Should people be writing more or fewer LW posts?

by [anonymous] 5y14th Sep 201427 comments

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It's unlikely that by pure chance we are currently writing the correct number of LW posts.  So it might be useful to try to figure out if we're currently writing too few or too many LW posts.  If commenters are evenly divided on this question then we're probably close to the optimal number; otherwise we have an opportunity to improve.  Here's my case for why we should be writing more posts.

Let's say you came up with a new and useful life hack, you have a novel line of argument on an important topic, or you stumbled across some academic research that seems valuable and isn't frequently discussed on Less Wrong.  How valuable would it be for you to share your findings by writing up at post for Less Wrong?

Recently I visited a friend of mine and commented on the extremely bright lights he had in his room.  He referenced this LW post written over a year ago.  That got me thinking.  The bright lights in my friend's room make his life better every day, for a small upfront cost.  And my friend is probably just one of tens or hundreds of people to use bright lights this way as a result of that post.  Given that the technique seems to be effective, that number will probably continue going up, and will grow exponentially via word of mouth (useful memes tend to spread).  So by my reckoning, chaosmage has created and will create a lot of utility.  If they had kept that idea to themselves, I suspect they would have captured less than 1% of the total value to be had from the idea.

You can reach orders of magnitude more people writing an obscure Less Wrong comment than you can talking to a few people at a party in person.  For example, at least 100 logged in users read this fairly obscure comment of mine.  So if you're going to discuss an important topic, it's often best to do it online.  Given enough eyeballs, all bugs in human reasoning are shallow.

Yes, peoples' time does have opportunity costs.  But people are on Less Wrong because they need a break anyway.  (If you're a LW addict, you might try the technique I describe in this post for dealing with your addiction.  If you're dealing with serious cravings, for LW or video games or drugs or anything else, perhaps look at N-acetylcysteine... a variety of studies suggest it helps reduce cravings (behavioral addictions are pretty similar to drug addictions neurologically btw), it has a good safety profile, and you can buy it on Amazon.  Not prescribed by doctors because it's not approved by the FDA.  Yes, you could use willpower (it's worked so well in the past...) or you could hit the "stop craving things as much" button, and then try using willpower.  Amazing what you can learn on Less Wrong isn't it?)

And LW does a good job of indexing content by how much utility people are going to get out of it.  It's easy to look at a post's keywords and score and guess if it's worth reading.  If your post is bad it will vanish in to obscurity and few will be significantly harmed.  (Unless it's bad and inflammatory, or bad with a linkbait title... please don't write posts like that.)  If your post is good, it will spread virally on its own and you'll generate untold utility.

Given that above-average posts get read much more than below-average posts, if you're post's expected quality is average, sharing it on Less Wrong has a high positive expected utility.  Like Paul Graham, I think we should be spreading our net wide and trying to capture all of the winners we can.

I'm going to call out a particular subset of LW commenters in particular.  If you're a commenter and you (a) have at least 100 karma, (b) it's over 80% positive, and (c) you have a draft post with valuable new ideas you've been sitting on for a while, you should totally polish it off and share it with us!  In general, the better your track record, the more you should be inclined to share ideas that seem valuable.  Worst case you can delete your post and cut your losses.

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