Ways to improve LessWrong

post by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:25:26.228Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 104 comments

I think it'd be a good idea to keep a list of the ways we'd like to see LessWrong improve, sorted by popularity. Ie. email alerts for new responses.

So if you have an idea for how LessWrong could be better, post it in the comments. As people up/downvote, we'll get a sense for what the consensus opinions are.

I think there's a pretty good amount to be gained by improving LessWrong.

I'm not a good enough coder now, but once I am, I think I'd like to do what I can to make LessWrong better. I'm starting a coding bootcamp (Fullstack Academy) on Monday. By the end of it, I should at least be competent.


Note: I say "ways to improve" instead of "features" because "ways to improve" is more general.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2014-09-14T09:59:43.489Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone enthusiastic enough about the improvements to actually implement them.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T13:52:29.045Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't make any promises because I don't know where I'll be in 3 months when my coding bootcamp ends, but I think I am.

comment by ephion · 2014-09-14T03:16:48.599Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Go to lesswrong.com. See how the 'Main' link is bolded? Click on Discussion. Now Discussion is bolded, and we're in the Discussion section. Ah, so that means I must have just left Main. Let's go back by clicking on Main. Wait, why am I in a different discussion section now? I thought Main was what I saw when I went to the url!

I can't be the only person that is confused by that UI choice. I wasn't aware that 'Main' even had articles for months because of that.

Another UI issue: In Discussion, clicking the big LessWrong logo takes me to... Discussion. In Main (diiscussion forum, not front page of site), clicking the same logo takes me to the front page of the site. These really ought to have the same behavior.

The Sequences are one of the more important parts of LW, but actually getting there isn't immediately obvious. A "Start reading here!" link near the top would be tremendously helpful for new people.

comment by Vulture · 2014-09-16T16:55:03.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Amen! It's always irritating when I absent-mindedly click on the "Main" button and have to waste time finding my way out.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:09:24.855Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Life hacks section.

comment by casebash · 2014-09-14T13:19:57.467Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that these would fit well on the open thread

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-14T14:41:45.887Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to see a permanent and growing list.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-14T15:38:35.067Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe there should be a new subsite (like “Main” or “Discussion”) for repository posts.

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2014-09-16T07:29:33.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted because I disagree: I'd prefer a dedicated section. Filtering out open threads is too much work.

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2014-09-16T07:27:24.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted. I'd participate.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-14T09:37:58.243Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Identify the important wiki pages. Then link them from the main page.

We have two kinds of content on this site: forum and wiki. They are different in principle: Forum debates are coming and going; we would like the best ones to be revisited later, but most of them are really not that important. Wiki pages are "timeless"; they are created to be useful equally now and in the future.

Our navigational tools already provide the right kind of visibility for the debates: we have the "Main" and "Discussion" pages, list of "recent posts" and "recent comments". But this mechanism is not fit for the wiki. The "recent wiki edits" is good for noticing spam, but otherwise the recent-ness is not an important feature of the timeless wiki article. Wiki articles should be made visible by their timeless importance.

This may be a typical mind fallacy here, but I almost never read the wiki. I am mostly not even aware of what useful things may be there. They don't get to my attention the way that discussion articles do. So I would like to have a better exposure of them at the main page (because I will probably not look elsewhere, unless something already caught my attention).

More specifically, I don't want just three or five very general links, but of course I also don't want to have every wiki page linked. Just enough to have the best idea of what can be found there; even if it means "expanding" a few nodes. For example, a link to "learning resources" is nice, but seeing a link to "programming resources" specifically would be much better. The best would be probably something like: "Learning resources (programming, poetry, music, etc.)"

I explicitly disagree with the following comment in wiki!Homepage:

This page does not have the following jobs: easy navigation for old timers (old timers will use bookmarks, or a good browser that'll remember which page they regularly visit)

You only use bookmarks for something you already know it exists. And a good navigation map would be helpful to both old and new users. Having to make another click to see the map reduces the number of people who will look there. And rendering the page with a few dozen hyperlinks shouldn't take more time than a page with five hyperlinks. And if you want to keep something super-visible, just put in on the top, visibly separated from the rest.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2014-09-14T06:20:00.900Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only reset comments on a post as read up to the present after you've viewed it from a root-level URL. Clicking through comments in an RSS feed, opening a subthread page and having all the rest of the thread get marked read is a constant small annoyance.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-09-14T07:07:49.164Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And you get the same annoyance if you click on a comment from Recent Comments.

comment by SolveIt · 2014-09-14T03:12:18.306Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure the promoted tab adds value to the site. It's slow to update and (IMO) does a poor job of selecting the best posts. Now this wouldn't be a problem since we have top, but it being the default is rather bothersome.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:15:37.080Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree about it being slow to update and doing a poor job of selecting the best posts. However, I do think the idea of having a "promoted" section is good in theory (it'd be nice to have someone curate the best content for us).

