FB/​Discord Style Reacts

For the past year I’ve wanted LessWrong to include something like Discord, Facebook or Slashdot style reactions.

Facebook Style means “there’s a few key reactions that people use”

Discord Style means “there’s nigh-infinite reactions and you can add more, but there still end up being a few commonly used defaults.”

Slashdot Style means “after upvoting or downvoting, you have the option of clicking a button that clarifies why you upvoted or downvoted.”

Of these, I’m most excited for Discord-Style. But I think any of them would be improvements (if done well)

Habryka recently wrote a shortform comment on this subject. My own thoughts come in a few different frames.

Separating Enthusiasm from Approval

Boos/​Yays vs ‘approve/​disapprove’

Empirically, people want to cheer for their causes, boo causes they dislike, signal their social allegiance and try to ensure the overton window moves in the direction they want. I don’t think you can really fight this. But you can nudge people to disentangle this from “what gets attentional allocation on a site about rationality.”

I think it’s important that when you see a comment you like, and you feel the impulse to go “yeah! good point! go team!” the first impulse you have, the first button available and exciting to click, is a button that doesn’t send any signals about how that comment should be sorted, and doesn’t aggregate into an overall user-score you can check (that, for good or for ill, people will tend to associate with social status)

Other things vs ‘approve/​disapprove’

Boos/​yays aren’t the only thing I’m worried about. Ideally, I want LessWrong to reward good thinking over things like being funny, or exciting. (Being funny and exciting should still get rewarded, but no amount of clever injokes should add up to something greater than “wrote an actually useful, insightful point.”)

“Viscerally Fun but Low Signal Buttons” should be easy to access. “Higher Signal” buttons should require more effort and thought.

With both of the above in mind, I think it’s important that “Yay”, or “Funny” buttons should be the first, most obvious thing to click on. They should feel satisfying to click, and you shouldn’t feel motivated to click more things if that’s the only reason you were upvoting.

The buttons that send more important signals should require a bit of extra effort, and force you to at least notice some cognitive dissonance if you’re upvoting people just because they’re on your side.

Social Entanglement, Epistemic Entanglement and Common Knowledge

One react someone expressed interested in was a simple “acknowledged.” Votes are totally anonymous, and that means if you want someone to know that you have read a thing, you have to actually comment, which is moderately high effort and takes up a lot of vertical space on the page. Whether someone has read a thing is fairly important information about how to continue a conversation.

By default, on many social-media platforms, likes are public. They were also public on the old Intelligent Agent Foundations Forum (and I think probably on Arbital, although not sure offhand).

This does two things, which I have mixed feelings about.

One is social entanglement. Visibly liking each other’s comments is part of the process by which people build social trust and alliances. I think there’s reason to be cautious about LessWrong directly facilitating that.

Another is clarity on who believes what, and whose judgment you trust. When you’re building a serious, complex idea, it’s actually important who understands what concepts, who thinks different concepts are important. There are people I do in fact trust more intellectually than others, and it’s higher signal to know that one of them liked a post than some rando. It’s also more informative when I know that multiple people I trust disagree.

My current best guess is that it’s best for the voting on LessWrong to be anonymous, but for reactions to display usernames on hover-over. It might or might not be feasible or desirable (from a UI complexity standpoint) to let people choose whether to react publicly. But I can imagine changing my mind about this.

Making it lower effort to give feedback.

Receiving a downvote without explanation sucks. Some people complain about this – “can’t you provide reasons for your downvotes?” Well, no. Trivial inconveniences matter. If you force people to provide information and figure out how to articulate what’s wrong with something, people will probably just stop giving feedback rather than actually providing reasons.

Not only does this require figuring out how to write a comment, it opens up a line of engagement that you might have to put even more effort into defending.

[this is an empirical claim, it’s perhaps worth the experiment of requiring downvotes to always require reasons, but I’m not optimistic about it].

But I think there are some fairly common reasons why a comment gets downvoted, that could at least make it lower-effort to give feedback:

  • “This comment seemed a bit confused”

  • “This comment seemed to be rounding things off in an oversimplified way”

  • “This comment seems wrong in ways that have previously been explored at length on LessWrong”

  • “This comment seems mean spirited.”

  • “This comment seemed to be acting in bad faith”

It’s also nice to improve the reward signal for particularly good actions:

  • “This comment was particularly clear”

  • “This comment made special effort to be rigorous and credible.”

  • “This comment actually changed my mind about something.”

  • “This comment made special effort to be charitable”

An issue re: Simplicity of Concepts

You’ll notice some issues, comparing the above feedbacks to Facebook Reacts.

Facebook reacts are “haha!” “love!” “sad!” “anger!” “wow!”

Everyone knows what those mean. Everyone knows that everyone else knows what those mean. They are very short words. They are (due to millennia of evolution, genetic and cultural) conceptually simple.

“This comment seems to be rounding things off in an oversimplified way” is a less common concept. It’s more complicated. And if you simplified it slightly so that the button said “Oversimplified”… that would… actually be an oversimplified button. It’s important that I’m just saying “yo this comment was oversimplified”, but rather that it seemed (probably) to be making a subtle error.

I think this is really important. I think something LessWrong needs to do is nuanced critiques easier to chunk. This is pretty tricky, since, well, the whole point of nuances is that they’re nuanced.

A rationalist friend once commented, in non-rationalist circles, that when they tried to say “I agree with your point but I think this particular part has a logical error”, they would often have people… just completely fail to parse that. It wasn’t in their schema at all.

On LessWrong, we have some shared context where we mostly all understand not to just have Arguments Be Soldiers and whatnot. Our schema includes Local Validity. But there are many important, key concepts that still take a lot more effort to express than “yay/​boo” or “haha!”

And thing is… it’s not like “Love” is a simple concept. When someone clicks ‘Love’ on one of my facebook posts, there is a fairly rich wave of senses I get (depending on my post, and depending on my relationship with the person in question). When someone posts about their pet dying and I click ‘Love’, there’s this whole shared context about how we’re both human and we know what it is to lose people and my heart goes out to them and I chest tenses slightly and there’s… just a whole lot going on.

Still, I’m able to chunk that complexity into a concept called “Love”, and it’s easily available for me to access.

There’s a potential longterm vision for LessWrong – maybe not the right vision, but possible – where part of what we’re doing here is distilling concepts down so thoroughly that a single word can communicate a lot of nuance.

Language real estate is limited, and I’m not sure which concepts make the most sense to distill in such a way. There’s also certainly room for this to fail, where instead of being able to more-easily-express nuanced concepts it ends up destroying nuance.

Facebook has cheapened the word “friend”, and that’s important. But… I also have an impression of it having made it easier for me to express love, in a way that so far seems net positive.

It feels exciting to me to imagine one day living on a world where “this changed my mind” or “this was well thought even though I disagree” feel like basic, obvious concepts that are important enough to be communicated with a single word.

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