Robin plans to cut back posting shortly, after he and I have our long-awaited Disagreement about AI self-improvement. As for myself - I'm not finished, but I'm way over schedule and need to move on soon. I'm not going to stop posting entirely (I doubt I could if I tried) but I'm not going to be posting daily.
There are three directions that Overcoming Bias could go from here:
First, we could find enough good authors to keep going at a post per day. Say, seven people who can and will write one post per week. We can't compromise on quality, though.
Second, we could try to shift to a more community-based format. Our most popular post ever, still getting hits to this day, was not written by Robin or myself or any of the recurring editors. It's "My Favorite Liar" by Kai Chang, about the professor who inserted one false statement into each lecture. If one-tenth of our readers contributed a single story as good as this... but neither Robin nor myself have time to vet them all. So one approach would be to have a community forum where anyone could post, readers voted the posts up and down, and a front page to which the editors promoted posts deemed worthy. I understand that Scoop has software like this, but I would like to know if our readers can recommend better community software (see below).
Third, we could close OB to new submissions and keep the archives online eternally, saying, "It had a good run." As Nick put it, we shouldn't keep going if it means a slow degeneration.
My own perspective: Overcoming Bias presently gets over a quarter-million monthly pageviews. We've built something that seems like it should be important. It feels premature, but I would like to try to launch an online rationalist community.
At this point, I'm advocating a hybrid approach: Keep OB open with fewer posts of the same gravitas, hang out a sign for new authors, and also try starting up a community-based site with user submissions and more frequent shorter posts. I've got plenty of light stuff to post, links and the like.
But: What software should we use to support a rationalist community?
The Oxford Future of Humanity Institute and the Singularity Institute have volunteered to provide funding if necessary, so we aren't limited to free software.
And obviously we're not looking for software that lets our users throw sheep at one another. The Internet already offers enough ways to waste time, thank you. More like - how people can find each other geographically and meet up; something Reddit-like for upvoting and downvoting posts, links, and comments; better comment threading; ways to see only new comments on posts you've flagged - that sort of thing. You know, actually useful stuff. A lot of Web 2.0 seems to be designed for people with lots of time to waste, but I don't think we can assume that fact about our readership.
Even if you don't know the name of the software, if there's a community site you visit that does an exceptional job - letting users upvote and downvote to keep the quality high, threading discussions while still giving busy people a fast way to see what new comments have been posted, making it easy for both newcomers and oldtimers - go ahead and say what we should be looking at.
I would argue against taking the community generated content route. It works well with a small group of involved people, but if the site shows any level of growth a quick look at digg.com ought to show where that path inevitably leads.
Let it go. With a few exceptions, non Hanson/EY posts tend to be weak.
There is room to do vastly better than what is usually used for community content finding, and it's a great mystery to me how little explored this area is. If things have moved forward significantly since Raph Levien's work on attack resistant trust metrics, I haven't heard about it.
Good software to support rational discussion would be a huge contribution to thought.
From my perspective, this blog is the "Robin and Eliezer show" with occasional guest hosts. Without Robin and Eliezer, I question whether it's worth trying to remake OB into some sort of Frankenstein. Maybe it should just grow a forum and allow posting to get light?
(That said, the reddit source code is now open, and there is no better commenting system on the web, IMHO. Customizing a reddit could be a worthwhile place to start with a software solution)
Why is daily posting a shibboleth ?
I would still read the site if EY posted once a week
I'm not familiar with all the different community software out there, but Slash fits your criteria.
Associating a forum or mailing list with the blog could create an interesting community.
I doubt anything significantly different is likely to work on the base of OB. If posts become rare, but sustain quality, it'd be much better than regular so-so posts.
Personally, I am a big fan of the "heavy" stuff that EY puts out that utilizes heavy link-backs to his prior works. It is nice to be able to follow the rabbit trail back in time.
