A survey of the top posters on lesswrong

In a post re­cently some­one men­tioned that there was a list of “Top 15” posters by karma. That in­spired me to send all of them this note:


I am mes­sag­ing you (now) be­cause you are one of the 15 top con­trib­u­tors of the past 30 days of LW.

I was won­der­ing if you do any time track­ing; or if you have any idea how much time you spend on LW. (i.e. res­cue­time)

I have made the choice to spend more of my time en­gag­ing with LW and am won­der­ing how much you (and your other top peers) spend. And also why?

Maybe you want to rate each of these out of 10; the rea­sons you par­take in LW dis­cus­sions:

  1. Make the world bet­ter (rais­ing the san­ity wa­ter­line etc)

  2. Fun (spend my spare time here)

  3. Friends (here be­cause my Real-Life is here; and so I come to hang with my friends—or my in­ter­net friends hang out here)

  4. Gather ra­tio­nal­ity (maybe you still gather ra­tio­nal­ity from LW; maybe you have gath­ered most of what you can and now are cre­at­ing your own craft)

  5. here for new ideas (LW be­ing a good place to share new ideas)

  6. here to ad­ver­tise an idea (pro­mot­ing a line of think­ing from el­se­where—could be any­thing from; more Effec­tive Altru­ism; to this book)

  7. Here to cre­ate my own craft. (from the craft and the com­mu­nity)

  8. other? (as many other’s as you like)

In ad­di­tion do you think peo­ple (oth­ers) should par­ti­ci­pate more or less in the on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion? (or stay about as much as they are?) And would you give any par­tic­u­lar mes­sage to oth­ers?

Do you feel like your time spent is effec­tive?

I won­der if this small sam­ple; once gath­ered will yield any­thing use­ful. with your per­mis­sion I would like to pub­lish your re­sponses (anonymised for your pro­tec­tion) if ei­ther some­thing in­ter­est­ing comes out; or noth­ing in­ter­est­ing (pub­lish the null re­sult)

Please add as many com­ments as you can :).

I’d also like to thank you for be­ing a part of keep­ing the com­mu­nity ac­tive. I find it a good gar­den with many friends.

Sincerely, E

(Dis­claimer: I have no af­fili­a­tion to res­cue time I just like their track­ing sys­tem)

As of the time of this post; I have re­ceived 10 replies. I waited an ex­tra week or two and there were no more replies af­ter about 2-3 days.

The funny thing about ask­ing for some­thing is that peo­ple don’t always an­swer in the way that you want them to an­swer. (Mostly I blame my­self and the way I asked; but I think its quite funny re­ally that sev­eral replies did not in­clude a rat­ing out of 10)

1. Make the world bet­ter.

as was pointed out to me by one of the re­sponses: “Mostly this is low be­cause of am­bi­guity over “the world”″, re­sponses were; 0,2,6,y,y. of which I as­sume the other 5 were, 0,0,0,0,0.

2. fun.

Sev­eral replies in­cluded that this was a most pro­duc­tive time sink they could think of. replies were y,y,y,10,10,8. One other per­son said they used LW as pro­cras­ti­na­tion. one said, “it’s a rea­son­ably in­ter­est­ing way of kil­ling time”.

3. friends

an­swers: y, 0, “4-more like ac­quain­tances”, 5. Some peo­ple men­tioned lo­cal mee­tups but also that they don’t in­ter­act on­line with those peo­ple. I sup­pose if you are here for friends you are kinda do­ing it wrong; here to not get yel­led at and to un­der­stand things is more ac­cu­rate of a de­scrip­tion. “I treat LW like a so­cial club and a gen­eral place to hang out”

4. learn rationality

y,y but doubt it, 5 - a bit, 5. I ex­pected most of the top posters to have already achieved a level of ra­tio­nal­ity where they would be search­ing el­se­where for it. I as­sume the oth­ers would be 0/​n or close.

5. new ideas

.3,4,8 (as­sume 7*0). I guess the top don’t think in­no­va­tion hap­pens here. Which is in­ter­est­ing be­cause I thing it does.

6. ad­ver­tise ideas

.1,”6 - gen­er­ally”, (as­sum­ing 8*0). I was con­cerned that the ac­tive mem­bers might be push­ing an agenda or some­thing. Its en­tirely pos­si­ble, but seems to not be the case.

7. cre­ate craft

.8,7. I would have thought some­one mo­ti­vated to be in­creas­ing the craft of ra­tio­nal­ity would be here for that pur­pose. I guess not.