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:38:53.140Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More prominent link to the LessWrong Study Hall (where Pomodoro's are utilized to combat akrasia).

comment by Error · 2014-09-14T21:18:46.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. I have just added it to the Rationality Power Tools wiki page to start out with; someone can move it if there's a more appropriate place.

Something on the sidebar would be nicer, of course.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-15T05:08:14.884Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An exit strategy is usually overlooked in any project. "In the event of VARIABLE less wrong will close, and the resources will be distributed / destroyed / etc." All things end, but only some things end well.

comment by Elo · 2014-09-15T10:14:02.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With my local in-person meetup I started doing a "have we been doing what we set out to do" sort of review. Part of me has an aversion/is terrified to find out that the answer may be no. Or how close the answer actually is to "no"

Fully support an exit strategy, similar ideas, and possibly discussing it further with you.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-09-14T14:54:52.698Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Small suggestion: Mousing over the red envelope could tell me how many new messages there are.

Medium sized suggestion: A "what links to this?" button on posts.

Big suggestion: A search feature that only returns hits on posts, comments, and wiki pages, sorted by date or karma, filterable by author.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-15T09:07:57.536Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiple envelope images:
gray = no messages;
thin-lined red = 1-4 messages;
thick-lined red = 5-9 messages;
very-thick-lined red = 10-19 messages;
almost a filled red rectangle = more than 20 messages.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:26:20.340Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Email alerts for new responses. Eg. when someone responds to a comment you made, or a post you've written.

comment by devas · 2014-09-14T08:29:21.114Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I second this proposal. In the sites I've seen where it's implemented, I've found it extremely useful.

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-09-14T09:34:45.053Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T13:54:30.044Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think increasing traffic is a good goal for this site.


comment by lincolnquirk · 2014-09-15T01:36:47.519Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the same reason the site exists, which is to spread rationality. This seems like the default position.

If you disagree, I think it should be because you think "spreading rationality" is not the goal (perhaps LW exists as a place for a certain group of people to hang out?) or that the current size is optimal or too large for its purpose (which seems quite unlikely).

comment by Vulture · 2014-09-16T16:53:36.385Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But... net increases in traffic that come from sending email notifications to people who are already participating in discussions doesn't have anything to do with the kind of "spreading rationality" which is to some extent tracked by view counts. Cf. Goodhart's Law

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:33:41.194Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, the inbox icon should update without having to page refresh (like the one on Stack Exchange).

Edit: right now you have to click it for it to update. It should update once you've seen the change. For example, if I reload this page and see the change, the inbox icon shouldn't still be red.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-09-14T07:12:27.220Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A karma change dif so that it would be easier to see which which articles and comments that one has written have gotten or lost votes.

This would make it easier to track conversations on old threads.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2014-09-14T06:26:24.031Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make the upvote/downvote links easier to click on an Android browser. Whatever trick the browser UI uses to make regular links easier to click using the touchscreen doesn't seem to work on the image-based links on LW.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-14T16:16:31.538Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just having a user option to replace the icons at the bottom of a comment with text would achieve that.

comment by philh · 2014-09-14T21:47:59.672Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would achieve that, assuming users are okay with switching preferences every time or just always having text.

But having that kind of thing as an option would be silly, and having it as an option as a solution to this particular problem is... kind of cringeworthy.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:27:17.174Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rationality hack-a-thons. I'm not sure exactly what that would mean, but it could mean a bunch of things.

comment by philh · 2014-09-14T09:54:07.375Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

LW London came up with the idea of doing a kaggle hackathon.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-09-14T20:12:10.705Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen the idea floated around here before. I remember one suggestion being that you give several groups of people X amount of time to solve a problem. After that time, they present the solution(s) they come up and the community votes on them.

This suggestion has several problems, but maybe it could get a discussion going.

comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-15T02:10:07.170Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about this. Fundamentally in order to discuss improvements, it's necessary to identify the sources of pain. The largest problem (and/or existential threat) I can see with LW is its stagnation/decline, both in content, and in new insights generated here.

Charitably, I suspect LW was built with the assumption that it would always have great content coming in, so the target and focus of most design decisions, policies, implied norms, and ad hoc decisions (let's call all these 'constraints') was to restrict bad content. Even its name can be thought to point to this principle, but the infamous 'Well kept gardens' post is also a good pointer. Unfortunately, the side effects of these constraints plus the community as shaped these constraints has been to push out most of the best authors in the community, including the earliest active members, who have spiraled in many different directions, while being nominally still affiliated with LW and/or it's community. As a result, LW itself is a shadow of its former self. Currently, the community is in a process of concentrating in other venues, with Slate Star Codex probably having more comments/day than LW itself, and SSC is not the only alternate venue.