Why not do both? Keep OB's home page for a handful of hand-picked, though un-tenured, authors. Also include a prominent link to a community blog that utilizes whatever software you find to be most promising. Perhaps the best community post of the week could be promoted up to the front page on occasion.
Daily Kos uses Scoop but is planning a move to a new ruby-on-rails engine that they're writing themselves. The diaries are a good feature for a community where you want to encourage the readers to be actively involved, but I think the quality of the diaries is likely to be lower than the current quality of posts on OB. The threaded discussion could be really valuable, however, and with good editing the front page could be awesome. But you'll have to find good editors if you haven't the time for it yourself.
"Why is daily posting a shibboleth ?
I would still read the site if EY posted once a week"
I second that. Even if OB was updated only 1-3 times a week by posts of the current level of quality, it would still be one of my favorite sites. In fact, I'm having a hard time keeping up with the current quantity of content and I often need to set time aside to clear my OB backlog.
A better software platform would be good, but I doubt that user-generated content could ever become central to the site. Maybe as a sidebar, with a few rare posts getting promoted to the frontpage.
"I'm not finished, but I'm way over schedule and need to move on soon."
Is the next thing on your schedule writing the books you've talked about in the past? Are you still planning to do the 'popular' book?
"Our most popular post ever, still getting hits to this day, was not written by Robin or myself or any of the recurring editors. It's "My Favorite Liar" by Kai Chang, about the professor who inserted one false statement into each lecture."
Back when it was first published, I submitted it to reddit and it got 1050 votes (which is a lot for that site). Glad it's still getting traffic!
I second EY's idea. Yes, we need a community forum where everyone can post. Some where concerned with the quality of user generated posts to which I have to say that the point of the forum is not only to have good posts but also to ask questions and clarifications and spark new ideas. Nowadays those often get lost in the comments. Say you didn't understand what exactly a prior is, you can create a new posting asking for clarification. And there hopefully will be enough qualified people to answer it, freeing up time for EY. The ideal format for this would be a newsgroup with searchfunction.
The important posts could be promoted onto this site, with a link to the corresponding thread in the newsgroup for comments. Comments here should be disabled.
I have a different sort of thought.
First, I like the community idea, but I don't think it'll work. That sort of thing attracts people who fancy themselves rational but who are aren't sincerely seeking to expand their rationalist abilities.
I suggest you toy with the idea of a conspiracy a la the fiction posts you make. What would it take to create a self reinforcing social hierarchy based on meaningful rationalist achievement?
I for one welcome a lower post rate. I have trouble keeping up. I am quite backed up in reading your posts. I like blogs which post quality over quantity. Authors have to be exceptionally good to stay in my google reader subscriptions when they produce more than two or tree posts a week. This blog made it. I wouldn't want to risk drowning in the Internets by keeping too many high volume feeds subscriptions.
I think that the community should emphasize that it is a community of wannabe-rationalists whose goal is to self-improve, overcome bias and learn the secrets of the Bayes or whatever. Just as this blog does. I think that that would weed out the likes of the Rational Response Squad, which is an example of what we don't want a rationalist community to be like!
At the same time I don't think that a rationalist community should be any more elitist than necessary. It should fulfill part of the same purpose as your planned popular book.
Definitely keep posting, Eliezer, and don't worry about the frequency. It's one of the best blogs around.
Stack Overflow has an interesting approach - it's more a Q/A than blog, and I don't know if the authors plan to open-source the software they use. But worth a look. http://stackoverflow.com/
I personally mostly like the Hanson posts and some of the EY posts. But I think having some sort of community editorship might be good.
You could look into something like the scoop software that kuro5hin.org uses. http://scoop.kuro5hin.org/ That site has a structure that can generate a community around discussing articles.
I'd also say stick with weekly posts, or whatever your schedules permit. This site isn't a diamond mine, it is a mine of a mineral that exists almost nowhere else. Keep the standards for guest posts, and keep the monthly open threads. (or a forum)
If low quality posts become a problem, appoint moderators.
