Feature Wish List for LessWrong

by sarahconstantin1 min read17th Dec 201683 comments

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Efforts are underway to replace the old LessWrong codebase. This is a thread to solicit people's ideas and requests for features or changes to the LessWrong website.  What would make discussion quality better?

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FHI and MIRI both hold workshops that are logistically very expensive, both for the organizations and for the participants. Structurally a workshop discussion seems very similar to a LessWrong: you have one person make a short presentation about a topic or a question, then discussion ensues. It seems like a lot of resources could be saved if some of those discussions were moved online entirely, or if the participants had online discussions ahead of time to iron out some basic issues / common misunderstandings so that the workshop could focus on more important issues. We should ask what features would enable that.

I think one thing that would help is to have private posts that can only be viewed and commented on by invitation (by both username and email address so people can be invited even before they sign up to LW). I guess that people are often reluctant to post on LW because they're not ready for their ideas to be seen in public yet. For example their idea is only half-formed and it wouldn't make sense yet to take the effort of making it understandable to people outside a small circle. Or they're not sure the idea is correct and don't want to take a public reputation hit in case ... (read more)

8lionhearted2y(1) I want this too and would use it and participate more. (2) Following logically from that, some sort of "Lists" feature like Twitter might be good, EX: ("Friending" is typically double-confirm, lists would seem much easier and less complex to implement. Perhaps lists, likewise, could be public or private)

I think the highest payoff-per-unit-effort changes to LW as it currently exists are in content discovery.

We have this massive pile of mostly-evergreen content, yet we have very few ways for a user to find specific things in that pile which interest them. We have the sequences, and we have some recommendations at the top of the homepage. But neither of these shows things which are more likely than average to be of interest to this specific user. With such a huge volume of content, showing users the things most relevant to their interests is crucial.

So, two main criteria for changes to be high-value:

  • Content discovery needs to be on every post, not just the homepage
  • Content discovery needs to be relevant, i.e. not just showing everyone the same things all the time

Now, I'm not saying we need a fancy engine for user-level recommendations; "related posts" would be much easier and probably more effective than an off-the-shelf recommendation engine. The ideal starting point would be a sidebar on every post containing (some subset of):

  • Posts/comments which link to this post
  • Other posts by this author
  • Author-suggested related posts
  • "Users who upvoted/commented on this post al
... (read more)
4johnswentworth2yBTW I love the link preview functionality, I think that one is huge for content discovery.
2habryka2yI am hesitant about sidebars in general, but I agree that having recommendations below the post at least is a good idea. I would also experiment with putting them in the ToC navigation, though you don't really have space for more than 2-3 related posts there.
2johnswentworth2y2-3 related posts would be plenty; the top 2-3 in a list are all people usually click on anyway. Why the aversion to sidebars? I don't disagree, bottom or ToC or elsewhere is fine, just curious.

I am generally a fan of minimalism, and having a focused reading experience. I like being able to read a post, and just focus on the content, without lots of other stuff that is trying to get my attention, until I am done with it.

This is mostly based on my models of intellectual effort, where I think distraction-rich environment make putting real effort into something a lot harder.

Highlighting new comments is important. Currently, viewing a subthread breaks that feature; it shouldn't. (One way to handle this is to allow people to choose "highlight comments posted since an arbitrary date", with a dropdown list of times they've visited the thread in the past.)

Also, since we're migrating to another codebase, not every feature LW currently has will move over by default. So if you use something like the anti-kibitzer and would like to make sure it's still around, that should go on this list too.

Maybe this could be done by something else besides the core LW team, but I'd like to have an Android app for LW and EA Forum, that would give me periodic notifications for my inbox, posts/authors/threads I subscribe to, karma changes, maybe new high-karma posts and comments, so I don't have to constantly refresh many different pages on LW/GW/EAF to keep up with what's going on. Having to do that is really a pain when you're trying to use forum participation as a research strategy .

I've been thinking about writing this app myself, but thought I'd ask first to see if anyone else wants to do it.