With the above problem statement in mind, the best ROI for a developer wanting to improve the experience of the broader LW community I can find, is to set up a Hacker News clone (e.g. an instance of telesc.pe) aimed at the issues the LW community cares about.

Having a central location that aggregates worthy content from LW, SSC, OB, the MIRI blog, most other rationlist-sphere blogs, plus an equal amount of content from the rest of the web that is of rationalist interest, collectively filtered by the community, would make my experience of the LW-sphere much, much better, and I suspect I am pretty typical in this regard.

The aggregator not being under MIRI/LW control would probably be a net positive, given the history of management of LW itself. The point would not be to replace the things LW does well (giving a venue for people to post relevant material), but to replace the things it does not do well (aggregating the wider rationality community, filtering quality in a quasi-democratic way)

The major problem for such an aggregator would of course be lack of adoption, so I would like to hear from other LW members if such a move would interest them. I am committing to set this up if convinced that there is indeed enough interest. I have provisionally bought distributedconspiracy.com for this purpose.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-15T09:51:53.136Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not sure if the ratio of insights is smaller these days, but I more feel like the spirit of "let's change the world" or even "let's do something" is gradually replaced by having merely a web debate club. The best debate club in the world, possibly, but still...

Maybe that's an inherent problem of internet debates. People who do something in the real world, stop spending so much time debating online. Also, the real world is rather slow... we all know that MIRI exists or that CFAR exists, but we can't keep talking about them all the time, we want something new and new and new. And at some moment, "new" becomes a lost purpose, just another form of entertainment, because as we keep reading the new insights, we keep forgetting the old ones.

I would like to see more "project"-type content. About people who are doing something. It could even be a purely online project, such as organizing parts of LW wiki. Collaborative projects in real world would be more awesome, but there are the geographical distances. You know, less debate, more action. Or at least an action-oriented debate.


comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-16T21:17:48.379Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The issue is that the content does get written. It just doesn't find its way here.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T02:30:59.192Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

is to set up a Hacker News clone

So what features would this have? HN and other blogs basically just have link posts, text posts and comment threads for each post.

The largest problem (and/or existential threat) I can see with LW is its stagnation/decline, both in content, and in new insights generated here.

I haven't been around long enough to agree or disagree with this, but I could believe it. You say you've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this. What do you think of things other than just aggregating content from similar sites? I sense that there are opportunities for some larger more fundamental changes. Some ideas:

  • Increasing offline interaction (making it easy for LW users to room with each other, get rationality clubs set up in colleges, have hack-a-thons...)
  • Rethinking the simple threaded comments system. Here's my raw thoughts - http://lesswrong.com/lw/jr4/a_medium_for_more_rational_discussion/.
  • Encouraging more brainstorming. Right now I think people are hesitant to start a conversation unless they have pretty refined and insightful thoughts.
  • Better categorize things. To use an example, I think there would be more talk about life hacks if there was a life hacks section and there was a list of useful life hacks maintained by the community.
  • etc. etc.
comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-15T03:01:46.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the problem is that these suggestions have orders of magnitude higher cost of implementation. This is further compounded by the fact that 1. LW uses a fork of the reddit codebase, which was not built with modification in mind, and 2. the fact that the owners of LW are (a) hard to engage in a conversation about changes and (b) even harder to get them to actually apply it.

The suggestion I made above suffers from none of these, and is technically implementable in a weekend (tops) by a single developer -- me. Whether it will be successful or not is a different story.

All in all I share your sense that this community is not nearly as optimally organised as it could to be, given the subject matter. Unfortunately we seem stuck in a local maxima of organisation.

comment by therufs · 2014-09-24T17:59:42.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(b) even harder to get them to actually apply it

Do they have to be nagged to merge pull requests or what?

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T03:11:06.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahh, I see.

Regarding cost of implementation, 1) I'll probably be willing to work on it and 2) I sense that the benefits far outweigh the costs, and that we'll be able to get people to work on it. Especially if it's well thought out and some nice mockups are made that are convincing.