Roland: "Yes, we need a community forum where everyone can post."
At the risk of preëmpting Nick Tarleton, we have one.
My two cents: I like the blog/comments-sections format, and I don't like the community format.
I had a couple of ideas for posts (which I never got around to writing up, natch); and one of the reasons I don't have my own blog is because being a Serious Blogger would be too much of a time commitment. But this idea of seven weekly bloggers intrigues me--do I have enough good OB-type ideas to be part of such an endeavor?--maybe? I'll have to give this further thought.
Existing contributors keep posting at whatever frequency they're happy with (which hopefully would be above zero, but that's up to them).
Also, slowly scour the web for material that wouldn't be out of place on OB. When you find some, ask the author two or three questions. (a) May we re-post this on OB? (b) Would you like to write an article for OB? (c) [if appropriate] May we re-post some of your other existing material on OB?
If the posting rate drops greatly from what it is now, have more open
threads. (One a week, on a regular schedule?) Be (cautiously) on the lookout for opportunities to say "Would you like to turn that into an OB post?".
I'd strongly not suggest
Anything that would broaden the focus of OB much. (It already strays a little further from its notional core topic than would be my ideal.)
Continuing Robin Hanson's quirk of deleting as many words from the title as is possible without rendering it completely unintelligible. (Or, sometimes, one more than that.) :-)
Those subjunctives in 1-3 of course assume that there are people willing to do that much work. I don't know whether there are, not least because I haven't seriously tried to estimate how much work it is.
Me: "But this idea of seven weekly bloggers intrigues me--do I have enough good OB-type ideas to be part of such an endeavor?--maybe?"
Actually, upon further consideration of my personal situation, I really shouldn't commit to anything.
I've never seen an automated moderation system that Really Works. At best they trim the very worst of the spammers and trolls, but even then they're prone to mob rule, idiot memes and general tyranny of the masses.
You need moderators. Qualified, intelligent, human beings who can take a statement and judge it if necessary. Note that a good writer is not a good mod, a good blogger is not a good mod, and a good person may not be a good mod.
See how Metafilter does it: three (and a half) mods, some automated reporting of both good and bad, and a publicly visible third space for meta discussions about the site itself (metatalk). It's survived years and still has higher post quality than any automated site I'm familiar with.
I've only been starting to read this blog consistently for a few months, but if there weren't thoughtful mini-essay style posts from EY, Hanson, or someone similar, I doubt I'd stay. I actually think a weekly frequency as opposed to daily would be slightly better since my attention and schedule are increasingly being taxed. The most important value this blog provides is the quality of the posts firstly, and subsequently the quality of the comments/discussions pertaining to the posts. Don't create a community for the sake of creating a community, maintain quality at all costs. That is your competitive advantage. If that isn't likely, then better to freeze the site at its height and leave it for posterity than to tarnish it.
yes, keep on with a lower posting frequency!
And some dynamic page with a ToC of all the posts would be really great. So that you have a map when you want to study this material. Although I have read maybe 60%. I would still like to read most of it again! I konw there have been some collections, but they have not been dynaimc and well, not useful enough.
For a community I would find some kind of wiki-like system, where people try to build a map of the territory together much more useful, a normal wiki might not be the best though. Something like The Brain, but much much better would be cool. I really like Tomboy, but it is a desktop program.
Hacker News thread here. (It's having trouble getting voted up - if any of you have existing hacker news credentials, maybe take a moment to vote? Don't register just for this, I don't think they like that.)
@ Z. M. Davis
Yes, there is a forum but it's not an official one. The whole point is creating a central place on the net to discuss and collect rationality related stuff.
OB is great but it only has the top guns. Where is the place where the lower rank people can ask questions or publish inspiring new ideas? No, the comments section is not enough and the open thread neither. Stuff just gets buried in nowhere land. Try reaching the 2. or 3. page of the comments and you will know what I mean.
