I have noticed that given how much I identify as a rationalist, how much I have in common with the community here, how important I consider it, etc. I have surprisingly little instant in group identification with community members compared to other online communities. There seem to be an aspect of social involvement that LW does bad at. And there is one thing lacking that to me seems the obvious first suspect; the lack of of-topic unstructured chatter.

What I do when I feel that I identify with some continuity online is in fact not usually the thing the community is ABOUT. Instead, it's the things that grow out of the sides; forum games, members art projects, photo share threads, fanworks. I can speculate on why this happens this is so, but it dosn't seem very useful at the moment, I'm not highly confident on any specific theory, and most will probably find it fairly obvious anyway.

LW, however, has no real room for this. Even in the discussion section, things that are not reasonably on topic will be punished with negative karma. Now, this is obviously needed, but one must still recognize there IS a prise to being so structured and focused on a single goal when humans naturally tend not to be. Look for third options.

Now, I have a specific solution in mind, but I'm going to hold of on proposing it and see if you come up with something better before I post my idea.


EDIT: My suggestion has now been added in the comments, please check it out.


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I think this has at least some truth to it. Keep in mind that there is an IRC channel, though I am not sure how much it gets used. I would endorse the creation of subreddit for rationalists (which would encourage all manner of offtopic discussions) as opposed to a subreddit for discussion of rationality.

Two corrections: I think you mean 'bonding' in the title, and I think you mean 'price' not 'prise' in the 2nd to last paragraph.

Might it be a good idea to feature the IRC channel more centrally on the website? Eliezer's concern notwithstanding, if I'm going to kill time anyway (and believe me, I'm going to anyway), it might be nice to do so in a busy LW IRC room. I could think of less productive things to do for an hour.

I have already gained what feels like a fair bit of positive effect in my life from including LW as part of my Internet-as-television time. So LW-related stuff as Internet time sink is not necessarily a bad thing if you can keep a lid on it. If IRC can do the reminding to be less dumb as well, then good.

I used to frequent the IRC, and still go there occasionally, but in my experience it suffers from a bad case of Well Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism. There are no moderators, no gate keeping process, etc. and as a result the quality of discussion usually sucks. Many people there are not even interested in rationality at all.

I'd NOT recommend it, nor linking to it prominently on the site.

Actually there are moderators and the regulars are interested in rationality. Personally I think the discussion is good as well.

EDIT: I'm no longer so sure about this.

huh? maybe we're talking about different rooms?

Your experience probably had more to do with your question-asking style than the regulars not being interested in rationality. Some styles that work well in other environments do not work as well in IRC. I noticed a lot of your questions there (if I'm remembering right -- I could have you confused with someone else) were very broad and sweeping, and you didn't stick around long enough or refine them enough to get them answered properly.

The best way to do IRC is to ask the question (after first narrowing it down to the part you are most interested in hearing an answer to), and stay logged in for a while after you ask it. It may be that the people who are logged in and paying attention do not have anything to say on the topic, but someone who is idling will come back and look through the logs and answer it.

Nope. We're both talking about #lesswrong @ freenode.

Good to know.

Yeah, it sees some decent use every day.

I'm not really sure how obvious the need for a more engaging social community is. I suppose it depends on exactly what one sees the purpose of the site to be. The focus I'm mostly interested in is developing solid resources for good reasoning in various areas and reaching a large and diverse audience with them.

I'm thinking the resource developing part as basically something like how a science journal works. People come up with stuff, other people question it, and stuff gets hopefully iterated into better stuff. Good science journals generally have some balance between adversity and agreeing to common conventions. When people form a tight social community, they might start polarizing against the outside and producing groupthinky junk instead of argument-hardened stuff.

Also not sure about the community aspect for the audience thing. Basically the site should have some number of people writing useful posts, some more active participants giving feedback and having discussions, and a large number of readers who can hopefully make use of the stuff. It'd also be very nice to have people who actually do stuff on the outside participating, either doing serious scholarship or real-world empiricism, and distilling ideas from there into site content. Unfortunately this favors people who do a lot of stuff outside the forum and bring in the outside insights, while there's a lot less main content to be made by just puttering around with in-forum stuff.

