LW Update 2018-12-06 – Table of Contents and Q&A

by Raemon4 min read8th Dec 201828 comments


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After a couple months of work, we're ready for a significant update to LessWrong:

  • Post Page Redesign
  • Open Questions (aka Q&A)
  • Table of Contents (aka ToC)
  • Comment Guidelines

Post Page Redesign

The first thing you probably noticed is that we redesigned the post page. This was more of an incidental change, which turned out to be necessary in order for both Table of Contents and Question posts to work nicely.

Table of Contents

We wanted a Table of Contents that not only helped you orient at the beginning of a post, but provided a frame of reference while reading a post, that would help make longer, more complicated posts more skim-able.


  • Right now the ToC displays to the left of posts on desktop screens, for posts that have 3 or more headings.
  • An element that is entirely bold counts as a heading
  • On small screens, the Table of Contents is available when you click on the site-navigation icon in the upper left. (The icon will change to indicate a ToC)

There are some additional nice-to-have features we plan to add soonish, such as the ability to collapse the ToC, and the ability to preview it while drafting a post.

In general we'll probably experiment a bit more with the format.

Props to GreaterWrong for implementing a Table of Contents quite a while ago. :)

Open Questions

I wrote a couple weeks ago about our new Questions and Answers system. We're now ready to deploy the minimum-viable-version of this.

Current Features

  • Ask a Question. In your user menu (in the upper right corner of the screen) there is now an option for questions to ask a question, which will create a post with the question-flag. For now, it'll appear normally in lists of recent posts (including the home page, daily and your personal profile)
  • Answer a Question. This is similar to a comment, but the formatting is different to highlight that this is meant to have a different feel than commenting. Answers should aspire to resolve a question as accurately and thoroughly as possible, such that if you just read the question-followed-by-single-answer you'd have a pretty complete understanding of the issue.
  • Comment on an Answer. By default, only the top 3 comments will be displayed, but if you want to dig into the discussion of a given answer you can expand them.
  • Comment on a Question. You can comment on an overall question, without answering. This is for if you're still trying to understand the question, or you think it's making a conceptual mistake, or you just have some thoughts that don't neatly fall into the "answer" format.
  • Specialized Table of Contents. Questions with at least one answer automatically have a Table of Contents, even if there are no headings, to help users orient on a fairly complicated page.

For the time being, questions are subject to the same frontpage guidelines as anything else. If a question seems productive, well-specified and not-too-political, we'll promote them to frontpage, and otherwise they'll be visible in the All Posts or Daily views.

Upcoming Goals

There are many additional features we expect to be necessary for Q&A to flourish.

  • Marking questions as answered. The author of a post can choose an answer as a successful answer to this question. (There's some debate about whether this is right approach, but for now it seems like the best approach is to let an author determine the frame of a question, and upvoting/downvoting of questions to provide information on well-framed the community thinks the question is)
  • Related Questions. Many questions are interconnected. We're interested in allowing for subquestions, related questions, and perhaps "research agendas" that are sort of like sequences for unsolved questions.
  • Question Section on the home page. Our home page is already a bit cluttered, so adding a question section will require a significant rework. But we'd like a system that shows new questions, and highlights when they've received satisfactory answers.

What Makes a Good Question?

We want people to feel comfortable asking a range of questions, from "What caused the scientific revolution?" to "wtf is Moloch?"

Some concrete examples include:

  • How do I use Bayes' Theorem when trying to figure out which job offer to take?
  • Why do some people care about existential risk above most everything else?
  • What were the main changes to the human condition that occurred after the agricultural revolution and industrial revolution?
  • What is a hamming problem?
  • Why does assigning probability 1 to mathematical statements not make sense?
  • Why has nobody built a real prediction market?
  • Why should I care about the causes of my beliefs in double crux? Surely I should just care about the best arguments?
  • Why does Eliezer emphasize noticing confusion so much in the sequences?

You can also add more detail about your epistemic state in the post body. Examples:

  • I've read Bostrom's initial paper but didn't get <thing>
  • In particular I currently believe that <stuff>.
  • In particular I'm confused about <detail>.

Comment Guidelines

Finally, we've also added some new features to your personal moderation guidelines. Previously, we gave users with 2000 karma the ability to moderate posts (whether on their personal blog or on frontpage). Along with that was the ability to set their moderation guidelines.

We also want people to be able to use their personal blog section roughly the way they would any other blogsite, which includes setting moderation policies. So, if you have 50 or more karma, you will now be able to set and enforce moderation guidelines on personal blogposts.

If your post guidelines are compatible with the frontpage guidelines, we may promote it to frontpage. There, you won't be able to moderate it yourself (if you have less than 2000 karma) but the normal site admins will attempt to enforce the spirit of your intended rules.

In the future we will build out some features to make this process smoother and clearer to new users, and to give them options about which posts they want to move to frontpage. For now, send us a PM if we've moved a post to frontpage that you want to retain direct moderator control of, and we'll move set it back to personal-blog.

You can also use the 'report comment' tool if you think we missed a particular comment that should be moderated while leaving it on frontpage. (We'll be using our judgment about which cases are actually compatible with the frontpage guidelines)

Note: Due to a quirk of codebase, users won't receive their new moderation permissions until they receive an vote. So, if you have 50+ karma now, it'll kick in when a comment or post is voted on. Send us a PM if you really want to get going right away.

How to Setup Moderation Guidelines

  • Go to to your user account.
  • Find the Moderation & Moderation Guidelines section.
  • Select a moderation style (either 'Easy Going', 'Norm Enforcing' or 'Reign of Terror', to roughly communicate how heavily you'll be moderating) [1]
  • If you like, you can spell out additional notes for what sort of norms you'd like to cultivate on your personal blog, which will be the default guidelines on posts you create.

After having done that, you'll also have the option to set the moderation guidelines for individual posts. By default, they will be the guidelines you set in your user profile, but you can change them if you'd like a particular discussion to go a certain way.

[1] Note, "Easy Going", "Reign of Terror", etc, are just rough suggestions. They don't have a direct impact on what you're allowed to do as a moderator.

Go Forth and Be Curious!

We're looking forward to people asking questions and cultivating new types of conversations. Let us know if you have any thoughts or feedback. :)