Followup to: Announcing the Less Wrong Sub-Reddit

After the recent discussion about the Less Wrong sub-reddit, me and Less Wrong site designer Matthew Fallshaw have been discussing possible site improvements, and ways to implement them. As far as I can tell, the general community consensus in the previous post was that a discussion section to replace the Open Thread would be a good idea, due to the many problems with Open Thread, but that it would be problematic to host it off-site. For this reason, our current proposal involves modifying the main site to include a separate "Discussion" section in the navigation bar (next to "Wiki | Sequences | About"). What are now Open Thread comments would be hosted in the Discussion section, in a more user-friendly and appropriate format (similar to Reddit's or a BBS forum's). If my impression was mistaken, please do say so. (If you think that this is a great idea, please do say so as well, to avoid Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate.)

We have also identified another potential problem with the site: the high quality standard, heavy use of neologisms, and karma penalties for being wrong might be intimidating to newcomers. To help alleviate this, after much discussion, we have come up with two different proposals. (To avoid bias, I'm not going to say which one is mine and which one is Matthew's.)

- Proposal 1: Posts submitted to Less Wrong can be tagged with a "karma coward" option. Such posts can still be voted on, but votes on them will have no effect on a user's karma total. There will be a Profile option to hide "karma coward" posts from view.

- Proposal 2: A grace period for new users. Votes on comments from new users will have no effect on that user's karma total for a certain period of time, like two weeks or a month.

- Proposal 3: Do nothing; the site remains as-is.

To see what the community consensus is, I have set up a poll here: http://www.misterpoll.com/polls/482996. Comments on our proposals, and alternative proposals, are more than welcome. (To avoid clogging the comments, please do not simply declare your vote without explaining why you voted that way.)

EDIT: Posts and comments in the discussion section would count towards a user's karma total (not withstanding the implementation of proposal 1 and proposal 2), although posts would only earn a user 1 karma per upvote instead of 10.

EDIT 2: To avoid contamination by other people's ideas, please vote before you look at the comments.

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I'm voting against those two proposals. They'll have the effect of lowering the overall quality of comments.

My suggestion (if it is codable) is some icon next to the names of new users in their comments or some other innocuous identifying feature to let us identify them. The only problem we have with new users is not recognizing they are new. What we need is more information, not a watering down of our incentive structure. If people can easily identify new users they will avoid downvotes except for trolls and remember to be more welcoming and helpful. Moreover, new users should be defined by number of comments (30 or fewer?) not time since registration, since some will register but only later start commenting.

4RobinZ12y
Seconded - this is a better mechanism. (It might be good to have a series of icons: up-to-10, up-to-30, up-to-100, and over-100, for example. The last one could be no icon, if you like.)
2komponisto12y
I disagree with this part -- I think people should get credit for time spent lurking.

I disagree with this part -- I think people should get credit for time spent lurking.

I would agree in general, except remember we're not giving prizes for not being a new user. Someone who lurked for a year and then made a comment is exactly the sort of person we don't want to scare off by being too harsh the first time they comment.

4Maelin12y
Back in the OB days, I lurked for several months, reading through the archives, and my first comment was quite brutally shot down in one dismissive sentence by Eliezer. I didn't comment again for over a year. Number of posts is, in my view, a far more reliable way to quantify a person's dedication to the community than time-spent-reading. It's far more likely for a long-time-reader commenting for their first time to be alienated or intimidated by downvotes and criticism than a short-time-reader who has been commenting prolifically.
3Matt_Simpson12y
How do we know they're lurking and not just dropping by every few months?

Whatever happened to Hold Off on Proposing Solutions?

Here is a little linguistic experiment. I'm going to rewrite the first paragraph of the post, replacing every mention of a solution with Sn and every mention of a problem to be solved with Pn.

"After the recent discussion about S1, me and Less Wrong site designer Matthew Fallshaw have been discussing possible S's. As far as I can tell, the general community consensus in the previous post was that S2 would be a good idea, due to the many P's, but that it would be problematic to S3. For this reason, our current proposal involves S4. What are now S5 would be S6, in a more P1."

Maybe I'm being generous in interpreting "a more user-friendly and appropriate format" as a problem specification, but I think the experiment is conclusive: the above introductory paragraph suggests that discussion so far has been implementation-focused, rather than paying due attention to what is wanted.

Here is my counter-suggestion: describe the desired outcomes without reference to current or future implementation details. After that we may be ready to propose solutions. This probably needs to be a community discussion, but we may want to remember the issues associated with "design by committee".

6Jack12y
1. We want as many people as possible to read Less Wrong. Readers don't impact the quality of the site but they're how you get ideas out into the ether. And making more people more rational has a net positive effect on the world. 2. There are barriers to people reading less wrong. Most obviously, they need to get linked to us. Then they need to be sufficiently intrigued by the home page to look around. Then, if they lack the background knowledge necessary to understand what is going on they might leave. They are less likely to leave if they can find answers to these questions here. Also, they might not be interested in the subjects. If they aren't interested in rationality we don't really want them. But they might be interested in rationality and just not interested in the sci-fi topics that mostly get discussed here. Also, people may think we are crazy. 3. Readers are also the recruiting pool for new posters and commenters. All else being equal we want more of these. More commenters increase the rate of great comments per hour and increase the power of our abduction engine. All else being equal, more commenters doesn't increase the overall quality of comments but it will increase the quality of say, the top 100 comments per day, which improves the reading experience for those who use the karma system to sort threads (which more of us will probably do if there become too many comments to read them all). Also new blood [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1s4/open_thread_february_2010_part_2/1n0j] is good. And commenting makes it more likely you will return and read. 4. There are barriers to readers becoming commenters and posters. The main issue is that we are really intimidating. But... 5. Perhaps the most important thing is maintaining the high level of discourse. We don't want commenters saying especially dumb things, we don't want to keep retur

More commenters increase the rate of great comments per hour

Yep - to the point that it's becoming hard to keep up.

If we "fix" the issue that is holding people back from participating, we may risk creating a worse one, where overload causes people to stop participating.

One of the things I like about LW is how people have longer memories than elsewhere (it's one thing that keeps us from returning to covered ground); we are often linking not just to past top-level posts but also to past comments.

But that requires keeping up with a lot of discussion. Even those of us who are fast readers with good memories and a "blink" capability for identifying which comments are worth reading and responding to... are only human and have limits.

I'm not sure how scalable the model is that makes the LW-of-today valuable to me, and presumably makes it valuable to others also.

4Jack12y
The memory issue is a really good point. Perhaps as LW grows posters will have to specialize. For example, I might follow everything written about philosophy and just read the top comments/collective wisdom on physics, ev psych etc.
4NancyLebovitz12y
I was thinking about the scaling and attention problem, with no obvious answer except that LW might hive off related blogs.