So cultivating a somewhat dry atmosphere might actually be an advantage, if it could be used to encourage people to bring in high-impact content based on research outside the site, to maintain the sort of constructively adversarial air useful science tends to emerge from and to keep the general tone sufficiently broad that the content is accessible to a diverse audience.

Is a close knit community, as opposed to just being a reasoning tool, part of the purpose of LW? Considering his support for the various IRL rationalist communities, many things in ""The Craft nd the Community sequence, and general temperament, Eliezer certainly seems to think so.

But yes, the risk of groupthink, contaminating the Science journal type functionality of LW, and so on are indeed important dangers that any solution to the problem must address.

To compare to another group:

The lack of social network aspects at Wikipedia are often cited as something it needs, but attempts to start stuff like that have frequently crashed and burned. Whenever "we need to do something" springs up, that's a frequent option for "this is something, therefore we must do this." (Current "we need to do something" this is being mooted as the magical answer for: decline in editor numbers.)

That said, there is still a strong community feel ... and it particularly applies when we meet other Wikipedians in person. This carries back over to dealing with Wikipedians we've only met online, and leads to anticipation of future meetups being good experiences. And all this does in fact appear to further writing an encyclopedia, which is the original point.

So for LessWrong, this suggests: more meetups in more places.

This is fine for those who live close enough to actually have meetups. Far from everyone does.

Also, LW is much smaller and agile than wikipedia, and we have a leader figure that can order people around if it turns out that's needed. Several other factors that differ between the situations as well makes me think it's in fact not very relevant at all.

Also, LW is much smaller and agile than wikipedia, and we have a leader figure that can order people around if it turns out that's needed.

The leader figure does not want to order anyone around in part because he and his organization cannot afford the reputational hit. Consider the very long discussion and controversy that followed the leader figure's unpublishing of one post here.

The comparison is a group whose aim is not socialising in itself, but something else. In that sense I think it does compare. Particularly the Wikipedia of 2004-2005, when meeting other Wikipedians just started taking off. Though meeting up in 2011 is still going great guns and proving very productive.

I see from your comment that you were thinking entirely in terms of on-site possibilities. Have you been to either a Wikipedia or LessWrong meetup? Having been to both, I think the social aspects of a not inherently social site invoked by them are highly comparable.

Except LW IS an inherently social site, only restricted to a specific subject matter.

This is fine for those who live close enough to actually have meetups. Far from everyone does.

Where do you live? Have you tried to organize a meet up in your area?

Sweden. I'm sure enough there aren't even close to enough rationalists nearby to even bother asking.

Looks like this idea was better received than I thought. :) Other than that, I actually encountered surprisingly little surprises in the comments, so I'll just go ahead and type out my proposal for a solution right away:

So, my idea is basically like the discussion section, but with a few differences: Most obviously, no karma effects. However, as that is LWs main gardening method another one is needed, and in fact I suggest more than one: People with high LW karma should be able to ban/unban users (from that section only and separately, obviously), and more controversially I think there should be a fairly high karma requirement for participation. I suggest 100 karma for posting, but I'm not sure if it should be the same or lower for being able to see the section at all. The idea is that people with that much karma has probably proven themselves sensible enough to handle themselves without much gardening. Another issue that needs consideration is that of lose attitudes from the offtopic section leaking over to LW proper, I actually suggest solving this with a quick psychological hack: Have the section using a different colour scheme and/or name, possibly remove the voting buttons or make other layout changes. in short, make it feel like a different environment where it's subconsciously obvious that the social rules are different.

I had some other detail ideas as well, but this should be enough to implementation and test to make a more informed decision on that, and I think addresses all the problems brought up in this thread. If you can find anything potentially problematic please coment on it before we do antyhing hasty, but please consider thinking about a way to modify the idea to solve the problem as well.

So, who can implement this?

