Programming the LW Study Hall

We’ve had con­sid­er­able in­ter­est and up­take on the Less Wrong Study Hall, es­pe­cially with in­for­mal timed Po­modoro ses­sions for ev­ery­one to syn­chro­nize on. Work­ing to­gether with a num­ber of other visi­ble faces, and your own face visi­ble to them, does seem effec­tive. Keep­ing the so­cial chat to the 5 off min­utes pre­vents this from turn­ing into just an­other cha­t­room.

We’ve been us­ing this Tiny­chat room, and im­ple­ment­ing ev­ery­thing Po­modoro-re­lated with man­ual typ­ing. Is there any­one out there who’s in­ter­ested in tak­ing this to the next level with some cus­tom code, pos­si­bly via the Google Han­gouts API (Javascript), so we can have the fol­low­ing nice fea­tures?

  • Syn­chro­nized, soft­ware-im­ple­mented Po­modoros for ev­ery­one.

    • Maybe one chat room with 205 and one with 455.

    • Ac­tual en­force­ment of the “no chat­ting un­less the Po­modoro is on” and/​or muted micro­phones.

  • Chat rooms with an N-per­son limit (sev­eral peo­ple re­port be­ing more pro­duc­tive in smaller groups, so we’re not sure if N should be 5 or 10) and new chat rooms be­ing spawned as ear­lier ones get full.

  • Moder­ata­bil­ity (we’ve already had one troll). One per­son sug­gested the abil­ity to +1/​-1 one per­son per day, with a kick at −5. (Eliezer re­marks that he ex­pects this to be com­pletely in­effec­tive and that you need ac­tual mods, maybe a group of trusted users.)

    • We only wish and dream that we could in­te­grate with LW lo­gins, but this would re­quire LW de­vel­op­ment re­sources that ap­par­ently don’t ex­ist. Maybe with enough grotesque hack­ery we could have a page some­where that you com­ment to con­firm you’re a Study Hall user, and the sys­tem could look up your karma from there to de­cide if you can cast +1/​-1 user votes.

  • A cus­tom page lay­out (which you don’t get if you use Tiny­chat!) which has the watch­ing par­ti­ci­pants lined up ver­ti­cally on the left, so we can work on some­thing while still eas­ily see­ing our friends.

    • A small line un­der­neath ev­ery­one’s image say­ing what they’re cur­rently work­ing on.

  • Maybe a com­mon room where peo­ple can ini­tially talk about what they in­tend to work on. (Eliezer says: This needs ei­ther strong group norms or built-in limits on talk time to avoid be­com­ing a so­cial chat timesink.)

  • The abil­ity to branch off small sub-chat rooms (maybe with limit 2 or 3) in case some­body wants to talk (about work!)

  • A wel­come page (mockup) where peo­ple see the group norms the first time they visit the Study Hall that serves as a por­tal.

This doesn’t “seem” very com­pli­cated from a pro­gram­ming per­spec­tive (yes, we all know about things that don’t seem com­pli­cated). The Google Han­gouts API (pos­si­bly OpenMeet­ings) seems like it should provide al­most all of the ba­sics already. But un­less some par­tic­u­lar pro­gram­mer steps up to do it, it won’t get done. If in­ter­ested, com­ment be­low or email shan­non.fried­man@pos­i­tivevec­, and please men­tion your rele­vant Javascript ex­pe­rience.