5clone of saturn2yI added web push notifications to GreaterWrong, you can activate them on your inbox page. If your browser and device have the proper support, they should show up even when you don't have a GreaterWrong tab open. This is pretty experimental, let me know how it works for you.
3Wei_Dai2yJust got my first notification on Android Firefox. Thanks!
2habryka2yNice, I activated them and if it overall seems good, we will do the same for LessWrong.
4habryka2yWe've been working on a revamp of the notification system, which is at least related to this. Would email notifications with a daily digest (and settings to be informed of certain events individually and immediately) be sufficient for a lot of these, or is there something specific about the push-notifications from the app that would help with this? I've been thinking about an app for a while. For notifications, I actually think just making LW a full progressive web app and using the notifications API of mobile browsers seems like the best choice to me, but not confident. I don't think anyone on the team has super much experience with native App development, so building a full native app would definitely be at least a bit of a learning effort.
2ofer2yThe ability to get notified, in any way, about new comments in specific threads/posts would be very helpful for me!
2Wei_Dai2ySeems like app notifications could be much more user-friendly. I wouldn't need to open up the email, then press again to open up the browser, then close the browser tab, delete the email. Also, the app notification can directly show me the most important information so I can decide whether or not look further, whereas I'll probably have to open the email to see that. Also with emails you'd have to deal with or worry about spam filters, rate limiters, delivery problems, etc. I'm not familiar with PWA, but if it works it may be a good alternative to native apps.
2habryka2yAgree that they have advantages. I personally much prefer email notifications, because it allows me to centralize all my notification systems, and because I generally prefer to process things in batches, but I can see the case for app notifications. I will look into this more. Will let you know what I find.

I want to see a backlink feature, so people can find replies to a post that aren't in the form of a comment. Compared to the old LW, people now write more posts than comments, and some long replies that would have been comments in the old LW now appear as posts, but these are hard to find from the post that they're replying to. Please consider implementing this for external backlinks too if that seems worthwhile.

(Also, is this still the best place to submit feature requests?)

4Raemon2yIt's as good a place as any to submit feature requests, I think. Agree on backlinks, that's on our agenda.
6Wei_Dai2yThanks, another request: can you convert old outgoing IAFF links (in this post [https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/5bd75cc58225bf067037535e/are-daemons-a-problem-for-ideal-agents] for example) to point to AF instead? Relatedly, can you also make it so that if viewing a post on LW, outgoing AF links go to LW instead (similar to how GW links get dynamically converted to LW links and vice versa)?
4Raemon2yNod. Added to the issue tracker.
2Wei_Dai2yWhen you implement backlinks, please do it for the LW Wiki as well, in both directions? See also this [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/LiCvC6XEHjJJ8eQ7h/feature-wish-list-for-lesswrong?commentId=MqWpk8FzzjaiPZLH2] .
2habryka2yWe don't really control the LW Wiki, so not sure how feasible this is. It would probably require a completely separate codepath, and I don't know what the subscription infrastructure of the wiki has. I will look into it, but can't promise anything as of yet.
3Raemon2yI assumed the way we would do this is "finally get around to porting the wiki over to the new site"
3clone of saturn2yAdded to GreaterWrong.
2Wei_Dai2yThanks! Can you also make the backlinks sortable by karma and date, and/or display the karma and date of each backlink? Because some of the posts (example [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/sSqoEw9eRP2kPKLCz/illusion-of-transparency-why-no-one-understands-you] ) have a lot of backlinks and it's hard to know which ones might be worth following. Oh also, the backlinks from posts currently do not show the authors of those posts.

I very much like the idea of the Sunshine Regiment, as discussed by Vaniver, here:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/o5z/on_the_importance_of_less_wrong_or_another_single/di1g

As he's explained it to me, it sounds like it would need to be part of the code. From the outside, it would need to be a button on each post that would flag it as needing attention from a member of the SR. I feel like the flag should be visible to everyone, so that if things are getting out of hand, it can be put on pause until the SR takes a look at it, but it should not reveal publicly who flagged it. But maybe there is a better system for handling visibility and anonymity.

From the inside, it would need the features that Vaniver described, namely an issue-handling system for all the members of the SR to keep track of who's taking care of what, and which posts need attention. I'd think that SR should know who flagged a post, but maybe it could be anonymous to them as well.

(Or, maybe this has already undergone a more thorough discussion behind the scenes, in which case, you can just take this post as a vote in favor of SR support.)

Comments navigation sidebar

To the side of the main comments area, show an outline of the thread structure of all comments of a post (with each comment being represented by a box that shows just the author, time, and karma of the comment), and a sliding box that represents which comments are currently scrolled into view in the main comments area. The sliding box moves as the user scrolls the main comments area, and can be dragged for navigation, or the user can click anywhere on the sidebar to navigate directly to a comment. The sidebar can be independently

... (read more)
7habryka2yYeah, I basically want this to replace the ToC as you scroll past the post and into the comment section.
4Raemon2yYeah, I’ve been wanting this for awhile

I would like downvotes and upvotes to be both shown rather than mathed out against each other, and also them not be anonymous. I also endorse restricting downvotes.

I'd also like to see downvotes & upvotes shown separately, but want to keep their anonymity.

