Proposed rewrites of LW home page, about page, and FAQ

by John_Maxwell 2 min read17th Aug 201235 comments

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Proposed rewrites can be found here.  Please suggest specific improvements in the comments!

Although long-time Less Wrong users don't pay much attention to the home page, about page, and FAQ, I suspect new users pay lots of attention to them.  A few times, elsewhere on the internet, I've seen people describe their impression of Less Wrong that seemed primarily gleaned from these pages--they made generalizations about Less Wrong that didn't seem true to me, but might appear to be true if all one did was read the about page and FAQ.

The about page, in particular, is called out to every new visitor.  Try visiting Less Wrong in incognito mode or private browsing (i.e. without your current cookies) to see what I'm referring to.

But the current set of "newcomer pages" isn't very good, in my opinion:

  • Text is duplicated between the home page and the about page.  There's plenty to say and link to without repeating ourselves.
  • The first paragraph of the home page text has four links to Wikipedia articles and none to Less Wrong posts. These may be very good Wikipedia articles, but I tend to think that linking to actual Less Wrong posts is generally a better way to communicate what kind of site Less Wrong is than linking to Wikipedia.
  • The home page text also makes references to the blog, discussion section, and meetups, which are already highlighted plenty in the brain image.
  • I think the primary purpose of the about page should be to describe and link to lots of interesting Less Wrong posts.  I think reading posts is probably best way to figure out what Less Wrong is about.  If the smorgasboard of posts linked to from the about page is sufficiently varied and high-quality, I think that most users will be able to find at least a couple posts they really like.  Right now this purpose isn't given much real estate.  There is a sentence starting with the words "If you want a sampling of the content on the main blog...", but this sentence does little to describe the posts it links to aside from providing a few related keywords.
  • There's also a lot of instruction on the about page regarding how to do basic stuff like create posts.  Facebook and Youtube don't seem to think it's necessary to provide instructions on how to do basic stuff, so I don't think we need it either.  (Just in case, though, it's mostly still all there in my rewrite of the FAQ.)
  • Some of the answers in the FAQ make us look very close-minded (when in fact we're only a little close-minded). See Why is almost everyone here an atheist? and Why do you all agree on so much?  Am I joining a cult?.  I think it's possible to answer these questions in a way that's less obnoxious and gives a more accurate impression of what LW is like: 1, 2.
These pages also have the general appearance of being woefully under-optimized.  For example, the home page links to an announcement for an event that ended almost a year ago.
Hence my proposed rewriteshome page, about page, and FAQ.  A few notes:
  • I tried to link to various posts that are explicitly targeted at newcomers, like "What I've Learned from Less Wrong" and "What is Bayesianism?", but weren't being shown on the existing newcomer pages.
  • I put a lot more stuff in the FAQ, on the theory that a long FAQ doesn't hurt much since folks can just read the answers to the questions that interest them.
  • I deliberately avoided looking at the existing pages at first when writing my alternatives, to avoid contamination. My thinking was that being different for its own sake was good if we could reliably figure out which version was better in each case (e.g. overcome status quo bias).  Please comment on nitty-gritty differences between the two versions, e.g. if you think I left an important sentence from the originals out or if one of the posts I linked to seems rather weak.

I certainly don't claim to speak for all Less Wrong users.  If you have any thoughts, please comment here, send me a private message, or log in to the wiki and edit the candidate pages directly.

I'm especially interested in getting feedback on the FAQ, because I took the liberty of codifying some social norms that were previously implicit: see the section Site Etiquette and Social Norms, especially the bits about Discussion vs Main, politics, and "if you never get voted down, you're not posting enough".

If you think I codified the social norms incorrectly, or you've been thinking they really should be different, please comment!  The FAQ seems like a good way to broadcast preferred norms, so I suspect this is an ideal thread to discuss them.

If you've got a suggested change that's nontrivial, I encourage you to create a poll for it here using comments as poll options or HonoreDB's system.

(Previous discussion.)

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