And I don't think we should underestimate the potential contributions of the no-names here. How about giving others a fair chance to present their views?
Again, I propose a two-tier system:
Those who don't have much time can just continue reading the top postings in OB as before without bothering with the forum.
I second Roland's suggestion of a two-tier system.
A possible solution that would integrate Eliezer's idea of a rationalist community and keeping the blog going could be to start up a joint message board. There the community could contribute to general discussion along with submissions for the site. People could then vote on whether or not the post is good enough to make the site and then given a certain threshold of yes votes, the post could then go up. It could bring in contribution from some people who are a little unwilling to submit their entries to editors but have quality ideas to contribute.
I still haven't read most of the archive, and I'm reading slower than you're posting... So I'm going to second everyone who says a reduce posting rate is A-OK.
One Eliezer post per week, including the usual level of back linking and source linking, would be enough to make OB worthwhile. Just scanning a post here once doesn't do it justice.
An open rationalist forum would also be worth experimenting. It would potentially provide additional sources of insight, powered by rationalists with different agendas from the two that lead here. These would be filtered by the safety net of a community that shares anti-bias biasses. I can trust my brain to more reliably filter bullshit from insight when it knows that it will be irritated if others spot what I don't. The environment would be an effective form of training.
Bloggers get burned-out from time-to-time. At such times, it seems useful to fall back to more 'recycled' content until the spark returns. In the case of OB, one or more editors could blog periodically on an interesting or surprising experimental result from the bias literature, say, one or two per week. There doesn't have to be much more than a summary of the study and its conclusions, a link to a paper or a resource, and the usual space for comments. There are many such studies, and some have been touched on here. But certainly not all. Not every post has to be an original observation or work of synthesis, and this is one way to avoid a degeneration in quality while maintaining a steady stream of ideas. Such entries will surely provoke interesting discussion in the comments.
I'd stay subscribed even with a lower (or much lower) post ratio. I can't keep up as it is given the significant back-tracking necessary to keep a full handle on things. Eliezer, you have the core of what could be quite a wonderful ebook or paper book or popular book or some combination thereof with what you've got here, and whatever else might yet be coming.
I think I for one would quickly lose interest if this site were open to all comers, or even some comers; I read this blog for Eliezer, twacked out as he gets sometimes, and to a lesser extent, Robin. If there are other Eliezers out in the wings that'd be great but somehow I doubt they've just been waiting for OB to turn into a mob-rule forum to start posting here.
I am not capable of producing posts of the quality OB has had so far.
I would like a benign dictator, picking the best of a rationalist forum to post to an OB blog.
Why not have a moderated forum, whose members come by invitation, for the benign dictator to select from?
Also another forum, where anyone can post, from which people could be invited to the higher forum?
One could even have a long regression of such forums.
I would also like the blog as it stands to remain. I could still benefit from reading old posts.
I think the idea of a community section for OB is a great idea, and would really have potential. We've needed one for a long time (the unofficial board is nice, but for as long as it's unofficial, it won't draw anywhere near the same amounts of people that an official one would).
It's impossible for me to imagine a tiered system that wouldn't degenerate into a status competition. Can you think of examples of one that hasn't?
The main blog and the community site mustn't be seen as different tiers of the same thing, instead they must be seen as serving different purposes.
I wouldn't mind to the posting becoming weekly instead of daily, that'd be better than a drop in quality.
I'm a bit skeptical about a community site, but you never know. I wouldn't mind a forum / wiki, but I don't think it could replace the blog or furnish enough material ...
I think it is time to channel the editor's/author's energy into a book!
It would be a book about AI. The main theme might be What AI Is and Is Not", since much of OB is concerned with avoiding missteps to AGI but, in the main we know that OB's primary concern is getting to AGI.
