimization is very, very complicated. I am not going to tell you how to SEO the home page in this comment. What I am going to tell you is how to avoid triggering a duplicate content penalty if you decide to make use of my idea for hooking new users on LessWrong.

No page should have more than 5% of it's content in common with other pages on the same site. There are penalties for duplicated content. Assuming that you put at least 20 times as many words on the home page as the longest excerpt, and limit the number of words in the excerpts, such that they do not count as more than 5% of the content on the home page, then you should have pretty good protection against being penalized for duplicate content. If I was going to do this on my own site, I'd comment the code up and down to warn tinkerers about the 5% rule.

Probably the easiest way to do this is show only a limited number of words from excerpts at one time, and rotate them so that every time you load the home page you get a new one (but it never scrolls away or gets replaced - that interrupts one while reading it).

This is important: If you paste 5 billion excerpts into the home page code and rotate them with java script, the search engine will still see all the ones that are hiding in there and include them as content. They can be counted toward your duplicate content limit. The best way to keep them from composing more than 5% of the text is to use CGI to output one at a time. Then the others are hidden. Your web host or software might already have a random quote generator, and it might be as simple as feeding it the excerpts and pasting a small block of code onto the home page.

You can put a little "random excerpt" link in there so that users can enjoy the addicted clicking that gets them new excerpts when they want them. The "random excerpt" link would simply refresh the home page. (Link the page back to itself. Simple.)

Another cool bonus to this is that if you add new excerpts every so often, your home page will always have new content. This can be good for getting more search engine attention as well as user attention.

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T06:35:02.655Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

User Orientation Needed

I really could have used a description to help me get the gist of the culture here. I understand that they're gathered around concepts like rationalism, self-improvement and philanthropy, but that didn't give me the practical information I want or tell me anything about how they were going to behave. My observations might be especially useful because I am new, so I still have all of that beginner's disorientation fresh in mind and available to talk about. I offer myself as a case study. These might strike you like: "Yeah! Users are having these problems!' and you'll know I pointed out something good, or, they may be my own unique experiences which are completely useless to the rest of the group. Obviously, you have to use your own judgment and it may take a survey, but the benefit of this would be more unique content, higher quality content, and less frustration for all users and readers of LessWrong. Us new people do not want to annoy you. And you do not want to be annoyed. It's really a win-win if we get a crash course in the top 10 ways to not annoy you. If you put that in our faces so we find it right away, we will probably accommodate you, and everyone will be happier.

For instance, they're a lot more serious here than in a lot of places on the internet. The atmosphere isn't casual. You can't make casual remarks - I see jokes here and there, but otherwise, if you're not putting effort into saying something well-reasoned, unique and high-quality, they're all over you. And your jokes better be good, apparently - I've seen some fail pretty hard.

Part of the reason I joined is because a lot of the discussions I have with people and a lot of what's out there is boring. People are often saying the same old thing. They're making the same old mistakes. They're not thorough, and they're very casual. In a lot of ways, this is not really like an internet forum - it has a lot of important things in common with a peer-reviewed journal. You have to read it really carefully: The details count, and people smack you down if you don't seem to notice them. The messages in posts and articles may, at first SEEM like the same old thing, but quite often, they're not - there's some intelligent twist to it that makes all the difference.

All of that is easy to gloss over when your brain has been lulled into "read boring stuff" mode by some earlier part of your day. People are saying things that at first may seem like the same old mistakes, but they're not. Both myself and other posters here frequently make these kinds of errors - the error of not reading carefully enough, assuming a more common meaning in place of the actual meaning, failing to observe intentional details, mistaking something for a common mistake when it is not one. This is frustrating for everyone, but if there were some introduction to LessWrong that made new users aware that this is a more detail-oriented space full of different and easy to misinterpret ideas, that may encourage them to approach each other's writing with more lucidity and, and highlight how what they're saying is different.