LessWrong needs an FAQ. Really. I can't encourage everyone enough to look at the example of

MathOverflow.net. It has a fantastic FAQ that simultaneously makes the site less scary and the standards more evident. Yes, those goals aren't entirely mutually exclusive!

And MathOverflow, created by 2 grad students, grew explosively in a matter of months to involve many famous mathematicans and even fields medalists.

There is more than speculation here... there is evidence we should be updating on.

4Kevin12y
Agreed, that seems obvious.

The problem with both proposals (1 and 2), I think, is that a significant portion of potential posters aren't worried so much about Karma as about looking dumb. Removing the karma hit doesn't matter when they can still very easily see that they said something which the community thinks is incorrect - the particular post/comment will still have a score, and the comments also provide information.

This, at least, is my usual worry, so typical mind fallacy caveats apply.

I agree. Winning and losing karma makes spending time on Less Wrong entertaining, and is useful feedback, but a sense of community and belonging is what makes it rewarding. I don't think people care about losing karma here and there (or even a huge chunk all at once) if they feel their presence here is generally welcome.

Part of the problem is that we are probably -- admittedly -- somewhat ambivalent about whether each new person is welcome when they make a comment or post that is voted down. The newcomers feel tested, and are being tested, and it's not clear how long they have until they haven't passed.

To this end, I suggest formalizing a norm where a newcomer never fails but has a special 'prentice' status until they have something like 200 karma. Being a prentice would mean that you receive karma feedback as usual but any non-prentices should consider themselves mentors and make sure that in the case of any negative karma feedback, there is also constructive comment feedback.

In my first 200 points, there were a handful of people that I felt were especially helpful in making me feel welcome (through their patience and constructive feedback), and this made a big difference.

1NancyLebovitz12y
This sounds reasonable to me, but I've never been that nervous about LW. I'd really like to hear from lurkers about how it sounds to them. And even so, how such a change will work in practice is not entirely predictable, partly because people are hard to model, and partly because it will be dependent on individual decisions about helpful feedback.
1Jack12y
It would be bad-ass if we had a system where (maybe in addition to some karma total) advancing past prentice status required a nomination and a second from posters with higher karma (maybe those with 400+ have the power to nominate and second). Maybe that would make participation more intimidating, and maybe this is too pseudo-caste making and would undermine our collective rationality. But it would make things more fun, create a sense of accomplishment and belonging, and if we're going to be a rationality dojo maybe we should really embrace the dojo thing.
1thomblake12y
Yes.

the high quality standard, heavy use of neologisms, and karma penalties for being wrong might be intimidating to newcomers

This is both why I don't participate much and why I keep coming here anyways. I want to read things that are written by people who are smarter than me. For me (and I suspect for some other lurkers, though I should be careful not to generalize prematurely), a wider range of participants could be a turn-off -- assuming they'd only be as insightful as I am, or worse. I'm not an expert (yet) and many of you are.

I would, on the other hand, enjoy more efforts at synthesizing and re-explaining the most important LW themes for beginners. Whether this takes the form of a FAQ, or some sort of general Q&A board, or just some nice short summaries of the most important sequences, I would enjoy the reading.

It would be good to see not only the points, but how many downs and ups votes has been used for it. Not only -5, but -12 and 7, for example. That for the each post and each user. Somebody/something voted 1000 times with about 500 ups and about 500 downs is more interesting than something with only 2 ups.

It would be also nice to see, how many upvotes and downvotes somebody launched already. And to whom.

The last one maybe in a special (periodic) post, where the divisions would be clearly visible.

0thomblake12y
Yes, this sort of thing has been suggested a lot, and I still agree with some form of it.
0neq112y
Yes, I agree. That would be interesting. I'd be more tempted to read a post that I saw had a lot of both up and down votes, than I would be one that had few votes

A feature I'd love to see implemented is a Q&A section. Let's say that this would be to Yahoo! Answers as LessWrongWiki is to Wikipedia.

The idea is that people can ask questions -- any questions -- related to rationality and whoever wants it can jump in trying to answer them. Good answers gain karma. And whoever asked the question selects the best answer.

The question could be made looking for qualitative answers (as with Yahoo! Answers) or quantitatively, as a poll (such as here, but much more seriously...)

Another suggestion: a super-parent feature. Let me explain.

Often I hit a comment from the recent comments feature that turns out to be in the middle of a big discussion. How do I get to the beginning of that discussion, i.e. highest-level parent that the comment is replying to? The default context is only 1 parent comment. I can hit "show more comments above," but I will have to hit it multiple times to get to the top level parent comment in a big discussion. And even after that, it only shows replies to the top level parent that the original comment is in reply to, and you will not be able to see the other comment branches in response to the top level parent, meaning that you don't actually see the whole discussion.

For example, let's say that someone runs into this comment from the recent comments sidebar and clicks it. The reader will now have to hit "show more comments above" 3 times to be able to view the top level parent. Yet to actually see all the replies to the top level parent, they will have to click its "permalink" (notice how many more replies to the top level parent there are that weren't showing as the context of the original comment).

So... (read more)

