Thanks for the response. First, I want to clarify two separate questions at play:
I. Should there be a giant front-page of legacy content?
My answer is "Yes, for new users, no for older users." It's more important for newcomers to see our best content than the latest discussions, and to have proper context when they join the latest discussions. Older users should see links to sequences they're in the middle of reading, maybe a prompt to read the most popular or important things, but there should be some way to remove that prompt if the writing clearly isn't for them.
2. Conditional on #1, should HPMOR be featured there?
This is what I meant to focus on.
I used to think LW should "be accessible?", with a main goal of "raise the sanity waterline". Our weird ideas had to be translated into ways that the average person understood. (I thought similar things about EA).
Now I think that one-size-fits-all isn't a viable strategy. I think communities need to specialize, and I think having a creative spark that drives a given community is more important than accessibility. I don't think creative-sparks are transferrable across belief systems or aesthetics. (i.e. someone else could form a community with similar goals but with an academic aesthetic, or with a hippy-ish aesthetic, and it could work, but that spark wouldn't work for us nor ours for them)
In some ways, the Sequence are a rehash of Thinking Fast and Slow. But TF&S didn't inspire a community, or do much to change people's behavior AFAICT. People complain about the sequences being over-top-top and full of weird Eliezer-isms, but I assert that weirdness was essential to actually accomplishing something with it.
It'd be good for someone to translate our best ideas into forms that resonate with different aesthetics, but this requires a lot of skill, and is a very different task than "strip out all the weirdness". And it wouldn't be an appropriate goal for this site.
So the question reduces to:
1. What makes our community valuable?
2. What is the spark that drives that value?
3. Is HPMOR an essential part of that spark?
Why is our community valuable? My answer: it produces ambitious, careful, insightful thinkers, and gives them a place to refine their ideas, with some context to help translate them eventually into things-that-matter-in-the-real-world.
I think most of the value comes from a smallish number of people (power law distribution) who produce the best insights, research, or concrete-stuff-happening-in-the-real-world. Secondarily, a larger ecosystem of people that help refine ideas that direct the community's attention in useful ways.
So my core goals for the site are:
- Attract the sorts of people who either are intellectual heavy hitters who could use a vibrant ecosystem to help build their ideas or focus their attention on the most important problems
- Attract the sort of people who could become heavy hitters, or who help contribute to the facilitating environment.
- Filter things such that the people who who produce the most insights have an easy time interacting with each other, or reading ideas that funnel themselves into real-world output.
Ambition and Insight
The Sequences are fairly good at both (although the ambition isn't as apparent till about halfway through). What HPMOR is good for is painting a vivid picture of what it'd be like, to be a person who cared deeply about the world, and about thinking, and then actually trying to do stuff.
I should note: there's a major failure mode if you just rely on HPMOR for ambition: it also attracts the sort of person who likes fanfiction, who gets excited by ideas but then doesn't put in the (less viscerally exciting) work of research and thinking over the course of years.
There's a fantasy series, "The Steerswoman", which is essentially about an order of rationalist-types. Unlike HPMOR, rationality doesn't give them super powers. It just... makes them slightly better at noticing things, and integrating evidence.
This is a much more realistic take, and I think it's useful to bring people back down to Earth re: "what should I actually expect rationality to do for me, how exciting should I expect things to be, and how long does it take to get good?". But I still think having HPMOR for an initial flash of inspiration is valuable (for the people it works for).
What is the Creative Spark here?
Fully exploring this is beyond scope, but I do think an important part of the LW Spark (seeded by Eliezer) is seeing past traditional intellectual authority/hierarchy and thinking for yourself. I think the idea front-page of the site demonstrates the intellectual value here, while putting up a (slight) barrier for the sort of person who cares too much about traditional prestige.
That said, I do acknowledge it's very possible (perhaps common) to be the sort of person who sees past generic Prestige Markers, but is still allergic to fanfiction in particular.
I'm not actually attached to any of the current content (Sequences, Slatestar or HPMOR). There could be new writings that did their job better, that filtered people on the true-underlying-thing instead of the true-underlying-thing-filtered-for-some-accidental-aesthetics-of-Eliezer.
But writing newer/better content is very hard, we don't currently have it, so for now the question is "is it better to have this stuff, or not have it."
So: My Actual Cruxes
I think the cruxes you listed (i.e. how many people bounce off HPMOR, enjoy it, or are neutral?) are good, but incomplete. My version:
1. What is the ratio of "people whom HPMOR helps become more ambitious", compared to "people who would otherwise jive with the aesthetic/spark here, who might deliver a lot of value, who wouldn't deliver as much value elsewhere, but who are allergic to fanfiction or HPMOR's style and so bounce off."
If there's too much of the latter, I'd definitely change my mind.
2. Does HPMOR foster too many not-actually-ambitious fans who are more offputting than helpful to the ambitious environment I'd prefer? I think it does bring in that sort of person, but that it's a fairly achievable task of filtering things such that they don't clutter up the front page.
Having said all that: Third Options
In another thread, you convinced me that HPMOR as currently presented on the front-page is spending disproportionate weirdness points for the value it produces. I think there's probably room to either replace it with "Rationality Fiction", or something, that manages to be intriguing and let people know about it without having "fanfiction wtf?" being something people have to get past right at the very beginning.