A lot of people here are very intelligent, but seem to require what I would consider to be a condescending degree of pointing out the obvious. I thought it was just me but here's an example of Eliezer doing that:

"If wagering those chips and losing seems like an unbearable possibility to you, then go do something else. Seriously. Because you can lose."

On Doing The Impossible

In hindsight, I realize that pointing out the obvious to a bunch of mostly intelligent people seems to be required not because they need to hear it, but because they need to see that the poster gets it. In other words, the people here seem unusually likely to assume that you're a moron and so you have to be careful to avoid that. Maybe this is because, like me, they're sick of the same old stuff and it makes them too quick to skim what you're saying, misinterpret it for something more common, and judge. Their brains are in "detecting the morons" mode from an earlier part of their day. Maybe they're simply more outspoken when their moron radars beep. Maybe they've had it up to here with morons and now they're touchy. Whatever it is, it would help to know that people will assume you're a moron if you don't frequently refer to the obvious. It's not clear, otherwise, that a group of mostly intelligent people won't feel condescended to by it, and in fact apparently needs to see you frequently refer to the obvious.

The culture here is very, very honest, very confrontational when it comes to errors in reasoning. That's one of my top five reasons for joining. But it feels a bit tentative, a bit ambiguous. People also react with hurt feelings. I think, when it comes to that, we have to choose. I know what I choose - If the truth is brutal, hurt my feelings, I want to know. I'll be responsible for cleaning up whatever mess it makes of my emotions. I think that's the only way rationalists can go. I would like to see a description that demands honesty - not just mentions "yeah people are more honest here" but DEMANDS honesty. I'll show you what I mean:

I am not an employee of Amazon but a friend showed me their values page and I thought it was inspiring: It states that their employees (referred to as "leaders") are "...obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable..." Amazon Leadership Principles

I want to see something just as bold, just as tough as part of the joining agreement. I'm not talking about hiding it in some website policy or rules page everyone ignores. I want to see it right by the join button:

"By pressing this join button, I agree that I am here to improve myself. I understand that my flawed reasoning will be pointed out. My feelings about that will be my own responsibility. I agree also that I will point out flawed reasoning when I see it, no matter whose it is."

In regards to honesty versus manners, the way that people SEEM to be doing it here is "Let reality be brutal if it's needed for you to be clear, but don't make the statement of reality brutal." Most people seem to be good at this, but it's a common problem for people to have no idea how to balance manners with honesty. There are other ways, also, for less bold people, like the one that I use in IRL environments: Hint first (sensitive people get it, and you spare their dignity) then be clear (most people get it) then be brutally honest (slightly dense people get it). If I have to resort to the 2x4, then I really have to decide whether enlightening this person is going to be one of those battles I choose or one of those battles I do not choose.

There are core areas of knowledge that seem to be part of the culture. For instance, AI and cryogenics. I have a sense that these things are common knowledge among LessWrong folks. New people aren't necessarily going to guess what these are. I've seen people being voted down for not knowing a topic well enough when it comes to these subjects that seem to be core interests of the group. The site encourages them to read the sequences, but that's a HUGE investment. Most people are not going to read everything relevant before joining. If newcomers had a limited list of short selections to help them get out of the "newbie" zone on the group's main topics, that would be beneficial to both the older members (who won't have to vote them down / hold their hand / wade through their comments) as well as the newbies (who will feel less confused).

As an initial investment on joining day, I think one page that explains the top ten ways new and old users get frustrated with one another is a reasonable investment for joining day and I think five or ten articles of <=3 pages each on core subjects would be reasonable as an investment in their first weeks of joining - though you could go about this in two ways. You could do that AND aim to hook them with new excerpts from the most fascinating articles. Use that list I was talking about in the "How to get their attention" comment from the web statistics about which articles get the most unique visitors staying longest, and make the front page cycle through those. (Note: Considering how this will interact with search engines is important. I explained that in "Home Page vs Search Engines")

Put it in our faces:

If a new user orientation page is made, this should be easy to find. I'd link it in multiple places - About page, FAQ page, and register page.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-19T08:39:50.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, the people here seem unusually likely to assume that you're a moron and so you have to be careful to avoid that.

