Edit: Significantly rewritten. Original question was more specifically oriented around money-as-a-motivator.
One of the questions (ha) that we are asking ourselves on the LW team is "can the questions feature be bootstrapped into a scalable way of making intellectual progress on things that matter."
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic
I'd cluster most knobs-to-turn here into "intrinsic motivation" and "extrinsic motivation."
Intrinsic motivation covers things like "the question is interesting, and specified in a way that is achievable, and fun to answer."
Extrinsic motivation can include things like "karma rewards, financial rewards, and other things that explicitly yield higher status for
(Things like "I feel a vague warm glow because I answered the question of someone I respect and they liked the answer" can blur the line between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation)
Improving Intrinsic Motivation
Right now I think there's room to improve the flow of answering questions:
- New features such as the ability to spawn related questions that break down a confusing question into an easier.
- Better practices/culture, such as as a clearer idea of how to specify questions such that they communicate what one needs to do to solve them (or, have a set of common practices among answerers such that this is easier to figure out).
- A combination (wherein best practices are communicated via tooltips or some-such)
Bounties and Reliability
A lot of questions are just hard to answer – realistically, you need a lot of time, at least some of the time won't be intrinsically fun, and the warm glow of success won't add up to "a few days to a few months worth of work."
So we're thinking of adding some more official support for bounties. There have been some pretty successful bounty-driven content on LW (such as the AI Alignment Prize, the Weird Aliens Question, and Understanding Information Cascades), which have motivated more attention on questions.
Costly signaling of value
They showcase that the author of the question cares about the answer. Even if the money is still relatively minor, it reaffirms that if you work on the question, someone will actually derive value from it, which can be an actual important part of intrinsic motivation (as well as a somewhat legible-but-artificial status game you to more easily play, which I'd classify as extrinsic)
Serious times requires livable-money
In some cases you just actually need to put serious time into solving it to succeed, which means you either need to have already arranged your life such that you can spend serious time answering questions on LW, or you need "answering hard questions on LW" to actually provide you with enough financial support to do so.
This requires not just "enough" money, but enough reliability of money that "quit your day job" (or get a day job that pays-less-but-gives-more-flexiblity) is a an actual option.
What would it take?
So, with all that in mind...
What would it take for you (you, personally), to start treating "answer serious LW questions" as a thing you do semi-regularly, and/or put serious time into?
My assumptions (possibly incorrect) here are that you need a few things (in some combination)
- A clear enough framework for answering questions, that relies on skills you already have (and/or a clear path towards gaining them)
- A sense that the questions matter
- Enough money (and reasonable expectation of earning it) for a given question that working on it is worth the hours spent directly on it, if you're doing work that's demanding enough that it doesn't funge against other hobby activities.
- Enough reliability of such questions showing up in your browser that you can build a habit of doing so, such that you reallocate some chunk of your schedule (that formally went either to another paying job, or perhaps some intellectual hobby that trades off easily against question answering)
Some types of intellectual labor I'm imagining here (which may or may not all fit neatly into the "questions" framework).
- Take an scientific paper that's written in confusing academic-speak PDF format, and translate it into "plain english blogpost."
- bonus points/money if you can do extra interpretive work to highlight important facts in a way that lets me use my own judgment to interpret them
- Do a literature review on a topic
- If you already know a given field, provide a handy link to the paper that actually answers a given question.
- Figure out the answer to something that involves research
- (can include contributing to small steps like 'identify a list of articles to read' or 'summarize one of those articles' or 'help figure out what related sub-questions are involved')
- Conduct a survey or psych experiment (possibly on mechanical turk)
"Serious" questions could range from "take an afternoon of your time" to "take weeks or months of research", and I'm curious what the actual going rate for those two ends of the spectrum are, for LW readers who are a plausible fit for this type of distributed work.