Gathering thoughts on Distillation

by Raemon 1 min read31st Jul 201910 comments


I think one of the biggest outstanding issues facing LessWrong is good infrastructure for distilling lengthy conversations.

Wei_Dai notes in the comments of Forum Participation as Research Strategy:

There's nothing that explicitly prevents people from distilling such discussions into subsequent posts or papers. If people aren't doing that, or are doing that less than they should, that could potentially be solved as a problem that's separate from "should more people be doing FP or traditional research?"
Also, it's not clear to me that traditional research produces more clear distillations of how disagreements get resolved. It seems like most such discussions don't make for publishable papers and therefore most disagreements between "traditional researchers" just don't get resolved in a way that leaves a public record (or at all).

The LessWrong team has discussed this on and off for about 9 months. While we haven't done any development work on it yet (mostly working on Open Questions instead), habryka and I at least had some sense that this might be one of the most important things LessWrong is missing.

I have some vague thoughts on what would be needed here, but am interested in others opinions.

The rough thing that seems missing to me is a pipeline that goes something like:

1. Somebody notices that there was either a post that was way longer than it needed to be (or a bit confusing, or something). Or a meandering comment conversation that was could use to be distilled down into a post. They flag that collection of posts and comments into a databse object that says "hey, this cluster of posts and/or comments could use distillation"

2. Someone (sometimes that same person, sometimes a totally different person), writes up a distillation of that cluster of posts and/or comments

3. It might be that different people write up different distillations of the same content, because they had different takeaways. Or maybe two people both agreed that a post was long, but they both found different central metaphors useful.

4. The people who wrote the original post or comments can mark distillations as "good representation of my views" or not.

In theory there's nothing preventing this from happening with the current site technology. But, a year ago, there was nothing stopping people from making question posts (and getting answers). And yet introducing the question feature made it much more salient that "ask questions" is a thing you're encouraged to do, and then people did it more.

I think having some kind of official distillation pipeline could be useful in a similar way.

Interested in people's thoughts on this.