EY is so prolific that I cannot imagine lack of content being a problem. Most book editors would be thrilled to have such an author. It's much easier to pare down a chapter than to motivate the writer to expand on a topic.
I like the suggested hybrid idea (blog with fewer posts + community). Also, I definitely won't mind the reduced post frequency -- I'll keep OB on my RSS list even if it goes down to one post per month.
A sign of the need for a site like OB:
And obviously we're not looking for software that lets our users throw sheep at one another. The Internet already offers enough ways to waste time, thank you. More like - how people can find each other geographically and meet up
This is an interesting idea, since local groups of rationalists raise the possibility of Overcoming Bias becoming a political project. We've discussed the fact that institutional irrationality causes resources to be misallocated and lives to be lost, so why don't we aim to make more people aware of that fact? Evidence Based Medicine has already been a triumph, so why not try Evidence Based Everything? As far as I'm aware there is no organisation dedicated to encouraging bayesianism in national and corporate governance, why don't we form one?
Anonymous BBSs avoid the problem of status-seeking commentors - overcomingbiaschan!
IMHO, the loss of reputation tracking would outweigh the benefit of lowered status-seeking.
I have to say, the unpopularity of the forum (with fewer people using it, it seems to me, than have asked here about a forum - what's with that?) greatly discourages me from experimenting further.
I don't know what's up with people who say they still haven't read the archives. When I discovered OB, I spent all my free time for two weeks reading the archives straight through :)
I support Roland's idea. A few Eliezer posts per week, plus an (official, well-publicized, Eliezer-and-Robin-supported) forum where the rest of us could discuss those posts and bring up issues of our own. Certain community leaders (hopefully Eliezer and Robin if they have time) picking out particularly interesting topics and comments on the board and telling the posters to write them up in more depth as blog posts. Even if people rejected community-based blog posting, just having a forum to keep the Overcoming Bias community together would be worthwhile.
I'm more comfortable with BBSs than complicated upvote systems like Digg or Reddit. The ones I've seen tend toward groupthink, fifty topics on the same issue, and inane "Upvote if you don't like President Bush" threads.
There are some interesting ideas floating around on preventing bulletin boards from degenerating. Require everyone use their real name, or some kind of initial investment of time or money to register an account, or have a karma system.
Kind of off-topic, but in case this is one of my last chances, I want to thank Robin and Eliezer and all the other writers. I usually only comment when I disagree with something, so it's probably not obvious, but I am in awe of the intelligence and clear thinking you display. You have changed my outlook on life, logic, and the world.
Keep posting. Once a week, even once a month, is better than never. If you can get more authors than provide high quality content, great, but if you can't, that's okay, don't worry about quantity.
I for one support the idea of anonymity among the community, we lose the benefits of tracking people over time, but we also do away with a lot of the causes of common bias in everyday social encounters.
After all, this is 'Overcoming Bias'.
Did anyone ever carry through on the AI box thing?
That is telling about the community's prospects, without the lead personalities.
Benefits of a reputation system: Adds an incentive not to be a dick (deliberately or otherwise). Allows each individual to benefit from the bullshit detection abilities of the others. Expect the quality of posts (that survive and remain visible) to increase. Also increases the confidence that can be placed on the posts, somewhat.
Benefits of Anonymity: Reduces the bias that comes from status seeking in a closed system.
If we desired both Anonymity and Reputation that would be easily achieved. Simply make the display names 'anonymous' while leaving the karma rating visible and allowing voting. That gives the best of those two worlds. What is lost is the personal feel. We would lose the use of the built in reputation insticts that we enjoy so much. Of course, that is more or less the point of anonymity so rather unavoidable.
I prefer my blogs to be high quality and low quantity (so that I get diversity in my mind food). So a lower rate of posting is a win from my standpoint.
Anything that makes it easier to find good posts/comments is a win too. Threaded, votable comments would be awesome.
