Renaming “Frontpage”

We’re about to re­vamp the front­page de­sign (you can see a hint of what’s to come on the new /​al­lPosts page).

While we’re at it, I’d like to fix a long­stand­ing prob­lem, which is that “front­page posts” is a fairly con­fus­ing con­cept for the site to rely on.

“Front­page posts” are posts that the mods pro­mote be­cause they:

  • Avoid ar­gu­ing to per­suade and build so­cial mo­men­tum. In­stead they stay fo­cused on the ex­pla­na­tion (and ex­plo­ra­tion) of ideas.

  • They avoid par­tic­u­lar hot­but­ton is­sues that are likely to spawn de­mon threads.

  • They avoid dis­cus­sion of the site it­self, and the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity.

The main benefit a post has for be­ing front­page is that more users will see it by de­fault (where as per­sonal blog­posts re­quire you to ac­tively turn on a set­ting to dis­play them).

There are two prob­lems with the name “front­page”:

1. It’s con­fus­ing. Since you can dis­play per­sonal blog­posts on the literal site front­page (and there are con­texts other than the literal front­page where you might want to see “front­page” posts, such as on the al­l­posts page), it’s a bit weird to use that word to con­vey a bunch of crite­ria.

2. It’s a lit­tle too harsh-seem­ing to not get pro­moted to front­page. I don’t “front­page” should mean “ev­ery­thing that’s good and vir­tu­ous to talk about.” I do think that’s it good to err on the side of writ­ing posts that meet the front­page crite­ria, but I think of this as a de­fault rather than the ob­vi­ously-cor­rect-way-ev­ery­thing-should-be.

This post ex­plores what front­page is try­ing to do, ways in which we might mod­ify it, but ul­ti­mately (for now), an­swer­ing the ques­tion of “what can we change the front­page name to, to lo­cally im­prove the cur­rent situ­a­tion.”

What is “Front­page” Try­ing to Do?

Some value I think the “front­page me­chanic” pro­vides in­clude:

1. Dis­in­cen­tivze dis­course that is more stress­ful or time wast­ing than it needs to be.

2. Re­tain LessWrong’s strong foun­da­tion of epistemic clar­ity.

Ra­tion­al­ity is harder when a dis­cus­sion will di­rectly im­pact your so­cial land­scape. So­cial co­or­di­na­tion is im­por­tant, but I want the de­fault for LessWrong to be a place where you “only” have to think clearly about ideas, in­stead of “think­ing about clear ideas in hard mode where you’re tempted to round things off in di­rec­tions that im­prove your poli­ti­cal po­si­tion.”

3. Provide good “seed cul­ture” (or “train­ing data”) for new users.

When you show up on LW, the first thing you see is a bunch of dis­cus­sion of ideas. This tells you roughly what sort of things the LW com­mu­nity care about. Whereas if the first thing you saw as a bunch of dis­cus­sion about com­mu­nity/​meta stuff, there’s a de­cent chance of two out­comes.

  • Think­ing “hmm, this is a navel gaz­ing com­mu­nity that’s mostly fo­cused on it­self. What is this com­mu­nity even about?” and then bounc­ing off.

  • Think­ing “ah! ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity!” and get­ting ex­cited with­out ac­tu­ally un­der­stand­ing what we mean by ra­tio­nal­ist, or un­der­stand­ing a lot of the nu­ances that ac­tu­ally drive the heart of the com­mu­nity.

4. Re­lat­edly: Some­what dis­in­cen­tivize com­mu­nity-for-com­mu­nity-sake stuff.

Even among longterm mem­bers, com­mu­nity stuff seems to get 2-4 times as much at­ten­tion as it should.

Com­mu­nity-qua-com­mu­nity stuff of­ten feels like it re­quires less back­ground knowl­edge to get started on (as com­pared to, say, de­vel­op­ing a new de­ci­sion the­ory, or figur­ing out the best ev­i­dence for a given diet). It feels more ac­cessible.

But I’m much more in­ter­ested in com­mu­nity-ori­ented con­tri­bu­tions by peo­ple who have demon­strated a clear un­der­stand­ing of the un­der­ly­ing goals and thought pro­cesses of LessWrong.

And even among those peo­ple, I’d rather that com­mu­nity-ori­ented ideas and pro­jects come about or­gan­i­cally as peo­ple ac­tu­ally try to think about a hard, ob­ject-level prob­lem.

In­stead of start­ing by think­ing “how can I im­prove the com­mu­nity?” think “what am I cu­ri­ous about or ex­cited by?“. Then, if it turns out that you’re fac­ing a bot­tle­neck that is com­mu­nity re­lated, work on fix­ing that bot­tle­neck in the con­text of your cu­ri­os­ity/​ex­cite­ment.