Naww, that's pretty much just Eliezer. He has a theory about how you have to aim low when explaining stuff: http://lesswrong.com/lw/kh/explainers_shoot_high_aim_low/

If you want to write some new FAQ questions and answers to account for what you're describing, I'll definitely take a look at them!

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-08-21T03:55:32.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hint first (sensitive people get it, and you spare their dignity) then be clear (most people get it) then be brutally honest (slightly dense people get it). If I have to resort to the 2x4, then I really have to decide whether enlightening this person is going to be one of those battles I choose or one of those battles I do not choose.

This approach is fairly good. It would help if you gave examples. Also, while their is a benefit to public disagreement, sending criticism as a pm can help the recipient save face. I usually do this when pointing out grammatical errors, like the fact that I used their rather than there. It might be worth mentioning this in the orientation.

Including a very abbreviated version of the Jargon file would probably be a good idea. At minimum I'd like for it to include what we mean be rationality. Preferably with a quick discussion of [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Hollywood_rationality[(http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Hollywood_rationality), and that the word is "rationality" not "rationalism" which usually referrers to a completely different philosophy.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-08-21T03:17:11.433Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"By pressing this join button, I agree that I am here to improve myself. I understand that my flawed reasoning will be pointed out. My feelings about that will be my own responsibility. I agree also that I will point out flawed reasoning when I see it, no matter whose it is."

I like the idea, but am not sure about the wording, you might want to check out the related concept of Crocker's rules

There are core areas of knowledge that seem to be part of the culture. For instance, AI and cryogenics. I have a sense that these things are common knowledge among LessWrong folks. New people aren't necessarily going to guess what these are. I've seen people being voted down for not knowing a topic well enough when it comes to these subjects that seem to be core interests of the group. The site encourages them to read the sequences, but that's a HUGE investment. Most people are not going to read everything relevant before joining. If newcomers had a limited list of short selections to help them get out of the "newbie" zone on the group's main topics, that would be beneficial to both the older members (who won't have to vote them down / hold their hand / wade through their comments) as well as the newbies (who will feel less confused).

Academian created a short list of the most important sequence posts here. I realize that it is fifty posts, not five to ten, which brings me to the next point I'd like the newb guide to address. While we don't require everybody to read the sequences, this is still a site that has a core corpus longer than the Lord of the Rings, has added much more content since then and often assumes at least a passing familiarity with several outside writers like Paul Grahram and Robin Hanson. Asking a question or two is one thing, but anyone who wants to get seriously involved needs to be willing to do a large amount of background reading. Flowing from that, the orientation might be a good place to introduce the concept of disagreement levels.

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T05:18:56.730Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Getting Their Attention

As a new person, I dissected my experience of attempting to figure out what LessWrong was about and the decision-making process that caused me to join for you. I have a lot of stuff to say, and 99% of seems unexpected.

"I think reading posts is probably best way to figure out what Less Wrong is about."

I vehemently disagree.

People do a very, very fast assessment in order to determine whether the website is worth investing in. What I'm talking about is this: You come in off the search engine, or plug in the url after seeing it mentioned somewhere in an interesting enough context, or a friend tells you it's cool and to go check it out. Now you're at the home page. If it doesn't grab your attention in just a few seconds, you're gone. Obviously, people eventually need more information than that before they hit the join button, so there have to be different levels. First the front page has to immediately prove to the user that it's worth going deeper. Something significant has to happen (I have a really easy idea for this actually) before they even click a link. Here's why that is:

Am I going to click a link about a topic I've thought about already? No. I'm assuming your take on it is the same as the average take. So I will never see how awesome it is. Conversely, show me a link about a topic I've never heard of before. "What is Bayesianism?" for instance (I've heard of it by now, but didn't, before I found LessWrong). I don't have any reason to believe that this new word is the sign of something awesome. The world is full of a lot of links with words I don't know to things that are not awesome.