In terms of a community site, what I would personally most like would be some way to exchange "rationality exercises", like the "homework" you talked about at Convergence. Allow people to suggest them, vote on them, and write up what they learned from them. Basically, evolve part of the homework & curriculum for a rationality dojo.
Cameron, that tells you who the community trusts, but doesn't really let you choose who to pay attention to.
The chief bias against rational thinking is the temptations of Satan. The way to overcome this is to read the Bible, which is the inerrant revealed word of God. A member can give much more detail than that, and get his post voted for by all his friends who agree with him. Therefore that member would be in favour of an open forum, where posts are voted on.
Abigail: There is a worst case for everything. There are also styles of religious Troll who would be in favour of anonymity. That would allow them more opportunity to sow confusion into the system without being detected. They may also like voting disabled because it makes it far harder to pick out the sane stuff without being forced to absorb their biassed posts. A closed system may be advocated by the strategic religious believer who delights in so limiting the communication among the enemy.
Nick Tarleton: Anonymity in post replies was advocated by some. The unavoidable trade off of that option is the ability to apply personal bias to replies based on author. A Karma remains possible. Personal judgement does not.
I have not advocated an anonymous system myself. I merely observe which cakes can be kept while the anonymous one is eaten.
I suggested overcomingbiaschan as a joke, but I am warming to the idea of anonymity. It seems to me that most forum software is a bad comprise between identity and anonymity, since it allows people with no lives to create alternate online personalities that they become hugely invested in, and useful discussions become swamped by people's need to nurture these electronic alter-egos. So rather than compromising, pick an extreme. Either ask people to pay a token fee to join the forum and ask that they use their real names, or use an ultra-minimalist anonymous BBS such as kareha.
A fee-and-name-based system would not require karma or reputation tracking, since it is easy to remember someone's name and whether that person is an idiot or not, the fee would keep out time-wasters, and the name would make someone less willing to wreck their own reputation by trolling. Though it would be impossible to enforce people using their real names, the fee would hopefully encourage people to play by the rules.
There's a brief argument for anonymous systems here which makes the point that usernames encourage vanity, and you can see kareha in action here.
In the end though, what is really important is that you need a smart, respectful community and an explicit set of rules rigorously enforced by excellent moderators, and that goes for any messaging system you use.
Some more thoughts:
The poor quality of discussion on Digg, Reddit and Slashdot demonstrate, I think, that user-moderation is ultimately a bad system that tends toward in-groups and lowest-common-denominator discussion topics. A notable exception is Hacker News, and I think this is mostly to do with the community emphasis on simple rules like "be polite", and the close link between community and moderators. I remember recently the administrator of HN, Paul Graham, made a thread asking whether links to election stories should be banned from HN. A sensible discussion followed, and the community voted to ban election stories. I think this shows that voting works best on the meta-level, rather than voting on specific comments and articles, it is better to vote on rules about comments and articles, which moderators then enforce. The best example of a self-regulating community is probably Wikipedia.
Further to my point about paying to use a discussion area, an example of a successful forum that actually does this is Something Awful. On Something Awful anyone can view currently active threads, but you have to pay the tenbux if you want to post or view the archives. When you join it is made clear that if you get banned, your money is not refunded. This gives an incentive for good behaviour. The people who run Something Awful also use the forums as source material for articles on the main site. Overcoming Bias could do something similar. If an OB admin sees somthing they like on the forum, they could e-mail the poster and ask them if they would like to write up the forum comment as a blog post. Or alternatively there could be a community-edited, publically-viewable wiki. The possibilities are endless.
Finally as far as forum software goes, I hear Vanilla has excellent moderation tools, which I think is the most important thing.
There's nothing wrong with going slow. OB generates valuable blog posts at a rate faster than any blog I know, even if it slowed down considerably it would still be a very good blog.
Speed doesn't matter that much on the Internet - you're not writing about politics or the latest Apple gadgets, so value of your blog posts lasts a very long time.