Making a Rationality-promoting blog post more effective and shareable

by Gleb_Tsipursky1 min read16th Feb 201518 comments

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Personal Blog

I wrote a blog post that popularizes the "false consensus effect" and the debiasing strategy of "imagining the opposite" and "avoiding failing at other minds." Thoughts on where the post works and where it can be improved would be super-helpful for improving our content and my writing style. Especially useful would be feedback on how to make this post more shareable on Facebook and other social media, as we'd like people to be motivated to share these posts with their friends. For example, what would make you more likely to share it? What would make others you know more likely to share it?


For a bit of context, the blog post is part of the efforts of Intentional Insights to promote rational thinking to a broad audience and thus raise the sanity waterline, as described here. The target audience for the blog post is reason-minded youth and young adults who are either not engaged with rationality or are at the beginning stage of becoming aspiring rationalists. Our goal is to get such people interested in exploring rationality more broadly, eventually getting them turned on to more advanced rationality, such as found on Less Wrong itself, in CFAR workshops, etc. The blog post is written in a style aimed to create cognitive ease, with a combination of personal stories and an engaging narrative, along with citations of relevant research and descriptions of strategies to manage one’s mind more effectively. This is part of our broader practice of asking for feedback from fellow Less Wrongers on our content (this post for example). We are eager to hear from you and revise our drafts (and even published content offerings) based on your thoughtful comments, and we did so previously, as you see in the Edit to this post. Any and all suggestions are welcomed, and thanks for taking the time to engage with us and give your feedback – much appreciated!

 

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[-][anonymous]6y 9

This is not a comment about this post itself, but about your approach more generally. I know you've had some negative responses/downvotes from LW members about aspects of your approach, and I join them to some extent, particularly concerning the tone/style of your blogposts: heavily hyperlinked and with a voice highly reminiscent of the "non rational" self-help arena. More specifically, evangelical Christian self-help which I see a lot of, as my extended family is deeply involved with this sort of material.

I appreciate that I am not your target audience, with your aim of bringing rationality to the masses, but perhaps it's appropriate to take an analytical approach to evaluate progress, now that you've been at it for three months. Have people been sharing your posts? If so, which posts have been shared, or attracted the most conversation? Have you engaged the masses in some other ways? And if not, how do you intend to adapt your approach to do so more effectively? Perhaps follow-up with people who have engaged with your content might be useful - are they still with you? If not, why did they stop?

I also wonder whether your posting style here is getting in the way of better engagement with the LW community, and thus constructive advice.... particularly the repetition/redundancy in promoting your organisation.

This is really helpful for a meta-perspective, thank you! Let me answer the questions by turn.

First, some statistics. We've had increasing success over time with the engagement for our posts. For example, this latest post got 104 hits on the website on Monday, which was the highest one-day hit for our content (the previous highest was 76). We've had quite a bit of success with promoting our content through other channels, for example the Richard Dawkins Foundation promoted our content and it got a lot of "Likes" and reshares. Our 38-minute video of a workshop we did has over 600 views, and over 4,600 minutes watched.

Second, intentions to revise our blog style and content in general. We are right now gathering feedback for some revision in the style of our blog posts, including by talking to our target audience, both folks who read our blog posts for a while and also ones who did not. The engagement with Less Wrong is also intended to help us gain feedback in order to optimize our content. The main feedback we got so far is to make our content less hyperlinked, more specific and concrete, more visually appealing, and actually more self-helpy, to present ourselves as science-based self-improvement providers. We also got a lot of feedback that we should make short videos, and we intend to work on that as well, although that's a harder task due to us lacking appropriate equipment and software.

Regarding promoting the organization on LW: we're doing that for Less Wrongers who are not familiar with us or what we do. We don't want to fall under the curse of knowledge :-) Perhaps there can be a better way of doing so - any suggestions would be welcomed. Also, any other ideas for how to engage better with the LW community would be great.

We are also in talks with the Secular Student Alliance, the American Ethical Union, the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, the American Humanist Association, and other organizations to promote our rationality-oriented content through their channels. In fact, we will be appearing on the American Humanist Association's popular podcast, The Humanist Hour, tomorrow. We are also collaborating to produce resources for local affiliates of these national organizations to use as a means of promoting rationality.

So that's where we are so far. Any suggestions on how to optimize our approach would be great.

BTW, here's the link to the Humanist Hour that just came out. What are your thoughts on how I presented rational thinking there, and any suggestions for improvement? Keep in mind this was aiming at humanist audiences, so even before the interview the hosts steered me to orient specifically toward what they thought the audience would find valuable. Thus, the interview focused more on secular humanist issues, such as finding meaning and purpose. Still, I got to talk about map and territory and other rationality strategies, as well as cognitive biases such as planning fallacy and sunken costs.

The title is "Succeeding at Other Minds". That's jargon. If I would share that title on facebook it wouldn't be clear to the average person what the post is about or why they should read it.

There also seems to be no specific reason to share the post.

Appreciate the point about the title. What would be a better way of titling the post, to make it more clear to the average person what the post is about or why they should read it?

I envision the specific reason to share the post would be to educate people about the rationality concepts described in the post. So that would be relevant if you would like to have your social media contacts who are not into rationality to learn more about rationality. Do you think this post fits that purpose? If not, how can it be improved?

The point wasn't only that it's a bad title. It's also jargon. You said that your project wanted to present rationality without jargon. You failed.

If you really want to present rationality without jargon then you should try to use language that's as easily understood as possible.

I envision the specific reason to share the post would be to educate people about the rationality concepts described in the post.

