Open Thread With Experimental Feature: Reactions

This open thread introduces an experimental extension of LessWrong’s voting system: reactions. Unlike votes, reactions are public; hovering over the reactions will show a list of users who reacted. For now, this feature is only for comments on this post in particular; after collecting feedback, we might roll out more broadly, or make significant alterations, or scrap it entirely. Reactions to comments in this thread will be preserved while discussions here are active, but they may be lost later if the feature changes in an incompatible way. Using this feature in various ways is planned to have karma minimums, but for this experimental post, those karma minimums are temporarily reduced to zero.

These are similar to the reactions found on other sites such as Slack and Discord, but with a few twists. The first difference is the palette of reactions offered.

The palette of available reactions, and the first page of reactions in particular, is explicitly a claim about what we think people should care about in comments (both positive and negative). On LessWrong, that means ways of relating to comments epistemically, reasons why comments are good and bad contributions.

Reactions currently can only be applied to comments (not posts), only on this thread (for experimentation purposes), and only on entire comments, not individual comment sections. Depending on feedback, we may roll it out to comments on all posts, allow reactions to posts not just comments, and maybe implement something to allow reacting to specific parts of comments and not just to the whole thing.


Unlike other sites that have reactions, LessWrong has antireactions. An antireaction is like downvoting a reaction, or placing −1 reactions. This doesn’t affect anyone’s karma, but will show your name in the hover-over as someone who disagreed with the react. If there are at least as many antireactions of a given type as there are reactions of that type, then the icon won’t be shown to people who don’t hover over the reactions icon.

The idea here is that, since we are trying to promote reactions that have more semantic content than the reactions you would find on most sites, many of the reactions in the palette are capable of being incorrect in a way that purely emotive reactions aren’t.


In my experience, seeing a list of names that I respect, marked as having reacted positively to my writing, feels much more motivating than a high karma number. Conversely, seeing negative reactions from names I don’t respect feels less bad than a low karma number. And seeing a mixed reaction, with positive reactions from people I recognize and negative reactions from people I don’t, creates a feeling of community.

Other sites on the internet (most notably Facebook) try to use reactions to bias interactions towards positive vibes. I theorize that rationality culture is accidentally doing the opposite; that is, LessWrong has a problem with asymmetrically muted signal. When people see content they agree with and want to support, that mostly gets expressed through upvotes; when they see content they disagree with, that’s more likely to result in writing a comment. This biases the perceived reception in a negative direction.

Reactions are meant to serve as a middle ground between voting and commenting. This may capture feedback that would have been lost otherwise. In the case of positive feedback, this makes it more salient and motivating. In the case of negative feedback, I expect (though I could be mistaken) that receiving a reaction that expresses some specific criticism will at least be better, from an author’s perspective, than a negative score with no replies.

The default palette of reactions contains many reactions that represent specific virtues, and common flaws, that we want people to know about. This is a culture shaping tool; seeing the default palette of reactions, and seeing commonly used reactions on comments, is meant to influence what people optimize for when writing their comments.

Finally, reactions are now present on so many other sites that they’ve become a part of how people communicate, and there’s value in maintaining feature-parity with the rest of the internet.


The main form of feedback I’m hoping for is theorizing about the effect that this will have on site culture, if this feature rolls out broadly (for comments on all posts, and for posts themselves). I’m also interested in feedback about the current UX, and reactions that are worth adding to the palette.

If you’re proposing reactions to add to the palette, please include an icon; it should be an image that is legible when it’s very small and in greyscale or muted color, and is at least somewhat a mnemonic for the concept it represents.