The big upside of a downvote is that it lets you quickly signal that a comment's bad without having its poster follow you around afterwards or draw you into an unproductively time-consuming argument. This can of course be abused, but in LW's one big case of downvote abuse (Eugine_Nier) it didn't take long to see who was behind it anyway.

I've written a bit about this, but I never finished the sequence and don't really endorse any of it as practical. Some of the comment threads may have useful suggestions in them, though.

Discussion quality is a function of the discussants more than the software.

I think we are better off using something as close to off-the-shelf as possible, modified only via intended configuration hooks. Software development isn't LW's comparative advantage. If we are determined to do it anyway, we should do it in such a way that it's useful to more than just us, so as to p... (read more)

4steven04615yI agree with this and suspect that a willingness to keep out low-quality users is more important than any technical feature. The decision to remove all downvoting is worrying in this regard.
2The_Jaded_One5yThe thing is, the modern web doesn't particularly care about high quality discussion. Most places where people comment expect you to write something short and brainless, or even not write anything at all but just like it and share it. 1000000 likes on Facebook are much more immediately monetizable than 10 thoughtful comments on LW. And the technology that powers all this stuff is adapted to handling a flood of super low quality comments and likes. If we want something high quality, we may need to innovate a bit on the tech side, for example by controlling downvotes, adding more nuanced reactions, etc etc. At the same time I agree that we shouldn't go overboard. But I can totally see a fork of Reddit with a sane DB schema being a start.
1plethora5yBut daydreaming about the cool new social media software we're totally going to write is so fun!
1ChristianKl5yYesterday I saw the prototype of the discussion software that the Arbital folks are writing, and it looks really great.
0whpearson5yI think having a focused discussion topic helps as well. Even with high quality discussants you might have low quality discussion if people aren't interested in what other people want to talk about. Is the reboot of LW going to have the same focus as the current site? LW sometimes seems like an uncomfortable mix of instrumental rationality, decision theory and ai risks.

Personally I have found downvoting to be one of the biggest problems with LW, and one reason I don't go to the effort of writing full posts here.

People will downvote something that you spent a lot of time putting together, and which may have a lot of merit, but which perhaps isn't perfect. I have found this is particularly true if you present a theory about something without enough "rubber stamp" hedging about how what you're saying might not be true.

Some things posted here are genuinely without any merit, or so riddled with sloppy thinking that... (read more)

2Elo5yagreed. want to point out that this: Would be a big problem with your suggestion. Possibly only solved by gated entry to the forum. I.e. must email requesting to join the forum. Although I hate putting up barriers to entry to lw.
4The_Jaded_One5yWhy gated entry? Other fora have developed ways of combatting bots; captchas, browser cookies, ips, etc. Make it relatively easy for humans to enter but harder to make a mess, have algorithms that look for accounts whose voting patterns correlate but who never post anything, etc. Have a report spam button. Use blacklisting of emails and ips.
2Elo5yWe have about one bot a month, I deal with that pretty easily. We have one troll every day, causing damage, causing special focus.
0The_Jaded_One5yGod that guy STILL ....

I'd like a bookmark function for posts and comments. Sometimes I see an interesting post or comment but I don't have enough time to fully understand or write a reply for it, so it would be nice if I could press a button and have LW remember for me to get back to it.

(I could do this using the browser bookmark feature, but I use a whole bunch of different devices and different browsers and don't have bookmark synchronization between them, plus it would be nice to be able to access my LW bookmarks when I'm not using my own devices.)

4Raemon2yYeah. We've been thinking about this quite a bit although it'll still be awhile before we get to it.

Speculative: don't necessarily force, but allow people to tag upvotes and downvotes, suggesting tags which are globally common or have already been used on this comment. (Suggested downvote tags: "incomprehensible", "untrue", "rude", "spam", "misread the parent comment".) Make the tags visible on each comment. Possibly, for each user, publish the list of most common tags they've received.

Votes shouldn't have equal weight, but a page-rank like algorithm should score votes by people who get a lot of votes higher.