Regarding the owners of LW being reluctant to change, I don't know much about this issue so it's tough to say, but I sense that 1) if we get enough community support, they'll be pretty likely to go along with it and 2) I would think that they're smart enough to see the benefits would be large and if volunteers like me (and you?) would be willing to work on it, the costs could be pretty small.

comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-15T03:34:45.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider the fact that many, many programmers frequent LW. It's quite likely the majority of members know how to program a computer, and most of them have a very high level of skill. Despite this, contributions to LW's codebase have been minimal over the life of this website. I take this as extremely strong evidence that the friction to getting any change through is very, very high.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T04:15:29.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't want to propose any solutions because I don't understand what the source of the friction truly is. If you understand the real sources of friction, could you explain it in some more depth?

I sense that the lack of contribution to the codebase is because it's inconvenient, not necessarily difficult. It seems that it's inconvenient for the reasons you said: 1) the reddit fork is hard to modify and 2) the site owners are reluctant to change.

But I also sense that the proposed features aren't too difficult to implement (because they're relatively common) and that a handful of skilled volunteers could get it done in a few weeks (very rough estimate; I'm way too inexperienced to really say, but I do sense that it's very doable). Perhaps it wouldn't be compatible with the reddit codebase and it'd take a major overhaul.

But I really think the benefits would outweigh the costs. The costs would be a few weeks of a handful of programmers' time (or something like that, I don't really know). The benefits would be huge! Imagine LW users collaborating on new projects, brainstorming new ideas, contributing to and benefiting from the list of life hacks, studying together, having hack-a-thons, rooming together, having more productive discussions, summarizing the content to make it more accessible to common people etc. etc. Isn't that worth a few weeks of time from a handful of people? Even if only one or two projects emerged from the site overhaul, I think the benefits would outweigh the costs.

Sorry if my argument for why the benefits outweigh the costs isn't concrete enough. I tried.

comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-15T05:02:13.292Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I admire your optimism and determination. It's not my intention to convince you not to try. Even if you don't succeed, and it's not impossible that you could succeed, you will certainly get a lot out of it. So take my negativity as a challenge, and prove me wrong :).

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T05:21:14.759Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the encouragement! Would you mind offering your opinion on a few things though?

  1. How many people would a complete overhaul take, and how long would it take (roughly)?
  2. Why are the site owners reluctant to change?
  3. What do you think of my rough cost-benefit argument? The things I said are my intuition, but I could easily be overlooking certain things, and I don't understand it well enough to be too confident in the intuition. So what do you think? (you seem to share the belief in the value of the benefits, but don't seem to think they outweigh the costs)

Also, I don't want to get anyone's hopes up about my contributions. I'm still learning to code and I don't know how good I'll be in 13 weeks when I finish my bootcamp and I can't tell how long it'll be before I'm capable enough to contribute to something like this.

comment by Alexandros · 2014-09-16T21:25:55.464Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. I don't know, I haven't done the effort estimation. It just looks like more than I'd be willing to put in.
  2. One hypothesis is that LessWrong.com is a low priority item to them, but they like having it around, so they are averse to putting in the required amount of thought to evaluate a change, and inclined to leave things as they are.
  3. I think it is unlikely it will have as much benefit as you expect, and that the pain will be bigger than you expect. However, if you add the fact that your drive may help you learn to program, then the ROI tips the other way massively.

By the way, an alternative explanation for the fact that so many developers are here but so few (or none) actually contribute to LW code, is that they're busy making lots of money or working on other things they find exciting. This is good news for you, because making the changes may be easier than I originally estimated. As long as you are determined enough.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-24T21:52:26.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a core reason is intransparency of how to contribute changes. You don't know who you have to convince to chance something so most people don't even try.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-16T23:12:27.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, thanks for your input! I'll have to do more research and brainstorming into how much benefit it really would have.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-24T20:47:47.441Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there are a bunch of issues with the reddit codebase. It was never meant to be used independently of reddit and the code was just thrown out there for anybody to use. As a result it's impossible to update to the lasted version of the reddit code base. That probably means that it has unpatched security holes.

Issues such as finding a mass downvoter seemed not available in the standard moderator interface. Things like checking users IP addresses for banned poster detection seem to not have an interface but require sysadmin work.

I have provisionally bought distributedconspiracy.com for this purpose.

I don't think that a domain name that contains the phrase "conspiracy" is a good idea.

I find it set that PredictionBook is a separate website from LW. Does the telesc software allow plugins where predictionbook style entries could be found at the same site where also other communication happens?

It might also additional allow adamzerner systemized arguments as a specific kind of post. A open plugin interface might provide for anyone who wants to start a new way of arguing an opening.

I'm not sure how much interest there is in programmers contributing that way, but I think even hacker news style + prediction book style would provide enough momentum to get the website started.

comment by Metus · 2014-09-14T07:05:01.162Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • A Reddit style API so people can write bots for Lesswrong or do some extention themselves. Consider having a pool to reward programmers that implement certain features in this comment thread.

