What is the Main/​Discussion distinction, and what should it be?

Near the be­gin­ning of this year Wei Dai asked why cer­tain peo­ple don’t post to LessWrong more of­ten, and Yvain replied that:

Less Wrong re­quires no poli­tics /​ min­i­mal hu­mor /​ definitely un­am­bigu­ously ra­tio­nal­ity-rele­vant /​ care­ful refer­enc­ing /​ air­tight rea­son­ing (as op­posed to a sketch of some­thing which isn’t ex­actly true but points to the truth.) This makes writ­ing for Less Wrong a chore as op­posed to an en­joy­able pas­time.

But Kaj dis­agreed that this was the ac­tual stan­dard:

I agree with the “no poli­tics” bit, but I don’t think the rest are cor­rect. I’ve cer­tainly had “sketch of some­thing that isn’t quite true but points in the right di­rec­tion” posts with no refer­ences and un­clear con­nec­tions to ra­tio­nal­ity pro­moted be­fore (ex­am­ple), as well as ones plas­tered with un­nec­es­sary jokes (ex­am­ple).

This raises two ques­tions: what is the real stan­dard, and what should the stan­dard be?

Be­cause on the one hand, it’s not clear Yvain is right, but on the other hand if he is right on the fac­tual ques­tion, that stan­dard seems way too high to me. It would sug­gest that, as John Maxwell says in the same thread, “The over­whelming LW mod­er­a­tion fo­cus seems to be on stifling bad con­tent. There’s very lit­tle in place to en­courage good con­tent.”

The wiki sort-of an­swers the fac­tual ques­tion:

Th­ese tra­di­tion­ally go in Dis­cus­sion:

  • a link with min­i­mal com­men­tary

  • a ques­tion or brain­storm­ing op­por­tu­nity for the Less Wrong community

Beyond that, here are some fac­tors that sug­gest you should post in Main:

  • Your post dis­cusses core Less Wrong top­ics.

  • The ma­te­rial in your post seems es­pe­cially im­por­tant or use­ful.

  • You put a lot of thought or effort into your post. (Cit­ing stud­ies, mak­ing di­a­grams, and ag­o­niz­ing over word­ing are good in­di­ca­tors of this.)

  • Your post is long or deals with difficult con­cepts. (If a post is in Main, read­ers know that it may take some effort to un­der­stand.)

  • You’ve searched the Less Wrong archives, and you’re pretty sure that you’re say­ing some­thing new and non-ob­vi­ous.

But this isn’t an en­tirely un­am­bigu­ous an­swer: how many of the five “fac­tors” does a post need to be in Main? Fur­ther­more, it of­ten seems that the “real” rules are sig­nifi­cantly differ­ent than what the wiki says. Yvain’s per­cep­tion may be in­cor­rect, but I think there were rea­sons why he (and pre­sum­ably the peo­ple who up­voted his com­ment) had that per­cep­tion. Also, Eliezer re­cently ex­plained that:

When­ever a non-meta post stays un­der 5, I always feel free to move it to Dis­cus­sion, es­pe­cially if an up­voted com­ment has also sug­gested it. I don’t always, but of­ten do.

This makes me won­der what other poorly-pub­li­cized rules there are in this vicinity.

As for what the rules should be, I’m go­ing to limit my­self to two gen­eral sug­ges­tions:

  • The stan­dard for post­ing in Main should not be so high that it makes post­ing at LessWrong feel like a chore, thereby chas­ing away good con­trib­u­tors like Yvain.

  • The stan­dard should not be so high that it would force any sig­nifi­cant por­tion of Eliezer’s origi­nal se­quences off into Dis­cus­sion.

Fi­nally, what­ever stan­dard we set­tle on, I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we make it clearer to peo­ple what it is. Aside from the ob­vi­ous benefits of do­ing that, I’ve found that try­ing to nav­i­gate the un­clear Main/​Dis­cus­sion dis­tinc­tion is it­self of­ten enough to make blog­ging at LessWrong feel like a chore.

Edited to add: In terms of karma I’m cur­rently the top con­trib­u­tor for the past 30 days on LessWrong by a wide mar­gin. I man­aged this in spite of the fact that I’m in the mid­dle of do­ing App Academy and have no time (this past week has been an ex­cep­tion be­cause va­ca­tion). I take this not as ev­i­dence of how awe­some I am, but as ev­i­dence that way too lit­tle qual­ity con­tent is be­ing posted in Main.