1CronoDAS12y
Agreed, such a feature would be desirable.
0Document11y
Actually, the "context" option only goes up to 8; numbers higher than that still only show 8 extra comments. I usually don't hit permalink, since I'm usually only immediately interested in the thread leading directly to the post I'm looking at, but in threads more than 8 comments deep it'd be nice to be able to skip to the top immediately rather than having to add context=8, click permalink, add context=8 to the new URL, click permalink again, and so on an unpredictable-in-advance number of times to finally reach the top of the thread.
0Thomas12y
This would be nice. But a tree map of a thread, where every comment has its place and connections inside this tree, drawn by lines similar to those used for boxes framing every post - and very clickable - would solve the most. Just hovering above a named node could open or enlarge it. Navigating through post that way would increase the readability.
1wnoise12y
As NancyLebovitz has continually hammered, this is a solved problem, and the answer is threaded Usenet news readers.
3ata12y
Do we want an NNTP frontend for LW, then?
3wnoise12y
I did not mean to say that the software existed in a perfect form, only that the design and separation of concerns exhibited by Usenet was exactly what was needed, and that the nicest news readers had an extremely well-designed interface -- exactly as useable as Thomas's wishlist. A straight NNTP frontend would be quite nice -- it solves the reading, tree-navigating, and catchup problems. What it leaves unsolved is voting, private messages, and drafts. Of these, I only see the first as critical. Of the ways to get such a separation of concerns, publishing the database via NNTP seems the easiest to me. It's still nowhere near a trivial "plug these two pieces of code together", of course. I'm not familiar enough with the reddit codebase to know how well it maps to NNTP, and how long it would take. My rough estimate would be a month or two to get something useable from a programmer working full time. Then we have to figure out how to do voting, which means (a) defining an extension to the NNTP protocol, (b), implementing it on the server, and (c) patching a few clients to use it. This I'd expect to take on the order of a week or two, if everything else was working.
2rhollerith_dot_com12y
When the Web was born in 1990 or so, most of the discussion on the internet that LW readers would consider interesting or worthwhile occurred on newsgroups. (The other big chunk occurred in mailing lists.) In fact, starting in 1992 and continuing for many years, reading comp.arch and sci.military.moderated was my favorite way to learn about general rationality. (Discussions on those two newsgroups ranged over very many topics, much like discussion here does.) I would be more enthusiastic about a proposal to add an NNTP interface to LW if the proposal explained why the newsgroups have drastically worsened and most of the interesting and worthwhile discussion now occurs on the web.
4Caspian12y
Hmm, my thoughts on some down sides of newsgroups. The lack of someone in control of each newsgroup made many types of change trickier. A newsgroup couldn't add voting buttons as easily as a web forum, for example, they'd need to change a whole lot of newsreader software to do it. Or if you wanted to display a captcha before letting people post. Some types of innovation were easier, because you could add features to a newsreader without needing support from an owner of each newsgroup, but some needed support from the software of both the poster and reader of a message, or for both a poster and moderator. Links and bookmarks are better on the web - the old browsers with newsgroup support probably handled these well, but you couldn't depend on everyone's software handling them. If you could just follow an nntp link to a post on another newsgroup on another server, that could have allowed the same balance of powers blogs do - the blogger has total control of moderation on their own site, but the expectation is that people don't just stay on one site and all the links make it easy to move between them. As it was it felt like you had to stay in the same newsgroup if you wanted people to read your stuff. I think this meant you couldn't have much moderation without feeling stifled, and also that newsgroups would grow large without being able to split easily.
1mattnewport12y
Google.
1rhollerith_dot_com12y
Google's buying dejanews and renaming it Google Groups, you mean? ADDED. If so, I tend to agree, since Google Groups changed so as to provide effective competition for Yahoo Groups, which changes tended to be at the expense of the health of the newsgroups. ADDED. In particular, it was in Google's interest to blur the distinction between a global newsgroup and a mailing list run by the Google Groups software, with the result that people who came to the newsgroups through Google tended to get a misleading picture of the newsgroups and how they worked. (E.g., they never formed a model of the client-server architecture. E.g., they never learned that the global newsgroups formed a "global commons" owned or controlled by no one. Since the newsgroups were maintained almost solely through voluntary pro-community efforts, this obscuring of how the newsgroups worked was a loss in the newsgroups ability to govern themselves.)
5mattnewport12y
Actually that wasn't what I meant, although it is possible that was a factor. I was referring to the fact that Google solved the search problem and so made it far more likely that people would happen across forums that contained subject matter of interest to them. Part of the reason that Google was able to solve the search problem on the web in a way that it was never solved for news groups is that hyperlinking is an integral part of the web and aside of any intrinsic benefits of hyperlinking in the kinds of discussions that often take place on forums, Google recognized that analyzing the graph of links on the web was the key to developing effective search. Newsgroups died because despite containing a lot of useful material that material was hard to discover for someone searching for information on a particular topic. Web forums have a tendency to draw in new participants who happen across them through a web search intended to answer a specific question of interest to them and discover a community with shared interests.
1rhollerith_dot_com12y
I agree that that was an important factor in driving worthwhile discussions to the web. Another important factor is that web client software became ubiquituous whereas news client software had to be downloaded and installed before a person could read the newsgroups unless of course the person relied on a web interface, the most prominent and important one being Google Groups -- but like I just said, Google Groups had serious deficiencies.
0rhollerith_dot_com12y
I have to chuckle at "the nicest news readers had an extremely well-designed interface". Which news readers do you mean? I mostly used trn and the newsreader in lynx, though I tried slrn, tin, rn, pine, the newsreader in Netscape Communicator and IIRC a text-mode client named nn (but not Emacs GNUS, which I did not have the hardware resources to run). When I stopped using trn, I promised myself I would never again use software with a user interface as badly designed as trn's user interface. ADDED. My low opinion of trn's user interface does not come from a general dislike of text-mode interfaces. I was a happy user of text-mode emacs and Unix shells for 18 years for example. ADDED. The client-server architecture and general design of the whole newsgroups infrastructure was in contrast well designed, IMHO. ADDED. And yes, I did make use of the tree diagram in the upper-right corner when using trn.
1wnoise12y
My preferred usenet reader was slrn, though GNUS was acceptable. The textmode interfaces were not pretty, but they could be extremely usable. This is not the same as easy to learn to use effectively. But common things were quick. I have never found anything that was as good at selectively browsing large amounts of constantly updating text as slrn. The closest would probably be gmail. gmail encourages you to archive everything, making it no longer visible. slrn autohides every article as you read it. Both make it easy to rewalk the tree of conversation as new messeages arrive.
0rhollerith_dot_com12y
Speaking of which, LW used to publish an RSS feed for each "post" or "top-level submission," which makes it easy to use an RSS reader to rewalk the tree of comments under that post in basically the same way. ADDED. A better "place" for me to have "put" this comment would have been as a reply to this feature request [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1xxv] though that feature request and the ensuing discussion suggest that people would prefer to use an interface like lesswrong.com/comments/ instead of an RSS reader to meet the need expressed in the feature request.
0NancyLebovitz12y
What do you mean by separation of concerns? As for "continuously hammered", it's been approximately five posts among hundreds, but it's nice that it's starting to register.
0Thomas12y
Could be done (even) better, as some things here are already better than elsewhere. I don't think that my suggestion is the best possible. I think that the further technical development of this site is a must. Fine, adopt the "Usenet news readers", if it fits the best.
0wnoise12y
I meant not that the we could switch over immediately, but that your suggestion for interface had already been more-or-less implemented in Usenet news readers, and that this separation-of-concerns is the right way to do things. See my reply [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1yc5] to ata [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1yb3].
0SilasBarta12y
Time to switch the codebase to LISP! That language is perfect for request to go n nesting levels up. :-) Seriously, that would be a great feature to have. Maybe not top priority for me personally, but definitely useful.
[-][anonymous]12y 10

Are newcomers actually intimidated? Was anybody intimidated when they first arrived? (I wasn't.) Maybe this is a subject for a poll itself.

I am a newcomer and my initial complaint is that this is a hard site to navigate. It's good, at least, that the sequences are all in one place; but the posts are not categorized by topic and divided into subforums. It's a little slow to manoeuver.

The other thing that I found myself wanting was profile pages for the users (where they could if they chose put location, bio, date of first signup, etc.) Intro threads are great, but sometimes I want to know who you are right away.

We probably could also use non-post threads. For people studying a particular topic, or planning a meetup, or whatever. Or a plain off-topic thread.

I'm not sure how feasible any of this is -- it just seems that this is in between a blog and a forum, structurally, which prevents you from doing some of the things you might want to do on a forum. This isn't quite a "Rationalists' Cantina." Maybe it shouldn't be, though I'm inclined to think such a thing might be nice to have.

