Thoughts on Q&A so far?

post by Raemon · 2018-12-31T01:15:17.307Z · score: 26 (7 votes) · LW · GW · 16 comments

It's been a few weeks since introducing the Open Questions / Q&A features on LessWrong.

As the team returns from the holidays, we'll likely put some time into fine tuning the features and introducing supporting elements to make them work a bit better. I thought it'd be good to check in with how people were overall feeling about them now that they've seen them, and what additional features would be most useful to flesh out the system. (Either features on questions themselves, or supporting features to help keep track of questions)

16 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-12-31T05:24:09.457Z · score: 28 (14 votes) · LW · GW

My Complaint: High Variance

Well, to put it delicately the questions have seemed high variance when it comes to quality.

That is the questions posed have been either quite good or stunningly mediocre with little in between.

3 examples of good questions

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/LYQW9B2YgvegWqjXB/how-did-academia-ensure-papers-were-correct-in-the-early [LW · GW]

https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/8EqTiMPbadFRqYHqp/how-old-is-smallpox

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Xt22Pqut4c6SAdWo2/what-self-help-has-helped-you [LW · GW]

3 examples of not as good questions

I'd prefer to be gentle when listing examples of not-so-good questions, but a few I think are unambiguously in this category are:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/D62GoptY4uX9e2iwM/what-does-it-mean-to-believe-a-thing-to-be-true [LW · GW]

(No clarification given in post, whole premise is kind of odd)

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/TKHvBXHpMakRDqqvT/in-what-ways-are-holidays-good [LW · GW]

(Bizarre, alien perspective. If I were a visitor and I saw this post I would assume the forum is an offshoot of Wrong Planet )

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/AAamNiev4YsC4jK2n/sunscreen-when-why-why-not [LW · GW]

(I don't quite understand what the warrant is for discussing this on LW. Yes it's a decision, which involves risk, but lots of things in our lives are decisions involving risk. If those are the only criteria for discussion I don't really see any reason why we should be discussing rationality-per-se as opposed to the thousands of little things like this we face throughout our life.)

What I Would Like To See

Personally I think that it would help if you clarified the purpose and scope of the questions feature. What sort of questions should people be asking, what features make a good question, some examples of well posed questions, etc. Don't skimp on this or chicken out. Good principles should exclude things, they should even exclude some things which would be net positive value to discuss! This is in the interest of keeping net negative gray areas from dominating to preserve positive edge cases.

That is to say, I want some concrete guidelines I can point to and say "Sorry but this question doesn't seem appropriate for the site." or "Right now this question isn't the best it could be, some ways you could improve it to be more in line with our community policy is..."

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-12-31T18:47:35.941Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I found the "In what ways are holidays good" question actually quite useful. Not sure what you mean by the "Bizarre, alien perspective.", since I don't think I really understand what holidays do either (which doesn't mean they don't do anything, I just don't have a great model of what they do).

comment by Raemon · 2018-12-31T20:38:30.090Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think my broader response is "rather than try to resolve this by discouraging certain questions, solve it through filtering."

Right now, we have a minimum-viable system where all questions show up on frontpage so long as they meet the frontpage criteria. This means questions appear to be weighted about as strongly as a post in terms of importance, and that there isn't much in the way of filtering of what sort of questions get displayed. I think both of these could be resolved with a more dedicated question management system.

I think it's fairly important for people to be able to post questions freely – a lot of progress depends on people being able to pursue curiosity wherever it goes.

So I think letting people do that, and then having some requirements like "frontpage questions need to be particularly well formed" and possibly some tighter requirements on topic, and/or have something like subreddits that focus on particular topics, is probably a better overall solution.

(It also so happens I think I roughly disagree with some of the "bad question" examples. The sunscreen example isn't deeply entwined with things-LW-tends-to-focus-on, but it *is* a question where the answer actually requires some rationality to think about, and I think it's in fact a good use of LW to be a place you can go to ask questions where you can expect people to have thought clearly/usefully about how to weigh evidence when answering them)

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-12-31T21:22:49.168Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think my broader response to that is "Well, if I could change one thing about LW 2 it would be the moderation policy."

That seems strictly off topic though, so I'll let it be what it is.

comment by Raemon · 2018-12-31T21:30:41.488Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

General moderation seems off topic for this particular post. I think the guidelines for either what questions should go on the frontpage, or various ways you might want to filter questions, are fair game.

(Regardless, it will continue to be the case that you can post whatever question you want to your personal blog)

comment by Pattern · 2019-01-04T04:10:55.043Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Different types of questions seems useful. What categories sound like a good idea?

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2018-12-31T18:31:38.748Z · score: 20 (8 votes) · LW · GW

A few of things I've noticed.