  • SSL support. I don't feel comfortable anymore having my internet traffic not encrypted.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T15:52:48.957Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A Reddit style API so people can write bots for Lesswrong or do some extention themselves. Consider having a pool to reward programmers that implement certain features in this comment thread.

LW runs on Reddit source code. I think this would probably mean to update it to a newer version of that code base.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-15T09:10:55.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just please no downvoting API for the bots. Otherwise I will have to write a moderator bot; and gradually the whole LW will become one big Core War battlefield.

comment by gjm · 2014-09-15T09:54:20.725Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

... You have to admit that would be kinda cool.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-09-16T01:34:51.806Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not just down-voting, I don't want bots up-voting or posting either. Come to think of it, what exactly do we want bots to do?

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2014-09-14T06:24:35.080Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Toggleable unthreaded comment view for seeing exactly what is new after a given date, even in deep subthreads. Just show every comment in the order they were posted in as a new root-level comment in this view.

Or maybe just figure out a way to show even the deepest subthreads on one page, so they won't get hidden from Bakkot's helper script.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-09-14T07:10:24.492Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes to both suggestions.

Perhaps we could go deeper into the nested comments by having the right (blank) side column disappear when necessary.

This may sound revolutionary, but we could even have an option to make the left column disappear when necessary.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-09-14T06:17:59.717Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wrote this in response.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-14T03:39:26.568Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Create a list of things you should know if you consider yourself to be a rationalist.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-14T16:14:06.282Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with the idea of having a “Recommended reading” list (or reviving the one we already have) but for the love of the flying spaghetti monster please call it something other than “list of things you should know if you consider yourself to be a rationalist”.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-14T20:19:27.354Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point, how about "list of things that the LessWrong community as expressed by our admittedly imperfect karma system thinks you should know if you are typical of the kind of person we predict will read this list and you consider yourself to be a rationalist although admittedly we have some disagreement over the definition of rationality."

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:40:05.713Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Medium-style side comments - http://aroc.github.io/side-comments-demo/#demo. More generally, I think that we could do some serious rethinking of how discussions are carried out over the internet. I wrote about it a little here, but those thoughts are very raw.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:31:34.360Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A more prominent link to Open Thread. Furthermore, break Open Thread into sections like:

  • Ideas you're willing to work on to implement.
  • Refined ideas.
  • Unrefined ideas.
  • Requests for advice.
  • Small practical questions.
  • Links to articles.
  • Friendly conversation.
  • Discussions that don't leave a trail. One use case would be if you want to talk about something personal but don't want a record of it on the internet.
comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2014-09-16T07:31:17.438Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A mobile-friendly version of the website.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:08:30.289Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Video chat.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T15:54:12.096Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Already exists in the form of the study hall.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T15:59:21.149Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From what I remember about the study hall, 1) there aren't any mic's and 2) the chat is just for a few minutes in between pomodoros. Perhaps it'd be useful if users could easily see who's online and chat about an article or something like that.

comment by zedzed · 2014-09-17T01:17:54.564Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Open thread summaries (which I'd be happy to write)

Skype/Google Hangouts/whatever meetups for people interested in [X]. It's lonely when the nearest meetup is prohibitively far away.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-17T02:57:56.319Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes and yes!

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-09-14T09:20:27.753Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-09-14T14:20:31.627Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is reminding me of something I heard about, but don't know how to find-- a resource about informal but legal methods of hacking the government.

The example (and the only bit I remember) was about a woman who had an issue she couldn't get noticed by her local government. Then she got advice from someone who noticed that a politician who could affect the issue was in an uncontested election. So the woman with the issue signed up to be the opposition from the other party. The politician called her and said, "What do you want?" The woman has been active in politics ever since.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T16:06:50.443Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The example (and the only bit I remember) was about a woman who had an issue she couldn't get noticed by her local government.

How to interface with your local government depends a lot of knowing how your local government works. For Berlin I can tell you where you can go if you want to talk with the politicians that matter about an issue but the same solution might be totally different for another location.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-09-14T20:20:55.149Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure there's a lot of local variation, but perhaps stories of finding out whet's possible would make people more likely to believe that they can find out what they need to do rather that seeing government as an incomprehensible immovable blob. It would also be worth having an estimate of how much time and effort is likely to be needed to get a change.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T21:01:46.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would also be worth having an estimate of how much time and effort is likely to be needed to get a change.

I don't think either time and effort are central. If the change you want to propose is something that sounds good to politicians but that politicians simply haven't thought about because they are to stupid to come up themselves with an idea or they lack the domain knowledge, very little time investment and effort can have an effect.