  • Proposal 1: Posts submitted to Less Wrong can be tagged with a "karma coward" option.

Rock band name. I called it first.

5RobinZ12y
Normally an off-topic remark such as this would deserve criticism ... ... but "Karma Coward" is a spectacularly good band name. I can't wait for the first single.

We have also identified another potential problem with the site: the high quality standard.

I really can't stress strongly enough how much I disagree with the idea that this is a potential problem. This is the single best feature of the site. I have no doubt that over time Less Wrong will follow the inevitable downward quality trajectory of all internet communities but I strongly oppose any proposals to deliberately accelerate the process by lowering the barrier to entry.

3alyssavance12y
"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree." - Charles Darwin No one says that the high quality standard is a problem. What many people agree is that the high quality standard might be intimidating to newcomers, even desirable ones. Needless to say, sacrificing that standard to make the site more friendly would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

"High quality standard" is not the problem, then - the problem is being intimidating to new users. That would seem to suggest (a) better introductory materials, better indexed, (b) always being willing to teach Less Wrong 101 whenever people ask, and (c) cutting slack for intelligent, well-meaning newbies.

That said, I suspect "coming off as a load of crackpots" is a bigger problem when it comes to driving away potential contributors.

6NancyLebovitz12y
One of the reasons LW is intimidating to new users is that some of them believe they need to read all the sequences before they post. If there's a subset which would be generally considered to be enough, it should be posted. A glossary would be nice, even if it consists of links to essays from the sequences. I haven't seen evidence to support the "load of crackpots" theory, though I suppose tying improving the art of rationality to FAI could have that effect. So might putting effort into highly implausible scenarios, though I personally see that as philosophy geeking rather than crackpottery. The general intimidation problem is hard because people aren't reliably good at evaluating their skill level. Very tentatively offered: if we can define the skills needed to do valuable posts and comments, this might help some potential posters decide whether they want to dive in.

I haven't seen evidence to support the "load of crackpots" theory

I find it plausible that newcomers think these people are a load of crackpots, since I am not a newcomer and even I think these people are a load of crackpots.

5RobinZ12y
I think it's the belief in the Singularity and cryonics which come off badly [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Inferential_distance].
2NancyLebovitz12y
You're probably right. I'm so used to science fiction fandom that I didn't even notice.
3[anonymous]12y
Yes, but this actually does not seem so wrong to me. It would surely be beneficial if there was a no-clutter version of the ideas and arguments from the sequences, but given the volume this is a daunting task. However, LW discusses on "how to improve rationality", which as about as much a niche as for instance, meta-programming with templates in C++ (with regard to knowledge one has to aquire). Knowledge in philosophy, computer science, cognitive sciences may help, but ultimately, it is a very small field compared with what is available to study. And for such specialist topics, quite much of narrow domain knowledge has to be learned. I'm always suprised that LW-regulars discuss the karma system so often, as if it would be the end-all of all discussion issues. No, for LW to be LW one has to consider whether one has something worthwhile to post. This is true for all specialist areas. You also cannot just jump right into comp.programming.threads, start discussing any lock-free-queue algorithm #32452, and think that you'll do something even remotely senseful. This is a property of the knowledge-area, not a property of LW as a software platform. And, btw, I do not have the feeling that LW is extra-intimidating. Compared to other specialist-forums (c.l.l et cetera) the stream of new ideas and not-really-hardcore-posts seems on a healthy level. Maybe, I should have phrased all this text in a simple, single, question:Where do you all get the impression that LW is intimidating? What's the evidence for that?
7NancyLebovitz12y
I read the replies to the "Attention Lurkers" post. I was surprised at what a strong theme it was, since I don't think LW is intimidating. I should have said earlier that I do think maintaining the high quality of LW is important, and the plus side of "intimidating" is having people focused on improving rationality and actually working on it. When someone says they're afraid to post, it's hard to tell whether they have an accurate understanding that they don't know enough to contribute or are habitually cautious about speaking up even if they do have something to contribute..
2Airedale12y
Although I don't know if many/most of the lurkers have waded all the way through the current version of the FAQ, some of them may believe they need to read all of the sequences before they post because the FAQ says they do. In fact, the FAQ suggests reading the sequences before even reading Less Wrong: This is a pretty high barrier to entry. I agree that we should encourage reading the sequences, but should we phrase it in another way so that we still welcome participation? Maybe there is a way for new readers to ask for advice on what particular portions of the sequences would be most helpful for them to read in order to be able to contribute good comments/posts in their particular areas of interest. edit: the FAQ is undergoing revisions as I write, and the language in the current version is somewhat more welcoming. But it's still worth discussing how high we should set the barrier to entry.
3RichardKennaway12y
I think that barrier is about right. We do welcome participation, but only from people who have taken the trouble to find out, from the material we direct them to, what we're about. I've seen similar language on several technical discussion forums: people are asked to read the FAQs and not to retread old ground.
7Airedale12y
I have also seen similar language on other sites, but the the sequences are a lot longer than what I have seen other sites asking new visitors to read. I had read OB when EY still used to blog there, so I read a lot of the sequences at that time. Stretched out over time like that, they don't seem as long. But for a brand new visitor, the sheer volume is somewhat daunting. That's why I think more nuanced suggestions, perhaps like Jack suggests here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/26b/attention_less_wrong_we_need_an_faq/1xhs], might make sense.
4Rain12y
I keep getting riled up and wanting to post insults that you're all a bunch of elitist pricks, but then I remember I'm the one who put on the dojo uniform and stepped onto the sparring mat, so I guess I should have expected that kick to the face. I think it's part of the culture, and not something that's easily changed. You guys can be ruthless. Please note that the above are my opinions and I do not wish to argue about them. The last time I did that [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1s0n], it ended badly [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1s4q]. It's like getting kicked for saying someone kicked you... or maybe I'm more fragile than most.
3RobinZ12y
I think that the problem with the Less Wrong communal lack of ruth is that ruth serves a purpose - it protects a community from hurling abuse that is unwarranted.
3ata12y
Heh, "ruth" as a unit. I like it. One idea: have a setting in the preferences where you can declare yourself to be operating under Crocker's Rules [http://www.sl4.org/crocker.html] (or some modified version if we decide it needs any updating for this context). If you enable this, a small badge would appear on your posts (maybe next to your name, or somewhere up there) to indicate this to potential repliers. It would be off by default, so the default would be politeness (exception: people who are really dumb/unintentionally disruptive, won't take a hint, and need to be corrected more ruthlessly or asked to leave), but new people would be made aware of it and encouraged to develop the mental discipline to take part in such communications. (How? I'm not quite sure yet.)
4RobinZ12y
I don't think the problem is something that can be patched with Crocker's Rules - I think the problem is lazy reading. That many dedicated contributors are lazy was shown off by the responses to MBlume's "The Fundamental Question" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/24c/the_fundamental_question/]: a substantial fraction of top-level responses interpreted the post as community-building instead of philosophy, a misinterpretation which only makes sense if they completely missed the entire first paragraph. Given that regular comments are read with even less care as a rule, anyone who doesn't make what they say sound obviously true to this community will get slammed, correct or not.
2NancyLebovitz12y
I do think you're more fragile than some. As for most, who knows? I give you credit for saying what's going on with you. I'm not sure how much of the intimidation at LW is the intelligence level and how much is the degree of criticism.
0Academian12y
LessWrong is not an elitist community. It simply aims to provide a certain kind of material to the only people who can benefit from it: those with a certain aptitude for analytic thought. Without at least one such community, the "art of human rationality" would go on relatively unrefined. To anyone who says that makes it elitist, I would ask: should a helpful therapy that involves temporarily tricking people be considered elitist because it excludes people who are too analytical to be tricked?
3NancyLebovitz12y
I'm not sure what you or Rain mean by elitist. I'm inclined to think Rain is overreacting, but "elitist" in the bad sense is a matter of emotional tone. The major tool we have for judging emotional tone is our own emotions, and they're quite a bunch of rubber rulers. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a little unhealthy smugness here that I can't see because I share it. It also wouldn't surprise me if people who have a bad reaction to LW are mostly playing out ideas about their own intelligence that they'd picked up long before they'd encountered LW.
0Academian12y
Hmm, I'm curious, what do you mean by "playing out ideas", and what sorts?
1NancyLebovitz12y
I mean that they'd been told they were stupid-- too stupid to get respect from smart people and/or could only expect to be harassed for being stupid. And when I say "told", I mean active efforts to lower their status, not an abstract proposition. If a person whose been treated that way accepts that they can't function well and/or will be treated badly, they're going to have a lot of background anger which can get foregrounded if they think about taking part in an intelligent community, even if it isn't actually hostile to them.
0Kevin12y
Agreed that the elitism here is not good
0alyssavance12y
Agreed. Proposals #1 and #2 are both attempts to implement (c).

