Shortform Beta Launch

byRaemon 1mo27th Jul 201918 comments

71


We've had unofficial experiments with shortform for over a year. More and more people have been trying it out and finding it useful. Now, we're pushing shortform into an officially supported feature.

My description of shortform, inspired by pattern's comment, is:

Writing that is short in length, or written in a short amount of time. Includes off-the-cuff thoughts and brainstorming.

Why shortform?

Sometimes shorter is better

I've noticed when I write a Facebook post... it ends up exactly as long as it's supposed to be. I write 3-5 paragraphs that nicely encapsulate my idea, and then it looks about the right length, and I click submit and have a nice, clear discussion.

When I start writing a LessWrong post, sometimes I look at the beautiful serif text on the nice blank white page and... I dunno, it feels like I'm supposed to write a 3 page essay, so I do. But my idea would have been better if I expressed it in 3 paragraphs.

Sometimes off-the-cuff is better

I also often want to brainstorm early stage ideas in way that isn't (necessarily) optimized for others to read – figuring out how to explain something well might be hard, and I'm not even sure the idea is good yet. But, people who've been following along with my thought process and understand what I'm gesturing at can still chime in with ideas.

Sometimes I just wanna start writing without worrying about what sort of thing I'm writing yet.

There's also an important in-between case, where maybe I'm writing something off-the-cuff and brainstormy, and maybe I'm actually writing a full treatise on something important. And I just... don't want to spend cycles figuring that out. I want my editor to feel unopinionated, and I want to be able to click 'submit' at the end without stressing out about whether I'm submitting 'good enough content'.

Sometimes, this results in an initial shortform comment eventually getting revamped into a major post.

For all of these reasons, and more, it seems useful to have a part of lesswrong optimized for shorter writing.

New Features, focusing on Visibility

Shortform is created in the form of comments (attached to an automatically generated shortform post). The new features mostly aim to:

  • Automate a lot of work. Instead of having to manually create a post called "So-and-so's shortform", you just start writing a comment, click submit, and then that post is automatically created for you
  • Improve visibility. Part of the point of shortform (in some cases) is to be a bit less visible. But so far it's been extremely un-visible, appearing only in the Recent Discussion section of the frontpage, usually only for a couple hours.

Features include:

New /shortform page

If you're in the mood to engage specifically with shortform content (as an author or reader), you can go to lesswrong.com/shortfom. There you can:

  • Read the latest shortform content. Currently, these are sorted by "most recently replied to", with the 3 latest replies shown underneath.
    • If a shortform item has more than 3 replies, there'll be a "N additional comments" button you can click to load more, and the reply with have a little "show parent" icon to indicate that there's conversation missing.
  • Start writing a shortform comment. When you click the "submit" button, you'll automatically generate a shortform post, and your comment will be added to that post. The comment will appear below in the stream of content.

It looks like this:

All Posts page visibility

If you're using the All Posts daily view, the top 5 shortform comments from that day will be visible (and you can click "load more")

Clicking on a shortform item will expand it and load replies.

Upcoming Features

This is all just the minimum viable product to get things rolling. There are some obvious features to add, such as:

  • Letting users subscribe to individual people's shortform
  • Making it easier to permalink to shortform content
  • Making it easier to convert a shortform comment into a full post

Let us know if you have other suggestions or feedback

71