What is the Main/Discussion distinction, and what should it be?

because main posts are often either meetup announcements or really indepth decision theory stuff that is both boring and opaque to newcomers. We don't get as many instantly exciting articles like a lot of the sequence posts as we used to

What is the Main/Discussion distinction, and what should it be?

by ChrisHallquist 2 min read30th Dec 2013103 comments


Near the beginning of this year Wei Dai asked why certain people don't post to LessWrong more often, and Yvain replied that:

Less Wrong requires no politics / minimal humor / definitely unambiguously rationality-relevant / careful referencing / airtight reasoning (as opposed to a sketch of something which isn't exactly true but points to the truth.) This makes writing for Less Wrong a chore as opposed to an enjoyable pastime.

But Kaj disagreed that this was the actual standard:

I agree with the "no politics" bit, but I don't think the rest are correct. I've certainly had "sketch of something that isn't quite true but points in the right direction" posts with no references and unclear connections to rationality promoted before (example), as well as ones plastered with unnecessary jokes (example).

This raises two questions: what is the real standard, and what should the standard be?

Because on the one hand, it's not clear Yvain is right, but on the other hand if he is right on the factual question, that standard seems way too high to me. It would suggest that, as John Maxwell says in the same thread, "The overwhelming LW moderation focus seems to be on stifling bad content. There's very little in place to encourage good content."

The wiki sort-of answers the factual question:

These traditionally go in Discussion:

  • a link with minimal commentary 
  • a question or brainstorming opportunity for the Less Wrong community

Beyond that, here are some factors that suggest you should post in Main:

  • Your post discusses core Less Wrong topics. 
  • The material in your post seems especially important or useful. 
  • You put a lot of thought or effort into your post. (Citing studies, making diagrams, and agonizing over wording are good indicators of this.) 
  • Your post is long or deals with difficult concepts. (If a post is in Main, readers know that it may take some effort to understand.) 
  • You've searched the Less Wrong archives, and you're pretty sure that you're saying something new and non-obvious.

But this isn't an entirely unambiguous answer: how many of the five "factors" does a post need to be in Main? Furthermore, it often seems that the "real" rules are significantly different than what the wiki says. Yvain's perception may be incorrect, but I think there were reasons why he (and presumably the people who upvoted his comment) had that perception. Also, Eliezer recently explained that:

Whenever a non-meta post stays under 5, I always feel free to move it to Discussion, especially if an upvoted comment has also suggested it. I don't always, but often do.

This makes me wonder what other poorly-publicized rules there are in this vicinity.

As for what the rules should be, I'm going to limit myself to two general suggestions:

  • The standard for posting in Main should not be so high that it makes posting at LessWrong feel like a chore, thereby chasing away good contributors like Yvain.
  • The standard should not be so high that it would force any significant portion of Eliezer's original sequences off into Discussion.

Finally, whatever standard we settle on, I think it's really important that we make it clearer to people what it is. Aside from the obvious benefits of doing that, I've found that trying to navigate the unclear Main/Discussion distinction is itself often enough to make blogging at LessWrong feel like a chore.

Edited to add: In terms of karma I'm currently the top contributor for the past 30 days on LessWrong by a wide margin. I managed this in spite of the fact that I'm in the middle of doing App Academy and have no time (this past week has been an exception because vacation). I take this not as evidence of how awesome I am, but as evidence that way too little quality content is being posted in Main.