  • I'd like it if we could give answers titles and have those show in the navigation. There are times, like in this question, [LW · GW] where letting multiple people give answers makes sense, so letting people title their answers seems helpful there. Also just seems to go with with the way the question has a title and body text, so let the answers do the same.
  • Give the asker the ability to make one of the answers as the "correct" answer that will show first regardless of score and with a little mark showing it the accepted answer by the asker, similar to the way Stack Overflow does it. Doesn't make sense for all questions but may make sense for some.
  • Do something to the UI to better encourage people to give answers rather than leave comments. I've seen a number of questions where people leave comments instead of answers when they are clearly giving an answer. I'm not sure if these people are confused about the UI or for some reason hesitate to reply with an answer whereas a comment feels more appropriate. Maybe hiding the comments by default but making them visible if you click something to show them, since it seems they should be mainly of interest to the asker and people who are confused by the question who want to get clarification about the question.

Overall I really like the Q&A feature, especially since I think it encourages people to discuss things they otherwise might not. Obviously they could have done this before, and I know there have been a few posts specifically structured with body's of the form "hey, tell me what you think about this in the comments", but the Q&A feature helps make the explicit so you know even before you read the post how you are expected to interact with it.

comment by Raemon · 2018-12-31T20:50:23.991Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nod.

Re: "titles", there were a couple things we were worried about with that, still a bit unsure about:

  • if titles were required (or optional, but featured prominently) people might feel obligated to come up with one, and in many cases the answer might not have an obvious title, and this might discouraging people from writing an answer in the first place.
  • even if fully optional, titles might shift people into a mindset that's less conversational and more formal, and we had some sense that people actually do a better job of tailoring answers to questions in a conversational setting.

I do still think that, at least some of the time, an answer does seem to have an obvious summary/short-moniker that makes it easier to handle, which would help with skimming or using the table of contents. I'm not sure the best way to enable that sort of thing in the cases where it's appropriate without having slightly-stifling effects the rest of the time.

comment by Bucky · 2018-12-31T23:32:32.202Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Firstly I think the feature is a great idea and is working pretty well for a prototype.

Ideally the feature needs to do at least 3 things:

Get questions noticed

Get questions answered well

Present good Q/A combinations to the community

The current practice of promoting interesting questions to frontpage does the first but could be detrimental to the other 2 - many users will see the question but not get round to reopening and looking at the answers. This encourages people to answer quickly to get their response read and discourages more detailed answers.

If you’re planning on developing the feature further then addressing this issue would really help get the best out of it. One option would be the ability to promote the best answer(s) to frontpage after a week or so.

comment by Pattern · 2019-01-04T04:16:45.200Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how difficult it would be, but if users could mark a comment as a possible answer, so it would be reviewed by admins, that might mean admins don't have to read all the comments to see if any should be answers.

comment by Raemon · 2019-01-06T01:57:30.063Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A couple recent questions made me want to make "subquestions" more tightly coupled into the process.

On the "Does Anti-Malaria Charity Destroy Local Anti-Malaria Industry [LW · GW]?" question, an obvious (to me) sub-question is "what local anti-malaria organizations exist in malaria-prone regions?" Once you have some sense of what local companies or nonprofits exist, you can start asking questions about how they have grown or shrunk in the past decade.

Similarly, for What is a Reasonable Outside View on the Fate of Social Movements [LW · GW], I think a useful subquestion would be "what is a reasonably representative list of social movements, not selected for survivorship bias?".

My guess is that the default frame of the questions prompts people to think more from the standpoint of "what can I easily armchair reason about?" rather than "what is the most epistemically useful way to approach this problem?". I think it might be fair important to set things up such that refactoring the question is easier.

comment by Raemon · 2019-01-02T23:46:48.447Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Something that strikes me is that since people are often posting things as comments that they later realize really could have been answers, a "move to answer" and "move to comments" button that admins can use, and that users can use for their own comments, seems pretty useful.

comment by Pattern · 2019-01-04T04:10:01.212Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1. Concrete:

Suggested feature: adding a "link option" to answers. I'm not sure what this is actually called, but it's a feature that comments have. For example, here is a link to this [LW · GW] comment.

2. Vague:

Currently, questions seem to just be one off. It's also not entirely clear how they might be integrated with a sequence, feature wise*, as they're currently used. The tone seems to be different, and maybe that kind of thing will just end up in comments sections instead, in response to posts. There are cases where if a question was refined and re-asked, and both were linked together like posts in a sequence (the back and forward buttons), it seems like that would useful. Questions also lack a "answered" aspect.

*I could be wrong about this, but I am assuming a sequence may not currently contain questions, whether or not doing so would be a good idea. I am not testing this out because I am not aware of a way to make empty posts and questions to see how sequence features work that is not a recipe for negative karma.

comment by Raemon · 2019-01-04T19:41:09.574Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yuppers, the permalink exists in an upcoming branch, we just haven't deployed it yet for Reasons.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2019-01-04T19:18:24.724Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Suggested feature: adding a “link option” to answers. I’m not sure what this is actually called, but it’s a feature that comments have. For example, here is a link to this comment.

This is generally called a permalink.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-01-04T08:40:25.456Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can just create a sequence of any posts on the site, so if you want to test it, feel free to just create one and add some questions to it