Community norm question: brief text ad signatures

by Kaj_Sotala2 min read11th Jul 201135 comments


Personal Blog

I've written several posts on this site, many of which were promoted to the front page. Some of my writings have been quite popular. Looking through the Google Analytics stats for this site showed that my writing has had at least 50 000 unique views over time. The full total is probably more, since I only looked at the stats of the 1000 most viewed Less Wrong pages.

As I have been looking for sources of side income, I was wondering whether it'd be deemed acceptable if I started signing my posts to the main section with something brief like this:

To see the novel I'm writing, click here. If you liked this post, you may also Flattr me here.

I'm currently thinking about trying to make a living on writing, and being able to do something like this would make it considerably easier to help build a personal brand. Although I wouldn't dare to claim to write as well as Eliezer or Yvain, say, I would like to think that my posts have been valuable for several people. The fact that sixteen of my articles were among the 1000 most viewed LW pages would support this. Being able to get back some of that value would only seem fair to me.

As an additional bonus, currently my LW writing has gotten sidelined as it hasn't seemed that useful for my personal goals. Being allowed to have such ads would make writing on LW more personally useful for me, incentivizing me to spend more time on writing quality posts here.

I can understand not everyone being fully enthusiastic about this, though. For one, several Internet communities are quite stringent about things that might be considered spam. Also, people might also be worried about the fact that LW is currently mostly operating as a gift economy. Letting people make money off their posts directly, such as with Flattr links, might change the community norms in an undesirable direction. Folks such as matt, who are hard at work at improving the technical side of the site, might rightfully feel that they deserve a cut.

So I figured I'd better ask first. For what it's worth, I have donated to SIAI in the past, and do intend to donate to either SIAI or FHI or both in the future. Part of any income I'd make through this site would go to fund my donations. I'm also already spending some of my time writing academically about LW-related issues. You can e.g. expect to see a full-length paper draft based on my previous conference paper before the month is over. Extra income sources would also let me spend more time doing such work.


35 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:56 PM
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Proposal: Make it look less spammy by making it look official. Something like this:

About the author:

(thumbnail picture linking to profile.) Kaj is a blank working at [blank]. (S)he is

currently working on a [novel]. If you liked this post you can Flattr Kaj [here].

Where [stuff] denotes an appropriate link. If we create a standard template for such things then everybody (who wants to) can sign their posts in such a way. This will make the site look more professional, and increase flow to everyone's other projects.

(See also Vladmir_M's post)

If so, let's make sure to have signatures be visually distinctive so they don't disrupt the flow of conversation. Maybe make them grey, if there's a shade that's distinct from black and readable against our backgrounds.

I would not want it at all in the comments. It might be acceptable to have them on main post.

If they're going to be added, they should definitely not be added to the comments. That would clutter it up way too much. If they are added to posts, a line break between the post itself and the signature would help along with making the font a lighter shade of grey. Not so light that you cannot read, but something like the date and time next to the comment's name (about 50% grey? Can't honestly tell. I want to say 40% but that might be too light). It might also be aesthetically pleasing to place it in italics. That way those people who don't really want to see it automatically see the slanted, light font and skip over it, but it's available to someone who does want to read it.

This idea seems popular. Someone needs to create such a template. I have in fact already done so, but the last time I learnt HTML was in 2003 when I was eleven, so it might be a bit shoddy. If no one has created a template by Wednesdayish I'll post my attempt to Discussion.

EDIT: Meh, did it already.

Post it to the discussion and let others modify it if they want.

Ads for external companies who pay you for it, no. Ads of the form "Like Kaj? See more of him." - sounds sensible.

This sounds like a sensible position to me as well.

Though I find the signatures you propose to be objectively morally acceptable, they fill me with a faint unreasonable disgust, like when I hear people justifying having a marriage for a purpose other than true love. I know that it's more practical for many people to do things differently than what I view to be the idealized norm, but I still find the idea aesthetically displeasing. I feel that a revamping of LW's profile system could reduce the need for this, because if profiles were better organized, and I actually had an interest in seeing the novel you're writing based solely on the fact that you wrote it, or Flattring you, I would go to your profile. But as it is profiles can only provide a handful of sparse links, so that's not really an option.