That's no specific reason. It's a general reason.

So that would be relevant if you would like to have your social media contacts who are not into rationality to learn more about rationality

I don't think that the post is interesting for people who don't care about rationality.

To the extend that I want to share something to that goal, referring to HPMOR is much better.

Thanks for raising the concerns about jargon. I want to avoid binary thinking here, and underscore that not all jargon is problematic. Complex concepts expressed in a brief form can be helpful, and what we would like to do is balance minimizing the jargon with presenting complex concepts that we think reason-oriented people not currently aware of rationality might find helpful. However, I do understand and appreciate your point about using simpler language, and we will strive to that end in the future.

Do you think there might be some people who would like to read easy-to-follow blog posts but would not want to read HPMOR, or might want to read both? If so, how do you think our blog posts can be improved to make them more impactful and effective?

reason-oriented people not currently aware of rationality

I don't know what that phrase means.

Complex concepts expressed in a brief form can be helpful

That's we have use jargon on LW. On the other hand if want to reach a more broader audience who's interested in substance but doesn't know relevant vocabulary jargon reduces the readership experience. That assumes that your reader already knows the underlying vocabulary.

The core issue is strategic commitment. You aren't committed to any principles or a target audience.

Answers in Reddits "Explain like I'm five"(ELI5) do from time to time contain jargon when it's unavoidable but they strive not to. It's a different style like a post that titled "Succeeding at Other Minds" where a kid simply won't get what it's about.

ELI5 explanations of rationality concepts could have use, if the do the job better than wikipedia does at the moment.

By reason-oriented people not currently interested in rationality, I am referring to many people who say they like "reason" but are not aware of Less Wrong and other sources of psychology and cognitive neuroscience-informed rationality.

Regarding target audience: we are not explaining things to five-year-olds, but to a senior high school and college- freshman level audience. And they are responding well so far, as this comment illustrates.

(As a rule, using non-standard formatting when posting to LessWrong is a bad idea.)

There are some improvements you can make to increase cognitive ease, such as lowering your long-word count, avoiding jargon, and using fewer sentences per paragraph. I'd recommend running parts of your post (one paragraph at a time is best) through a clarity calculator to get a better idea of where you can improve.

You may also want to look into the concept of inferential distance.

Excellent resource on the clarity calculator, and thanks for the feedback overall.

No problem, some other things that come to mind are:

  • It's best to start the articles with a 'hook' paragraph rather than an image, particularly when the image only makes sense to the reader if they know what the article is about.
  • Caption your images always and forever.
  • This has been said before, but the title should make sense to an uninitiated reader. Furthermore to make it more share-able, the title should set up an expectation of what the article is going to tell them. An alternative in this case could be: "What do people really thinking of you?"; or if you restructure the article, something like "X truths about what people think of you," *For popular outreach the inferential distance has to be as low as you can make it; if you can explain something instead of linking to it, do that.
  • Take a look at the most shared websites(upworthy, buzzfeed and the likes), you can learn a lot from their methodology.

Good point on the hook paragraph, thanks! I'll talk to our editing team on how to balance the hook paragraph with the image better.

By caption, you mean include the quote in the image below the image itself?

Yeah, we're working on the titles, it's a really good point. Hard to come up with good ones, but we will take a look at the sites you suggested for ideas. And good thoughts on the inferential distance, we'll keep that in mind.

Really appreciate the feedback!

One does not serve the interests of a man who wants a new coat by giving him a pair of shoes or those of a man who wants to hear a Beethoven symphony by giving him admission to a boxing match. - Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution

Ran across that passage a few days ago and I almost didn't collect it. But now here I am sharing it.

You're trying to teach rationality and I'm trying to teach economics. Why are you trying to teach rationality and why am I trying to teach economics? I'm trying to teach economics so people can understand how their interests are served.

Using your graphic... we can imagine that if the girl had $20 then she would have given it to the guy who correctly guessed that she wanted a baseball bat rather than a vampire bat. Markets work because consumers reward whichever producers correctly guess their preferences. To use your terminology... producers that "succeed at other minds" will gain more influence over how society's limited resources are used.

The producer whose product turns out to have the combination of features that are closest to what the consumers really want may be no wiser than his competitors. Yet he can grow rich while his competitors who guessed wrong go bankrupt. But the larger result is that society as a whole gets more benefit from its limited resources by having them directed toward where those resources produce the kind of output that millions of people want, instead of producing things that they don't want. - Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics

If consumers really want baseball bats... then it would be a huge waste to supply them all with vampire bats. Markets, because they operate on the basis of consumer sovereignty, help prevent this from happening. Consumers don't give their money to producers who fail at other minds.

With the public sector, on the other hand, people like to believe that producers of public goods succeed at other minds...

For example, the discussion assumes that the community of consumers has a well-functioning, formal state structure. Like a benevolent dictator, this state somehow guesses the preferences that people have for public goods. - Meghnad Desai, Providing Global Public Goods

But in the absence of consumer sovereignty in the public sector.... how can we be sure that the government supplies the public goods equivalent of baseball bats rather than vampire bats?

Anyways, this is the economic relevance of succeeding vs failing at other minds.

Wow, this is a great point, and very helpful! I'd be interested in talking to you more about collaborating to help both of us optimize our education approaches. E-mail me at gleb@intentionalinsights.org and we can talk more about it.

Cool, I just sent you an e-mail and posted my comment (and more) in this blog entry... Succeeding vs Failing At Other Minds.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

Derek halpern has a great course called blog that converts which I think could help you greatly. Check it out.

Thanks for the tip, I will check it out