We're about to revamp the frontpage design (you can see a hint of what's to come on the new /allPosts page).
While we're at it, I'd like to fix a longstanding problem, which is that "frontpage posts" is a fairly confusing concept for the site to rely on.
"Frontpage posts" are posts that the mods promote because they:
- Avoid arguing to persuade and build social momentum. Instead they stay focused on the explanation (and exploration) of ideas.
- They avoid particular hotbutton issues that are likely to spawn demon threads.
- They avoid discussion of the site itself, and the surrounding community.
The main benefit a post has for being frontpage is that more users will see it by default (where as personal blogposts require you to actively turn on a setting to display them).
There are two problems with the name "frontpage":
1. It's confusing. Since you can display personal blogposts on the literal site frontpage (and there are contexts other than the literal frontpage where you might want to see "frontpage" posts, such as on the allposts page), it's a bit weird to use that word to convey a bunch of criteria.
2. It's a little too harsh-seeming to not get promoted to frontpage. I don't "frontpage" should mean "everything that's good and virtuous to talk about." I do think that's it good to err on the side of writing posts that meet the frontpage criteria, but I think of this as a default rather than the obviously-correct-way-everything-should-be.
This post explores what frontpage is trying to do, ways in which we might modify it, but ultimately (for now), answering the question of "what can we change the frontpage name to, to locally improve the current situation."
What is "Frontpage" Trying to Do?
Some value I think the "frontpage mechanic" provides include:
1. Disincentivze discourse that is more stressful or time wasting than it needs to be.
2. Retain LessWrong's strong foundation of epistemic clarity.
Rationality is harder when a discussion will directly impact your social landscape. Social coordination is important, but I want the default for LessWrong to be a place where you "only" have to think clearly about ideas, instead of "thinking about clear ideas in hard mode where you're tempted to round things off in directions that improve your political position."
3. Provide good "seed culture" (or "training data") for new users.
When you show up on LW, the first thing you see is a bunch of discussion of ideas. This tells you roughly what sort of things the LW community care about. Whereas if the first thing you saw as a bunch of discussion about community/meta stuff, there's a decent chance of two outcomes.
- Thinking "hmm, this is a navel gazing community that's mostly focused on itself. What is this community even about?" and then bouncing off.
- Thinking "ah! rationalist community!" and getting excited without actually understanding what we mean by rationalist, or understanding a lot of the nuances that actually drive the heart of the community.
4. Relatedly: Somewhat disincentivize community-for-community-sake stuff.
Even among longterm members, community stuff seems to get 2-4 times as much attention as it should.
Community-qua-community stuff often feels like it requires less background knowledge to get started on (as compared to, say, developing a new decision theory, or figuring out the best evidence for a given diet). It feels more accessible.
But I'm much more interested in community-oriented contributions by people who have demonstrated a clear understanding of the underlying goals and thought processes of LessWrong.
And even among those people, I'd rather that community-oriented ideas and projects come about organically as people actually try to think about a hard, object-level problem.
Instead of starting by thinking "how can I improve the community?" think "what am I curious about or excited by?". Then, if it turns out that you're facing a bottleneck that is community related, work on fixing that bottleneck in the context of your curiosity/excitement.
5. Avoiding creating an adversarial/marketing relationship between readers and the LessWrong site.
A lot of stuff on the internet is written with the intent to get me interested in a product. Facebook turned out to be a useful marketing tool, and now a lot of content (not just the overt advertisements) are there with a goal of maintaining my attention, to later convert that attention into a resource.
Eliezer very rarely mentions his organization in the LW sequences. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on actually learning rationality skills. He does have ulterior motives, but one of the more interesting posts IMO is the one where he spells out the ulterior motives and notes how crucial it is for the ulterior motives not to poison the integrity of the rationality project.
I'm less worried about this than habryka is, but there's definitely a failure mode where a lot of the LW content ends up being organizational announcements and pitches for money or social momentum, and that ends up making it harder to show up and think and learn.
Improving the Frontpage paradigm?
The frontpage criteria I'm most worried about is the "no organizational announcements/pitches" thing. This is particularly because a fledgling organization needs resources, and, well, it actually matters that they get attention.
LessWrong is a place for thinking, but I'm still most excited when that thinking gets applied into action.
Point #5 above still seems important, but I think we can probably improve on it.
Two clusters of solutions include:
- Working harder to get people to login to LessWrong (they only need to do it once per device), so that their frontpage settings get saved, and if they prefer to see personal blogposts they can just do so. And, after users have been using the site awhile, if they haven't toggled personal blogposts on, they can get a reminder that this is an option.
- Creating a more nuanced paradigm, where instead of a single "frontpage" place that posts can be promoted to, there are (say), three sections. We've been considering something like:
- Science/Journal/Inquiry – essentially what frontpage is now, where the focus is on ideas, explanations, models and curiosity. I'm not quite sure what to call this.
- Art – there's been a lot of good rationalist fiction, and we've been considering more actively encouraging that (while giving it a dedicated space that is more optimized around it).
- Coordination – a more dedicated space for building momentum for projects, events, and resolving important disagreements about norms. We've been putting this section off not because it's not important but because it seems quite hard and risks harming the epistemic foundation.
I'm also interested in having frontpage/science/journal/inquiry or whatever, help point people in a direction of how to build their ideas over time.
My current guess is that the frontpage section should feel sort of like a laboratory workshop, or perhaps the cafeteria at Bell Labs, where people talk about their ideas and models. The atmosphere is casual but grounded in intellectual rigor.
Ideas that seem particularly good or interested get curated.
Ideas that, several months later, have withstood a lot of scrutiny and proven useful, are incentivized to get rewritten, distilled, clarified, and ultimately pass some kind of review bar or become "canon."
The solutions I listed above involve a lot of technical work (as well as some social and philosophical work). But, it seems like some significant improvements could come just from giving frontpage a more accurate and specific name.
The ideal name:
- Doesn't confuse "location" of the site (such as the home page) for a particular style of content
- Emphasizes ideas over people and social momentum.
- Hints at being the beginning (but not the end) of high quality truthseeking process
- Indicates that this is one particular place where posts can go, without feeling intrinsically like the only place that quality posts go.