Imagine again that you're on this home page for a site you've never been to. It has links with words you already know (probably the same old boring crap) and links with words you don't already know (Is it any good, or am I going to waste ten minutes reading about the etymology of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?).

For these reasons, I had NO IDEA how awesome this site was the first few times I came here. I only joined because so many different people kept referring me over, that I kept "poking" at the site every so often, and eventually discovered something that hooked me.

Being hooked needs to happen on the front page.

Here's how to hook them:

Look at the website statistics and see which pages get the most new visitors to stay the longest. Not the ones that get the most visits from logged in users, but NEW users. "New Visitors" is the website statistic term you want. And the best ones don't just get a lot of new visitors, but they actually KEEP the user on the page. There are website statistics that will tell you how many seconds users stay on the pages. That's what I'm talking about.

Make a list. Of the list, select some on core topics that, together, do a pretty good job of giving the gist of LessWrong's culture. Or possibly, more importantly, the culture you guys want to be creating. Take the first paragraph of each page - which, theoretically has been composed by a person that's good enough at writing that they're able to hook an audience immediately - and rotate those on the front page. Show a limited number at one time. This prevents information overload. (Note: In order to ensure fresh content, and for really super duper extremely important search engine optimization reasons, this needs to be done in a particular way. I explained that in: "Home Page vs Search Engines")

If I begin reading a paragraph and it shows a new twist on the topic which I have thought about already, will I read the rest? Yes! But give me a link with a few words? No. To say enough to convince me that your site worth reading takes more than one sentence. The world is full of boring takes on things, so you have to prove that this place is awesome on the front page.

The best thing is, you already know what's going to hook the readers. The introductory paragraphs that are proven to work are sitting in your website statistics.

After an "ooh this is interesting" has occurred on the front page, then people may wonder "What is this about?" (Next Post)

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T05:35:44.228Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I split it into several comments because the site told me that it was too long to post. Sorry if that's inconvenient.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-08-19T08:29:28.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You put in 4100 words in this thread's comments which would be about 16 pages if it were in dead tree format. Such a quantity is overwhelming to try and read and reply to.

I also suffer from being excessively wordy and struggle to pare down my comments. I found much better reception when I started writing minimally, and I suspect you would as well.

That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time. ~Charles Caleb Colton

comment by Randaly · 2012-08-18T03:49:04.699Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is a FANTASTIC idea! Thanks so much for writing these! (Also: I upvoted all of your polls for using HonoreDB's system.)

Some thoughts on the rewrites:

Homepage

It might be useful to give more examples of how cognitive biases can be used to improve their thinking, and potentially to mention the instrumental/epistemic rationality divide. In general, looking through the past few main and discussion posts, it doesn't look to me like either the current or proposed homepage text accurately summarizes most content.

It's "Bayes's Theorem," not "the Bayesian Theorem."

About Page

I like your post summaries, but I'm not sure how you've divided them into general vs more meaty categories; also, I'm not sure if "meaty" is the right word to use. (More formalized isn't quite accurate with the lists you've generated, but I think it might be what you're trying to get at.)

I wouldn't put quotation remarks around "skeptics." I agree with the sentiment, but it's not very good signalling. (Also, it's literally true that they are being skeptical.)

I would say that LW sets "an extremely high standard" for conversation, instead of just a "high" standard.

FAQ

I would suggest removing the brief definition of rationality from the top- it's explained later on as well, in greater depth.

The section "Reading an Study" has a lot of stuff in it- it may be worth putting something in, either at the start or by appending a question about whether or not all this material is necessary, that states that you don't necessarily need to read all of it in order to participate.

