Whither OB?

Robin plans to cut back post­ing shortly, af­ter he and I have our long-awaited Disagree­ment about AI self-im­prove­ment. As for my­self—I’m not finished, but I’m way over sched­ule and need to move on soon. I’m not go­ing to stop post­ing en­tirely (I doubt I could if I tried) but I’m not go­ing to be post­ing daily.

There are three di­rec­tions that Over­com­ing Bias could go from here:

First, we could find enough good au­thors to keep go­ing at a post per day. Say, seven peo­ple who can and will write one post per week. We can’t com­pro­mise on qual­ity, though.

Se­cond, we could try to shift to a more com­mu­nity-based for­mat. Our most pop­u­lar post ever, still get­ting hits to this day, was not writ­ten by Robin or my­self or any of the re­cur­ring ed­i­tors. It’s “My Fa­vorite Liar” by Kai Chang, about the pro­fes­sor who in­serted one false state­ment into each lec­ture. If one-tenth of our read­ers con­tributed a sin­gle story as good as this… but nei­ther Robin nor my­self have time to vet them all. So one ap­proach would be to have a com­mu­nity fo­rum where any­one could post, read­ers voted the posts up and down, and a front page to which the ed­i­tors pro­moted posts deemed wor­thy. I un­der­stand that Scoop has soft­ware like this, but I would like to know if our read­ers can recom­mend bet­ter com­mu­nity soft­ware (see be­low).

Third, we could close OB to new sub­mis­sions and keep the archives on­line eter­nally, say­ing, “It had a good run.” As Nick put it, we shouldn’t keep go­ing if it means a slow de­gen­er­a­tion.

My own per­spec­tive: Over­com­ing Bias presently gets over a quar­ter-mil­lion monthly pageviews. We’ve built some­thing that seems like it should be im­por­tant. It feels pre­ma­ture, but I would like to try to launch an on­line ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity.

At this point, I’m ad­vo­cat­ing a hy­brid ap­proach: Keep OB open with fewer posts of the same grav­i­tas, hang out a sign for new au­thors, and also try start­ing up a com­mu­nity-based site with user sub­mis­sions and more fre­quent shorter posts. I’ve got plenty of light stuff to post, links and the like.

But: What soft­ware should we use to sup­port a ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity?

The Oxford Fu­ture of Hu­man­ity In­sti­tute and the Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute have vol­un­teered to provide fund­ing if nec­es­sary, so we aren’t limited to free soft­ware.

And ob­vi­ously we’re not look­ing for soft­ware that lets our users throw sheep at one an­other. The In­ter­net already offers enough ways to waste time, thank you. More like—how peo­ple can find each other ge­o­graph­i­cally and meet up; some­thing Red­dit-like for up­vot­ing and down­vot­ing posts, links, and com­ments; bet­ter com­ment thread­ing; ways to see only new com­ments on posts you’ve flagged—that sort of thing. You know, ac­tu­ally use­ful stuff. A lot of Web 2.0 seems to be de­signed for peo­ple with lots of time to waste, but I don’t think we can as­sume that fact about our read­er­ship.

Even if you don’t know the name of the soft­ware, if there’s a com­mu­nity site you visit that does an ex­cep­tional job—let­ting users up­vote and down­vote to keep the qual­ity high, thread­ing dis­cus­sions while still giv­ing busy peo­ple a fast way to see what new com­ments have been posted, mak­ing it easy for both new­com­ers and old­timers—go ahead and say what we should be look­ing at.