Meetup Discussion

by luminosity1 min read8th Jan 201725 comments


Personal Blog

One of the most valuable services the Less Wrong community has to offer are the meetup groups. However, it strikes me that there isn't a lot of knowledge sharing between different meetup groups. Presumably there's a lot that the different groups could learn from each other -- things that can be done, experiments that have or haven't worked out, procedural and organisational tips. Hence this post. Please go ahead and write a summary about your local less wrong meetup below:

  • What meetups do you run?
  • What's worked?
  • What hasn't?
  • How is the group organised?


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Less Wrong Sydney

We've run three different types of meetups over the last several years, each of which will get a sub-comment below.

Rationality Dojos

We started these off using material taken from CFAR workshops -- gradually over time related topics such as Kegan's Immunity to Change have been introduced.

We started off running these as one two hour session, all given by the same person, but after a year we switched to a new format, where we break off into two - three segments run by different people. This keeps people's attention better, reduces the amount of work individual presenters do, and allows us to experiment with new material without having to worry that if it doesn't work out the whole session will be rendered pointless.

There's a strong focus in the dojos of doing work on real problems people have -- we want to avoid sessions where people give talks, everyone feels enlightened, but people then don't go ahead and use the new knowledge. We also take advantage of the monthly timing to allow people to lay down goals for the next month that they'll be made accountable for at the next meetup.

We tried one of these in LA, and while I wasn't there, I heard people liked it - but it's a lot of work to run, and so it only happened one time. Part of that is that it was much longer, and part is that finding a venue was hard.

Venues are definitely a problem -- we're lucky enough to have a relatively central humanist group who let us hire out their meeting space once a month, but occasionally it has been difficult to scramble to find an alternative.

I wonder if there'd be some value in having a list of suggested ways to find a venue for people organising meetup groups.

Social meetups

Shortly after we started back up, we ran intermittent social meetups, such as a night out at laser tag, or a walk over the Sydney harbour bridge, followed by a picnic. These were pretty enjoyable, but organisation fell through and these lapsed. We're currently thinking about how we want to start these back up.

Dinner meetups

We have a monthly meetup at an RSL in Sydney -- we've found this is a good venue, as people who want to can get food and drinks, but not everyone needs to. At a cafe there is more pressure to have to make purchases over time if you're taking up their floor space.

This was the first meetup we ran when the Less Wrong Sydney group resumed meeting -- at first we ran them with a focus on group discussions, and talking about a particular topic, but we found that often a topic was more of a reason for people to stay away, than for people to come. With the advent of the dojos, there wasn't as much pressure for this to deliver on applied rationality, and so it has turned into more of a group discussion space.

We're currently in the middle of an experiment of trying to drive people to these meetups from a group -- if people seem interested, we can then invite them to come along to the dojos also.

an RSL in Sydney

To save others from Googling, the RSL appears to be Australia's Returned and Services League, which licenses clubs as meeting venues, originally for veterans but now also for guests.

You would find it similar to a quiet pub crossed with a restaurant.


We expanded a lot since we opened our own rationality-aligned time club Kocherga in September 2015.

  • General LW meetups every 3 weeks on Sundays with talks, discussions and games
  • "Rationality for beginners" lectures every 3 weeks on Sundays
  • (the third Sunday slot is reserved for EA meetups)
  • Dojos on Fridays
  • Sequences reading group started two weeks ago on Mondays
  • Rationality-related games once a month
  • CFAR-style weekend workshops (we ran 4 of these in 2016)

I really should write a separate post about all that's happened since 2013 when the last report from our group was posted.

I'd definitely be interested to read it!

London rationalish

We rebranded from "Less Wrong London" because several of us had stopped reading Less Wrong. I currently advertise meetups on our facebook group and /r/slatestarcodex.

Currently we have no topics or agenda; we just meet in a pub every other week and talk about whatever we feel. As the organizer, I've said that if anyone wants to do something beyond this, they're welcome to take over for a week, but I'm not likely to do any more than that any time soon.

We've attempted other things in the past (themed discussions; games; outings) with mixed success. I think the main reason we're not doing them now is because nobody wants to put in the work for them.

We briefly used the conversation system I wrote about here, and I think it worked quite well when we did, but we don't use it now for no particular reason. (I think we're smaller than we were then, so there's less need for it.)

Do you track where new people come from? I'm wondering about what channels it makes sense to focus on maintaining a presence in. (Hadn't thought of doing it on r/ssc)

I occasionally ask new people, and I don't remember anyone saying /r/ssc since the beginning (when Scott mentioned us on the blog), but I can't give any more detail than that.

Lesswrong LA / Los Angeles Rationality

We ran a couple varieties of meetup, but the group changed over time, and most of the original people moved away or moved on. Most of the organizing was done in a Google Chat group, which is still pretty active.

I'm no longer there - but we had a couple of great activities I'll encourage others to try.

1) - This was fun, and we've played a lot. It has a lot of replay-ability value, and it a valuable calibration and group cohesion / getting to know others activity. The big downside is that it's 4-person + 1 Scorekeeper as long as you use the typical 4-answer quiz questions. If you found a different source of questions with more multiple choice options, it would scale well, but would start to get unwieldy by 10 people.