Again, thanks so much for writing these!

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-18T05:36:53.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is a FANTASTIC idea! Thanks so much for writing these!

Thanks!

It might be useful to give more examples of how cognitive biases can be used to improve their thinking

Got any specific ideas? (I already fished once, see http://lesswrong.com/lw/bfr/rationality_anecdotes_for_the_homepage/.)

In general, looking through the past few main and discussion posts, it doesn't look to me like either the current or proposed homepage text accurately summarizes most content.

Yeah, but it's only natural that we'll move beyond the basics. I figured I'd try to describe some foundational ideas. If you want to take your own stab, though, that sounds great.

It's "Bayes's Theorem," not "the Bayesian Theorem."

Looks like it's actually Bayes' theorem. Fixed.

I like your post summaries, but I'm not sure how you've divided them into general vs more meaty categories; also, I'm not sure if "meaty" is the right word to use. (More formalized isn't quite accurate with the lists you've generated, but I think it might be what you're trying to get at.)

Well, the first list is meant to be broadly appealing; the second list is meant to convince a hypothetical genius that LW is worth their time. Also, stuff in the second list was harder to come up with accurate one-sentence descriptions for.

I agree meaty isn't perfect, but I haven't come up with anything better.

I wouldn't put quotation remarks around "skeptics." I agree with the sentiment, but it's not very good signalling. (Also, it's literally true that they are being skeptical.)

Fixed.

I would say that LW sets "an extremely high standard" for conversation, instead of just a "high" standard.

I changed it to "very high standard", if that's alright.

I would suggest removing the brief definition of rationality from the top- it's explained later on as well, in greater depth.

Fixed.

The section "Reading an Study" has a lot of stuff in it- it may be worth putting something in, either at the start or by appending a question about whether or not all this material is necessary, that states that you don't necessarily need to read all of it in order to participate.

How's this?

comment by Randaly · 2012-08-19T07:48:50.039Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It might be useful to give more examples of how cognitive biases can be used to improve their thinking

Got any specific ideas? (I already fished once, see http://lesswrong.com/lw/bfr/rationality_anecdotes_for_the_homepage/.)

I like the example CFAR uses on their "What is rationality?" page, though it's a bit long as is.

The section "Reading an Study" has a lot of stuff in it- it may be worth putting something in, either at the start or by appending a question about whether or not all this material is necessary, that states that you don't necessarily need to read all of it in order to participate.

How's this?

Looks great!

(I don't, at present, have anything constructive to say about "meaty" synonyms or foundational ideas, sorry.)

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-19T07:56:28.448Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like the example CFAR uses on their "What is rationality?" page, though it's a bit long as is.

Yep, and it would also be lame to reuse it.

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T07:50:11.500Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thoughts On The FAQ:

I expected for this to be easier to find: "When should I post in Discussion, and when should I post in Main?" - I'm used to forum rules being posted as stickies within the forum. I am used to seeing the forum guidelines near to the post buttons. I looked around but didn't find them, so I thought this environment was a lot more casual than it actually is. I think these need to be put in the user's face - since everyone else is doing that, the fact that they're not in my face seemed to imply that you don't have any yet. I'm not opposed to them being in the FAQ, but I am opposed to them not being linked to prominently on the post page. Considering what I've seen when it comes to how well users find things on websites, I think users will find the rules in the FAQ about as well as they did previously to the rules being added there...

The "What is Less Wrong?" section - needs action words. What do you DO here. What do you USE it for. Do people want to improve themselves? Do people start projects here? What kinds of exciting things happen?

I agree with making the FAQ page big as can be reasonably downloaded, assuming each question has a bold title and a link at the top. This is a wonderful place for the smorgasbord of links to go. If the most important ones were written using a variety of different terms so people can locate them with "find in page", even better.