How about an off-topic section, like the discussion section, in which posts and comments can be voted on and receive scores, but votes do not affect karma? (I'm guessing this was the solution you had in mind, plus or minus some details around the karma handling).

Yea, basically. For more detail see the post I'm going to make soon.

Clay Shirky's "A group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" is applicable here: http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html

I agree.

I imagine almost anything would become interesting to me, if I knew that I was doing it with a bunch of (aspiring) rationalists.

What about a whole "sub-site" for this kind of stuff? Like a forum with structured subject fields. I use Arch Linux, and most Linux distros have such a structure. See Arch's HERE and, for a comparison and much larger distro's setup, see Ubuntu's HERE.

I propose it because I think the structure is nice and provides what is being sought after -- a place for serious, problem-solving (like the boards for hardware, networking, and kernel issues) and fun (in Arch, forums like "Try This" and (duh) "Off-Topic").

The advantage is that stuff gets contained and the top-level and discussion boards aren't flooded with stuff people don't care about if they came for rationality. You could also follow topics you're interested in (I follow an Arch forum on Desktop Screenshots, as I'm interested to see what people do with their organization for example).

I think a "Users' forum" template is, essentially, what's being suggested by the post author HERE. I'm a member of tons of forums and they all have something like this -- a place for problem solving and a place for personal stuff. Woodworking forums have places to talk about the new tools you just bought or share pictures of your projects for example.

Oh, perhaps this would be quite restrictive and/or controversial based on various opinions of the particular media avenue... but what about a private Facebook group for LW users? You could start discussion threads, post pictures... just another thought.

The problem with this is someone would have to pay for another server, domain, etc. and that it's be a lot harder to do stuff like integrate with stuff like the karma system.

Well, such a forum should be able to presumably reside on the same server we use already, unless space is a concern, right? Is there an issue with creating a "subsite" of sorts that uses a different code-base?

Maybe there is, I'm just not sure.

Registration could pretty easily handle the karma issue. You must register with the same username and some group of assigned moderators can check your karma and then click a link to approve your request.

That case just becomes roughly functionally identical to what I suggested but with much more work for implementation and maintenance.

That case just becomes roughly functionally identical to what I suggested

Well, sure, if you're just talking about the karma aspect.

Re. overall suggestion, you seem to have suggested another discussion board as a "catch-all" dumping ground for off-topic replies. I suggested that there's probably some "canned" package that could be implemented like a user's forum.

It comes down to whether separate forum areas would be helpful or not. If it's "just another discussion board" with the rules you stipulated... sure, that works.

If you like the separate areas and like the functionality of a forum, then I find it odd that you would criticize an mere suggestion to give it the karma functionality you proposed, while at the same time adding quite a few more features that might improve the user's experience.

If you don't like the forum idea in general, then just say so and you don't have to worry about discussing the sub-topic of it's karma integration since the whole package is moot. If you do... then we need to brainstorm a way to implement karma support and I have gotten the ball rolling :)

Ok, point. I don't really think there'd be enough traffic to justify several sections, but I could be wrong. Your suggestion still need more gardening solutions thou.

You may be right -- not sure on the traffic either. Nor what the various "forum rooms" would be... Family? Pictures? Trips taken? Who knows.

If (big if) some karma implementation could be done, it still might be feasible to do this without human intervention. For example, my user page is "http://lesswrong.com/user/jwhendy." If everyone else's is the same format... it's as simple as:

  • requiring every user to sign up under their current LW name (perhaps password as well so someone can't sign up under someone else's user name)
  • use that url (http://lesswrong.com/user/user_name) and find the number in between: "###" (mine is currently: "417"
  • if > 100, continue, if < 100, reject and tell user to get 100 more points

Not too bad.

That'd work perfectly except the part where you need to check if the put in the right password, yea. In fact, you're starting to make me think your plan might be the better one after all, depending on a few implementation details of LW I don't know about.

Would an off-topic thread make sense?


There is a precident


precident (n): A former president the current president will inevitably be compared to after some time in office.

Ha! I'll leave the typo to preserve this. Upvoted.