2) Presentations / Thinking Questions / Guided discussions - We had fun sometimes having someone pose interesting solved or unsolved issues, or just general things people were interested in. I gave a couple on formal decision theory-related topics, and others covered topics as diverse as various types of formalisms for infinite numbers, to how to be more persuasive and personable at social gatherings. Downside: this can't be more than half the time of the meetup, and sometimes there were some people who were uninterested in the topic who would wander off.

3) Rationality Moments - 15 minutes long, a good component of a longer meeting. Described here: - this was a good thing for me, and I think others, especially since it meant there was a component of explicit rationality-boosting and thinking about how to get better. at practical skills.

4, 5, etc.) General discussion / Game Nights / Other - We had done lots of random things, but usually the devolved into just hanging out, which was fun and fine, but not usually particularly rationality focused.

When you say most of the original people moved away, do you mean the group stopped meeting, or its meetings acquired new members and a different focus?

I mean a few members are still around (not including myself,) bu7t several of those driving the meetings left. Because we aren't pushing for it and showing up, the frequency of meetings decreased. They still meet occasionally - but not longer reliably weekly or every other week.

In Tel Aviv, we have three types of meetings, all on Tuesdays. Monthly we have a full meeting, usually a lecture or sometimes Rump Sessions (informal lightning talks). Typical attendance is 12.

Monthly, alternating fortnights from the above, we do game nights.

We are graciously hosted by Meni Rosenfeld's Cluster startup hub. (For a few years we were hosted at Google.)

On other Tuesdays a few LessWrongers get together at a pub.

How did you go about finding people to come to your meetups? Pre-existing friends? LW site postings? Something else?

Pre-existing friends, postings on Facebook (even though FB does not distribute events to the timelines of group members if there are more than 250 people in a group), occasionally (not event postings, but more that people who are actively interested LW seek out a Tel Aviv group)

Research Triangle [but we almost always meet in Durham], NC (aka RTLW)

3 sorta-distinct meetup styles; 1 currently active. I guess I will put them into their own comments below.

LW discussion meetup (shotgun rules)

The outcome of the State of the Meetup Meetup was that people were mostly coming for social reasons and we probably didn't need to freak out about topics all the time.

We drafted and sorta-unilaterally instated the Shotgun Rules (flagrantly cribbed from the Bay Area Debian group.)

Relevant highlights:

  • Anyone may call a meetup for the appointed day
  • If the meetup is not called it does not happen
  • If there is no designated topic we will just hang out and that is fine.

In practice, I think a meetup has been called by someone who wasn't an organizer of the previous group only once or twice, and we've almost always had a "topic" (sometimes a post from a rationality blog that someone found interesting, sometimes "play Zendo" or "do some other-optimizing"). We usually stay more or less "on topic" for 60-90 minutes, then digress at leisure.

A side benefit of the shotgun rules (though I have fairly strong evidence that new members of the mailing list categorically do not read them) is the opportunity for folks to get a sense of approximately how serious any given meetup can be expected to be (not very), and to signal for certain values (e.g. gender inclusive restrooms) without beating folks over the head with them.

LW discussion meetup (old-skool)

The old-skool LW discussion meetup was on alternate Thursday evenings, usually either at a coffee shop or our house. Often, the organizer/s would put a fair bit of time and thought into coming up with a topic, researching it, and fleshing out a discussion plan.

We had a few topics we felt okay about revisiting periodically:

  • Calibration exercises
  • Rationality Checklist

but all in all coming up with a new topic often enough that we thought people wouldn't get bored and leave got stressful, so in January 2016 we had a Future of the Meetup meeting.

HPMOR meetup

Sometime mid-HPMOR, we had a biweekly Saturday midday meetup group to discuss some number of chapters. We started at the beginning and would read (or not read) ?5? or so chapters per meetup until we ran out of new material, after which we met sporadically when there was a new chapter. If memory serves, we met for brunch a couple of times, then shifted to doing food truck food + hanging out a local brewery. After discussion these meetups would generally segue into at least a whole afternoon if not a whole day of hangouts.

At least once or twice, we got some folks who ardently insisted they'd never ever ever ever come to a LW meetup. We also occasionally got attendees from places outside the Triangle for whom it wasn't feasible to make the trip to our LW discussion meetup.

We talked about moving on to other rationality fic (Luminosity in particular) after HPMOR wrapped but that didn't happen for some reason (possibly it got cold before we got around to it, and the food truck+brewery combo is somewhat less enchanting in such weather.)

I rarely have a whole Saturday to devote to discussion, beer, ping pong, coffee, and Bullitron anymore, but I remember these with a lot of fondness.

Did you get people that did crossover from these meetups to the others? It seems like a more lightweight / fun topic like this might be good for letting people get involved more easily?

We had some people who were in both, but no one who started out just coming to HPMOR and then joined discussion, to the best of my recollection. It's possible we could have done a better job of (a) actively cross-promoting (b) tying discussion topics in to HPMOR stuff.