This link in the OP doesn't take me where I expected to go: "if you never get voted down, you're not posting enough".

comment by dbaupp · 2012-08-19T15:35:52.165Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry if this is a bit off-topic, but your account has been here for about a week and you already seem to be getting involved a lot. This is really good!

But since you are still very new it might be worth hanging around a bit to get a sense of the community. (Especially when talking about these sort of things, which are so integral to the whole website and are essentially LW's public face.) :)

(If you've been lurking for a while then feel free to just ignore this comment. :) )

comment by jsteinhardt · 2012-08-19T17:02:51.430Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

On the contrary, new but good users are who we probably want commenting most on the FAQ.

comment by dbaupp · 2012-08-19T21:22:59.887Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, yes, good point. I agree.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-19T08:18:48.408Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not opposed to them being in the FAQ, but I am opposed to them not being linked to prominently on the post page.

That sounds like a good idea, but it would require a change to the LW codebase. At this point, I'm aiming to pick low-hanging fruit that doesn't require me to familiarize myself with the LW code. If you want to familiarize yourself with the LW code and start contributing patches, that would be great!

In practice, users getting confused about Main VS Discussion doesn't seem to be too big of a problem, even though up to now the norms have been entirely implicit. So I'm not sure it's such a high priority that it needs to go on the about page. Though linking to the "Site Etiquette and Social Norms" section might not be a terrible idea.

If the most important ones were written using a variety of different terms so people can locate them with "find in page", even better.

If you want to fork my version of the FAQ on your own wiki page and demonstrate this, I'll take a look.

This link in the OP doesn't take me where I expected to go: "if you never get voted down, you're not posting enough".

Yeah, I changed it.

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-19T05:57:38.501Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

About Us - Building Interest

Linking to a bunch of posts is going to be TLDR - that's asking for way too much investment at that stage. Here's why:

Imagine that you're on this site you've never been to. It has links with words you already know (probably the same old boring crap) and links with words you don't already know (Is it any good, or am I going to waste ten minutes reading about the etymology of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?). ... For these reasons, I had NO IDEA how awesome this site was the first few times I came here.

I explained how to hook the users in Getting Their Attention and here I explain what I needed to know, as a new user, before I could move from being hooked to actually joining:

Relying on links outside the about us page to tell the reader what it's about is asking for too large of a time investment at that point. They're not trying to read ten posts on the about us page, they're coming to the about us page to try and figure out WHETHER to read ten posts.

Also, saying this on the about us page is a bad idea "Less Wrong makes heavy use of previously introduced topics for leverage" - you're telling them "You have to invest all of this in order to even get started". What they're trying to do is to figure out WHETHER to invest. To put the horse before the cart, we have to put the benefit before the cost.

Now, you COULD choose to target a different audience - you could target people who aren't rationalists, but is an about us page with links on it going to interest them in rationality if they're not already the type to be interested? No. If you want to target that audience, you'll have to do something pretty spectacular. Actually, it would be awesomely fun to try and figure out how to do that. I'd be happy to brainstorm with you about that, anytime. But that's a project. Unless you've discovered a method that's proven to work, I think the best approach is to target the audience who is already on a similar wavelength. People who are already rationalists, or who have similar interests with the current batch of LessWrong users and want to continue to develop in a similar direction.

So, as a person who was already a rationalist, what I needed was to know on the about us page in order for me to make an investment was that there were people like me doing things that I wanted to do with other people like me. If it were me writing the about page, that's what my main focus would be. It does get more specific though:

Specific things I needed to know before I was interested in joining:

  • How you define "rationalist". That's what finally inspired me to join. I had to realize that there was a community of people gathered around a theme of rationality, and that they do rationality the way that I do. I needed to have that "Wow, a community with people like me!" experience.

  • It is a community blog (you may want to hint at what that is in case people are new to the concept). I was excited by the idea of maybe finally having an outlet for my ideas. I also wanted to know what the purpose of the blog is and what LessWrong aims to do with it. Action words.