What do people think of adding a "Rationalist Consultation" section? This would be for people who haven't studied much rationality but need advice, specifically from rationalists, on a particular problem they're facing.

6Jack12y
There is a surplus of advice. The question is, is there a demand?
5Alicorn12y
I like this idea. It'd be a good "we aren't talking out of our rears" outreach exercise, assuming we're actually effective, and it'd give the participating rationalists practice with more applied rationality than we're getting in our own lives.
4Strange712y
I'd like it, but it should include a prominent caveat:

I have a suggestion: recent comments for threads.

Once the comments to a post get big and grow into many trees (which get split off onto other "continue this thread..." pages), it becomes very hard to follow and find new replies to those threads.

Manually scanning through all the branches in the tree is time-consuming, and it can be easy to miss one or two new posts. Sometimes I find myself using the recent comments page, but then I have to scan through comments in other discussions that I'm not so interested in. Another technique I've tried is wa... (read more)

9JGWeissman12y
A feature request that could solve this problem: Let users mark a comment as "watched" so that they are notified of replies to that comment (like we are currently notified of replies to our own comments). Possibly have "watch tree" feature to mark a comment and all its descendants.
2NancyLebovitz12y
This doesn't need to be invented from scratch. trn [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1wc/spring_2010_meta_thread/1sk0] (a very handy way of reading usenet) has all the features you've listed, and much more.
2RobinZ12y
Having an interface as bandwidth-light as USENET's would also benefit people with poor connections.
0NancyLebovitz12y
A couple of programmers have told me that it wouldn't be that hard to write a version of trn for the the web, but it's just too boring. I'm not qualified to say whether this is reasonable.
1RobinZ12y
How much money would make it interesting, do you imagine? I'm fairly sure I could throw a twenty into the pot were such a venture feasible.
2NancyLebovitz12y
I"m not sure. I've raised the question. [http://nancylebov.livejournal.com/411574.html] If you think this is a worthwhile project, I hope you'll raise the question, too. Meanwhile, assuming there's interest, how would you identify who should be doing it?
2wnoise12y
Autopope's analysis there seems spot on to me. Doing it right is a biggish problem, on the order of a programmer-year of work.
0RobinZ12y
That's the $64,000 question. I'm not competent to identify good coders. I wonder if there shouldn't be a focus on a specific application, here - phpBB, for example.
1ata12y
Yes. Not that I know of. My ideal solution would be to have the site keep track of post-readness; each post would have some little marker (a bullet or a star or something), something visible enough that you could quickly scan for it when scrolling through many posts, and clicking anywhere on a post would clear it. This could be implemented on the client side through JavaScript and HTML5 local storage, and may not even need any assistance from the server if something like Greasemonkey is available. I'll write a script to do this if anyone's interested. The big advantage to doing it on the server would be that you'd have the same information shared between multiple computers, and it would also be able to do other things with the information that couldn't be done in a purely client-side solution, such as generating a page that shows only new posts (whether for one article, one thread, or the whole site). The big disadvantage would be the amount of space that would be needed to store all that information, and the amount of time it would take to look up the needed information on every page view. Many forum systems do something similar with apparently acceptable efficiency, but they're mostly flat (non-threaded), so they only need to keep track of when each user has last viewed each topic. This would be quite different, since it would have to track that information for each post. Are there any public statistics on how many posts and active users exist on LW? If there are, I could do some rough calculations on the feasibility of this.
1HughRistik12y
I forgot to mention another strategy I use for mitigating the need to scan through multiple child pages of comments: I figure out which comment the big discussion is in response to, and click "permalink," then I keep refreshing this page and scanning through it. Doing so mitigates the number of comments I need to scan, but it has a few drawbacks: * I will miss replies to other comments in the original thread that might be interesting, which are at the same level of the comment I am re-examining * Multiple comments at the same level are the parents of discussions I want to follow; to scan through the permalinks of both costs multiple page views * Sometimes even if I hit a permalink to a comment that sparked a discussion and exclude a lot of the comments, there are still so many comments, falling into so many "continue" child branches that I must do 3-4 page scans to find the new responses to a single comment in a single thread
1Jack12y
Right before the comments for any article there should be a little tab labeled "Sort by:" that will let you put the newest comments at the top.
3Alicorn12y
This preserves threading. New replies to old comments don't appear at the top if you do this.
1HughRistik12y
Exactly, Alicorn... It's the tree threading that causes the problem. The tree structure is useful while the comments are on one page (and better shows the relationship of the comments), but once a couple branches of a tree require that you continue to another page, then you must recursively scan all the branches of the tree to find new comments. This operation quickly gets more expensive than scanning a flat view would be. The reason is that with a flat view, you always know that new comments are at the bottom/top, depending on which way it is ordered. But with the tree view, you never know which branches subsequent comments are going to fall into; even if things are all on one page, you can miss things while scanning. And once the branches get so big that they require a "continue..." link to a child page, then things quickly get ungainly. A long thread in a flat view takes less than a page scan, because you can skip to the page you were last on, and skip to the last comment you remember. Yet if you have a thread with two child comment pages, you have to do 3 page views to scan for new comments. If one of those child pages gets a child page, then you have to do 4 page views, etc... If you are only interest in responses to one comment on the original page, then at least you don't have to view all the comments on the page, but you still have to scroll through them to find the "continue" link to the child pages you want. The tree view is good for showing the relationships between comments, and for being able to skip over responses to comments you aren't interested in. But it quickly gets ungainly when a discussion falls into multiple branches and your main priority is finding new replies to comments you are interested in; a flat view option would be better for that purpose. For anyone who does databases: * The tree view requires a full table scan of the comments (usually; you can exclude replies to comments you aren't interested in with a "where" clause)
3CronoDAS12y
The biggest annoyance seems to come from the child comment pages. Is there any way I can increase the "comment depth" displayed on a single page?
2HughRistik12y
This would definitely help. Increasing the comment depth on the main comment page of a post might make the page load potentially too big. But at least, increasing the depth on child comment pages would help, because then we would see less "children of children," which is really a killer to follow.
0Jack12y
Er right. And it looks like this was in the original, should have read closer.
2byrnema12y
That won't organize sub-sub-sub-branches above grandparent branches though. (What Alicorn said.)
0DanielVarga12y
I definitely find it a problem. I don't know about solutions within the current features of the site, but a relatively cheap solution would be some color code for comments based on recency.