5. Avoid­ing cre­at­ing an ad­ver­sar­ial/​mar­ket­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween read­ers and the LessWrong site.

A lot of stuff on the in­ter­net is writ­ten with the in­tent to get me in­ter­ested in a product. Face­book turned out to be a use­ful mar­ket­ing tool, and now a lot of con­tent (not just the overt ad­ver­tise­ments) are there with a goal of main­tain­ing my at­ten­tion, to later con­vert that at­ten­tion into a re­source.

Eliezer very rarely men­tions his or­ga­ni­za­tion in the LW se­quences. In­stead, the fo­cus is al­most en­tirely on ac­tu­ally learn­ing ra­tio­nal­ity skills. He does have ul­te­rior mo­tives, but one of the more in­ter­est­ing posts IMO is the one where he spells out the ul­te­rior mo­tives and notes how cru­cial it is for the ul­te­rior mo­tives not to poi­son the in­tegrity of the ra­tio­nal­ity pro­ject.

I’m less wor­ried about this than habryka is, but there’s definitely a failure mode where a lot of the LW con­tent ends up be­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional an­nounce­ments and pitches for money or so­cial mo­men­tum, and that ends up mak­ing it harder to show up and think and learn.

Im­prov­ing the Front­page paradigm?

The front­page crite­ria I’m most wor­ried about is the “no or­ga­ni­za­tional an­nounce­ments/​pitches” thing. This is par­tic­u­larly be­cause a fledgling or­ga­ni­za­tion needs re­sources, and, well, it ac­tu­ally mat­ters that they get at­ten­tion.

LessWrong is a place for think­ing, but I’m still most ex­cited when that think­ing gets ap­plied into ac­tion.

Point #5 above still seems im­por­tant, but I think we can prob­a­bly im­prove on it.

Two clusters of solu­tions in­clude:

  • Work­ing harder to get peo­ple to lo­gin to LessWrong (they only need to do it once per de­vice), so that their front­page set­tings get saved, and if they pre­fer to see per­sonal blog­posts they can just do so. And, af­ter users have been us­ing the site awhile, if they haven’t tog­gled per­sonal blog­posts on, they can get a re­minder that this is an op­tion.

  • Creat­ing a more nu­anced paradigm, where in­stead of a sin­gle “front­page” place that posts can be pro­moted to, there are (say), three sec­tions. We’ve been con­sid­er­ing some­thing like:

    • Science/​Jour­nal/​In­quiry – es­sen­tially what front­page is now, where the fo­cus is on ideas, ex­pla­na­tions, mod­els and cu­ri­os­ity. I’m not quite sure what to call this.

    • Art – there’s been a lot of good ra­tio­nal­ist fic­tion, and we’ve been con­sid­er­ing more ac­tively en­courag­ing that (while giv­ing it a ded­i­cated space that is more op­ti­mized around it).

    • Co­or­di­na­tion – a more ded­i­cated space for build­ing mo­men­tum for pro­jects, events, and re­solv­ing im­por­tant dis­agree­ments about norms. We’ve been putting this sec­tion off not be­cause it’s not im­por­tant but be­cause it seems quite hard and risks harm­ing the epistemic foun­da­tion.

I’m also in­ter­ested in hav­ing front­page/​sci­ence/​jour­nal/​in­quiry or what­ever, help point peo­ple in a di­rec­tion of how to build their ideas over time.

My cur­rent guess is that the front­page sec­tion should feel sort of like a lab­o­ra­tory work­shop, or per­haps the cafe­te­ria at Bell Labs, where peo­ple talk about their ideas and mod­els. The at­mo­sphere is ca­sual but grounded in in­tel­lec­tual rigor.

Ideas that seem par­tic­u­larly good or in­ter­ested get cu­rated.

Ideas that, sev­eral months later, have with­stood a lot of scrutiny and proven use­ful, are in­cen­tivized to get rewrit­ten, dis­til­led, clar­ified, and ul­ti­mately pass some kind of re­view bar or be­come “canon.”

Re­nam­ing “Front­page”

The solu­tions I listed above in­volve a lot of tech­ni­cal work (as well as some so­cial and philo­soph­i­cal work). But, it seems like some sig­nifi­cant im­prove­ments could come just from giv­ing front­page a more ac­cu­rate and spe­cific name.

The ideal name:

  • Doesn’t con­fuse “lo­ca­tion” of the site (such as the home page) for a par­tic­u­lar style of content

  • Em­pha­sizes ideas over peo­ple and so­cial mo­men­tum.

  • Hints at be­ing the be­gin­ning (but not the end) of high qual­ity truth­seek­ing process

  • Indi­cates that this is one par­tic­u­lar place where posts can go, with­out feel­ing in­trin­si­cally like the only place that qual­ity posts go.