I also would have preferred to see this post in discussion.

This, I think, is the strongest argument against. Commercial links would, in my opinion, lower the status of LW overall. I don't want that to happen. I could come up with rationalizations why it's strategically suboptimal, but I know they're rationalizations, so I won't.

The complete lack of actual ads on LW does a great deal to raise the status of this website, as you say. There are basically no websites nowadays where this is possible except for government ones and others independently maintained. No matter how classy the advertisements are, there's still a certain pallor cast over the page when "tained" by commercial intent.

My ideal would be a profile page where these links could be stored, that way it's "opt-in" if I want to learn more about an author. That said, that would require programming time, and it would take me 3-6 months to finish something basic like that because I don't know the code base and don't have a ton of time I want to invest in the project, so I'm not going to push for it. If the choice is between "write this code" and "deal with signatures on comments" then I will happily volunteer and set myself a 3 month deadline. I can live with signatures on posts, though :)

Websites that feature articles by many writers often append some brief information about the author at the end of each article (or alternatively, this information appears when you click on the author's name). This often includes links to the authors' books, blogs, professional websites, etc., and is understood as merely giving information about the author, not as an endorsement of the stuff behind the links.

I'm not sure if it would be a good idea to make this a built-in feature of LW, but I don't see any reasons why people writing top-level (or even discussion) articles shouldn't append a short paragraph of this sort to their articles. The only potential problem I see is that some people might start writing worthless articles for the purposes of self-promotion, but the voting system should take care of that.

Yes, that's more or less what I had in mind. Somehow I missed your comment before writing mine above.

Signatures on posts, but not comments, seems like an adequate compromise to me.

I'm strongly opposed to signatures on comments, because the basic failure state of "Everyone has a 1-line signature" would dramatically increase the signal:noise ratio on a normal thread.

I'd also be very strongly opposed to any sort of commercial endorsement. "flattr me" is pushing the bounds here, but "you can read my other works here" seems acceptable. An actual shopping link (such as "You can buy my unrelated-to-LW novel here") would make me uncomfortable.

Upvoted for asking first.

I vote "ad signatures are okay on posts but not on comments".

I'd be fine with such ads by a small number of people, but I could see them making the site look spammy if more than a few adopted the style. I'd always be fine with someone 'signing' with their (1) website for those who are interested.

Limited scope meta-stuff like this should go in Discussion, IMO. As for the self-ads, I don't have a problem with it.

I didn't put this in Discussion because not everyone reads it, and I wanted those not reading it to also have a say.

That's a valid concern, but I don't like the precedent of taking personal queries to the main page; it looks like it could become a tragedy of the commons if everyone set their threshold at that level.

Personally, I would find it a bit rude if someone made a question about something as major as allowing ads in posts, and then only put it in Discussion.

I voted "not to see such ads," but I feel reasonably comfortable with the "To see the novel I'm writing, click here" signature. That gives something of value to an interested reader who likes your style; it's closer in content to links to the relevant sequence than it is to advertisements.

It's also more congruent with the LW site style--they're keeping the website free of even the minimal advertisements reddit uses; taking advantage of that lack of noise to insert your own advertisements seems churlish.

Although perhaps all my objections are motivated by my perception of asking for money as low-status.

Shouldn't this be in the discussion section?

I don't know my opinion on the signatures thing, but you may also want to try kickstarter.

How did you get a list of the 1000 most-viewed LW pages?

Someone gave me the rights to view the LW Google Analytics account when I was a Visiting Fellow. I was helping out with some site optimization stuff, I think.

This is a poll. (Feel free to change your vote if the discussion in the other comments changes your mind in either direction.)

Upvote this comment if you're fine with such ads.

Upvote this comment if you'd prefer not to see such ads.

This is the most used/engaged with poll I've seen on lesswrong!

Sounds good to me! All I have to add is that we should have a community norm of confining spam / self-promotion to one line per article, with no tie-ins between the article and the shoutout. Upvoted.