In the spirit of striving for constructive criticism, let me follow up on my earlier comment with a response to this short excerpt, which does qualify as a problem description:

The high quality standard, heavy use of neologisms, and karma penalties for being wrong might be intimidating to newcomers.

A quick trip down memory lane reveals that my first two comments on LW were elicited by coming across something that my professional expertise allowed to identify as misinformation.

This is partial evidence of how newcomers can be encouraged to contribute thro... (read more)

5thomblake12y
Until reading this comment, it hadn't really occurred to me that having de facto high standards for potential members might be a good thing. (Apparently I do occasionally have egalitarian intuitions.) More posters like Morendil, less like randomtroll1279. I'm with it.

While we're talking about these issues:

The minimum karma needed to make a top level post needs to be raised. My reasons are in the meta thread here. To summarize: the low karma requirement combined with the 10x bonus means that newish users will make top level posts, not do a good job their first time and (with -3) end up with a negative karma total. In frustration they will leave.

Also, it's more fun if top level posting power is a little hard to win.

0alyssavance12y
It was actually raised to 50, then changed back. I'll do a quick poll:

Upvote this post if you support moving it back to 50.

-1alyssavance12y
Upvote this post if you support keeping it at 20.
-1Kevin12y
I think it might be better to cap karma losses from top level posts at -20.
7Alicorn12y
A cap isn't ridiculous, but comments sometimes get hammered nearly that much. It should always be riskier to try a top level post than a comment. -50 sounds closer to right to me.
4Kevin12y
I think what I was trying to avoid was new users being hammered into the negative more than finding the appropriate maximum karma penalty. So if we go with -50 as the top level post max loss, the posting karma threshold should be 50.
2Alicorn12y
Sounds like a plan to me... Although, do we want to take into account that unpopular top-level posts often have beneath them many downvoted comments by the same author who's trying to defend the unpopular idea?

I voted for the karma-coward option because people are different, so having more options is good. But being new myself (only 16 comments, 43 karma points), you might be more interested in the fact that I would not use them if they were available.

I find it very gratifying to receive karma points. It motivates me to write more comments. If I was granted a grace period in which my comments did not receive karma points, I might have posted even less. Even the downvotes are a motivator, not to post more, but to put more effort next time I have something to say.... (read more)

We have also identified another potential problem with the site: the high quality standard, heavy use of neologisms, and karma penalties for being wrong might be intimidating to newcomers.

Basically the quality of discussion that I didn't even dare to hope I could match was the reason I was so fascinated by this site when I first found it. Refraining from commenting was a natural step. Suggested methods in the post seem to have downside of leaving our garden undefended.

Maybe some sort of "Am I worthy enough to comment a LW post" FAQ could be be... (read more)

2Academian12y
Yes, an FAQ is key to maintaining standards and lowering scariness. See here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1xfa?context=1#1xfa] . (Though I certainly won't pose anything like "Am I worthy". The relevant quality is in the post, not the author.)

As far as I can tell, the general community consensus in the previous post was that a discussion section to replace the Open Thread would be a good idea, due to the many problems with Open Thread, but that it would be problematic to host it off-site. For this reason, our current proposal involves modifying the main site to include a separate "Discussion" section in the navigation bar (next to "Wiki | Sequences | About"). What are now Open Thread comments would be hosted in the Discussion section, in a more user-friendly and appropriate

... (read more)
3alyssavance12y
That's important, and something I forgot to mention. Posts/comments in the discussion section would indeed count for karma. Thanks much.
6Academian12y
Tom, The Discussion system will render the Karma Coward option redundant. People wanting to post at low-risk to guage standards can do that in the Discussion, without diluting top-level content. Also, I would not have continued LessWrong if I hadn't seen its extremely high standards. They're what makes LessWrong extremely special, and invaluably unique, to the world I would say. There are plenty of other forums out there where people can post non-heavily deliberated material. We're not being "elitist pricks [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1xd7]", we're creating an option that hitherto simply wouldn't exist otherwise.
1Kevin12y
Karma counts in the new section as well, just not 10x for posts

Proposal 1 sidesteps the karma system mechanism too much. It wouldn't really encourage me to post more, and I don't think it'll improve quality beyond what a Discussion section would do.

Proposal 2 really doesn't address present lurkers' reluctance to comment. I would instead suggest all users get a small initial karma buffer that will absorb top post and comment downvotes. How that would work in conjuction with the top-post karma requirement, I'm not sure. The idea is to allow users to hide bad comments, give commenters a chance to integrate feedback, but ... (read more)

I'm in favor of both the grace period and "karma coward" option. In my own experience, anxiety about being downvoted acted as a deterrent against posting comments; reading and responding to posts by new members is relatively cheap, while missing opportunities to make them feel included in the community (and thus potentially missing out on their future contributions) seems comparatively expensive.

Would it be useful - maybe as something to be incorporated with the discussion forum - to have a (semi-)formalized system of study partners/groups? A w... (read more)

Everyone who says this site is intimidating to new people is spot-on. I'd read all the OB sequences by the time LW started up, but I still came very close to never writing any top-level posts, and if my first one hadn't been well received I doubt I ever would have written a second.

But the current options don't address how, as Matt Simpson said, looking dumb is a bigger barrier than karma. I got over my "looking dumb" fear by using a name that's pretty hard to trace back to me and maintaining anonymity, but this isn't enough. Internet etiquette ge... (read more)

It would be nice if you could "subscribe" to comments/posts - to be alerted to replies to particular comments - other than your own.