6steven04615yOr, better yet, it should score votes by a number of hand-picked people higher. Karma is an indicator of voting quality, but an unreliable one.
1ChristianKl5yHand-picking has some advantages but it also produces problem because it induces political discussion about who deserves to be in the hand-picked group of high voting power users.
5steven04615yThe hand-pickers can be anonymous to everyone except the site owners. The picking needn't even be a continuous process; it can just be done once with no possibility of discussion. People would still yell at us for the abstract fact that we implemented such a scheme, but we'd have to weigh that against what I expect would be a substantial increase in voting quality. (Nobody would lose their vote and this would help make it palatable.)
2ChristianKl5yI don't think having a few anonymous amount of high voting power users and most users at normal voting power would get around the problem of Eugine's sockpuppets. A page-rank like algorithm on the other hand would make the forum robust against attacks of that sort. You can additionally seed the algorithm with giving specific individuals higher voting power.
0philh5yUsing a pagerank algorithm against sockpuppets feels like the wrong approach. Consider that people learn to exploit google's algorithms, and then they make changes to fix that, and people learn to exploit them again. We don't want to be playing that game. And as long as we have few enough trolls, I'm not sure we have to: if we have an effective way to detect and ban them manually, that should be fine. Algorithms like this might be valuable for other reasons, but I don't think we should be using them against trolls.
0ChristianKl5yThere are no completely effective ways for banning people. Accounts can be reregistered.
0steven04615yYes, we'd need a separate solution to sockpuppet attacks, like disallowing downvotes from accounts below a karma threshold, or the one about moderator database access that's currently in the pipeline.
1ChristianKl5ySockpuppets can vote each other up to reach any karma threshold that's a minimum for downvoting.
1The_Jaded_One5ySockpuppet attacks work because accounts are allowed to downvote an unlimited amount of times without ever posting anything. Change it so that you get 1 downvote per week if you have posted a few comments, and the sockpuppeter has to automate commenting. That's harder for them to do than it is for the good guys to ban their puppets. In addition, use the usual tactics against bots, such as email verification and ip banlists.
0Vaniver5yWe do email verification already. I think the suggestion in the middle paragraph would hit a lot of people that we do want voting, both up and down; lurkers with good taste make the karma signals better.
1The_Jaded_One5yI'm not convinced that lurkers' downvotes are good for the site, but I assume that with the current state of the database this is not a question we can answer empirically?
0ChristianKl5yI think on average the votes of lurkers are less valuable than the votes of participating members. If there's an AI that identifies lurkers with good taste because they vote similar to a moderator, their votes would be valuable. Without a way to distinguish good taste from bad taste lurkers I think it's more useful to count people who have a higher stake in a forum more strongly.
0ChristianKl5yIn general I think it's useful to give votes of new posters little weight. I don't think that a specific threshold number is optimal. I think a PageRank like system would produce a better result in fending of Eternal September voting issues.

Another 'Nice to have' feature would be the ability to easily share comments between LW, Facebook and a personal WordPress blog.

I'd like to be able to post something on my blog, automatically crosspost it to LW, and have the comments mirrored from LW to my site. That way I would get the reward of visibility for my blog, without having to deprive LW of content.

Make the comment editor floating or sticky once someone starts typing in it, so that it remains visible in the browser window as the user scrolls up or down to look at the main post or other comments.

3Raemon2yThis sounds interesting, although I think it might be tricky to get it to work intuitively in a way that doesn’t feel ‘in the way’ sometimes. (Ie sometimes I’m working on multiple comments and might not want them both floating around ). Would have to experiment a bit to see how it works

Active moderation by a core of trusted, actively contributing volunteers who have the capability of removing/hiding content without having to justify all details of such decisions to the membership as a whole. Separate, moderator only discussion space where policies and meta issues can be discussed without detracting from the main content here (and general discouragement of extensive meta discussions in main and discussion forums). Capability and willingness of moderators or at least forum admins to remove, block or bar users if in violation of site pol... (read more)

I'd like each user to have their own sub domain (I.e such that my top level posts can be accessed either from Anders_h.lesswrong.com or from LW discussion). If possible it would be great if users could customize the design of their sub domain, such that posts look different when accessed from LW discussion.

It would be helpful to have a few threads that are sticky, or otherwise easy to find. For example, the current open, welcome, and stupid questions threads. Today when I created that spurious welcome thread, I noticed a post made by a new user that seemed appropriate for the welcome thread and I wanted to link them to it. The link to the welcome thread at http://lesswrong.com/about/ points to a 2015 edition. I tried a few different searches in the Google search bar, then checked a few of the tags that customarily go along with the welcome threads. Then I go... (read more)

0TiffanyAching5yI agree totally about sticky threads. I'd never even seen a forum without them until I came here. Having to repost the Welcome thread and the open threads over and over seems like such a PITA.

BTW there are some annoying UI issues on mobile at the moment. As I'm writing this comment, the comment button is hidden unless I rotate my screen to landscape.

The upvote/downvote buttons are very hard to press due to being rather small.

I suggest a "I already replied" indicator for messages in my inbox. Also, flags I can set on certain comments/messages to indicate that I should reply to them with high priority. (These could basically work the same way as in a typical email client.) This could be integrated with the bookmark feature that I suggested earlier.