  • I was excited by the idea of having intelligent people give me real, honest, rational critiques on my perspectives. I didn't know this at first, but the discussion forum has an attitude that's a little bit like the serious style of a peer-reviewed journal, it's not your usual casual internet forum. What people DO with the forum, the purposes that are typically served with it, would be nice to know here. Same thing with the blog. For me, the purposes I was hoping they'd serve were to be an outlet for good ideas that didn't have any place to go and that they'd be a place where I could be groomed by intelligent people, who would see flaws that I wouldn't notice. Those were the two main activities I wanted when I joined.

  • Tell them how big the group is. It's hard to believe there's actually a community of rationalists that numbers in the thousands. It's exciting to hear "There's this group of people like you and they're big!" But the number of users isn't anywhere to be seen and trying to get that out of Google is like nailing jello to a tree (really fun exercise, but not as useful as a fact).

  • What the community is like. I think this needs to have two versions: A gist, for the "about us" section, that explains what things LessWrong members have in common, and what topics they're most interested in discussing, geared for making people feel like they relate to the group. And a new user orientation, on a different page. I describe this in a different comment. Seeing that gist of the culture is really important if you want people to have those recognition experiences where they're like "People like me have gathered! I want to join!"

  • What the buzz about "sequences" is all about. We could use a little history: This guy Eliezer decided to explain rationality to people so he wrote these pieces of writing called sequences. The sequences are fascinating, challenging, informative, and hilarious. They were interesting enough that they actually began to gain popularity. Lots of people gathered around a theme of rationality and overcoming their biases.

  • I still don't have the history of how this started all straight in my head. A crash course in how this phenomenon of people gathering around the theme of rationality happened would be nice. A quick blow-by-blow in chronological order is all I need in an about page. However, I think the first thing to put there is a description that tells people what the group is like and what purposes the group serves, so they get the opportunity to have that "People like me doing stuff I want to do!" experience.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-19T07:48:19.175Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Linking to a bunch of posts is going to be TLDR - that's asking for way too much investment at that stage.

Hm. When I read the internet, I tend to click on links that look interesting. The idea of my about page rewrite was to provide a bunch of links and try to make them seem interesting, so that people reading the about page would click on at least a few. I don't see this as asking for "investment".

I'm glad you're excited about this project, but I skimmed over your posts and it looks like they're long on philosophizing and short on string substitutions. How about you write the about page the way you'd like to see it, and we either create a poll or do an A/B test to figure out which version is better?

Also, based on what you've describe of your experience finding Less Wrong, it sounds as though you had an unusually intense reaction to finding it. So it seems possible that if you generalize from your example, you'll do a good job of targeting people whose brains are wired like yours, but a poor job of targeting "typical" readers.

It occurred to me that maybe you missed the fact that I've already done rewrites. I'd love to hear specific suggestions, e.g. "Instead of [paragraph X], write [paragraph Y]". (Of course, you can also rewrite everything if you want. Either would be much easier for me to incorporate changes from than your current "wish list" approach. If you don't have time to do either, I'll probably skim over your wish list and incorporate whatever seems the most important.)

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-20T06:05:12.136Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a science to getting people to click on links. I am sorry to say this to a person who obviously cares very much about this, but the reason I didn't provide you "string substitutions" for your links is because that's going about things the wrong way. Long story short, on the internet, people want cool stuff now. You can't hide cool stuff behind a link, and you can't rename the link to turn the link itself into cool stuff. You have to take cool stuff and put it in their face. One has to pay attention to "bounce rate". The bounce rate is a count of people that left without clicking a link because cool stuff was not put in their face.

I've seen the LessWrong website statistics. LessWrong's home page has a horrible bounce rate. I posted the statistics and explained more here:

LessWrong could grow a lot, but we're doing it wrong.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-20T06:15:43.552Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am sorry to say this to a person who obviously cares very much about this, but the reason I didn't provide you "string substitutions" for your links is because that's going about things the wrong way.

