Tags or Sub-Groups

by Chris_Leong1 min read21st Nov 20175 comments

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There are two main ways of dividing discussion in a group so that people only see what they want to see and both have advantages and disadvantages.

Tags are the most common method used. They have the following advantages, mostly related to flexibility:

  • Anyone can invent a new tag on the spot and they can organically gain usage
  • Posts can be given multiple tags. This allows you to filter posts on multiple dimensions (ie. topic and type of post), as well as having both broad and specific tags. In a well designed system, this provides maximal control on what posts you want to filter in/filter out.

Sub-Groups are less common. They have the following advantages, mostly related to the ability to create norms:

  • As demonstrated by Reddit, having different sub-groups allows you to set rules that work well for the community. For example, Ask Science can have a norm of encouraging peer-reviewed references, Ask Me Anything can delete posts which are abandoned and Change My View can ensure that top-level posts actually try and change your view. While this would be theoretically possible with tags, this is complicated by the fact that a) posts can have multiple tags so it is unclear how these rules would interact b) it is easier to add a tag without ever understanding that there are rules you are supposed to follow, than it is to accidentally post in a group
  • Even if you can set rules for tags, it is much harder for implicit norms to form for tags than for groups. The fact that a post can have multiple tags really torpedos the formation of implicit norms, as it prevents there from being a clearly defined space
  • Sub-groups tend to have much more a sense of community, indeed they are explicitly a community, vs. any implicit community that occurs via posting on the same tags
  • Sub-groups tend to result in less duplication, while there may be five different tags which are all effectively synonyms of each other

My position is that the value of people forming separate sub-groups should not be underestimated. Think, for example, how helpful it would have been in the early days for rationalists interested in Effective Altruism to be able to split into their own group. Much of the discussion, ie. of specific charities, would have been of no relevance to most of the LW community, but of vital importance to that particular community. This brings us to another distinction. A parenting tag, for example encourages discussion at the intersection of Rationality and Parenting, while a parenting rationalist group encourages discussion which Rationalist parents might be interested in. These are not the same: the second is broader as many of the discussions that Rationalist parents might want to have would actually just be generic parenting discussions, but with people who have a rationalist world view. I believe that this option leads to groups which offer more value to their members, (but with the cost being that the top-voted posts can't be fed into the main stream as many of these posts won't be directly related to rationalism).

Which method should be preferred on LW2.0?

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I note that reddit and stack exchange have both tags and groups. (Reddit tags are hacked on, but e.g. askreddit has "serious", used for setting different rules; dating subs have x4y, used for filtering.)

I don't want to draw any strong conclusions from this, but I think it hints that if you have subgroups, you're still likely to want tags. (Not that you denied this.)

My personal understanding is that LW 2.0 is encouraging a fairly broad idea of what counts as "rationality-relevant"-- for instance, I crosspost stuff about welfare biology here-- which means that a lot of the discussions of parenting-while-rationalist that I would personally be interested in would also be LW 2.0-appropriate content. For example, lit reviews about parenting, criticisms of irrational beliefs about parenting, parenting book reviews from a rationalist perspective, trying to figure out why pregnancy advice is so bad, etc.

Just wanted to note: I'm finally done with a major side project that'll free up time to think more seriously about this (and hopefully habryka is similarly wrapping up some other obligations in the near future). I do think sorting out how to think about this is a priority.

Some quick thoughts:

I think the benefits you describe to definitive spaces are real, but one word of caution is about forking discussion too early. A thing I've run into a lot is forums splitting into a bunch of sub forums, and then each subforum only has a few people interested in it, and then if you want to make sure people actually see the thing you're posting you have to post in each subforum, and meanwhile each subforum feels a bit empty and sad.

(This doesn't mean "don't fork it", just, be careful about when you fork it)

I do think there's probably enough value in a community-specific LW forum that's less public facing, because there are specific reasons to a) need to discuss that stuff, but b) not have it on the front page. However, at least at this point I wouldn't want any more subforums than that.

I'm also pretty confident that I want tags regardless of whether we also have subforums (whether or not we try to use them as some kind of subforum-like-thin

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but am currently traveling. Hopefully will get around to writing some of them up in both next few days.