Also, is it just me or does development happen rather slowly on LW? I've done some web development myself and it seems like on a codebase that I'm familiar with, it would take a few weeks at most to implement some of the feature sugges

... (read more)
4habryka2yI added an "archive" button to the PM system a few months ago, which I was hoping would serve some of the function you were requesting. Adding some kind of tags or flags to it also seems like a reasonable improvement, though not that many users use the LessWrong PM system, so I am kind of hesitant to optimize that part of the site super much. Re development speed: I think it's mostly that we've been prioritizing other stuff. I.e. I've been revamping a bunch of the map infrastructure and meetup infrastructure recently, which I think is something you are not super interested in, but I think is pretty important for other reasons. Most of our feature prioritization is a result of some long-term visions, and user interviews we make. The currently two most requested features we are working on is adding Google Docs-like sharing functionality to posts, which is a relatively major project, as well as a revamp of the notification system that also supports more granular email notifications, neither of which are mentioned in this thread, but are definitely the most requested features via all the other channels we have for people making feature requests. (And actually, checking the rest of this thread, there isn't a single feature request on it that I feel like I want to prioritize, that isn't already implemented, besides the two comments you made today. Is there anything else in this thread that you think we should prioritize?)
2Wei_Dai2yI'm actually thinking more about comments than PMs. There are comments (either addressed to me or just general comments) that I want to make sure to eventually read/digest/respond to, and right now there's no good way to keep track of that. Not sure what you mean by "this thread", but I still want to see the backlinks feature, and this [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/zjnJ6QJnpcpYbkYdj/speaking-for-myself-re-how-the-lw2-0-team-communicates#NrPXp47xDdTcZwtob] .
2habryka2yAh, I see. Then yes, I agree with you that better Inbox management for notifications in general seems quite valuable. As I mentioned, we have an upcoming rework of the notification system in general, so after that is done, I will look into doing that. Also agree with backlinks. We are about to roll out hover link-previews, which is a related feature, so I think we can do that soon. Re the last linked feature: We also have some drafts and plans for a react-system, that I am pretty excited about implementing, but held off on for the last three months because we decided to focus on some stuff that would conflict with that, but I expect us to get around to that soon.
3clone of saturn2yAdded to GreaterWrong.
2Wei_Dai2yThanks! While I have you here, any reason why voting is disabled in the inbox and recent comments on GW? Also, I submitted a feature request on the GW issue tracker to display AF karma (the numbers next to the Omega signs on LW). This is a problem especially on mobile (Android Firefox) because the "LW" button that takes me to the LW version of a post/comment doesn't show there so I can't even click on that to see the AF karma.
1clone of saturn2yVoting from recent comments was enabled for a while, but Said objected to it because he thought people might vote on comments in a knee-jerk way without understanding the context. For the inbox, though, it's more of an oversight (I just never missed having the buttons there). Sure, that should be doable. Originally I thought it would require two independent sets of voting buttons, which seemed too weird and confusing, but it looks like that's not actually the case.
2Wei_Dai2yIn that case it would help if the Permalink button (which I have to first press in order to vote) goes to a page that shows the context of the comment. Currently it just shows the single comment, so you're not really making people see the context before they vote anyway. And I think that would be helpful even aside from this concern, because often I want to check out the context of a comment, and right now I have to press the up-arrow/parent button a bunch of times to do so.
2Said Achmiz2y(For the record, I still think this!)

I would like to see who up-voted me and the number of views each post gets. There should be a less time consuming way of putting a link in a comment. Once each month you should have the option of super-up-voting a post or comment and the number of super-up votes a post gets should be visible.

I don't know if this has been discussed before, but what's the argument against the standard response-bumps-thread model? You've got active threads falling off the first page while threads that haven't successfully started a discussion are just sitting there.

Thread-bumping also allows for the creation of long-term threads - threads that might not be worth turning into stickies but are worthy of being resurrected many times when somebody has something new to contribute to them. "Your Favorite Rationality-Related Books", just as an example. Somebod... (read more)

In the short term, i'm open to the idea of allowing only upvotes on comments, but allowing both up and downvotes on posts.

1ozziegooen5yI feel like there's a minority of the LessWrong community that enjoys giving snarky and fairly mean comments, often to rather small and minor points. These comments have definitely made me feel less welcome here when posting; I would hope they could somehow be downvoted more.
0scarcegreengrass5yMotivation: I rarely see a comment that i wish wasn't visible. But i sometimes see a post that i wish would be downvote-hidden (eg spam, insubstantial drama, etc). This is not a serious problem right now, however, so handling this via mods is also an option. Downvoting is theoretically similar to moderation after all.