If you want to create a change where there are strong reasons for the status quo for which you are oblivious, you can spend a lot of time and effort and will get nowhere. Getting a politician who spend a lot of time thinking about an issue to change his opinion if you don't really understand the issue is really hard.

A lot of activists make the mistake of assuming that they know the optimal course of action and it's just a matter of putting energy behind that course of action. On the other hand a discussion with a politician in which both sides are open to change their opinion is more likely to achieve something.

I remember someone at my toastmasters club giving a speech on a local political issue. He was gathering signatures about that issue. Basically he wanted a decision that the government isn't allowed to do X. After his talk I asked him, isn't example Y which is what our government usually does these days when they do X, a good idea? His basic response was: I didn't know that Y was an instance of X.

That kind of political activism is rather typical. A bunch of people who don't understand an issue get together and think they know better and then they try to lobby to get a change. Their emotional attachment to the issue makes them mind-killed. Then they mostly get ignored and complain that politicians aren't listening.

I think Ryan Holiday's post on analysing issues is right on the mark.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T16:01:28.214Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean with "section"? As far as I know LW doesn't really have topic specific sections. If you want to write a post, you can simply do so.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-14T15:01:02.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many LW users are not from USA, but USA is probably the only country with enough LW users for a meaningful political action. So I guess we can assume that we are going to influence American politics (because we don't have enough people in any other country), but in ways that most LW users would agree with, regardless of their country (because otherwise we couldn't achieve cooperation on this website). This is not wrong, per se, just counter-intuitive, so I am saying it explicitly. (Majority of LW users would almost certainly include majority of American LW users.)

It could be interesting to find out whether there are political suggestions that, say, 95% of LW users would agree with. If people think directly about the usual party lines, that's the wrong place for consensus. But there could be something which is not so important for either American party, and where a rational consensus could be found. (Robin Hanson calls it "pulling policy ropes sideways".) If we can identify those issues, then perhaps we could try to fight for one of them, just as an experiment to see what we can achieve.

comment by quintrino · 2014-09-15T04:54:00.255Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know someone who posted up a Bounty on getting an app developed on bountysource.


I contributed to it but I don't know if the link ever when public.

In case you haven't guessed, I'd like easier viewing on mobile devices.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T02:36:54.117Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have a list of who's working on/learning what. For example, I'm learning web development right now (pretty broadly; mostly JavaScript and the MEAN stack, but I'll also be learning SQL, RegEx, data structures, algorithms etc.). If there were a list of all the LW users who are doing the same thing, it'd be easier for us to connect.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-15T10:59:57.413Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, posted this: What are you learning?

Not sure if this is the best format, but there is a "meta" tread to suggest improvements.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-15T16:04:57.330Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool, thanks!

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:08:07.861Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Live chat, like Facebook has.

comment by casebash · 2014-09-14T13:21:26.729Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a Less Wrong IRC on Freenode (#lesswrong)

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:44:43.951Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A prominent link - http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Listing_of_Rationalist_Houses. Make it easy for LessWrong users looking for a roommate to find each other.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T02:34:09.591Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A community wiki for each article that could serve as a summary/tldr.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-09-14T09:12:24.360Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Each article? That's an overkill. There are dozens of articles every week.

I would rather have the wiki only for... uhm... important articles. Yeah, hard to define what that means. It certainly doesn't mean "Main". It's more like: an article which generated good insights in the comments. (Those insights should be included in the summary.) In real life it could mean: an article for which someone (preferably other than its author) bothered to provide a summary.

And perhaps we don't need a page per article, but rather per topic. If there were three articles on the same topic, it would be nice to have those summaries together.

So, I guess I would approach this from the other side: The wiki pages should be topic-oriented, but they should include the summaries of the important relevant articles (and the most insightful comments thereof). So if you see a good article, first search whether a relevant topic already exists, and add the summary there; and if it doesn't, create the new wiki page, but for the topic, not for the article, so other people can add other articles there later. And of course PM the article author to add the wiki link to their article.

EDIT: To make collaboration on this process easier, we could once in a while have a Discussion thread of "nominate the articles you want to see summarized in the wiki".

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2014-09-14T09:48:07.838Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To move one step further in the direction you indicate, I think wiki should summarize the topics of the articles, not the articles themselves. This is also how it's always been. So a thing to do with good articles (estimated by how useful it would be to recall their content in later discussions) is to make sure their useful content is summarized in appropriate wiki pages, and to link to the articles in their "Blog posts" sections.

(I'm not sure what adamzerner meant by linking to that quota page, so I'm not sure we are discussing the same question.)

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:12:23.484Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More generally:

Summaries of the core sequences in easier to understand language.

