Upcoming: Open Questions

(note: ev­ery­thing in this post is still sub­ject to change)

I wanted to give peo­ple some sense of our next pri­ori­ties (and why you’ve seen fewer pub­lic-fac­ing fea­tures lately). The LessWrong team’s cur­rent pro­ject is Open Ques­tions (or “Q&A” for short)

This will be a new for­mat for posts, and prob­a­bly a new sec­tion of the site. Users can post ques­tions, or re­spond to them with de­tailed an­swers, similar to sites such as Quora, Stack­Ex­change or MathOverflow.

Many differ­ent types of ques­tions will be fine (rang­ing from noob ques­tions, to open prob­lems in AI al­ign­ment, to just try­ing to un­der­stand a given phe­nom­ena).

The as­pira­tion here is to aim for rigor in our ques­tion-an­swers (a la a place like MathOverflow), but to en­courage ques­tions in some­what murk­ier do­mains, where the an­swer may not be clear cut, and “progress” on a ques­tion may look more like re­fac­tor­ing into a differ­ent ques­tion, or break­ing it up into small chunks and hack­ing away at the edges.

Goals for Open Questions

1. Develop more “de­mand driven” con­tent on LessWrong. Right now, peo­ple ba­si­cally come up with ideas for posts based on their own cu­ri­os­ity or in­ter­est, but they don’t have much sense of how much other peo­ple will care. With Open Ques­tions, you know that at least one per­son ac­tu­ally cares about un­der­stand­ing some­thing (and if their ques­tion is highly up­voted, many other peo­ple do as well).

2. Tweak the site to fo­cus more ex­plic­itly on in­tel­lec­tual progress. Right now, peo­ple show up on LessWrong with a vague de­sire to learn, but not a clear goal. This means that the de­fault dis­cus­sions of­ten end up feel­ing more like “nerds hang­ing out on the in­ter­net” than “nerds gain­ing skills, learn­ing or solv­ing in­ter­est­ing prob­lems.”

Q&A will aim to:

  • Add a new com­mon, de­fault ac­tivity that’s a bit more goal di­rected than typ­i­cal LW dis­cus­sion.

  • Help us no­tice when there are long­stand­ing im­por­tant, con­fus­ing ques­tions un­re­solved. And, more ex­cit­ingly, help us no­tice when we’ve made sig­nifi­cant progress on them.

Ul­ti­mately, we’d like to Q&A sec­tion to not just be use­ful for an­swer­ing one-of ques­tions but for lay­ing out ac­tual re­search agen­das. (Pos­si­bly with a higher-level or­ga­ni­za­tion that groups ques­tions to­gether, similar to how se­quences group posts).

3. Create a lower-bar­rier-to-en­try ac­tion for new users.

We in­tend for “ask­ing a ques­tion” to feel a bit more ac­cessible than mak­ing a post.

What Counts as An­swered?

This is go­ing to be a bit trick­ier, since we’re in­ten­tion­ally hav­ing this fo­cus on do­mains where an­swers are less clear-cut, and peo­ple may re­al­is­ti­cally dis­agree. Our cur­rent guess is that the ques­tion-au­thor gets to mark the an­swer that best fits the paradigm-in-which-they-in­tended-the-ques­tion.

(But, ques­tions should also be as well defined as pos­si­ble, such that it’s more clear what should count as an an­swer).

This seems like some­thing we’re likely to re­con­sider as we think more and get more user feed­back.

Any ques­tions?

We’re still in the pro­cess of ham­mer­ing out the ex­act im­ple­men­ta­tion de­tails, both on how an in­di­vi­d­ual ques­tion+an­swers page will work, and how they will fit into the rest of the site. Right now we’re wrap­ping up a ba­sic pro­to­type. We don’t have an ex­actly timetable for this, but it seemed good to keep peo­ple in the loop.

We’re in­ter­ested in peo­ple’s thoughts on the idea so far. Any ques­tions about Open Ques­tions?