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Generating a novelty scale

by Three-Monkey Mind 5mo20th Apr 20197 comments


I was writing a post when I thought “this isn’t very novel. I should mark it as such.” It then occurred to me to make a 1–10 scale to describe how novel a piece is, similar to Gwern's importance tags. However, I’d prefer an objective scale, not a rank scale that Resorter generates. If I never write anything super-duper-new, I shouldn’t have any 10s on the novelty scale.

Currently, I have a rather coarse four-point scale with points that aren’t uniformly distributed between their neighbors:

  1. A verbatim copy of something else.
  2. Demonstrating how to apply a technique publicly documented elsewhere.
  3. Slightly generalizing an idea publicly documented elsewhere.
  4. Paradigm-shifting reconceptualization akin to Newton figuring out that the same thing causes apples to fall from trees and planets to stay in their orbits.

I’m trying to flesh out this scale as best as I’m able, but I’d like to get some help if I can. I’m also trying to separate novelty from both utility and importance. For example, “hold the banana by the handle end, pinch the other end to make a crack in it, and peel it starting at the crack” is no more than a 1.1 on the novelty scale, maybe a 4 on the utility scale, and 2 or so on the importance scale.

Are there any other useful points on a novelty scale?

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2 Answers

The problem with a novelty scale is that novelty has a high degree of circumstantial/subjectivity to it. What's new to one person is old hat to another. Millions of people may independently recreate the same wisdom based on their life experiences, and that insight feels new to them, but might not be new to those they share it with. In the modern age, not even a google search can guarantee that an idea hasn't been laid out somewhere by someone.

A general rule that I try to follow is "never write something which someone else has already written better". Rather than give a numerical scale, I'll list a few distinct ways that pieces can satisfy this rule. I'll give examples of each from my own writing, with the caveat that they are not necessarily very good pieces - just examples of my own reasoning regarding their novelty.

Note that these are ways that a piece of writing can be novel, not guarantees that nobody has ever written the same thing before.

Side note: if using a numerical scale, I worry about confusing novelty with importance - the example scale in the OP seems to mix the two. Perhaps a better approach would be to give handles for several different ways things can be novel, and then use those as tags?