1) This would make it more accessible to everyday people, and would be more persuasive to them.

2) It would be easier to understand for rationalists too. And would be good for quick references.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-20T21:06:44.626Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A "read later" button.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-20T21:27:39.522Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There already is one at the bottom of each post, a floppy disk icon on the right-hand side of the line between two

's where the upvote and downvote buttons are. If you click it, the article will be added to http://lesswrong.com/saved.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-20T22:06:20.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah ok, thanks.

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-09-14T09:29:49.910Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-14T21:12:50.470Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, I favor putting "medical freedom" I & R on the ballot,

Our present system is very much broken on the other hand evidence based medicine needs expensive trials. Currently the reason drug companies run expensive trials is because otherwise the FDA wouldn't approve their products.

and think that putting legalized "Transhumanism" on the ballot simply invites needless controversy.

What do you mean with legalized transhumanism? I don't remember anyone outlawing transhumanism.

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-09-17T15:35:53.768Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-17T17:30:30.458Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The very idea that we cannot obtain TRUE advertising about medical goods and services (where the truth is no defense! ...Throwing out the jury supremacy hard-won from over 300 years of jurisprudence and civil disobedience!) is antithetical to the social existence of anything other than slaves.

Mixing factual questions with what you want to be true is a bad idea. Whether or not getting rid of the FDA will result in no clinical trials is a factual question. On LW the common word to describe that kind of reasoning is 'mind-killed'.

How can a law that has no valid corpus delicti ("body of crime") be enforced in court, when the common law (which all precedent to this date states that the 6th Amendment is referring to, when it refers to "due process") demands that all criminal prosecutions contain a valid "corpus," and where the 4th amendment also maintains the same?

The common moral framework on LW is that people are utilitarians or consequentialists. Most of us don't believe in God given "natural law" but think that laws are entirely man-made. We can discuss which laws are good and which aren't, just because some Christians considered certain laws naturally produced by God doesn't imply that they are binding in the 21th century.

The thing is that I would like to eat more tuna. Mercury content in tuna is unfortunately high enough that the European food safety authority advises against daily tuna consumption. Under the Obama administration the EPA calculate the cost of the decreased IQ of children in the US and found that it's cost effective to put barriers on the ability of the free market to produce mercury emission. If you sit down and calculate childrens IQ is just worth more.

I like that the EPA stops the free market from producing mercury pollution. Fortunately some day on the future that means I can regularly eat tuna.

Yes, the reason drug companies run expensive trials is because they are coerced into doing so, and because they are complicit in the final result of anyone having not done so being banned from the marketplace by the realistic threat of violence

No, Big Pharma likes to have the standard at the level where they are. They don't always lobby for the standards for clinical trials to be less but sometimes even lobby against lowering of standards.

The basic idea of dealing with issues of the tragedy of the commons is to come to a common agreement and then enforce that agreement by punishing people who violate it.

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-10-04T08:26:24.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by ChristianKl · 2014-10-07T16:06:59.721Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We need enough discussion to come up with "a good plan now" rather than "a great plan next week."

There you are just naive. What you are doing now is unlikely to produce an actionable plan now or even next week. You might argue it's still worth fighting for your course and that it might win long-term but you are talking outside of the overton window and therefore are unlikely to move much.

Drug legalisation advocates were smart in focusing first on medical marijuana instead of wanting full legalisation in one go. If they hadn't made that strategic decision we probably wouldn't have gotten as far as we are at the moment.

All this screeching and pointing provides a valuable service to the servile: it allows them to worry about numbers and STEM problems without having to think about messy human networks, moral judgments, and other things that people on the autistic spectrum have major problems with.

On LW we talk quite a lot about moral judgments. and quite a lot simply prefer to reroute the trolley cart even when it's violates the individual rights of the person that get's run over. Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy even if you might not like it.

I find that Mark Newman and Kevin Kelly's statements on those subjects have a lot to offer, even though they tend to occasionally break down, or "stray from bayesian logic."

That's a strawman, quite a lot of people do make arguments on LW that might "stray from bayesian logic." That's not my criticism my criticism is that you confuse what you want to be true with finding out what's true.

Unless there are other philosophy salesmen here, who have take a good, long, hard look at the philosophy of the masses, from random street samplings, for over 13 years ...which I doubt.

Going on a mission doesn't increase the ability of a Mormon to really understand. It rather makes him more committed than warranted because he defends his beliefs day in day out. Mormonism does happen to be a religion that grows but it doesn't grow based on rational argument.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-17T18:28:39.691Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Laws against fraud already made drugs as safe as they could be

Really? There the common sentiment that before evidence-based medicine going to the doctor was more harmful to your health then simply avoiding the doctor. Pre-1906 Western medicine was very bad.