″ I’m not sure to what ex­tent I’m cre­at­ing my own craft, but it’s a good ques­tion. At the very least I’m ac­quiring a bet­ter abil­ity to ask whether some­thing makes sense. ”

8. other

Two peo­ple men­tioned that this is a place of qual­ity, or high think­ing, they are here for the rea­son­able­ness or lack of un­rea­son­able­ness of the par­ti­ci­pants.

open ques­tions:

effec­tive time: most re­sponses to this were in the range of, “bet­ter than other rub­bish on the in­ter­net”, and “least bad time sink I can think of”.

more or less posts: two peo­ple sug­gested more; one sug­gested less but of higher qual­ity. They all un­der­stand the predica­ment of the thing.

Time track­ing: sev­eral peo­ple track, and oth­ers es­ti­mate be­tween 30mins and 3hours a day.

Bear­ing in mind that the top post­ing po­si­tions are se­lected on mul­ti­ple fac­tors in­clud­ing whether or not peo­ple have time, not just re­lat­ing to their effec­tive­ness or their *most ra­tio­nal* sta­tus. I don’t be­lieve this se­lec­tion of peo­ple have said any­thing much helpful, other than

some quotes:

″ LW gives you the op­por­tu­nity to share your ideas with a large num­ber of smart peo­ple who will help you dis­card or sharpen them with­out you hav­ing to go to the trou­ble of main­tain­ing a per­sonal blog. A good post has the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver a lot of value to some very smart and al­tru­is­ti­cally mo­ti­vated peo­ple. Be­com­ing a re­spected LW con­trib­u­tor takes a lot of in­tel­li­gence, thought, re­search, writ­ing skill, and hard work. Many try but few suc­ceed. ”

″ I am pretty much an in­ter­net dis­cus­sion board ad­dict”

“Sup­pose LW is just a fo­rum where a bunch of smart peo­ple hang out and talk about what­ever in­ter­ests them, which is fre­quently po­ten­tially-im­por­tant (effec­tive al­tru­ism, AI safety) or in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­ter­est­ing (de­ci­sion the­ory, maths of AI safety) or prac­ti­cally use­ful (akra­sia, best-text­books-on-X threads). That seems to me like enough to be valuable”

“My karma comes from thou­sands of com­ments, not from mean­ingful ar­ti­cles.”

“I feel there is a power law dis­tri­bu­tion to LW con­trib­u­tor value with some peo­ple like Eliezer, Yvain, and luke­prog mak­ing many high-qual­ity posts. So I think the most im­por­tant thing is for peo­ple like that to get “dis­cov­ered”. It may take some lev­el­ing up for them to get to that point though, and en­courage­ment for them to spend time crank­ing out lots of posts that are high-qual­ity.”

″ I feel like if we gave top LW posters more recog­ni­tion that could in­cen­tivize the pro­duc­tion of more great con­tent, and be­com­ing a top poster with a high % up­voted gen­uinely seems like a strong challenge and an in­di­ca­tor of su­pe­rior po­ten­tial, if achieved, to me.”

“As a rule, though, I do not be­lieve that LW has much to do with re­fin­ing hu­man ra­tio­nal­ity.”

“I think that writ­ten re­flec­tion is a use­ful way to en­gage with new ideas. LW pro­vides a venue to dis­cuss ideas with smart peo­ple who care about pub­lished ev­i­dence.”

“I post on Less Wrong pri­mar­ily be­cause I’m a fo­rum-poster, and this is the fo­rum most rele­vant to my in­ter­ests. If I stopped find­ing fo­rum-post­ing satis­fy­ing, or found a more rele­vant fo­rum, I’d prob­a­bly move there and only rarely check LW.”

“I think peo­ple should par­ti­ci­pate more. I view LW as a fo­rum and not as a library.”

In sum­mary: what I think I have gath­ered.

The top posters don’t think they or less­wrong is effec­tive at chang­ing the world; how­ever this is a nice place to hang out. I don’t know what an effec­tive place would look like but it is al­most cer­tainly not this place. I don’t see LW as be­ing worth quit­ting or shut­ting down with­out a *bet­ter* al­ter­na­tive. As a place striv­ing to prop­a­gate ra­tio­nal­ity; that is de­bat­able. As a gar­den of healthy dis­cus­sions and rea­son­able peo­ple re­mem­ber­ing that their op­pos­ing fac­tions are also rea­son­able peo­ple with differ­ent idea—this place de­serves a medal. If only we could hone the essence of rea­son­able­ness and share it around to peo­ple. I feel that might be the value of less­wrong.

LW is a sys­tem built of peo­ple stay­ing, “while its good” as soon as it is no longer as nice of a gar­den they will be gone.

I hope this helps some­one else as well as me.

In light of the dis­cus­sions about im­prov­ing this place; I hope this helps con­tribute to the dis­cus­sion.