Official Less Wrong Redesign: View defaults for new users

by matt1 min read4th May 201119 comments

6

Personal Blog

Following along from Louie's post and the discussion around it…

How should new visitors to Lesswrong see posts and comments ordered and filtered? (Assume we'll address the new visitors should be introduced to the site issue.) These will remain settings that are easily changed, but how should they start?

Current defaults:
Promoted posts, ordered by recency is our most prominent post list.
Comments are sorted by "Popular", which is Top with a very strong ageing of points (so recently voted comments rise to the top of the list, and very high voted comments fairly quickly drop away).

Options seeded in comments by me below, my karma balance at bottom. Please vote on at least one "Posts:" comment and one "Comments:" comment.

19 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:18 AM
New Comment

Posts: Top in past month, by date published.
(The highest voted posts published in the past month, promoted and not promoted. Like this.)

This, but only promoted posts. And the very recent promoted posts should go to the top in any case.

Comments: Old.
(Chronological from first post.)

Should have been the default all along. (When people read a blog post, this is how they expect to see the comments!)

When people read a blog post, this is how they expect to see the comments!

Hmm… agreed that this is the common practice, but we're not aiming for common. Because LW is different I nearly always click through (from my feed reader) to the comments on a LW post - I sort by Top, and I expect the top comments to be awesome. When reading OB I sometimes click through to the comments - but only when I have time to hunt for the gold that's buried in there.

Let's put it this way: someone interested only in high-rated comments can fairly easily make a visual scan to find the highest scores. Someone who wants to read all the comments chronologically, by contrast, will find the analogous procedure tedious and inconvenient in the extreme.

My main concern, however, isn't even this. It's new users/people unfamiliar with LW mistakenly thinking the comments are chronological when they aren't, and being confused or getting the wrong impression of the flow of discussion. (This has happened before.) The kind of readers savvy enough to be interested in high-scoring comments are also likely to be the kind of readers savvy enough to change default settings.

Default settings are what you see when you're not logged in; they should conform to the expectations of outsiders.

My main concern, however, [is] new users/people unfamiliar with LW mistakenly thinking the comments are chronological when they aren't, and being confused or getting the wrong impression of the flow of discussion.

Which is important if you think that comments in separate threads usually rely on flow? Aren't those comments overwhelmingly in threads?

Default settings are what you see when you're not logged in; they should conform to the expectations of outsiders.

Default settings are what you see when you're new; they should be the setting most likely to convince you to stay around. Our best comments on any thread are generally the top rated ones.

Sure enough, here is a concrete example of the kind of thing I was talking about:

I find it hard to follow the debate on Less Wrong. I think because it isn't laid out chronologically and you have to search for where the debate is going.

This person is of course referring to my debate with Rolf Nelson. Presumably, they are not logged in and are seeing the comment thread through the default "Popular" setting -- and are understandably confused as hell, just as I was the first time. I haven't checked, but knowing the way the Popular sorting option works, I'm guessing the first thing they're seeing is ChrisHalkides' comments, which despite appearing first in the comments are clearly written in response to other comments. (This, by the way, is a common phenomenon, even among people who know about the "reply" button on individual comments [which I don't think ChrisHalkides did, probably due to its graphical disguise]: very often comments will summarily reply to the whole discussion and not a particular comment, saying something like "Most of the discussion so far has focused on..." or "I would like to express agreement with several commenters who..."; seeing such a remark as the first comment is confusing!)

Default settings are what you see when you're new; they should be the setting most likely to convince you to stay around. Our best comments on any thread are generally the top rated ones.

I simply don't buy this notion that unless the very first visible comment is the best one, a new reader will not read far enough to see it. People expect comments to be chronological, and they don't necessarily expect the earliest comments to be the best. In fact, the information about the community that you're worrying about conveying by sorting the comments will be conveyed by the scores themselves: if a reader is unimpressed with the first few comments, they'll also see that those comments (probably) have mediocre scores, and they can scroll down to look for any high-scoring comments before passing judgement on the site. (As will be their tendency to do if they're already looking at the comments on a blog post anyway.)

People expect comments to be chronological

People who are accustomed to software patterned on BBS-style forums (phpBB, most blogs, 4chan) expect that. People who are used to software patterned on Usenet (Livejournal, Slashdot, kuro5hin, reddit) don't. And of course, both groups tend to see their own way as the intuitive way.

I agree that the change from text to icons was a bad idea. LW is overwhelming enough for newbies without mystery meat controls.

The intended reference class was "people accustomed to reading blogs (of which LW is one)".

I myself was a major consumer of Usenet; I don't remember it being it particularly non-chronological. Maybe that depended on reader software.

But yes, Reddit and Slashdot are examples of how not to do it.

AFAICT Livejournal seems to work chronologically like most blogging platforms. At least, I don't remember recently being frustrated by finding a later comment before an earlier one when reading a Livejournal blog.

You've moved my opinion, but not far enough to change the site defaults as you request.
I think it likely that a demonstration that community opinion is on your side would inspire me to act. You could demonstrate community opinion with a Discussion area poll post.

Comments: Top.
(The best comments sorted at each comment level - this is "Don't bury the lede" for comment readers.)

Posts: Promoted, by date promoted.
(The current default. These are posts promoted by the set of users: [Eliezer_Yudkowsky].)

Comments: Popular.
The current default - like Top but weights new votes higher than old votes.

Comments: New.
(Reverse chronological.)

Posts: Top in past week, by date published.
(The highest voted posts published in the past week, promoted and not promoted. Like this.)

Posts: New, by date published.
(This is a really bad idea. Don't vote for this.)