Another idea: in the upcoming Discussion section, there would be an option to turn a post into a top-level LW post, preserving the existing comments.

Current Open Threads say "If a discussion gets unwieldy, celebrate by turning it into a top-level post." This would improve on that by allowing the existing discussion to be preserved. A potential disadvantage is that this might make top-level posting too low-risk — everyone might start their top-level posts as open discussion posts, and only move them to the main LW category if they're well-received. Then again, I'm not sure if that's necessarily a bad thing.

Any thoughts?

2thomblake12y
There could be technical issues there, and with moving comments in general, but I think the major problem is semantic. The comments from the open thread post will relate to the open thread post; even if the post is well-received, it should certainly be rewritten before becoming a top-level post, and then the comments will not necessarily be relevant. It seems like a much better idea to just take the existing comments into account when writing the top-level post, link to the open thread post for reference, and move on.

It seems to me that the single most important thing we could do to make LW more welcoming to new people is to somehow deal with the problem of the neologisms.

(We could try to build a bot that automatically places a link over any neologism, linking to the LW wiki entry, for example.)

6PeerInfinity12y
The way I would implement this is to add a bot that parses [[wiki-links]] the same way that the wiki parses them. That way, if someone wants to automatically link to a wiki page for a neologism, they just have to put those brackets around the phrase. This feature should work both for posts and for comments. It might also be a good idea for the bot to be able to parse links in this form: [[standard name|alternate name]]. Another option is to create a redirect page on the wiki for any alternative titles for a concept. Once this is implemented, we can go back through the old posts and add these wiki links wherever it would be appropriate.
0thomblake12y
Well, I don't think this requires a bot; if it's implemented at all, it could just be in the comment/post - parsing engine.
0RobinZ12y
You wouldn't even need a bot - just an upgrade to the Markdown syntax.
1thomblake12y
That would be an awesome tool to have available, to simplify cross-linking, but it could easily be annoying. And I get the impression that most of the "neologisms" that cause issues are actually phrases of ordinary words, like "something to protect", that are supposed to hearken back to a particular concept/argument.
0khafra12y
As long as they're as easy to describe by regular expressions as "something to protect" is, I don't think the bot should have a problem--especially when, like that one is, they're the title of a lesswrong wiki page. Also, most of Eliezer's posts are heavily cross-linked by concept, even when the phrase doesn't match a regular expression. We should encourage this writing style.
3thomblake12y
Well the problem with that is, we'll end up with links all over the place, instead of just the relevant bits. Problems with the regular expression method as described: * if you use a word, say "Newcomb's", a bunch of times, then you'll have a bunch of links to the same thing. * many of the things we'd like to link to have other meanings, and so will be incorrectly linked; for example, 'update', or even "something to protect". * While the heavy cross-linking in Eliezer's posts is good to some extent, you don't want relevant cross-links to be drowned out by automatic ones.
3AdeleneDawner12y
It should be fairly trivial to set the bot up to only link the first instance of each phrase. These concerns seem like they would be a minor- or non-issue if the system had appropriate features: Writers should have a way of stopping the bot from linking a given instance of a phrase, in particular. This implies that they'd have to know which phrases were being autolinked, which seems like it'd be sensibly solved by having the autolinks show up when the article is previewed before being published.
0RobinZ12y
Please don't make automatic links opt-out - that's just going to make it much, much worse for anyone with a slow connection. Edit: I don't think it's a good idea in the first place, anyway - even ignoring that no possible autolinker would add the correct link in this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/26b/attention_less_wrong_we_need_an_faq/1xhj], the server load would be severely increased by the change. Wasn't someone saying that the system was suffering some strain?

EDIT 2: To avoid contamination by other people's ideas, please vote before you look at the comments.

If other people's ideas are contaminants, why am I even here? :) Aumann agreement and all that.

I didn't vote; my vote in this case is to let the people who are willing to do the work make the choice based on ease of implementation, since I have no strong (or even perceivable) preference.

Having several threaded forums for major discussion topics, on the other hand, would be great.

2alyssavance12y
Voting based on what other people have commented gives unfairly high weight to the opinions of those who saw the post first.
2Jack12y
On the other hand, it seems like if people begin debating the alternatives after they vote they are much less likely to change their minds.

Definitely "yes" to the discussion section. Call it "Off-topic" though.

2Kevin12y
It will be the de-facto off-topic discussion, but "off-topic" has the connotation of internet cesspool, so we don't want to label it that.
5PhilGoetz12y
Both a "discussion" section, and an "off-topic" (explicitly non-LW-related content) section. Who knows, with an off-topic section, we might even turn out to be sociable. No karma in the off-topic forum, though.
4cupholder12y
I'd throw in a vote against an explicitly non-LW related section - my gut feeling is that it would lower the level of discourse over time.
2Strange712y
Maybe there should be a separate system for social vs. intellectual karma.
2ata12y
I'd prefer not to have it measure "social karma". Just interact with people and see who you like. It's nice to have a little bit of community-building, but the main measure of people's status on this site should still be their intellectual contributions.
0NancyLebovitz12y
The off-topic section is going to have to be moderated somehow. It's conceivable that a separate karma system would help.
3Jack12y
We could just cap karma for those comments at 0. So you can't get karma but you can still get punished for the dumb or obscene.
0NancyLebovitz12y
If it's combined with comments below some karma threshold are under a link [1], it might work. It might be good to be able to set the different thresholds for the comments to posts and for the forum. The only drawback I can see is the risk of malicious downvoting, but I don't have a feeling for how high that risk is. [1] I'm not sure whether the things that look like links but don't refresh the whole page have another name.
0Jack12y
Others can always upvote back to zero.
0NancyLebovitz12y
If comments are downvoted fast enough, they're unlikely to be seen by people who might want to upvote them.
0[anonymous]12y
I guess, but that's already the case for the main site.
0thomblake12y
I think there are enough of us who read practically every comment to counteract this sort of thing.
2[anonymous]12y
The best thing I've seen forum-wise has been strict moderators who also post. They're part of the community, so you actually care about whether or not you upset them. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth it. Karma is for community evaluation of someone's contributions -- "is this person good to learn from?" Moderation is to punish dickish behavior, bad argumentative habits, etc. Moderation can have an element of authoritarian caprice, which is actually good for morale, like a well-loved grade-school teacher with her own strict, quirky rules.
3Morendil12y
Got that covered [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1s4/open_thread_february_2010_part_2/1ncc].
1NancyLebovitz12y
That last is very much a matter of taste. I can think of two blogs where the moderators talk a fair amount about their absolute power, and I find it makes the blogs less attractive for me. On the other hand, my taste may be unusual-- both of them have a lot of commenters.
1cupholder12y
Your taste may not be that unusual - I agree with you. Quirky, strict, authoritarian caprice annoyed me in grade school, and still does.
1ata12y
I'd propose retaining the upvote/downvote system on individual posts, but not having it affect commenters' karma.
0PhilGoetz12y
Why? The off-topic section is off-topic. You can't moderate it for topic, by definition.
0thomblake12y
It doesn't have to be.
3NancyLebovitz12y
You're right, literally speaking, but I think that there's enough evidence of the forces of entropy hammering unmoderated open forums online that if we want it to be useful, it will need moderation.
0Kevin12y
Works for me, but my views on this are much more permissive than the community at large
0Jack12y
Right. That occurred to me after the fact. I know it isn't terribly important but these things are especially difficult to change after the feature has been implemented. "Discussion" doesn't distinguish the section from what goes on elsewhere. Maybe just "Open Threads?"
0RobinZ12y
I didn't think it was supposed to be any more off-topic than the open threads.
6alyssavance12y
It's supposed to allow for discussion of things other than rationality (like meetups, existential risks, transhumanism, self-experimentation, etc.), but still stuff with intellectual content, IE not lolcats or football or whatever.
3PhilGoetz12y
I'd like one completely off-topic area where LWers can talk about lolcats and football if they want to. As if we were a community of real people interested in getting to know each other.
0Kevin12y
Hacker News has changed, but there used to be a standard that anything sufficiently well written or intellectual was ok. I think that same standard applies here. ESPN.com is not ok but David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer as Religious Experience [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print] is encouraged. I also think random news stories are fine, even if they have misconceptions, for the purpose of having a discussion that leads to a better understanding of the subject matter.
0Jack12y
Incidentally, I'm thinking about writing a post on rationality in sports which would include a link or two to ESPN.com. But yes, this is about right.
1Jack12y
What tom said, but you're right that could be taken to be either too broad (lolcats) or too narrow (no rationality). So forget "off-topic". I'd still like something better than "discussion" though.