Er, by string substitutions I meant I wanted to see you actually take a stab at writing the About page instead of just explaining how great it could be. For example, create an account on the LW wiki and make subpages on your account like I did.

comment by metaphysicist · 2012-08-19T18:01:27.729Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

LW is called a "community blog," but there's no information on how the "community" acts. Who adopts the new page? Is the vote binding? If so, on whom? Who pays for the fancy Reddit machinery on this blog? (Who refuses to pay for better machinery?)

Most people only invest themselves in conceiving changes in practices when they have some actual power to bring those changes to fruition. If the mere existence of a British monarch dampens popular enthusiasm for government, what's the effect of having an essentially autocratic "owner"?

Added September 1:

Then the proposed FAQ says, "Sequence posts provide Less Wrong's philosophical foundation."

Which goes to a worry more important than relating to public relations: philosophical foundations at the discretion of the Compiler of the Sequences.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-08-18T01:08:50.380Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Re: "if you never get voted down, you're not posting enough", I suggest mentioning that at least some long-time members think it may be worthwhile to aim for having no negative scores, or even higher.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-18T02:38:20.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds good. I changed that answer.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-18T00:23:46.858Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My proposed version of the About page is pretty encouraging to new users who wish to contribute: "Got something to say? Register for an account and say it! Or just introduce yourself in our welcome thread." Another option is to say something like "Less Wrong sets a high standard for contributions, including comments. Please lurk for a while or read at least 9-10 archive posts before contributing, so you know what's expected." A third option is to neither discourage nor encourage commenting, just mention the existence of the welcome thread.

Should we encourage or discourage participation, or say nothing? (Results)

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-22T01:51:17.880Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wrote something very mildly discouraging.

comment by rocurley · 2012-08-18T04:16:00.529Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Off topic, but how did you do these polls? This is spiffier (although maybe not as reversable) than the normal upvote downvote polls.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-17T22:59:48.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My proposed version of the FAQ links to various threads, like the roommate coordination thread and the mentoring thread, that people have mentioned as possible "sticky" threads. The idea of linking to them in the FAQ was to increase their visibility a little. We could make these even more usable if we had the following policy: If you comment in one and no one has responded to your comment after a few days, you're allowed to cross-post to the most recent open thread with a link to your original comment. To make sure all of the discussion stays trackable, you should also link to your new comment from your old comment.

Does this sound like a good policy? (Results)

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-08-19T06:23:02.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How feasible is A/B testing with LW's current host and codebase?

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-19T08:06:35.857Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

http://lesswrong.com/lw/at9/what_if_the_front_page/614c

I'd prefer to generate at least a few more variations before bothering matt further about this. If you want to write a variation or two yourself, go for it.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-17T22:50:44.255Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Polls to figure out which text to work from. There's no way to undo your vote, so please vote carefully and leave a comment if you made a mistake or changed your mind.

Links for your convenience: current homepage, my homepage; current about page, my about page; current FAQ, my FAQ.

Which home page blurb should we work from? (Results)

Which about page text should we work from? (Results)

Which FAQ should we work from? (Results)

comment by Wei_Dai · 2012-08-18T00:29:27.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I voted for the existing FAQ by mistake. Is there a way to undo a vote? If not, please manually or mentally subtract 1.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-08-18T02:23:51.576Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I made similar mistakes initially on all 3 polls, heh. I'll redesign them try to make them a bit more intuitive.

State of the voting before I redid the polls, taking in to account mistakes made by me and Wei Dai:

  • 1 vote in favor of the home page blurb I wrote to replace existing one.

  • 1 vote in favor of the text I wrote to replace the existing about page.

  • 3 votes in favor of the FAQ I wrote to replace the existing one.

If you voted on the original poll, please don't vote on the new one.

comment by ewang · 2012-08-18T01:18:31.488Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Click the highlighted up/down hand to remove the vote.