We could change the present system so that you are allowed to sell drugs that aren't FDA approved but if anybody who takes the drug has any problem with it they can sue you for malpratice worth millions of collars. I don't think that would be an improvement over the existing system.

For a company it's very valuable to be able to simply comply with an existing standard instead of regulations and then be able to say in front of a court: "Look, we did what the official regulations say." Instead of being dependent on guesses what a jury will think. A jury that probably doesn't understand the evidence base very well and that's not able to run their own studies the way the FDA can.

Legal uncertainty is bad for business.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-17T17:41:53.008Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The basic idea of dealing with issues of the tragedy of the commons is to come to a common agreement and then enforce that agreement by punishing people who violate it.

That's one way. Another usual and frequently successful way is to introduce property rights.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-17T18:26:26.014Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not another way it's an example of the same way. Property rights are a common agreement. Certain individuals own certain things. If an individual violates that agreement about who owns what, they get punished.

For environmental pollution the system is cap-and-trade.

As far as big pharma goes patents are also a crucial part of the system.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-09-17T15:56:58.971Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we are not a nation of slaves, there can be no mandatory approval required...

OK, so the US (and the rest of the developed world) is a nation of slaves. What next? X-D

comment by RPMcMurphy · 2014-10-04T07:53:45.883Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The rest of my post answered that, as have other posts here (usually, such posts are unfavorably interpreted, so they don't have to be dealt with, in a manner very similar to Donald Sutherland's alien screeching in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," except instead of screeching, the term "mind-killed" is employed). (Let me ask you this, Oh-so-wise lesswrongers: "Is there any manner of RAPIDLY discussing high-level social organization that will not lead to allegations of being labeled as mind-killed?" and an interesting follow-up question: "In the pre-singularity, if I am right, is there any question more important than dealing with omnipresent sociopathic governance, so that humans are not all deemed to be amoral?" ...After all, if Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Hutu Power, Bush-bama, etc. can all get people to behave immorally, then what value is individual human morality at the education-level of our society? No value. So what makes a human? Smarts? ...Not really. So why keep totalitarian clones around? ...GOOD QUESTION. ...And I'm not even as smart as the humans on this site.)

To explicitly answer your question: The abolition of subject matter voir dire is absolutely necessary to restore the proper functionality of the jury. That would be a great start. Second, the proper jury instructions (without which there is no jury) need to be reinstated. Ie: "You, the citizen-jurors of the state of __, have the right to judge the law as well as whether or not the law was broken, and to vote your conscience, even if your conscience be in direct disagreement with the law." (Voir dire can only exist to eliminate legal conflict of interest, meaning: one of the parties to the action (1)is familially-related to a venireman, or (2) is doing business with a venireman.)

A system that protects individual liberty (in its varying individual contexts) needs to be built in the USA, since the portions of our system that once accomplished the protection of individual liberty have been destroyed.

There are many intelligent people on this site, but they tend to be totalitarians-by-default, because most people everywhere are totalitarians-by-default. Stanley Milgram proved that, beyond a shred of doubt. The only way to deny his findings are to deny the evidence of the senses and the interpretation of the intelligent mind, ...which is easy for most humans, because they don't have one.

There is only one EY in 1,000, and the rest of the people who gravitate to him are people who need to feel good about how rational they are. There is no avoiding this, except for the handing out of either nanobots that can swim up to brain blood barriers and increase human capacity, or handing out darwin awards like candy.

In any event, bon chance, fellow slave.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-09-17T18:30:13.071Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Laws against fraud already made drugs as safe as they could be

Really? There the common sentiment that before evidence-based medicine going to the doctor was more harmful to your health then simply avoiding the doctor. Pre-1906 Western medicine was very bad.

We could change the present system so that you are allowed to sell drugs that aren't FDA approved but if anybody who takes the drug has any problem with it they can sue you for malpratice worth millions of collars. I don't think that would be an improvement over the existing system.

For a company it's very valuable to be able to simply comply with an existing standard instead of regulations and then be able to say in front of a court: "Look, we did what the official regulations say." Instead of being dependent on guesses what a jury will think. A jury that probably doesn't understand the evidence base very well and that's not able to run their own studies the way the FDA can.

Legal uncertainty is bad for business.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T03:18:20.291Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just thought of this and really don't know whether it's a good idea or not, but perhaps LessWrong could be monetized and the money could be used for an agreed upon efficient charity?

comment by adamzerner · 2014-09-14T15:45:51.099Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not? I don't at all feel strongly about this, but my first thought is that the good outweighs the bad.