The discussion section sounds like a solid idea. As for making LW less intimidating, I'd rank it as the grace period > doing nothing > "karma coward", though I think users should be able to exit the grace period earlier by choice, and also possibly the score of comments on users in the grace period should be hidden (not just kept from affecting the total karma).

Seeing your comments plummet in score might be demoralizing, even if it doesn't affect your total score.

0[anonymous]12y
Seconding both.

I would like the LW codebase to scan for any cases where multiple upvotes/downvotes were made to a single post or comment from the same IP. If any accounts are found which do this frequently, I'd like the results posted publicly.

6thomblake12y
That's a weird thing to post publicly - while there's no explicit guarantee of privacy here, it's very asymmetric and unexpected, so runs afoul of privacy best practices. I would not be surprised, for example, if my wife and I end up upvoting a lot of the same things frequently, and don't see why we should be singled out for it. ETA: wouldn't this cause particular problems for, say, the SIAI house?
0PhilGoetz12y
Good point about the SIAI house. People should have the opportunity to explain the circumstances. It could be done by contacting people privately, but that would involve work for someone.
4SilasBarta12y
Not that I do this, but isn't there a limit to how much karma an account can add to or remove from other posts? One based on how much karma that account has gotten? So if someone is using two accounts to do multiple up/down votes to the same comment, isn't this already limited by the fact that they have to earn karma in the second account first? I would be much more interested in a feature that discounts (but not entirely) the effect of votes when the voter is participating in the thread whose comment they voted on. Such voting is suggestive that the user is doing an "I disagree for the wrong reasons/ I don't like you" vote, which is disinformative. This is similar to Slashdot's system of not allowing you to moderate and post in the same discussion. (I think that goes too far in this direction, but has the right general idea.) It's also a good policy to adhere to on an individual level, as it prevents you from voting when you're biased.
2PhilGoetz12y
Then people would have to choose between voting and commenting. But we often see people complain about people who downvote without commenting. It's a little rude to downvote without explaining why.
0JGWeissman12y
There is a limit on downvoting (I think 4 times karma), but not on upvoting. And sockpuppets could upvote each other, giving themselves more power to downvote. Noticing that an account gets all (or most of) its karma from the same IP address could help to guard against this exploit. Though IP tracking only makes the exploits less convenient. There are proxy services that let you hit the website from multiple different IP addresses.
0SilasBarta12y
Okay, that idea makes sense then and I support it. I would only suggest that it not let users know about mere comments from sockpuppets at the same address, as people often have valid reasons to post as a sockpuppet (i.e. not attach the personal information to their name if their primary account uses their real name). It should only be a tool for restricting sockpuppet karma abuse, not mere posting.
3Alicorn12y
Do you have reason to suspect this is happening often enough to warrant creating a feature about it?
2PhilGoetz12y
I have no special knowledge about it. I think that there are a lot of people on LW whose stated beliefs should lead them, logically, to cheat to advance their views; therefore it's not unlikely that at least one of them does so. The harm that could be caused by even one person doing that, multiplied by the probability it is happening, is great enough to justify looking into it.

If you're trying to make LW less intimidating, I recommend not calling opting out of the karma system "karma coward". How about "karma neutral"? This especially makes sense because it applies to posts, not posters.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

I think the forum-like discussion zone is a great idea.

I voted for the grace period, because the Karma coward feature would mess up the current system and encourage constant Karma cowardice on shorter, less substantial comments. In regards to the grace period I think that it would be wiser to set a comment counter instead of a time interval because a heavy posting trollish person would potentially cause annoyance even in the case of a short period. "Doing nothing" follows the grace period very closely in my preference as I feel the current karma system is satisfactory.

I support setting the posting threshold to 50 karma and the grace period proposals. I understand that up votes and down votes are generally given without comment, but providing constructive criticism to new users would be helpful.

0alyssavance12y
Great. Please vote in the polls at http://www.misterpoll.com/polls/482996/ [http://www.misterpoll.com/polls/482996/] and http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1xde [http://lesswrong.com/lw/265/proposed_new_features_for_less_wrong/1xde] so your opinion can be counted.

my suggestion: implement both Proposal 1 and Proposal 2. Actually, they could be combined into a single proposal. Have an option to turn "karma coward" mode on or off for each individual post, and have an option in your user settings that says whether karma coward option is on or off by default. Make it default to on. No need to automate this with a time limit.

0alyssavance12y
The grace period is supposed to apply to comments, not posts (users can't post without karma, and users who registered less than two weeks ago probably shouldn't be posting anyway), while "karma coward" is supposed to apply to posts and not comments.
0PeerInfinity12y
Ok, makes sense. We can still implement both proposals, right? And for proposal 2 I still recommend having an option to turn off the grace period manually. Though having a karma-coward option for posts might end up reducing the average quality of the LW posts... if we implement this mode, then maybe there should be an option for readers to filter out non-promoted, karma-coward-mode posts. oh, and will it still be possible for comments to be upvoted, while the user's grace period is active?